01 February 2011

An open letter to...

by Dan Phillips

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker  and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:   Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon 1-3)
Paul and Timothy... to whom? To Philemon, and Apphia and Archippus and the church in Philemon's house. Yet the letter is known as "Philemon." It isn't called "Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the house-church." Why not?

Simple: it is so called because the apostle mostly addresses himself to the individual, Philemon. This is emphatically plain in the Greek text. After the plurals in verse 3, Paul reverts to the singular pronoun in verse 4, as he addresses himself to Philemon individually. This use of the second person singular pronoun is continued in vv. 5-8, 10-14, 16, 18-21, and 23. Nor are most of the omitted verses real exceptions, as Paul employs the second-person singular verb in vv. 15, 17, and 22.

The apostle is writing about a personal issue: the business involving Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus. Yet you could say — are pretty much compelled to say — that the apostle address Philemon on this personal matter in an open letter.

In fact, when you think about it, one could argue that all of Paul's letters are open letters. Isn't that so? This is clearly the case in those addressed to churches. But even in letters addressed to individuals, plurals come back in (cf. final words of 1 Timothy 6:21, of 2 Timothy 4:22, and of Titus 3:15, in Greek).

As in the other letters, so it is plainly in Philemon. After all, though the body of the letter (vv. 4-24) is addressed to the man Philemon, the opening and close are addressed to the church. Paul addresses Philemon, but he brings in the assembly as well.

Why? Well, it's hardly rocket-science, is it? This had not been a private affair. It wasn't as if no one knew about Philemon and his runaway slave. Nor did it involve that body of believers alone, at this time. Onesimus was currently traveling with an entourage on church business under Paul's direction (cf. Paul's open letter to the church at Colosse, 4:7-9). Word was spreading. And so Paul addressed Philemon, though with the expectation that others read along, over his shoulder as it were.

Where? I don't know. I wouldn't suppose a formal church meeting, though that is certainly a possible setting for reading an apostle's epistle. However, as Carson and Moo say, Philemon "falls somewhere between the simple private letter and [the?] public letter intended for a broad audience" (An Introduction to the New Testament, 588).

In this way, not only did Paul address the individuals, nor only the individuals within the churches. He addressed them each and all as before the Lord, and as in community with the saints at large. So Philemon in particular needed to keep this in mind. He needed to remain conscious that what he did about Onesimus did not just affect himself and his slave. Philemon was doing what he was doing in the presence of God, and he was doing it under the gaze of the saints. What he did would affect them. Paul made him conscious of that fact, allowed it to exert its pressure in addition to the loving force of his words.

So how did this all turn out? The epistle is open-ended, in a sense, in that we don't know (from it) how Philemon responded to Paul's entreaties on Onesimus' behalf.

Yet it isn't really all that open-ended, is it? Does not its very presence in the Canon suggest that, rather than withdrawing in regal, offended silence, or exchanging offended notes about Paul with his likeminded fellow slaveholders, Philemon received Paul's open letter in humility and good faith?

Paul did the right thing before God.

Onesimus and Philemon did the right thing before God.

The result has brought blessing to the church for two millennia.

Instructive, eh?

Dan Phillips's signature


Robert said...

But where was the talk over the cup of coffee? And how could Paul make such a blatant attack against Philemon, threatening to rip the church apart? That seems to be the response many today would give to the letters that Paul sent out.

I think the heart of the problem is a lack of humility. We're supposed to welcome reproof and be thankful for it. Instead of being so prideful (and yes, I am talking to myself here, too), we need to listen and receive the loving counsel that is being offered. In fact, when I read Philemon I see all of the love of Paul for his brother in Christ flowing out. He takes the time to describe the reputation that Philemon has and how he refreshes the saints. And from that flows the belief Paul has that Philemon will indeed forgive Onesimus and receive him into his home as a brother in Christ.

Last week, Frank wrote an open letter to Mike Horton in which he took the time to take note of the good work that goes on in the ministry of WHI. He then went on to point out some problems that might occur due to some imbalanced teaching. And as was seen by the comments of one person in particular, the letter was not without warrant. Sadly, the response from Mike Horton seemed to be that he does not need to take responsibility for where that imbalanced teaching might lead some people. I can agree that there are some people who will take any teaching and go astray with it, but Frank laid out a valid concern. And he did it in a loving fashion...he did lay out some good points of the teaching from Mr. Horton and WHI. I just don't quite understand the fervor of some people's responses and the lack of interest from Mr. Horton himself. I do remember the response Paul had for some members of a certain church who didn't take hist first letter too well, although the concerns with that church were much more dire. Although, I think people should see the sarcasm Paul uses to address some of the ridiculous attacks Paul faced before trying to address the tone of Frank's response to them.

Rhology said...

Might not be all that open-ended.

Colossians 4:8For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts; 9and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number. They will inform you about the whole situation here.

Anyway, ISTM that those who hate on the open letter thing also have some problem dealing with the fact that everyone is a sinner.

Pierre Saikaley said...

An open letter to...

heh-That's stirring for trouble. Have you not learned of Mr. Turk's experiences?

Excellent post.

Jamie said...

Thank you Dan for this post. I understand (I think) that it is presented as a rebuff to those who view Turk’s open letter series as inappropriate or “condescending.” It would seem to me that using that logic would prevent any challenge to error whether in letter form or from the Pulpit. I personally have benefited from Frank’s letters as well as the comments from the gallery. What is missing though is someone to point out that he is wrong. This may explain why the “tone police” arrived at the scene. I was a little surprised at who was on patrol that day though. However I, like Frank, am amazed that tone is so easily “heard” in such a limited medium as written text. But that a “bully” (Clark) was met with like kind is not an issue at all. So to the naysayers, just point out where Frank is factually wrong.

