30 April 2012

"The pulpit is intended to be a pedestal for the cross"

by Phil Johnson

hew on this:

The pulpit is intended to be a pedestal for the cross, though, alas! even the cross itself, it is to be feared, is sometimes used as a mere pedestal for the preacher's fame.

We may roll the thunders of eloquence, we may dart the coruscations of genius, we may scatter the flowers of poetry, we may diffuse the light of science, we may enforce the precepts of morality, from the pulpit; but if we do not make Christ the great subject of our preaching, we have forgotten our errand, and shall do no good.

Satan trembles at nothing but the cross: at this he does tremble; and if we would destroy his power, and extend that holy and benevolent kingdom, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, it must be by means of the cross.

—John Angell James, quoted in Spurgeon's Feathers for Arrows

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29 April 2012

Something to Keep in Mind In These Times of Apostasy

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 King, Our Joy," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, 27 November 1870 at London's Metropolitan Tabernacle.

ook around us at this time at the numerous defalcations from the doctrines of the gospel among our ministers and leading men. First one and then another—those who seemed to be pillars are shaken like reeds in the storm.

A pestilence has gone forth from which few of our churches are free. Human intellect is adored as an idol, and in its pride it changes the teaching of the word, and sets up new dogmas which the word of God utterly rejects. If these things depress our spirits, nevertheless let us be of good courage; for if we cannot be joyful in our ministers, we will be joyful in our King.

If the pulpit fail us, the throne is ever filled by him who is the Truth; and if we have to suspect the orthodoxy of one, and to know the heterodoxy of another, to see Judas here and Ahithophel there, nevertheless Judah still ruleth with God and is faithful with the saints. Our King abideth, and his truth endureth to all generations.

C. H. Spurgeon

27 April 2012

This is where I am today

by Phil Johnson

ook the redeye from LAX to Boston last night. (I'm sure you'll be able to tell that when this video is complete. I'll be the character asleep in the corner.) The video promises to be intriguing: a free-ranging conversation among three very intelligent men and one jet-lagged blogger. I proposed calling it "Band of Curmudgeons" or "The Emergency Room." Abendroth didn't go for my suggestions.

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26 April 2012

Warfield on textual evidence for inspiration as an avalanche

by Dan Phillips

I'm reading through John Frame's Doctrine of the Word of God, and his Appendix F pointed me to a useful (and uncharacteristically humorous) illustration given by the great B. B. Warfield in his own great work, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, from which I'll break up a portion of a massive paragraph.

After examining a number of passages that attest to Scripture's inspiration and authority, Warfield says:
But no grosser misconception could be conceived than that the Scriptures bear witness to their own plenary inspiration in these outstanding texts alone. These are but the culminating passages of a pervasive testimony to the divine character of Scripture, which fills the whole New Testament; and which includes not only such direct assertions of divinity and infallibility for Scripture as these, but, along with them, an endless variety of expressions of confidence in, and phenomena of use of, Scripture which are irresistible in their teaching when it is once fairly apprehended.

The induction must be broad enough to embrace, and give their full weight to, a great variety of such facts as these: the lofty titles which are given to Scripture, and by which it is cited, such as “Scripture,” “the Scriptures,” even that almost awful title, “the Oracles of God”; the significant formulæ by which it is quoted, “It is written,” “It is spoken,” “It says,” “God says”; such modes of adducing it as betray that to the writer “Scripture says” is equivalent to “God says,” and even its narrative parts are conceived as direct utterances of God; the attribution to Scripture, as such, of divine qualities and acts, as in such phrases as “the Scriptures foresaw”; the ascription of the Scriptures, in whole or in their several parts as occasionally adduced, to the Holy Spirit as their author, while the human writers are treated as merely his media of expression; the reverence and trust shown, and the significance and authority ascribed, to the very words of Scripture; and the general attitude of entire subjection to every declaration of Scripture of whatever kind, which characterizes every line of the New Testament.

The effort to explain away the Bible’s witness to its plenary inspiration reminds one of a man standing safely in his laboratory and elaborately expounding—possibly by the aid of diagrams and mathematical formulæ—how every stone in an avalanche has a defined pathway and may easily be dodged by one of some presence of mind. We may fancy such an elaborate trifler’s triumph as he would analyze the avalanche into its constituent stones, and demonstrate of stone after stone that its pathway is definite, limited, and may easily be avoided. But avalanches, unfortunately, do not come upon us, stone by stone, one at a time, courteously leaving us opportunity to withdraw from the pathway of each in turn: but all at once, in a roaring mass of destruction. Just so we may explain away a text or two which teach plenary inspiration, to our own closet satisfaction, dealing with them each without reference to its relation to the others: but these texts of ours, again, unfortunately do not come upon us in this artificial isolation; neither are they few in number. There are scores, hundreds, of them: and they come bursting upon us in one solid mass. Explain them away? We should have to explain away the whole New Testament. What a pity it is that we cannot see and feel the avalanche of texts beneath which we may lie hopelessly buried, as clearly as we may see and feel an avalanche of stones!

Warfield, B. B. (2008). The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Volume 1: Revelation and Inspiration (65–66). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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25 April 2012

BoB2012: Nice Guys with a Hobby

by Frank Turk

Just because it happened, as I started writing this little fiasco, my wife asked me what I was doing, and I told her, "I'm drafting the blog."

