29 February 2012

Before the Cold Medicine kicks in

by Frank Turk

Happy Wednesday.  Welcome.

Before we get started here, Phil, Dan and I are thinking about blog template renovation, so if you see changes in layer, design, or anything else, we're just going to engage in some once-a-700-days housekeeping.  If the link breaks for a Saturday when we update the template, relax and know that at least everything we've ever posted is secure in the Google cache.

I have a head cold as I write this and I'm not really up to 3 pages today, so I'll give you a short bit which I have been considering for a few weeks here.

Before I start, let the haters be forewarned:


Don't try to unearth some crypto-hate under this one point of consideration today.  I'm not trying to undermine the whole Gospel Coalition, or start a file on Dr. Ortlund, or reveal the systematic culture of blahblahblah in Nashville pastors.  What percolated into this post was a single tweet by Justin Taylor back on 06 Dec 2011:

And that tweet links to a brief post by Dr. Ortlund, which is a book recommendation.  I'm sure it's a fine book -- I'm sure, in fact, that what the readers of Jonathan Edwards need are more books about Jonathan Edwards.

Ahem.  That's the cold medicine talking.  Sorry.

So anyway: "I'm more helped by watching a genius think well than by identifying the fallacies and weaknesses of myself or others."

I've been pondering this for about 3 months now, and I admit it: I disagree.  That is -- I disagree that watching someone else "think well" helps me personally more than it does to identify my own faults and weaknesses.  Now, as I said, I have a head cold today and I'm just not up for running through all the Scriptural reasons I can't really hug this one like a valuable proverb -- though I do have a short list.

I think watching someone else think well is entertaining, and usually informative.  But it doesn't improve me the way a frank evaluation of myself can improve me, and edify me, and further my sanctification as well as my relationships with others.

I even have a great personal example of this, but instead I'm simply going to put it the way James put it:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
The question we have to grapple with here is whether or not we get better by watching someone else do it well, or if we get better by recognizing how much farther we have to go before we will be doing it well -- and therefore lean on Christ while we are working out our faith with fear and trembing.

And with that, before the cold medicine kicks in again, be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day this week.  Persevere.

28 February 2012

Spurgeon and the tantalizing hope of Biblical blogging

by Dan Phillips

I am almost done re-listening to the audio-book of Spurgeon's autobiography (see here and here). Here is a bit that just leapt out at me as worth sharing with you, with reflection:
In one case, a portion of one of the Australian papers was blessed to the salvation of a reader under the singular circumstances thus related:—

“I was preaching,” says the writer of the narrative, “in the Baptist Chapel, Aberdeen Street, Geelong, a few years ago, when, at the close of an evening service, an elderly man came to the platform to bid me ‘good-night.’ As he was a stranger, I asked him where he came from, and how long he had known the Lord; he then told me the story of his conversion, and the strange way by which he was led to the Saviour. About five years before, while keeping sheep some miles beyond Ballarat, he picked up a sheet of a weekly newspaper, which the wind had blown over the plains. He glanced at a few sentences, and these drew him on to read more, and then he found he was eagerly perusing a sermon by Mr. C. H. Spurgeon. ‘If I had known it was a sermon,’ he said, ‘before I had begun to read it, I should have tossed it away;’ but having commenced the discourse, he wanted to see how it finished. It set him thinking; he carefully preserved it, reading it over and over again in deep concern, until finally it became the means of leading him to the cross. For many years he had not entered a place of worship, and he was utterly careless about his soul till this paper was blown to his feet. Now, when he has the opportunity, he always attends some Baptist service; but this is a rare pleasure, owing to his lonely life and employment in the bush. He does, however, get the weekly sermons, which cheer and comfort him with spiritual nourishment.”

[Spurgeon, C. H. (2009). C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary: Volume 3, 1856-1878 (327). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]
This is the tantalizing promise of blogging. I have often reflected that only eternity will tell what comes of these posts. These posts go places I will never visit. My blog gets maybe 1000 visits a day, up and down; this blog gets 3000-5000, up or (seldom) down. I look on a map of visitors to my blog, and they are from all over the globe, including countries effectively closed to evangelism.

Who are those people? What brought them? What did they read? What effect did it have?

Emails and metas give only some little glimpse. Here's one who wrote me on the verge of suicide; here's one who's an unbeliever, but listening; here's one in marital straits, in a troubled church, in no church at all...

This is why it's worth it. I thought it was worth it some seven years ago, when I had a bare trickle to my blog. I still think it. I am certain that Paul would use it, or would assign someone to it. Spurgeon likely would have as well, judging by his profligate use of every means at his disposal.

