30 August 2011

Open Letter to George Barna

by Frank Turk

Dear George Barna;

I admit that I am finding it hard to start my letter to you in an amicable way.  For at least 5 years now, I have been someone who has turned from admiring your candor in dealing with people you would call your fellow Christians to finding myself somewhat appalled by you, your alleged findings, and your agenda for the faith & ecclesiology of the English-speaking church.

For me, the light bulb went on when, after reading your findings on the rates of divorce in Christianity vs. among non-believers, I discovered a secular study which did the work you somehow missed that demonstrated that people with actual Christian faith and not merely a silver fish on their vehicle have a significantly-lower rate of divorce than the unbelieving world.  One would think that someone doing research "focused on the intersection of faith and culture," and providing "leadership and unique, strategic information and resources that help facilitate transformation in organizations, communities and individuals" would be interested that committed Christian faith actually turns out to transform individuals and communities and so on.

How, after that, you have been on a path to really eliminate the local church as we know it -- cross-pollinating your half-baked results with half-baked theology and history to try to paint a new churchless Christianity which, it seems, is the next step after seeker-sensitive, commitophobic churches.  The detractors of this blog will want evidence of such so I point them to these reviews of your execrable books Revolution and Pagan Christianity.

Now, so what?  Frankly, Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research has outmanned your group for relevant data about the trends and habits of real Christians, and Ed's a guy much closer to the center mark of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy than you are.  Your group's relevance and influence has, thank God, waned -- in large part I think because you're simply not credible.

But last week the Wall Street Journal -- one of the last nearly-objectives MSM outlets in America, at least when it comes to religion -- published this piece exposing the gross flaws of your last report on the trend of the attendance of women in American churches by Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson of Baylor University.  I commend it to the readers of this blog, especially as they go here:
As for the supposed decline in female church attendance, the best data come from the NORC, which has conducted annual surveys since 1972. Across 38 years, there have been only small variations in church attendance, and Barna's reported 11 percentage-point decline in women's church attendance (to 44% from 55%) simply didn't happen. Nor has the gender gap narrowed. In 1991, according to NORC data, 38% of women and 28% of men said they attended weekly. In 2002, 36% of women and 24% of men attended weekly. In 2008, 36% of women and 25% of men attended weekly, and in 2010 it was 34% of women and 25% of men.
Here's all I have to say about that: reputable people check their work.  In church we call that "accountability" (of course, you need a church and elders and fellow believers who are committed to you for that to work), but in the secular world we call that "vetting".  Before you make a statement that ought to cause people to take some kind of decisive action, you have to vet your data, and vet your conclusions.  In my day job, I do this all the time as I report on global trends and customer demand to make sure we are making commitments which align with customer commitments -- both so we don't miss any major projects and also so we don't build things that never sell.

In my case, my job is to avoid costing the company profit by making sure neither finished goods nor missed sales opportunities swallow up our EBITDA.  It's a way to keep people employed.

In your case, however, there's something more significant at stake.  Your calls to action cause people to make radical decisions about the cause of Christ -- and by definition they have eternal consequences.  And to that end, one would think that a warning such as, "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths," would have special weight for you.

Yet somehow, you wind up being a purveyor of sociological myths which play into both secular stereotypes (playing to unbelievers' skepticism) and the worst fears of honest people of good faith.  Why is that, I wonder?  How is it that you are not in fact someone helping the church but harming it both by making unbelievers more jaded toward it and making believers afraid to do what the Bible tells them to do about the matter of taking the Gospel itself to lost people so that God's word will do what it is meant to do?

I refrain from offering an opinion in that matter, but I call on you to consider it -- you are the one who can peer into your own spiritual life and find out why you put yourself in the same place as the men Paul says made a shipwreck of their faith.

Whatever you think your motives are, your professional friends at Baylor have made it clear that the results are bad results -- unreliable and harmful.  And for that, you should repent.

For the sake of Christ, see to it.  There is no better time to turn away from this sort of thing than right now.

Book(let) review — Why Our Church Switched to the ESV, by Kevin DeYoung — plus a brief excursus on modern versions

by Dan Phillips

(Wheaton: Crossway, 2011; 31 pages)

About This Book
When Crossway sent me this little booklet, I have to admit it didn't instantly interest me — except that it was written by DeYoung. It was little, the topic wasn't "hot" to me, and I didn't immediately think it would grip me much.

But a reading-slot opened up in my schedule that perfect for something brief and relatively light, and ever since reading DeYoung's truly wonderful Just Do Something (which I even reference in the Proverbs book), I'm an admirer. So I gave it a go.

I'm glad I did. Why Our Church Switched to the ESV was a good read: crisp, informative, and to the point. DeYoung was facing the decision, as a pastor, of guiding his church in purchasing new Bibles for the pews. They had been using and liking the NIV, which DeYoung says several times that he regards as a usable, respectable version. In other words, unlike me, he wasn't predisposed to dislike it.

DeYoung recommended the ESV, and in this booklet he explains why. All of DeYoung's discussion is based on the 1984 version, which might lead one to think the whole is hopelessly dated since the advent of NIV 2011. However, he focuses more on translation-philosophy and its fruits as seen in the text, and this transfers over perfectly well to the NIV and any other predominantly "dynamic-equivalence" version.

DeYoung sets forth and explains seven reasons why he prefers the ESV and recommended it to the church:
  1. The ESV employs an "essentially literal" translation philosophy.
  2. The ESV is a more transparent translation.
  3. The ESV engages in less over-translation.
  4. The ESV engages in less under-translation.
  5. The ESV does a better job of translating important Greek or Hebrew words with the same English word throughout a passage or book.
  6. The ESV retains more of the literary qualities of the Bible.
  7. The ESV requires much less "correcting" in preaching.
In these particulars, I think DeYoung goes to the heart of the matter, and I agree with his comparison and examples. In fact, though I had thought I'd thought this through, I found his explanation clarifying and helpful.

In the main, I'd agree with DeYoung's recommendation. Were facing the decision with a church I pastored and were I facing the same two-version choice, I think I'd make the same decision for the same reasons. The NIV (1984) is the most disappointing product one could imagine coming from such a stellar array of scholars and luminaries. It simply packs far too much interpretation into the text, and makes far too many interpretive decisions "backstage," without even alerting the reader to the fact that there even is any choice. If they called it the "New International Targum," I might feel a bit better about it.

Nor can one say in all instances "Oh well, the literal rendering is in the footnote." How many Bible readers that aren't detail-freaks (< writer raises hand and waves >) even read Bible marginal notes? One I tackle at some length in The World-Tilting Gospel is the NIV's choice to render sarx as "sinful nature" rather than the literal "flesh." This is sheer interpretation. The NIV translators made dozens of such decisions, many of which are unnoted. DeYoung would call this a lack of "transparency," and perhaps an excess of "over-translation."

DeYoung makes clear that the ESV/NIV difference in these regards is often one of degree rather than a chasm, but the ESV leans one way, while the NIV leans the other. Thus, by using the ESV, DeYoung doesn't have to devote a large portion of a sermon explaining why the text which the church put in people's hands is basically wrong — thus leading them to think they simply can't trust their Bibles half the time — and more time preaching the text.

