31 July 2014

The Spirit glorifies the Son

by Dan Phillips

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 excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2006. Dan pointed out that the Holy Spirit's primary focus is drawing attention to Jesus, not to Himself.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Most of our readers are old enough to remember Ed McMahon, the genial MC for The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson. His job was to announce the show, and introduce Johnny Carson. Then he sat out there, played straight man to Johnny, laughed at his jokes, made Carson look good.

Through the years, Carson had various guest hosts including, I think, Seinfeld, Leno, Letterman, and Brenner. Never, as far as I know, Ed McMahon.

My allusion to McMahon has one point, and one only:
McMahon's job was go make another person look good, to draw attention to him. It was to produce anticipation, and then, with his famous "Heeeeere's Johnny!", to bring on the star of the show.

If the camera had remained on McMahon, if the spotlight had been trained on him, immediately we'd have known something was very wrong. Ed wasn't the focus. Nor have I ever heard that McMahon resented his role. In fact, when he wrote a book, it was titled Here's Johnny!, not Hey, Look at Me! McMahon's job was defined, he embraced it, and he did it well.

So, where am I going with this? Am I suggesting that the Holy Spirit, then, is like Ed McMahon? In virtually no way. The august Person of God the Holy Spirit produced Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), was involved in Creation (Genesis 1:2), empowered Jesus' ministry (Luke 4:14), is the mode of believers' immersion into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), seals us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), and a great deal more. He is God.

But there is one point of analogy, and one only: the delight and joy of the Holy Spirit is not to train attention upon Himself. The Holy Spirit's great love, fascination, and focus, is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before the Incarnation, the Spirit moved in the prophets. And of what did He speak through them? Among other things, He spoke of the sufferings of Christ, and of His glories to follow (1 Peter 1:11).

The Holy Spirit performed the miracle by which the virgin, Mary, became mother to the human nature of the Messiah (Matthew 1:18,20Luke 1:35). He appeared at Jesus' baptism, not to flutter in mid-air until everyone noticed and admired Him, but to rest on Christ, to mark Him out as Yahweh's anointed (Matthew 3:16; cf. Luke 4:18).

And so the power of the Spirit continued in the ministry of Jesus, to guide Him in what He did (Matthew 4:1), and to bring glory and honor to Jesus, marking Him as God's Son (Matthew 12:28Acts 10:38). This He did preeminently in Jesus' resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

And what would the Spirit do after Christ's resurrection and ascension? More of the same. "He will glorify me," Jesus says of the Spirit, "for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:14). It is worth repetition: "He will glorify me." In fact, the Greek is a bit more emphatic: "That one, Me will He glorify." The Spirit will come to bring glory, and it is to Jesus that He will bring this glory.

Imagine that. God though He is, personal though He is, the Spirit's aim is not to glorify Himself. It is to glorify Jesus. And how does the Holy Spirit do that? By imparting inerrant revelation to the apostles, revelation which we have today in the Bible alone. He did this by granting them inerrant memory of Jesus' words (John 14:26), by bearing witness to them about Jesus (John 15:26), by convicting the world of truths related in each case to Jesus (John 16:8-11), and by continuing to tell them the "many things" that Jesus still had to say to them (John 16:12-13). Jesus emphasizes this last point, assuring the apostles that the Spirit would not speak aph' heautou, from Himself, but rather from Jesus.

29 July 2014

Some here, some there

by Dan Phillips

My "muse," apparently, is taking the day off. It happens. In the interim, here are some posts and thingies here and there, worth noting.

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27 July 2014


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 Sermons Preached on Unusual Occasions, page 45, Pilgrim Publications.
“Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.” 

He. Some think the ordinances, which they call the sacraments, very precious: so they are; but only for his sake. Others reckon the doctrines to be very precious, and always thrust doctrine into the forefront. We will not deny that every doctrine is precious, but it owes its value to the fact that Christ is in it.

Dry doctrine is nothing better that a sepulchre for a dead Christ to be buried in; but the doctrine preached in relation to his person becomes a throne on which he is exalted. It is a great pity when any of you Christians forget that you have a Saviour who is alive, and overlook the personality of Christ.

Remember that he is a real man, and as a real man on Calvary he died for you, and as a real man he is gone into heaven. He is no ideal personage, but an actual personage; and the very marrow of Christian experience lies in the realisation of the personality of the Saviour. “Unto you that believe, he is precious.”

