31 August 2014

Barely (bearly) helpful!

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 Speeches at Home and Abroad, pages 73-74, Pilgrim Publiications.
"There can be no difficulty in discovering some points in which your pastor excels; dwell upon these excellencies and not upon his failures."

I remember when I came first to London preaching to eighty or ninety in a large chapel, but my little congregation thought well of me, and induced others to come and fill the place. I always impute my early success to my warm-hearted people, for they were so earnest and enthusiastic in their loving appreciation of “the young man from the country,” that they were never tired of sounding his praises.

If you, any of you, are mourning over empty pews in your places of worship, I would urge you to praise up your minister. Talk of the spiritual benefit which you derive from his sermons, and thus
you will induce the people to come and listen to him, and at the same time you will do him good, for the full house will warm him up and make him a better preacher, and you yourself will enjoy him the more because you have thought and spoken kindly of him.

I have already said, those who are doing no good are the very ones who are creating mischief. Have you ever observed that exceedingly acute critics are usually wise enough to write no works of their own? Judges of other men’s works find the occupation of the judgment-seat so great a tax upon their energies that they attempt nothing on their own account.

Mr. Gough used to tell a story of a brave man and admirable critic in Russia, who on one occasion was visited by a bear. Now, there was a ladder which led up to the room on the roof, and the aforesaid hero climbed it nimbly, and for fear the bear should come after him he took up the ladder, and left his wife with Bruin below.

His wife, who must have been his “better half,” seized a broom, and began to belabour the beast right heartily, while her heroic lord and master looked on from above, and gave her his opinion as to her proceedings in some such terms as these: “Hit him harder, Betty.” “More over the nose, Betty.” “Try the other end of the broom, Betty,” and so on in the most judicious manner.

Surely his spouse might have said, “Good man, you had better come down and fight the bear yourself.” Those who are doing nothing are sure to be great in discovering flaws in the modes and manners of those who bear the burden and heat of the day. Surely they would be much more nobly occupied, and usefully occupied, if they would show us our faults by doing better themselves.

29 August 2014

Some here, some there — August 29, 2014

by Dan Phillips

As we prepare to bid adieu to August, and the temperatures here in Houston plummet to the upper 80s, one last look-around. Remember, updates through the day. Check in later.