So take heart, be sobered and encouraged. You only have 100 a day? 50? 10?

Those are 10, 50, 100 people you (nor anyone else) might never have talked to by any other means.

Sow profligately and well, that we might reap profligately and well; and sow in hope (Eccl. 11:1, 6; Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23)

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27 February 2012

Itching Ears

by Phil Johnson

"For the time is coming . . ." (2 Timothy 4:3).

ere Paul paints a vivid picture of what he merely alluded to in verse 2: an era when biblical preaching would be "out of season." This is what it looks like: "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."

Paul is describing the exact brand of obstinacy we see in full bloom in our own culture. Enlightened postmoderns simply have no time for the unyielding truth-claims of God's Word. And the average evangelical church leader seems obsessed with fitting into the culture rather than pointing out the dangers of it. Rather than feeding the flock something nourishing, pop-star pastors love tickling ears. But thereby they actually turn people away from the truth and set them loose to wander off into mythology.

The people who demand to have their ears tickled are guilty, too, of course. The expression "itchy ears" was a common figure of speech in ancient Greek literature, and its meaning is clear. It describes the very same phenomenon Luke described in Athens in Acts 17:21: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." They had a compulsive lust for novelty. It's the same pathology that makes people today endlessly surf the Web in search of the latest trending topic.

In the Greek text there's a definite article attached to the expression "sound teaching" in verse 3. Literally "people will not endure the sound doctrine"—i.e., the system of healthy teaching Paul himself proclaimed and defended. There's a conspicuous example of someone who didn't endure sound doctrine in verse 10. Demas deserted Paul because he loved the present world. Paul is saying Demas's attitude would become a widespread problem. People would desert healthy doctrine because they would grow to love worldly values and develop a lust for self-gratification. That is apostasy, and it is a dead-on accurate description of the mainstream evangelical movement today.

We don't have to follow the the world's fashions. In fact, the whole gist of 2 Timothy 4 (and all of Paul's pastoral epistles) is that we are not to follow the drift of superficial "culture." Paul tells Timothy: "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."

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26 February 2012

Wretched Impediments that Hinder One's Testimony

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 part 2 of Spurgeon's famous lecture series titled Sermons in Candles.

ee how precious material runs to waste if the light is not trimmed! There is a thief in the candle, and so it takes to guttering and running away, instead of fielding up its substance to be used for the light.

It is sad when a Christian man has some ill habit, or sinister aim. We have seen fine lives wasted through a love of wine. It never came to actual drunkenness, but it lowered the man and spoiled his influence. So is it with a hasty temper, or a proud manner, or a tendency to find fault. How many would be grandly useful but for some wretched impediment!

Worldliness runs away with many a man's energies; love of amusement makes great gutters in his time; or fondness for feasts and gilded society robs him of his space for service. With some, political heat runs away with the zeal which should have been spent upon religion, and in other cases sheer folly and extravagance cause a terrible waste of energy which belonged to the Lord.

You see there is fire, and there is light; but something extraneous and mischievous is at work, and it needs to be removed. If this is your case, you may well desire the Lord to snuff you, however painful the operation may be. Depend upon it, we have no life-force to spare, and everything which lessens our consecrated energy is a robbery of God.

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24 February 2012

Exhortation? Well, OK, If You keep It Really Tame. But Reproof and Rebuke Aren't "Nice." Tell Us a Story Instead.

Continuing a series on 2 Timothy 4.
by Phil Johnson

"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

ow let's face it: the church in our generation has been cultivated in a hothouse of evangelical apostasy where unapologetic truth-speaking—especially if it includes rebuke for wrongdoing or the refutation of falsehood—is simply not tolerated. And yet the denizens of this refined society fancy themselves more tolerant than our benighted spiritual ancestors who held strong convictions about moral, ethical, and spiritual matters.

This softening of conviction would come as no surprise to the apostle Paul, because he told Timothy that times such as these were already on their way: "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."

Notice the theme of mythology (a recurring motif in Paul's pastoral epistles). Paul would include in his definition of mythology every manmade narrative—both the blind, misguided trust in "science" (falsely so-called) that led modernists astray, and the postmodern urge to re-tell every narrative from my own personal perspective. Paul calls all such forays into the reinvention of truth mythology.

Of course, the incessant exegesis of Hollywood's mythology in evangelical pulpits (as much as contemporary churchgoers seem to love it) would likewise earn Paul's vehement disapproval. Trends like that more or less epitomize the drift Paul was warning about.