If you make doctrine the main thing, you are very likely to grow narrow-minded; if you make your own experience the main thing, you will become gloomy and censorious of others; if you make ordinance the main thing, you will be apt enough to grow merely formal; but you can never make too much of the living Christ Jesus.

Remember that all things else are for his sake. Doctrines and ordinances are the planets, but Christ is the Sun; the stars of doctrine revolve around him as their great primal light. Get to love him best of all.

Yea, I know you do, if ye are believing in him. You love the doctrines, and would not like to give one of them up, but still the incarnate God is the sum and substance of your confidence; Christ Jesus himself is precious to you.

25 July 2014

Academics: pastor as tour-guide

by Dan Phillips

Preaching through Proverbs has been such an adventure to me. The book of Proverbs been a love and special focus of mine for almost four decades. I've had the opportunity to do the occasional conferencelots of articles, and this book (which, by the way, is still available at a startling 40% off at the WTS bookstore). You might think I'd think I had a handle on Solomon's opus.

But no, I'll confess right up-front that Proverbs is a book where you never feel like you've "touched bottom." Preaching through chapters 1—9, and now into chapter 10, has forced me to go deep like I never had before: word-studies, syntax, poetics, semantics, the whole nine. It's made me bring out every tool I have, such as they are, and use each copiously.

That's what I'd like to muse about with you. Many think that a pastor might get some academics in seminary, and then will do best to leave them as far behind as possible the moment he gets his terminal degree. By now you know that I totally disagree. Every moment, every second I've spent in Hebrew or Greek or what-have-you over the last four decades, I did with the mind that I was going to use all that to serve Christ and His church in some way. What I would bring in the pulpit would be enhanced by the best academics I was capable of.

Ah, but how? How to wed the one to the other, how to bring the two seemingly-unpairable worlds together? To many, that's just an unmixable mix. "You can't stand up there and lecture," they'd say. "Preaching is truth on fire, it's no place for the scholar's dusty droning."

The concern is valid. A pastor who wants to lift up Christ and feed saints will never aim at putting folks to sleep, or sending people off swooning over his sesquipedalian vocab. But is there any benefit in a lazy approach to the text, one content with skimming three P's and a poem off the surface of any given text? Surely there are more options than the two extremes.

Here's what I settled on long ago: I would give exert my very best effort to dig as deeply as I could into the text, and then prayerfully translate the results into a sermon accessible by anyone yearning for God's truth. The sermon is not a showcase for all the tools I've picked up; but it is a showcase for the results gleaned by the prayerful use of those tools. I dig deep, not to drag everyone down the mine-shaft with me, but to show them the pretty gems I found in the process — and to encourage them to do their own digging.

The analogy that helps me identify my goal is that of the really good tour-guide.

You and I, artistic bumpkins that we probably are, could stroll through a museum and think, "Hunh, nice painting. Hunh, nice painting. Hunh, I don't like that one much. Hunh, nice painting..." And it'd have been a worthwhile experience. Cul-chah, don't you know.

Ah, but then bring in a really great tour-guide, and he'll say "Compare these two paintings to each other. The one of the left was done in 1889. Note all the bright blues and yellows and reds, the long brush-strokes, and how many of those strokes have an upward slant from left to right. Don't you just want to smile, as you look at it? Now compare this one. See all the greys and dark blues and blacks? See all the short, choppy strokes, the distressing feel to the whole? Makes you want to shiver, doesn't it? The painting on the left was done right after the birth of the artist's first child. The one on the right, shortly after the death of the artist's wife."

Now, you'd just looked at those very same paintings, and you hadn't seen any of that. But now, you can't unsee it. It makes perfect sense. What's changed? Not the paintings. Most of the evidence was right there; but then again, the tour-guide had the benefit of some study and education you haven't had. Sure, you appreciate him; but mostly, now you appreciate the painting and the artist in a way you never had, previously. You're looking at both with new, wondering, admiring eyes.

That's what I try to do. Listen to this sermon on Proverbs 10:1, if you want to, and look at the outline. It's a sample of what's happened with me over and over in this series. I'd read Proverbs 10:1... how many times? A hundred? Ten thousand? But in studying it for this sermon, I saw depths and relationships that had never come out to me. Some of them came to me thanks to reading it in Hebrew for the whatever-th time, some thanks to the research for the book, some just from this study.