Prepare for more change-ups than an early Chicago song.
  • Remember the first time you were exposed to Calvinism?
  • ...but then, much as you tried, you just couldn't get it out of your mind?
  • ...until finally:
  • Enough of humor, for the moment.
  • I said, enough!
  • In other subjects: Author Darrin Patrick tweeted that he would "love to hear thoughts on race & the gospel" from Phil, Frank and me. "Love to"? Well! How could I refuse? That being the case, I thought surely Darrin would be delighted to learn that I've written on this area a number of times, including in last Friday's post. Yet when I pointed Darrin to the 2012 post titled (hel-lo?) Racism, for some reason he seemed to lose interest. I still really, truly don't know what that was about.
  • A lot of armchair quarterbacking has been done on the Ferguson matter; Joshua Waulk, a brother-pastor who's a former police officer provides some helpful instruction and context.
  • Fred Butler says: "It is grieves me, almost to the point of despair, that generations of black Americans have been taught to believe by their leaders, as well as a political party, that their fellow white Americans are racists at heart and there is nothing they can do to better themselves in our society because of that racism." Amen, among much else that could be said. Fred links to a multi-racial lawman round-table discussion.
  • So once again: you don't fight fire with gasoline, you don't lose weight on an all-Oreo diet, and you don't cure racism with racism. The sufficient, effective, and only real cure is in the Gospel.
  • In other news...
  • You may have heard that Mark Driscoll is taking time off with pay while getting counsel of some unspecified kind, after which he'll get back to the work of the American people preaching. This is also being reported as "stepping down," though I wouldn't describe it that way. Doug Wilson weighs in, and manages to be at the same time characteristically incisive and insightful and (in my opinion) overly sanguine. Doug even manages very wrongly to extend cover for Driscoll's still-unrepented boast of receiving I-accuse-Grandpa-but-then-heh-heh-heh-I-could-be-wrong porn-sorta-visions. (Wilson avers to Ezekiel's vision of "abominations" which, by stark contrast, [A] was presented as a full-on prophetic vision without modern leaky-Canonism's wiggle-words, and [B] was defined explicitly in-context as visions of idolatry, not of X-rated porn enactments of the sexual sins of the citizenry.)
  • I did, by the way, share a meal with Doug before going public with this. It was months and months before, and completely unrelated; but oh well. And, more recently, I dropped him an email.
  • Seriously, that anyone can read Phil's thoughtful and relentnessly pastoral working-through of that appalling video, with the discussion that ensues in the meta, and say in effect "Well, that's kind of like Ezekiel, isn't it?" — yeah, just like Ezekiel. "Like" in the sense of opposite. In the sense that Howard Stern is like Charles Spurgeon... because they both talk. Less like, in fact.
  • After Driscoll's "apology," someone asked in Twitter what I thought of John Piper's tweet, which (again, to my surprise) Doug Wilson quoted approvingly. I replied:
  • good sermon will do you a lot of good, right? Not necessarily, says pastor Joseph Franks, and he's absolutely right. Some wonderful needed jabs here:
We are informed but incorrigible. Our heads and mouths are filled with God’s Word, but it does not affect our hearts and feet. We know what to do, but do it not. And in the end, our miserable existence is made more miserable. We heap sin upon sin and wonder what is wrong with our minister, our church, and our holy religion. On Sunday we walk into the church, and walk the aisle, but on Monday we forget to walk after the model of Christ.
  • Oh my gosh, everyone who has ever preached has to watch this ad for a book by David Murray. Absolutely hysterical. If my books had such videos... well, they'd be New York Times bestsellers and TGC would love me!
  • On his way to commending Michael Kruger's posts responding to Paul Peter Enns' latest attempts to make his stance not look like such a bad thing, Todd Pruitt notes that "unbelief is all the rage among some who identify themselves as Christians." I quote that because it lets my re-post one of my very favorite of Phil's Po-Motivators:
That's it for now! Have a little snack, and get on with your day.

Just be careful what you pick.

(How'd they know what price to set?)

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28 August 2014

"Marching Orders for a Backslidden Church: Man Up!"

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 March 2010 as Part 3 of a series of four posts. The entire series was the transcript of a talk that Phil gave at the 2010 Shepherd's Conference. The subject was the four imperatives found in 1 Corinthians 6:13.

As usual, the comments are closed.
"Act like men" (1 Corinthians 6:13)

The expression literally means, "Be men," or "Be manly." Paul uses the Greek verb andrizomai in the middle voice. It's another one-word imperative, though it's hard to make it one word in English. It means "play the man."

It's a word that speaks of masculinity as opposed to femininity. He's not saying be grownups rather than children; he's saying, "Act like men, not like girls." And frankly, that was a fitting charge to give to the church at Corinth. As a reminder and a rebuke, it is also well-suited for a large segment of evangelicals today.

Remember, the context is militant. This is first of all a call to arms and a summons to battle. "Fight like men; defend the faith in a manly way." That is surely the cardinal idea here.

Now it's worth noting that this verse is written to the whole church—it's not addressed to men only—and much less does Paul single out only the elders and the church leaders. This apples to every Christian. But while this applies to everyone in the church, it is nevertheless the particular duty of the elders and pastor to model the spirit of virile, vigorous, vigilant faith—steadfast and courageous. And I love it that Paul has no scruples about connecting those ideas with manliness. "Act like men!" Masculinity. That is certainly one of the missing qualities of churches today.

In my judgment, the typical evangelical church of this generation has become weak and womanly. Churchgoers demand that preachers be soft and dainty—especially when they are dealing with hard-edged truths. If you don't sufficiently tone down every severe text or hard-to-receive doctrine in the Bible, the tone police will write you up for an infraction before you can get from the pulpit to the front door. All the rough edges of every truth must be carefully sanded smooth and painted in pastel tones. We've traded up to cushy seats instead of hard-bench pews and we expect our preachers to fashion their message accordingly. None of this sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God stuff.

