31 July 2011

Truth Will Triumph

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 Sun of Righteousness," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, 12 November 1871, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London

fret and worry myself sometimes about these inventors of new doctrines, and those ritualists who bring up the old rates and stale tallow of the past ages. Let us fret no more, but think that these are only like the clouds to the great sun; the gospel will still proceed in its career.

Let us laugh the enemies of God to scorn and defy them to their faces. They defy the Lord God of Israel as did the Philistine of old, but God himself is mightier than they, and the victory is sure to the true church and to the gospel of his Son. Be ye very courageous! Be not alarmed with sudden fear! Trust in Jehovah, for the Lord will surely give unto his own servants the victory in the day of battle.

C. H. Spurgeon

28 July 2011

Speaking of "Justice" . . .

by Phil Johnson

Before we get to the actual blogpost . . .

Don't miss the announcement that Grace to You is waiving registration charges for September's "Truth Matters" conference. The theme is "The Gospel According to Paul," and the conference will offer lay people a taste of the hospitality and style of teaching pastors receive annually at the Shepherds' Conference. GTY Donors are generously covering the cost of registration. You still have to register—and don't delay, because capacity is limited and the conference is filling up quickly. If you are one of the thousands who registered early and paid the fee, you will receive a refund. How's that for good news?

The "Poverty and Justice" Bible

This excerpt was part of a longer post that covered several topics a couple of years ago. I had been asked to review a niche Bible designed, I gather, for Sojourners-style lefties.

(First posted 4 December 2009)

he American Bible Society has published The Poverty & Justice Bible—on recycled paper (because, you know, that makes a statement against Global Warming, perhaps the greatest human "injustice" some of our liberal friends are capable of imagining). They've sent me four copies to give away to our blog readers, and they hoped I would review the publication at TeamPyro. Here's the most succinct review I can give you tonight:

The "Bible" aspect of this work is of course its best feature, though I'm not at all a fan of the watered-down, dumbed-down, gender-neutraled, politically-correct "Contemporary English Version" they have used. I can't see any scenario in which such a poor translation would be truly useful, and with the plethora of translations available today, this one certainly would not be my choice. Perhaps one example of this translation's deep-down badness will suffice for this short review. Here's the CEV rendering of Acts 9:22: "Saul preached with such power that he completely confused the Jewish people in Damascus, as he tried to show them that Jesus is the Messiah." (ESV: "But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.")

The worst feature of the book, however, is the way it treats "poverty & justice." The editors' and (most of the endorsers') notion of "justice" is clearly straight from the canons of political correctness. Not that they really have much of any substance to say about either poverty or justice. There's a thin section of United-Methodist-style devotional essays stitched into the center of the book and unwisely titled "The Core." Aside from that, the main clues about the editors' perspective on "poverty & justice" come from the verses they have selected to highlight (or not). The highlights are in burnt orange (another unfortunate choice). Ostensibly these are all the key Bible verses about poverty and justice.

So with that in mind, I thumbed through to check a few verses that I knew would pose a challenge to the currently-popular politically-correct perspectives on "poverty & justice." It was frankly not surprising to see that 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ("If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat") didn't merit the editors' orange smear of approval. Neither did Deuteronomy 7:1-5, which spells out God's prescription for justice to the Canaanites, Perizzites, Amorites, and so on. Galatians 6:7 ("whatever one sows, that will he also reap") was ignored by the highlighter pen. Predictably, so was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and God's judicial abandonment of sinners to their sin in Romans 1.

In other words, the view of "justice" this Bible tries to promote is the same humanistic perspective we have heard nonstop from Tony Campolo, Ron Sider, Shane Claiborne, most of the Emergent/ing districts of the blogosphere, and Acorn.

Phil's signature

26 July 2011

Open letter to Dr. James White (3 of 3)

by Frank Turk

Dear James;

All right -- let's get to this. So about 3 weeks ago we had this brief exchange on Twitter:

And to that point, you and I both know I do not hate apologists or apologetics. But here's the thing: there is nothing worse that bad apologetics, except maybe strident, careless, glib, misguided, overconfident, under-informed, or worst of all self-righteous so-called "apologists".

We reviewed some examples last week of this, right? The anti-calvinists, and the post-theological/post-biblical philosophers? It's easy to point at them and to voice our concerns because let's face it: they are not like us. They will be pleased to say so, in fact: they are nothing like us. That makes the enumeration of their differences -- many of which are their flaws -- not only easy but beneficial. We are not like Ergun Caner, for example. We are not like Dave Hunt. Thank God we are not like Dave Armstrong. Listing the ways we are not like them frankly is a kind of apologetic in and of itself, and it can be educational for the apologetic n00b or the "normal" christian to see the differences and realize that just because someone has a radio show, published a book, or professional alphabet soup after their name, what they put out isn't necessarily good spiritual food.

But what happens, James, when there's someone in our own camp who is off the ranch? And in this case, I don't mean rank doctrinal heterodoxy. How could they be "Reformed" after all and be heterodox? I'm talking about people who are heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. You know: that list strikes pretty close to home in our camp. We get accused of it often because there are many like that in our camp, and I grant the critics that it can be hard to see the difference between careful rebuke and reckless and brutal drive-bys when all one has witnessed is the latter rather than former because the former is really so rare.

In my view, we should take the warning of James the brother of Jesus seriously: Not many of us should become teachers, for we know that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness. Apologetics is a teaching ministry, part of the office of being an elder. And while one does not have to be an elder to be an apologist, one ought to be able to own the pastoral duties of apologetics to do give a proper defense of the faith.

