31 January 2013

The Gospel, the church, and the old

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday the sermon was on Titus 2:2-3, which I translate thus:

2:2  Tell older[1] men to be sober, dignified,[2] level-headed, being healthy in faith, in love, in endurance;
2:3  tell older[3] women, likewise, in demeanor to be as befits sacred women: not slanderers,[4] not enslaved to a lot of wine, teachers of what is good,...

[1] Literally “old.”
[2] Or “serious.”
[3] Literally “old.”
[4] Or “‘devils’” (Greek diabolos).

It was a sermon I very deeply felt. In the course of it, we talked about old age — old age in our culture, old age in its challenges, old age in the Bible. We also talked about the entire concept of focused ministries, and obliquely engaged the "family integrated church" movement. And we talked about the Word of God, and how God's word and Gospel should effect our view of age and the aged.

In these pages, we've talked around these themes. Phil's brilliant Po-Motivators engaged the silly pretensions of one of the many youth movements that have backed up from this generation's sewers. But underneath that lay the whole notion that old is bad, new is good... and so old people are to be sidelined, while the youth are to be given pride of place.

Paul does something totally different in writing Titus, beginning his directions for specific pastoral exhortation by targeting old men and old women. His attitude, and his counsel, were not reflective of a church-growth mentality.

That's a small, inadequate taste of what the sermon attempts to engage. My point is that I think it touched on some absolutely vital issues with which we need to grapple Biblically... and it has been about the least popular sermon of the series so far. That is, most of the sermons had a number of downloads within a day or two. This one has been much slower in getting started.

Is it the title: "Gospel Light for Sunset Years," I wonder? Do we look at that and say "Oh yes, it's about old people. Pass"? If so, does that reflect our denial of our own date (Lord willing) with old age, or preference to look the other way when the subject comes up? Or perhaps does it reflect that, while formally we scoff at neolaters, we have a touch of paleophobia, ourselves? It really isn't sexy, is it?

At any rate, whether by me or by others, all of us had better get a Biblical grip of what God says about and to the aged. And in terms of the ministry of our churches, we'd better have a robust grasp of God's truth and God's priorities. That sermon's only a start, but it is a start.

After all, to paraphrase The Amazing Criswell, older age is where we and those we love will spend the rest of our lives here.

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30 January 2013

A Necessary Accessory

by Frank Turk

You'll be relieved to know that this week's installment is not about Passion2013.

What I'm more concerned about is the following tweet:
Or maybe you saw this version of that tweet:
And then, of course, this tweet:
Look: you know this is important when I'm willing to link to what Challies has said about it, but our culture has spent half a century working on the death of shame.  Shame about divorce is, of course, impossible -- it can't be discussed or considered.  Shame about any moral vice, in fact, is right out.  Causing others to sin is not shameful.  Behaving badly?  That's expected -- not shameful.  That will get you a reality TV show, not the tar and feathering you deserve.

But, you see: shame has a sociological power.  It's been studied, and by golly, we can use shame to mold society.  It turns out that what we make shameful can cause our culture to change (watch me now) for the better.  Shame can be used to curb unhealthy behaviors.  For example: fat people ought to be ashamed of themselves -- That's not my opinion.  That's science (according to the link).  And if fat people, or smokers, can't be shamed into conformity, of course there need to be penalties.

But that's not all: the flip side of shame is, of course, acceptance.  So while we are penalizing and stigmatizing fat people and smokers, ... well: watch this video ...

Now, granted: The Colt45 commercial is not as openly-lacivious as any given serial drama on HBO,  but all the touchstones are there: the stylish man, the smooth talk, the implication that women like him and therefore like the product he's selling.  It's meant to be sexy -- in a way that communicates to both sexes.  It's meant to de-stimatize the product by making it a necessary accessory for the union of the sexes.

Which is why this video is especially vile:

Somehow, someone wants to extract the shame from the act of abortion the way someone else extracted the shame from buying cheap beer.  It's as if they are the same kind of thing.

There's a story in this someplace -- not a scripted narrative (in the human sense) but a way all the particulars line up and say something about what kind of people we are.  I mean: on the one hand someone wants to say openly that we don't want anyone to be a fat, lazy smoker with assorted health issues, and that we want everyone to be a beautiful person with whom we might have sex.  But on the other hand, someone wants sex to be wrapped up in cheap beer and good looks and, since it has come up, the permanent solution for any inconvenience which gets in the way of the good time -- because somehow: that innocent person is the one to be ashamed of.

At the end of it, I can tell you what actually bothers me here -- aside, of course, from the utter absence of any reference to what's morally obvious.  It bothers me that somehow someone has made other people the problem in every case.  The problem is that other people are too fat, too smokey, too needy for health care because they were too lazy or addicted or stupid.  And other people are the reason we need cheap beer to get a date -- because beer here is sold as the ultimate nullifier for sexual rejection.  And right at the end of it: other people are a problem when their lives intrude on our convenient pleasures -- to the point that we cannot suffer them to come.  They must go.

It bothers me that somehow, this line of reasoning is so worried about other people.  I don't want to stigmatize anybody, but it sounds awfully judgmental.

29 January 2013

Marriage: a tale of paired assertions

by Dan Phillips

First: "Husbands should not force their wives to submit to their lawful authority."

Second: "Wives should not force their husbands to be sexually faithful to them."

Let's try two more, slightly different:

Third: "Husbands should not demand that their wives respect them."

Fourth: "Wives should not demand that their husbands love them."


Fifth: "The Bible says that wives should subordinate themselves to and respect their husbands, but..."

Sixth: "The Bible says that husbands should love their wives as themselves, but..."

Then finally:

Seventh: "A husband's authority should never be exercised in an arbitrary or abusive way."

Eighth: "A wife's expectation of love should never be shrewish, excessively demanding, or insatiable."

Now, discuss.

Suggested questions:
  • Is each pair of statements equally Biblical? If not, how not?
  • Is each element within each pair of statements heard equally frequently? If not, why not?
  • Are answers to any of the previous questions diagnostically helpful as to the spirit of the age?
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27 January 2013

Short people

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 15, sermon number 880, "The former and the latter rain."
"We have in this age but few giants in grace who rise head and shoulders above the common height, men who lead us on in deeds of heroism and efforts of unstaggering faith."