Instead, today's evangelicals favor feminine themes: Let's talk about our emotional hurts, our personal relationships, our felt needs. We're hurting people. The church has begun to look weak, effeminate, frightened, sissified—like a society of fops and milksops instead of soldiers.

These trends have received a lot of attention in recent years, and more and more people are recognizing the problem. The church is not reaching and ministering to men—we're actually driving them away. But those who see the problem more often than not have really bad solutions. You know: have the Men's Bible studies over beer, cigars, and poker games. Get your men watching cage-fighting and encourage them to develop a taste for blood sport. Or go out in the woods, put on war paint, and perfect the art of the primal scream. Salt your vocabulary with a sailor's favorite expletives. Or (my favorite) Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, where you dress up like a knight or a gladiator and assume that persona out in a vacant field somewhere with other people who are doing the same thing.

Paul has none of those things in mind when he tells the Corinthians to man up. He is telling them as simply and straightforwardly as possible to be bold, sober-minded, mature, and committed to their calling—like soldiers. Be valiant soldiers in the battle for truth.

In fact, notice the two imperatives on either side of this command to act like men. They explain the true gist of it: "Be steadfast." "Be strong." Those are character qualities. And sandwiched between them is this: "Act like men." The imperatives in that string of commands basically explain one another. Strength, steadfastness, courage, and even vigilance—these are all vital aspects of what Paul means when he says, "Act like men."

27 August 2014

Theology vs. Racism - a primer

by The Late Frank Turk

In 2008, Thabiti Anyabwile spoke for about 66 minutes on the theological problem of using "race" as away to see our differences, and someone ought to review those 66 minutes as soon as possible.  I'm embedding that talk here, unabridged, for your edification.  Also: so that person who ought to review it can find it easily.

We have an obligation to minimize us and maximize Christ.  It is to be displayed in the local church.

6 problems that are not immediately apparent to us when we trade in race:

1. The abuse of people and scripture in the name of "race". The category causes us to treat God's word and other people with the wrong assumptions.
2. It's a short walk from positing "race" to practicing racism.  It leans to into racism.  It assumes that I love people (only) like me.
3. It hinders meaningful engagement with others. It is inherently Ad-Hominem, against the man.  Ethnicity is permeable and subject to change; race is non-negotiable and an impasse.
4. It undermines the authority of Scripture. Race (as biology) denies that Scripture defines us and establishes our identity.
5. It causes us to resist the Holy Spirit.  It creates a barrier to sanctification and illumination.
6. It undermines the Gospel.  If we deny our common ground in Adam, how can we ever find our unity in Christ?

Our fundamental objective is not to build ethnic shrines.  Our project in Christ is to be living monuments to the living image of Christ.

26 August 2014

Dear single Christian sister

by Dan Phillips

Dear single Christian sister,

Probably you, like most single Christians, dream of getting married. Your ideas of marital bliss are fed by the high regard the Bible holds for the institution, by your friends, and probably by your church culture. It's easy to feel like the "odd man (or woman) out" in a church built around the assumption that most or all of its members — or, at least, the ones who count — are married.

But I wanted to be a good brother to you and put some thoughts before you that any Christian who loves and cares for you would want you to consider. I'll be brief and pointed; my aim isn't to detain you, but to help you, and perhaps even to save you a great deal of heartache. So here are cautionary thoughts on marriage:

Firstthere are worse things than dying a virgin. That I even have to say this is a reflection of our culture, most of whom would hoot with derision at the suggestion. But as Christians, while we see marriage as a sacred and blessed institution, and a wonderful opportunity to serve and glorify God, we should know better (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul either never married, or was unmarried through his apostolic labors. Wouldn't you agree that he had a meaningful life? He saw singleness as having its own advantages for the service of God (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35).

