29 September 2013


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 Gospel of the Kingdom, Pilgrim Publications, page 22.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." 
Matthew 5:6

They are not full of their own righteousness, but long for more and more of that which comes from above. They pine to be right themselves both with God and man, and they long to see righteousness have the upper hand all the world over.

Such is their longing for goodness, that it would seem as if both the appetites of “hunger and thirst” were concentrated in their one passion for righteousness. Where God works such an insatiable desire, we may be quite sure that he will satisfy it; yea, fill it to the brim.

In contemplating the righteousness of God, the righteousness of Christ, and the victory of righteousness in the latter days, we are more than filled. In the world to come the satisfaction of the “man of desires” will be complete.

Nothing here below can fill an immortal soul; and since it is written, “They shall be filled,” we look forward with joyful confidence to a heaven of holiness with which we shall be satisfied eternally.

27 September 2013

"A meditation on Psalm 90"

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Phil back in May 2011. Phil used Psalm 90 to show why believers need not despair in the face of God's wrath.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
No matter how much we might fear God's wrath, His wrath against sin turns out to be more than equal to the worst thing we could ever imagine. That's why the biblical descriptions of hell are so awful. God's wrath is infinitely worse than anyone really fears.

But notice: that doesn't cause Moses to despair. He knows about—and has tasted—the goodness of God as well. And that's what launches him into the petition phase of his prayer. Verse 12: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." In other words, help us to keep both the brevity of this life and the realities of eternity in perspective, so that we can be truly wise people.

And then Moses pleads with God for compassion: "Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." (vv. 13-14).

Moses realizes that even though he can't erase the consequences of his sin, his life isn't hopeless. He's not dreading what's ahead or seeing the future with a grim outlook at all. He knows the mercies of God are inexhaustible, and God abundantly pardons. God can restore even the years that the locust has eaten. So Moses prays for a special outpouring of God's blessing. Verse 15: "Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil."

In other words, Give us blessing at least equal to our trouble. "Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (vv. 16-17).

God answered that prayer. The work of Moses' hands was certainly established. His life's work was by no means wasted. And he wasn't kept out of the Promised Land forever. Because at the transfiguration, when Christ revealed His glory, Moses and Elijah were there, talking with Him. Moses got blessing equal to his trouble—and infinitely more. After all, God was His dwelling place—and God is a better dwelling place than the land of Canaan.

That's the whole point of Psalm 90. We are dying creatures. Our earthly comforts are few and they are only temporary. This life is going to end shortly. And even if you die of old age, it's a long process of decline to get to that point. The very best you can hope for is that your life will end like a drawn-out groan.

But if God is your dwelling-place then you have an eternal habitation, because He Himself is eternal. Not only that, if God is your dwelling place, then He can bless you even in this sin-cursed world. He will even bless you more than the days you have been afflicted. Certainly, the blessings of heaven are infinitely greater than all the miseries of this life combined.

24 September 2013

Pyro Brain Trust question: missionary recommendations?

by Dan Phillips

Foreign missions, per se, is a topic we haven't treated with any frequency here. My purpose in bringing it up now is brief and specific. It's to ask this:

What missions do you personally know (A) that specifically target unreached people or Muslims, and (B) that do so with pure Gospel preaching (preferably Calvinistic, cessationistic, baptistic), and (C) that do so with any effectiveness?

In your answer, please identify who, how (and how deeply) you know them, anything you can about them (including contact info), and why you think they merit support.

Bonus question: anyone know anything good/bad, from our perspective, about Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse? Including their Operation Christmas Child?

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22 September 2013

What can't be cured must be endured

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 Lectures to my students, "The blind eye and the deaf ear," Pilgrim Publications, pages 167-68.
"What can’t be cured must be endured, and the best way of enduring it is not to listen to it." 

Over one of our old castles a former owner has inscribed these lines—


Thin-skinned persons should learn this motto by heart. The talk of the village is never worthy of notice, and you should never take any interest in it except to mourn over the malice and heartlessness of which it is too often the indicator.

Above all, never join in tale-bearing yourself, and beg your wife to abstain from it also. Some men are too talkative by half, and remind me of the young man who was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. “Why charge me double?” said the young fellow. “Because,” said the orator, “I must teach you two sciences: the one how to hold your tongue and the other how to speak.”