We have fallen upon a race of dwarfs, and are content, to a great extent, to have it so. There was once in London a club of small men, whose qualification for membership lay in their not exceeding five feet in height; these dwarfs held, or pretended to hold, the opinion that they were nearer the perfection of manhood than others, for they argued that primeval men had been far more gigantic than the present race, and consequently the way of progress was to grow less and less, and that the human race as it perfected itself would become as diminutive as themselves.

Such a club of Christians might be established in London, and without any difficulty might attain to an enormously numerous membership; for the notion is common that our dwarfish Christianity is after all the standard, and many even imagine that nobler Christians are enthusiasts, fanatical, and hot-blooded; while we are cool because we are wise and indifferent, because intelligent. We must get rid of all this nonsense.

The fact is, the most of us are vastly inferior to the early Christians, who, as I take it, were persecuted because they were thoroughly Christians, and we are not persecuted because we hardly are Christians at all. They were so earnest in the propagation of the Redeemer’s kingdom, that they became the nuisance of the age in which they lived. They would not let errors alone. They had not conceived the opinion that they were to hold the truth, and leave other people to hold error without trying to intrude their opinions upon them, but they preached Christ Jesus right and left, and delivered their testimony against every sin. They denounced the idols, and cried out against superstition, until the world, fearful of being turned upside down, demanded of them, “Is that what you mean? Then we will burn you, lock you up in prison, and exterminate you.” To which the church replied, “We will accept the challenge, and will not depart from our resolve to conquer the world for Christ.”

At last the fire in the Christian church burned out the persecution of an ungodly world. But we are so gentle and quiet, we do not use strong language about other people’s opinions; but let men go to hell out of charity to them. We are not at all fanatical, and for all we do to disturb him, the old manslayer has a very comfortable time of it. We would not wish to save any sinner who does not particularly wish to be saved. If persons choose to attend our ministry, we shall be pleased to say a word to them in a mild way, but we do not speak with tears streaming down our cheeks, groaning and agonising with God for them; neither would we thrust our opinions upon them, though we know they are being lost for want of the knowledge of Christ crucified.

May God send the latter rain to his church, to me, and to you, and may we begin to bestir ourselves, and seek after the highest form of earnestness for the kingdom of King Jesus. May the days come in which we shall no longer have to complain that we sow much and reap little, but may we receive a hundredfold reward, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

25 January 2013

"Peanut-butter Passion"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in January 2010.  Phil shows how unBiblical passion sabotages the Gospel message.

As usual, the comments are closed.

I'm a passionate person. People who know me will affirm that. I think Christians ought to be passionate about truth, passionate in our love for God and for one another, and (above all) passionate about the glory of God.

But raw passion is not the point. Passion is valid and edifies only when it's the right kind of passion, based on legitimate affections for the right things. I'm concerned about the unbridled passions frequently turned loose by people whose only religious affections were cultivated in evangelical youth groups. (And if I can speak freely: that includes a lot of of our so-called young, restless, and Reformed frends.) Everything seems to unleash stadium-style passions. I've even seen people scream, whistle, stomp, and cheer at baptisms, as if they were celebrating a touchdown. Many Christians glorify passion for passion's sake—as if raw passion per se were something praiseworthy and deeply spiritual. It's not. And this has become a serious problem in today's post-pentecostal, post-evangelical, anything-goes era.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that so many Christians imitate all the world's passions. Christian leaders invent gimmicks to try to win worldly people by appealing to their worldly passions. All of us devote energy and emotion to things that are not even worthy of our attention. And then we bring our addiction to raw passion into our corporate gatherings. We do things to stir artificial passions—which is a form of false worship, no better than idolatry, really.

Our passions should not need to be artificially stirred up by spiritual cheerleaders and team chants. We shouldn't have to be worked into an emotional state by melodrama and musical manipulation. If we can get pumped to a fever pitch by some preacher's antics rather than by the truth of the biblical message, then whatever we are feeling isn't even a legitimate passion in the first place.


[A]rtificial enthusiasm actually hinders (and in some cases totally nullifies) the message we're supposed to be proclaiming. With so many churches merely trying to entertain people, or lull them into a state of self-satisfaction, or simply gross them out, it's no wonder the world is not being won to Christ but actually becoming steadily more hostile to Christianity.

24 January 2013

Sufficiency of Scripture concisely defined

by Dan Phillips

I can't believe I haven't posted this before. It's the best concise definition I've ever seen, and it comes from this book, page 220 (reviewed here).

"Scripture contains all 
the divine words needed 
for any aspect of human life."

There y'go. You're welcome.

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23 January 2013

To Use Scandal

by Frank Turk

Why yes: since it came up in Christianity Today yesterday, I do actually have some more to say about Louie Giglio.

Before we get to the torches and pitchforks, let me say this: in the last 20 years, Louie Giglio has been a very nice guy.  He has even been, from time to time, a preacher with some flair -- the right kind of flair and not just metaphorical or photoshoptical lens flair.  If we should give a man a little grace because of his lifetime of work, I give it here to him for that.  Overall: nice work.

That said, this showed up on my FB timeline yesterday:

Of course it's the caption that caught my eye there, which was supplied by the culture vultures* over at Christianity Today.  Giglio got something right, according to Mark Galli.  Here's what he says:
Giglio noted his priorities when he said, "Clearly, speaking on this issue [homosexuality] has not been in the range of my priorities in the past fifteen years. Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ." Giglio is exactly right. Unfortunately, in a desire to reach the world for Christ, some inadvertently reverse Giglio's priorities and make much about our ultimate significance. Jesus becomes merely the means by which we feel better about our place in the universe. Need purpose and meaning? Follow Jesus, that will do the trick. In this subtle shift, we become the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega.
Wow -- So close! So close!  What you would hope, as he says this, is that Galli would have someplace else come up with the Gospel to somehow season Giglio's idiosyncratic post-Piper rhetoric into something which does make this exactly right.  For example, maybe Galli would talk about the dire state of our sinful culture -- how sinfulness is actually the signature of this world, and that Christ's death is the only action possible to overcome it.