DJP said...

< shrug > I don't want trouble, Pierre. It's just that Frank's posts — and the occasionally startling reactions thereto — made me think about this afresh.

Though it's something I've long thought about, about Philemon in particular. I've long noted: yeah it's to Philemon, but it isn't just to him, is it?

Gov98 said...

I love this post. Thanks Dan.

I'm pretty sure, Peter talked to Paul about his tone afterward though.

DJP said...

Jaimie, wouldn't it be a good thing if we just said, "Yep, any time a sinner opens his mouth, the tone will be off; so now what's the truth in what he's saying"?

Isn't that a wisdomy, godly thing?

"...reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8b-9)

If the content is truthful, as Paul's was, shouldn't we heed? And if the content is untruthful, shouldn't we shine it on (Proverbs 14:7; 17:4; 25:12).

Robert said...


I guess the question I have with Philemon in mind is this: Can we write with the confidence that he had that the recipient will receive the letter and the advice, instruction, or reproof, in a humble manner and actually take heed of it. Clearly, you can see that Paul knew that Philemon would respond in an appropriate manner. Although, it does seem that Paul puts him in a tough spot by describing how faithful he is before bringing up the issue.

I'm not saying this to suggest that such letters should not be written, but moreso just to ask the question of whether you think any of the recipients will read one and respond in love. I certainly hope that this will happen and believe that Frank actually writes these letters with such a goal in mind...at least with that hope. And also with the hope/belief that his letters might reach somebody who has heard the teachings of the named recipients of the letters and provide some guidance for them. (Of course, I might be wrong and hope that I am willing to receive correction if I am. 8o))

word verification: pircings

DJP said...

If we learn anything from Jesus' Seven Open Letters to Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3), the likelihood of rejection is not an automatic deal-killer.

You know, unless you're of the WWJDINGTDT school.

(What Would Jesus Do? - I'm Not Going To Do That!)

Steve Berven said...

What I seem to get out of so many of the tone-police responses is that, when they say we should correct our brethren "with love" or "in a spirit of fellowship" what they are really saying is that we should never presume to do more than subtly suggest, propose, recommend, or encourage introspection.

Holding people to account, is (apparently) divisive and/or hypocritical.

However (comma), if you are putting yourself out there as a teacher, minister or apologist, a self-proclaimed spokesman for the Gospel (whatever you see that as being) you have to realize that you are stepping into a different arena than mere "blogger."

James 3:1 " Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Because of the power and the responsibility a Bible teacher or pastor wields in his ability to lead people astray, even with the best of intentions, their words must OF NECESSITY be given the strictest scrutiny.

This isn't "contentious" or arrogant on the part of the reviewer. It's required. And if the fruits of a ministry are leading people towards un-biblical thinking, beliefs or attitudes, and we who recognize it say or do nothing, we will also be judged by their measure in permitting falsehood to enter the Church.

So, ultimately, actual "loving" correction is not just shrugging it off. If the error was made in a public forum, then so should the correction be, so that those who might have been misled can read/hear the debate and (hopefully) be discerning about what is in error.

That said, any correction should clearly be grounded in Scripture, not just factional posturing.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Dan.

And excellent comment as well:

"Jaimie, wouldn't it be a good thing if we just said, "Yep, any time a sinner opens his mouth, the tone will be off; so now what's the truth in what he's saying"?"

I often think of David and Shimei, when David was fleeing Absalom. Shimei couldn't have been further out into left field but David rebuked his defenders, rather than Shimei himself, saying something like "Who knows if God hasn't sent him to say these things".

If we got to include tone in our assessment of the accuracy of a statement, well we wouldn't have to listen to much.

Steve Berven said...

To clarify my last sentence, I see the Open Letters here as being very much in the former category, not the latter.

Robert said...


Sorry...I should have clarified. I meant that as an actual question because I had some actual hope that it might happen with last week's letter. I think these should be written, but just wonder if/when one of the stated recipients will respond in a spirit of humility. That works the same with presenting the Gospel to the lost, right? We don't base our efforts on the results, but we just do the work faithfully.

DJP said...

Steve B: the church is big on "loving neglect," isn't it?

Think about pairing those two words?

Dave said...

It is one thing to address an issue, it is quite another to go down the slippery slope of potshots and name calling and enter the realm of the hypocritical hubris. Do words or how we address one another on blogs not matter to God? Do Turk, Phillips et al get a free pass? You guys have talent on loan from God - don't blow it!

Scot said...

Dan, perhaps you can help the slower of the readers (aka myself).

You said:
"He needed to remain conscious that what he did about Philemon did not just affect himself and his slave."

I'm having a lot of trouble understanding this sentence, mainly because of the many pronouns. Or did you mean:
"He needed to remain conscious that what he did about Onesimus did not just affect himself and his slave"?

But I really liked how you drew out that this issue wasn't just a Philemon/Onesimus issue. Paul is bringing out Philemon's integrity. "Philemon, you have a character of excellence and integrity. You will do the right thing because you love Christ and you will obey his command to love one another." (My ad hoc commentary)

DJP said...

Aigh; thanks, Scooter, I just screwed up. Fixed now. Thanks. I'd actually caught a couple of slips like that, but missed that one.

Steve Berven said...

DJP: Loving neglect. I like that. Sounds like a good book title...

In the missional/emergent/ seeker-friendly church, loving people is apparently never saying anything that might hurt their feelings. It's self-esteem over substance.

But if we are so focused on esteeming OURSELVES, I think we don't have a lot of room left for esteeming God.

So, essentially, it sounds like a great deal of what we hear in these "kinder, gentler" churches is really secular humanism dressed up in sheep's clothing. Painted over with a pretty veneer of god-talk.