This is simply not the way it works today, is it? Prior to the internet, it didn't work this way, but it was limited by resource availability. Now with the internet, the proliferation of self-appointed theological sentries looks like a toll road where every household has a booth to collect its own duty. It is now far less likely to find people who think that to defend and contend for the sake of Christ, and therefore for the sake of His people, one needs to be in and among His people -- it is in fact a badge of honor to be churchless. The idea that there is spiritual authority apart from the words one can self-publish is categorically lacking in the so-called apologetics blogosphere; the idea that we can be both humble and certain, have both Truth and Love, both gentleness and reverence, both Scripture and reason, all heart, mind and soul, and above all having both freedom and responsibility when we are militant for truth and the right faith of others cannot be found.

This is a kind of crisis among us, and I think there's something you have taught me over the years which underscores the crisis: what we win people with, you have said, is what we win them to. We can see this clearly in those who are not like us: the real pelagians and semi-pelagians beget social gospel followers either on the left or the right; the softie arminians beget invitation junkies, and the hard arminians beget anti-intellectual zen Christians who think programs are the thing -- opportunities mean more than actual discipleship.

But what about the ones who are on our team about whom the discerning LOLCat would say, "U R DOIN IT RONG"? What do they beget?

This is where the rubber hits the road for us, I think, because in one sense, we would be right to say, "I am not responsible for what someone else teaches." And we're not. We're not responsible for what some quack with a blog teaches even if he says he's on our team, right? I can't control another person. I'm not his elder in his church. I can't be responsible, I might say, for someone who says he's reformed or orthodox or fundamentalist or "biblical" when he's wrong.

You can hear where I'm going now, I am sure.

If this is true, James, then I think we have to re-evaluate what we think we are doing in the playing field of apologetics. I realized this when I wrote my open letter to Mike Horton -- his response to the question of malfeasance in our own camp was, frankly, "well, that's out of my control." But if we applied that view to all the other issues we address, what exactly would we have left to do all day? Doesn't judgment start in the house of the Lord?

Now, I get it: we have to pick our battles, and neither of us would say anything less than, "the Church is very sick, and doctrine and Biblical wisdom is at bay. There is much to do and no ministry can do it all." There is plenty to do just to get anyone to the minimum of faith literacy who has grown up as a cultural Christian in this post-Christian society. There is plenty of work to do with Mormonism, agnosticism, academic skepticism, JWs, and most importantly about Islam from a Gospel and Christian perspective that one's day fills up pretty fast.

But it seems to me that if we have the time to refute anti-Calvinism -- which is usually a kind of commitment to ignorance -- we can find the time to refute heterodox behavior -- which is usually just a commitment to being awful.

In the end, these letters I have written to you are not about indicting you for anything because I think there's nothing to indict you for. We agree on so much, and I am proud to call you a father in the faith and a brother and fellow (if senior) workman in God's field. But this is a call to consider the state of Christian apologetics inside our own camp. Is there really nothing to be done to remedy the rampant unchristian approach so many take to Christian apologetics?

You have a great mind, and a deep pastoral heart, with which to consider the question, and I leave it to you. May God richly bless you.

Dating: when words and choices clash

by Dan Phillips

Note: Recently, I linked to this nearly four-year-old post in the body of another. Many had not seen it first time 'round, though it kicked off some waves in other bloggy locations at the time. The subject remains current, and I need to dip into the well once and maybe twice this week here. So here 'tis once again, lightly edited.

[This is yet another one of my occasional serieses. In this, I write for our readers who are yoots, for their own benefit; or for parents, to share with their yoots. It'll also work for pastors, especially yoot pastors. Previous examples include A word to Christian yoots, and Why God gave you parents, etc.]

Coarse but pointed joke-that-you've-all-heard-anyway alert in 3... 2... 1....
So this iconic guy's talking with an iconic girl, and asks whether she'd be willing to engage in carnal acts for $1 million.

She considers, shrugs, says, "For a million dollars? I guess."

"Would you do it for $5?" he follows up.

She is shocked, and deeply offended. "What do you think I am?" she rages.

His classic retort: "Oh, we've already established what you are. Now we're just haggling over price."
And now, a moment's pause while Pyro readers wonder where this could possibly be going. Play the overture from Handel's Messiah in your head. Daaaa.... da-daaaa....

Now, why is that joke funny to most folks? It's funny because of the surprising clash. In the punch-line, the woman is deeply offended, because she wants to say that her virtue is precious, and he's cheapening it with his $5 suggestion. But the man counters that he already knows her virtue not to be beyond price to her. She can be bought. What she says now is one thing; what she has already said, another.

So you, unmarried Christian reader, start dating an unbeliever. What are you saying?

"What?!" you splutter. "We haven't had sex!"

This isn't about sex. I'm asking what you're saying, what message your choice is communicating.

To whatever degree you're concerned at all about this person's soul, you're trying to tell her/him about Christ, right? You're trying to tell this person that Christ is the One in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), the source and reason for all the universe (Colossians 1:16), the most important celebrity anywhere, ever (Philippians 2:9-11). You want to persuade him that Christ is Lord of all. And you want him/her to believe that Jesus is all these things, and that He is all these things to you.

But you've already told him that Christ isn't all that. You're just haggling over price.

(Or am I assuming too much? Are there some who are not even concerned whether the people they date are or are not saved? In such cases, the kindest I can say is that such are clueless, loveless, and faithless, and they really need to reconsider the big question, for themselves.)

Let me approach the issue another way.

Would you date a child molestor? Oh, of course not. Instant deal-breaker. Thief, murderer? No and no. Rapist? Never. Those are really bad things.

But not as bad as being an enemy of God (Proverbs 15:9; Ephesians 2:3)? I think we have some seriously skewed priorities.

See, if you are in a dating relationship with someone who doesn't love Christ, you've already said the Christ-issue isn't the issue to you. Her looks, his job, the way she treats you, his sense of humor — whatever; these things matter more to you than Christ does.