The first science is the more difficult, but aim at proficiency in it, or you will suffer greatly, and create trouble without end.

Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men’s lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Suspicion makes a man a torment to himself and a spy towards others.

Once begin to suspect, and causes for distrust will multiply around you, and your very suspiciousness will create the major part of them. Many a friend has been transformed into an enemy by being suspected. Do not, therefore, look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an eaves-dropper with the quick ear of fear.

To go about the congregation ferreting out disaffection, like a gamekeeper after rabbits, is a mean employment, and is generally rewarded most sorrowfully. Lord Bacon wisely advises “the provident stay of inquiry of that which we would be loth to find.”

When nothing is to be discovered which will help us to love others we had better cease from the inquiry, for we may drag to light that which may be the commencement of years of contention.

I am not, of course, referring to cases requiring discipline which must be thoroughly investigated and boldly dealt with, but have upon my mind mere personal matters where the main sufferer is yourself; here it is always best not to know, nor to wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes.

Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us, and the one may be regarded as a set off to the other, if indeed it be worth while taking any account at all of man’s judgment.

If we have the approbation of our God, certified by a placid conscience, we can afford to be indifferent to the opinions of our fellow men, whether they commend or condemn. If we cannot reach this point we are babes and not men.

20 September 2013

Neither disdain nor slavish acceptance

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Dan back in November 2006. Dan warned against opposite dangers with respect to how we treat those of great reputation.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
In our attitude towards Great Men, towards Big Names, we walk a narrow plank. Chasms of folly yawn on either side.

On the one side is arrogant presumption...Each spiritual Narcissus disqualifies himself as a Bible teacher by overlooking a great deal of Scripture. Paul said that he could serve as the Corinthians' example (1 Corinthians 11:1), a thought he echoed elsewhere (cf. 4:16; also Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). He enjoined his pastoral apprentices to live exemplary lives as well (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7), so that others could see their example, and gain thereby.

Such vain pretenders know nothing of the godly wisdom which loves those who reprove and educate him (Proverbs 9:8b, 9), loves instruction (12:1), and shows especial and tangible appreciation for teachers (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17).

A wise believer is glad to find models and instructors who, by word or example, point us to Christ. He doesn't find it humiliating, but praises the Lord Jesus for the gift (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

In all of these, the apostle Paul is setting high value on living, breathing examples. But I sympathize to a large degree with those who feel that "the best theologian is a dead theologian"—simply from the vantage point that (A) we know the whole course of the man's life (i.e. did he suffer shipwreck?), and (B) we know his abiding influence, if any. This perspective has explicit Scriptural backing as well (cf. Hebrews 11; 12:1a; 13:7).

But there is a danger on the other side as well, the "I am of Paul" side.

Some seem more temperamentally prone to it than others. These folks feel the lunar tide pull of strong personalities, present and deceased. Big-name preachers, teachers, writers, living and dead, functionally become their Canon. In seminary, you hear young preacherlets sounding off, and you can almost tell by their style who their pulpit idols are.

Or these folks wed themselves to a dead theologian, or a school of dead theologians. These worthies may make very fine instructors, but they are very poor gods. The devotees may be about as right as their exemplar—but no righter. If Right Hon. Rev. Dr. So-and-such didn't see it, then by gum they're not going to see it, either. They won't finger a rosary with a Romanist, but they're equally wed to tradition, and equally blinded to portions of the Bible. Just a different tradition, and different portions.

Here's a symptom. Try to talk Bible with such an one. Does he engage the text? Not directly. No, he quotes Dr. So-and-such, or he plucks an allusion from the life of Pastor Thingummy. Instead of instructors and guides, these revered exemplars become albatrosses, coral reefs, or excuses.


Does this actually honor our departed instructors? Think of Whitefield and Wesley on election, or Zwingli and Luther on the Lord's Supper, or Spurgeon and Murray on baptism, or Allis and Feinberg on eschatology. Think it through. It stands to reason, that on arrival in the Lord's presence, at least one of each of those pairs did the heavenly equivalent of slapping his forehead, and letting forth with a resounding "D'oh!" At least one of each of those pairs instantly and painfully wished he'd seen what he missed on earth—and wished he had not taught what he taught.


It's a hard balance to strike. Admire godly examples, past and present. Learn from them. Respect them.

