30 June 2011

The richest legacy for parents and children

by Dan Phillips

As you may recall, in May of 2010 we helped reader Mike Dickey (vcdechagn) work with his dying mother to compose a gravestone as a lasting testimony to Christ. Mike much appreciated your help. His mother was not expected to live much more than a month. In fact, she went to be with the Lord less than a week after that post.

Mike has given me permission to show you the gravestone the family ended up composing.

Mike's mother was very concerned to be a testimony to Christ. Mike showed me a letter his mother wrote an unbelieving friend. I am sure it's now a dear memento to Mike: the letter is earnest, passionate, loving, and Christ-centered. For instance, check this out, unedited:
Here is the problem as I see it, and I don’t mean to be unloving. As I read through your list I can’t help but be struck by the fact that you are setting yourself up as judge. Now, if your morals are perfect and you are the one who judges the entire world that might work. But if each person is the final judge of what is good and what is evil we are going to end up with chaos…which is exactly what we have.

Since God is holy then every act that He performs is holy and righteous. While I know this doesn’t satisfy your questions I think you are seeking a God that you approve of. Instead, what we need to seek is the truth. It is not about a feeling. My feelings are often wrong. It’s about what the truth is. I can identify with a lot of what you’re saying because I used to find so many things in this world that went against my understanding of what God “should be like.”
Then she quotes Calvin, as well as the Word! This, from a lady who knew she was dying of cancer (though she does not mention it in the letter). The sister could have been a guest-poster at Pyro.

Right now, reading this, many of us are wishing one or both of our passed parents had left us such a testimony. They are gone, now; and they did not leave us such clear, shining beacons to their own love for Jesus Christ. Either they were outright unbelievers, or they lefty a murky, muddled profession. Perhaps they left us property, land, money... but we'd gladly trade all of it for the legacy of a crystal-clear, unambiguous testimony to a living faith in Christ.

In my upcoming book of studies in Proverbs (scheduled for September, last I heard), I have an extended section on the legacy parents can and should leave their children. Financial and property inheritance are great things, but they are nothing compared to a clear and unambiguous legacy of godliness, of a professed and practiced living faith in Christ. In fact, to quote, er, well... me, from what will be page 301:
I have seen far too many parents who see to their children’s every material need, but who leave this one crucial, indispensable, all-important necessity neglected. A great many verses in Proverbs point to the blessedness of the children of righteous, God-fearing parents. “In the fear of Yahweh is strong confidence, And his sons will have a refuge” (Prov. 14:26 DJP). See also: Proverbs 3:33; 11:21; 12:3, 7, 12; 13:22; 14:1, 11, 26; 15:6, 25; 17:6; 19:14; 20:7; 24:3. Each of these verses is worth serious meditation by parents who would please God.
So if you're a parent, this is your best and dearest legacy.

But before I leave this, let me add: children are similarly obliged to their parents. God obliges children to give joy to their parents (Prov. 23:25). (I have another section on that in the Proverbs book, as well.) Many parents are forced by their feckless offspring to live in a state of anxiety, since the children either profess no faith at all, or give lip-service to a faith to which they give the lie by their lawless, Christ-shaming lives.

Such sad parents are robbed of the assurance they should have from children who have honored God by honoring them (Exod. 20:12; Mark 7:10; Rom. 13:1ff.; Eph 6:2) in the most meaningful way: by hearing, believing, receiving, and practicing the Word of God which they were taught from infancy on (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15-17).

Have you given that most precious gift to your children? Your parents?


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29 June 2011

Open Letter to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

by Frank Turk

Dear Gov. Cuomo --

Well, nice work. As an ex-New Yorker, I have an interest in what happens in the state of my birth, and this week you have the spotlight. If the press can be trusted to make a keen snap judgment about current events' long-term impact, you've done something Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could not accomplish: you have changed the face of the debate over the definition of marriage in the English-speaking world forever. You had help, of course, and to list all the sponsors of A08354 would be a little oppressive. But let's make it clear that the bill was introduced "at the request of the Governor." So to you, I offer congratulations that you have accomplished what you have set out to do here.

Let's look at your handiwork, shall we?

click to enlarge
Unlike a lot of laws, this one fits nicely on two pages and has one simple purpose: it's an act to amend the domestic relations law, in relation to the ability to marry. Now, to that end, it says one thing simply and explicitly: "Marriage is a fundamental human right." It's in green in the image above in case someone can't find it, and I credit you and the legislators who penned this document for saying what you mean right up front.

The inspiration for this document is the political premise that marriage is just like voting or property rights. It's just like the right to bear arms, or the right to assemble. That is: no one should be refused marriage if they require it.

Now, at this point, many people on my side of this discussion would leap immediately into the question of what this can possibly mean -- they want to push you immediately down the slippery slope, and say, "well, what about three people who want to be married? What about 5 people who want to be married like those citizens on 'Sister Wives'? What about that?" I think you were clever enough to short-circuit that by making the language of the law only a disqualification of gender-specific language -- not a complete dismantling of all legal standards about the union of two citizens. So for example, bigamy, adultery and incest are all still right out thanks to Penal Law § 255, esp. 255.15, 255.17 and so on. And that's because some things are still wrong, still harmful to society in some sense.

That, by the way, is what gives me hope that this letter can still have some way to reach you. You didn't undo the whole institution, and if I may say so, you still have daughters for whom I am certain you want the best of all things, including a loving marriage where there is no bigamy, adultery, or incest. This is what we all want for our children.

And I think this is part of what motivates you in this law -- the people who have children who are not attracted to a heterosexual union. It is pity for them, and for the avowed happiness of those children, which causes you to say it this way: "Marriage is a fundamental human right."

Now, I think you're wrong about this. I think you and yours have bit off way more than you can politically chew by calling "marriage" a "right", especially since, for example, it is something the government establishes and recognizes by issuing a license. But that's actually my problem, not yours -- because even if I'm right about that, your new law is actually the law now whether you have hung it on the right philosophical hook or not.

What interests me, though, is the parts that come later -- the parts I have highlighted in yellow and red in the sections after the meat and potatoes.

Consider the yellow section: Section 10-B parts 1 & 2 make a pretty broad exception to this new law. In reference to the fundamental right of citizens to marry, you have set something aside: the necessity that any religious organization either marry these people or offer them the use of their buildings. While Marriage is defined as a "fundamental right," someone turned away, for example, by the Catholic Church as not their type cannot thereafter sue the Catholic Church either as a civil claim or any other claim that could come to court.

Now: I get it. This was the hang-up as late as the 6th of June when the "staunch" republicans made it clear that if this law caused the Catholics or anyone else to have to perform the religious ceremony for any couple and not just man/woman couples, the law was DOA. So this exemption was to eliminate opposition to the law on religious grounds.

But what if I'm a Muslim from Sudan, where slavery is legal, and I want to bring my slave with me from my homeland while I am here on business for a year or two. An actual fundamental right in our country is the right to human liberty: that is, slavery is categorically forbidden. Liberty is an actual, fundamental right. There is no way the competing right of religious freedom (of a slave owner) overcomes the right to liberty, and anyone arguing for such a thing would be hectored to repent.

So if the religions of the people of NY state are wrong, and they are denying a fundamental human right to anyone -- even one Sudanese slave here for a short visit with his owner -- winking at it like this is either extraordinarily-shrewd or incredibly jaded. Yet here it is in the law of New York State: a new definition of the administration of a fundamental right!