But what I distilled and brought into the pulpit with me was an amazement at Solomon's art, and the grandeur of the God who inspired it. Yahweh gave that man such wisdom, the book bristles with it on every level. It's a marvel. And the Spirit of God, in lifting Solomon to the ability to write this book, produced such a masterpiece, such a work of art.

So I see part of what I'm doing as standing there with my dear folks looking at this marvelous painting, and excitedly saying "Look at those brushstrokes! They tell a story. This is the sort of style the artist uses to communicate..." — and off I go, waxing rhapsodic at the wonders of our sufficient Scripture.

I'll say frankly that countless others vastly dwarf me academically (Gordon Hugenberger would be an example among preachers), that's not my point. My point is that everything I have, everything I've culled together over some forty years, I use.

So: if you're in the process of preparing to be a pastor, give it everything you've got. Get a grip on that tools that you can keep up, until the Lord says you're done. If you're currently a pastor, keep them current; maybe find a way refresh them.

And if you're looking for a church: find one where the pastor's tools are many and well-used. You want him to dive in and bring back the best for you. And "the best" doesn't just fall off trees into lax, flabby, sluggardly hands (Pro. 10:4).

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24 July 2014

Don't disdain "the true and the beautiful"

by Frank Turk

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 excerpt was written by Frank back in December 2006. Frank addressed the consequences of a false understanding of "the true and the beautiful" in relation to the arts.

As usual, the comments are closed.
As a people, we Christians have adopted one of the worst attributes of the Anabaptist tradition, and that is a rather sincere disdain for things which are true and beautiful. Here's what I mean by that: we have set up a false dichotomy between "true" and "beautiful" so that anything which is "true" must be plain or otherwise homely, and everything which is "beautiful" must be the work of the devil because it appeals to our eyes and ears. And we have also let the world dictate to us what is "beautiful" so that we don't even know it when we see it anymore.

So what we wind up with, for example, is the ocean of vacuous "worship" music in Christian bookstores which is neither true nor beautiful; we wind up with Christian "art" which is hardly suited for comic books let alone the walls of our homes; we wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture; we wind up with literature-ignorant and theology-vacant "poetry" that neither moves emotionally nor inspires intellectually.

And with these things, we want to have a culture war with New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Good grief, people: we might as well be sending wiener dogs out to defend us against an army of machete-wielding Haitian voodoo zombies. At least the wiener dogs would be able to smell the dead meat and run away from it, and we could follow them.

So what to do? I mean, isn't the right answer to study the culture and then try to co-opt its methods because obviously those methods are working on those people who we say we want to reach? Isn't that the missional thing to do -- especially in the arts?

Let me suggest something instead which I think many people probably have heard but no one has bothered to apply to this problem: all great art demonstrates the tension between love and death. That's not a Biblical proverb per se, but it is, in fact, true. All great poetry is about the tension between love and death -- even if it's not the love of another person or the death of a particular person. And one of the great failings of modern culture is its shallow vision of love (which is explicitly and almost exclusively sexual and sensual) and its obsession with death (either by avoidance in worshiping youth, or its glamorization of suicide).

Listen: if there's anything on Earth (or in the Heavens) which we Christians ought to know something about, it's Love and Death. In fact, we should be the ones who are exclaiming the fact of Love in Death. We shouldn't be establishing a suicide cult but extolling the fantastic fact that Christ died for our sins because God Loved, and Christ was resurrected in order that death would be destroyed.

There's more art to be made in that one sentence than all the movies Hollywood has ever turned out, and more than either NYC or LA could turn out in music and TV in 10,000 years. Why? Because there is Truth and Beauty in that statement, and it doesn't force us to make false moral choices or reduce our expressions to some gloomy, dismal, atonal text.

The great topic of art belongs to us. The great purpose of art is not, as someone once said, to frame a lie which seems pleasant, but to frame truth by analogy -- and the greatest truth-by-analogy of all time is the Bible.

23 July 2014

7 Things Ain't Nobody Got to Teach Me

by Clark Briscoll

OK: this is not a break in my hiatus.  What this is, is my poking around in the blog archives trying to find a post which I can convert into a bible study for a situation I have volunteered for at church tomorrow.  I actually did have something in the archive which I found useful and sufficient, but I also found this post which never made it out of draft status, and which is probably funnier in retrospect than it would have been when I originally wrote it in 2013.