But don't chain yourself to them. And don't hide behind them as an excuse for not engaging the text of Scripture.

18 September 2013

The Bible-only(-except-for-me!) dodge (NEXT! #37)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: I care not for the words of mortal man. I only study the Bible. So let me tell you what I think the Bible says about...

Response: Hold up there, Turbo. If I listen to what you just said, I shouldn't be listening to what you want to say. Or to what you just said. So... I guess we're done here!

(Proverbs 21:22)

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15 September 2013

How safe are those who trust in God!

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 "Safe in the Father's care," from Able to the uttermost, Pilgrim Publications, page 62.
"Now, there are many things which provoke God." 

All sin does so; but this is a peculiarly God-provoking sin at any time to touch His people—molest His servants? He may bear long with you, but He remembers it. He may not for the moment avenge them; but there is an answer to that question, “Shall not God avenge His own elect? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily, though He bear long with them.”

I like to think of this—this picture of God over His people protecting them, being as fully awake and aroused as the young lion is when he bestirs himself to protect the prey that the shepherds would take away from him. It is the picture of intensity of purpose. He means to have the prey, and it shall not be taken from him. All his strength shall be put forth to prevent it.

The same intensity of purpose we see in our God. He determined to save His people before the Day-Star began to shine, and from that purpose He has never turned. Sooner than turn aside from His purpose, He gave His Son to die, sent His Spirit to indwell in the hearts of His people, and nothing shall turn Him aside from that purpose now.

Behold, how Satan comes out against Him! See how the powers of darkness rise with all their force! See how they come forth to take the prey from the mighty God, to deliver out of God’s hand into a dire destruction! But shall they conquer Him? Ah! no. For the whole of God is set for the defence of His Church.

It is not one attribute that is there; they are all there. As I said of the young lion over his prey, he is all a lion; every nerve and muscle and bone of his body seems to burn with indignation against his foes, so every attribute of God—all His power, His wisdom, His justice, His holiness—all these are intensely aroused and all set with intense purpose for the defence and the deliverance of His people.

How safe, then, are those that trust in God! You have not only God to defend you, but that same God most fixed and settled as to His mind’s eternal will—that God concentrating all His majestic attributes upon this one point, that He will save His people.

He would sooner that the world should crash and the solid wheel of nature should be snapped than that this which is His innermost decree, the secret purpose of His inmost soul, should fail—even the salvation of His people.

13 September 2013

How to be the right kind of apologist

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Frank back in April 2007. The topic was apologetics, and Frank discussed the relationship between the way we view the Bible, the way we view ourselves, and the way we engage in apologetics.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
If you're going to be a decent apologist, you need to be saturated in God's word, and you need to be a credit to your church in the way Paul earned glory for God after being a persecutor of the church. You know: Paul knew that, all things being equal, he was a man of lousy reputation. But his lousy reputation wasn't from doing apologetics: it was from murdering Christians. So his approach to the world was to act like a guy who is well known for killing those who disagree with him, and to have a little humility and self-awareness about his own status as a bad guy.

If all people who were striving to be apologists applied this aspect of Paul's ministry to their own, they'd be different and better people. Another way of thinking about this goes like this: we all know that non-Christians or ex-church people think poorly of Christianity because we are all hypocrites, mean-spirited judgmentalists, fundies in the worst sense, and people who care about money more than we do about anything else. There's no stunner or world-changing revelation in that confession from a non-believer.

And, most of the time, we sort of wear that like a badge of honor. I know I personally get a little bit of a kick out of people calling me a "mean Calvinist" -- mostly because after years of listening to people say that, somehow that's the last battlement for every argument which is falling apart.

But let's imagine something here: what if I approached every apologetic encounter with the personal conviction that I am actually a mean Calvinist. What if, rather than mouthing the words "chief of sinners," I approached apologetics from the standpoint that I was a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips, and since God didn't have an angel touch the hot coal to my lips yet, whatever I am doing I am doing it as a beggar among beggars, a vile man who is actually in desperate need of the thing which I say God is offering in Christ?

That doesn't mean I surrender truth or take an "I'm OK - you're OK" approach to people. It means that when I deal with them, I see both the sinful flesh and the image of God in them, and I appeal to the image of God rather than attack the rebel who has a hard heart.