We live in such a time. People today demand story-tellers, imagineers, comedians, and clowns. Most church-growth experts today acknowledge that people would rather be entertained than listen to biblical exposition—and an appallingly high number of these pundits actually encourage pastors to cater to the demand. There is no end of young pastors and church planters who think Conan Obrien and Chris Rock—or Steven Spielberg, or Bob Dylan, or Snoop Dog—are more fitting role models than the apostle Paul—or even someone like Charles Spurgeon.

That whole attitude is hostile to the authority of revealed truth and ultimately fatal to authentic faith. It is itself a deadly evil, even when—perhaps I should say especially when—it is married to an orthodox but merely lip-service confession of faith.

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After All, I'm Not a Pragmatist!

by Frank Turk

I'm loading this in today's queue, but under Phil's post as.  His post isn't bumpable, and I'm not up for manning the top headline today.

As many of you know, Youcef Nadarkhani has been held for almost 900 days in an Iranian prison, and has now been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam and refusing to recant his new religion. If he's put to death, it will be the first time since 1990 that an Iranian will be put to death for apostasy. Our friends at TGC reported on this matter this way on Thursday, 23 Feb 2012:
Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces imminent execution for charges of abandoning Islam and refusing to recant his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reports. The 34-year-old husband and father of two, whose case was temporarily delayed in December, may now be executed at any moment without warning, according to a new---and apparently final---trial court verdict. Unfortunately, many of the details surrounding the case remain unclear.
Our other good friend and mentor James White tweeted the clarification that Nadarkhani was an anti-trinitarian heretic without further comment (disclaimer: that's via twitter anyway and I am not current on my DL podcasts, so if I missed something I will gladly update and amend this report). His tweet was retweeted by a few people, and I admit that I was under-edified overall with the net effect.

UPDATED: To make good on the bold/underlined promise, above, our alert readers have found the comments from James on the DL yesterday, and they underscore the on-going good judgment of Dr. White.

Quoth James: "I think it is important information to know. It would be a little bit, like… We don’t want to see stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons in that situation. Religious persecution is religious persecution, and if the Muslims are going to persecute heretics they’re going to persecute the orthodox as well. But it is somewhat different to pray for someone who is opposed to your faith and someone who is your brother. That fundamental connection - as in that of a common faith - is not there. So I had a number of people on Twitter say, ‘Well, are you saying we shouldn’t pray for him?’ And of course I never said anything of the kind. As someone else rightly pointed out, ‘Well, this helps my prayers even more, because now I’ll pray for his salvation as well.’ I never said, ‘Oh, well we should pray less,’ or ‘We shouldn’t worry about this guy.’ I just pointed out, I would think you’d want to know something about where this guy really is."

Compare that to the comment from Marcus Pittman to me on Twitter:
God wasn't concerned with death before repentance what if's. He commanded men to give death penalty for idolatry. Called it just. 
I am not advocating the re institution of ceremonial laws. I [am] saying God's requirements for civil justice are eternally just.

The net effect of Marcus' point of view is what I am here blogging about; using James' Tweet/Link to advocate Marcus' position (or one like it) is what I am talking about. The pastoral and Gospel-centered view of James White is not what I'm talking about.

Now, why be under-edified when the truth is being spoken?

Let's take it as utterly-unimpeachable that Nadarkhi is a hardened Modalist, a renouncer of trinitarians and all churches with non-modalist theology, and an apologist for Jesus-only baptism and baptismal regeneration. Let's simply admit that while Franklin Graham may be having some pastor qualms about impugning the Christian confession of anyone, the secular press has absolutely no discernment on the matter of who is and isn't a Christian, and they almost always get it wrong. I stipulate these points with no qualifications.

Let's consider a few things:

1. Which is more important at this moment: untangling the cultural and philosophical confusion of Islam toward the Christian faith (especially about a complex and nuanced doctrine like the Trinity), and the secular ignorance of the press in general, or seeking to influence our government and the government about to execute this man for frankly-unjust reasons? If we really are working under a deadline which, at the end, leaves a man dead and in unrepentant sin, should we be working to clarify the Iranian religious courts' view of what is and isn't Christian apostasy, or working to influence them to release this man to a country where he doesn't need to be executed? Because in point of fact, they don't care if he's Christian or Buddhist or a priest to Quezacotl -- they care that he is apostate to Islam, and that's his crime. To save the man, body and soul, we have to first gain mercy, or at least some sort of stay of execution or alternative sentence, from a court which, frankly, has a lot worse problems than what is sizes up as just punishment.

2. Is it merely pragmatic to save this man's life without correcting both the inaccuracies of the Press and the Iranian courts? I'll bite: sure it is. But it's not a rote pragmatism -- a mere appeal to expedience. To say, "first we must save this man's life -- both for the sake of his mortal life and immortal soul -- and then we can continue the apologetic fight against heresy and public ignorance of our faith," is setting priorities, which is not a disgraceful thing but in fact stewardship of resources, and putting God's view of human life and of human justice in the right place in our apologetics.