Well, "sin" apparently doesn't come into it -- not in this essay, anyway.  And when referring to "sinners," Galli -- a Fuller grad -- has this to say:
In the long run, we cannot gain a hearing for the gospel through our admirable ethics or social justice because in the end, we are still sinners, with hearts, as the prophet Jeremiah put it, that remain desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). When we do live well or accomplish a social good, we will be admired for our moral success, not because Jesus died to save a rebellious world. And when we fail to live up to our values—and we invariably will--well, we will look like every other sinner on the planet. Not much of a witness there, except to our humanity.
See: the problem of being a sinner is the church's problem, not the world's problem -- though credit where credit is due that he does reprimand the social gospel as somewhat impotent.  The other mention of our problem is equally notable:
Looking at how this message scandalized the ancient world opens a window into our preaching today. When the culture takes issue with the church today, it carps about our oppressive sexual ethics (especially our opposition to homosexual behavior) and our various prosperity gospels (from the most egregious health-and-wealth messages to the more subtle but equally dangerous sermons on how faith in Christ can improve your marriage, your business, and your self-esteem). And then there is the regular complaint about our self-righteousness—our incessant habit of pronouncing judgment on our culture, which is grounded in the assumption that sinners are found mostly in that culture, outside the church walls. Thus all the sermons about how we need to reform and stand against the culture, as if the "we" is in no need of fundamental reform, or that the Lord does not have a controversy with his people.
That is: somehow the message that there is sin to be repented of (homosexuality being his example) is conflated with the prosperity gospel as co-equal absurdities, co-perpetrators of violence against either the culture or the Gospel -- or maybe both.  And just to make sure he isn't misunderstood, Galli tells us this:
The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end. Even more scandalously, the message of the Cross is about a universe saturated with grace, where nothing we have done or can do earns us the right to participate in this stunning new reality; all has been done for us. The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent). [empasis added]
Wow.  He sure told us.  He even told us with my key point from theNines 3 years ago.  And to be utterly fair: he does say that Christ forgives -- but forgives what?  And is repentance and faith really best described as merely "acknowledgment and living"?

In that view of things, for once mentioning that sin is actually offensive to God, no wonder Louie Giglio's resignation is the right thing to do: Giglio was actually wrong 2 decades ago.  He was part of the problem -- and now that it's exposed, he should just walk away.

That is: unless the Gospel is supposed to truly offend those for whom it is meant.

See: Galli tosses around the word "scandalize" and its apparent synonyms in his essay as if its meaning is self-evident, and we should simply nod solemnly and humbly at it because he used one of the safe words of the New Testament against the Apologetics and Expository classes of the English-speaking world.  But in fact it's not the kind of word he's looking for.

Now, I could tell you why by breaking open the dictionary or the thesaurus, but instead I'm going to do something else.  I'm going to use "scandal" in the way it was originally used in reference to the Gospel:

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (μὲν σκάνδαλον) to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

There, the idea of something being a "scandal" does not make it "fresh" or "invigorating."  It doesn't make the Gospel a rush.  Indeed, when Paul talks of the "scandal" of the cross to the Galatians, he makes it transparently clear that he is suffering, and is persecuted, because the Gospel offends.

Now, look: I have gotten your hate mail about the griping Dan and I do and have done about the popular side of the internet lunchroom, and I receive it.  But the cool kids over at CT here are, frankly, jumping out of the apple cart and into the ditch when they say that when persecution comes, we should simply bow in apology and make much of Christ by not making a peep -- turn the other cheek and so on. Should we really see it that way?

Paul didn't see it that way.  He certainly didn't behave that way.  When the persecution came, and the chains, and being run off from the city for turning the world upside down, he didn't shut up and sit down -- or worse, tell people that they have nothing to worry about since the universe is saturated in Grace.  He preached harder. He preached in such a way that Bereans were converted -- and in such a way that the Greeks mocked him.

But: he preached -- a judgment on the living and the dead by one who was shown worthy by his resurrection.  That was the way Paul made much of Christ.

If we have forgotten that, even God will not help us.  Our lampstand is already out.

*Yes, I know that a "culture vulture" is supposed to be a person who is overly-fond of high-brow culture.  Savor the irony and the sarcasm with me.

22 January 2013

A balanced look at "balance"

by Dan Phillips

Might as well warn you at the outset, this post on "balance" may make for frustrating reading...on-balance. [Pause, for laughter to die down. Two...and one...and...] On the one hand, I'm going to lament the whole thing; on the other, there's no way around grappling with it.

There's a kind of "balance" that is to be heartily despised. This is the "balance" desperately yearned for by the precious and the dainty elitocrats of blogdom and elsewhere. These tender souls ever have an eye to their (and their readers'!) psychic blood pressure. Nothing is to be allowed to elevate it — well, nothing that our culture doesn't also despise. Certainly not false teaching, not heresy, not compromise, not shameful excrescences that obscure the Cross or the word thereof.

So one must be nuanced and careful and all that, and not say anything too forceful or direct or (Heaven forfend!) cornering about implications of the inerrancy and a real-live, robust embrace of the sufficiency of Scripture and completion of the Canon. One mustn't make too much of the implications of a plain-sense reading of Genesis 1—3, or of rejecting same. One mustn't put the same expectations of a pastor of 10,000 that one would of a pastor of 100. Big church = special relaxed-rate rules.

To be sure, one must be "balanced."

That sort of anxiety about "balance" is, I say, execrable and to be avoided at all costs by folks to whom Galatians 1:10 and 6:14 mean anything much.

But on the other hand, there are balances in life that are just unavoidable, aren't there? They're balances that come not from trying to avoid the imperatives and implications of Scripture (see above), but from trying to implement them.

For instance: as a pastor who tries to care about Scripture, the imperatives of Titus 1:9 (which I tried to develop at some length) necessarily weigh on me. God holds me accountable both "to exhort by healthy doctrine, and to reprove those who contradict." Not either. Both, with the assumed overarching context.

So if all I do is weave the generalities and billowy grandeurs of "sound doctrine" in such a way as to exalt the emotions but have no bearing on real life, I've failed. That is, if all I do is wax eloquent on the concepts of God's immensity, His aseity, His immutability; of the theory of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture; of the idea of the church as an ideal — and if I never "put shoe leather" on any of those concepts, I've failed. I must exhort by healthy doctrine, which renders a Greek word that always has the nuance of urging to action of some sort, whether intellectual or physical action.