See: I think that if we study Scripture long enough, and listen to what it teaches us about ourselves, real humility has to be among the convictions we receive. But to do that -- to become decent apologists who can approach people with the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Christ as Peter did at Pentecost as if it was important but not an insult -- we have to have a decent hermeneutic of Scripture.

This really does go back to the question of how we read the Bible. Because if we read it as if it is merely a handbook of apologetics, we're going to miss the other 81.7% of the Bible which is telling us not how we should view other people, but how we, who are called by Him name, should view ourselves -- how we should act, and think, and work, and love.

10 September 2013

The peril of "We've got to do something!"

by Dan Phillips

Many really horrific ideas owe their genesis to really horrific needs.

This is obvious in the realm of politics. It goes like this:
  1. Bob says, "Yikes! Has anyone even noticed {crying need}? Isn't anybody doing anything about it?
  2. Bill says, "Holy smoke, yes! That's terrible! Quick: let's empower the State to confiscate more liberty and money from the productive, and create vast legislation and huge bureaucracies to solve that problem!"
  3. Bob: "Oh, well, gee, I dunno; are you sure that's the best way to...?"
  4. Bill: "This is an emergency! There's no time for discussion! We must act now! What — don't you care about The Children? Besides, this is only temporary."
  5. Bob: "Oh, yeah, good point. Okay. Go ahead."
And another permanent blight is born. The problem not only is not addressed, but it is compounded and institutionalized.

Perhaps this same phenomenon is less obvious in the realm of theology, doctrine, church polity. The general course, however, is very similar:
  1. PelArminKesWesHam says, "Oh dear Lord, the church is {something direly unspiritual}."
  2. Simplicius replies, "Ooh, mercy, yes. I see that!"
  3. PelArminKesWesHam: "The solution must be to {do some horrifically un-Biblical thing}!"
  4. Simplicius: "Oh, gosh, I don't know. Are you sure that's really Scriptural?"
  5. PelArminKesWesHam: "There's no time for debate! Doctrine divides! Souls are dying! Christ's name is dishonored! The hour is late! We must act now!"
  6. Simplicius: "Oh, gee..."
  7. PelArminKesWesHam: "What — don't you love God? Don't you care about people?"
  8. Simplicius: "Well, sure."
  9. PelArminKesWesHam: "Then we must act now!"
  10. Simplicius: "Oh. Okay."
And another bad doctrine / harmful practice takes its permanent place to blight the landscape. The problem not only is not remedied, but it is compounded and institutionalized.

If later generations try to undo this dreadful "solution," it goes like this:
  1. Biblicus: "You know, ________ism really isn't Biblical."
  2. DriscTickLer: "You're a fear-driven unbelieving libertine Deist hater who drives people away from Jesus. You're ignorant of the book that came out last week proving that we're right. Plus, you're jealous of our superpowers."
  3. Biblicus: "Oh. Right. I forgot. My bad. Um... sorry."
What to do?

The wrong way of responding is to ignore or minimize the problem that gave birth to the error.

For instance, how many false teachings have arisen as well-intended attempts to counter the lassitude, the lukewarmness, the worldliness, the timidity, the carnality, the cowardice, the ineffectiveness, the powerlessness, and the general pathetic anemic ill-health of the bulk of professed Christians? I daresay a majority of false teaching and bad philosophy was swaddled in that manger.

So we're told: The problem with these pathetic lumps is that their Calvinism has made them passive slugs, their Biblicism has made them isolated lab-technicians, their cessationism has made them functional materialists.

And we're told: What they really need is to realize that, if they don't work harder, they'll lose their salvation. They need to see that a deeper, more powerful Christian life is only one deeper, climactic work of grace away. They need the baptism with the Spirit. They need God to mutter holy nothings in their ears. They need to babble cathartically. They need their hunches validated and respected and canonized — though not in any accountable way! They need to modify their convictions to be friendlier to the world. Sand off the edges. Fit in.

There y'go. Problem solved.

But of course the problem isn't solved. In fact, it's compounded, and now it's institutionalized. Christians are still carnal, but now they're super-spiritually carnal and proud and immune to Biblical admonition. And so on.