It's all inside baseball, but you guys are fans.  You'll get it immediately, and if not I blame myself for being on Hiatus so long.

Still on Hiatus.  Sorry.


File this under: Church Church Leadership Wisdom Calling Church History Stewardship

Way Past his shelf life
Recently, I have just come off my 18-month probation for making a new friend in a new market demographic -- something we used to call "missional," but which some people insist on calling being "unequally yoked," but which was obviously just a case of old, white guys being unable to take a seat at the back of the bus, if you see what I'm saying.  But, because they all played nice with me when my new books came out since then, and were very fair and balanced in promoting my books for sale to their market demographics, I forgive them.

While I have learned much from their good tidings and secret chidings, and I'm not afraid to say so, there are seven lessons that ain't nobody needed to teach me which I think are critical for you to learn if you're going to continue to be someone who wears my t-shirts and endorses my books.  They are all center-bound around an idea which Eugene Peterson once had: "Wonder can't be packaged."


Listen: when God has called you to something, obviously He's the one in charge of your success.  So just do whatever occurs to you, and then you can be sure that He will at least send you visions of sex and violence when there's nothing else to be said.  Also: there's nobody like you, babe.


Seriously now - there comes a time when there's nobody left to reach after you have thrown all the gospel-reduced nay-sayers out for everything from disagreeing with your language to making sound points about Biblical ethics which would force lesser men to quit or at least take a sabbatical to reorganize their lives.  If you syndicate, and only see people video video screen (meaning: they only see you once a week, and you never have to see them), that's a plush gig.


It's a well-known fact that nothing works like a Ponzi scheme except a Ponzi scheme -- and the only way to really multiply fruitfulness is to let other people in for a taste.  Again, when God has verbally told you that you're his guy, who can lay a finger on God's anointed?


The trick of course is to turn popularity into something that other people think they are getting by being close to you.  Especially the guys who always have been and always will be the bookish kind who hang out in the library.  If they think that they can be as popular as you are by hanging out with you?  That can be monetized.  You might even get to be a best-selling author with their help.


That's just common sense after #4 - no sense hanging out with the Library squad if they are not pulling their weight.  Your face and rep might be enough to move product, but nothing says "ECPA award" like the endorsements of old guys who think they can finally reach the young people.


"Retirement" ought to be a code-word for "collecting the royalties."  That is, at some point, you are the brand, and all you have to do is show up to collect the paycheck.  And why wouldn't you do that?  Do I have to remind you that God called you verbally?


It's a good gig if you can get it.  There's no sense in worrying yourself to death over stupid things like homeschool moms and seminary presidents.  I'm personally going to keep the top down, crank the music loud, and blame my wife when I'm not happy in our marriage.  I have nothing to do all day but smile and wave.

22 July 2014

Charismatics degrading revelation? Must be a day ending in a "y"

by Dan Phillips

The speaker here is Jennifer LeClaire. She's not some obscure figure off on the fringe; she is news editor at Charisma magazine — which I guess is the leaky-Canoneers' organ of record? At any rate, she's written books, she's got an internet presence, and on and on and on.

Plus, she's a preacher. Plus, she receives direct, verbal, extra-Scriptural revelation from God. And we're not talking feelings, impressions, hunches. We're talking about words from God that she can quote for us. And we need her to, right? Because they're not in our Bibles.

They're just Jennifer.

Well, not anymore, because she's thoughtfully passed on to us what God bypassed His Bible and His body of believers to speak to her only. And here it is. These are, according to Jennifer LeClaire, the words of God:
There is a great awakening coming to this nation. For I have heard your cries and I long to heal your land. I am a covenant God and I will not forget the covenant I made with your Founding Forefathers. Yes, there will be a shaking, but the foundations will not crack and they will not crumble. Only those things which can be shaken will be shaken that the sin in the land may be laid bare.
Well, it's all there, isn't it? It is a direct quotation of God. "I have heard your cries." Read the article: there is no "I might have gotten this exactly right," or "You have to understand, I'm about to impersonate God, but I don't mean you to think that I'm, you know, impersonating God," or "Remember how Grudem made it okay for me to redefine prophecy? There's my get-out-of-responsibility card!"