Shorter: if my indicative never bears an imperative, I've failed. If my hearers seldom leave a sermon with a "therefore" weighing heavily on them, I've failed. If no urgency reaches from pulpit to pew, I've failed. If there is never a specificity to my preaching, such as makes spouses and friends and churchgoers and the like shift uncomfortably, and such as sends them to God in prayer and to their Bibles in study and to their day-planners in changes of daily agenda — I've failed.

But not all welcome this necessary attempt to discharge my charge. For my part, there is a danger in trying to be too specific; for my hearers' part, there could be the temptation to resent any specificity. Many would gladly sit through any sermon whose charges sail safely overhead; hence the appeal, for many, of the megachurch. It's so easy to hide in a crowd.

This is also the matrix of the line, "Okay, now you've stopped preaching and started meddling."

And the trouble is, there is such a thing as meddling — being too specific in application, ceasing to make valid applications of Scripture and starting instead to chase down hobby-horses.

For instance, I don't enjoy it when I notice a gum-chewer. There, I've confessed it. It's a bovine sort of action that's distracting to me.

But that's it: I don't love it. So? So nothing! That's it. It's a personal preference, and that's all it is. It wouldn't be fair for me to rail on the "evils" of gum-chewing in church in the name of making specific application. That would be silly, petulant, and peevish. If folks want to chew gum, the God's honest truth of it is that I'm just glad they're there to hear the Word, chewing and all. I deal. Plus my short-sightedness helps. (For that reason, I have no idea whether anyone in the church I serve chews gum during the service.)

But are there other things that might be worth a mention in a sermon now and again, behaviors not specifically targeted by any verse? Such as chronic and intentional lateness? Does one veer far away from such specificities? If the goal is urging folks to maturity and service (Heb. 5:11-14), even to the point or provocation (Heb. 10:24), are such matters worth a mention or two now and again?

Stepping back, then, the Scylla here is gauzy generality that never hits home, and the Charybdis is petulant fault-finding that never seems content or happy.

Balance. Sigh.

Then there's the other imperative Paul mentioned in Titus 1:9, "to reprove those who contradict." If I never deal with error in preaching, specifically and clearly, I am failing. If I never warn against, expose, and rebuke false teaching, I am failing. So on the one hand and very clearly, anyone who tries for an exclusively positive ministry is being unfaithful to the pastoral "call."

But on the other, if all one ever does is rant and rail and warn and moan about False Teachers, if in effect They loom larger in the pulpit than the cross and the Gospel and the grace of God — and the blessed persons of the Trinity — then one has equally erred. A ministry of denunciation is no less unbalanced than a ministry of marshmallow evanjellybeanicalism. Both fail God and God's people.

Yet there are hearers, once again, who would object to any attempt to do either. Focus on the positive, and you're not talking about the menace of ____ enough. Occasionally warn against the menace of ____, and you're harping on a hobby-horse. It's a constant weight to any pastor.

Now maybe some of you dear folks have been reading patiently, but thinking, "Yeah, poor pastors; good thing that's not a problem for me!"

Isn't it? If you're a parent, I doubt you've been thinking that. Well, first-time expecting parents might. You may have read this or that book on parenting, and it all may look very simple to you. ABC, 123, and wham! godly child! You know exactly what you're going to do when your three-month-old gets older.

Yeah, right; good luck with that! Because the reality is that parenting is a constant battle of balance. You don't think so? Well, then: what Bible verse tells you how much "play time" is enough at any given age? How about video games?

What about music lessons and Scouting or Awanas? Your kid resists, drags his feet, doesn't want to do it. What do you do? Do you insist? Do you force? How long? Until they're 12? Until they're gone?

Because, unless you've been living under a rock, you know how this works. If you are any kind of disciplinarian, if you lean on your child to accomplish anything that he doesn't come out of the chute wanting to do, you're running a risk. When he leaves home, if he loves God, he'll look back and praise you to the heavens. He'll say, "My mom was constantly on me to do X, and I hated her for it at the time... but now I love her for it, and I am so glad that she made me!"

But if he rebels against God, that same child will say about that same parent, "All my life Mom forced me to do X and Y and Z, and I hated every minute of it, but I pretended to go along because that was the only way to have peace at home; and then, boy, as soon as I was able, I ran away as fast as I could!"

Same parent, same choices, different "reviews."

But even childish rebellion aside, what is the proper "balance"? How much do you prod and force and require; and how much do you stand back and allow and watch horrid consequences gather over your dear cherub's head? Because you know if it works out well, everyone will praise your child and nod at you with a smile.

But if it turns out horridly... everyone will "know" you were a horrid parent.

Like with pastors.

And if you're a pastor and a parent?




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20 January 2013

The freeness of electing love

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The New Park Street Pulpit, volume 6, sermon number 303, "Election and holiness."
"It is said by some one that men give free-will to every one but God, and speak as if God must be the slave of men."

Observe the unconstrained freeness of electing love. In our text this is hinted at by the word “ONLY.” Why did God love their fathers? Why, only because he did so. There is no other reason. “Only, the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.” There was doubtless some wise reason for the Lord's acts, for he doeth all things after the counsel of his will, but there certainly could not be any reason in the excellence or virtue of the creature whom he chose.

Now, just dwell upon that for a moment. Let us remark that there is no original goodness in those whom God selects. What was there in Abraham that God chose him? He came out of an idolatrous people, and it is said of his posterity—a Syrian ready to perish was thy father. As if God would show that it was not the goodness of Abraham, he says, “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” There was nothing more in Abraham than in anyone of us why God should have selected him, for whatever good was in Abraham God put there.

Now, if God put it there, the motive for his putting it there could not be the fact of his putting it there. You cannot find a motive for a fact in itself; there must be some motive lying higher than anything which can be found in the mere act of God. If God chose a man to make that man holy, righteous, and good, he cannot have chosen him because he was to be good and righteous. It were absurd to reason thus. It were drawing a cause for an effect, and making an effect a cause. If I were to plead that the rose bud were the author of the root, well! I might, indeed, be laughed at. But were I to urge that any goodness in man is the ground of God’s choice, when I call to recollection that that goodness is the effect of God’s choice, I should be foolish indeed. That which is the effect cannot be the cause.