So in responding, here's what we must do:
  1. We must grant the seriousness of the problem when applicable — and it usually is applicable.
  2. We must perform a rigorously Biblical analysis and diagnosis of the problem, calmly and deliberately.
  3. We must execute a rigorously Biblical, clear-eyed, and unsparing examination of the un-Biblical "solutions" that have been proposed, expose them unambiguously, and issue a clarion call for their instant and decisive repudiation and rejection .
  4. We must produce a rigorously robustly Biblical prescription to address the problem, showing insistently and repeatedly and in detail and from a dozen angles how it actually does address the causation and remedy the misery.

And there, in truth, you go. So do that. On "three."

I'll wait right here.

One... two...

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08 September 2013

Don't change temptations!

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 Able to the Uttermost, "In the place of God's choosing," Pilgrim Publications, page 35.
"If the temptations are great, grace also is great." 

Many a man changes his temptations for the worse. I should be very much afraid of shifting any of mine; for those I have I begin to know a little about, but if I had a batch of new ones, I do not know how I might endure them.

Our temptations are very much like the mosquitoes of which they tell you when you are travelling, that you had better let the old ones stop on, for if you drive them away there are some new ones hungrier than the others that will come, and you will be worse off than before.

The temptations of poverty you do know, my brother, but you do not know the temptations of wealth. The temptations of the family you know, and you propose to run away from them into solitude. You do not know those temptations, and you might not be able to withstand them. God has fitted the burden to the back, and the back to the burden.

Of all the crosses in the world, your own cross is probably the easiest cross for you to carry. If you had somebody else’s cross you might well bewail yourself that you had made so sad an exchange. Tarry where you are, and be not cowardly, neither seek your own ease.

It is not the first thing in life to be easy and to be happy and to be merry and to be rich and to be admired and to be prosperous. There is something nobler than that. It is often a far grander thing to know nothing of what rest means in life, except rest in God, to know nothing of ease, to know nothing of prosperity, except prosperity of soul, and through much tribulation glorifying God in difficulty and finding your way to eternal bliss through it.

The gist of the whole matter is in the matter of providence. The God who has appointed the bounds of our habitation has been wise in the appointment. It is sometimes wise for us to move: let us take care we do not move till it is wise.

Let us not be like those who are as the will-o’-the-wisp, constantly flitting, but remember that as a bird that wandereth from its nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.

07 September 2013

You say Hiatus, I say ...

by Frank Turk

Oh for crying out loud ...

So I announce my hiatus after planning it since June of this year, unplug for ONE LOUSY WEEK in which I just barely don't blog, and suddenly a 3-year-old post becomes someone's object of interest.

You know: if it was my post on leaving or staying with your local church, or one of the many posts of daGifts, or one of the posts about politics, I honestly had already prepared myself to say, with no qualifiers, "so what?"  In fact, of the roughly-500 posts I have made here over the years, there is really only one or two I would even bother with at this point if they received any sort of blow-back -- mostly because there's such a thing as too little, too late.


I will not tell you what the other blast-from-the past which would draw me out of Hiatus would be (because: hiatus) but the one you know that would be irresistible to me would be the one post which still draws 2% of the traffic all-time to this blog.  I mean: last week, 150 people read that post, 3-and-a-half years after it was relevant.

Right?  Who can resist it?

Well, apparently, Matthew Grant McDaniel is one of the 150 -- or maybe one of the tens of thousands of views -- that post has received in the last 3 years because he has penned what I would call the most-comprehensive response to that post since its original run in 2010.  It certainly beats the pants off this response:

Right?  And I'm the bad guy.  I'm the body part of disgraceful use.  I'm the one who needs to justify his language, approach, heart, mind, soul, and lack of coffee shop invitations.


Let's take a deep breath here before we go on.  Because the truth is that Matthew has really invested sincere and serious work in trying to reply to my original post, and he deserves some credit for that.

I congratulate Matthew for investing a lot of time in his piece.  It wasn't tossed-off, and at the very least: it does a fair job of representing Derek Webb as thoroughly as possible.  The problem, of course, is that he's responding to me and not Derek.  To that end, a fair question is whether or not he represents me with any degree of fairness.  I mean: let's put our cards on the table.  Back in 2010, I delivered about 5000 words and 11 pages (single-spaced; it would take 40 minutes to read it out-loud) on this subject (not including the digital ink spilled in the comments).  In that, that post is not hardly a tirade of name-calling and taunts: except for the one Counting Crows allusion, there is no snark or name-calling or any sort of real incivility.  Almost all of it focused on the interview in question and the three main topics I thought, at that time, needed attention -- the Gospel, the Church, and the Artist.  If he's writing an open letter to me in response to that, you would think that he would seek to cover that ground the way he might imagine I should cover the ground with Derek Webb..