Speaking the truth in love is NOT just having the courage to tell someone that their lipstick is smudged.

Anonymous said...

The difference would be that God providentially put the apostle Paul in a position to shepherd the individuals to whom he wrote. He had a God-given authority. Are you saying that bloggers have this same authority? Or do all Christians? Can I write an open letter to my pastor when I disagree with him?

There is a fine line between engaging in ideas and overstepping our bounds in forums such as this. I think that would probably be a better direction for the conversation than a 1 for 1 equivalence (or at least a illustrative equivalence) between a blogger and the apostle Paul.

donsands said...

Good post. What a wonderful epistle to read and glean from.

"Paul addresses Philemon, but he brings in the assembly as well."

I wonder if this Mark is the same Mark of Acts 15 where they had the "sharp disagreement"?

"Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers."

Have a blessed day in Christ, who is always with us, and in us, to will and to do righteous things.

DJP said...

Paulshirley — so you see writing open letters to public figures as an apostolic sign-gift, passed away with tongues and prophecy? Odd position.

As to the rest: that's not a hard question. There's no Biblical issue with writing public letters responding to the public words of public figures. That any would ever have thought there was is just odd.

Herding Grasshoppers said...


Amazing, yah? The way God anticipates our problems/issues and provides answers and examples in His Word? So "wisdomy".

Anonymous said...

You see Blogger as a position that gives one the authority to speak into another Christians life? Odd position.
Despite your deflection, I would still be interested in how you see an open letter on a blog as having the same authority/benefit/? as Paul's open letters.
Paul had a divine authority behind him. God providentially put him in a place to shepherd and speak authoritatively into others lives. Bloggers register a url. Big difference.
My point is that it would be helpful to have a discussion on the differences between engaging in ideas and "calling someone out." The difficulty is that both are similar.

Most people who have a problem with the content in question feel like you guys have been doing the latter rather than the former. It would help your case if you would distinguish between the two.

Robert said...


If I have a huge following online and I post articles and put our podcasts and there is something wrong with my teaching, then I should expect and welcome public reproof, rebuke, and instruction. The reason is so that I'm not the only one who receives the clarification, instruction, or reproof, because I have an audience who has heard everything I have been teaching. You sound like you are accusing the Pyros of being proud and holding themselves in high esteem, but it seems from many responses I have seen (not just here but on other blogs) that people on the receiving end are exhibiting their own forms of pride.

Of course, DJP nailed it with Proverbs 9:8b-9 in his comment at 6:16 AM. God is still working on me in that regard...

DJP said...

Paul, I'm not sure how you think your question wasn't answered.

Once again (to repeat my post and my answer), any Christian has the right to speak to another Christian. I don't know whether you'r perhaps Roman Catholic, but Christians believe in the priesthood of all believers (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). Pastors aren't screened off from "laity" in some way.

In fact, not merely do Christians have the right to speak to one another; it's the ministry of love (Hebrews 10:24, to pick out one of dozens). Inserting "Blogger" is your invention, and unrelated to any point in the post.

Once again, "There's no Biblical issue with writing public letters responding to the public words of public figures."

Hope that helps.

steve s said...

But you know, don't you Dan, that it won't. ;-)

DJP said...

A man can hope.

Mark Patton said...

WOW .... in a good way.

Unknown said...

Per DJP's 6:16 comment...

In some ways, these open letters are a litmus test for the reader/recipient, in that they show their level of wisdom in how they approach the content.

The content may be harsh in tone, or sarcastic, or tender, or whatever. The issue is not the mode of expression, rather the truth of that which is being said. A wise person can cut through the "tone" and find the meat upon which to chew.

I tend to think that complaints about tone are attempts to avoid the issue at hand in the message. As an example of strong tone in the Bibie, if someone referred to me as a "whitewashed tomb" (Matthew 23:27), methinks its better to examine myself as to whether that is true instead of complaining that whoever said it is being too mean. I'd rather be able to recognize that the harshness of the message is commensurate with the love being shown to my by the one telling me the truth, however ugly the truth is to hear.

Excellent post, Dan.

Trinity said...

I think you guys may have missed this part:

"17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ."

Paul was appealing to Philemon as someone to whom his very own life was in debted. He was also pleading that whatever it might cost Philemon to do as Paul wished, that he could charge it to Paul's account. Philemon's obedience would serve as an example to others, but Paul was guaranteeing that he was not asking anything of Philemon that he had not already earned by his love and service to his brother in the past. In addition, he was appealing to Philemon not only as a brother, but it is fair to say, as a spiritual father in the faith.

Not very many of the open letters I've seen circulating have anything near this type of context. The distinctives seem to be important for those who would publicly rebuke or correct others.

semijohn said...

Paulshirley, you see being a blog commentor as giving one authority to speak into another Christian's life? Odd position.

Admittedly that was too easy, but after watching the Deepak Chopra video Challies posted, I couldn't resist.

Joan said...

I was reserving judgment on your open letter series until this post which, to me, is like jumping he proverbial scriptural shark. Key difference - Philemon is God's inspired Word.

Anonymous said...


Maybe go back and re-read Frank's open letter to Dr. Horton.

He doesn't say that he owes his very life to Dr. Horton, but he does say that he owes him a lot, in terms of teaching.

There's a difference, no doubt, but not as large as you might like.

Anonymous said...


Any rebuke or correction was first modeled to us in Scripture.

So any correction, even private, would fall under the "but you're not writing the bible" category.

DJP said...

InAwe — I'm trying to make any kind of sense of your observation, and it's just not happening for me. At this point, it is making about as much sense as writing "Totally different! Paul wrote in Greek, you write in English! QED!"