DeYoung recommends the ESV for church and personal use, and I recommend DeYoung. So I guess that makes me a second-degree ESV-recommender.

A digression on translations
I have to say I'm not a wild-eyedly enthusiastic one, however. Everything DeYoung says is true and accurate. I just wish the ESV was more the way DeYoung says it leans. I wish it were fresher, freer from the RSV.

For instance, working in Proverbs, two of the ESV behaviors that frustrated me were: (1) like all English translations, it renders about three different Hebrew words as "fool" — I wish some version would break from the pack; and (2) there and often when the ESV has a poor rendering, you check and find they've just echoed the RSV without re-examination. And then, in other cases, they're just odd and by-themselves, as I encountered in preparing to teach on Genesis 49:10 at the coming conference. Here (oddly) the ESV goes with NRSV in a translation-decision that hasn't convinced many evangelicals, including me.

What's my version-preference? It would probably be an impossible hybrid between ESV, CSB, NKJ, NAS and Modern Language Bible, in around that order, with the first and second choices nearly neck-and-neck. Plus, some modern Bible-believing translation simply has to break out of the traditionalistic and indefensible "LORD/GOD" superstition, and show respect for the name God chose for Himself (see further here, here, here and here, if you like).

Not that I have an opinion, mind you.

I find that, when I like the CSB, I really like it. They aren't afraid to be independent, and often in doing so in my judgment they get the text just right. Yet there are simple oddities which make the CSB seem, at other times, not-ready-for-prime-time. A glaring example would be their whimsical use of both "Messiah" and "Christ" to render christos in the NT, sometimes in the same passage, and even in consecutive verses (e.g. Ephesians 2:5-20 — absolutely baffling)!

So: use the ESV, and have a pastor who knows and uses Greek and Hebrew.

But, in the immortal words of Alistair Cookie, "Me digress."

Back-to-the-book conclusion
All that to say: DeYoung is, as always, readable, and helpful. If you're facing choices as a reader, this will give you brief and pointed guidance. If you lead a church facing a decision like this, Why Our Church Switched to the ESV would be an invaluable booklet to distribute. Recommended.

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29 August 2011

The Folly of Treating Christology Like a DIY Project

by Phil Johnson

ome of the comments and e-mails I received after Friday's post basically said things like this:

"I am still not convinced that we can ascribe all the divine attributes of God to Christ when He was on this earth." Phrases like "I'm skeptical. . ." "You might be able to finesse it. . ." "You might think twice about it. . ." and, "The solution you guys are working with. . ." seemed to imply that one or more of our commenters may have thought I was floating experimental or hypothetical ideas about the deity and Incarnation of Christ.

In the first place, I wouldn't do that. In the second place, I don't recommend that approach to students of doctrine—much less aspiring teachers. In the third place, the question of whether Jesus was dispossessed of divine attributes in order to become human is not something I would ever propose for debate.

The problem with all kenotic theories is very simple to understand: if Christ divested himself of any essential attribute of God, then by definition He shed His deity. That, of course, is the kind of "problem" liberals and postmodernists are quite happy to take on board, but Christians concerned about orthodoxy have never taken such a blithe approach to the Incarnation.

Of course, the question of how full deity and true humanity can coexist in one Person is full of mystery. In fact, it is one of the toughest conundrums in all of theology, and for that reason rationalists and unbelievers frequently deny the possibility of the Incarnation altogether. But authentic Christians have always affirmed it, and not one orthodox Christian theologian of any serious repute has ever taught that the incarnate Christ was divested of the divine attributes.

More importantly, Scripture flatly states otherwise: "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).

Now, the fact that Christ possessed all the divine attributes does not necessitate that the full expression of those attributes was always operative in every aspect of His human experience. It should be obvious, for example, that if the human mind of Christ had maintained conscious awareness of everything known to the omniscient mind of God, His experience would not be like ours at all. In the words of Leon Morris:
Think how very different life would be for the student if he knew from the beginning of the year what questions would turn up in His examination paper! What vistas of bliss and ease the prospect opens up! . . . Ignorance is an inevitable accompaniment of the only human life that we know . . . . If this was the manner of it [if Jesus lived life knowing all the secrets of the universe], then the life Jesus lived was not a human life." [The Lord from Heaven (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964),46-47]

In other words, there must have been things Jesus did not know in the realm of His human consciousness, or else it would not be the case that He "can have compassion on the ignorant . . . for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity" (Hebrews 5:2). Scripture plainly tells us there were things the human Jesus did not know (Mark 13:32). He "grew in wisdom" (Luke 2:52) in the normal human fashion—yet without sin. As He matured, He learned, and as He learned, He was ordinarily subject to the normal limits of human ignorance. The omniscient knowledge of the divine mind of the Son of God was not communicated in exhaustive detail to His human consciousness—but He did not abandon that aspect of His deity, and Scripture is quite clear about that (John 2:24-25; 21:17, etc.).

I've participated in Christian forums online since 1995, and one thing has always absolutely amazed me about the nature of theological discussion on the Internet: Whenever the discussion turns to Christology and the Incarnation, people seem to crawl out of the woodwork and start shooting from the hip. This is one area of theology where orthodoxy is very meticulously defined and has been accepted by all major traditions without serious challenge since the fourth century. Why anyone would want to enter the fray with a "Well, I think this: [your novel idea here]" kind of argument is mystifying to me.

The reason these issues were hashed out so carefully in the early church is that they are absolutely foundational. And it behooves us all to study historical theology and the major creeds on these matters before launching into speculation.

In the early centuries of the Christian era, the church was relentlessly assaulted with Christological heresies. Between them all, they pretty much covered every possible heresy regarding the Person of Christ. You think you have a new way to explain the Incarnation? It's no doubt already been done.

For example, the Ebionites insisted that Jesus was a mere man—the holiest of all men, but no more than that. The Apollinarians acknowledged His deity but denied that He had a human soul. The Nestorians made Him both God and man, but in doing so made Him two persons in one body—a man in whom the divine Logos dwelt rather than a single person who was both human and divine. The Eutychians, the monophysites, and the monothelites went to the opposite extreme, fusing the divine and human natures of Christ into one new nature. The—Arians claimed He was not God, but the highest of all created beings. (Just like today's Jehovah's Witnesses.) And the Docetists denied that Christ was really human. Most Docetists taught that Jesus' human body was only an illusion.

Scripture, Church councils, and written polemics were all utilized in the refutation of these erroneous views. As soon as one issue was settled, however, another would surface and need to be dealt with. In 325, the council of Nicea condemned Arianism, affirming what Scripture declares: that Jesus is fully divine. Ironically, the heresy of Arianism enjoyed its heyday after Nicea, and the influence of Arianism (with the Arians' incessant pleas for tolerance), opened the door to other heresies, including revivals of some Christological errors that had already ostensibly been eradicated.

There were overreactions against Arianism as well. The Apollinarians went overboard on the side of Christ's deity and did not do full justice to His humanity. In 381 the council of Constantinople condemned Apollinarianism as heresy.