"But I want to get married!" you say? That's absolutely fine, and I say "go for it." But I also say "—don't go for it at all costs." Remember: there are worse things than being single.

Secondyou don't owe marriage to any man you're not married to. What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to all, so I stress this: perhaps you've been dating for a year, seven years, whatever; perhaps you've talked about this and that. Perhaps you know he's got his heart set on marrying you, and he's counting on it. Yet, if you haven't married him, you needn't marry him. Particularly if one of the next considerations persuades you that it'd be unwise.

Thirdmaster everything the Bible says about marriage, particularly about the wife's obligations. Study Genesis 1—2, 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, all the passages. I'd recommend to you my series on marriage, where I try to help single (and married) people to do just that. Also use chapter seven, "Skill in Godly Marriage," in my book on Proverbs.

"But I'm not even engaged yet," you say? Perfect! There is no more strategically-vital time to get this understood. Because once you are married to a man, you are morally obligated before God to perform and be everything the Bible calls you to do and be, to do so heartily as unto the Lord, and to do so as long as you are married. You are obligated to respect him from the heart (not just externally), to subordinate yourself to his leadership, and to back his plays unless doing so requires you to sin. You are obliged to do all this if he turns out to be a wise, godly, loving, caring saint; and you are equally obliged if he turns out to be a fickle, surly, selfish, childish, uncaring, hypocritical jerk.

"Yikes," you say. "You're scaring me." Terrific. I mean to. See #1, above.

This leads me to...

Fourthif he wasn't already showing a years-long pattern of Christian commitment and involvement in a local church you could gladly attend before you met him, you probably shouldn't marry him. I say "probably" because there will be exceptions — but be very slow to claim to have found one.

What I mean is: do they all know him at his church? Has he served, faithfully and a lot? (Best training for being a leader is being a follower.) Has he invested his greater energy and free time as a single to serve to further the ministry of the church and help the needy within it?

Does the pastor know him well? Would he vouch for this man? Is your fella a once-a-week-at-best-skimmer, barely known or unknown to most of the pillars and doers, or is he deeply committed and involved? Has he read his Bible through? Can he explain the Gospel well, from the Bible? Ask him to read TWTG, and tell you his thoughts — you'll be able to tell a lot by that (his view of the nature of God, of man, of Christ, of the Gospel, of the sovereignty of God, of sanctification; his worldview, etc.). Can he explain his own convictions and values and aspirations in Biblical terms — that is, does he show signs that he's gotten it from Scripture, or vetted it by Scripture, before he set his heart on it?

Can he demonstrate the ability to think things through, and make decisions, Biblically?

You see, this man is going to be making the decisions for your family. If he's wise and godly, you'll get truckloads of input — but the final call will be his. You will need not only to accept his final decision, but to dive in and do your best to make it work. Under God, your life will hang on his judgment. Can you trust him? With the rest of your life, and with your children's lives, can you trust him?

Now you see my point.

(If you and he attend different churches, be sure to let your pastor meet and get to know him, interrogate him, put him under the hot white lights. He's the man who has care for your soul, so he will be motivated to care for you and go the extra mile to be sure you're making as wise a decision as a person can make.)

Now, if we're talking about a man who is not a Christian at all, then he's not even a candidate, and you shouldn't be involved with him anywhere near this level, for his sake and yours.

But if he says he's a Christian but isn't much involved in a local church, then he doesn't much have the heart of Christ. Particularly if he's got "reasons" and excuses and rationales, he's not the man for you. He doesn't follow Christ. And you want obligate yourself to follow him?

"But he says he's a Christian!" one might sob. Yes, sister, if he's interested in you and knows you have this Jesus-thingie going on, I'm sure he does. I could train a parakeet to say he's a Christian. In fact, I've known parakeets who would make better Christians than some of the guys who've assured their girlfriends that they're Christians until they got what they wanted. It's just words. I could say I'm a MMA champion. Talk's cheap.

I just gave you ways to weigh that talk, and that's what you really need to do.