She looked at me and said, "You mean you're riding it too close to the truck in front of you again?"

Since she put it that way, yes.

Let me confess a few things about this topic before I start the disreputable and unhelpful blogging.  The first is this: I had a hard time following the audio of the Band of Bloggers 2012 session because I only know Tim Challies' and Justin Taylor's voices, and I can't tell the rest of them apart by voice.  Collin Hansen sounds like Timmy Brister, and one of them sounded like Tullian Tchividjian to me even though I know he wasn't on the panel.  And you would think that I could pick Kevin DeYoung's voice out of the crowd, but honest to pete I just couldn't tell [UPDATED: Turns out KDY was absent that day, so I am not utterly deaf].  So the attributions in this and the next few pieces of bloggeration presented on this subject will be muddled at best because except for Tim and Justin, I can't tell who is who.

The second is this: I am obligated to say that there is not a group of less-offensive men in the whole world who actually speak out loud.  You couldn't find English-speakers who were more concerned with avoiding offense if you tried -- and that includes all English-speaking practitioners of Jainism and Catholic Trappist monks.  You can't catch these guys intentionally saying something barbed in public unless a large thumbtack and a mischieviously-placed stool was involved, and only then the most sharp-edged epithet would probably sound something like the Beaver would say.  God bless 'em for being such nice fellows.

So why blog this audio?  I mean: I simply couldn't be caught walking past the session, and I said my piece via GoAnimation the day of the event, and that should be enough, right?  There's enough evangelical fire-power involved in this panel discussion to see to it that I never publish anything ever except via blog if I somehow irk them.  And may it never be said that they somehow "overlooked" a finalist for best new author of the year because of his associations -- but it could in theory happen.  It would be wrong of me to expect they would behave that way, but it would be foolish of me to think that these guys owe me any favors when I seem to be usually at odds with them and their flavor of edification.

That is to say: blogging this audio is marginally-dangerous -- and some would say, done simply for the controversy.  It draws traffic, after all.  But here's the thing: it seems rather ill-considered that a handful of reasonably well-known bloggers would chat about blogging as such and no other blogs would have anything to say about it.  In some sense, if no one ever brought it up again, it would be too fantastically ironic.  The Band of Bloggers assessed all of Christian blogdom and no one heard it?  No one was edified? Or perhaps: no one cared?

May it never be: I cared.  Or rather, I care.  So let's begin: one of three posts on this interesting event.

The right place to start is with my dear friend and fellow blogger David Kjos who is one of the most gifted bloggers having at it.  David gave his brief assessment of the event here, and it elicited Justin Taylor's response -- to the negative, if you can believe that.  So while I didn't pay my $15 for Chic-Fil-A and the free books, I was a little intrigued to find that David would not think it was entirely satisfying and Justin would find David's comments worthy of disavowal.

The audio, it turns out, is stored at the Southern Seminary archive -- for which we are all grateful.  I gave it a listen or three, and I commend it to all of you for review and discussion.

So here's the transcript of the first few minutes:
(Starting at 00:00)
Owen Strachen: Let's just kick it off with the state of Blogging.  A few years back, I think it was in 2009 at the Gospel Coalition, at that iteration of Band of Bloggers, we wondered whether blogging would continue.  There was a lot of talk in 2009 about whether Blogging was dead -- and Tim (Challies) for example said it wasn't and it seems that he was right.  What is the state of blogging today in 2012 both in terms of the general market if you're interested in talking about that and in terms of the evangelical blog scene.
I start with Justin and go down the line. Any thoughts you have. 
Justin: I'd rather hear from Collin first.  I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that question necessarily.  I do think it's right that blogging is not dead; it will probably never die as long as people want more than 140 characters.  I think twitter is a great gateway into reading longer-formed content which blogs tend to specialize in. I don't think its going anywhere, I think Collin is more gifted at looking at the whole lay of the land.  But it's what I like to do; I'll keep doing it as long as I still enjoy it and people continue to read it.  And my blog is just more of a gateway to other things out there, so I think as long as people want content, blogging in some form will exist. 
Challies:  I just wanna ask a question - how many people here subscribe to the print version of Christianity Today? raise your hand if you would. (pause) How 'bout World Magazine? (pause) Blogs aren't going anywhere. Right?  How else are you going to know what's going on in the Christian world?  That's just the way ideas are carried.  It's the way people are finding out things now -- through the blogosphere.
(Ends about 02:00)
Now, it would be wrong, really, to criticize them for speaking briefly -- the whole session is only an hour, and everyone there was really there for T4G which started hard upon the end of this pre-conference huddle, so what I'm not going to do is pelt these guys for keeping it inside the time they had available.  Good on them, to be sure, for honoring other people's time.