It's sort of stunning. What the state is here saying is that there are human rights not worth enforcing for the sake of religious freedom. And it goes on through the red parts there as well -- not only do the religious have the right not to administer marriage two citizens of the wrong flavor, they also have the right to refuse to employ them, rent them property, and admit them to membership. And further, not only is the organization exempted from all this, but so are all its clergy, ministers and leaders!

That is: we have a fundamental human right defined here as being nothing that the religious have to worry about providing.

For all the partying that went on this weekend, I think the people celebrating didn't read the fine print very well. All they gained was the restrictions under law for how they can treat each other, including the claims someone else can lay on their property and person, with no obligation of the chief opponents of what they are doing to recognize in any way that they are doing it.

I'm not sure how you engineered that, but I have to say: well done. Your Dad always came across as extraodinarily-clever and informed when he was Governor, but even he never pulled off something this monumentally-ethereal.

Somehow, you seem to have (at least for the time being) gotten it both ways. Somehow you have made marriage a fundamental right and a thing its opponents have no obligation to accept.

If you could figure out how to do that with the National Debt, you could literally become the king of the world.

Good luck with that, and with the remainder of your term as Governor. I leave this for you to consider with sincere best wishes and the hope that you will know for certain the Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ.

28 June 2011

(Less) tersely put: omniscience and certainty revisited

by Dan Phillips

In crafting my maiden-voyage post for this series, I had a number of things in mind. Some ended up reading my mind (poor souls) pretty well, while other nascent thoughts were left on the dusty shelves. To save you a click, here it was:
To profess certainty, non-Christians must feign omniscience.

Christians begin with the confession that they (1) do not possess omniscience, but (2) are by grace confidants of the only one who does possess it.

Thus Christians alone not only can be, but are obliged to be, humbly certain.
The first thought touches on what I might call the "Far Side of Neptune" argument.

Just think of all the "scientific" theories in all of human history that have died horrible deaths in the light of new discoveries. The positions were always held with great confidence right up to the moment they had to be abandoned...and sometimes even afterwards. One new fact, or one new set of facts, provoked a paradigm-shift, however eventual and reluctant.

So, how many facts are there, in the universe, total? More than ten? More than a trillion? More than ten decazillion, cubed? Of course, we could never even guess the number — let alone their nature — of all facts.

That being the case, who can say with certitude that one fact, existing only ten miles under the surface of the far side of Neptune, and only within an eight-inch radius, would not change everything we think we know about... any given subject? One can scoff, he can dismiss, he can bluff... but he can't answer that question. He cannot honestly say that he knows for a certainty, one way or the other, that some fact not yet in evidence would not constitute a transformative, revolutionary revelation.

Yet nobody lives with such uncertainties. Nobody speaks exclusively in the subjective mood. We love the indicative, even more than we should.

So we announce that (say) evolution is an undeniable fact, that the world is X-zillion years old, that homosexuality is not a chosen behavior, that the unborn are not human, that this or that is right or wrong. We speak as if from a perspective of not only omniscience, but omnisapience; as if we both possessed and understood all facts... even though neither is true.

Yet someone has to keep pointing out the emperor's illusory garb: unless the speaker has an infinite grasp of both the identity and the meaning/significance of every last fact in the universe, he has no right to speak with certainty.

Yet the unbeliever regularly does so speak. He does not possess omniscience. He merely feigns it. His intent is to cow opposition (and quiet his own conscience [Rom. 1:18ff.]) by a show of bravado. As we have seen, the tactic often works in the short run.

A second idea lurked under the surface: "Thus Christians alone not only can be, but are obliged to be, humbly certain." The Christian, insofar as he actually practices the faith he professes, necessarily affirms the inerrancy of Scripture as the very word of God. In so doing, he claims to possess a revelation from the only one who actually does know and understand absolutely everything that exists, since He is the Creator of absolutely everything that  exists.

Ironically, however, there are those who (A) claim to be Christian, but (B) choose to feign uncertainty on unpopular issues where the Bible is pretty clear.

Return to the subject of homosexuality. The Bible really is univocal on that particular behavior (e.g. Rom. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). As it is on wifely submission (e.g. Eph. 5:22, 24). Or the exclusivity of Christ and His Gospel (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). Or the reality of eternal conscious torment of the lost in Hell (Matt. 25:41, 46).

These are not murky penumbras, but clear doctrines. Not that a devoted opponent cannot fabricate some murk; it is axiomatic that great distance from the Word necessarily creates greater murkiness (Isa. 8:20). Any clear statement can be smudged... including this one. But the professed believer who adopts a pose of tentativeness on such issues is in the precise-reverse position of the unbeliever who adopts the pose of certitude.

Because (to allude to another terse post that could have been developed further), if God actually has spoken, everything changes.

In sum: the person who denies God's revelation is obliged to speak uncertainly about everything; the person who affirms God's revelation is obliged to speak certainly about some things (Amos 3:8; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; 1 Cor. 9:16).

The strange thing is that one so often sees the exact reverse.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 June 2011

Unsportsmanlike Conduct?

Did we really blow the Rob Bell situation?
by Phil Johnson

ast week on Tim Challies' podcast, the guest was Kenneth J. Stewart, author of IVP's Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. Among other things, he claimed that the "uncoordinated . . . response of the conservative Reformed world" to Rob Bell's Love Wins constituted "a display of our disunity. . . a display of our failure to coordinate."

In Professor Stewart's words:
What I think our constituency was guilty of in that case is overkill. There might have been select spokesmen put forward from within our constituency, and they would be told to go to it. But we had too many people on the attack; too many people going for the jugular, and our movement displayed its unlovely side.

Challies' co-host, David Murray, quickly agreed, suggesting that once Challies and Kevin DeYoung had posted their reviews of the book, "all that needed to be said had been said."
Murray: "Tim, what do you think?"

Challies: "Yeah, I would tend to agree. . . . there was a little too much being said."

Professor Stewart then elaborated:
What does [our use of new media] display? What it can display is that we are ungracious. That we pile on. I like to think of what happened to Rob Bell in football terms. When the whistle is blown there's not to be any more tackling.