Remember, dating is the selling phase. All the best is put on display, to sink the deal. You should assume that marriage will not instantly make him a better man. If he is godly, it will; but you need to be convinced of that now. I can't tell you how many heart-wrenching stories I've heard about men who made this and that religious gesture, and then once the trout is in the creel, everything changes.

If you're a believer in Christ, you're a precious treasure to God, and your life is a stewardship. You need to make this decision slowly and carefully. If I may indulge my imagination in order to engage yours, your unborn kids are begging you to pick their dad v-e-r-y  c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y.

Too much is at stake to risk everything on a maybe-sorta lip-service until-the-deal-is-closed-and-the-deed-is-done sort of "Christian" male.

There are plenty of good godly men out there. Why haven't you seen them? They're probably going to smaller churches than your mega-church, because they prize Biblical preaching and look for opportunities to serve, and not simply be served. That's the sort of man you want to join yourself to in marriage.

Don't settle. Really, truly: don't. You'll be so sorry, and I'll be so sad.

PostScript: for the "But I know someone who [did a really stupid, un-Biblical, lamebrained thing] and it turned out just fine!" retort, see the "Real-Live Final Thought" at the end of this.

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24 August 2014

The chief end of man

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 Speeches at Home and Abroad, page 71, Pilgrim Publications.
"The great object of our church teaching should be to educate efficient workersworkers filled with holy ardour, strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

I was requested to address this meeting upon the subject of Christian work, and I will now, without further apologies or salutations, proceed at once to what I have to say.

Is it not God’s chief end in the conversion of sinners, and in the sanctification of his people, to promote his own glory by making each converted man and woman his instrument for enlarging his

Not for ourselves alone does he give us grace. The design of our heavenly Father in all his gracious work for us, and in us, is, that we should become willingly his servants here, and in perfection his servants for ever above.

Should we not all of us press forward beyond the winning of personal security, to the desire that, by our influence, example, and labours, others may be turned from sin unto righteousness, and so be plucked as brands from the burning?