But here's what strikes me about the fellows lined up here: they are all of one stripe.  Here's the list of who was there (in Alpha order):
Tim Brister
Tim Challies
Kevin DeYoung -- Absent, so noted!
Collin Hansen
Owen Strachen
Justin Taylor
Except for Timmy (who is his own brand among Southern seminarians, SBTS being the general host of T4G) and Challies (who is his own brand in the larger internet ecosystem, ranking about the same as the Sport blog for the Boston Herald, and just slightly ahead of this very blog), these guys represent "The Gospel Coalition" brand of Christianity.  You should bookmark that for future reference in this series, but to say that these fellows are anything but one slice of bologna (let's be fair: probably a decent yard of beef and not some skimpy hors d'oeuvre) in the deli of Christian writers -- let alone Christian thinkers or Christian bloggers -- is unreliable.  And in that case, it seems to me that the ice breaker here is a little much.

However, it does give us some stellar foundations by which to track the rest of this discussion.  The core connection (that they are rather monolithic) is the first foundation; the second strikes me as rather obvious: Tim and Justin see this stuff as a rather conspicuous hobby.  You know: neither one earns a living via blogging, but somehow they have both gotten into their current professions via blogging.  They have somehow made a name for themselves which carries over into something else more lucrative, and I credit them for it.  But they do this sort of thing because they like it -- which is an important motivation which we'll need to review in another installment.

The last foundation is that they don't have any illusions about the state of the medium: it is what it is, and it is here to stay.  It is exactly like moveable type amped up on Red Bull and a megadose of B-Complex vitamins, and the great leap forward in terms of the democratization of information and ideas is more like a quantum jump.  "How else," ponders Challies, "are you going to know what's happening in the Christian world?"

And that, I am afraid, is the first fantastic irony.  If you read the blogs these guys publish and link to -- and because you're a Gospel menace you also read this blog -- tell me: what's going on amongst the 1200 Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship churches these days?  Whither the BBFI and it's 1.2 million members in this day of trouble?  How about the lowly Methodists or Anglicans?

What they must mean, of course, is, "what's going on in our corner of Christendom," which is not all it's cracked up to be.  It's a pretty narrow and fallow patch of the harvest compared, for example, to what's happening in Africa and South America -- and a patch the world thinks needs more missionaries sent to it.

So is it a fun hobby?  Sure it is.  But it's a clever little hobby that makes us into something terrifying and untrustworthy: it makes us into the center of attention.  And when we become the center of attention, we seem to forget that most people are simply not like us.

Anecdotally, as I was preparing to go to T4G a couple of weeks ago, one of the guys I worked with asked me how I was going to spend my vacation.  "With my wife," I said rather coyly as I was seeking to get my desk sufficiently cleared prior to leaving.

"Ha." he said.  "I mean 'where'?"

So I looked away from the customer car wreck in my In-Box and took off my glasses.  "We're going to a conference called 'Together for the Gospel,'" I said simply.  "It's hosted by a seminary in Louisville, and we're going to see some old friends and listen to a week of talks about whether or not we take the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously.  Al Mohler will be there; Mark Dever; John Piper."

He looked at me blankly, thinking.  "Amy Grant?"

I put my glasses back on.  "No." I said, returning to my work. "Bob Kauflin."  I might as well have said, "Armin Shimerman."

My point being: even our heroes in that circle of influence are pretty much unknown by the world at large.  And for us to think that our blog reading (let alone: our blog writing) is somehow expressing "what's going on in the Christian world" is, at best, poor accounting.

So maybe the first stop in my tour through the 60 minutes which was Band of Bloggers is this: let's not kid ourselves about the size of the teapot in which we think we are tempesting.  It's not hardly the world -- and not hardly the whole Christian world.  It's a narrow band of blogging, and would be better off expressed that way rather than as something more influential.

That's enough for today.  Comments are open; mind your manners.

24 April 2012

When the Lord seems harsh

by Dan Phillips

The story that opens Matthew 11 is intriguing and instructive from many angles.

First, we shouldn't miss how Matthew frames it in verse 2 — "Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples." It is unique for Matthew to say so baldly "the Christ." He uses the title sixteen times in total, usually on the lips of persons whom he quotes (i.e. 2:4; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 23:10; 24:5, 23, 63, 68; 27:17, 22). He himself (i.e. not in quotation) uses only five times: four times in the genealogy/birth narrative (1:1, 16, 17, 18), and here. It is found without "Jesus" only in 1:17; 2:4; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 23:10; 24:5, 23; 26:63, 28, and of those several are spoken to Jesus or by Jesus.

So Matthew is stressing the point to us that the miracles Jesus was doing are miracles of Messiah, they are Messianic deeds, they are Messianic in character and serve to identify Jesus as the one foretold throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Matthew wants us to have that firmly in mind as we read what follows.

John the Immerser, however — the Messianic forerunner, the Messianic announcer, the King-maker who had identified Messiah to Israel — is languishing in prison. Whether he looks to the right, to the left, upward or downward, no glorious kingdom is in sigh.

Not for the first time, John calls to our mind Elijah, who after a terrific victory (1 Kings 18) knew bitter discouragement and frustration (1 Kings 19; do not fail to hear Ligon Duncan open this up to devastating and glorious effect).

So John sends Jesus some messengers (v. 3) to ask: given that nothing (that, to John's expectation, should happen) is in fact happening, is Jesus really the Messiah? Or is Messiah still to come?

How deep did John's doubt go? We can't know. He may have truly wondered if he had been mistaken in identifying Jesus as the Messiah. Or he may have been wanting to prod Jesus into action. Or he may just have wanted an explanation, a word of encouragement, as he awaited what would be his death, a death that apparently would come before the least glimmer of Messianic kingdom glory.