But most of what Matthew did here is dedicated to adding new items from Derek not in evidence when I wrote the original post.  So it seems to me that his response confuses anachronism with refutation.  That is: he doesn't see that the many new pieces of evidence he is presenting were not historically in evidence when I wrote my open letter.

If I was really committed more to my hiatus than to other things, I'd leave it at that.  Are there new things in the mix regarding Derek Webb?  Sure -- I grant it with no qualifications.  Done.  What that has to do with whether or not my critique of that interview is useful or even civil is not clear.  Thank you; good night.

But here's the thing: I think Matthew wants me to engage Derek now, 3 years later, on his next evolutionary step.  He wants me to engage this video, for example:

A video in which Derek confuses how we "feel" about an issue of morality with whether or not the church has an obligation both to God's Law and God's Gospel -- what Derek sort of slyly refers to here as the "whole counsel of God".  You know: I watch that video, and the longer I watch it the more I hope Derek will say something about the way the Law ought to point us to the Gospel, and what I find instead is that Derek says is (in effect), "I don't want to hear any Law because I don't think I hear enough Gospel (through the media from the Church on this one subject)."

Is Derek really that ignorant or naive about sin in general?  Does he really think being fat is not socially stigmatized?  Does he really think that someone is a body part of disgraceful use because he confronts and holds accountable his friend who is a liar, a glutton, is covetous, a thief, an adulterer -- or worse by far, an idolater, a God-hater, a person who refuses to accept as holy what God holds as holy?

I mean: he is rather sassy about the alleged "whole counsel of God," but where does it recommend in the Bible that we ignore each others' sins because we have sins?  Don't we have James 5 and Proverbs 17 and Heb 10 which say exactly the opposite?  Conversely: I'd be willing to review how he sees the "whole counsel of God" (since he brings it up) to visit the question myself of what my responsibility is as a friend, a husband, and father and a brother in Christ to visit the sins of those who are in my life.  But what I'm not really willing to do is to simply let earnest and passionate talk overcome joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and most of all: love. Because love is not merely letting someone walk their own way until they fall down a hole: it is rather something else when someone is walking toward the hole.

Look: I am actually willing to stipulate a lot about Derek, as I was back in 2010.  For example, I said this back then explicitly:
I have to grant you something: you are right about the problem the church has in addressing the "gay" issue. I blogged about that a few years ago myself, refer to that post frequently as the topic comes up and further notes are required, and I commend that to you for context of my note to you today.
I also said this back in 2010:
I know someplace, somehow, you "get" [the Gospel]: the Son of Man was not sent to be served, but to serve, and to lay down his life as a ransom for many. He came to suffer much at the hands of the leaders of Israel and to be put to death. And he did this not as a moral example but as a sacrifice -- as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
My complaint about this interview was never the one I would make to Rob Bell or Joel Osteen or some of the greater miscreants in the sociologically-Christian English-speaking world.  My complaint is that one fellow who definitely knows what the Gospel is somehow doesn't deliver it to sinners when he's face-to-face with a sinner talking about sin to an audience of sinners -- to the extent that somehow we are merely about the broad declaration that we "pre-emptively love" rather than pointing out what we lack, our transgression, in the place it really occupies between us and God.

So when that is reductively re-purposed as "Frank asks Derek to define the Gospel," when in fact my question is, "where is the Gospel in this interview when it matters most?" I think the number of uses we can find for Matthew's defense and rejoinder are limited.

I can credit Derek, for example (and as cited in Matthew's blog post), for engaging the execrable Rachel Held Evans and telling her plainly that her views are not Gospel at all -- and that the Gospel must be God-centered, not man-dependent.  I would stipulate Derek's version of the "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" equation as far as it goes.  I would stipulate all of Derek's on-going flirtations with antinomianism as being Gospel-minded and an earnest (if strange and ambiguous) attempt to be like Paul who was (falsely) accused of the same thing.