You want this person to believe that he is a sinner, under God's wrath, and deserving His judgment. You want him to know that his righteous deeds are as filthy rags, that everything he can produce is not enough for God.

But you've already communicated, by your choice, that what he has is enough for you. That you and he share enough values, goals, aspirations, and affections to create (or even consider) an exclusive and intimate relationship.

See? You've already dealt a death-blow to your own credibility. You really might as well stop talking. Your priorities, your choices, have drowned out your words (cf. the principle of Titus 1:16).

I would think this would be clear-cut to any Biblically-instructed Christian, and am constantly surprised to find that it apparently isn't. But let's extend it a bit.

If someone can credibly check the "Christian"-box, are you all-done? All that remains is attractiveness and basic compatibility, then go buy the dress and rent the tux, chapel, preacherguy?

Well, yes and no. As far as a moral issue, yes. Since the Bible doesn't teach a third "will" of God, by which we (for instance) must discern mystically and ookily what one girl/guy in all the world is The Chosen One for us, basically we may morally marry any (A) available and (B) willing (C) Christian (D) of the opposite sex (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39). (Sad I have to add all those qualifiers, but here we are.)

But what of wisdom? I heard somewhere it was the principal thing (Proverbs 4:7, CSB).

Here is where churches often depress me. I know of a ladies' group that considered studying The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace. The idea was rejected, because they didn't want single women to "feel excluded."

My wife and I both thought, "Huh? They're exactly who should be studying this!" The single man/woman is exactly the person who should be looking long and hard at all that marriage entails, before making that next-to-unconditional commitment.

Consider this illustration:

What would you think of a man who spends his free time going from car dealer to car dealer, checking out luxury cars that he will never buy?

He takes them out on a long "test" drive. He floors the accelerator, he jams down the brakes. He swerves around sharp turns, cranks the stereo, kicks the tires, slams the doors, asks question after question about the engine, the wiring, the electronics. He talks to the mechanic. He makes the salesman invest much of his day, and then goes through the whole process of credit checks and dickering about price and bargaining...

...then airily says "Wow, that was fun! Thanks!"

And leaves.

Next day: rinse, and repeat. Another dealer, another car. Another hapless sales staff.

What would you think of a guy like that? Selfish lout, right? Cruel? Jerk? Immature, thoughtless, loveless, graceless, without compassion? World revolves around him? Other people are his toys?

I totally agree.

So what of the person who's dating someone (s)he knows (s)he has no business considering as a spouse?

Brother, you know Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Peter 3:7, all that? You know that God will call you to love, cherish, serve, protect, and lead your wife. You know you will need to provide for her, honor her exclusively from your heart, and with your body. You will be obliged to lead her in holiness, guard her, lay down your very life for her. You know that a bad choice will have very rough consequences (Proverbs 12:4b; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15-16).

But what if the girl you're dating is vastly more mature than you, or vastly less? What if she is disrespectful, rebellious, and sees no need of a leader? What if she particularly does not respect you, is constantly correcting and bossing you? What if you absolutely dread the very thought of having to cross her will, to any degree? What if disagreements invariably become arguments, and go on and on? How could you put on her a yoke she so obviously is not ready to take? How could you subject your future children to such a household?

What, you never thought of that? Then what have you been thinking about?

Sister, stop nodding for a second. What of you? You know Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Peter 3:1-7, and all that? You know, do you, that God calls you to respect your husband from your very heart, in the way you think and act? You know that, under God, your husband will be the human authority in your life? That you will be obliged before God to love him, respect him, subordinate yourself to him? That you will be his helper, called to aid him in fulfilling what God has called him to?

So what if the man you're dating does not have what it takes to lead you? What if you find yourself constantly telling him what to do? What if he knows God less well than you, because he knows the Bible less than you? What if he is not prepared to lead you on, because he hasn't even caught up with you yet? What if your spirit is independent, and the thought of subordinating yourself to this man is either unthinkable (because he is so unready), or barely tolerable (because he is so passive and pliable)?

In either case, how can you be so cruel as to lead this woman or man on, letting him or her give this portion of his life to you in exclusion to others, when you know you have no business considering a future with him or her?

Is that loving (Matthew 7:12)?

"But he's started reading his Bible now!" "She's started going to Bible Study!" Great. But know this: what is most telling about another person is what he or she is before taking any interest in you. That indicates her or his heart.

If deathbed conversions are "iffy," dating conversions are doubly so.

This long post could be even longer, but I'll (almost) close with a few summary questions.

Would you consider marrying someone who never, ever washed his body? Yuck! No way, right? What if (s)he never, ever had his heart and conscience washed (Hebrews 9:14; 10:22)? Evidently yes? Hmm.

Would you consider marrying someone who never listened to a word you said? No way. What if (s)he never listened to a word God said (Proverbs 28:4, 9; Romans 10:17)? Evidently yes? Hmm.

Would you let someone drive who didn't care much for traffic laws or signs? Not likely. But you'd consider marrying a man who has no Christian walk, or had none before he got interested in you? Or a woman who hasn't yet taken to heart what God says about her and her role? Evidently yes? Hmm.

And in neither case, if you'd not consider marrying, why date? Just a harmless test-drive?

REAL-LIVE FINAL THOUGHT: I know exactly what some readers will think. They will think, "Well, my (friend/relative) married an unbeliever, and later the Lord saved him, and that worked out great! So I'm just trusting God to save/mature/sanctify my unsaved/immature/rebellious little dew-drop!"

To that, two responses:

First, so if someone sins or does something stupid, and it works out all right, you should do the same? Dude. Seriously. Grow up.

Second, as long as we're trading stories, I've heard stories about people who've pointed real, live, actual, loaded guns straight at other people and pulled the trigger, and the gun jammed. Neat, huh? So if God wants someone to live, He can jam a gun, right?