But what original good is there in any man? If God chose us for anything good in ourselves, we must all be left unchosen. Have we not all an evil heart of unbelief? Have we not all departed from his ways? Are we not all by nature corrupt, enemies to God by wicked works? If he chooses us it cannot be because of any original goodness in us.

“But,” saith one, “perhaps it may be because of goodness foreseen, God has chosen his people, because he foresees that they will believe and be saved.” A singular idea, indeed! Here are a certain number of poor persons, and a prince comes into the place. To some ninety out of the hundred he distributes gold. Some one asks the question, “Why did the prince give this gold to those ninety?” A madman in a corner, whose face ought never to be seen, replies, “He gave it to them because he foresaw that they would have it.” But how could he foresee that they would have it apart from the fact that he gave it to them? Now, you say that God gives faith, repentance, salvation, because he foresaw that men would have it. He did not foresee it apart from the fact that he intended to give it them. He foresaw that he would give them grace. But what was the reason that he gave it to them? Certainly, not his foresight. That were absurd, indeed! and none but a madman would reason thus.

Oh, Father, if thou hast given me life, and light, and joy, and peace, the reason is known only to thyself; for reasons in myself I ne’er can find, for I am still a wanderer from thee, and often does my faith flicker, and my love grow dim. There is nothing in me to merit esteem or give thee delight. It is all by thy grace, thy grace alone that I am what I am. So will every Christian say; so must every Christian indeed confess.

18 January 2013

The folly of chasing after fads

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog back in July 2005.  Phil points out the disastrous consequences that result from being driven by fads rather than Scripture.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Some people actually watch the undulating waves of fads in the evangelical movement as if these were the best barometer by which to discern how the Holy Spirit is working in the world. Many evangelical leaders actually seem to think the fads are a better gauge than the Word of God for giving us a perspective on what God wants to do in His church from season to season.


Faddism has begun to usurp the role of Scripture in contemporary evangelical thinking. Fads (not the Bible) are seen as the main instruments of growth and edification. Fads (not Scripture) also set the agenda for church ministry. If you want to discover what God is doing and formulate a working strategy for church growth, you have to get your nose out of the Bible and hold up a wet finger to pop culture. Take a survey and find out what people want, then give it to them.

That is the not-so-subtle message of a hundred or so volumes on church growth that have circulated among evangelical leaders over the past 20 years.

By definition, a Fad-Driven® church cannot be a church governed by the Word of God. Those who set their direction by following the prevailing winds of change are being disobedient to the clear command of Ephesians 4:14, which instructs us not to do that.

It is a serious problem that in the contemporary, Fad-Driven® evangelical culture, very few pastors, church leaders, and key evangelical figures are both equipped and willing to answer the serious doctrinal assaults that are currently being made against core evangelical distinctives—such as the recent attacks on substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, and the doctrine of original sin.

Someone decided several years ago that the word propitiation is too technical and not user-friendly enough for contemporary Christians, so preachers stopped explaining the principle of propitiation. Now that the idea of propitiation is under attack, we have a generation of leaders who don't remember what it meant or why it's important to defend.

Something seriously needs to change in order to rescue the idea of historic evangelicalism from the contemporary evangelical movement.

And here's a good place for the change to begin: A generation of preachers needs to rise up and be committed to preaching the Word, in season and out of season, and be willing to ignore the waves of silly fads that come and go and leave the church's head spinning.

17 January 2013

A. W. Pink: glorifying God by disobeying Him?

by Dan Phillips

I realize that A. W. Pink is a hero and beloved saint to many. His books, particularly The Sovereignty of God, have been very helpful for decades.

For my part, I've never been a huge fan. I've tried reading him, and generally been defeated by his verbosity or his fanciful exegesis. I've other books that do a better job of what he tries to do, so they take up my time instead of Pink.

HSAT, I'm reading through a book called Bible Interpreters of the Twentieth Century: A Selection of Evangelical Voices, edited by Elwell and Weaver. The chapter I just finished was devoted to A. W. Pink.

From a whole-Bible, sufficient-Scripture perspective, it's not a particularly happy story after the opening bits. Pink had been a Theosophist, but was soundly converted whilst in the middle of his activities, and instantly preached Christ in a Theosophical meeting at which he was to be a speaker.

But after that, Pink's life goes south in a number of ways. He eschews any kind of apprenticeship or training, too devoted to himself and his own endeavors. This will yield mixed fruit: the intensity of his studies will indeed give Pink some good material to give away. However, this isolation is constantly and roundly warned against in Scripture, which commends instead humble exposure to the reproof and counsel of others (e.g. Prov. 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:5, 10, 31-32; 18:1-2; etc.). As anyone who reads and believes the Bible could have predicted, baleful effects followed foolish choices.

Pink attempts to pastor, but ends up careening from location to location to location. Pink prefers talking to people from a great distance (i.e. writing), and ends up devoted to that activity solely, in complete isolation from any personal contact with Christ's church or the means of grace. Which brings me to set these two passages in contrast.

He labored faithfully for his remaining twelve years of life, writing and producing the periodical while he lived in virtual isolation, not even attending a local church. He justified this behavior by explaining that the admonition not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together does not mean that the sheep of Christ should attend a place where the goats predominate or where their attendance would sanction that which is dishonoring to Christ. On Sundays he spent his time pastoring his flock of faithful readers by writing letters answering their questions concerning the Bible and theology. Would-be visitors who had traveled great distances to Stornoway were discouraged as they were usually turned away, not being allowed to see him. The townspeople knew little about him, except that each day at a certain hour he took a walk through the town. 
[Elwell, W. A., & Weaver, J. D. (1999). Bible interpreters of the twentieth century: A selection of evangelical voices (138). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.]
Pink also believed in, practiced, and preached holiness of life, including sacrificial living for his Lord. He longed to do the will of God, whatever it might be. He searched and searched, prayed and prayed, waited and waited to learn the will of God, and finally surrendered to do what was unmistakably God’s will—the use of his pen. [Ibid., 140.]
These passages in juxtaposition give us an opportunity to consider what I've hammered on again and again, just about every place I have a chance.