So could you maybe reword your point?

St. Lee said...

And then Joni chimes in and points out that only those speaking by inspiration of God should point out shaky doctrine. Will that now be exclusive to those in the charismatic community?

Rachael Starke said...

Well, it's funny how alike you and I thinking on this very thing, although I'd been thinking on it in terms of Phil's post on Monday about the Corinthians. Talk about uncomfortable.

IOW, I completely agree with this premise. (For the record, we had a dear friend at our house for dinner the next night from a WHI-type church, and he spontaneously began talking about how he had nearly lost his two oldest sons because of the disconnect between the doctrine coming from the pulpit and the lack of love from the people in the pews. It was an interesting "coincidence".)

It's how the hearers respond, and, especially, how the writers respond to the response, where we might differ.

It's interesting the Scripture leaves the hearers' response open-ended. I definitely would hope that Philemon, the Corinthians, etc., responded appropriately.


I'm not so sure that a good response would have been for the congregation to start throwing rotten pomegranates at the letter reader,

leading to friends of the letter reader to dogpile the fruitthrowers and their other friends, (who'd been quietly sitting and listening),

and ultimately turning the sanctuary into some kind of (un)holy moshpit,

and making the late edition of the underground broadcast of the NTChurch evening news.

For example.


David Rudd said...

DJP writes:

"...reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8b-9)

If the content is truthful, as Paul's was, shouldn't we heed? And if the content is untruthful, shouldn't we shine it on (Proverbs 14:7; 17:4; 25:12).

i completely agree.

Trinity said...

Paul was appealing to Philemon to be gracious and obey his request, because Philemon owed his very own life to Paul.

Paul also pleaded that whatever cost Philemon might accrue by doing as Paul wished, that Philemon could charge it to Paul's account.

Paul was not asking anything of Philemon that Paul had not already earned by his love and service in their past relationship.

Paul was appealing to Philemon not ONLY as his brother, but it is fair to say, that Paul's appeal came to Philemon as his spiritual father in the faith.

I hope that helps to clarify why Paul's open letter had a much different context than some of the open letters that have been circulating lately. Thanks.

Trinity said...

Daryl wrote: "He doesn't say that he owes his very life to Dr. Horton, but he does say that he owes him a lot, in terms of teaching."

The point I made is the opposite of this statement. Philemon owed his very life to Paul. Paul was the guy who wrote the letter. Philemon was the one to whom the letter was addressed.

The other way around...

DJP said...

Still trying to relate your point to anything I know about in the real world, InAwe:

You're saying that no one can address a public figure unless the public figure owes the speaker/writer his life?

Halcyon said...

There seems to be confusion from several people over DJP's use of Paul's letter to Philemon to make his point. If I may continue the running gag, I find this confusion odd.

DJP used Paul's letter as a touchstone for how to address another believer in regard to a perhaps touchy subject. Somehow, certain people read that as meaning:

(1) that DJP was making (or justifying) a "1 to 1 equivalency" between blog posts and scripture

(2) that the Pyromaniacs blog has (or has the grounds to have) a "1 to 1 equivalency" with scripture.

Where do you people come up with these things? How does saying, "Paul wrote letters to rebuke and exhort fellow Christians; therefore, it is biblical to do the same," some how mean, "My rebukes/exhortations have the same authority as scripture"?

All DJP was saying was that when it comes to rebuking/exhorting/encouraging fellow believers, Paul did it, Paul said to imitate him (I Cor. 4:16 & 11:1), so it's perfectly biblical to do so.

Once again, everyone seems to be missing the forest for the trees.

Steve Berven said...

And paulshirley handily reinforces my point for me:

"My point is that it would be helpful to have a discussion on the differences between engaging in ideas"

Yes, by all means, lets have a discussion, and engage in ideas, over a cup of coffee. Something very non-threatening, non-confrontational, and certainly avoiding any sort of doctrinal absolutism which might get in the way of keeping our interaction positive and safe.

What seems to be missed, repeatedly, by the Tone Policet[tm] (now augmented by the Who Do You Think You Are?! police) is the audience of these letters.

These open letters aren't targeting Mary Jane Smith in the third pew, second from the left, who's having trouble balancing her checkbook and not gossiping during Bunko night. These open letters are to leaders of the church or church movements, self-proclaimed or otherwise.

The folks here at Pyro seem comfortable with this mantle of teacher/pastor/priest, and therefore are addressing their articles to their nominal PEERS.

This is not a case of a flawed "outreach" model, or of speaking harshly to a congregation.

We don't have to be the Apostle Paul to speak with authority. We have the Word. And if someone purports to be speaking for God by "interpreting" His word, then they need to be prepared to be challenged if, in the words of that scholar and sage Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that Word means what you think that it means..."

A ribald and boisterous discussion between two pastor/teachers/leaders will inevitably have a far different tone than that taken from a pulpit to a congregation.

It's milk vs. meat.

DJP said...

Which, Halcyon, very tangentially makes me think of a line (believe it or not) from Blue's Big Musical Movie, which was a family favorite for a long time.

In it, one of the characters wants to do a magic act in the big show. The character says:

"Here pick a card, any card, any card."


"No, not that card!"

So everyone laments the state of the church. Until someone tries to do something about it, no matter how mild and minor.

Then that person, no matter how pure or Biblical his motives and efforts, suddenly attract The Sacred Knights of the Status Quo Ante, who have a special dispensation relieving them of the Lord's prohibition against mind-reading.

Halcyon said...

We are the Knights who say, "STATUS QUO!"

Trinity said...

DJP: "You're saying that no one can address a public figure unless the public figure owes the speaker/writer his life?"