The key, again, is in verse 2. Where did John hear about "the deeds of the Messiah." Matthew tells us: "in prison." John expected (rightly!) that Messiah would bring political deliverance and victory and vindication, a golden age and an earthly kingdom. But John saw no deliverance for Israel, and no deliverance for himself. So he sent his students to ask the question.

How does Jesus respond?

Not as we'd expect, were we encountering this for the first time.

You have to say that our Lord's response is pretty brusque, even falls a bit harshly on our ears (vv. 4-6). It isn't cruel, but it isn't what some might call gentle and edifying and thoughtful and nuanced and careful and all that.

I mean, honestly, wouldn't you have said something different? I think I would have. I might have said, "Tell John to hang in there. Tell him I feel his suffering and pain, I know and I care. Tell him that the Messianic kingdom will come in all its glory, and he will live and rejoice as a great name in that kingdom. Tell him that he will see that all his suffering was not in vain, but brought great glory to God. Tell him that the present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to follow. Tell him that, for that kingdom ever to happen, I must first make atonement for sin, and win the crown through the Cross. Tell him that, if he endures, he will eventually understand everything, and will rejoice."

I think that's what I would have said.

And, evidently (as I've noted before), I would have been wrong.

Jesus sees that John needs something different, and of course He is right. As I said, His answer isn't cruel, but it isn't soft, either. He says in effect, "Remind John of what he already knows, but is forgetting in his discouragement. Remind him that he already knows the answer to that question. And remind him that sticking with me solidly and faithfully guarantees blessing."

In no way did He tell John what John wanted to hear. Instead, He told John what John needed to hear.

And then, before I bring this home, note that it even gets worse, in a way. The second John's students leave, Jesus waxes eloquent about what a great man John was! I mean, He goes on and on about it (vv. 7-19). Now, seriously — couldn't He have said a little of that to John? Couldn't He have thrown him a wee little bone? I mean, come on; John's in prison awaiting death for his faithful service to Jesus. Jesus couldn't show a little love in that way?

Again, evidently not. Apparently John himself would never hear those kind words in this life. Evidently, what I think John needed is not what John actually needed.

Perhaps we get another peek in verse 7, where Jesus asks "concerning John: 'What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?'" Even given this question, which the crowds evidently overheard, Jesus does not see John as "shaken." Oh, you'd think so, and I'd think so. But Jesus doesn't need anyone to tell Him the heart of man, because He knows what's in there (Jn. 2:25; Rev. 2:23).

So what Jesus sees John as needing (and what John actually did need), evidently, is a good, bracing shaking. He sees John as needing a splash of cold water in his face. Jesus is less concerned about John's feelings and his emotions and his mood than He is about his faith and his faithfulness.

I bring this up for your reflection, as I've reflected on it myself. Just ask yourself:  if Jesus was this"harsh" (as it seems to us) with such a favored and faithful servant, can it really be that shocking if He at times seems harsh in dealing with us lesser lights? Have there been times when you've thought Him a poor friend because He hasn't "shown up" as you would have done for one of your friends, because He didn't immediately relieve a depression, a distress, a difficulty, as you would have done for one of your loved ones?

Doesn't this give us good reason to re-think, to remember who's who, to remember that while Jesus almost always does give us exactly what we ask for, He reserves the right to give us something better (and therefore other) than what we think we need? Indeed, He does so regularly give us what we ask Him to give us, and does so frequently give us a good word from the Word directly or through others, or lets us get a peek of success or fruitfulness, that we get a bit spoiled, and expect Him to do it all the time. Then when He doesn't, we check in to Doubting Castle or its dark and dank environs.

I'm saying, we should think again. In looking back and making sense of our lives, or if we're there right now, we should think again. Like our Lord told John to do. Remember what you already know, but are forgetting. Think in faith, think with God's word and God's facts in view.

Just remember: it says He works all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28), and not necessarily for our definition of good on our schedule.

Seemingly harsh? Sometimes.



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23 April 2012

A Way of Escape

by Phil Johnson

irst Corinthians 10:13 famously promises a "way of escape" when our faith is being tested: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

The word translated "temptation" there is peirasmos in the Greek text. It can refer either to a test that comes from God, or a temptation to sin (which according to James 1:14 comes when we are "lured and enticed by [our] own desire"). The Greek word is the same either way. Surely the promise of a "way of escape" also applies in either instance—otherwise this would be scant comfort. But the promise of a way of escape is a particular comfort when we're suffering under the weight of some crushing, prolonged, or especially onerous trial. So let's consider this promise in that light.

Notice: The way of escape comes "with" the trial, not instead of it. In other words, it's not a way of escape from our trials; it's a way of escape through them. It's not a way to avoid the trial itself. But it's a better kind of escape—a way of escape that enables us to "endure it."

Furthermore, that definite article "the way of escape" is the correct rendering of the Greek text. There is only one right way of escape, and that is the way God designs. If you try to devise a fleshly way of escape from trials, you'll only get yourself in worse trouble. God makes the way of escape; don't try to make your own.