The second passage tells us Pink was holy, and committed to "sacrificial living for his Lord," doing the will of God heroically, surrendering to "what was unmistakably God’s will—the use of his pen." But the first passage had told us that Pink had no time for pursuing the second most important command in the universe according to Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).

Now, like all religious people, Pink worked out what the biographer calls a "justification," which as always is nothing but a rationalization. And the biographer gives Pink a pass, because he was such a splendid writer. So because of Pink's (and the biographer's) writing, Christians are once again urged to the fiction that one can seek and do the "will of God" in direct and continued disobedience to the Word of God.

Because the second passage is utter nonsense, to a Biblical Christian. Disobeying God's direct, unambiguous and insistent commands to be personally in community, under the oversight of elders, is not "holiness of life," and it is not "sacrificial living for the Lord." It is indulgent and arrogant living for oneself. It is someone who didn't seem, in any way, to "get" what it means to live and think like a slave.

In fact, mark the first passage. Not only was Pink too good to associate with imperfect saints (where he is not in charge and running things his way); he would not even accept visitors. Pink must have imagined that he had some mystical exemption from Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9 as well as the previously-noted commands. And while he wrote very critically and insistently upon evangelism, and how everyone else was doing it wrong, "The townspeople knew little about him, except that each day at a certain hour he took a walk through the town." So according to this, Pink "practiced holiness" by neither actually obeying the Word of God, nor even through practicing what he literarily preached.

Instead, here once again this ugly specter of a mystical, individual will of God that in fact trumps the written Word of God rears its devastating head. The writer is content that God had a will for Pink that trumped the revealed will He inscripturated for all saints at all times and in all places. God's inerrant and unchanging and living Word is packed with "one-anothers" to be lived in the fellowship of the local church; but to A. W. Pink, we are given to think that He whispered, "Not you, Arthur. I want you to disobey what I told everyone else to do and stay at home, isolated and distant, practicing none of the graces of the Spirit, lecturing others about their responsibility. You just write; and in your writings, urge others to the obedience and holiness from which I am hereby excusing you."

So you see, like many who have tried to ply their wares in our metas, Pink imagined he had a "note from God" excusing him for actually obeying those commands God addressed to lesser beings. And the biographer apparently confirms that note.

Do you still insist that Pink wrote some helpful things? If you say so. You want to tell me he's a model of Christian holiness and sacrificial living and integrity?

Yeah, I don't think so. In walking after Christ I constantly struggle (cf. Gal. 5:17ff.), I too frequently fail, I am at unceasing war with my own inconsistencies and inadequacies. The human knack for rationalization is an ever-present risk and fear.

The last thing I need held up for emulation is a man who found a way to avoid that whole struggle by pious-sounding excuses.

How about you?

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15 January 2013

Before It Gets Big Enough

by Frank Turk

It's funny how topics can run together.  I was going to write a post-script this week about the response to last week's series on Passion2013, and it turns out Louie Giglio made headlines for another reason thereafter, so we'll talk about that for a bit as well.

You know, I thought that the key moment in last's week's posts was when I said this:
And I ask it for only one reason: Jeff is famous because he wanted to draw the thick black line between Jesus and Religion -- and I find myself in full agreement with that objective.  I find myself fighting that fight in my own life on a daily basis. 
It is a completely fair question -- and I think the answers are useful to all kinds of people, and not just the young person who found himself or herself filled with something which looks and feels pretty good. 
Somehow, that morphed in the minds a few people into my condemnation of young people, joy, singing … all the usual ways in which the internet turns into J. Jonah Jameson braying about a menace who must be stopped.

I was notified by many that they have personally witnessed real salvation at Passion events, and to that I say: of course you have.  Well, why not?  Piper has historically brought out the hammers and tongs at Passion; in spite of his flightiness Francis Chan almost always gets it right when it comes to traditional, TMS-oriented, exposition of the truths of faith (being a TMS guy, after all).  Some people are going to get saved or convicted when that happens.

The point of last week's posts was, frankly, to notice that even people who get the name of God right are likely to get the way to love and worship him wrong.  Nobody (well, not nobody, but …) gets their noses out of joint when it is pointed out that people who think God comes in manifestations and not persons have a religion and not a faith in Jesus.  Nobody certainly gets their noses out of joint when we heap scorn on legalistic types or libertines.  But when we find out that the young and hip crowd could possibly have a false religion, suddenly we just don't get it.  It's my fault for noticing.

Listen: if you personally can't imagine that you might possibly be the victim of your own personal idol factory, let me suggest that you don't know yourself very well -- and you'd do yourself a favor to review the bits of Scripture we ran past last week to see which of those weeds are creeping up your personal trellis of worship and devotion before it gets big enough to say to you, "feed me, Seymour."

But the other thing which needs to be clarified in the post-script is that the organizers of the Passion event(s) need to make sure they are calling people to the right thing, setting the right expectations.  It's one thing to say that some friends are going to get together to discuss the faith and offer the exchange as a way to edify like-minded people; it's the same sort of mundane thing to say that God's word is going to be laid open by men who have been tested and approved.  But it's another thing entirely to advertise your event (explicitly, or implicitly) as a place where there's something that happens that doesn't happen (or worse: can't happen) at your local church.  There's always something fishy about super-apostles, whether they are chest-kicking charlatans like Todd Bentley, or they happen to bring the light show and their catalog of CDs for sale.  The real supply-side problem is not the religion, but the celebrity which creates the religion, and I leave the rest for you to sort out.

That makes a keen segue to my concluding topic today: as I am sure you have heard, Louie Giglio walked away from praying at the inauguration for President Obama's second term because, it was discovered, Giglio preached a sermon against homosexuality once, about 20 years ago, as he puts it.

On one side, it's sign of the times we live in.  All religion but the historic Christian faith is welcome in the public square.  It's a pretty odd situation we find ourselves in when, 4 years ago, Rick Warren prayed at the inauguration in spite of his stand against sin; today, after 4 years of the post-racial President, Louie Giglio gets the side eye for one 20-year-old sermon, even if he has repositioned the Gospel away from the hard demands of God's Law since then.  And the really bothersome part of this is that there wasn't even much of a flap about it.  It came up, and Giglio folded -- didn't want to be a distraction, he said.