What I simply can't do is grant that Derek's recipe for the whole pie is helpful either to the church at large, or to sinners who need the Gospel.  That concern points out my other two concerns -- which are Derek's uses for the church, and Derek's view of himself as an artist.

But here's the real rub: Derek made a statement to Stedman that he's willing to sit down with anyone, any time, to hash out stuff like this.  But in response to the original blog post, I have not received one word from anyone within the Kevin-Bacon-6-degrees between myself and Derek about my standing invitation to work this out face to face, on the record, in a way that Derek can explain his problems with my approach and his innocence on all counts.

Let's put it back on the table: I have Delta Sky miles, and some fun money, and a few vacation days open as discretionary time.  My wife is fantastically-generous with me when I ask nice. I think that, rather than letting anyone else talk past either of us, I'm offering at least 60 minutes at a convenient site for Derek, with a neutral moderator (I'd settle for a moderator of Derek's choosing only to stand in as host and referee to keep the conversation balanced), in order to talk about this on the record.  There are no "gotcha" questions as Matthew hypothesizes.  There are only two necessary things: a real urgent belief that this topic is critical for the people of God and for our lost neighbors, and a sincere and firm belief that the Gospel is the solution.

That's it: that's all.  The only other thing that can break into my hiatus would be Derek's willingness to have a 60-minute sit-down to resolve our differences.

06 September 2013

"Common sense" and the relative importance of Scriptural truths

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Phil at the original PyroManiac blog back in September 2005. Phil offers five arguments in defense of distinguishing between primary and other Scriptural truths.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Common sense makes it crystal-clear to most people that some truths in Scripture are of primary importance, and other truths are less vital...Unfortunately, "common sense" is not as common as it used to be. (It's one of the early fatalities of the postmodern era.) And with increasing frequency, I encounter people who challenge the distinction evangelicals have historically made between fundamental and secondary doctrines.


It seems to me that the distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is implicit rather than explicit in Scripture. But I think the distinction is still very clear. Here, briefly, are five biblical arguments in favor of making some kind of distinction between primary and secondary doctrines:

  1. Jesus Himself suggested that some errors are gnats and some are camels (Matt. 23:24-25). And He stated that some matters of the law are "weightier" than others (v. 23). Think about it; such distinctions could not be made if every point of truth were essential.
  2. Paul likewise speaks of truths that are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)—clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance.
  3. Certain issues are plainly identified by Scripture as fundamental or essential doctrines. These include:
    1. doctrines that Scripture makes essential to saving faith (e.g., justification by faith—Rom. 4:4-5; knowledge of the true God—Jn. 17:3; the bodily resurrection—1 Cor. 15:4; and several others).
    2. doctrines that Scripture forbids us to deny under threat of condemnation (e.g., 1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 1 Cor. 16:22; 1 Jn. 4:2-3).

    Since these doctrines are explicitly said to make a difference between heaven and hell while others (the "gnats" Jesus spoke of) are not assigned that level of importance, a distinction between fundamental and secondary truths is clearly implied.
  4. Paul distinguished between the foundation and that which is built on the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11-13). The foundation is established in Christ, and "no other foundation" may be laid. Paul suggests, however, that the edifice itself will be built with some wood, hay, and stubble. Again, this seems to suggest that while there is no tolerance whatsoever for error in the foundation, some of the individual building-blocks, though important, are not of the same fundamental importance.
  5. The principle Paul sets forth in Roman 14 also has serious implications for this question. There were some differences of opinion in the Roman church which Paul declined to make into hard-and-fast matters of truth vs. heresy. In Romans 14:5, he writes, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." That clearly allows a measure of tolerance for two differing opinions on what is undeniably a point of doctrine.
         As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy. In fact, elsewhere he did give clear instructions that speaks to the very doctrine under debate in Romans 14 (cf. Col. 2:16-17). Yet in writing to the Romans, he was more interested in teaching them the principle of tolerance for differing views on matters of less-than-fundamental importance. Surely this is something we should weigh very heavily before we make any point of truth a matter over which we break fellowship.

04 September 2013

Beauty, art, wisdom, knowledge of God, and Proverbs 2

by Dan Phillips

Preaching through Proverbs is being quite an adventure. Though I've done studies, conferences, sermons, and a book on it, I've never actually preached through Proverbs. As you'd imagine, it's being quite a workout.