At the start of the chapter, Paul makes reference to a perfect example of this. The Israelites "passed through the sea." The Red Sea was a formidable obstacle. Pharaoh's armies were in hot pursuit, determined to exterminate the Israelites rather than see them leave Egypt. The sea blocked their way. To human eyes, the case looked hopeless.

The Old Testament account of that event records that Moses stopped for a while. He was so confident that God would deliver the Israelites, "Moses said to the people, 'Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent'" (Exodus 14:13-14). He was expecting a different way of deliverance than the Lord had planned.

"The LORD said to Moses, 'Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward'" (v. 15).

The way of escape was through the obstacle—and the Lord used the sea itself (that seemingly impassible impediment) as the means of destruction for Israel's enemies. The way of escape vanquished the enemy.

That is God's way. The escape route requires us to press by faith through the trial—and sometimes it takes us into the fiery furnace; into the lion's den; and into the wilderness. But when He leads us into the wilderness, it is to bring us through it.

So the "way of escape" is not a way to avoid the trial, but a way to bear it. If you're in the midst of a great trial, that may not quite be what you are hoping for, but if you ponder the point carefully, I think you'll realize it's a supremely encouraging promise.

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22 April 2012

The Simple Gospel

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 "Men Bewitched," a sermon preached at some intdeterminate rtime in the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

hen I was about fifteen or sixteen years of age, I wanted a Savior, and I heard the gospel preached by a poor man, who said in the name of Jesus—"Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." It was very plain English, and I understood it, and obeyed it and found rest.

I owe all my happiness since then to the same plain doctrine.

Now, suppose that I were to say, "I have read a great many books, and there are a great many people willing to hear me. I really could not preach such a commonplace gospel as I did at the first. I must put it in a sophisticated way, so that none but the elite can understand me."

I should be—what should I be? I should be a fool, writ large.

I should be worse than that, I should be a traitor to my God; for if I was saved by a simple gospel, then I am bound to preach that same simple gospel till I die, so that others too may be saved by it.

When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.

C. H. Spurgeon

19 April 2012

The odd little man and what he says to preachers

by Dan Phillips

The Pastoral Ministry class in seminary was of uneven value. I think the professor tried to make it valuable, and he was a very genial and likable fellow. One thing he said has stuck in my mind ever since. So here's what we'll do. I'll tell you what he said, I'll warn you against taking the wrong point from it, then I'll tell you the good truth I keep from it.

The professor told us to picture the most absurd-looking man imaginable. He said something like that we should make him round in shape, put him in a bright green suit with a bright orange hat, and adorn the suit with a big flower, and the hat with a big propeller. That way, you can't possibly miss him.

Then he said to put the man in the front row.

Then he said to imagine that the man only knew three words in English, and to imagine that he kept repeating those three words over and over, all the way through the sermon.

The words:

"Tell me how."

Now, the wrong way to take this exercise is to conclude that all sermons must be pragmatic, they must all be how-to sermons. It is possible that this is how the professor intended that we take his exercise. If so, I would disagree. Such a bent would cut out a lot of Scripture and a lot of truth. Arguably, one might never preach the Gospel, let alone the doctrines of the triune God, or prophecy, or a host of other truths found all over Scripture.

However, that is not the way I apply the exercise. I take it to mean that I should tether myself to reality, to my hearers. My goal is not to soliloquize the Word of God, to speak for my own amusement or edification or aggrandizement. My goal is to preach the Word, to communicate it.

My goal in studying is to connect with the Word myself, heart and mind and soul. My goal in preaching is to connect the Word with my hearers, heart and mind and soul. To do that, I need to aim for where they are. Whether I am preaching on "Husbands, love your wives" or "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all," whether on "Flee fornication" or "God is Spirit," whether on the fruits of the Spirit or the seals, trumpets and bowls of Revelation, my job is personally to connect with the text myself, and then to connect my hearers — the sheep entrusted to me — with that same text.

If I don't understand it, I fail. If I don't help them understand it to the best of my ability under God, I fail.

Beyond argument, God has done exactly this, hasn't He? That is what Calvin was talking about when he said that God "lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children." He did not mean that Scripture communicates error, but that all words from God to us are necessarily accommodated. The Infinite is speaking to the finite. How does He do it? Well, you have read the Book, right? What do you see? Narratives, legal documents, letters, parables, poems, songs, often featuring the most striking and arresting and inescapably bold figures and images and turns of speech that one could ever hope for. God, we could say, is all over the map in assuring that we can connect with His truth.

So, shouldn't we do the same?

Do I dumb it down? Sure, I have to — in order for me to understand it! Don't tell anyone, but that's my secret, in writing and in preaching: I'm very, very dim. (Not much of a secret, the reader might observe unkindly.) So that makes it easy. Once I understand it, I'm ready to explain it to anyone, whether by book, blog or sermon.

So: should our sermons be pragmatic? When the text is, sure — and it often is. So should we preach on God's aseity, on the hypostatic union, on the Trinity, on predestination and election and the effectual call and the atonement and a hundred other lofty Biblical truths? Absolutely.

Just never forget the odd little man, and make sure that you do all you can to connect God's truth to his own understanding.

That's pretty much what you're there for, right?