3. This goes back to my post regarding Nuance from earlier this week: at some point, whatever it is we are doing has to represent the whole counsel of God and not just our pet projects. At some point, we have gotten our few favorite pixels of the whole picture of theology right -- and lost sight of the whole picture, presenting to the world instead a jumble of squares which demonstrate Pantone-precision for their colors, but an utter lack of context and clear-sightedness about what we are actually supposed to be doing. You may not realize this, but this is exactly how we look to people in this situation:

Like it? Create your own at GoAnimate.com. It's free and fun!

And seriously: I know you don't want to be that guy on the right. Think harder about this issue and this situation. Sometimes getting both/and means you have to get one and then the other -- rather than all or nothing.

23 February 2012

I am semi-hiatusing

by Dan Phillips

I think I'm the only Pyro who hasn't hiatused very seriously. I've never wanted to. I don't really want to now, so I'm not exactly sure how serious this one will be.

But my time will be limited, something has to give, and this is that something. So I'll only be able to make my usual Tuesday/Thursday deliveries if something bubbles up almost full-formed in my available spare moments.

Which, obviously, hasn't happened yet today.

If you really want you some DJP, you know there are around 650 of them, and they go back for years. So you might check them out.

For those who care, it's all good. I have a really heavy-duty (happy!) project that should take up most or all of my usual spare post-composition time for around a month. After that, I expect to be back, though of course with the usual DV-proviso.

Of course, you know what this means. To Tom Chantry, anyway.

Behave yourselves. Well.

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22 February 2012


by Frank Turk

This is a best-of repost from back in the golden days of my personal blog.  You'll enjoy it, I am sure.

I posted a little something [about 6 years ago] about the necessity of grasping nuance in order to have a full toolkit, intellectually. One reader posted this in response:
Nuance is the post-modern enemy of clarity.

Yes, you can quote that if you wish.
And this is sadly, exactly wrong. Let me give you a graphic example:

This is a picture of a real landscape, and it's interesting in its own way, but it is completely without any nuance. That is, it is rendered in plain black and white, and while we can get the general lay of the land (so to speak), we really can't tell anything about this place.

This one is only slightly better:

The difference is subtle -- the edges where the contrast changed are not strictly white or black -- it's gray-scale, but it's sort of the wrong kind of gray scale. There's no question there's more subtle use of web-friendly colors in this picture, but it doesn't gain us anything in perceiving the picture.

This would be one example of the misuse of nuance: it's sort of a doodling along the edges where we already understand there are meaningful differences, but it doesn't add anything to what we get in the end. If this were a discussion, it would be like talking about how many different ways you can sit in the pew at church (because you should go to church, amen?) rather than understanding that going to church to worship is for your sake, and for the sake of the body of Christ.

And just to be sure we cover all the bad examples first, here's another bad example of nuance:

It's almost completely unintelligible. In fact, I'd wager that if you hadn't seen the first two images, you'd have no idea what this image was at all. It's completely useless.

But what has happened here is just another kind of the same misuse of subtlety that we got in the first one -- it goes a lot farther, and blurs all the edges to the place where all distinctions are lost. But doodling at the edges is not at all what nuance ought to achieve. Simply making the edges softer is not nuance: it's smearing.

On the other hand, this is a valuable application of nuance:

Like the last two images, this is a gray-scale image -- but look: the grays are not simply blurring the edges. They are indicating meaningful characteristics like terrain, plant life, the brightness of the sky, detailed distinctions among objects in the middle ground, etc.

This picture demonstrates significantly more nuance than any of the previous images, and tells us far more about the landscape we are viewing. And if, for example, I was going to take a hike through this place, I'd much rather have this more nuanced view of the landscape than the black and white. Why? Because more relevant details are exposed in the more nuanced image.

And how much more dramatic is the difference between the gray-scale image of this landscape and this rendering:

You can actually make out what kind of foliage there is in this landscape now, and whether it is all sand or if it has some ground cover. It actually looks like a real place once all the nuances are understood. But before we take that as the whole point, let's examine one last rendering of this image:

This is a snapshot of the center of the color photo blown up to see the pixels. This would be another example of misunderstanding nuance -- because while all the details are there, the context is completely lost. We can see all the colored dots -- and how different they are from each other -- but we can't see the relationships anymore. We are literally majoring in the minors here, seeing every jot and tittle of detail and missing (quite literally) the big picture.