22 August 2014

Some here, some there — August 22, 2014

by Dan Phillips

Remember to check back at day's end, as this may be updated without note through the day.
  • The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked some commentary from an array of sources. My friend Thabiti Anyabwile shared from the heart, very movingly and hauntingly, of his fears for his son in what he sees as a still-deeply-racist America. Jemar Tisby also gave some perspective that your average white man wouldn't know unless told. For seven years, I was member of a racially-mixed church, and some of the stories the black pastor and music leader shared with me dropped my jaw and saddened me, and have stayed with me ever since. Then Thabiti threw down a gauntlet, asking Is it "Goodbye evangelicalism" or "We join you in your suffering"?
  • Over at Cripplegate, Jesse Johnson added three excellent biblical principles for thinking about this situation.
  • Thabiti fired right back with Why we never "wait for all the facts" before we speak.
  • Al Mohler weighs in on not prejudging before the facts are known. While I don't share Mohler's seeming optimism about Eric Holder being at all concerned with a fair investigation, I just can't see my way to coming down on everything about this situation until more is confidently known.
  • That said, certain things may be stated categorically, no?
    • Racism is evil, and a sin.
    • Counter-racism is never the cure for racism.
    • Police should not kill people wrongfully, and certainly never for their skin-color.
    • Young men (and women!) should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, continue in His Word, avoid evil associations, learn to work hard and be generous, never thieving, doing drugs, or cultivating evil associations.
    • No Christian should speak in a way that legitimately gives the impression of supporting abuse-of-power totalitarianism, or of victim-mentality license to commit crime(s).
  • Now, for many things completely different...
  • Fred Butler embarks on 20 Ways to Answer a Fool. And, like clockwork, one shows up in the meta. But this is no dainty RPB meta, concerned above all that fools not be made to look... well, foolish; so he actually gets an answer.
  • last week I shared Aimee Byrd's raised eyebrow on the subject of courtship. This week, Doug Wilson weighs in, in its favor.
  • Might be fun to do our own sardonic Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon regarding The World-Tilting Gospel. It'd be bloggers who love/link-to bloggers who love TWTG, but who themselves can't seem to "see" TWTG. I recently saw someone in Twitter literally offer to buy a copy of it for a high-profile blogger, if he'd read and review it. Didn't have the heart to tell the good brother that I knew for a fact that the blogger'd already been sent a copy. But I really, really appreciated the effort.
  • Embarrassingly, it's possible sometimes even to hear Christians making the argument that Christianity is to be valued for the benefits it provides, benefits that don't depend on the truth of the message. Ben Edwards, Instructor in Pastoral Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, takes that argument apart nicely and Biblely.
  • Singleness: even though she works for Christianity Astray Today, Katelyn Beaty offers some very helpful, Biblely thoughts in this interview.
  • Pastor Andy Schreiber writes of the "grotesque anomaly" of the un-churched Christian. He notes that it is abnormal, and that the NT knows nothing of it. I'd say more: any Christian in the NT era would be absolutely, thunderously slack-jawed baffled at the spectacle of a professed Christian who chooses not to involve himself in-person in a single local church. As we have demonstrated forcefully again and again and again.
  • I imagine some readers read these posts and think, "Pastor pastor pastor. You keep talking about pastors, to pastors. I'm not a pastor." Let's see, how can I help non-pastors know what it sometimes feels like to be a pastor? Ah yes, I think I have just the thing:
  • It's good for a woman to say this.
  • As a rule and with no other exceptions, Old Navy commercials make my brain throb and crawl, in a bad way. But this music video is actually kind of cute, and might be useful to homeschoolers returning to classes?
  • On the other hand...
  • David Murray (whose blog, as I've said, should be a daily stop for you) found a fun video that shows how the sun would see us if it could see us. Which is to say, totally differently than we see ourselves.
  • So are you envy-proof? Really? Completely content, impervious to envy? Sweet. Take this test. Still? Great!
  • Seminary students and pastors need to read this from Michael Kruger, on attaining and retaining the Biblical languages.
  • When I taught Hebrew, I'd always give an entire lecture on the need for pastors to learn Hebrew and keep it alive. Yes, it was on the test. Always.
  • Holy mackerel...or, perhaps better, holy underwear. Glenn Beck illustrates why people who don't know Hebrew should probably not just talk about Hebrew. (I'm just talking about 2:10 and following.)
  • Good thing no one remotely Christian would say or pay to hear such claptrap, right?
  • Hm, did we just figure out where Glenn Beck gets his stuff?
  • That's all for now! Have you bought your tickets yet? Get 4 for price of 3 while you can; talk it up at your church, get some groups coming!

Thanks for reading. If you want to comment, please comment on items in this post. If you have tips for future posts, email me. Check back for more at the end of the day!

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21 August 2014

A right way and a wrong way to be "careful"

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 February 2012. He contrasted good ways and bad ways of being "careful" (or "nuanced" or "helpful") in our speaking and writing.

As usual, the comments are closed.
"Careful" has become a shudder-inducing word for me. Like "gay." In fact, very like "gay."

That's too bad, because it's a really good word in itself (like "gay"!; I'm going to stop saying that). It's a great word, in fact. Your kids are going on a hike, or to play touch football, or to the shooting range. "Be careful," you say. Right. Or I was chatting with a lady police officer the other day, and parted with "You be careful" and a prayer for her safety.

But lately the word has joined "nuanced" and "helpful" and "thoughtful" to give me the shudders. I don't think any of the words are irredeemable. But what I do fear is that all those words show up frequently in the writing of elites who think God's truth and damning error are nothing really to "get het up about," and certainly not worth passion or bareknuckled, plain-spoken, frontal, clear, and — let's just say it — masculine rhetoric. Not worth risking angering anyone, or being perceived as angry.

Isn't it good to be "careful"? To be sure, "careful" is a necessary and important adjective in many contexts. Don't we want to make careful distinctions between trinitarianism and tritheism,  between the Biblical gospel and libertinism, between inerrancy and bibliolatry, between elder leadership and totalitarian thralldom, and a hundred other things? If we preach on prophecy, don't we want to be careful, sticking to the text and avoiding wild conclusions and leaps or cowardly equivocations?