But wait, there's more.

This isn't the mere rehashing of Biblical generalities that many Charismatic pop-offecies feature. It actually imparts newly-revealed information, information that changes everything. "God" here tells us that "He" made a covenant with America's Founding Forefathers. Those Deists and Romanists and all-over-the-mappers were "His" covenant partners. Covenant with Abram, with Isaac, with Jacob... and with America's founders. The texts are Genesis 12, Exodus 2:24... and Jennifer.

And where is this covenant? What was the ceremony? When did it happen? What is the exact wording? Is it unilateral, bilateral, or what? Are there promises? What are they? Sanctions?

This is heavy, immense stuff. It changes history and our view of it. It changes the way we see America, and the way we need to demand that everyone sees America — you know, demandin "God's" name, right? Because this is the Word of God. Like the Bible is.

And surely all the rest of us should put this in our preaching rotation, right? Because it's important. So: Proverbs, Ephesians, Gospel of John, prophecy of Isaiah, prophecy of Daniel, prophecy of Jennifer.

Plus, shouldn't living theologians schedule revisions of their texts? Especially Grudem? They weren't working with the full dataset.

There's a lot more in this prophecy. Interestingly, "God" calls the nation to repent — but "He" doesn't call this female preacher to repent of the obvious.

Are the high-traffic leaky-Canon-friendly reformed blogs all over this, either tearing it to shreds or preaching it up?

All right now, some of you are chuckling, some are groaning, some are gritting your teeth. Why am I doing this? (And this is nothing; we could go on, and on, and on.)

Because all of this is a perfect exhibition as to why the Strange Fire conference was necessary, and why conferences like Sufficient Fire are absolutely essential. The church has become inoculated and numbed to the outrageous audacity and distraction that is Charismaticism, and it has allowed its wonder and marvel and reverence over the Word of God to be adulterated down to the vaguest shadow of what it should be.

It's not a little thing. It's just treated like a little thing.

However, it is as if Christians who have a robust doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture have an unspoken agreement about our Charismatic siblings. When they start claiming direct revelation, or semi-hemi-demi revelation, we just smile with fond indulgence and wait until they're done. It's like Crazy Uncle Rufus. We all love him, so when he starts up about how President Bush ordered the bombing of the World Trade Center, or alien bovine probing, we just smile and wink at each other. It's just Crazy Uncle Rufus being Crazy Uncle Rufus. We love him. No harm done, right?

Not right.

Not right, and not to God's glory. Nor does it adorn our witness to the lost. Nor is it to the good of Christ's church...nor of Jennifer LeClaire, for that matter.

That someone should speak up is a given. That all who affirm Scripture's self-revelation should speak up, sound the alarm — also a given.

That so few do... that's the mystery, and that's the shame.

But one just has to do what one can.

ADDENDUM: this poor lady only blames a 360-word rant on God. Francis Chan now tells us God "asked" him to write a whole book. This isn't Chan's first irresponsible statement of the kind. What if these thoughts from 2010 had been echoed and made more of a focus among those with a robust doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture four years ago?

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20 July 2014

The brilliant future will arise out of the gloom

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 Sermons preached on unusual occasions, pages 129-30, Pilgrim Publications.
"Whatever the church may have seen and experienced of divine power there is yet more in reserve, and when the fit moment shall come all restraint shall be withdrawn, and the eternal forces shall be let loose to rout every foeman, and secure an easy victory."

For the moment our great Captain puts his hand into his bosom and allows the enemy to exult, but he is not defeated, nor is he in the least disquieted. “He shall not fail, nor be discouraged.” His time is not yet, but when the time comes he will be found to have his reward with him and his work before him.

Let us never be daunted by the apparent failures of the cause of God and truth, for these are but the trial of patience, the test of valour, and the means to a grander victory. Pharaoh defies Jehovah while he sees only two Hebrews and a rod, but he will be of another mind when the Lord’s reserves shall set themselves in battle array and discharge plague upon plague against him.

Even the doubling of the tale of bricks, and the wanton cruelty of the tyrant, all wrought towards the divine end, and were no real hindrances to the grand design; nay they were reserved forces by which the Lord made his people willing to leave Goshen and the fleshpots.