In that, Matthew Lee Anderson praised him in his premiere piece for CNN by saying, effectively, more Christians ought to just keep it down when they are challenged about the dividing lines of the faith.  After all, he reasoned, Jesus just took it until they put Him to death.  That's how we should suffer.  Somehow the examples of Paul and Stephen got past Matthew's radar, where we are shown that persecution is actually a place where the demands of Christ and the need for the Gospel are make crystal clear by proclamation, not by analogy.

See: what I find most troubling about Giglio's resignation is not that he was, in any way, challenged about his faith or beliefs.  Politically, I say open the marketplace of ideas and let's see who has the silver and gold and who has the filthy rags -- even if someone winds up acting like Cain when we find out that he has something unacceptable, either to God or to other people, when it is all laid out in the open.  And theologically -- that is to say, as I am instructed in my faith -- while I expect the Gospel to save many, I also expect that it may have to do so as I share in the suffering of Christ.  That might mean, on a small scale, that they don't promote me at work because I think there's one holy book which makes the others look like pulp fiction; it might mean, on a larger scale, that when it comes out that I believe this stuff, they hurl insults at me over the internet -- even and especially people who claim to believe in Jesus.  Or more spectacularly, it might mean that people who actually identify themselves with their sins will demand I be excluded from the public forum because I am turning the whole world on its head -- and in my own defense, I can therefore proclaim the true fame of Christ.

The problem really isn't that we live in a post-Christian nation.  We should accept that we do.  We should be convinced of it.  The problem is when we are therefore satisfied with that, and we find that Jesus is only our private savior, and our local comfort, and our homestyle god -- one not fit to proclaim or defend when it's His law and His Gospel which are being reproached by those who would rather see the world in tatters and in rags, headed toward a fire who will never go out. The problem is that we think the privilege of proclaiming the Gospel is that it should gain us privilege and not disrepute.  When the side-eye comes against us because the Gospel offends, we think we're the ones who have done something wrong.

Last week, I prayed for those at Passion, and for those who organized it and promoted it as something which ought to set us at least on our guard against our own native tendency to deceive ourselves.  This week, I pray for our nation which now can brand a man a bigot because he believes that sex is important enough to have inherent governing principles.  And I pray for that man, because he doesn't think those principles, and their creator and sustainer, are worth making a public fuss anymore.

Be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day this week, and pray for all of us.  May God have mercy on us all.

If you're going to snip, you should snip this verse

by Dan Phillips

Folks at war with God have always snipped out the parts of the Bible that they didn't like. Rationalist critics in the 19th-21st centuries have turned Biblical authorship claims into pious lies at best, rationalized prophecies and miracles to remove, well, prophecy and miracles. Anything that offended their rival philosophy was discarded by one elaborate contrivance or another.

Some are less artful. A well-known actor, whom I won't name in the post for my wife's sake, tries to ameliorate his guilt over pursuing his slavery to unnatural desires by snipping out unwelcome passages from Gideon's Bibles in motel rooms. This is vandalism as therapy, evidently yet another pursuit of the idle rich.

It has occurred to me, however, that every one of these folks could save themselves a lot of trouble. Just one snip is all it would take.

Snip out Genesis 1:1.

Among the things the decades have brought to me is a deepening appreciation of the opening chapters of Genesis, and particularly of the first verse. As S. Lewis Johnson once remarked, if you believe Genesis 1:1, nothing in all the rest of the Bible is incredible. Reject it, and all goes with it.

If some poor soul with endless time on his hands were to survey my sermons and writings for allusions to Bible chapters in, say, the last decade, I'm guessing the opening chapters of Genesis would be 'way up there. My first book starts in the first chapters of Genesis, and camps there a good long while before even trying to assail the rest of the Bible's narrative. My sermons and studies at least touch base there very frequently. Last Sunday I was in Titus 1:15-16, but opening those verses led us back to Genesis 1, 2 and 3.

In Genesis 1:1 we find a sovereign, self-existing, timeless, omniscient God creating the universe by fiat. Simply because He wants it to exist, because He wills it to exist, it comes to exist. There is none of the struggle and bloodshed of contemporary myths. Simply one God, creating all things the way He wants to create them, simply because He wants to for His own glorious reasons.

Much follows from this simple fact, this simple act. Because He pre-existed everything, God is independent of everything, and everything is dependent on Him. Because all that is exists as a reflection of His will, the universe is neither undefined nor self-defining. It is pre-defined. Scrooge isn't wrong when he says "An ant is what it is and a grasshopper is what it is" (though he is wrong about Christmas). He just didn't go far enough, and add that the ant and the grasshopper are what they are as created and defined by a sovereign God.

And so is man. So while the emergent and the PoMo alike gaze inward to the endless morass of their own subjectivity, and while the immoral pursue their cravings, and while the materialistic pretends to acknowledge nothing beyond "molecules in motion," their pursuit is a charade. It reminds us of the riddle:
Question: if we call a tail a "leg," how many legs does a dog have? 
Answer: four. It doesn't matter what you call it, a tail is a tail.
And so with ourselves. We can self-realize and self-actualize and self-affirm and self-love all we like, but we are creatures of a sovereign God. Our choices are only two: believe Him and think accordingly; or to come up with a diverting ruse.

But the ruse will always be a lie, and its pursuit will always be a doomed and damned enterprise.

As Genesis 1:1 reminds us. It reminds us by what it says about the beginning; but it also does that by its very use of the word, "beginning." Because just as the word "black" makes one think of "white," and "up" brings to mind "down," what does the word "beginning" suggest?


And this was Moses' very intent in writing the word. For as he brought this first movement of his narrative to a conclusion, what he wanted to write about was the "end of the days" (Genesis 49:1, literal Hebrew). That "end" would be a time when the He who had the right to rule would come with His scepter, and would reign over all the peoples (Gen. 49:10). Rebellion would be ended, prosperity would arise.

And as Genesis ends, so ends the Bible, with a vision of all rebellion defeated, Christ made head over all (cf. Eph. 1:10 Gk.), and God and His people reconciled forever in a glorious new Eden (Rev. 21—22).

Genesis 1:1 is the first sign-post, pointing to that inevitable resolution.