I had a few thoughts in response to this exchange:
  • Of course I disagree strongly with Professor Stewart. In the first place, the response to Bell's book was hardly "a display of our disunity." The reviews of that book from the conservative and Reformed districts of the blogosphere reflected the strongest evangelical consensus I've seen since the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy disbanded. The only significant dissenting opinions were early complaints that Justin Taylor had jumped the gun, the critics were being too harsh, and other similar shopworn scoldings, mostly from Bell's own fan-base, erstwhile Emergents, and other espousers of postmodern values.
  • It's hard to get evangelicals exercised about any point of doctrine nowadays. To scold them for supposedly overreacting at the rankness of Bell's damnable heresy strikes me as counterproductive—dangerously so.
  • The notion that the Reformed blogosphere should be regulated like an episcopal body, so that certain designated spokespersons would be appointed by an oligarchy, a college of cardinals, a blog-Pope (or whatever) and "told to go to it"—with the rest of us being instructed to shut up—is a Really Bad Idea.
  • Perhaps the main deficiency in the Reformed blogosphere's response to Bell's universalism is the speed with which the scandal blew over. The whole matter is already being treated as yesterday's news, as if the danger were past. Let's not forget that Arianism made most of its gains in the two or three decades after Arius's theology was categorically condemned by the Nicene council. There were many in those days who accused Athanasius of "overkill" because of his polemical persistence against Arius. (In fact, just about everyone complained that Athanasius was too relentless in his condemnation of Arius.) They were dead wrong.
  • In my estimation, one of the most troubling characteristics of the neo-Reformed is the way so many work so hard to cultivate a culture of artificial collegiality, courting the world's admiration and the academy's esteem. Let's not encourage them in that. We need to be more concerned about declaring the truth and refuting worldly wisdom. Time Magazine's judgment about whether we are open-minded enough, diverse enough, or winsome enough is not a good barometer of how we're doing in the realm of apologetics.
  • I also disagree with the insinuation that the early critiques of Bell were sufficient and the later ones superfluous. Justin's initial post hit in February before anyone else's. Judging from the sheer volume of comments, that was actually the post that seemed to stir the most ire. John MacArthur didn't touch the subject until more than a month later, but he wrote an extended series of posts that added up to one of the more complete analyses of Bell's error. The discussion in the combox at GTY's blog proves that "all that need[s] to be said" in response to Bell's book has not been said even yet. (I'd hate to think someone thinks MacArthur should have held his peace just because a couple of well-known bloggers had already written fifteen paragraphs or so).
  • The hell debate has been brewing among evangelicals at least since Edward Fudge wrote The Fire that Consumes in 1982. It's not going away soon.
  • The debate Rob Bell has provoked is not a game or a merely academic discussion. No whistle has blown; the down is not over. Bell has not retracted or recanted so much as a single sentence. His book is still selling briskly. If there ever is a time when "piling on" is appropriate, it's when Christ's teaching is being attacked so wolfishly. The suggestion that it's unsportsmanlike for too many people to comment is like saying David "displayed his unlovely side" when he whacked Goliath's head off. After all, he had already rendered Goliath unconscious! Was it "fair play" to go for the jugular (literally) while the giant was thus incapacitated?
  • Controversy, though always unpleasant, is sometimes necessary, and it can even be good and beneficial. The idea that controversy is always evil is a falsehood that is as full of mischief as any heresy.
In short, the suggestion that the Reformed blogosphere's response to Bell's awful screed was an "overreaction" is the wrong message to be sending evangelicals, who already have an unhealthy obsession with what the secular world thinks of them, an exaggerated estimate of the importance of academic respectability, a postmodernized concept of "cordiality," an irrational fear of speaking the truth plainly, and an unholy timidity when it comes to taking unpopular stands against politically correct but erroneous beliefs.

What do you think?

Phil's signature

PS (and a word about Tim Challies):
  • Yes, I did write Tim Challies privately and express all of these concerns before blogging about my disagreement with his podcast.
  • Our "disagreement" is not as wide as some might think. Tim is frequently embarrassed by the half-cocked fusillades that regularly spew forth from certain self-styled "discernment" bloggers. He wrote an excellent book on true discernment, which I fully endorse. I share his horror over so many self-styled "discernment ministries" that are neither truly discerning nor edifying to anyone. The horror is doubled when people who are put off by such side-shows refer to them as the "truly Reformed" (though many—most?—of them are not Reformed at all).
  • Still, I think a centralized committee directing the Reformed blogosphere is not going to alleviate that problem at all. (I'm not sure there is any easy answer to that problem in a free country with easy Internet access.)
  • I did not say (and certainly did not try to imply) that Tim Challies belongs in the category of "'neo-reformed' compromisers." Tim's podcast partner, David Murray, took my comments that way and thinks most of our commenters did too. I don't believe objective readers could possibly think that's what I was saying, but I'm happy to disavow the idea for the record.
  • From my point of view, Tim is sometimes squeamish about plain-speaking when he shouldn't be. No doubt from Tim's point of view, contributors at TeamPyro are too edgy at times. For the most part, however, we get along just fine. I certainly appreciate the role Tim has had in the blogosphere. He was blogging for many years before I started, and like most evangelical and Reformed bloggers, I have long regarded him as something of a role model.
  • Lastly, this is not the first time I have blogged about Tim's uneasiness with the role of the perennial critic. See this post from a couple of years ago.
  • Just one other thing: There's a parallel discussion going on at another blog,and Professor Stewart has weighed in over there. His comments are worth reading.

25 June 2011

The Urgency of Our Evangelistic Duty

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. What follows is brief, but it's one of Spurgeon's most famous quotations. It comes from "The Wailing of Risca," a sermon preached Sunday Morning, 9 December 1860, at Exeter Hall, London.

h my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

C. H. Spurgeon

24 June 2011

My Dinner With Guy

by Phil Johnson

he following interview was conducted by Guy Davies and posted at his (excellent) blog in early 2010. A Google search I did this week accidentally pointed me back to it, and I thought a repost would make a good Friday Pyro post:

GD: Hello Phil Johnson and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

PJ: I was born and lived my whole life (except for three years in central Florida) on historic Route 66. I was born in the middle (Oklahoma City); spent my college years (and more) where the Mother Road starts (Chicago); and I've lived the past 27 years in the Los Angeles area, where the road ends.

I grew up as a regular, weekly churchgoer, but in a very liberal denomination. In high school, I suddenly realized that liberal theology is really just unbelief papered over with a religious veneer, and I stopped going to church completely for a year or more. That left me with a sense of guilt and a massive spiritual void in my soul, which I attacked by becoming a political activist. My highest goal in life was to become a political pundit and write columns for some newspaper syndicate. I threw myself into it with a whole heart, convinced that politics could be a means of redemption for me if not for the whole culture. I was convinced that if I pursued wisdom and integrity, God would bless and reward me, even though I wasn't religious. I convinced myself that politics was actually better than religion because it could accomplish more. I would seek to be good, and wise, and God would be pleased with me because I was going to devote my life cultivating wisdom and disseminating it through my punditry. It never occurred to me how arrogant that whole perspective was.

Then in April 1971, as my senior year in High School was drawing to a close, almost on a whim, I picked up a Bible, opened it at random, and started reading. I opened to the first page of 1 Corinthians and decided to try to read the whole epistle—which was more of the Bible than I had ever read in one sitting before.

But from the first page, I began to sense the Holy Spirit's conviction. "It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1:19-20). First Corinthians 3:18-19 especially gave me a jolt: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." By the time I reached chapter 4, I knew I was lost.

By the time I read 12:3 ("Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."), I was a repentant believer.

A year later, I enrolled at Moody Bible Institute. After earning my bachelor's degree there, I stayed on as an editor at Moody Press. I met my wife there, got married (in the plaza at Moody Bible Institute), spent 3 years in St. Petersburg, FL, as a youth pastor, then went back to Moody Press as acquisitions editor. I met John MacArthur because Moody had begun publishing his books while I was in Florida, and when I came back, I took over the editing of most of his books. In 1983, I left Moody Press to come on staff at Grace to you, and I've been here ever since.

GD: You are the founding member of the Pyromaniacs team blog. What prompted you to get into blogging on the first place?

PJ: Self defense. Some things I had written and published in the UK had found their way back to America and were being deconstructed in the post-evangelical blogosphere. When I tried to enter the "conversation," the blog that had critiqued me most harshly suddenly closed their comments and the lead blogger started making insulting posts about me on the blog. (It seems those who talk most about "conversation" and "transparency" are the least willing to have an open, honest conversation. And sometimes those who are most adept at giving criticism are least likely to take it graciously.) But that's the blogosphere.