To-day, also, the immediate present is dark, and there is room for sad forebodings; but if we look a little further, and by faith behold the brilliant future which will arise out of the gloom, we shall be of good cheer. My eye rests at this moment somewhat sorrowfully upon the battle field of religious opinion; truly, there is much to rivet my gaze.

It is a perilous moment. The prince of darkness is bringing up his reserves. The soldiers of the devil’s old guard, on whom he places his chief reliance, are now rushing like a whirlwind upon our ranks. They threaten to carry everything before them, deceiving the very elect, if it be possible. Never were foes more cunning and daring. They spare nothing however sacred, but assail the Lord himself: his book they criticise, his gospel they mutilate, his wrath they deny, his truth they abhor.

Of confused noise and vapour of smoke there is more than enough; but it will blow over in due time, and when it is all gone we shall see that the Lord reigneth, and his enemies are broken in pieces.

18 July 2014

The public reading of Scripture: ten pointed pointers

by Dan Phillips

Some of the specifics of the elements of our services have little or no specific Scriptural directive; some are just common-sense. For instance, there's no apostolic instruction about how to handle (or whether to have) announcements, or the welcoming of visitors. There's no order of service. No dress code. Nothing about hymnal-color...or hymnals, for that matter! Though singing is enjoined (Col. 3:16), not a whisper of specific direction deals with beat or rhythm or octave or number of verses or choruses or types of instruments — except that we can be fairly assured that none of us precisely does what apostolic churches did, stylistically.

But there is a word about what ESV (perhaps over-)translates as "the public reading of Scripture" (1 Tim. 4:13). Apostolic-age church services involved reading some portion or portions of God's Word (cf. Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Rev. 1:3). That fact alone makes the reading of Scripture important; God thought enough about it to mention it. Nor is this the first time reading the Word came to the fore, as it featured prominently in the Water Gate Revival (Neh. 8:3, 8, 18).