Which is why it should really be the first to go.

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13 January 2013

Half-empty? Half-full? Overflowing!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 15, sermon number 874, "The Overflowing Cup."
"If the Lord pardons thee, it is for ever; if he adopts thee, it is for ever; if he accepts thee, in is for ever; if he saves thee, it is for ever. There is eternity set as a divine stamp upon every mercy."

If God has made your cup to run over, then seek to serve him, not after the order and measure of bare duty, but according to the enthusiasm of gratitude. I mean, give to God, you that have it; if he has given much to you, give much to him. Depend on it, there is great wisdom in this, even from a selfish point of view; good measure, pressed down, and running over, will God return into your bosoms.

If you cannot give money, then give your time, your talents; and believe me, the more you do for God, the more you can do, and the more happiness you will have in the doing of it. It is your lazy Christians who grow rusty, it is your unused keys that lose their brightness. You that rot away in inglorious ease, you know not the joy that belongs to the child of God. The Christian should feel, “I shall do all I can do and a little more, getting more strength from God than I had, that I may do a little still in excess. I will not measure my duty by what others would say I ought to do, but reckon that if I might draw back, I would not; if I might make some reserve, I could not; if I might deny my Lord something, yet I dare not, would not think of such a thing; the love he plants in my heart will not permit me.”

If your cup runs over, let your service run over; be “fervent in the Spirit, serving the Lord.” Let your generosity run over—give without stint. Let your prayers run over—pray without ceasing. Let your hymns run over—praise him as long as you have any breath. Let your talk of him run over—tell the universe what a good God he is to you. Praise him! you can never praise him enough. Exaggeration will be impossible here. Let the loftiest panegyrics be heaped upon the head of Christ, and he will deserve something better. Let the angels make way for him, and let them pile their thrones one upon the other. Let them conduct him to the seventh heaven—overt to the heaven of heavens, and let him fill a lofty throne there, yet, even then, is not he so high as his Father hath set him.

Words cannot describe his glory—it boweth down all language beneath its weight. Metaphors, similes, though they were gathered with the wealth of wit and wisdom from all quarters of heaven and earth, cannot reach even to the skirts of his garments. Your love, and your fidelity, your diligence, and your zeal, are not fit even so much as to unloose the latchets of his shoes, he is so great and so good. O talk much of him then! Let your talk run over like the language of Rutherford in his letters, where he seems sometimes to break through reason and moderation to glorify his Lord. Let your language of Christ be like the apostle Paul, where he putteth aside all syntax, grammar, speech, and all else, and maketh new words, and coineth fresh expressions, and confoundeth tenses and moods, and I know not what beside, because his soul could not express itself after the common-place language of mankind.

O let your praise run over to your Lord and King. Love him, praise him, exalt him, magnify him, live out his life again. You can but praise him so; die in his arms, that you may for ever extol him in the upper skies. May God grant us to be Christians rich in spiritual wealth, spending our strength and substance like princes as we are, for him who is more than a prince and greater than a king.

11 January 2013

Briefly noted: TWTG on audio, God's Wisdom in Proverbs variouses, and CBC news

by Dan Phillips

Howdy gang. Having been happily benched this week, I'm taking this chance to sneak in a few bits of news of note.

First: some of you have said that you'd like to see The World-Tilting Gospel on audio book. While Kregel has no plans to put it in that format, I just saw a new-to-me feature on Amazon. It appears there's a way to "vote" for an audio version of the book.

If that interests you at all, go on over.

Second: others of you have been interested in seeing God's Wisdom in Proverbs in the Logos format. For my part, I think this would be of more value than Kindle; it's a "natural" for Logos' strengths. That said, here is the latest of several threads where Logos users are telling Logos of their interest. If that interests you, there's your opportunity.

Regular Pyro reader and commenter Joel Griffith (solameanie) finished working through the whole book, and has published his review of it. Check it out.

Finally: anyone on Facebook is welcome to "like" the page for the church I pastor, Copperfield Bible Church. It features links to sermons as soon as they are uploaded, and will announce any future events or seminars, as well as occasional notes and links on topics of interest to Pyro readers. Come aboard! Also, if you're interested, you can "follow" its Twitter account. Pyro readers find a warm welcome either way.

Finally-finally: Wherever you are, to coin a phrase: assemble in the Lord's household this Lord's Day when the service starts, to worship the Lord and hear the Word of the Lord. If you're capable, you know you should!

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Rescuing "Evangelicalism" (the concept, not the movement)

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog back in July 2005Phil explains why true historic evangelicalism as a concept is worth saving, while the movement known as "American Evangelicalism" isn't.

As usual, the comments are closed.

For the record, I have no sentimental attachment to the term evangelicalism or the visible movement that now employs that name. What's important to me are the principles of historic evangelicalism. I have explained a little more fully what that entails in an article posted here. Those wishing to delve into this theme more deeply should also read the document and subsequent discussion posted here.

The question of whether the evangelical movement is dying, dead, irrelevant, irreformable, or whatever, is not my primary concern in the series of articles I've been posting. If asked, I would say the large movement that has represented "American evangelicalism" for the past century and a half ...is in its final death throes...

Actually, that's a really optimistic assessment. My strong suspicion is that the movement is well and truly dead, and we shouldn't mistake the bloated and expanding size of its corpse, or its occasional spontaneous post-mortem twitches, for signs of real life.

I'm not interested in reviving or reforming that movement. Neither church history nor Scripture gives us much encouragement to work for the reformation and perpetuation of organizations and movements. Earthly institutions and human campaigns always decline and decay. Even the Protestant Reformation had its main impact outside the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic priesthood, and the papacy—although those were the visible institutions the earliest Protestants originally set out to reform.

Institutional reform almost always fails. Twentieth-century evangelicals who stayed in the mainline denominations ultimately failed to reform any of them. We shouldn't be the least bit surprised or discouraged by that, but we should learn from it. Our concern should be for truth and principles, not for visible institutions, organizations, and movements.

To be as clear and concise as possible: What I am eager to see preserved and perpetuated are the sound, biblical ideas that sparked the evangelical and fundamentalist movements, not the corrupt cultures that ultimately overwhelmed them and led to their predictable demise.