I had participated in several e-mail forums and even a couple of Usenet newsgroups over the years, and I knew that Internet forums can sometimes be hives of cruelty and small-mindedness. (I hadn't even been much of a blog-reader for that very reason.) Still, blogging seemed a more fruitful way than e-mail forums to express and defend one's opinion. I was editing a book at the time and needed to meet a deadline, so I registered a blog address at Google's Blogger but left the blog blank except for an announcement that I would begin blogging there in a month. When I finally began posting at the blog I was shocked at how many readers and how many comments I got just within the first half hour.

GD: Originally you were a solitary Pyromaniac and then you invited Turk, Peccadillo and Dan to join the team. Why the change from solo to team player?

PJ: Too much feedback and too many comments to deal with. It was beginning to dominate my life. I didn't answer every comment, of course, but I needed to read every comment, because there was this little cadre of miscreants who tried to comment when I wasn't looking, and they would use the combox at my blog to insult John MacArthur or post other things trying to embarrass to me. Shortly before I closed the solo blog, I had recently begun a series on evangelicalism's increasing flirtation with trivial, false, and imaginary "words from the Lord." It was going to be a critique of Blackaby-Gothard-style mysticism and the notion that God regularly speaks to people through strong impressions and voices in their heads. It wasn't about the charismatic movement per se, but it seemed to draw angry charismatics out of the woodwork, demanding that I debate them on the issue of cessationism. I never did manage to get the thread back on track.

That kind of thing took far more time to manage than I was willing to invest. When I realized I couldn't keep blogging at that pace, my first thought was to wrap it up and close the blog completely. I decided instead to ask a handful of guys whose blogs I enjoyed to help me share the load. I had never even met Dan Phillips before that (we'd only exchanged a couple of e-mails), but I loved everything he wrote. I had met Frank Turk face to face only once, but he had the cleverest blog I had ever read, and he was fiercely unrelenting when he knew he was right. (I love that about him.) Pecadillo is my son, and he had a very popular humor blog, so I added him for comic relief. He responded by entering the police academy and reducing his writing to about one blog-post a year. Even though he almost never posts, he's still a favorite of many of the home-school moms who read our blog.

GD: It has been suggested that Turk, Peccadillo and Dan are in fact deviant expressions of a multiple personality disorder on your part. When I interviewed "Dan" he failed to deny this. Care to comment in which ever guise you please?

PJ: I wish I had Frank's wit and Dan's ability to write pithy prose. Pecadillo is a clone of his dad, but he's real and distinct from me. Dan, Frank, and I really are three totally different personalities who happen to agree on just about everything that is really important. Considering our vastly divergent backgrounds and the hasty way I assembled the team, it is truly remarkable how well we mesh. We try to meet up at T4G (or some other conference in the T4G off-years), and I look forward to it the way I used to wish for Christmas when I was a kid. They've become great friends.

GD: Some will fail to be convinced by that denial. Has anyone ever seen Phil, Dan, Frank and Pecadillo in the same room at T4G or otherwise? We want cast iron proof of your separate identities. Photographic evidence won't do given your photoshop wizardry.

Moving on, Jim Packer recently said, "I'm amazed at the amount of time people spend on the internet. I'm not against technology, but all tools should be used to their best advantage. We should be spending our time on things that have staying power, instead of on the latest thought of the latest blogger—and then moving on quickly to the next blogger. That makes us more superficial, not more thoughtful."

Does he have a point? What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

PJ: He's absolutely right, and it convicted me to read that. Virtually everything I do in my job and my ministry utilizes the Internet in one way or another. The blog, which is basically my hobby, also keeps me in front of the computer screen. I don't read half as much published material as I did in the early 90s, and I'm sure that is to the detriment of my intellectual and spiritual life.

Recently I got a Kindle, though, so things are bound to get better. :-)

GD: That's alright then, but sticking with blogging for the moment, Pyromaniacs has the coolest graphics. Most of us have to make do with "borrowing" a picture from Google Images. How do you create all that snazzy artwork?

PJ: That's what I do instead of watching O'Reilly. When my brain is fatigued or I just need a break from a writing project, I'll make graphics for the blog. There are at least 100 in the pipeline that have never been used. Dan and Frank have favorites that they use again and again, and frankly, some of the images in the never-used pool are less than stunning, but we try to keep it fresh, and there's a variety of images with wildly differing themes, and I never know how they might be used. I just make random graphics and try to have a mix of funny, serious, grotesque, and stunningly beautiful. The only thing almost all of them have in common is the TeamPyro logo. (I've never seen an image I couldn't photoshop our logo into.) The clever ways the guys tie the pictures into their posts never ceases to amaze me.

The heavy-graphics look is deliberate, BTW, and the overuse of our logo is a deliberate caricature, too. I wanted the blog to stand out from day one, and I didn't want it to look like an academic discussion or a conclave of somber old men. I designed the original template and had the basic look of the graphics weeks before I had any idea what my first blogpost would be. The blog name was actually suggested by the original blog-header graphic, which was a match. I chose it for the color combination and the simplicity and shape of the horizontal image, and then I gave the blog a name that fit.

(Incidentally, as it turned out, at the last minute I scrapped the idea I had in mind for my inaugural post's topic. I don't even remember what it was. Instead, I dashed off "Quick-and-Dirty Calvinism" after 10:30 PM the night before I launched the blog.)

GD: Pyromaniacs must be up there with Adrian Warnock and Tim Challies as one of the biggest Calvoblogs on the planet. What's the secret recipe for worldwide blog domination? I won't tell anyone, honest.

PJ: I honestly have no idea. Before I launched, I was hoping to get 300 readers a week by the end of the first year. I think my original solo blog was averaging 1000 a day by the end of the first week. I don't look at stats anymore, but I'm pretty sure the average is more than double that now.

I can't explain it. I think the announcement that I would start blogging in a month inadvertently started a buzz of expectation that was out of proportion to the actual importance of the event. In retrospect it looks like deliberate hype, but that was the furthest thing from my mind. I couldn't start the blog till a month after I first conceived the project because I had a deadline to meet.

Obviously, we're provocative, and that probably draws a lot of readers. But let's be candid: readers who are drawn to controversy aren't always the highest class of readers. Besides, Challies isn't provocative, and he draws more readers than we do. So I don't know. We don't have any agenda to be provocative or start controversies; we just write about things we care about, and our passion is reflected in the way we write. I don't know any other way to write. These days, any strong conviction is going to be controversial, and I think it's a serious mistake to cater to the postmodern spirit by softening truths or toning down convictions just because people don't like hard truths and settled certainty. So we don't apologize for being provocative.

GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?

PJ: That's a hard one. I think it's both Francis Turretin and R. L. Dabney—both of them for the clarity of their logic. The two of them have settled more hard doctrinal questions for me than any other theological writers. Obviously, as a Baptist and abolitionist I disagree with them both on several major issues, but they have nevertheless influenced my theology profoundly.

GD: Who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?

PJ: That's easy. John MacArthur. I also have to give a lot of credit to Warren Wiersbe, who was my pastor and mentor for almost a decade before I came to California. He taught me the basics of homiletics and how to structure a sermon. John MacArthur showed me how to handle the Word of God, how to deliver the message with conviction, and what it means to be bold, steadfast, and courageous, without sacrificing humility in the process.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet and what you say to him/her?

PJ: Cotton Mather. I'd want to show him the 21st century, because I know that would be fun and fascinating for him. He had that kind of investigative mind. He was also flawed enough that I'm pretty sure I could ride around in a car with him, or watch him learn to surf the Internet, and not be constantly reminded what a worm I am.