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18 April 2012

Phoning It In

by Frank Turk

After a great week in Louisville last week, I am deeply disappointed that the one event at T4G I wanted to talk about -- namely, the Celebrity Pastor panel discussion -- is not yet available for download at the T4G web site. (at least: as I compose this post)

So until such a time as it becomes live, let me say this about that: one point which our new-found friend Dr. Carl Trueman made (I think: away from that panel, but during Q&A at his breakout session on the Reformation) was this, which is great food for thought.

In the realm of celebrity pastors, there is a phenomenon known as "multi-site".  That is: the preaching of the One Guy is beamed in from some Other Place, and the multiple sites are blessed with his gift of, well, ... if I say "speaking for God" at this point, it will sound abusive, so I'll say instead, his gift of speech.

Dr. Trueman's point was this: why is it that we commonly pipe in the preaching, but not the music?  That is: why is live music more important than a live preacher?  Does that say something about what we really think is the most important part of the common worship by God's people?

Discuss, and we'll have something more meaty next week.

17 April 2012

Sister... show mercy! (Repost #4)

[I'm very grateful for the use God has made of this post. Many pastors, leaders, and others have requested permission to print this and hand it out; and many sisters have said they were going to share it around. I hope it's put to use in youth groups. Originally posted in 2006, it always receives a mixture of gracious and bizarre responses. Let me add this one word to husbands: you too. "Smokin' hot" wife, right? Praise God. So remember what it was like to be single. You know how guys are. You used to be one! So you show some mercy to your brothers. Sensitize your wife about showing love for her brothers in this important way. Read this with her. Help her to dress helpfully and mercifully. And fathers? Duh. Doug Wilson waggles his eyebrows at you and, this time, so do I. So here it is once again, slightly edited as usual.]

Preface: "What are you? Nuts?!"
Just thought I'd lead with the question you'll be wondering in a few minutes. I am about to stick my finger in the fan, about up to my elbow, and I know it. But I really think someone needs to say this — and why not me? I have less to lose than many who've thought the same thing, but daren't say it.

So here we go.

What will change, and what won't. Spring's sprung, and summer looms. Mercury rises, fashions change. But one thing that won't change, unless I'm happily mistaken: some good Christian sisters will not dress as helpfully as they could.

I chose that word with care: "helpfully." I am not talking about sin, shame, indecency, wantonness, or the like. Perhaps I could, with some justification. But that's for another time — and probably another writer. At this point, I just want to talk about being helpful.

Sister, if there's one thing you and I can certainly agree on, it's this: I don't know what it's like to be a woman, and you don't know what it's like to be a man. We're both probably wrong where we're sure we're right, try as we might. So let me try to dart a telegram from my camp over to the distaff side.

"Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man" (Proverbs 27:20). Solomon doesn't use the Hebrew words that would indicate males exclusively, so this and Ecclesiastes 1:8 may apply across the gender-board. Libbie pointed out very ably that we men wrongly assume that we alone battle with temptations entering through the eye-gate.

But. But if men aren't alone in the battle, they may have a particular weakness for this aspect of it. Consider passionately-godly King David, whose psalms express aspirations after God beside which our own are pale, bloodless things. One day King David is in the wrong place, at the wrong time; sees a naked woman bathing next door, and boom! he's gone (2 Samuel 11). Family, kingdom, God — all forgotten, consumed in the flash-flame of a lust that was only visual in its inception.

And what of that Israelite Philistine Samson and his own "eye trouble?" He sees a fetching young pagan, and bellows at his dad, "Get her for me, for she looks good to me" (Judges 14:3 NAS). Where did Samson's passions take him? How did his course end?

Unless all the men I've known personally or at a distance are completely unrepresentative, it's a lifelong struggle, a lifelong weakness. As I recall from a Proverbs lecture on mp3, Bruce Waltke says that his dad, at around age 100, told him, "Bruce, I still have the same struggles I did when I was 50." It was sobering for Dr. Waltke to hear; sobering for any man! (In fact, put me down for "disheartening.")

Where am I going with this? Oh, don't try to look so innocent. You know exactly where I'm going.

This is... church? So here comes this brother into the assembly of the saints, hoping for a rest from the battles of the week, a moment to regroup, sing, pray, get the Word, fellowship. He looks up to the choir, or to his left or his right — and in a tick of the clock, he's facing the same struggle he faced every time he turned on his TV, opened a magazine, or went down a city street. He's seeing things that make it far too easy for him not to keep his mind focused where it needs to be focused.

And he's not in a nightclub, he's not at a singles' bar, he's not at the beach. He's in church.

Now, some very direct disclaimers:
  • Every man's sin is his own, and every man's struggle is his own (Proverbs 14:10).
  • No one makes a man think or feel anything (Proverbs 4:23).
  • It is each individual's responsibility to guard his own heart (Proverbs 4:23) and eyes (Job 31:1).
  • Beauty is a wonderful gift of God (cf. Exodus 28:2; Song of Solomon 1:8, 15, etc.).
Having said all that: while it may be true that I'm the one holding the matches, you won't help me if you pile twigs all around my feet and douse them with lighter fluid. To be a little more specific: if you know I've had trouble with drunkenness, you won't wave a glass of wine in front of me tauntingly. If you know I battle covetousness, you won't take me window-shopping in high-end stores I've no business frequenting.

That is, you won't do those things if you love, if you care for me at all.