The war against Christological heresies continued until the council of Chalcedon (451) issued a statement about the Person of Christ that has stood as the definitive test of orthodoxy from that time until now. From that point on, the confession of Chalcedon has universally been affirmed in every major branch of the Christian church—Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism.

The statement is brief. It is all one sentence:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; very God and very man, of a rational soul and body; coessential [homoousion—identical in essence] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial [homoousion—identical in essence] with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-bearer [Theotokos], according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have spoken of him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The genius of that statement—the element that put an end to incessant heresies on the nature of Christ—is found in the phrase "two natures without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation." Those four negative statements forever defined and delimited how the person of Christ is to be understood. G. C. Berkhouwer called those four negatives "a double row of light-beacons which mark off the navigable water in between and warn against the dangers which threaten to the left and to the right."

Every heresy that has ever surfaced with regard to the person of Christ either fuses or separates the deity and the humanity of Christ. Chalcedon declared that the two natures can be neither merged nor disconnected. (The technical term for the union of Christ's two natures is the hypostatic union.) Christ is both God and man. Truly God and truly man.

There is no terminology outside the Council of Chalcedon's statement that has ever been accepted as orthodox by any major branch of Christianity. So anyone who denies any element of this formula—whether it's the two natures, the union of the two natures, or whatever—is unorthodox on the doctrine of the Incarnation. It's as simple as that. And this is not something to treat lightly.

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27 August 2011

How Christ "Emptied Himself"

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 "Knowing and Doing," a sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, on Sunday evening, 17 May 1874.

hough he was rich, "he became poor." I am only telling you something that you know full well, but let your minds be refreshed with the remembrance that Christ was so poor that he was swaddled with bands just as any other infant was. Although he was the Infinite, he was so poor that he had to be sheltered in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn. Afterwards, he was so poor that he was banished from his own country and had to flee into Egypt. He was so poor that he was the fit companion of a humble carpenter at Nazareth; so poor that, when he came out into public life, his dress was the common garment of a laborer, woven from the top throughout without a seam.

He had not where to lay his head, though foxes had their holes, and birds their nests. He was so poor that he was indebted for his daily bread to the charity of gracious women who followed him, and ministered to him of their substance. Though the cattle on a thousand hills were his, he sat upon a well at Sychar, and said to a poor woman, "Give me to drink."

Oftentimes, he knew what faintness and hunger meant; and the longer he lived the more intense his poverty became, until, at last, he was left without a friend when most he needed sympathy,—without one to speak a good word for him when he was arraigned before the bar of those who had resolved to condemn him to death. Since was he taken out to die without a rag to cover him; and when he was dead, he was indebted for a tomb to one who lent it to him out of love.

Never was there anywhere else such poverty as the poverty of Christ, for it was not merely external, it was also internal. He became so poor, though bearing our sin, that he had to lose the light of his Father's countenance; emptying himself of all the repute he had, he became a spectacle of scorn and shame because our shameful sin had been laid upon him. See him on yonder shameful cross, mark his many wounds, hear his expiring cry, and as ye gaze upon that spectacle of majestic misery, remember that although he was rich, he became thus poor.

C. H. Spurgeon

25 August 2011

Kenosis and the Omnipresence of Christ

by Phil Johnson

hilippians 2:7 says Jesus "emptied Himself" (NASB)—or if you're using the ESV, He "made himself nothing." Those are both legitimate translations of the Greek verb κενόω, (kenóō) but they must be interpreted carefully in a way that does not contradict the rest of Scripture.

Specifically, because we know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," (Hebrews 13:8), Philippians 2:7 cannot mean that Jesus emptied himself of His deity or laid aside any of His divine attributes when He took on humanity. That is the view of "Kenotic" theology, which is seriously heterodox.

So what about Jesus' omnipresence? Did He not have to divest Himself of that attribute in order to be incarnated in a real human body? Didn't he need to cease being everywhere present so that He could enter this world as a Man? Wasn't His omnipresence necessarily suspended when He was placed in a manger?

Strictly speaking, no.

The Spirit of Christ was no more physically confined to His human body during the incarnation than He is now. Remember that at His ascension He rose bodily and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. From thence He shall come—bodily—to judge the quick and the dead. In other words, He has not abandoned His humanity, even now that He is glorified. And yet He is present wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20). He is "with [us] always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). And He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

So Scripture expressly affirms that Christ is omnipresent. When He assumed a human nature He did not have to give up that (or any other) aspect of His divine nature. The incarnation was a miracle of addition, not subtraction. Jesus took on humanity; He did not divest himself of deity.

In the words of Peter Lewis:
We must be very careful here not to imagine, as some have done, that at the incarnation our Lord "left behind" something of his Godhead or its attributes. God exists in the perfection of his attributes. Take away any of his perfections and you no longer have God. You cannot have reduced Godhead. There is God and there is not-God: but there is nothing in-between! . . . In respect of his divine nature our Lord continued even during his incarnate life to fill the heavens and the earth with his power and presence. [The Glory of Christ, 233.]

John Calvin said something similar. He wrote this:
[Although] the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be home in the virgin's womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! [Institutes, 2:13:4.]

Hope that helps.

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The dangerous vulnerability of discontentment

by Dan Phillips

Note: this post debuted a bit over five years ago. It seems to fit in quite timely  with recent discussions. (I've edited slightly, as usual.)

I daresay that most adultery, theft, and warfare, as well as most heresies and false teachings, grow out of discontentment. Often, a man reaches a certain age, feels dissatisfied with his life and accomplishments and, if he isn't stabilized on Christ's person and God's Word, he is in a dangerous and vulnerable state. He may do crazy and irresponsible things. Nor are women immune; how many cults and false teachings had a woman at their head? For every Charles Taze Russell there may be a Mary Baker Eddy.

Worse, the Enemy of our souls perverts good drives into bad directions. He fans the flames of this or that itch to the point where the target casts off from the shoring of God's sufficient, inerrant Word, and becomes open to "solutions" either tangential to or in direct contradiction of that Word. I deal with a few here, especially Chapters Ten and Eleven.

Desperate cries for "More power," "More Christ," "More fullness," "More holiness" have led to a 2000-year flow of manmade (or worse) solutions.

God's solution?

Read on.

Salesmen depend upon discontentment. Contentment = No Sale.

Think about it. Why buy anything, if you're happy with what you have? Why even shop? A salesman either has to find you discontented, or make you that way, if he wants to make a sale.

Now, sometimes the discontentment is legitimate and undeniable. Your washing machine broke, you need a new one. Your roof leaks, your car keeps breaking down, your clothes are becoming too revealing. You're "discontented" with being smelly, wet, stranded, and indecent. Nobody needs to talk you into looking for something new. For that matter, our conversion to Christ springs from a God-given "discontentment" with being lost, under sin, separated from God.

But what if what you have is really okay? What does the salesman do then? He has to convince you, somehow, that it is not okay. He has to persuade you that you'd be a lot more productive with a faster computer, that you'd be a lot more attractive if you bought his line of clothes/cologne/shoes, that you deserve a better car. Then what you thought was pretty decent doesn't look so hot anymore. You're discontented, and now you're vulnerable to a good (i.e. effective) sales pitch.