Nuance is not an enemy of clear thinking: it is the result of clear thinking. Being able to grasp the distinctions in a matter without over-blowing them or distorting them into smears takes patience and a certain degree of practice.

And before anyone thinks this doesn't apply to Jesus, the Gospel or theology, think about how often all but the color photo view of an issue erupts in public discussions of theology.

Now back to your business.

21 February 2012

Book review — Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (re-issued and enhanced), by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

by Dan Phillips

Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Hannibal, Missouri: Granted Ministries Press, reissue of 1965 ed; 300 pages plus CD)

I first read the Eerdmans edition of this book (pretty surely) in the 1980s, and I read out of personal interest. That is, I was depressed. As I have shared, I have battled depression now and again all my life. So the title caught my eye on the shelf of the local Christian bookstore, and I looked to Lloyd-Jones hoping for help.

This classic work has now been reissued by Granted Ministries Press (and provided me for review) in an enhanced edition. That is, the book has the original text, plus a foreword by Geoffrey Thomas, and the terrific bonus of an MP3 audio disk of actual sermons on the topic by the beloved physician himself.

Let's begin with this edition's value-added features. In his Foreword, Thomas begins with the assertion, "There was no one in the twentieth century more suited to preach, counsel and write on this subject of spiritual depression than Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones." (I take it that the chronological qualification is meant to exclude Charles Spurgeon, who in the 19th century wrote and preached vividly, evocatively, frequently, and very helpfully on the subject.)

Thomas goes on to substantiate his assertion with eight specific points qualifying Lloyd-Jones for writing this book. A number of these points reflect Thomas' own personal acquaintance with the late Doctor. These specifics form a terrific little study in themselves.

In addition, the disk provides some of the sermons preached by Lloyd-Jones himself, which formed the basis for this book. If you've never heard Lloyd-Jones, he takes some getting used to; plus, the recordings are at times rough, not having been made with modern equipment. But it is worth every bit of the effort. Lloyd-Jones' preaching is searching, rich, and profitable. I'd say the Foreword and sermons alone warrant the price of purchase.

But then we come to the book itself, which has already been used, recommended, and reviewed by many over the past near half-century. What are some of the highlights?

Lloyd-Jones, himself a medical doctor, well brings out the truth (also reflected in the Bible) that physical issues can produce depression. In such cases, depression is not primarily a spiritual issue but one of health or diet or rest. Memorizing a Bible verse, while always a good idea, won't substitute for needed refreshment, nutrition, or other medical intervention.

Lloyd-Jones was driven by a conviction of the sufficiency of Scripture, and this sends him to the Word for the truth that depressed folks need. Accordingly, he dives at length into Psalms 42-43, finding in them both an analysis of and a cure for much spiritual depression. I found particularly helpful Lloyd-Jones' development of the idea of preaching to oneself. Here's a snippet:

But that is only a taste. Lloyd-Jones writes with a pastoral heart born of long experience. He shows from the Bible that it is not a brand-new phenomenon, and he shows in the Bible that God has given guidance and resources to encourage the downhearted. He speaks from the conviction that there is in the Gospel and in the Word of God as ministered by the Holy Spirit both help and hope and counsel for the spiritually depressed.

Pastors should of course avail themselves of this edition, as should anyone who either helps the depressed, or suffers himself.

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20 February 2012

Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort

by Phil Johnson

aul's instructions to Timothy (in 2 Timothy 4) include these imperatives: "reprove, rebuke . . . exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2). That's three successive words in the Greek text, each with a slightly different nuance.

The first, translated "reprove," carries the connotation of telling people that they are wrong, or that they have done something wrong. It has the idea of "reproach," "a rebuke," or the refutation of falsehood. As such it's a negative idea—and it's an idea that is definitely "out of season" in these postmodern times. But it's one of the key aspects of every elder's duty. If you try never to tell people they are wrong, you are not fulfilling the responsibility Paul names here.

Then there's the verb "rebuke." This is a stronger word yet. It denotes an expression of strong disapproval—a denunciation, or even a formal censure. Paul regards it as Timothy's bounden duty not only to expose and refute error, sin, and false teaching, but also to denounce each appearance of those things clearly, identifying it as the evil that it truly is.

I am frankly amazed and appalled at how many pastors today deliberately shirk this duty. "It's not for me to criticize what other people are teaching. I just want to be always positive, and we'll let truth and error sort themselves out." But if you try to do that, you are not fulfilling the responsibility Paul positively assigns to every faithful minister, both here, and in Titus 1:9, where he emphatically makes this same duty the responsibility of every elder in the church: "He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."