Of course we do. But as used in those contexts, "careful" means factual, warranted, clear-cut, concise, unambiguous, forceful. It is a servant of truth, an enhancer of truth. It serves to make the truth of (say) the Trinity and the Gospel clearer and more obviously distinct from error and false teaching.

So when is it bad? I think elites are sometimes — and I want to be careful here, haha — using the word as a code-word for "dainty" or "harmless" or "toothless." I think they are using it sometimes to mean "nobody (and no ruinous error) actually got hurt." I think they are using it to mean "false teaching and particularly its purveyors are treated with kid gloves." I think they mean "false teachers are treated with great respect." I think they mean "false teaching is described, but inoffensively." I think they mean "nobody is made to feel too bad about perpetrating or embracing heresy or ruinous idiocy."

Plain enough?

See, that paragraph is an example. It was plain, wasn't it? It also had necessary qualifiers and distinctives, didn't it? It wasn't unnecessarily inflammatory, was it? Isn't that being careful, in the best sense?

But no elite is likely to link to this as a "careful" post — any more than they ever do to any of my posts, whether they're about atonement in Proverbs or repentance in a false teacher or anything else.

Why? Truth is, I don't really fully know. And I am also pretty sure (being honest, not sugar-coating) that my very real shortcomings, which I'm trying to overcome but am still a work-in-progress, haven't helped.

But I've come to think that it's partly because they are deeply, deeply concerned that no one feel too bad or get too worked up about soul-damning or otherwise ruinous false teaching. Perhaps we might reluctantly be forced to conclude that some course or doctrine is unadvisable, but we don't want anyone too upset, and we want to protect the respectability of apostates and false teachers and their enablers. (For instance, we won't apply those labels; that wouldn't be careful.)

The question I think we are left with is: which best serves Christ and His church? Which more effectively alarms sheep against wolves, encouraging and admonishing and instructing the former while exposing and refuting and repelling the latter?

20 August 2014

8 days later

by Frank Turk

Technically, I am still on hiatus.

You know, I have been at this for more than a decade.  I've been doing this since before there were hit counters, and before some people realized they could make careers (or at least: make up their own titles or become pastors) by saying things and doing things which, let's face it, would get them man-handled in person by actual men (if any could be found).

In that 10 years, I have personally be accused of being a monger for sensationalism.  I have been accused of making up controversies for the sake of driving the stats, and of course it's sort of a meme around here that we do everything for the sake of the traffic and the stats.  Sure: it's so absurd, might as well hug it like a long lost effigy, a rag doll filled with our old laundry so that our pets might mistake it for us while the torch and the pitch fork crowd do their worst.

Let me be clear about something that needs to be said: not once ever in the history of this blog have I ever climbed up on the dead body of the victim of a disease or a tragedy to make sure people were reading this blog.  I am sure I have said some things and done some things in the last 10 years which still sting some people, and once I am certain I spoke the meaning of Christmas into a tragedy so great that only God could be the answer, but not once ever did I use the death of a famous person to create traffic and stir up views for the sake of notoriety.

OK: so how can you know you did this? It's a fair question your readers ought to ask you, and of course the most dastardly response is, "well, they're not allowed to judge my heart." As true as this might be, they can judge your actions, and I think here are some guidelines for that:
  • How often in the last 18 months have I mentioned or opined on Robin Williams' career or life in this blog? How relevant has he been to my on-going content?
  • How often have I written about suicide and depression in the last 18 months? Am I qualified to do so?
  • Did I wait for the initial findings to come out to see if this was a suicide, or did I simply reach my own conclusions before there were any facts (that is: did I write my post before there was any disclosure about what happened)?
  • Did I think about this subject as it appeared in a list of trends which I follow? Was my point to make a sport of being miserable, or was it to bring comfort, especially in a Gospel-centered way?
If this was not you, great: nice work.  if it was?  Please read below.