It's also Satan's favorite tool. Imagine that your challenge is to approach a sinless woman who literally has everything she needs, and convince her that she needs this one thing that will in fact kill her, make her miserable, devastate her world, tear her family apart, introduce a teeming nightmare of horrors, and doom all her children. How do you do it?

But of course this is precisely what Satan did in Genesis 3, and quite effectively so. How did he do it? He presented himself as the woman's best friend. He convinced her he was looking out for her best interests, wanting only her fulfillment, her actualization, her self-realization. She just needed this one more thing.

And she fell for it, hook, line and sinker.

And so has every natural-born child of Eve ever since. Why should Satan even imagine changing his tactics when we, gullible fools that we are, have fallen for it again and again for thousands of years? Discontentment opens a wide door of opportunity, starts a nice pot of coffee, and spreads out a genial "Welcome" mat for the prince of lies.

So how can anyone counter this appeal to discontentment?

When I was preparing, years ago, to preach/teach through Colossians, I was struck with how Paul responded to incipient heresy in that congregation.

The apostle Paul was quite capable of being brutally frontal, as we see in his correspondence with the Galatians and the Corinthians. However, here he takes a somewhat different tactic.

The approach of the false teacher in Colosse (the references to him are all in the singular: 2:4, 8, 16, 18) was the same then as it is today: he was a charismatic individual who came in with special, personal, private revelation, special truths, special methods, all of which were must-haves for the person who really yearns to enjoy a top-grade spiritual experience. The false teacher excluded the "mere Christians" in Colosse, with their humdrum existence, as not having fully arrived.

How does Paul counter this? In Colossians the apostle mostly makes sidelong allusions to the false teaching. Paul does not get into a point-by-point explication and refutation of the "Colossian heresy," as it has been called. Rather, Paul focuses on the Lord Jesus Christ, His person and work, His fullness. In my study, I found that Christ is men­tioned in 53 of the 96 verses in Colossians. In some of these, He is mentioned two and three times. Therefore, some 55% of the verses mention Christ at least once. Or, put another way, every other thing Paul says in this letter is something about Jesus Christ.

Not only does Paul lay down solid teaching about the person and work of Christ, but he dwells on ways to make personal use of the truth. Chief among these is thankfulness. Again and again Paul either expresses gratitude, or says that all believers should be grateful, should give thanks. We see it at least in 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15-17; and 4:2.

Thankful people are people conscious of, and glorying in, the riches they possess. Thankful people are contented people. Contented people are immune to salesmen, whether they be peddlers of baubles and trinkets, or of false doctrine.

And so, Paul's centering on, and glorying in, the supremacy and all-sufficiency of the Lord Jesus Christ would have to flush out the false teacher. If the letter left believers rejoicing in Christ alone, grounded solidly in apostolic teaching, and uninterested in all the false teacher's supplements and additions, he was sunk. He'd have to expose himself more fully, speak more plainly. He'd have to put Christ and His work down, and put up his own additions more. He has to convince folks that what they have is not good enough.

And so it is today. "Merely" false teachings and damnable heresies alike depend on the same method. Regular readers will notice that, whenever one of us exults in the sovereignty of God in salvation, in the monergistic nature of saving grace, in the glories and sufficiency of God's eternal and inerrant word, the "But-but-but" crowd is activated. If God is truly sovereign in salvation, then where is the room for our "contribution"? If Christ's atonement actually atones, and not just theoretically, then where is the place for our "free will" on the throne?

And if God's word is everything the triune God says it is, then where is the rationale for endowing our emotions, our hunches, our intuitions, our peculiarities, with sacred and canonical status? Our feelings become mere feelings, our hunches mere hunches. We are "stuck" with having to study, work, pray, think, analyze, reason, explain, take accountability, shoulder responsibility. We have no more holy trump cards hidden up our sleeves that no one else can see. We can't pull out our cherished "the Lord told me" cards, or our "I just feel led to" cards, and end the debate. All we have is that Bible out there, that everyone else can see, study, learn, and meditate over just as surely as we. We have to agree with the Holy Spirit that it is what He said it was: sufficient (Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 119; 2 Timothy 3:15-17, etc. ad inf.), and we study it to know His mind (2 Timothy 2:7). We're on a level playing field; we have no mystical "gotcha" from God.

While the Lord Jesus sees this as a very liberating truth (John 8:31-32), modern false teachers and their acolytes find it threatening and distasteful. It signals a sea-change, a paradigm-shift. It engenders panic, and panicky measures and expostulations and wild stories.

But I'd point out to any and all the common factor in all of these.

Every teaching that denies Christ's divine glory begins by praising Him, and denies that it is a denial.

Every teaching that denies God's grace starts by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.

Every teaching that denies God's word commences by praising it, and denies that it is a denial.

Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in Christ, faith, grace, and the glory of God. It's the "alone" that separates Biblical doctrine from Romish doctrine. With Christian leaky-canon pop-off-ets, Roman Catholics and Mormons believe in the Scripture. It's the "alone" that distinguishes the one from the other.

And it's the "but" and the "and" that are the problem. And only the discontented are vulnerable. Why give up your steak for a plastic banana — unless you really don't fully savor and place a sufficient value on what you already have?

The answer is believingly to relish what God has given us, make much of it, and just say "No thanks; I really, really don't need it" to supplements and substitutes.

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23 August 2011

Open Letter to Kent Shaffer

by Frank Turk

Dear Kent;

First of all, thanks for your e-mail this weekend about your new project, OpenChurch.  Your infographic to raise awareness for the huge race, gender, and geography gap among global Church influencers for the purpose of positioning OpenChurch.com is interesting as a representative of a few statistics, and also because somehow my name wound up on the same page as people like Mark Dever, Jack Graham, Kay Arthur and Doug Wilson.  What might be even more interesting is that names like Lisa Bevere, Phyllis Tickle, Don Miller, and Ed Young Jr. also appear on that page, but names like James White, Don Carson, Graham Goldsworthy and Greg Koukl do not.

Let's start someplace safe rather than dive right into the Cat-5 bandwidth devastation: I think you're about right when you say that "A $300 resource downloaded 10,000 times saves the global church $3 million … [money] to be used for orphans, widows, outreach, or creating new, free resources."  In my view of it, giving away $3 million in teaching resources will like cost a "rich" church something it could afford to give away, and provide "poor" churches with something they probably would never have thought to seek out.  It's actually probably much better that $3 million impact from a strict economic analysis.

And I also think you're right-minded here to say that there's a massive upside which the church can find when somehow the churches with resources are not mining other churches for reimbursement for their efforts.  The workman is certainly worth his wages, but there's a vast difference between, for example, James White charging what it costs to support his downloadable content literally at no profit while Benny Hinn …

The TBN Mod Squad
Um, wait a minute.  Benn Hinn is in your list of global influencers. The self-disgracing Eddie Long is in your list.  T.D. Jakes is listed along side Voddie Baucham as if these two men shared the same faith.  Tony Campolo is found right next to Kirk Cameron -- and I'd love to see the video of those two talking about Christ, one evangelizing the other.  Erwin McManus is there; Rod Parsley; Joel Osteen; Hal Lindsey; Jay Bakker.