You probably thought I would say Spurgeon. I'd of course like to meet him, too, but I would definitely be intimidated by him, and I think I would feel like a total paramecium in his presence.

GD: What are your impressions of the "Young, Restless and Reformed" thing?

PJ: I think there's entirely too much young and restless and not enough "Reformed." (Do I sound like an old guy with a crew cut who yells at kids about staying off his lawn? Gack.)

Frankly, my spirit sunk when I saw that original article in CT. Don't misunderstand; it was a good article. (I like just about everything Collin Hansen writes.) But I knew lots of young people would take it as a signal that Calvinism is where the cool kids are hanging out, and Calvinism would become little more than a fad—another evangelical bandwagon. And that's pretty much my impression of what has happened. Sadly, because it's just a fad, it will pass before long. I hope when that happens there will be enough people with true Calvinist convictions left to keep the movement alive.

GD: Mark Driscoll: friend or foe?

PJ: Neither, really. I've never actually met Mark, and we've only had a couple of brief phone conversations. My criticism of Mark has been limited to one issue. I hope he takes it to heart. We'll see. In the meantime, I have no animosity or ill will toward him, nor has he ever expressed any malice toward me. I've heard from a few of the young and the restless who think personal rancor is the only possible explanation for anyone to have concerns about Mark. That's an immature perspective, which means they will eventually grow out of it. I'll wait for that, rather than perpetuating the conflict or continually dissecting it.

GD: Has the Emerging Conversation run out of steam?

PJ: Well, yes and no. It never really was a conversation, was it? You weren't allowed to participate in the first place unless you agreed to the postmodern ground rules: here.

However, the movement has clearly ground to a halt. I wrote about that last week: here.

And yet I think what killed the movement was moral scandal on the one hand and doctrinal stigma on the other. The writings, life-styles, and off-the-wall statements of key Emergent leaders became an embarrassment to the movement as a whole, and finally the very word Emergent, so cool and mysterious in 2005, became a serious liability by the end of the decade. Everyone with any sense wants to shed the label.

As I have said elsewhere, although the movement may be dead, the ideas and values spawned by the movement are not. Emergent thinking is being dispersed into the broad evangelical movement like dandelion seeds. The doctrinal and philosophical issues we argued about with Emergents are now becoming fodder for debate in more mainstream communities. The battle for those truths is by no means over, and I think the evangelical movement is in deep trouble.

GD: Have you signed the Manhattan Declaration? If not, why not?

PJ: No. I think it's unclear and self-contradictory. On the one hand it declares that "it is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty." And yet on the other hand, the document itself doesn't proclaim the gospel. It leaves the content of the gospel in a haze of ambiguity, obliquely referring to "the Gospel of costly grace," but not mentioning who pays the "cost" of redemption or how sinners can be justified. The ambiguity about the gospel was clearly deliberate, so as not to alienate those who proclaim different gospels. That being the case, the document should not have implied that the signatories are bound together by a common commitment to Christianity. Why not open it up to Mormons, Muslims, and Buddhists, if there's no agenda to imply that all signatories are in spiritual union with Christ?

I'm not a fan of declarations in any case. Evangelicals produce them all the time, with all kinds of pomp and gravity, but to what end? We should put the energy into evangelism that we invest in drafting and publicizing statements.

GD: Is co-belligerency possible without compromising faithfulness to the gospel?

PJ: Sure, on a very limited basis. But we must not blithely ignore the dangers. It's a fine line between ecumenism and co-belligerency, and the people who talk most about co-belligerency are usually the very worst at guarding the line. Evangelicals overrate the importance of political clout, and they underestimate the power of gospel preaching. When the gospel is proclaimed with power, all of society is impacted for the better. But the evangelical thrust for political activism has (historically, not just theoretically) had a very negative ecumenical tendency.

Is co-belligerency possible without compromising the gospel? Probably, but I think that's may be the wrong question to be asking. Ask, rather, How much of your message or your testimony will you have to stifle in order to "team up" in some kind of formal, public alliance? If your allies are Jewish and you hold back from declaring the exclusivity of Christ in order to hold your coalition together; or if your allies are Roman Catholic and you carefully avoid any discussion of sola fide or sola Scriptura—then you are sacrificing your distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel. It happens all the time.

GD: Every self-respecting Calvinist is Amillenial, just like Calvin himself, right?

PJ: Actually, I know self-respecting Calvinists of the pre-, post-, and a-millennial varieties. Every view seems to have its crazies who are obsessed with eschatology but seem to care little for the gospel or the life of the church. I don't aspire to be like that.

GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

PJ: That's a really hard one. I could easily give you a list of 3,000, but narrowing it down to 3 is well-nigh impossible. I like practically all kinds of music, including Hindi film soundtracks and Cuban Mambo. I also like Weird Al and Spike Jones. But my favorite styles are are classical and baroque. (I've been a classical music aficionado since I was 14.)

I have a special love for Bach cantatas, and I suppose one of them would have to be first on my list. I'd probably pick BWV 106 "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" a sweet cantata with a Calvinistic message. It opens (uncharacteristically) with a sonatina, which Darlene and I used as wedding music 32 years ago.

Number two on my list would be Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," (the full orchestration, not the piano version) which is a perfect piece of music. I have about least 20 recordings of it, and I listen to at least one of them every week.

Third place on my list would go to John Rutter's Requiem. I heard the original Cambridge Singers' recording on the radio in 1986, when the work was less than a year old, and I have loved it ever since.

I hate that I have to leave out all of Mahler's Symphonies, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Morton Lauridsen's Lux Eterna, and Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion"—not to mention Perez Prado, Ernesto Lecuona, A. R. Rahman, JoaquĆ­n Rodrigo, and a lot more. I currently have 42,783 tracks in my iTunes collection, so you see the size of the problem.

GD: Yes, but that's still no excuse for not sticking to your top three by listing lots of pieces that you might have chosen but didn't. Now, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...

PJ: H. M. Gwatkin, The Arian Controversy. It's actually historical theology. Does that count? [OK by me - GD]. That's a book I found that's downloadable for free from Project Gutenberg. I read it on my Kindle. I had done some study on the Arian Controversy a few years ago. Cardinal Newman wrote a definitive history, and it's good but hard reading. Gwatkin (bless him) writes readable prose and brings that era alive.

It's a must read because the culture that gave rise to Arianism had the very same attitude toward truth and controversy our generation has cultivated. We need to take a lesson from that era, which most Christians don't even know about.

GD: What is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

PJ: The greatest problem I see is the ever-broadening boundary of the evangelical movement and (corresponding to that) the increasingly ambiguous definition of evangelicalism. Evangelicals are too concerned with gaining collective clout and publicity and not concerned enough with being evangelical (being faithful to the gospel). Many of evangelicalism's most visible and popular leaders and institutions—including evangelicalism's self-styled "house organ," Christianity Today magazine—have been tearing down evangelical boundaries instead of guarding them. Consequently, a host of dangerous influences have infiltrated the evangelical movement and people in the pews don't see the danger, because it's considered impolite to be critical of a fellow "evangelical." In an era where everyone from Benny Hinn to Brian McLaren wears the evangelical label, it is sheer folly to be so blithely accepting of everything and everyone who claims to be evangelical. That attitude has already ruined the evangelical testimony and done much to render the evangelical movement spiritually impotent.