Of course not. I'm saying that Paul's relationship with Philemon was nearly opposite of the relationship that Frank has with Mike, so for you to use Paul and Philemon as analagous to Frank and Mike completely misses Paul's basis, motivation, context, and purpose for addressing Philemon as he does.

I have no issue with Frank's original open letter to Dr. Horton, per se, even if it really has very little if any correlation to the content or context of Paul's penning of Philemon.

I think the only reason why I've taken the time to respond here is that I was literally flabbergasted by the tone AND content of his follow-on posts and comments. Was hoping that you'd be a bit of a spoiler to that tragic aftermath and was disappointed to be wrong.

DJP said...

1. Lou who?

2. Where in the post did I mention Frank?

3. Again, given this denial, I just don't for the life of me see what anything you're saying has to do with my post, any more than saying that anything longer or shorter than 335 words is not analogous to Philemon.

4. Frank is a model of grace and patience, particularly given the absurd, petulant childishness of a lot of what he was subjected to. I'd like to see another show half the grace. Well, Phil. But anyone else.

Robert said...


Were you flabbergasted by the tone of Paul when he addressed the critics from the church at Corinth who made false accusations about him? Because I read several blogs that were in concert with the one that Frank responded to on here and they were all crediting Frank with saying things that he did not say. he got lumped in with some write for Christianity Today...I think that speaks for itself. Seriously...have you read Paul's epistles and noticed any sarcasm at any point in time? And I certainly did not find the blog post he responded to to be gracious in any sense of the word. Add that to the fact that the author misrepresented what Frank actually said and that is what brought about the response, which actually seemed a bit restrained based upon what led to it.

Trinity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert said...

Sorry, Dan...I'm headed to meetings the rest of the afternoon, so at least I'll be restrained from assisting in derailing any further.

Thanks for the post, though...I just finished doing a thorough study of Philemon a couple of months ago and this brought some good memories of what I learned from that letter.

DJP said...

First: InAwe = Lou Who?

Tom Chantry said...

It seems to me that the Philemon analogy is in itself an insufficient foundation from which to build a thorough defense of the “Open Letter” approach, but it is a useful analogy.

The objections to the Open Letters have been of three types:
1. It is inappropriate for Frank to air these matters in public; if he needs to write a letter, he can do it privately.
2. It is a demonstration of pride on Frank’s part to assume that he has something to say to 52 people in an open letter.
3. Frank is mean.

I believe the Philemon analogy is an apt response to 1. Paul’s letter shows that sometimes - when a conflict has been publicly known and when its resolution will have a broad impact - it is valuable for that matter to be addressed publicly. I still can’t understand why the letter format upsets people. Is it different if the person is addressed indirectly? Was Paul’s letter to Philemon harsher than his treatment of Peter in Galatians just because it began with “Dear Philemon”? Frank was going to blog on 52 topics this year at Pyro; we all understand that, right? So how is a “Dear Mike” letter any meaner than a traditional post raising questions about WHI? This question has been asked but so far remains unanswered.

The Horton letter is analogous in some ways to Philemon, but not all. Frank wrote about a point of public controversy. That dispute is something which affects more people than merely the one addressed. The main difference is that Paul had apostolic authority over Philemon - which fact underlies his statements of Philemon’s indebtedness to him. Perhaps those who object to the Philemon analogy are among those who are raising objection 2 above. They can understand how it is not pride for Paul the Apostle to write an open letter, but they can’t have Frank the Blogger doing the same.

I should acknowledge that Frank’s first two letters sailed right over my head. I never heard of one of those guys, barely recognized the second, and am the last person on earth to catch a popular music reference. This flap, though, has arisen over the third letter (and the fourth “hip-shot” letter - but I’ve said what I thought about that). The differences between Philemon and the Horton letter speak for themselves. Frank didn’t try to play “apostle” - writing as though Horton is answerable to him. He addressed a question to a well-known Christian teacher, and he did so respectfully and - I believe - lovingly.

Actually, I take that back; he did write it lovingly - and that’s not a matter of personal opinion. To find unkindness in the letter you must put it there yourself through insinuations or assumptions of what was in Frank’s heart - and we have a Christian obligation not to read things that way. So argument 3 is purely specious.

As for argument 1, it is really just the old canard that nothing should ever be said about a public ministry in the public square. It is an argument disproven by scriptural precept and example many times over. It isn’t as though Frank wrote an open letter to some John Doe Christian in your church who kicked his dog last week. He didn’t even write a letter accusing Mike Horton of kicking his dog last week! He wrote a respectful letter about a very public ministry. If you think it’s wrong to ever blog about such things, let me make a suggestion: STOP READING BLOGS!!! And if you think it’s different because this is an open letter rather than a “let-me-tell-you-what-I-think-is-wrong-with-Horton” post, then please explain why.

It’s true that we are not Apostles and don’t write. However, Philemon does demonstrate that respectful, loving mention of public disputes may be made in public - especially when the subject matter is something already publicly known and affecting the whole of the church.

Barbara said...

Just a blogger reading a free blog myself here, but I can't help observing the overall response to those who express concern regarding 'tone' or those who assume that every concern comes down to being someone from the "tone police". There are those (myself included) who, while agreeing with what is said throughout most of the open letters, and that what is said needs to be said, but there is a great concern for the ever-lurking danger of spiritual pride. And it's shows up in the snarkiness of responses to the point where apologies are having to be made and where others need to be made. Genuine concern from those who are openly respected by TeamPyro is even being tossed aside as something lesser than worthy of your consideration. And that's just a dangerous place to be. Y'all teeter on that edge a bit at times, and it does put a lot of people off. I love the truth you express, but gentlemen, please consider what this venue may be doing to your own hearts.