OK: let's say that $ 3 million is a lot of money in the Global church.  It would certainly be a lot of money to most local churches, but let's just call it a lot of money -- and consider that saving it would be a blessing to the church at large.

What if by saving the church at large $3 million, we taught 10,000 fledgling churches that the primary message of the Gospel was "Don't give into your emotions and let them keep you from God's blessings and promotion." (a classic from Osteen)  Would that have been worth the savings?  Would you be proud of that?

My gut tells me, "no."  I don't think you're a fool.  But look at your list -- look at the people you have listed as influencers without any filter  for whether they are presenting good or ill.  And, I think, it gets worse when we think about the trajectory you are mapping with your slogan that we should learn "from 100% of the church."  This worries me because when I think of 100% of the church, I can call out plenty of people with whom I agree with theologically whom I would hope never will get a global pulpit because they are lousy ambassadors for Christ -- and heaven forbid that people who can't even affirm the Nicean Creed would get a global pulpit to spread their free samples to people who, frankly, need something better than what those unorthodox rich people are selling.

Kent: here's my bottom line, and you can take it or leave it.  If you really think that the church benefits from an opensource approach to discipleship and theology, I can't stop you from doing what you're about to do.  But I can caution you from the authority you and I both believe has the authority to not only warn us, but reform us.

There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers.  To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

Certain persons ought not to teach their different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

The church is supposed to be a pillar and buttress of truth, Kent -- not a wind tunnel where everything can blow through and is blown around.  While the call to offer more resources for free from reputable ministries is a great idea -- an idea long since past the tipping point in this digital age -- the question has to be what exactly is the message in the medium.    And your approach here intentionally does not (and perhaps cannot) ask that question well.

Be careful, my friend, that in seeking to open the doors to all whom God has gifted to teach you do not also open the doors to those who are servants of a lion who is looking everywhere for someone to consume.  To even give over one soul to that lion is not just unfortunate: it is complicity in the eternal death of a soul in God's image.

I hope this note finds you in good spirits, and able to receive what I mean here in good faith.  I honestly wish you well, and am praying for you.

"Reformed" "continuationists" and Gutless Gracers

by Dan Phillips

As I was mulling various things over, I hit upon a connection between two seldom-associated doctrinal groups. Perhaps in time this connection I'm making, existing at present only in my head, will prove prescient. I hope not.

On the one hand, we have "Gutless Gracers." This is a term I've used here, denoting a mindset I Biblically deal with at some length in Chapter Ten of... you know, that book. Advocates would call themselves "grace" believers; critics call them "non-Lordship" teachers, I call them "gutless gracers."

As presented by themselves, the position is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. So far, so great. However, it is when they go on to define saving faith in such a way as to exclude repentance and submission to Christ's Lordship that these folks run into grave error. To them, such elements involve "works-salvation," and are to be strictly rejected.

The practical result — to put it in terms they would themselves seldom own — is that a man can continue to live like Hell and still go to Heaven. As long as he voices the opinion that Jesus is the Son of God, or assents to the proposition that Jesus died to save him from sin('s penalty), he's okay with God.

A critic (such as I) would say that the real heart of the position is not that one is saved by faith alone (a precious truth), but rather one is saved by claiming-to-have-faith alone (a pernicious error). This "salvation" is sheerly forensic and eschatological, one might almost say theoretical. It doesn't actually save anyone from sin's dominion or power. It does not necessarily result in owning or obeying Christ as Lord. These are optional, albeit desirable, effects.

I have actually known of advocates of this school who say that one can be a Christian Hindu, a Christian homosexual, even a Christian atheist. Now, however it may sound, the case is not that they are actual theoretical relativists or liberals; far from it. As a rule, they are fundamentalistic in their affirmation of Scripture's theoretical inerrancy. Nor would they say that it is a good thing to occupy any of these positions.

It is simply that gutless-gracers are rigorously consistent in the outworking of their fatally-flawed premise: sanctification in any measurable degree is not a necessary result of by-grace-alone-through-faith-alone salvation. If Johnny says he "prayed the prayer" when he was 5, 10, 15 or 20, then no matter what Johnny goes on to do or not do, Johnny is saved, saved, wonderfully saved.

At this point, the reader's patience may be waning. "And what," he may ask, "does this possibly have to do with Reformed continuationism?"

So far, not much. As a rule, formal gutless-gracers tend to be warped dispensationalists, and "Reformed" "continuationists" tend to be non-dispensationalists. Real dispensationalism should be fatal to the gutless-grace position, as real reformed thinking should be to "continuationism"; but that is beside the point at the moment. The point is that both schools of thought are seldom wed, to the point where ignorant "continuationists" often deride all cessationists as being dispensationalists. Which annoys anti-dispensational reformed cessationists no end, and tickles me some. But I digress.

So now I'll show you the connection.

First, have this firm in your mind: the gutless-gracer insists that real, live, saving faith can exist in the heart of someone who never, ever gives the least bit of real-world evidence in his life and priorities and choices that actual conversion has taken place.  In some invisible, inaccessible realm that no eye can see, there has been this massive shift — but observable history is absolutely innocent as to its occurrence. We just have to believe it's there. It's happened, because the professor says so, and the position dictates that it is so.

And so when we look at the Bible and see that Jesus defines saving faith as necessitating submission to His authority (Lk. 6:46; Jn. 14:15; 15;14), that Jesus defines genuine discipleship as involving continuance in His word (Jn. 8:31-32), that Paul insists that it is both impossible and impermissible for a converted person to continue to live in practical denial of Christ's Lordship (Romans 6), that John in his first epistle repeatedly emphasizes that genuine faith will necessarily involve doctrinal soundness and practical holiness, and that James laughs to scorn the notion that saving faith can produce no works — when we see all that, and look at the lives of these professed believers and see nothing like any of those evidences of genuine faith — we are required simply to "dumb down" the definition, in order to accommodate reality and save the theory.

And so the entrance to the Kingdom looks less like a needle's eye, and more like the bar on a Limbo dance — pretty low, and you can dance under it.

I've read leading advocates doing just precisely that. They scramble for shadows, illusions and chimera, call them "fruit," and cling to the theory, though to anyone else it is glaringly obvious that what we are seeing is nothing like what the Bible describes as genuine Christian reality.

Sharp cookies that you are, I wager that virtually every one of you sees the point now — though some of you will generously (if unwittingly) prove my point decisively by arguing against it, simply because you don't like it and change can be unwelcome, even if needed.

Because you see the "reformed" "continuationist" does the exact same thing, in order to prop up his theory.

Every honest objective observer admits that nothing of the caliber of dominical/apostolic revelatory and attesting activity is taking place today. Nothing of that caliber has taken place since the first century. This is a simple, incontrovertible fact. The Bible is not getting bigger, genuine apostles are not ranging about among the churches, dead are not being raised on command. There simply is no post-apostolic continuation of  revelatory/attesting activity, and never has been.

Faced with the evidence, yet formally professing the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, the would-be Reformed continuationist is faced with two choices:
  1. Abandon his insupportable "continuationism"; or
  2. Mess with the evidence/standard-of-proof nexus.
And, to a man or woman, unable to produce new Scripture or apostolic-level revelatorily-gifted individuals, unwilling to repent of their error, desperate to validate their experience at all costs, they opt for #2.