And if you loaded a pistol and went out to see who God wants to live, and who He wants to die... would that be a good thing?

Or stupid, bad, reckless, insane, and sinful?

Kid, life's not a game. Hasty decisions cast long shadows.

For every reason in this world and the next, wise up.

Dan Phillips's signature

25 July 2011

Why Shallow Evangelicals Are So Susceptible to Charismatic Frauds

The Death of Discernment and the Rise of the Lakeland "Revival"
by John Macarthur
(Adapted from Ashamed of the Gospel, 3rd ed., Crossway)

ome of the most popular and dangerous evangelical fads of the past fifteen years have involved waves of charismatic fervor that have sown confusion and discord in every culture where they have been embraced. I'm talking about the Toronto Blessing (where "holy laughter" and other forms of pseudo-drunkenness were declared to be signs the Holy Spirit was moving); the Kansas City Prophets (a movement led by a group of self-appointed seers whose prognostications were usually false and whose private morals were even worse); the Pensacola outpouring (whose major features were gold dust and gold tooth fillings that supposedly appeared miraculously, but the revival disbanded amid charges of fraud and embezzled funds). Then (most recently) those movements were all eclipsed by a supposed revival in Lakeland, Florida whose leader embodied all those errors and turned out to be twice as much a son of hell as all the religious scoundrels he imitated (cf. Matthew 23:15).

Here's how Charisma magazine summed up that debacle:
[Lakeland Revival founder Todd] Bentley's faith and exuberance impressed seasoned, prominent revivalists while his wild tactics often tempered the enthusiasm of other leaders. When praying for healing, the tattooed evangelist was known to hit the sick in the stomach with his knee in a move more common among wrestlers than preachers. Bentley even recounted kicking a woman in the face in an act of "obedience to the Lord."

Yet, with the exception of a few ministers, many charismatic leaders chose to overlook Bentley's peculiar methods for the sake of what they saw as "fruit." They claimed the revival stirred many Christians worldwide to pursue God with a renewed hunger.

"Personally, I believe that the Lakeland Outpouring was another wave of revival like Toronto and Brownsville," said Los Angeles-area pastor [Ché] Ahn, referring to the Toronto Blessing and the Pensacola Revival, both of which occurred during the 1990s. "Each wave has its own life span." [Paul Steven Ghiringhelli, "Lakeland Revival Officially Ends" Charisma (13 Oct. 2008).]

You might think the cumulative effect of so many "prophetic" movements, all of them being totally discredited in fairly rapid succession, would heighten a craving for more careful discernment among evangelicals. But every new charismatic tsunami seems to grow larger and confound more people than the previous ones. Each wave is considerably more bizarre and certainly more grossly unbiblical than all its predecessors, yet each one pulls in Christians who previously seemed fairly mainstream. Craving something more than the shallow fare they are force-fed in the average evangelical church, they are eager patsies for a charlatan who promises supernatural signs and wonders instead of the superficial skits and tomfoolery they have grown accustomed to.

John MacArthur's signature

24 July 2011

Suffering Reproach for Christ's Sake Is a High Honor

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 "Chastisement," a sermon delivered 28 October 1855, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

f thou thinkest that reproach for Christ's sake is a dishonor, thou judgest wrongly of it, for it is the greatest honor that can possibly happen to thee.

There are many of you who count that religion is very honorable while you can be respectable in it, while you can walk in respectable society, but if the cause of God brings you into tribulation, if it engenders the laugh and jeer of the worldling, the hiss and scorn of the world, then you think it a dishonor. But my son thou dost not weigh the blessing rightly. . . .

When they say all manner of evil against us falsely, we put that down not in the book of dishonor but in the scroll of glory. When they call us by opprobrious titles, we write not that down for loss, but for gain. We accept their jeers as honors, we count the vile things they cast at us in the pillory of scorn to be a donation of pearls and diamonds: we take their evil speaking, we read it by the light of the Word of God, and we discover that in it lie music, notes of honor and chords of glory to us for ever.

Now you who faint under a little trouble . . . let me encourage you in this way. My son, despise not the persecution. Remember how many men have borne it. What an honor it is to suffer for Christ's sake! . . .

We in these gentle times cannot suffer for Christ's sake. God has put us in evil times because we cannot encounter so much as we wish for him. These times are not good for us. We almost wish for different ones, when we might be more partakers with Christ in his sufferings. We would almost envy those blessed men of yore, who had the opportunity of showing their courage and faith to all men, by enduring more for Christ; and if any of you are in a peculiar place of trouble, where you have more persecution than others, you ought to glory in it, and should be glad of it. He that stands in the thickest part of the battle shall have the highest glory at last. . . .

Count it glory to go into the hottest part of the field. Fear not, man, thine head is covered in the day of battle; the shield of God can easily repel all the darts of the enemy. Be bold for his name's sake. Go on still rejoicing.

C. H. Spurgeon

22 July 2011

Alcorn and Spurgeon on heaven

by Phil Johnson

'm not generally a fan of daily devotionals. The readings tend to be like bite-size shortbread biscuits—a verse or two of Scripture appended to a paragraph with a corny anecdote. My appetite runs more to things like rare steak, 9 ounces or more. So when I'm reading devotionally (devoting time to God, and listening to Him), my preference is to read straight Scripture, at least a chapter or two at a time, without prefabricated what-do-you-think-about this-style questions, thoughts-of-the-day, fortune-cookie quotes, cutsie human-interest stories, or any of the other standard daily-devotional gimmicks.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against commentaries and study tools, and I use them profusely when I'm studying a text I intend to write or preach on. But when I'm doing purely devotional reading, I prefer to devote all my time and attention to the text itself, so I can hear God's Word without interruption and meditate on it.