I recall a very wise man who once wrote some very wise words, and maybe you recognize them:

23.Complicating that last, everyone who disagrees with your Biblical stance will accuse you of arrogance (1 Kings 22:24). Assume they may be right, and do something about it (cf. Psalm 25:9; Proverbs 3:34; 11:2; 1 Peter 5:5).

I can source it if you like.

In Christian love,

DJP said...

Thanks, Tom. Good points.

Analogy works for me, though I stick to my observation that one could argue that all the epistles are open letters.

To be plain: I don't think open-letters require my defense. That anyone would find fault in one public figure addressing another public figure about matters of public records is just... sad.

The Squirrel said...

"Wisdomy" joins "Bibly" in the list of all-time best Filopsisms...


farmboy said...

When an idea is offered for consideration and subsequently debated in the public square, what is of greatest importance: 1) the merit of the idea or 2) our perception of the tone of those participating?

Ideas, ideals, values and such are timeless, objective concepts that transcend us. The truth of such ideas, ideals, values and such matters to all of us.

In contrast, our perceptions of the tone of those participating are captive to us, the subjects doing the perceiving. Yes, feelings can be hurt, but isn't that why parents teach their children to transcend such hurts? "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." To focus on what really matters, we have to learn to transcend those hurt feelings so that we can focus on that which is of eternal value.

To ignore something of eternal value because of one's perception of the tone with which it is offered is an example of "cutting of your nose to spite your face." It's a response we should all seek to outgrow.

Aaron Snell said...

Tom Chantry does this right, folks. Sit up and pay attention.

David Regier said...

You need to write an open letter to Doug Moo for having a name that distracts me from thinking theological thoughts, and rather makes me think of a knock knock joke that makes milk come out of my nose.

Joan said...

For the record, I think it is proper to spur one another on to sound doctrine. I think it is necessary and right to call someone out (particularly someone in a position of authority or influence) who is lacking in the same. I think a public letter may be one appropriate means to do that. I think Frank has communicated many valid concerns in this way. I think some of the responses to him have been hyperbolic and based on inaccurate information.

That said, it seemed to me that the implied message of this particular post was "if it was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for Frank". That troubled me as it smacked of an arrogance that should not go unchecked.

God's Word says that iron sharpens iron. What seems to be a growing phenomenon on this site, however, is the refusal of Pyromaniacs to receive the same kind of correction they so generously portion out to others. I think this is a dangerous trend and a shaky position that is contrary to the original intent of the bloggers here.

May we all search our own hearts in this matter.

Mike Westfall said...

You mean, Frank's letters are analogous to what's in the Bible?
Oh, dear...

DJP said...

So Joni, will you soon be modelling what you have in mind by how you embrace the corrections offered your first comment, above?

Jim Pemberton said...

I for one know that I would welcome the kind of feedback Pyros give publicly on their site, positive and negative. I don't get that quality of feedback in public OR private for any kind of ministry I do.

Halcyon said...


"What seems to be a growing phenomenon on this site, however, is the refusal of Pyromaniacs to receive the same kind of correction they so generously portion out to others."

Your statement was well put and not in any spirit of arrogance, but it is unfortunately not true.

Here is one small example.

DJP can probably give you more (if he feels like it).

The Squirrel said...

Aaron Snell said...
"Tom Chantry does this right, folks. Sit up and pay attention."

Let me let you in on a little secret, Aaron. I actually only read Pyro in the hopes that Chantry will comment.



Aaron Snell said...

We all want to be Tom Chantry when we grow up, don't we? :)

Cathy M. said...

I just have two things to say:
First: I love "farmboy's" comment.

Second: I wish you'd been my big brother. :-)

Deb said...

Chantry hit the nail on the head!

and BTW, I think Frank was misunderstood and got caught fighting his way out of a corner that he shouldn't have been put into over the WHI letter. I just listened to the interview at Pirate Christian Radio and Frank's verbal explanation has a much different effect on me than his second and third letters did. In a good way. Very good.

Lots of times, our writing comes across A LOT stronger than when we verbalize the same. Not sure how that goes with the whole post.
All the best in Christ.

FX Turk said...

Just for the record:

1. Tom Chantry has mastered the Internets. Therefore he is a menace and must be stopped.


2. I can now hijack DJP's threads without even commenting on them. I had mastered that on another blog, and something sad and terrible happened to that guy, so I hope this doesn't bode ill for my favorite fellow blogger.

Aaron Snell said...

Well, Frank, you are a menace and all that. :)

BTW, is that Pirate Christian Radiop interview archived somewhere? Because I couldn't find it.

Bruce Keller said...

Considering the fact that you are neither inspired nor do you possess apostolic authority, I would lovingly suggest that you refrain from using an equivalence argument comparing Paul's writings to your own for the purpose of justifying your open letters. It is a false comparison and, quite frankly, feels a bit irreverent and presumptuous. As a long-time, regular and supportive reader of Pyromaniacs, I believe you've stepped over a boundary on this one.

The Squirrel said...


The Interview(TM)


Deb said...


or http://bit.ly/f0wARC

greglong said...


You obviously didn't read the comment thread, did you?

St. Lee said...

And then Bruce jumps in to point out that he doesn't read closely and that he doesn't have a grasp of the fact that there is more than one blogger on Pyromaniacs. The second point is somewhat understandable since two out of three have the letters p,h,i, and l in their names. But those four letters are not to be found the name Frank Turk - he didn't write this "defence" and neither he nor Dan ever hinted that a modern day open letter was equivalent to scripture. If a person is going to comment on a post they might be well served to at least read the author's name. Its right there at the top - and the bottom.

And I am guilty of violating the tone ordinance, I know, but sometimes you just can't help yourself. Wait, what if I add "I lovingly suggest" - is that better?