In this, then, they are mirror images of those very gutless-gracers against whose antinomianism they otherwise rail. They reject the gutless-grace position, with its theoretical affirmation and practical denial of real-life implications of Christ's Lordship... yet, at the same time, they insist on a theoretical affirmation of continuing apostolic/dominical-grade signs and wonders and revelation, while being equally incapable of pointing to any actual examples. So, like their gutless-grace brothers, they are forced to lower the bar so astronomically as to accommodate virtually anything as proof.

So, in both cases, it goes like this:

  1. The theory is all-important and must be preserved.
  2. The theory suggests there should be evidence, and must be a standard of proof.
  3. There is no evidence.
  4. But see #1, above.
  5. Solution: redefine "evidence," lower "standard of proof."
  6. Result: see #1, above.

As a result, then, both echo the famous line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

"Fruits? We ain't got no fruits. We don't need no fruits. I don't have to show you any stinking fruits!"

Ah, if only more Christians as a whole responded with the wisdom of Humphrey Bogart's character "Dobbs," and said, "Better not come any closer!"

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22 August 2011

Subjective Impressions, ESP, and Reverse Deja Vu

by Phil Johnson

Intuition and Superstition: An Admonition

Impressions on the mind are like Rorschach tests: Make of them whatever you will, but if you treat them as "prophecy," that's just crazy.

Today we continue the discussion of cessationism vs. continuationism; true prophecy vs. fallible prognostication; and
sola Scriptura vs. modern charrismatic prophets.

(First posted 31 March 2007)

veryone has unexplained thoughts that seem to leap from nowhere into the mind. (Note: When I say "everyone," I mean believers and unbelievers alike; I don't necessarily mean "every single individual." I've met a few less-than-completely sentient people who seem incapable of any original thought whatsoever. They prolly never get spontaneous notions of anything. Let's leave those folks out of this discussion.)

Most people likewise have a sense of intuition, where at times you just feel like you know a thing is true and you can't give an account for how you arrived at that knowledge rationally. It may even seem like you have ESP, or ESPN2, or whatever. It's a lot like deja vu, only backwards. I happen to think that sense of intuition is probably more rational than we can explain. In any case, I'm quite sure it's not really a supernatural spiritual gift from God, because it has such a poor track record. Besides, I had the same intuitive abilities before I was converted as I have now.

My sense of intuition is sort of like a stopped clock that was designed to measure time in months instead of hours. Once or twice a year (on average) it's right. And when it's right, it can seem quite impressive. I've had some moments of intuition that I could have parlayed into a fortune, if I were the type of charlatan who is willing to claim he has a prophetic gift even when he knows he really doesn't. I certainly have no such gift. For the most part, my intuition is grossly fallible and ordinarily wrong. I don't trust it at all, even though my experience is probably a lot like yours: there are times when I feel compelled to follow my intuition.

To be clear: I usually "feel compelled to follow" my intuition only when I don't have a better rational or sensible idea of what to do. Maturity has taught me to hold off on trusting intuition and try to understand facts and reasons and the potential results of my actions before I act. In fact, I'd say that's what maturity is all about, to a very large degree.

But, how do we understand that inner sense, especially when God seems to use it to prompt us to pray, or witness, or duck and run at precisely the right moment? Because let's be honest, here: that kind of thing does happen to most of us from time to time.

As I said in a comment-thread [once upon a time] (see below), we need to regard those occasions as remarkable Providences, not inspired prophecy. God might use a spontaneous thought in my head providentially. In fact, as a Calvinist, I don't hesitate to say that He ultimately controls and uses everything providentially. But that's as true of my sins as it is of the thoughts in my head. God can use them all for His own purposes. The fact that He uses an idea in my mind to achieve some good purpose doesn't make the idea itself inspired.

That's the point we are trying to make in all these various threads about prophecy and cessationism. It's an important point. We're not trying to step on the charismatic air-hose just because it's fun.

So please give these things some serious thought before you react this time.

Four lessons:

  1. If intuition is fallible (and everyone except the out-and-out-charlatan seems to agree that it is), it cannot be considered "revelation," even when it happens to be uncannily right in an instance or two.

  2. Since intuition is so fallible—and most would agree that it is actually far more often wrong than right—we shouldn't make much of it.

  3. Those who think those moments of intuition are God speaking with a private message invariably become extremely superstitious; they foolishly order their lives by their feelings; they commit the sin of trusting too much in their own hearts; and they diminish the more sure Word of prophecy. No one who knows church history, and no one who truly understands the concept of spiritual maturity can deny that Christians who follow the voice in their heads fall into those errors all the time, and it can be (and often is) spiritually disastrous.

  4. Since our intuitive sense is so grossly fallible, and since every sane, biblical Christian would acknowledge that it's dangerous to pay much attention to it, we should not try to elevate it to the level of a supernatural "spiritual gift." It most certainly does not resemble any of the spiritual gifts—much less the gift of "prophecy"—as we see those gifts functioning in the New Testament.
Phil's signature
Here's that comment I made in the meta [once upon a time]:

I'm tied up with meetings today and unable to participate in the blog-discussion, but a couple of people have e-mailed me privately with the same question about this thread. One begged me for an answer; the other accused me of dodging the question.

So here's the question and my short answer:

Q: If God doesn't speak to you directly, how does he "lead" you to do anything? How, for example, did you know Darlene was the right person to marry?; how did you know you were called to ministry?; and how do you explain it when a thought pops into your head and prompts you to pray for someone?

Short answer: I trust the providence of God. I can't necessarily interpret the providence of God infallibly, though.

So if (for example) I suddenly think to pray for the safety or holiness of one of my children, I don't need to interpret that as a prophetic message from God that Pecadillo or one of his brothers is in immediate danger. But I pray for them nonetheless, though I can't possibly understand why that thought popped into my head or even discern correctly whether it originated in my own imagination or was immediately infused into my brain by the Holy Spirit.

If it turns out later that I prayed at exactly the right moment when some specific danger befell one of my kids, I praise God for a remarkable providence.

I DON'T, however, twist it into some kind of quasi-revelation and use it as an excuse to trust my own heart. Scripture says those who do that are fools (Proverbs 28:26).

Here's the thing: I trust Providence enough to believe that God ordained that I should pray, and He will answer my prayer for His glory and my good, even if the thought that prompted the prayer was out of my own imagination.

But it would be a sin for me to claim God "told" me to pray about that particular thing at that particular time when He did no such thing.

Providence, people. Go and learn what that means, and we can avoid having this debate every 6 weeks or so.

Here's a book, written by a good friend of mine, that deals with this issue well.

Phil's signature

11:45 AM, March 29, 2007

20 August 2011

"Thy Word"--not that voice in my head--"is truth"

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 "Our Lord's Prayer for His People's Sanctification," preached on Sunday Morning, 7 March 1886 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."—John 17:17.

What is the truth? There is the point. Is the truth that which I imagine to be revealed to me by some private communication? Am I to fancy that I enjoy some special revelation, and am I to order my life by voices, dreams, and impressions?