So I put this question: what are some sisters thinking, in how they dress?

"Attractive"? As the ladies pick clothes, they'll consider what's pretty, what's flattering, what's attractive. Who could blame them? But, "attractive" to whom? In what way? To what end? With what focus?

When I go fishing, I want my lure to attract trout so they will bite and get hooked, and I can kill them and eat them.

A business wants to attract buyers so they will spend money and acquire their product or service and make them rich.

By that blouse, those pants, that skirt — what are you trying to attract? Attract to what, so that they will focus on what and feel what, and want to do what?

Consider the questions again. "Is it pretty?" Fine question, no evil in it. "Is it comfortable, is it complimentary, is it fun?" No problem. I'd just suggest you add one more question: "Is it helpful, or is it hurtful, to my brothers in Christ? Will this unintentionally contribute to their having a focus that is harmful to their holy walk?"

Now, lookie here:
In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves;  the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils (Isaiah 3:18-23)

...likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4)
What it isn't. Immediately we'll swing in, as we always do, and say, "Now, the writer's not saying that women can't dress nicely, or wear jewelry, or blah blah blah." And we'll all disown our Fundie forebears who focused on nylons and lipstick, and came up with precise hemline measurements. We'll want to make sure that we're not advocating a new line of Bible Burqaware™ for evangelical women. All that will be true and valid enough.But... what is it? But I'm concerned that, in our anxiety to be sure to prevent the wrong interpretation, we effectively cut off all interpretation. We have swung from making the passages say silly things, to not letting them say anything. These passages have to mean something! They must have some application! What is it?

Surely the passages warn against vanity, externality, sensuality; and promote a focus on a godly character as true beauty. Who you are; not just what you look like. Remember: "As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22 NAS).

Oh boy, I'm going to make it worse now. Deep breath before the plunge, and....

Say what? What are your clothes saying about you, sister? What are they supposed to say to your brothers? "Hey, look at this?" Well, they actually are trying to look at the Lord; it's not good for them, not helpful for them, to be looking at that. No, it's not your fault that they have a problem. We established that. And it's really great that God has made you beautiful. May your husband (present or future) celebrate your beauty.

But, please hear me: you can help the brothers who aren't your husband, or you can not-help them. Which are you doing? If you're not married, and a man looks at you, is he thinking, "What a great character"? Or are you giving him reason to think something else about you is "great"?

I know many of the responses. I've heard them. "You don't know what it's like to buy women's clothes, you ignorant man!" Mostly true. My first just-for-fun purchase of (what I thought was) a pretty blue dress for my dear wife was... well, it was appalling. What a good sport my wife was. I took it back to the store immediately, and made a much better choice.

"I caaaan't." But this: "I can't find anything modest! It's all too revealing! It's impossible to get something that looks nice, yet isn't too tight, or too short, or too-something / not-something-enough!"

Sorry, but baloney.

I put modest women's clothing Christian in Google, and 31,900,000 results come up. (Up from  63,500 in 2010.) Yes, some are funny and quaint at best. But are they all Amishwear? "Can't find?" Really?

More fundamentally: I do not accept that anyone has to wear clothes that are too tight or too clingy or too sheer or too short — unless you are the largest and tallest woman living in the hottest part of the planet. Because I see larger, taller women than you walking around in hot weather, and they're all wearing clothes, every last one of them. They got those clothes somewhere, I reason. You could too.

"But — but they won't look good on me! The shoulders will be wrong!"

Need-to-not-know. I'm not sure that's necessarily true, but let's accept it and pose a counter-question. You tell me. Which is worse: your shoulders hanging a half-inch too low? Or a blouse/skirt that simply (shifting into turbo-delicate) provides need-to-know information to those with a need-to-not-know?

I'm sure we all agree that there are clothes that show off what others have no helpful business seeing. Here's what to show, in clothes-selection: show a Godward focus, discretion, a godly character.

And show mercy.

Parting thought. Darlene Johnson pointed me to a statement by Arthur Pink, which makes everything I've just said look awfully mild. But there's no denying that Pink has a point. I'll close with it:
Again, if lustful looking be so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with desires to be looked at and lusted after-as Jezebel, who painted her face, tired her head, and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30)-are not less, but even more guilty. In this matter it is only too often the case that men sin, but women tempt them so to do. How great, then, must be the guilt of the great majority of the modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of our young men? And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses?
Now, note, Pink and I speak to different audiences. I speak to those whom I charitably assume are inadvertently dressing in an unhelpful manner. Pink speaks to those whose intent is to allure. Between the two of us, I can pray we've provided food for thought, prayer, reconsideration, and needed change.

One last thought: it is a mistake to think I exclusively have church-attire in mind. That is lifted as a particularly egregious example of what-are-you-thinking? In what I say, I have in mind any place where both sexes are present.

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16 April 2012

Things to Remember on the Long Walk Ahead

I don't usually blog about what I'm teaching my flock, and vice versa. Today I'm making an exception.

n GraceLife yesterday we began a series on the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). Those psalms, I believe were choruses sung by groups of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the holy festivals. If you were an Israelite in biblical times traveling on foot, no matter where you were coming from, the road to Jerusalem was a long, uphill journey—hence "Psalms of Ascent." That pilgrimage, and the songs that were sung on the way, are full of lessons about spiritual growth and discipleship.