Anonymous said...

Whist I couldn’t match DJP’s vigor as Frank’s blogoguard, for the sake of some mild objectivity, I noticed that one of Frank’s responses to that open letter was that it is better in his view to write to someone than write about them. Direct as opposed to indirect. How could anyone argue with that?

To take it a step further in relation to the Tone SWAT mob that always tries to highjack these blogs; if I ever visited Toronto, Timmy Challies would be my first ‘must see’ in person before the CN Tower. I LOVE the guy! But I am concerned in case he is becoming a little isolated these days in his cyber corner. My point is…if Frank has a ‘tone’, then Lady Schlueter
has cyanide smoothies for breakfast. Or has he ever come across Marsha West?

FX Turk said...

Bruce --

Yeah, that's what I did. That's also what Dan did. And we are doing it for three reasons:

1. Mark Driscoll told us that God said it was time to say it.

2. It's bound to make scads of cash.

3. It will win us a lot of friends. I mean: obviously.

Bruce Keller said...


I read the entire comment thread, every last word of it, including paulshirley's similar objection and DJP's response, which I found unsatisfying to say the least. I don't believe DJP truly responded to the specific objection. He simply crafted a red herring argument that included a disappointingly back-handed ad hominem attack on the commentator.

"There's no Biblical issue with writing public letters responding to the public words of public figures. THAT ANY WOULD EVER HAVE THOUGHT THERE WAS IS JUST ODD."

Not exactly a gracious response to reasoned criticism. The actual objection primarily calls attention to the fact that Paul, being explicitly commissioned to a position of authority in the early church, possessed only one means of communicating his counsel to Philemon and Onesimust, the written letter. Being the only means at his disposal, I doubt he considered it as primarily a public rebuke. For Mr. Phillips to equate what Paul did with what the Horton open letter was intended to do (by definition the Horton open letter was a public rebuke) is to perpetrate a false equivalence.

At the risk of being totally hypocritical by the simple fact that I am posting to a PUBLIC forum, I must assert that such public dialogues (or are they mmore often diatribes?) are not the most effective way of communicating loving concern to individuals we deem misguided. We have many avenues to communicate our concerns (including private or less-public ones). I fear that this particular vehicle tends to generate more heat than light. And I suspect that it plays to the baser aspects of the fallen nature by offering a means of communication that can be used to subtly commend OURSELVES in the public forum, rather than to truly represent humble loving concern for those who may need correction.

To co-opt the writings of the Apostle Paul to justify this open letter is, in my opinion, outside the bounds of biblically-informed wisdom and logically-flawed.


Anonymous said...

Turk & Co take heed. The Tone Censorship SWAT team is breaking the doors down again.

Here’s a thought: Since you can’t keep everyone happy, provide a ‘tone friendly’ version of your future posts and give readers a choice to click between the raw and the sanitized version.

DJP said...


Bruce Keller said...

I am not sure how my comments are being characterized as belonging to the "tone police" category. I don't see ANY comments in my post that would imply that I value "tone" over truth. Did the responder understand my post? Or is this just another deflection of some sort?

Mr. Turk,

I am unable to discern the intention of your most recent comment. Was it intended to enlighten me or to mock me?


DJP said...

Bruce Keller, I wanted to respond to the substance of your comment.

But when I shifted through the tutting and scolding and repetition of what's either already been answered or is simply irrelevant, I couldn't find any substance.

So could you say, concisely, what actual objective issue you have with the actual post, that hasn't been answered already?

donsands said...

"I fear that this particular vehicle tends to generate more heat than light." Bruce Keller

I would not think so myself. Frank has written some good words to brothers in Christ.

If they had the internet in Acts 15, then we would have had such blogging going on, and it all would have been quite within God's sovereign purposes, I'm sure.

"And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question......The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up.." Good old Simon Peter. I long to meet him, and have many questions for my brother Peter.

Are you related to Tim Keller perchance? A fine pastor Tim is.

Bruce Keller said...

Mr. Turk,
I've re-read my posts and believe my point is rather clear. If your intent was to respond to my observations respectfully, I believe you ought to have entirely left out your first response, which was needlessly smug and unkind. I respect your work, as well as Dan's and Phil's. I will continue to follow and pray that God blesses it. But I shall not be posting again. I'll endeavor to defend biblical truth and comportment in my own sphere, rather than participate here. I sense that this is not truly a place for anyone other than those who agree 100% with what you say and 100% with how you say it.

Please forgive my interruption.


donsands said...

"I sense that this is not truly a place for anyone other than those who agree 100% with what you say and 100% with how you say it."

Not true brother.

There may certainly be much we agree on, and I have learned much from the TeamPyro 3 amigos, but there's disagreement as well.

Even in the comments here.

How if I say to you, unless i agree 100% with you?
I suppose we could all say that to one another, couldn't we.

Jack Miller said...

From Bruce, comment #1: We're supposed to welcome reproof and be thankful for it...
Frank wrote an open letter to Mike Horton... [and] went on to point out some problems that might occur due to some imbalanced teaching... I just don't quite understand the fervor of some people's responses and the lack of interest from Mr. Horton himself.... I do remember the response Paul had for some members of a certain church who didn't take hist first letter too well...

Are we beginning to see Pyro's posts as an equivalence to Paul's letters? And I would ask if the same standard "of some people's responses" is applicable to many of the responses here to those raising questions or concerns. Spec, log?

As some say... just saying.


Aaron Snell said...

Thanks, Gene & Deb! Just after I posted the question, I saw it in the Twitter feed, too.

Rachael Starke said...