Nevertheless, I very much like We Shall See God, a new devotional book on heaven and the afterlife by Randy Alcorn, with copious quotes from C. H. Spurgeon. It is meaty, rich with insight, engrossing, and fresh (even though the Spurgeon excerpts are more than a century old).

As a matter of fact, for my money, it's an even better book about heaven than Alcorn's original bestselling book on the subject.

Alcorn has lightly edited the Spurgeon material to make it more easily readable, and he has done a superb job choosing and reformatting these excerpts. Gone are the three-page-long paragraphs you have to slog through in the sermon volumes. Spelling, punctuation, and some words have been Americanized. Paragraphs have been omitted here and there where it helps to make Spurgeon's point in a more focused way. The editing has been done with proper respect to the material, and without any attempt to alter the sense or substance of what Spurgeon originally said. (Alcorn explains the editing process in his introduction.)

You may very well want to use this book as a daily devotional, and it is plenty nutritious enough for that. Spurgeon's premillennialism comes through wonderfully where he discusses eschatology. Spurgeon's portrayal of heaven is superbly biblical and devoid of speculation. There are also chapters on the reality of God's wrath and the horrors of hell, so this is no syrupy book that might give artificial comfort or false hope to the lost.

I think it is a fine book expounding on what the Bible says about the afterlife, and even if you don't use it as a devotional guide, you will find it a good read. It's going in the doctrinal section of my library, not on that top, out-of-reach shelf where I store most of my devotional books.

Phil's signature

21 July 2011


by Dan Phillips

One little bit of Al Mohler's recent essay on "reparative therapy," homosexuality, and the Gospel, sent me off on a bypath. It is in Mohler's quotation of a coalition of mental health-type professionals in 2008, whose stated premise was that “both heterosexuality and homosexuality are normal expressions of human sexuality.” I probed a little further and found the American Psychological Association touting the release of this document, formed by a "diverse coalition of 13 national organizations has joined in a renewed effort to protect the safety and emotional well-being of students." One wonders how genuinely "diverse" the coalition was. Not very, one suspects. Perhaps the "diversity" of a bunch of bananas: some longer, some shorter; some plumper, some thinner. But all bananas.

To say that the statement is question-begging is to say that American government spending has been "a tad short-sighted." What could "normal" possibly mean, in this context? Statistically normal? Surely not; even on the grossly-inflated 10% figure, homosexual behavior is not the norm. Biologically normal? In terms of design, again, surely not — unless one wishes to argue that the mere fact that a thing can be done with a part of the body means that it is normal to do so... in which case, the imagination quickly staggers under such new-"normal" images as fingers in pencil sharpeners, tongues in light-sockets, legs in wood chippers, and the like.

No, clearly "normal" is the result of some extensively massaged redefining. Stripped of footnotes and citations and psychologese, I daresay this "normal" amounts to "feels right to them and doesn't seem to hurt anyone." This definition, in turn, while popular, also rests atop a mountain of unfounded assumptions. Is what "feels right" therefore right? Yes!, says popular culture. "Follow your heart!"... until one mentions, say, rape or murder, which also arise from the heart. All right, not that. It has to not "hurt anyone." Why not?, one asks. Well, hurting others is bad, we guess baselessly. Oh, so abortion is out? No, no no no...

And on it goes.

You smart cookies have already arrived where I'm heading. Though our culture has selective awe and reverence for the Priesthood of White-Jacketed Experts (preferably Government Certified™), this thunderous, well-nigh Sinaitic pronouncement rests on precisely nothing.

Look: suppose someone brings you a shiny, multiflanged, multifacted, multicolored, multilimbed metallic thing with a big shiny propeller on it. He asks you, "Is this working normally?"

Your response, of course, is "I have no idea. What is it supposed to do?"

Well, that's what you'd do. You have some common sense. If you were a Government Certified™ Expert, on the other hand, you'd forcibly extract  money from working folks, fund a committee, commission a study, and produce a report. If the committee noted that it kept doing the same thing and didn't burst into flames, they might name it a Disgronificator, hand it back, and say, "Yep. Normal!" Or if it worked too well, they'd regulate it into inaccessibility. But I digress.

The truth is, we really do not know what "normal" is (except statistically) until we know design and intent. That is, we don't know whether Object A is functioning normally until we know what Object A was designed to do.

So that is why in WTG I go right back to the opening chapters of Genesis, to the creation of man. It's a simple formula:
  • To understand how the Gospel is a solution, we must understand what problem it addresses.
  • To understand what problem the Gospel addresses we must understand what is wrong with man.
  • You can't understand what is wrong with man without understanding what man was created to be and do.
In other words, the backwards progression must be:
  • Gospel
  • Sin
  • Fall
  • Creation
So you see, all of that puts us in an entirely different frame, a different perspective, a different worldview. Central issues are no longer primarily defined on exclusively horizontal (let alone statistical) terms, but primary reference must be given to the vertical. Which, you will also note, takes us right back to Genesis 3, where our existential dilemma all began. It was at that point that we, as a race represented in our head Adam, insisted on the exclusive right to solipsistic, internal, horizontal (if not centrifugal) redefinition of everything.

In other words, God created and defined us, our world and our meaning; and we turned around and re-defined ourselves, our world, our meaning — and God.

Then all Hell broke loose.

And that, dear friends, is how we got where we are today: up is down, left is right, black is white, harmful is helpful, and perverted is "normal."

But let me throw yet one more monkey-wrench into the Autonomaton. If we want to see what a real "normal" human being is like, we need to look at Jesus, as I have argued elsewhere. Put that in the context of the rest of the Bible.

Then "normal" takes on a very different hue.