Titus 1:13 says some people need to be rebuked "sharply, [so] that they may be sound in the faith." In fact, when Paul gives this same charge to Titus, he words it as strongly as possible: "Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

That jars every postmodern sensibility, doesn't it? But it is a crucial aspect of the pastoral calling. No one is a faithful shepherd who refuses to deal decisively with dangers that threaten the flock.

Lest anyone think this is a prescription for angry-sounding hyper-fundamentalists, notice that there's an important qualification attached to this command: "exhort, with complete patience and teaching." The verb (exhort) is parakaleo; the same word translated "preaching" in the King James Version of 1 Timothy 4:13. It's a sweet word, closely related to parakletos, the name Jesus used to speak of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. It's used 29 times in the New Testament, and the first time it appears is in reference to Jesus, in Luke 2:25, where Christ is referred to as "the consolation [parakaleo], of Israel."

The expression conveys the ideas of encouragement, comfort, refreshment, solace—all in the form of a gentle entreaty, a verbal summons, a tender exhortation. That's the heart of biblical preaching.

And the purpose and the aim of all this—the rebukes as well as the encouragements—is for the good of the hearers—never their hurt. Preaching is a guide and a corrective and a feast and a salve—to edify or sometimes to heal the flock.

Preaching is not a cudgel with which to beat the sheep. So it must always be done "with complete patience and teaching." That echoes what Paul said two chapters earlier, 2 Timothy 2:25: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth."

Paul is calling for every possible demonstration of patience, kindness, magnanimity, and longsuffering. People will not be won to the truth by relentless scolding. If your rebukes and corrections are flavored with exasperation rather than true concern for the flock; if you deal out reproach after reproach and upbraiding after upbraiding without a true spirit of gentleness, you're not being a true shepherd.

However: in these postmodern times, it is commonly thought that "gentleness" excludes every kind of rebuke or correction—especially the sharp rebuke. But it's clear that Paul saw no necessary contradiction between gentleness and firm rebuke. That has to be our perspective as well, or we will never be up to the simple yet far-reaching task Paul lays on our shoulders here.

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19 February 2012

The Delusion of the Unbeliever's "Freedom"

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 "Believing on Jesus, and Its Counterfeits," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 22 February 1891, at the Met Tab in London.

he wild thinker claims that he is free, and needs no liberty from Christ. The sinner who is in bondage to his passions and scorns the idea of being set at liberty, as if he were a bondman. The more a slave a man is to his own conceit or his own lust, the more he talks about his freedom. We should not know that he was free if he did not call himself so.

Unbelief calls itself "Honest doubt," and not without cause; for we should not have known it to be honest if it had not labelled itself so. When a man puts up in his shop window, "No cheating practiced here," I should trade next door. "He doth protest too much."

Your free love, free thought, free life, and so forth, are the empty mockery of freedom. Oh, that men knew their state, and then freedom would be prized. For lack of self-knowledge, the blessings of the gospel prove an offense when they should have hearty welcome.

C. H. Spurgeon

17 February 2012

The MacArthur Study Bible (NIV)

by Phil Johnson

fter more than a year of discussion and analysis, Thomas Nelson Inc. and Zondervan have announced a joint project to publish an edition of The MacArthur Study Bible (MSB) with the New International Version (NIV 2011) text. All 20,000 study notes, plus outlines, articles, and other study aids will be included in the volume. Zondervan will license the NIV text to Nelson, and the Bible will be the latest addition to Nelson's growing line of products featuring the MSB notes.

The NIV is more freely translated than any of the English versions used in previous editions of the MSB. That's because the NIV generally follows a "dynamic equivalence" approach to translation—more of a thought-for-thought rephrasing of the text, rather than staying as close as possible to a word-for-word correspondence with the original.

The NIV has also received criticism from The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) because of how the translation deals with gender-related issues. In Mark 4:25, for example, plural pronouns ("they" and "them") are attached to a singular antecedent ("whoever") in order to avoid the generic use of masculine pronouns: "Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."

NIV translators increasingly favor egalitarian-friendly translations of texts that limit the role of women in church leadership. One example will suffice: Although the 1984 NIV translated 1 Timothy 2:12 the way it has historically been understood ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent"), the NIV 2011 edition has rendered that verse in a way that allows for an egalitarian interpretation, as if Paul were merely condemning rebellion, and not female headship over men in the church per se ("I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet"). NIV editors have generally followed contemporary editorial protocols preferring gender-neutral or gender-inclusive terms instead of masculine-sounding expressions—substituting "brothers and sisters" where the text says "brethren," using "humanity" where the text speaks of "men," or translating it "person" where the original word means "man."