How should we respond? We need to recover our love of the truth, our courage in standing for it, and our will to defend it.

GD: Amen to that and thanks for dropping by for this bracing conversation, Phil. Great talking to you. Bye!

Phil's signature

23 June 2011

I disagree with Jesus

by Dan Phillips

OUR DEAL: you do not owe it to me to read this post at all. BUT, do not read any of this post, unless you read all of it. Unwilling? No harm, no foul, no hard feelings, see you next time. Deal?

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Then Peter said in reply, "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?"

Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

(Matthew 19:23-30)
Peter claimed to have left everything to follow Jesus, and is now in effect asking Jesus whether it will have been worth it. The Lord graciously answers by telling Peter that he will be richly rewarded, and that the apostles will share in the earthly rule over the restored nation of Israel.

But I think Jesus gave the wrong answer. I think Jesus should have said instead, "And do you regret it, Peter? Am I the Messiah, or am I not? Am I what I say I am, or am I not? If I am not, then by all means, go back to your fish-flinging 9-5 and make the best of it you can. But if I am, what better thing do you have to do than to follow me? What better thing would anyone have to do?"

That's what I think Jesus should have said.  He was too indulgent of Peter. Instead of pointing to His own worth, He spoke of rewards. I think Jesus gave the wrong answer.

So, what does that mean?

Simple! It means I'm wrong. It means I blew the math. It means I have to change the way I think. It means I have to work it through again, until I get the right answer, and see it the way Jesus sees it.

Now, what did I just do? I just took something that happened in my mind in a minute tick of time, and slowed it down, spread it out, gave it a narrative. I took something that happened between my ears at some point in the past, known (before now) only to God, and displayed the process for you.

Why? I did it in the hopes of demonstrating how a disciple thinks, something I've touched on before (perhaps most notably HERE). If we read the Bible with our brains on, we all run into teachings and thoughts that initially hit us wrong, that offend us, that scandalize something in our customary way of thinking. The issue is: what do we do then?

First time a newly-saved man reads about sexual morality and fidelity in marriage, he may balk. Then when he reads about loving his wife as Christ loves the church, he may twitch again. Likewise, when a Christian woman reads about wifely submission, and God's blanket prohibition regarding women teaching or leading men in church, she may bristle. Or individual verses, or books in the Bible. Or the Bible's teaching on manhood or womanhood per se. Or the universal exaltation of a massive and powerful God over a bound and small man may threaten his cherished notions of man's libertarian freedom and sovereignty. Or the Bible's message about the value of the unborn, about keeping vows (including wedding vows), about creation and geohistory, about its own inerrancy and absolute authority, about eternal conscious punishment of the lost in Hell, about the absolute exclusivity of salvation through Jesus Christ, in a Biblically-defined Gospel with actual edges — well, old Adam may rise up and demand to have a word as if he were primus inter pares with God.

This is where real-live, actual, gritty, street-level discipleship either happens, or begins to collapse. To a man, we Christians claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Teacher. That being the case, we necessarily claim to believe that we have been entrusted with the Teacher's Guide. This will have an impact on our thinking, when we come to these forks in the road.

There are fundamentally two ways of handling such experiences, and only two:
  1. We change; or
  2. We try to change the Word.
Over the years, we boys here at Pyro have (among many other things) Biblically evaluated the movements of those who opt for #2. There are 1000 ways to take that route. You see it in "evangelical" feminists,  "evangelical" evolutionists,  "evangelical" egalitarians,  "evangelical" homosexuals and the like. You see it, not merely in his conclusions, but in the way Rob Bell approaches the issue of Hell. These are the people who falsely envision the Christian life as a series of negotiations with God as with an equal, rather than an series of conquests of the Cross over the pagan outposts within us all.

There are 1000 ways to take Route #2, and all have the same end on one level or another.

Disciples take the former option. It involves take up our cross and denying ourselves; it involves putting on the Lord Jesus, and making no provision for the willful passions of the flesh; it involves putting to death the deeds of the body, and being led by the Spirit in conformity to God's Word. It identifies these resentful, rebellious rumblings within as hostile, as the enemy. It targets them for destruction. It sees the world as enemy, not friend, and expects opposition, mocking, rejection, for the very fact that we live out the discipleship we profess, in every area of our lives.

And that way — alone — ends up right.

Dan Phillips's signature

22 June 2011

Open Letter to Gayle Trotter

by Frank Turk

Dear Gayle --

Well, long time no see. It has been not quite a year since I left Evangel at FirstThings.com, and we haven't interacted much since I did so. I hope this note finds you in good spirits, and well.

You've been quite busy since I left -- you've become sort of an interview maven, which is a skill and a style I admire. I've always been a fan of Charlie Rose, and even as a kid I was fascinated by Phil Donahue, who always seemed at least to find interesting people to talk to -- which I think is three-quarters of conducting a decent interview.

Now, that said, you have interviewed a lot of people this last year from all manner of backgrounds -- but most of them basically, sociologically Christian. I think you'd agree with that description, but you might add more to it -- I'll leave that to you. My point in bringing it up is that obviously your blogging has taken a turn to cover cultural Christianity in a very broad sense, which is an interesting approach for someone writing on a blog named "Evangel".

This of course, goes back to the reason I left the Evangel team back in August 2010, and we don't need to rehash that here. But the last interview you posted was something further down the road than I think you intend to go, and I wanted to bring it to your attention.

You interviewed Fr. Dr. Leo D. Lefebure, a Georgetown University professor of theology. As you know, he's a Catholic priest teaching at a Catholic university, and it should come as no surprise that he works or reasons inside a Catholic approach to his subject. It's sort of boldly-evident that Fr. Leo is a thinker inside the boundaries of Lumen Gentium and Vatican II in his approach to Buddhism -- and why not? FirstThings.com is, of course, a Catholic venue at its core in spite of its odd mix of conservatism and ecumenism (both terms which here could probably use some unpacking, but this is not that kind of blog post).

Now, I bring it up only for one reason: while there is something cosmopolitan and sort of civicly-gracious about examining Buddhism for things is it can "teach" to Christianity, there are a couple of things about that approach which, I think, you might have found unsettling and also might has asked Fr. Leo about.

The first is that Fr. Leo does some interesting things in examining the Old Testament. For example, he says that we can know that the faith of the Israelites was informed by other faiths because they have incorporated the writings of non-Jews in the canon of Scripture. That’s true enough in a superficial way -- it may be true from a Catholic perspective on Scripture and inscripturation. But let’s face it: this is not an evangelical view of what and from where Scripture comes. And you didn’t call him on it at all -- you didn’t ask him what he means by it. You simply accepted -- and from my desk, seemed to agree with - his theory that it was the pluralistic approach of the Jews which yielded the kind of Scripture they produced. It sort of runs up against the wall of all those places where that Jewish Scripture says the Lord YHVH said such-and-such -- and frankly,its an anti-supernatural approach to the origin of Scripture. To say the least, it stands against the dichotomy Paul presents in the book of Romans where he says that all men have no excuse before God due to general revelation in creation, but the Jews specifically were entrusted with the Scriptures as a special revelation.