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19 July 2011

Open Letter to Dr. James White (2 of 3)

by Frank Turk

Dear James --

Last week I wrote underscoring the real, sober, and personal impact you've had on me over the years, and how grateful I am for you and your ministry. But let's not lose sight of the tweets that inspired me to write these letters to you:

I mean: I get it. It's Twitter. One can't hardly make every tweet a nuanced dash of salt. And one of the subtexts of your tweet is the crusty hard Scottish shell you pretend to have in front of everybody, as well as your general Stooges-esque treatment of channel rats past, present and future. I see the basic exchange as fairly harmless in and of itself -- except that you framed something which, let's face it, has been going around about me for about two years now: Turk hates apologists.

Now, I want to highlight something this week before I go for the gold next week. In some sense, you also "hate" apologists. "Hate" is probably an imprecise word here, but it's the one we've put into play, so I'll run with it.

You know: those half-baked preachers you review in Radio Free Geneva are worthy of a little disdain. Their grasp of theology -- let alone the art of apologetics -- leaves much to be desired that when they spend a few minutes on "discernment" it's such a painful exercise that one either has to laugh, or cry, or beg them just to stop before they hurt themselves or someone else.

There's a long line of these quacks out there, and so there will never be an end to the fodder for Radio Free Geneva. But let's think about something here: you wisely do not spend all of your time cataloging the vagrants wearing tin-foil hats and the newspaper tuxedoes who think they are fully equipped with the full armor of God. You could: they are legion. But, as you wisely put it in a recent podcast, only those calvinists who can't get out of the cage-stage would want that. There are more important things to do.

Together, let's admit something: there's at least one ditch on the apologetics highway which we can agree on to avoid. There is at least one kind of apologetics which, frankly, we'd both love to see come to a sudden and glorious end -- and if some want to call that "hate," so be it.

But there's another kind I think you and I would also agree on which needs, at least, substantial reform. There's a brand of philosophical theism also posing as mainstream Christian faith, and it would be a boon to the general orthodoxy of apologetics as a whole if it took a sabbatical. There is certainly room for epistemology and metaphysics in Christian apologetics; there is certainly room for ontological, teleological, cosmological and evidential arguments in apologetics. But when one presents these as somehow more convincing than the Bible, and then it turns out that after years of doing this one also finds himself glad to adopt a position about God's knowledge that is only barely-different than Open Theism, perhaps one would have been better off doing something else. We need less cleverness, I think, in popular apologetics and more pastorally-founded wisdom that makes foolish the wise men of this world -- and I think you'd join me in welcoming those doing this sort of thing to give it up until they could do something better.

So maybe that's two ditches we agree on: the ignorant and the overly-wise. I think we could agree fully that there are kinds of apologists which, in the best case, need to upgrade their game from merely "winning" to real ambassadorship for the grace of God.

And look: it's extremely easy to find you personally modeling the right kind of apologetics. In your first segment of the 17 June 2011 Dividing Line (up through about 10:00) you run through a brief apologetic against the trend in America to profane marriage. The first sort of bad apologist -- the ignoramus -- would rail against the sins of other people and call his followers merely not to be like them; the other sort of bad apologist -- the philosopher -- would reason from nature alone that the legislation in New York was bad. But in your approach, Scripture is the centerpiece, and we are deconstructed and judged and then finally given hope by it. That is: the true apologist and his apologetic is squarely standing on the Gospel, and it making much of it.

This of course goes back to what I said last week: you're a truly-pastoral fellow. You don't see the work of shepherding souls as somehow two-dimensional. You don't see it as complete if it shows only one side -- as if the riddle of the pastoral Rubick's cube is solved when only one face is in place. Truth and Love, gentleness and reverence, heart, mind and soul, Scripture and reason: they come together in the right proportions in true apologetics.

That's what brings me to next week's final letter, and in the meantime I hope this letter finds you well and in God's good graces.

The World-Tilting Gospel pre-launch: interesting thises and thats

by Dan Phillips

If this seems unforgivably indulgent, please accept my sincere apologies. No everything's for everyone, and maybe this one for fewer than others.

I promise I'll get to von Steinkronff's thirteenth treatise on parabatical monastic election, or something weightier, in due course. This is all very new to me, and exciting; and I owe it in large measure to Phil, Frank, and you all. So let me share with you some of the "firsts" I'm experiencing as the launch of my literary firstborn gets under way.

So there I am, minding my own business. For some now-forgotten reason, I visited the Amazon page for my maiden voyage, The World-Tilting Gospel, due out August 1. I notice it's offered on Kindle — and I see the date: July 14, 2011. Huh?

So I Tweet it on Saturday, still not sure if it's really available. But various friends on Twitter and Facebook actually buy it, download it, and start reading it... so it must be real. I write Cat Hoort, Kregel's Trade Marketing Manager (handling getting the word out about WTG), and she confirms that booksellers generally ship preordered books when they receive stock, regardless of the formal release date.

Cool! So I announce it on my site and start getting reports of folks making their way through it. Tweets came from some sisters you will recognize:

What? Well, cool! That's fast! Exciting, surprising, impossible not to smile. But the first person I know to have purchased and finished the book was Megan Boneski (pronounced Bo-NESS-kee), and she absolutely made my day Sunday with an email, which she's said I could share with you. Here's an excerpt:
Hi Dan!

WTG on WTG! ;-)

I just finished the Kindle edition of your book, and I must say that it was money and time well-spent. The biggest "Ah-HA!" moment for me was your explanation of how God chooses/calls us, and not the other way around. The way you put it makes a whole lot of sense, and pretty much confirmed my Calvinist leanings (not that I was fully Arminian, despite my Methodist upbringing). Dead things cannot "choose life" either physically or spiritually. Makes sense.

I don't buy "churchy" books very often... I bought yours because I respect your blog writing, and have learned a lot from your posts over the years.