While there are many and excellent books about preaching, and plenty about music and singing, and truckloads about praying, there is less of any prominence about this facet of the worship of God. I'm sure others have blogged about it, but I keep learning that some of the most helpful posts are about fairly basic issues. So we offer here a few brief and pointed pointers about the public reading of Scripture.
  1. Take it as seriously as the preacher takes his sermon. God said to do it. That makes it important. Unless you've no choice, do not let the pulpit be the first time your eyes touch and your mouth forms these words. Some may think, "It's just reading. How hard can it be?" That makes as much sense as a preacher sneering "It's just talking. How hard can it be?"
  2. Do not underestimate the importance or potential of this moment. This is the word of God. These are the most important words you will ever speak, the most important words your hearers will ever hear. I know you'll think as I do, "It's Spurgeon!"; but consider this story from Spurgeon's autobiography:
    The Lord set His seal upon the effort even before the great crowd gathered, though I did not know of that instance of blessing until long afterwards. It was arranged that I should use the Surrey Gardens pulpit, so, a day or two before preaching at the Palace, I went to decide where it should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from Heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, he told this story to one who visited him on his death-bed. [Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1854–1860 (Vol. 2, p. 239). Chicago; New York; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.]
  3. Understand the passage you read. Wouldn't it be strange if the preacher preached on a passage he didn't understand, hadn't studied? Give thought to this passage, so that you can by inflection convey the meaning of the passage.
  4. Master any difficult words. God's people are gracious, and will not hound you for stumbling over Mahershalalhashbaz or Sepharvaim or Hazarmaveth or Arpachshad. But you knew it was in the text, and you knew it would be challenging, and you were probably asked to do this days in advance. So why would you not have worked at it until it flowed fluidly off your tongue? We want attention on the text, not on our lingual gymnastics.
  5. Pray for God's help as you prepare. Wouldn't it be odd if the preacher's first prayer for his sermon were that uttered in the seconds before his introduction? Pray that God help you understand the passage, that He apply it to your heart; pray that He will apply it to all the hearts of all the hearers. Seriously — and I say this as a preacher — what you will read will be of absolutely vital importance. God will judge you and your hearers for how you respond to these words (cf. John 12:48)! It's no small thing; it's a moment of crisis.
  6. Practice it aloud. Reading to yourself is a different dynamic than reading to others; it simply is. Try to imagine yourself reading to others. Get a room alone if possible, and speak up, just as you will during the service.
  7. Take your time. This is a vital part of the service, not a bit we rush through so we can get to the meat. It's God's Word! Announce it, wait for the majority of page-turning to stop. Then read in an unhurried pace. Don't verbally drag your feet like a zombie, but don't race like a dragster. It isn't an auction.
  8. Give full and meaningful inflection. It is God's Word! He did not entrust it to angels, but to men! It's a fearful and sobering thing for us to take His word on our lips. So work this out during your practice: vary your pace, your pitch, your tone. Read it with meaning. You're rightly put off by a bloodless, bland, lifeless preacher who sounds like he's reading a legal document or instructions for assembling a tricycle. Don't be that man. This deserves your best effort. For instance, don't read Mark 15:24 as "And-they-crucified-him-and-divided-his-garments-among-them..." Perhaps read it as "And [pause a beat] they crucified him [pause a double beat, at the horror of it] and divided his garments among them..." Don't dash coolly through Galatians 1:6, "I-am-astonished-that-you-are-so-quickly-deserting-him..." as if you were a Dalek. Sound astonished! Perhaps, "I am... astonished... that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ, and are turning to... a different gospel..." You don't have to Shatner it, but don't Robbie the Robot it, either. Nor is there any virtue in a sepulchral, unnatural, affectedly "holy" intonation. The words of God should ring in your hearers' ears, and stir their conscience.
  9. Use what you've got, as appropriate. Some of us are gifted as readers, some are not. As with giving, I think "if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have" (2 Cor. 8:12). If it's all you can do to get through a passage without collapsing into burbling, God bless you, give what you've got, God will be pleased and glorified and the saints edified. But if you can convey the tone and tenor of the passage in your reading, do that. And so there are passage of Scripture that should be fairly shouted, and parts that should be fairly whispered. It isn't a question of dramatics, it is a matter of adorning. Inflection and emphasis are as much a part of communication as is word choice. We suit the manner of reading to the content of the passage for the same reason we don't wear swim suits or clown suits to the pulpit.
  10. Consider a closing word. I often close a reading with, "This is the Word of God," or "This is the Word of the Lord." In some churches, hearers respond with "Thanks be to God." Some say something like "God grant that we hear and heed God's inerrant Word," or "Thanks be to God for His inerrant and infallible Word." It may be a response in unison, it may be left to individuals to say that, "Amen," or nothing at all. It's a time-honored practice, and in my opinion it makes reverent sense.
The reading of Scripture is a vital and apostolically-enjoined facet of the gem of divine worship. If these exhortations serve to enrich readers' and hearers' experience of the Word in worship, glory to God.

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17 July 2014

"The Neo-Liberal Stealth Offensive"

by Phil Johnson

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 excerpt was written by Phil back in April 2011. It first appeared in the Jan-Feb 2010 edition of the 9Marks eJournal. Phil identified four trends being cultivated and employed against Biblical Christianity.

As usual, the comments are closed.
The gospel's most dangerous earthly adversaries are not raving atheists who stand outside the door shouting threats and insults. They are church leaders who cultivate a gentle, friendly, pious demeanor but hack away at the foundations of faith under the guise of keeping in step with a changing world.

No Christian should naively imagine that heresy is always conspicuous or that every purveyor of theological mischief will lay out his agenda in plain and honest terms. The enemy prefers to sow tares secretly for obvious reasons. Thus Scripture expressly warns us to be on guard against false teachers who creep into the church unnoticed (Jude 4); wolves who sneak into the flock wearing sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15); and servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Theological liberalism is particularly dependent on the stealth offensive. A spiritually healthy church is simply not susceptible to the arrogant skepticism that underlies a liberal's rejection of biblical authority. A church that is sound in the faith won't abandon the gospel in order to embrace humanist values. Liber alism must therefore take root covertly and gain strength and influence gradually. The success or failure of the whole liberal agenda hinges on a patient public-relations cam­paign.

To help you withstand Evangelicalism's continuing drift, here are four major trends today's crop of neo-liberal leaders are fostering and taking advantage of:

1. They recklessly follow the zeitgeist.

Beware of church leaders who are more worried about being contemporary than they are about being doctrinally sound; more concerned with their methodology than they are with their message; more captivated by political correctness than they are by the truth. The church is not called to ape the world or make Christianity seem cool and likable, but to proclaim the gospel faithfully—including the parts the world usually scoffs at: sin, righteousness, and judgment (cf. John 16:8). Jesus expressly taught that if we are faithful in that task, the Holy Spirit will convict hearts and draw believers to Christ.