Next, he looks for practical examples, but overlooks the kind of society Buddhism creates. This is the part that interests me about his approach because it is so uncritical for an approach which, frankly, takes itself at face value to be the crtical thinker’s way of sorting out what is and isn’t useful in religion. Fr. Leo’s approach is an old-fashioned comparative religion approach to Christianity: you can study Christianity if you want, but you can’t really “get it” until you have studied other religions and found all the ways in which it is really just like them. But this approach overlooks that Christianity created a civilization which, after all, became the dominant way of life for most of the planet, and produced a company of societies which were the most prosperous and most generally beneficial to the welfare of the common man.

This distinction is particularly obvious in comparison to Buddhism, if I may say so. Buddhism has a 5-century head-start on Christianity, and none of the suppressive influences against it from outside forces. Yet by the year 1000, Buddhism had not created a society where the kind of wisdom Fr. leo is talking about was being practiced on a practical level. Indeed, Buddhist views of wisdom are probably responsible for the deeply anti-material view of truth in Hinduism -- which, let’s face it, is diametrically opposed the the Christian view of wisdom and wisdom literature.

Finally, I think we have to wonder about his approach to Christ specifically -- given his answers to your questions. Is it really helpful to say that it is by learning from those who, as Fr. Leo is generous enough to point out, reject the idea of God as creator who has an active role in the day-to-day operation of His world how to live in it? Or even how to discern the differences between right and wrong? It seems to me that the world-changing themes of the Gospel, and the implications of the person of Christ, are what buried b y Fr. Leo (at least in this interview) for the sake of spelling out the superficial similarities between some conclusions both religions assert. But let’s face it: the point of Buddhism is not love, and the point of Christ is. The former is explicitly about giving up the illusion that any kind of satisfaction can be found in this world, ad the latter says explicitly that there are beautiful, good, and true things in this world which we can and must see as gifts from God -- and he redeems but us and them at least in part so that we can enjoy them.

Now: so what?

Here are a couple of things I think it is important to take away here, and I hope they are worth your further consideration.

I'm not against studying or considering the religious systems of others at all -- I think you can't really preach to people that you know nothing about. But I’m concerned that studying them with the a priori assumption that these systems are mostly just like our system is nor really generous toward those systems, and not fair to ours. I think this comes out in any discussion with a real Buddhist -- who would probably be the first to say that his system is nothing like ours, and his view of wisdom is nothing like ours. Even the ones who would say that we can agree on what wisdom is will, in 10 minutes of conversation, find themselves denying whole swaths of information which are necessary parts of the Christian faith and the Christian ideal of wisdom.

I'm also not against considering the merits of other ways of living. I think we have to be serious about whether we are true to our convictions or not, and the only way to do that at some point is to try to see ourselves as others see us. To do this, we have to know something about them and how they live.

But my concern is this: that the Christian is improved by considering something other than Christ. This is certainly Fr. Leo’s thrust in your interview with him, and it came across to me that you agree with him pretty broadly. Let’s assume for a minute that, for example, the Christian can be deeply and greatly moved by the act of the Janist monk sweeping the path in front of himself for the sake of mercy on the insects that may or may not be before him. That is: the attention to detail there, and the view that perhaps one does not know even what one may be doing by simply walking without a care toward the least or creatures beneath one’s feet, can be a moment in which many Christians find themselves questioning whether or not they are merciful people.

But think about this: is the Janist view of mercy really the Christian view? Does that act actually reflect the view of all things which requires Christ to be the centerpiece of aking sense of it? oes it even have an application outside of the practicioner’s commitment to that philosophy? No indeed: what happens instead is that the Christian, interpreting the act though his own lens (at whatever level of maturity he might be), must turn back to Christ to make sense of this activity, both for good and for the limits of such a thing.

And this, I think, was the key failing of the message of your interview with Fr. Leo: in spite of being at Evangel, it never really got back to the Evangel. Some others would go on about how this is what you get when you mix it up with Catholics and so on: I’m not interested in that polemical hoopla today. What I am interested in is your approach to interacting with a diverse world through the process of interviews and blogging because I think you’re a woman of good faith.

I think you believe in Christ, Gayle. I think you trust him. I think that, even after you put down a book like Fr. Leo’s book, you don’t want to be a person who puts off the whole world because it is still the place where God meets man, and where Christ saves people. What I am asking you to do as you continue your hobby of blogging is to see it as a vocation for the sake of Christ and not for the sake of some other multicultural endeavor. I am certain you believe that, in the final account, there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation in the presence of God, worshipping Him. But they will not be missing the center of attention, the one who is worthy of all that honor and priase, who is also the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

My hope is that your will take the seriousness your love of other people and pass it through that vision of Christ as you continue blogging. That is the true impact of the evangel on all things, and I know you want to see it come to pass.

So with that, I leave you in His name, and I hope in his good grace and great goodness.

21 June 2011

Valerie: the part I didn't tell

by Dan Phillips

When I started blogging some seven years ago, though I was a semi-invisible presence at that point, I had made a decision to allow myself to become some kind of public person. But that was me. That wasn't a decision made for the rest of my family.

My dear Valerie for instance is a very private person, and I understood (without needing to be told) from early days that whatever I chose to disclose of my personal life and thoughts was a me-decision, it wasn't a decision for my wife and kids directly.

So I didn't tell you all right away of Valerie's pain, or even of her hospitalization and surgery, until I was sure it was all right with her. Then I gave one report, and one update a couple of days afterward. Valerie and I were both touched with the show of sympathy and prayer from my readers. It was like getting a nice little pile of "Get Well" cards.

Now here's the part I did not share, which I do now have permission to share so as to ask for your prayers, and to pass along a message from Valerie. We've had some time to tell family, and begin to get our minds around it.

Go back with me to Saturday the 11th.

The surgeon had told us that the radiologist reported some complication about the appendix, beyond simple signs for appendicitis. He wasn't sure what to make of it, but would begin in the pursuit of a simple appendectomy. He also was bothered by her anemia, something Valerie had never had before.

However, when the surgeon called me into the recovery room mid-surgery, what he told me was that it was more complicated than initially thought. He suspected a tumor. Therefore, he would have to remove not only the appendix, but a small part of her colon and more. The pathologist's report would not come until Monday.

As you may imagine, this began one of the darkest moments of my life. A tumor. Unable to help or save Valerie (a husband's first and dominant impulse), badly frightened for Valerie, alone, unable to think of much beyond my innumerable failures as a husband and a man, and of the horrors that suddenly loomed so large, I wept and cried out to God and clung to Him for dear life, alone, pacing and pacing for miles and miles in that tiny waiting room. I clung to the character of God, reminded myself that He loved Valerie even more than I, looked to Philippians 4:6-7 and 1 Peter 5:7 for comfort and strength.

How could I tell her? What would I tell her? If only I could simply take it all from her and for her.

Then the surgeon came and his wonderful first words were "Good news." He'd found a pathologist, they'd looked at what was removed, and they both concluded: it isn't cancer. Relief. Gladness. Gratitude. And more relief.

Then passed the difficult days which follow a major surgery, with a fantastic support staff at the hospital and our dear family, our good and faithful pastor, and the concern of our church family. Valerie made good progress up that steep road. Wednesday came, finally time to come home. The surgeon dropped in for a final visit to the hospital room.

Our surgeon is, by all accounts, a superb surgeon, the man other doctors go to when they're stuck, the man the nurses would pick for their own surgeries. But he's not a sugar-coater. Now his first, mouth-drying words were, "It was cancer."

This had been a niggling unspoken worry at the back of my mind. Could he and the pathologist have made that quick a determination? Might other tests turn up something they missed? Turns out, yes.