Brethren, fall not into this common delusion. God's word to us is in Holy Scripture. All the truth that sanctifies men is in God's Word. Do not listen to those who cry, "Lo here!" and "Lo there!"

I am plucked by the sleeve almost every day by crazy persons and pretenders who have revelations. One man tells me that God has sent a message to me by him; and I reply, "No, sir, the Lord knows where I dwell, and he is so near to me that he would not need to send to me by you."

Another man announces in God's name a dogma which, on the face of it, is a lie against the Holy Ghost. He says the Spirit of God told him so-and-so; but we know that the Holy Ghost never contradicts himself.

If your imaginary revelation is not according to this Word, it has no weight with us; and if it is according to this Word, it is no new thing.

Brethren, this Bible is enough if the Lord does but use it, and quicken it by his Spirit in our hearts. Truth is neither your opinion, nor mine; your message, nor mine. Jesus says, "Thy word is truth." That which sanctifies men is not only truth, but it is the particular truth which is revealed in God's Word—"Thy word is truth."

What a blessing it is that all the truth that is necessary to sanctify us is revealed in the Word of God, so that we have not to expend our energies upon discovering truth, but may, to our far greater profit, use revealed truth for its divine ends and purposes! There will be no more revelations; no more are needed. The canon is fixed and complete, and he that adds to it shall have added to him the plagues that are written in this Book.

What need of more when here is enough for every practical purpose? "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth."

C. H. Spurgeon

19 August 2011

Grow, or crash (Proverbs 19:27)

by Dan Phillips

In our weekly 2-man "Men's Fellowship" last Saturday at Peet's, Josiah and I looked at Proverbs 19:27.
Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
Interpretation. In form, this is an ironic command (a concept I develop at length in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 373ff.; just sayin'). Grammatically Solomon is saying to do something, but semantically he doesn't really mean it. The force is similar to what we do, when we've warned someone not to take a course of action for the thousandth time, and then we give up and say, "Fine, go ahead, do it. Let's see what happens."

In an ironic command such as this, Solomon says, "Tell you what: if you insist on not listening, go ahead, stop listening. And here's exactly what will happen when you do." What will happen? He will stray from the words of knowledge. Period. Sure thing, guaranteed, you can take it to the bank.

Somber backdrop. A factor that saves Proverbs 19:27 from being a bland truism is the grim spectacle of Solomon's own life. The author himself became a wretched illustration of the wisdom and truth of his own words.

It is impossible to read 1 Kings 11 and Proverbs with an engaged heart, and not to ask, "How could this man do that?" Solomon himself answered the question, as if in sad anticipation. We can't read his mind, but we know sin, from wretched and extended experience. How did this happen in Solomon? Inch by inch, probably; neglect by neglect, unchecked pride after unchecked pride.

Pride, I say, because like all believers who sin, Solomon must have thought his sin was different. Otherwise, how could he have read Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and yet gone contrary to it so frontally that some have held that passage to have  been written after Solomon as a polemic against him? But there is no need to reject the Scriptural testimony about Deuteronomy's authorship and time frame. We know too well that awareness of a Scriptural prohibition will not eo ipso prevent the sin itself. (Would that it did.)

What a frightening spectacle. Solomon's horrid choices and foolish sins hang him up like a scarecrow athwart the paths of our own straying — or should do so. Could there be scarier warnings?

As it turns out, yes, there could be. And are.

It gets worse. Of course Judas looms up from the shadows, as someone who stayed with Christ's teaching for all appearances for three solid and difficult years. But he "ceased listening" to Christ's education, and he most certainly strayed... to eternal conscious torment in Hell, according to the only natural reading of Jesus' words (Matt. 26:24; Jn. 17:12).

I don't know if you're getting this yet. Let me try to give you a shake. Think: what do you and I have to do, to run afoul of Solomon's warning, and head in the exact same direction?

Nothing. Not one thing.

It's what we have to stop doing. We have to stop listening, which is to say we have to stop paying attention, stop applying ourselves, thinking, analyzing, breaking down and putting back together, stop making personal application. We have to stop cracking open our Bibles every day and sweating over them, we have to stop attending and attending to Biblical preaching in our local assemblies. Neglect, that's the key. Simply desist.

This isn't a small thing, and I can't stress it enough. Remember what Jesus said is the heart and soul of genuine discipleship:
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" (Jn. 8:31-32 CSB)
Can't we legitimately turn that on its head? I think so:
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, 'If you do not continue in My word, you really are not My disciples. You will not know the truth, and that ignorance will leave you as slaves to sin.'" (Jn. 8:31-32 CSB)
If that hasn't sealed the deal to you, I direct you to Hebrews 5:10—6:8. The subject of Melchizedek comes up. The writer says he'd like to dwell a bit more on that topic, but he can't. Why not? Because they have become such lazy listeners! By now, they should be able to explain Biblical truths to others, but they can't. In fact, so far from being teachers, they need baby food, they need ABCs, they need Dick, Jane and Spot.

Okay, you're with me, great. But did you read my whole reference? If not, please do. I'll wait.

You see, the spectacle of their backwardness did not move the writer to say anything like...
"But that's okay, of course, because you're just baby Christians, and I want to make it easy for you to stay baby Christians. I don't want to offend you. I don't want you to leave your church. I don't want to challenge you. You just go on, and stay in your delusion, and it's all-good. God is gracious and patient. Just go ahead and put your fingers in your ears when you hear some bit of God's truth that you don't like. Just stay where you are. No need to grow. No need to mature. No need to work your senses out so that you can discern good from evil. No need work on meat. Not one thing to worry about. Look! a balloon!"

No, far from it; indeed, the spectacle of their failure to grow and inability to stomach sound teaching moves that writer to pen what has stood as one of the most terrifying passages of Scripture ever to be written. Had you ever noticed that? That's right: Hebrews 6:4ff., the passage that has given countless tender souls countless sleepless nights, was provoked by people who simply refused to grow.

So far from comforting them about their failure to grow, he did his level best to scare the life out of them!

And then he talked about Melchizedek anyway (ch. 7).

Goodness. It's more serious than we thought, isn't it?

Sobering thoughts. Mm, but something's lacking, just one thing, what is it what is it...? Oh! I know!

Having said so much, let me now continue to think of the last two kinds of backsliders, and leave out the apostate. Let us first read his name, and then let us read his history—we have both in our text. The first part of his name is, “backslider.” He is not a back runner, nor a back leaper, but a backslider. That is to say he slides back with an easy, effortless motion—softly, quietly—perhaps unsuspected by himself or anybody else. The Christian life is very much like climbing  a hill of ice. You cannot slide up, no, you have to cut every step with an ice axe—only with incessant labor in cutting and  chipping can you make any progress. You need a Guide to help you and you are not safe unless you are fastened to the  Guide, for you may slip into a crevasse.