....and those who are in any way disomfitted about this whole thing, should really, really listen to it. I'm just now two-thirds through it and it is money. Heck, I'm not usually a fan of the Pirate guy and I even like him better now. I am not kidding. I've laughed and I've cried - not tears of dismay over his soul, for the record - but, truly, tears of joy over the content of what he's saying.

In that Frank is responsible for the original letter, when you hear the interview, you'll be thankful for that. Maybe you'll even tell your friends that you sorta, kinda know him.

As for the ensuing fooferah, Frank is not responsible for it. And I'm willing to heed the wisdom of others here, like brother Chantry and farmboy's, and consider that perhaps it's me that misread things.

Listen to the interview friends.

Steve Berven said...

There seems to be a small contingent here from a more Catholic vein, suggesting that only those with Apostolic authority can presume to provide Biblical exegesis?

As I understand Catholicism, that authority ONLY resides with the Church in the form of the ordained priesthood?

If that's your view, then yeah, this Protestant willingness to dig in and arrogantly presume to analyze God's word our own silly selves is sure going to get yer feathers in a fluff.


There's quite a bit of difference between "what you said is wrong" and "it's wrong of you to say what you said."

One deals with content, the other with scriptural authority, and are two entire different discussions.


Robert said...


Just to clarify...that was my comment and I think you clearly missed the point. Do you think that Paul does not leave us a model of how we should respond to certain people/accusations? Or do you just draw your own conclusions on what is appropriate or inappropriate? Are you saying that we couldn't take the example that Paul provides in his letters to Timothy and Titus and apply it to how the church should expect pastors, elders, and deacons to be selected? Or that other pastors shouldn't pass those things along to those with a desire to be a pastor/elder? For by the way you are writing, you would say that such a person was elevating themselves to the office of an apostle.

Anonymous said...

Dan Phillip's got Frank Turk's back. Isn't that sweet?

Jack Miller said...

Robert wrote:

Sadly, the response from Mike Horton seemed to be that he does not need to take responsibility for where that imbalanced teaching might lead some people.

I agree that Scripture is our guide on how we should respond to both personal accusations and also to controversies regarding the faith. Your above comment, though, is a debatable opinion, and not a fact. Dr. Horton responded to what he saw as the "controversy regarding the faith as articulated by Mr. Turk and avoided taking it to a personal level. There is disagreement over the law/gospel issue. I just wish that is where it would stay rather than speculations and conclusions on peoples motives and supposed lack of godly responses. Likewise implying the words or attitude of any commenter (on the internet no less) who may or may not listen to WHI as evidence of fault in Dr. H.'s doctrine is specious.
I would say debate doctrine (yes, even strongly), both faith and practice. But let's not hold someone to a standard we ourselves may not want to be held to.

I'm thankful we are all under the blood of our Savior.
again, best regards-


Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

I just got around to reading this post Dan. Excellent… and very apropos.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Thank you for uncovering a great use of the letter to Philemon that has been missed by the church for two centuries. Now, my next step is elevating myself in my own estimation to assign to myself the role of weekly open letter "Rebuker" and/or "Approver" of some notable person in the body of Christ or even outside. LOL

DJP said...

Guggenheim - Thank you for uncovering a great use of the letter to Philemon that has been missed by the church for two centuries

But at least (according to you) they had it in the 1800s. Documentation would be nice, if you had some.

Nicer still would be interaction with even the shadow of something actually in the post, if you had any?

For my part, I doubt that anything I noted has ever been anything other than common knowledge.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Did Frank already do a countdown with you Alex? Or am I thinking of another similar guest.

Regardless, that's one. Please read my comment. If you don't want to respond contentfully, appropriately, respectfully of the rules, then you may move along. Otherwise, two more violations at minimum gets you banned.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

That's two. This isn't the crying room.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Blogger DJP said...

But at least (according to you) they had it in the 1800s. Documentation would be nice, if you had some.

I have no idea what this means in relationship to anything I have said. Mind making some kind of connection or amplification?

Tom Chantry said...

Perhaps we can all just agree that Alex meant to write "two millenia" - not "two centuries." Just sayin.

That way Alex can get back to showing how his comment related to the original post.

DJP said...

Alex: Thank you for uncovering a great use of the letter to Philemon that has been missed by the church for two centuries

"Two centuries" = 200 years.

2000s - 200 = 1800s

It was the closest you came to making an actual argument, so I went for it.

Alex A. Guggenheim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Yeah, Alex? You're not going to do to this thread what you did to the other.

Did you actually have a question or a point?

Phrase it in under 100 words.

That's a special rule, just for you. I would be happy to respond to an on-topic question or challenge about the post. We're just not going to get buried in excess grandiloquence as a substitute for substance again.

(see? 69 words, plus these)

Alex A. Guggenheim said...

Tom, Thanks and I did intend to say "two millennia". There is little (or none) in the way of this novel contextualization of the letter to Philemon in theological work of which I can find. And with such a lacking I would consider the superfluous use of this novel arrangement to be pursued and utilized much more modesty than it is.

trogdor said...

Perhaps there is nary a mention of the main theme of this post - that Philemon was a message to one man, yet clearly intended to be read by many others - because it is so blindingly obvious that it's hardly worth mentioning under normal circumstances. It would take something truly ridiculous, like a whole bunch of people getting their panties in a bunch over the very concept of an open letter, for such an obvious point to need to be made.

Honestly, the whole 'controversy' is totally absurd. I can understand people disagreeing with the substance of the letters. I could even see complaints about 'tone' if there was something truly snarky or inappropriate in any of them. But the incessant whining about the format of the posts? I cannot remember ever seeing a lamer complaint from the perpetually-offended crowd, and there have been some doozies.

DJP said...

Don't tempt them. There are depths as-yet unplumbed.