John MacArthur's preference for word-by-word exposition is well known. He also shares CBMW's conviction that the gender distinctions in Scripture are precise and deliberate and should be kept intact. Clearly, he would not support any effort to feminize the language of the Bible or adjust it for political correctness.

So was Pastor MacArthur himself in favor of an NIV version of the MSB?

Yes, he was. In his words, "No matter what version of the Bible people are reading, I want to be able to help them understand the meaning fully and accurately. The NIV is the most widely used translation in the world, with millions of users. Some prefer it because they find it easier to read than other translations. All English versions of Scripture have translation problems and ambiguities. That's one of the major benefits of a good study Bible. The notes and other tools built into the volume can highlight and clarify the proper meaning—or at least give a more precise understanding of what the original text actually says. My prayer is that these insights and explanations, together with the acclaimed readability of the translation, will help illuminate the true meaning and unleash the divine power of Scripture for NIV readers."

Those who are using the most inadequate translations obviously need the most help to understand the Scriptures properly. Personally, I would be delighted to see the MSB notes in every commonly-used translation—and in as many languages as possible.1

We submitted to Zondervan's editors a generous sampling of notes adapted to the NIV wording. We purposely chose notes that deal with some of the key problem passages. Zondervan and Nelson both have assured us they want to retain the full integrity of John MacArthur's explanation of the text, and the sample notes were all accepted as submitted. We're excited about the potential of this product for people who are already using the NIV, and we are hopeful that when the finished product is complete, even critics of the NIV will be satisfied with the result.

Phil's signature

1. The MacArthur Study Bible (NIV) will be the fourth English version of the work (following the New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version editions). Counting Spanish, Italian, French, German, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic, and several other non-English editions, the MSB-NIV will be the fourteenth translation worldwide to be paired with the MSB notes.

16 February 2012

Asking (and answering) the wrong question

by Dan Phillips

Often a lot of good folks' good time is wasted in responding to the wrong question, to no good result.

Among Christians, I see this most frequently and specifically when someone robustly affirms the sufficiency of Scripture with nary a squish. Few things flush out the false paradigms today more surely than really-really believing that God really-really has said all that needs saying for our day.

For instance, if you announce, "I believe Scripture tells us absolutely everything we need to know about the will of God," someone is going to retort "That sounds like deism," or "That leaves out the ministry of the Holy Spirit."

Or if you say, "Prayer is you talking to God. God talking to you is prophecy. Today, God talks to us in the Bible, period," you will hear "How is that a relationship? Where's the Holy Spirit in that?"

And usually, people who aren't me (and there are so many of them! bless their hearts!) will patiently try to respond at interminable length and — here's they key word — will defend the Biblical position, shore up and repair the damage done by the challenger's premise.

As you might have guessed, I have a different sort of response, and it goes something like this: Well, then...
  1. If the Bible teaches Deism, then by all means let's all of us be Deists!
  2. If the Bible leaves out the Holy Spirit, by all means let's all of us leave out the Holy Spirit!
  3. If the Bible tells us we don't have a relationship with God, then by all means let's all of us not have a relationship with God!
Shocking? If any of the questions is cited above resonated with you, I sure hope so. See, in that case, here's your problem: you came up with a paradigm, you applied it to the Bible and to God, and then you demanded that God (and any who try to speak in His name) snap to your paradigm. You forgot who's the Master, and who's the slave.

So, when someone affirmed the Bible's teaching, and the Bible's teaching clashed with your paradigm (which you may or may not have cadged from the Bible), you smacked the Bible's teaching with the implications of your paradigm. It didn't fit your ideas, your model; so it had to change.

That's a serious problem. Don't you see that? No? Ask yourself: what does the Bible call it when we fashion an image of God (literal or conceptual) and worship that image? "Ohhh," you say. Yep: that's a step in the direction of idolatry.

Let me try to be even pointeder. You said, in effect, "I know what a relationship is: one person talks straight into the other person's ear, then the other person responds straight into the first person's ear. The other person doesn't just write stuff down and say 'There, look at that, it'll tell you what you need to know.' I know that is what a relationship is. Therefore, that must be what it's like to have a relationship with God!"

And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about having a relationship with God.

Or you said, "I know what 'spirit' is, it's a mystical ineffable Something that mysteriously moves in a fluttery, non-rational manner, in our feelings and hunches and such. So that's what the Holy Spirit must be like. And since it is the Holy Spirit who gives feelings and hunches and low-grade semi-revelations and ineffable senses of God's nearness, to deny any of that is to deny the work of the Spirit."