2. They want the world's admiration at all costs.

There is of course nothing wrong with being winsome. As recipients of divine grace, if our lives properly manifest the Spirit's fruit, we should by definition have personal charisma (cf. Galatians 5:19-23). We also ought to maintain a good testimony before the world. In fact, to qualify as an elder, a man "must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace" (1 Timothy 3:7).

That of course speaks of a person's character—graciousness, compassion, and a reputation for integrity. It is not a prescription for the appeasement of worldly tastes or the endorsement of every earthly fashion.

3. Their "faith" comes with an air of intellectual superiority.

Liberals treat faith itself as an academic matter. Their whole system is essentially a wholesale rejection of simple, childlike belief. Their worldview foments an air of academic arrogance, setting human reason in the place of highest authority; treating the Bible with haughty condescension; and showing utter contempt for the kind of faith Christ blessed.

4. They despise doctrinal and biblical precision.

One maneuver neo-liberals have perfected in these postmodern times is an artful dodge when they dislike a particular doctrine but cannot afford to make a plain and open denial. Instead, they will claim that Scripture is simply too unclear on that point. We can't really be sure.

In reality—and this is a lesson the church should have learned from both Scripture and church history—unity and harmony cannot exist in the church at all if there is not a common commitment to sound doctrine.

As long as these four trends and others like them continue to thrive within the evangelical movement, the threat posed by neo-liberalism looms large. Conservative evangelicals should not grow apathetic or take too much comfort in the apparent meltdown of Emergent Village and the liberal wing of postmodernized Christianity. Even if the Emergent ghetto does finally and completely give up the ghost, many of the leading figures and popular ideas from that movement will simply blend into mainstream evangelicalism (which is growing less mainstream and less evangelical all the time).

We must pay attention to the lessons of history and stand firm on the truth of Scripture—and we desperately need to be more aggressive than we have been so far in opposing these neo-liberal influences.

15 July 2014

Music/worship style: a small-to-mid-sized church conundrum

by Dan Phillips

I realize that the premise is legitimately debatable, but for the sake of this discussion, we'll assume that the various styles I'll mention are all legitimate, and usable by Biblically-faithful churches. We're not comparing (A) singing doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns with (B) throwing such over for "Jesus Is My Girlfriend" type drivel, or sheer entertainment, or music so loud no one can hear saints sing, or twerking "worship teams," or Bieber. We're talking about doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns in musical style/musical period/culture A versus doctrinally rich, Christ-exalting hymns in musical style/musical period/cultures A-C.

That said:
  1. A church has Worship Style A, particularly in terms of music. Has had for years.
  2. Many say that this church it does not adopt Worship Style B, worshipers in their 20s and 30s — not currently in attendance — will conclude that they are deliberately excluded ("You're not welcome here, our ministry doesn't have you in mind"), and are unlikely to attend and remain.
  3. Others say that if this church does adopt Worship Style B, worshipers in their 40s and up will leave.
  4. If all a church has is worshipers in their 40s and beyond, particularly if it is sheerly due to an issue of style, the effectiveness of its ministry is hampered, and its future is worrisome at best.
  5. But is it wise to shift from a style comfortable, edifying, and not distracting to those who for
    decades actually have been serving and sacrificing and building the ministry, in the interests of people not present, not committed, not serving, not sacrificing, and not building?
  6. And if the faithful preaching of the Word plus vital, loving fellowship is not enough reason to come and stay, is it worth it to risk alienating the faithful to reach for the wobbly?
  7. Equally, is it wise to allow an issue of mere style to become a barrier to the spread of the ministry of the Word, when Christian graces such as God calls for in a great many passages would prepare people to accommodate practices which are not their personal preference?
  8. Such being the case, is not refusal to accommodate a style with which others are more comfortable tantamount to insistence on having it my way, all the way, all the time?
  9. Or is insistence on adopting a different style less comfortable to "pillars" tantamount to slapping them in the face, for the sake of those who have sacrificed and given nothing to build this church's ministry?
Simple? I don't think so.

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