...Even though my own Christian walk has been a "whole Bible" approach, I really appreciate the way you tie everything together from THE BEGINNING. It's all about Jesus, from Genesis to Revelation, and your book explains it in a way that's accessible to those of us who aren't necessarily familiar with theological terms. It's not an EASY read, in that it made me stop and think, but it wasn't dry and scholarly. I didn't feel like I needed an M. Div. to understand what you were putting forth.

I am going to read it again with my Bible and notebook handy. If a straight read-through blew my mind, I'm sure a more thorough study will be even more O.O :-)

There's so much more that I want to say, but I'll save it for later. I pray that God uses you and your book to further His kingdom and add to His Church. Thank you so much for doing what you do. :-)
Absolutely made my day, moved me to praise and thank God. For folks like the book's endorsers (Johnson, MacArthur, Duncan, et al) to say the kind things they do, and then for Megan to say "I didn't feel like I needed an M. Div. to understand what you were putting forth" — I am a happy, grateful, grateful man. God is so kind and so merciful. Neither the Biblical worldview as a whole, nor the Gospel specifically, is for folks of one background and not another; and so by design neither is WTG. This is exactly what I prayed and hoped for.

Then I got an email from reader Chris Hobeck, wondering whether there was such a thing as "PDS" (Phillips Derangement Syndrome). He pointed me to the first customer review on Amazon, titled "Howlers heaped on incompetency." The review referred only to those parts of the book that are available on Amazon's preview. The writer's main complaint in effect is that, in a book subtitled Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight, the author (me) seemed actually to embrace a Biblical worldview and, you know, hang on tight.

(Would to God that this were the worst charge anyone could truthfully lay against me, either as an author or as a person.)

He was kind enough to give it two stars nonetheless, as he felt I did "write with a clear and lively style," though he lamented that it was "too bad [my] ideas [the Gospel, Biblically framed] also do not display positive qualities."

So far, at this writing, 0 of 23 have found his review helpful. It's early, though. Actually, Stan McCullars did find the review helpful, in a way, as he added this comment (click to enlarge):

This review was followed by Megan Boneski's review, which was rather more positive.

Finally, our last little bit isn't as fun as it would have been if I'd gotten my first screen shot. You know how Amazon lists its alternate dealers and prices, like this?

Out of curiosity (this is all new to me), I clicked on it to see the alternatives. This is what I see now:

Kind or remarkable, isn't it, how out-of-step that fourth price is? It's not a special edition with my name in bacon grease or Peet's coffee stains, or anything. I don't really know what the deal is about it. But I do know this: it's a bargain compared to the first time I saw it a few hours earlier.

Then the price was something like $440.00. So thirty bucks is actually a steal.

When you look at it the right way.

At any rate, the book and its effort to present the Gospel as framed in a whole-Bible worldview is going out, and my earnest prayer is that it may be a tool used by God "that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you" (2 Thess. 3:1 NAS).

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18 July 2011

Something Good at Huffpo

Order, Chaos, Common Sense, and the Failure of Materialistic Naturalism
by Phil Johnson

o rarely do I find anything worth recommending at The Huffington Post that when something good does show up over there, it's almost a disorienting experience for me.

This article is one of those rare gems. It is a fine application of the teleological argument, mathematically debunking the materialistic assumption that the order and intricacy we see in the universe arose by sheer chance out of chaos.

The article quotes Stephen Barr ("Modern Physics and Ancient Faith," Notre Dame, IN: University Press, 2003) to demonstrate why trying to account for an orderly universe by "proposing an infinity of unobservable entities is no more scientifically defensible than proposing a single unobservable one (God).

"Indeed, sustaining a purely materialistic view of the universe, Barr asserts, requires repeatedly pleading for a multiplicity of envisioned infinities—of universes, planets, durations, realities, observers, etc.—a habit that severely undercuts the materialist position."


Here. Read the whole thing; then come back:

This is not complicated truth: Nature is governed by laws. These imply the existence of a lawgiver. Earth's seasons follow a complex rhythm established by the rising and setting of the sun, the tilt of the planet's axis, the speed with which we circumnavigate the sun, the temperature of the sun, and the distance between earth and sun—plus a host of other considerations. It is an extremely precise timetable. Change any of those factors by a few percentage points and the earth would eventually become as uninhabitable as Mars or Saturn. That kind of orderliness implies to reasonable minds that our world was made by intelligent Master Designer.

Such a common-sense observation, however, is rejected out of hand by virtually all modern rationalists, materialists, atheists, and philosophical naturalists. They insist it is more reasonable to assume that nobody made the universe; it just happened. All that order arose spontaneously out of chaos. In short, everything originally came automatically, by accident—out of nothing.

On the face of it, that's a totally absurd idea. Order implies thought, purpose, design. Only intelligence can devise and design order into a system. And (whether you observe particles with a microscope or planets with a telescope) the vast layers of intricate complexity and painstaking order we observe in the known universe argues powerfully for an intelligence more boundless than even the most sophisticated human mind could ever begin to comprehend.

(Incidentally: anyone who truly sees that point should not be awed or intimidated by mere academic or scientific credentials—especially when we realize that philosophers and scientists are forced to revise their theories all the time. And that has been the case since the beginning of creation.)

Even on a relatively small scale of complexity, simple common sense grasps the incontrovertible truth of this argument. You could take a bag of watch parts and shake it for all eternity, and a working watch would never emerge from the bag. The only way to get a watch is to have a watchmaker design and build it. The same thing is true with the universe. It could not have happened by accident.