And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

Or you said, "Deism is where God isn't giving some kind of constant flow of direct personal kinda-revelation anymore. Deism is bad. Therefore, denying that God gives some kind of direct personal kinda-revelation is Deism, and it's bad."

And there you went. No matter what the Bible teaches about the power and life and majesty and completeness and perfection of the Word of God, and its role in the believer's life.

The problem here, then, is asking the wrong question because of a mistaken premise. So we answer the question, but do not address the premise — and we just end up playing Whack-a-Mole. What we need to do is to roll grenade into one of those holes and bring the whole thing down, so God's truth can replace it.

So with this latter example, above. The premise is, "Unless God dribbles mumbly semi-revelation directly into my quivering ear, He's dead and inactive and we don't have a relationship." Rather than defensively try to answer such questions, instead we should say "Where is your authority for that understanding of 'relationship'? Specifically, where is your Biblical authority for that model of our normal relationship with God?"

To take another popular area of faithlessness that enjoys more respect than it should: "I know what dignity means, and I know that for women to have dignity, they must be able to do A, B and C." So we take that premise to the Bible, and (depending on what formalities of faith remain) come up with a rationale for either disregarding or disfiguring the parts that don't fit our premise. The problem, once again, is the premise, and a Genesis 3-like unwillingness to allow God to define what is and is not feminine dignity.

With all such misbased, badly-premised challenges to Biblical faith and life, we should take the premise to the Bible and brutalize it (and its adherents) for non-compliance. Remember: faith is embracing God's Word (Gen. 15:1, 6; Rom. 10:17), lack of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), and sin is to be put to howling, shrieking death (Rom. 8:13) — not negotiated with and treated as an honored guest.

Because anyone who studies God's Word with any seriousness soon sees that the Bible has a higher view of the Holy Spirit than these leaky canoneers have. The Bible represents that He did a simply boffo job in providing a perfectly adequate, dynamic, living and sufficient revelation in Scripture. And He expects us to study, learn, understand, believe, and live it. And He thinks that will keep us plenty busy.

And if we don't want to be prayerless Deists who quench the Spirit and have no relationship to God, we will believe Him.

(PS — for related thoughts, I warned over a half-decade ago about the Delight and de danger of de metaphor.)

Dan Phillips's signature

15 February 2012


by Frank Turk

Some of you may know that a couple of weeks ago, John Piper had the DG Pastor's Conference, and had a lot of men there.  Well, this offended a lot of women, and Scot McKnight, and they had a lot to say about it as you might expect.  Most of it didn't really make any sense, but it's Wednesday, and we can't just leave this space blank.

The message that seems to have really bent them all out of shape and put them off their yogurt and vitamin water is the biographical sketch Dr. Piper did of J.C. Ryle.  In particular, they took offense to Dr. Piper saying this by way of introduction:
For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.

And, of course, this is liable to serious misunderstanding and serious abuse, because there are views of masculinity that would make such a vision repulsive. So here is more precisely what I mean. And words are always inadequate when describing beauty. Beauty always thrives best when she is perceived by God-given instincts rather than by rational definitions. But we must try. What I mean by “masculine Christianity,” or “masculine ministry,” or “Christianity with a masculine feel,” is this:

Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.
Now, what exactly about that is offensive?  As I said, I couldn't make heads or tails out of what was being said by the egalitarian offended class, but I did garner a few things from them which are at least enjoyable to hear them say out loud:

1. There's no difference between being a decent "husband" and being a decent "spouse".  That is: in marriage, the roles of husband and wife are interchangeable.  Whatever it is you do to be a good spouse is the same for both men and women, so let's not try to get too worked up about the relationship between the sexes in marriage.  In the end, it's no wonder people who think like this might think that marriage could therefore be two men or two women -- it's just jobbing, just role playing, and you just have to make sure that all the job description items are filled.

2. There is in fact no difference between the sexes when it comes to having friends.  For example, one woman explained to me that she did nothing wrong being a confidant to a man whose marriage was in trouble.  She was quite shocked and outraged that his wife thought otherwise -- can't a man and a woman just be friends?

3. Of course the pastoral office is not explicitly for men -- and certainly not for men who are inordinately manly.  I didn't realize we're all Anglicans now, but I realize I can't keep up with all the newest news.

It's sort of like hearing lap dogs describe what it must be like to drive a car.  It's as if they don't even understand that even Science has said there are significant differences between men and women that maybe we can't even entirely explain.  What will happen when they discover that a men's public restroom is different than the women's?

That's really enough for today.  That's probably all the tender-hearted among you can take anyway.  I have a full plate at work and I leave it to you to talk amongst yourselves -- in an ambiguous and androgynous manner, of course, so that nobody's feelings get jostled.