Among many things, the exercise is deepening my appreciation for the artistry of Proverbs, something often visible only in Hebrew. For instance, chapter two is one long Hebrew sentence composed of 22 verses, mirroring the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. It divides neatly into two sections of eleven verses each. The main movements of the first are dominated by sections begun by words starting with א (aleph), the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet (if [v. 1], then [vv. 5, 9]). The second section is structured by sections beginning with ל, the middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet (to deliver you [vv. 12, 16], that [v. 20]).

Judging by the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture as surely as that of the Trinity in creation, God is no utilitarian pragmatist, but is a lover of beauty and art. Indeed, He is its original and font. I brought this (and more) out for our dear folks in beginning my sermons on this chapter.

That said, while Derek Kidner's comment on Proverbs 2:1-5 overlooks the structure of the Hebrew text, it is a good example of what is particularly delightful about his commentary. When I first read the commentary, decades ago, I looked down on it because of its brevity. As the years passed, I came to see that Kidner's brevity mirrors Solomon's own. He had a poignant knack for saying a great deal in very few words. For instance, I call as witness his comment on the first five verses:
2:1–5. Wisdom, hard-won. This is the essential counterpart to 1:20ff., where wisdom was clamouring to be heard. Here it is the pupil who must clamour (3). Yet the search, strenuous as it must be, is not unguided. Its starting-point is revelation—specific (words) and practical (commandments); its method is not one of free speculation, but of treasuring and exploring received teachings so as to penetrate to their principles (see the verbs of 1–5); and its goal, far from being academic, is spiritual: the fear of the Lord … the knowledge of God (5). With these two phrases verse 5 encompasses the two classic Old Testament terms for true religion—the poles of awe and intimacy. 
[Kidner, D. (1964). Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Vol. 17, p. 59). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.]
Deftly-said, true, and instructve.

Dan Phillips's signature

01 September 2013

Pull that rope again!

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 49, sermon number 2,841, "Prayer--its encouragements and discouragements."
"There is no fact in mathematics which has been more fully demonstrated than this fact in experience—that God heareth prayer."

There was a captain, whose name I will not give in full just now; I will call him Mitchell, for that will suffice. This captain was a godly man, and he once went to sea, leaving his wife at home expecting soon to give birth to their firstborn child.

While he was at sea, one day, a time of deep solemnity came over him, in the course of which he penned a prayer. This prayer was for his wife and for his yet unborn child. He put the prayer into the oak chest in which he kept his papers. He never came home again, for he died at sea.

His chest was brought home to his wife; she did not open it to look at his papers, but she thought they might be of use to her son when he should grow up. That son lived; and, at the age of sixteen,
he joined a regiment at Boston. In that regiment, he became exceedingly debauched, profane, blasphemous, and sinful in every way.

At the age of fifty-four, while he was living in sin with a wicked woman, it struck him that he would like to look through the contents of the old chest which his father had left. He opened it, and, at the bottom, found, tied up with red tape, a paper, on the outside of which was written, “The prayer of Mitchell K______ for his wife and child.”

He opened it, and read it; it was a most fervent plea with God that the man’s wife and child might belong to Christ written fifty-four years back, and before that child was born. He shut it up, and put it where it was before, and said that he would not look into “that cursed old chest” again.

But that did not matter, for the prayer had got into his heart, and he could not lock his heart up in that chest. He became thoroughly miserable; and the wretched woman, with whom he lived, asked him what was the matter with him. He told her what he had read in that paper, and she said she hoped he would not become a hypocrite.

All the jokes and frivolities of his companions could not take out the dart which God had sent into his heart; and, ere long, by true repentance and by living faith, that man was in Christ a saved soul, married honourably to the woman with whom he had lived in sin, and walking in uprightness, serving his father’s God, as the result of a prayer which had lain in an old chest for fifty-four years, but which God’s eye had seen all the while, and which, at last, he had answered when the set time had come.

Be of good courage, all ye who are pleading for your children, for God will yet answer your supplications. As one of the old divines says, “Prayer is the rope which hangs down on earth, and there is a bell in heaven which it rings, and which God hears.”

Pull that rope again to-night, praying father and mother. Make the great bell in heaven ring again and again, and let its notes be, “Save my children; save my husband; save my wife; save my brother; let my sister live before thee.” Your prayers shall be heard, and God shall yet grant your requests.