For one thing, these psalms contain lots of reminders that redeemed people are exiles and foreigners as far as this present world is concerned. We are citizens of heaven, refugees on a long, upward trek home, learning and growing spiritually along the way. Pondering that fact reminded me of some basic truths about what it means to be a citizen of heaven and a follower of Christ.

1. We are pilgrims, not tourists. We are exiles and explorers—not day trippers or vacationers. We're supposed to be ascending like first-century pilgrims on their way to a feast in Jerusalem, not wandering like the Old Testament Israelites in the wilderness.

2. We are disciples, not academics. We are working apprentices, not merely auditors of a course where we're free to skip the exams. We are interns who are responsible to put what we learn into practice; we're not imbibing information recreationally for the sake of accumulating hypothetical knowledge. Our discipleship is a vocation, not a hobby.

3. We are servants, not superstars. We're members of the church—and it's a community, not a resort. We're here to serve, not to be served. We're motivated by our concern for God's glory, not our own comfort. Our ministry is for the sake of others, not self. We're ambassadors in a foreign land, bringing a message of good news to the weary, wounded, and guilty souls who live there, offering them refuge on higher ground—and inviting them to join us on the walk to our home.

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15 April 2012

Lamentable Ignorance

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 "Compassion on the Ignorant," a sermon preached on Thursday evening, 3 April 1884, at London's Metropolitan Tabernacle.

he talk of the theological hall is not understood in the cottage; and common phrases, which reading people understand at once, are not understood by multitudes of people.

But the pity is that there are also thousands of reading people who are totally ignorant of the things of God,—some of the wealthiest, some of the best educated, aye, some even of those who have been to the university, and some who put the "D.D." after their names.

"No," say you, "that cannot be."

I say that it is; and if you yourself know the way of salvation, you have but to talk with some of these people to find that what I say is true.

This is a truth that is learnt by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, and not by the teaching of theological professors. A man might spend a century under the best ministry, or in the best school that ever existed on earth, and yet, at the end of one hundred years, he might not know the things of God; for these truths must come as a revelation to each man, and God the Holy Ghost must teach them to each one, or they will never be learned. This is the standing miracle in the Church of God; and unless we see it continually wrought, we have not the clearest evidence that our religion is supernatural and divine.

Every man who really receives it, receives it not because it suits his taste or his palate, but because the Spirit of God sends it home to his heart. Every man who truly knows Christ, knows him not because with his own faculties he found him out, but because it pleased God to reveal his Son in him. And, apart from this, there is and must be to the end of human life an absence of all real knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, "Ye must be born again;" and then, being born again, ye must be taught of the Spirit of God; and, if we are not, as the strongest light cannot make a blind man see, and the greatest heat cannot make a dead man warm, so, neither can anything that we do, as long as the soul is unrenewed, ever cause it to know God and his grace aright. It is a common ignorance, then, in all ranks of society.

It is also an ignorance concerning the most important matters; for the men of whom I am now speaking are, first, ignorant of themselves. They are ignorant of their own ignorance; and perhaps there is no ignorance that is so hard to deal with as the utter ignorance of men as to their own ignorance.

"What! you call me ignorant?" a man asks. "I know everything; I have read from Genesis to Revelation, and I understand it all; I could preach as well as anybody."

Yes, but that kind of talk shows that you do not know, for he that knows that he does not know; and there is no man less inclined to boast of his knowledge than the man who has a good deal of it.

Whenever I find the men of the modern school of thought, as they are continually doing, sneering at the orthodox because we are all uncultured, and so forth, I think to myself, "And if you only had a little culture, you would not sneer so often." It is a mark which will never mislead you, that he who thinks that he knows is a fool; and he who says that he knows more than anybody else, and can afford to deal out his sneers liberally to others, is a gentleman who, if justice were dealt out to him, would be himself sneered at.

Those who are strangers to themselves do not know their own ignorance, and that is lamentable ignorance indeed.

C. H. Spurgeon

13 April 2012

The Church's Most Dangerous Enemies

by Phil Johnson

A brief excerpt from some things I said HERE.

he most dangerous adversaries of biblical truth today are not government policies that undermine our values; not secular beliefs that attack our confessions of faith; not even atheists who deny our God.

It's my conviction that the worst, most persistent hindrances to the advance of the gospel today are worldly churches and hireling shepherds who trivialize Christianity.

This is not a new problem, and it's no exaggeration to portray such people as enemies of the gospel. There were men just like that vying for influence even in apostolic times—in the very earliest churches. In Philippians 3:18-19, the apostle Paul wrote: "For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ."

One of the chief characteristics the New Testament cites about these enemies of the cross—enemies of authentic grace—was that they "set their minds on earthly things" (Philippians 3:19). They "pervert[ed] the grace of our God into sensuality" (Jude 4). They twisted the idea of Christian liberty into an opportunity to gratify the flesh. They "[used their] freedom as a cover-up for evil" (1 Peter 2:16). In short, they were carnal, worldly men, who twisted the idea of Christian liberty into an excuse for self-indulgence.

In the process, they trivialized the cross, corrupted the idea of grace, and perverted the gospel. None of the apostles were squeamish when it came to calling them out.

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