Nobody ever slides up, and if great care is not taken, they will slide down, slide back, or, in other words, backslide.  This is very easily done. If you want to know how to backslide, the answer is leave off going forward and you will slide backward! Cease going upward and you will go downward of necessity, for stand still you never can. To lead us to backslide, Satan acts with us as engineers do with a road down the mountains side. If they desire to carry the road from yonder alp right down into the valley far below, they never think of making the road plunge over a precipice, or straight down the face of the rock, for nobody would ever use such a road. But the road makers wind and twist.
Amen. Hear, fear, and take heed — sheep, and shepherds.

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18 August 2011

Let's Not Dance Around the Real Issues

by Phil Johnson

If I had [a dream like Paul's Macedonian vision] today, I wouldn't know. I would have to think and pray about it. I would be no more bound to go than I would be bound to go if the Macedonian call had been a phone call (or an email) asking me to come.—good stuff from Doug Wilson

"My musings on this remind me of the guy who decided to make peace at Gettysburg by walking between the armies wearing a blue coat and gray trousers. And that worked so well . . ."
—more from Doug

ead THIS, then come back.

Let me say to begin with that it's neither the tailored Confederate pants nor the ill-fitting Yankee shirt that makes me want to shoot Doug Wilson. It's those ridiculous tap-dancing shoes.

It takes a very talented two-step artist to hopscotch around the many overturned cans of writhing worms Mark Driscoll's prophetic claims and recent jeremiad against cessationism have left strewn around the dance-floor. Doug attempts some impressively fast footwork, but without the necessary finesse. He comes off looking suspiciously like he's just doing the Curly Shuffle.

OK, Doug did have several good things to say, including the quote I've put at the top of this post. When he's right, he's capable of breathtaking clarity and remarkable gems of pithy wisdom. When he wants to obfuscate, he does that with supreme skill, too.

The latter is what I think he was doing throughout most of the post I've quoted above.

Remember: Mark Driscoll claims God has put a TV in his head which regularly plays explicit videos of sexual crimes and acts of fornication. Those claims (and Driscoll's other recent attacks on cessationists) have caused (or widened) a rift between Mark and certain stodgy, outspoken cessationists.

Doug Wilson acknowledges that Driscoll's assertions and allegations are, well, bizarre. But from Doug's perspective, it seems, the disagreement itself is an even more troubling and more pressing problem. Doug says there's wrong—serious wrong (perhaps even equal wrong?)—on both sides.

But Doug believes the whole conflict might be cleared up with a parley: "I would like to see us work out the protocols for how to talk about such things," he writes. "[And I] think it would be good if Phil and Mark could get together to work it through."

Doug recommends (and evidently concurs with) a post by Toby Sumpter, who likewise acknowledges that Driscoll's claims are "weird and goofy." But, says Toby, "I don't believe [Driscoll's misdeeds] rise nearly to the level of sin or scandal that [Phil] Johnson suggests."

Really? If it's not grossly sinful, certainly scandalous, and probably blasphemous to recount to one's congregation the play-by-play details of an adulterous couple's secret tryst (up to and including the coital position) and then claim one knows those details because God Himself revealed them through a prophetic peep show—then I wonder what kind of claim one would have to make to rise to the requisite level of opprobrium.

Even among the more skeevy televangelists, the only one I know of who has claimed to receive a "revelation" as obscene as what Driscoll described is Kenneth Hagin. Anyone who thinks Driscoll's claims are a misdemeanor indiscretion isn't thinking clearly. No one in Reformed circles would think it a minor matter if, say, Dave Hunt or Hank Hanegraaff claimed that kind of kinky supernatural insight into other people's private sins.

And setting aside that issue (plus the inappropriateness and tastelessness of how Driscoll publicly recounted his visions), let's not forget that Driscoll rather emphatically encouraged people in his church who have similarly suggestive imaginations to experiment with this kind of mystical "revelation" when they counsel and disciple others. That, as I said Monday, puts his people directly in harm's way spiritually. And it's not just the stub-your-toe-and-it-hurts kind of danger; this actually encourages weak and undiscerning people to flirt with eternal peril.

It also sets up a manipulative form of counseling that fosters spiritual abuse.

And so on.

Again, it's pretty hard for me to imagine what kind of pastoral malfeasance would rise to a high level of scandal and wickedness if stuff like that does not.

Anyway, what annoyed me even more about Doug Wilson's argument was the suggestion that cessationists must share the blame for teaching such as Driscoll's because we haven't "debated this one deeply enough." We haven't yet hammered out suitable "protocols" for explaining and dealing with "remarkable guidances, provisions, answers to prayer, striking bits of random knowledge, etc."

See, I think Doug knows better than that. He can probably cite from memory more Puritan and Reformed works than most pastors have read in their whole lives. I'm certain he knows about the doctrine of divine providence. And if so, he surely knows full well that the historic Reformed understanding of that doctrine is robust enough to account for any and every authentic incident of divine guidance, provision, answer to prayer, striking bit of random knowledge, and extraordinary providence that has ever occurred.

I've blogged on that issue many times before, so I won't rehash it today. I'll just say I'm disappointed in Doug for implying that cessationists aren't able to account for (or are unwilling to acknowledge) extraordinary providences, and that this has been some kind of long-standing deficiency or overlooked area in Reformed theology. That simply is not true.

Moreover, it doesn't take a Calvinistic Doctor of Divinity to understand that it is quite possible within the standard categories of historic Reformed cessationist teaching to avoid deism and do full justice to the immanence of God without claiming that God is still giving fresh revelation daily. It is most certainly not "worldly" to deny that the apostolic signs are still fully operative today (especially given the scaled-back, terribly fallible way these "gifts" supposedly operate in the modern charismatic movement). In other words, Driscoll's "Cessationism is Worldly" speech cannot be easily or blithely dismissed as excusable misunderstanding—and surely Doug Wilson recognizes that.

What precipitated Doug's post yesterday is that in a few weeks Driscoll will be one of the speakers at a conference sponsored by Wilson's church. Toby Sumpter writes, "Hopefully through this conference in particular a few bridges can be built between Seattle and Moscow, between Driscoll and Wilson, between us Presbyterians and the more groovy parts of the body of Christ. Hopefully we can learn from Driscoll, and hopefully, like good friends, we might have something to offer him."

Hopefully, that's diplomatic language suggesting that Wilson and other CREC leaders plan to raise these issues in face-to-face talks with Driscoll and (hopefully) they will try more earnestly to change his mind on the cessationism question—or at the very least persuade him to repent of these luridly sensational, highly doubtful, and spiritually dangerous claims.

(Perhaps while they're at it they can get him to lay off impugning cessationists as deists and crypto-atheists.)

But I think Doug Wilson and his fellow CREC leaders also have an even more important duty. And I want to close by encouraging them to fulfill that duty:

Doug, please give some kind of clear, unequivocal denunciation, warning, and disclaimer about this nonsense, for the sake of your own flock and the wider body of your disciples—especially the young lambs among them. Some of them will very likely think Driscoll's presence at The Grace Agenda Conference signifies the CREC's and Doug Wilson's imprimatur on the corpus of Driscoll's teaching—including not only the "weird and goofy" stuff, but also the ungodly, dangerous, and patently unbiblical notion that sometimes "eyes full of adultery" (2 Peter 2:14) might actually be a kind of special spiritual gift.

The thought sends a shudder through my soul.

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