Ronald Nash, in his book Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994, p. 135.), writes this:
Suppose the first American astronauts to walk on the moon had brought back, along with moon rocks, an oblong black box that appeared from the outside to have been crafted by machines. Suppose further that, when opened, the box contained the workings of a camera: it had parts that functioned like the lens, shutter, and other components of a camera. Obviously, such an object would excite enormous and justifiable curiosity about how it came to be. It is hard to imagine any skeptic's gaining respect by maintaining that the principle of sufficient reason did not apply to such an object. Equally absurd would be efforts to explain the box in terms of chance, natural forces. The very nature of the object pointed to its having been made by an intelligent being. The human mind properly balks at the suggestion that a cameralike object was produced by chance, natural forces. But then how much more should we reject claims that something far more intricate, such as the human eye, resulted from anything less than an intelligent being.

It's nice, for once, to see an article in The Huffington Post saying essentially the same thing.

But it's doubly ironic when you realize that there's a droning nest of nattering voices over at Biologos relentlessly insisting that teleological arguments are "unscientific" and therefore invalid, And most of the contributors there claim to be Christians.

Just as the material universe reflects the order and arrangement of a far Greater Intelligence, the intellectual climate of the world today (including the religious world) reflects the chaos that is the inevitable fruit of sin. Romans 1:19-32.

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17 July 2011

Are You "Contextualizing"? Or Are You Just Being Worldly?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

A Word on Worldliness
A Classic Dose of Spurgeon, reposted. This was one of our first-ever doses o' Spurgeon. It's still great.

(First posted 13 February 2006)

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

he following is excerpted from a sermon titled "The Lord's Own View of His Church and People," preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, and first published in 1887.

Timeless relevance

SpurgeonHere Spurgeon responded to the notion—already prevalent in the mid-nineteenth century—that the way to win the world is to cater to worldly tastes. Churches were offering entertainments as a way of "reaching" the unreached. Preachers were adapting their messages in order to tone down the offense of the cross and reflect the prevailing "scholarship" of the times. Those who opposed these innovations and defended the unvarnished gospel (especially Spurgeon) were derided as harsh, unsophisticated, provincial, or brutish troublemakers.

Sound familiar?

What's highly ironic here is that Spurgeon's message is still as relevant and as seasonable as the day he first said these words, but those in his era who were most keen on working hard to "be relevant" became a sad footnote in the history of the evangelical church. Few of them are remembered by name today, and not one of them is remembered primarily for any positive contribution they made to the growth of the church or the advancement of the gospel.

They were trying to get the church to adapt to modernist thought; lots of people in the church embraced this as a wonderful step forward; and modernist ideas finally left almost every major denomination in the world spiritually bankrupt before the middle of the twentieth century.

To add irony on top of irony, modernism is the very thing most Emergent types these days claim they are eager to purge from the church. They want the church to join the post-modern conversation on postmodernist grounds. While claiming to deplore modernism, they have adopted the old modernist agenda almost in toto. See how perfectly Spurgeon's plea applies to what is happening in the church today:

The church should be separate from the world

A-hunk a-hunk o' burnin' blog...The church is a separate and distinct thing from the world. I suppose there is such a thing as "the Christian world"; but I do not know what it is, or where it can be found. It must be a singular mixture. I know what is meant by a worldly Christian; and I suppose the Christian world must be an aggregate of worldly Christians. But the church of Christ is not of the world. "Ye are not of the world," says Christ, "even as I am not of the world."

Great attempts have been made of late to make the church receive the world, and wherever it has succeeded it has come to this result, the world has swallowed up the church. It must be so. The greater is sure to swamp the less.

They say, "Do not let us draw any hard-and-fast lines. A great many good people attend our services who may not be quite decided, but still their opinion should be consulted, and their vote should be taken upon the choice of a minister, and there should be entertainments and amusements, in which they can assist."

The theory seems to be, that it is well to have a broad gangway from the church to the world: if this be carried out, the result will be that the nominal church will use that gangway to go over to the world, but it will not be used in the other direction.

It is thought by some that it would perhaps be better to have no distinct church at all. If the world will not come up to the church, let the church go down to the world; that seems to be the theory. Let the Israelites dwell with the Canaanites, and become one happy family. Such a blending does not appear to have been anticipated by our Lord in the chapter which was read just now: I mean the fifteenth of John. Read verses eighteen and nineteen: "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you."

Did he ever say—"Try to make an alliance with the world, and in all things be conformed to its ways"? Nothing could have been further from our Lord's mind. Oh, that we could see more of holy separation; more dissent from ungodliness, more nonconformity to the world! This is "the dissidence of Dissent" that I care for, far more than I do for party names and the political strife which is engendered by them.
. . . . . . . . . .

The church is to be a garden, walled, taken out of the common, and made a separate and select plot of ground. She is to be a spring shut up, and a fountain sealed, no longer open to the fowl of the air, and the beasts of the field. Saints are to be separate from the rest of men, even as Abraham was when he said to the sons of Seth, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you."

Come now, my dear friends, are you of this sort? Are you foreigners in a country not your own? You are no Christians, remember, if you are not so. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." That is the Lord's own word to you. Did not he himself suffer without the gate that you might go forth unto him without the camp?

Are you at one with the rest of mankind? Could anybody live with you, and never see that any alteration had taken place in you? Would they think that you were just the same as any other man? Then, by your fruits ye shall be known. If there is no difference of life between you and the world, the text does not address you as the "sister" and the "spouse" of Christ. Those who are such are enclosed from the world, and shut up for Christ.

"I wish I were more so," cries one. So do I, my friend, and may you and I practically prove the sincerity of that desire by a growing separateness from the world!

C. H. Spurgeon

Incidentally, Spurgeon had hordes of detractors who constantly urged him to tone down his criticism of early modernism. They insisted that he needed to defer to the sensitivities of Christian leaders who were convinced dialogue and compromise were a better response to modernist innovators than the jeremiads Spurgeon frequently delivered. Spurgeon's critics were especially fond of pointing out that he had no seminary training, and had not even gone to college. Many urged him to shut up and let scholars and academicians respond to modernism.

I'm glad he shunned that type of counsel.

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