What neither the surgeon nor the pathologist could see with the naked eye, the microscope disclosed. I can't give you all the technical terms he used or we read in the pathologist's report, but it was cancer. That's the horrible news.

The good news, such as it is, is that it was caught early. The surgeon thinks he got it all. A number of lymph nodes were removed, and they were all clear.

And here's the remarkable providence at this point: if we're understanding the surgeon correctly, it was the appendix that warned of the cancer. The cancer set off the appendicitis, which drove the very doctor-averse Valerie in for treatment, which led to the diagnosis, which led to the surgery, which led to the discovery of this otherwise asymptomatic cancer. Were it not for all that, the cancer would still be quietly growing in the darkness, perhaps spreading, giving no clue beyond an undetected and symptom-free anemia.

So now our next procedural step is a colonoscopy after two months of recovery from the surgery, to make sure all else is well.

Valerie wants me to tell everyone: thank you so much for your emails, comments, and expressions of prayer and support.

And Valerie wants me to tell you: get your colonoscopies when it's time. That was my birthday present from my doc when I turned fifty. It was unwanted but painless. Valerie had joked that when "50" came, she had figured she had 9 years before "50"(-something) passed. Since this cancer can be caught and dealt with, but does not announce its early presence, the test seems a wise measure to take.

What's more, Valerie's family does not have a history of cancer. Mine does. This should be me hearing this news about myself, not Valerie. Yet here it is, the ultimate unwelcome visitor, stopping at her door. So: don't assume. Valerie wanted me to tell you all.

So now we are in the same position every last one of us Christians is in every moment, though we're not so conscious of it as we are at times like this: utterly dependent on the wisdom, power, goodness, mercy and kindness of God. And often before His throne in urgent prayer.

Personal pain is one thing; seeing my most-beloved suffer takes my needle right up to "unbearable," but for the comfort of 1 Corinthians 10:13, the challenge of Luke 8:25, and the call of James 1:2ff.

Thanks for your time. And please, please, please, from me to you: pray for my dear, amazing, one and only, inexpressibly and absolutely precious wife Valerie.

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17 June 2011

Unbelief: Parent of Every Gross Evil

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Sin of Unbelief," Sermon #3 in the vast New Park Street/ Metropolitan Tabernacle collection. It was preached on Sunday Morning, 14 January 1855, at the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, during Spurgeon's first year as pastor of that congregation.

he sin of unbelief will appear to be extremely heinous when we remember that it is the parent of every other iniquity. There is no crime which unbelief will not beget.

I think that the fall of man is very much owing to it. It was in this point that the devil tempted Eve. He said to her, "Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" He whispered and insinuated a doubt, "Yea, hath God said so?" as much as to say, "Are you quite sure he said so?"

It was by means of unbelief—that this part of the wedge—that the other sin entered; curiosity and the rest followed; she touched the fruit, and destruction came into this world. Since that time, unbelief has been the prolific parent of all guilt.

An unbeliever is capable of the vilest crime that ever was committed. Unbelief, sirs! why it hardened the heart of Pharoh—it gave license to the tongue of blaspheming Rabshakeh—yea, it became a deicide, and murdered Jesus. Unbelief!—it has sharpened the knife of the suicide! it has mixed many a cup of poison; thousands it has brought to the halter; and many to a shameful grave who have murdered themselves and rushed with bloody hands before their Creator's tribunal, because of unbelief!

Give me an unbeliever—let me know that he doubts God's word—let me know that he distrusts his promise and his threatening; and with that for a premise, I will conclude that the man shall, by-and-bye unless there is amazing restraining power exerted upon him, be guilty of the foulest and blackest crimes.

Ah! this is a Beelzebub sin; like Beelzebub, it is the leader of all evil spirits. It is said of Jeroboam that he sinned and made Israel to sin; and it may be said of unbelief that it not only sins itself; but makes others sin, it is the egg of all crime, the seed of every offense; in fact everything that is evil and vile lies couched in that one word—unbelief.

And let me say here, that unbelief in the Christian is of the self-same nature as unbelief in the sinner. It is not the same in its final issue, for it will be pardoned in the Christian; yea it is pardoned: it was laid upon the scape-goat's head of old: it was blotted out and atoned for; but it is of the same sinful nature.

In fact, if there can be one sin more heinous than the unbelief of a sinner, it is the unbelief of a saint. For a saint to doubt God's word—for a saint to distrust God after innumerable instances of his love, after ten thousand proofs of his mercy—exceeds everything.

In a saint, moreover, unbelief is the root of other sins. When I am perfect in faith I shall be perfect in everything else: I should always fulfill the precept if I always believed the promise. But it is because my faith is weak, that I sin. Put me in trouble, and if I can fold my arms and say, "Jehovah-Jireh the Lord will provide," you will not find me using wrong means to escape from it. But let me be in temporal distress and difficulty, if I distrust God, what then? Perhaps I shall steal, or do a dishonest act to get out of the hands of my creditors; or if kept from such a transgression, I may plunge into excess to drown my anxieties.

Once take away faith, the reins are broken; and who can ride an unbroken steed without rein or bridle? Like the chariot of the sun with Phaeton for its driver, such should we be without faith. Unbelief is the mother of vice; it is the parent of sin; and, therefore, I say it is a pestilent evil—a master sin.

C. H. Spurgeon

16 June 2011

Placeholder, plus "middle knowledge"

by Dan Phillips

I don't like not to post at all on "my" days here, this platform being such a happy opportunity to me, and a regular stop for so many good folks. I have a number of good (to me) ideas and posts started and in mind... but for reasons I explained a couple of days ago, and just updated, I'm finding I just really can't put my mind on it right now. I think you understand.

So, if all you smart cookies (with less otherwise-occupied minds) would like to discuss something, how about middle knowledge? My understanding is that it refers to God's sure and certain knowledge not only of realities but of potentialities. Classic examples include 1 Samuel 23:11-12 and Matthew 11:21-23.

As someone convinced of the Bible's doctrine of God's sovereignty, I have no problem with the concept if viewed within that context. But I'm reading through McCune's theology, and find that he objects to it at length as the refuge of sub-Biblical, man-exalting theologies.

Your thoughts, if you care to share?

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15 June 2011

Open Letter to Frank Turk

by Frank Turk

Dear Frank:

Some people are offended when you do this, but Phil loves it. That's the actual yard stick for this blog anyway, so here goes.

No more throw-away open letters. You have plenty of time during the week to prep, research, draft and finalize a decent open letter for Wednesday, and if you played less City of Heroes, you'd get it done right.

I mean: think of the open letters you could have written this week! The SBC is in full swing in Phoenix! You got some astounding solicitations in the e-mail this week -- think of what one of those could have rendered, given the sources. The Presbyterians are meeting as well, and Doug Wilson wrote a piece on peadocommunion. What jovial repartee could have come from that!

So listen: get yourself together. It only takes about 3 hours to write the better letters, and you have that kind of time. This is your only blog post all week, for pete's sake. You're not too busy to do it right.

Thanks, and God bless you.

14 June 2011

Tersely put: if God has spoken...

by Dan Phillips

Note: My blog-presence and ability to interact in the meta will probably be limited to nil this week. I explain why over at my blog. Meanwhile, here is this designedly terse post. Like the last one, I think there are enough ramifications, if we think it through, for a few hundred comments. Read the other post, and you'll understand that my ability to interact will be little to none. Be good, now.

If God has spoken, and if we have those words, that reality changes everything for us.

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