Anyone who has done that in the last 8 days needs to apologize for it, and repent.  That sort of thing is so ugly, it borders on the kind of idolatry only found at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia and in the deepest, darkest parts of the Old Testament.

It's a good thing my Hiatus is not over for 3 more weeks.  Otherwise I'd be naming names.

19 August 2014

The sting of sending a sluggard: Preaching a single verse from a chiasm in Proverbs

by Dan Phillips

I'm coming to the end of preaching the first ten chapters of Proverbs verse by verse, hoping to help my folks be able to win any ¿Quien es mas macho? competition among pastors. Well, that, and other things.

So as I shared, Duane Garrett helped me see that the last section of the chapter (10:19-32) breaks down into a chiasm. That helped me a lot in figuring out how to preach it. First, I preached on the first four verses, focusing on speech; then on the next four verses, dealing with security. So much for Section A and Section B.

But what to do with the single, lone verse making up Section C? What of verse 26, dealing with Sloth?

Obviously, there were three main honest choices (skipping it is not an honest choice):
  1. Group it with the preceding section, on security.
  2. Group it with the following section on, once again, security.
  3. Preach it all by its lonesome.
At first glance it made the best sense to pick 1 or 2... except when I thought about it. It would either be, "This about security, and this about security, and this about security, and this about security... oh, and a thought about the sluggard." Or it would be "A thought about the sluggard. Now, to four verses about security."

Against the law? Immoral? Heretical? No; but awkward. And not really doing justice to the genius and intents of Solomon, nor to those of the inspiring Spirit.

But could this single verse bear the weight of a whole sermon? I'd already preached very emphatically on the sluggard from chapter 6; what to add? It is a moral crime to make the Bible boring. How to avoid that?

I also was pressed by the fact that Solomon had emphasized this verse. He was the one who did a cluster on speech, a cluster on security; then a mirror-cluster on security and a mirror-cluster on speech — and put that one long verse on sending a sluggard in the middle. Wasn't he emphasizing it?

So, out of respect for Solomon (and the Spirit who inspired him), I looked more closely, prayed, thought, listened closely to my smarter friends. And it came to me.

At first read, it seems painfully simple, to the point of banality. No one likes smoke in his eyes or acidic drink on sore gums, and it's like that to send a sluggard. Sending sluggard = bad. Got it. Thanks.

But as I've said beforeevery time Solomon seems banal it's a signal to look closer.

So: why did Solomon pick vinegar and smoke, and why a sluggard? Why not vinegar and smoke, and a fool, for instance? What's special about a sluggard?

Then I started realizing: as a rule, nobody wants smoke, and nobody wants sour wine (which is what "vinegar" usually means in the Bible). In the first case, what one really wanted was fire; and in the second, a nice drink of sweet, refreshing wine. Ah, but ouch and yuck, instead he got smoke stinging his eyes, and acidic sour wine stinging his gums. What a disappointment. What a failed promise. What a letdown...

And there it was. The sluggard specializes in being a disappointment, a letdown. He majors in staring opportunity in the face, and taking a nap, or manufacturing excuses, and otherwise letting it go to ruin.

And that's bad enough when it's only himself he effects (which, strictly, is never); it's worse when it's my message, or my job that he's letting go to ruin.

That seen, it all opened to me. The first application of this proverb, and a host of other applications: to Solomon, to Israel, to Christ, and to each and every one of us.

And there I had scorcher of a sermon.

The key was respecting the text and its signals, and seeing the mind of God revealed in its formation.

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17 August 2014

"Tell them that 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 Sermons Preached on Unusual Occasions, pages 189-190, Pilgrim Publications.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8

Of the things which I have spoken unto you these many years this is the sum. Within the circle of these words my theology is contained, so far as it refers to the salvation of men. I rejoice also to remember that those of my family who were ministers of Christ before me preached this doctrine, and none other. My father, who is still able to bear his personal testimony for his Lord, knows no other doctrine, neither did his father before him.

I am led to remember this by the fact that a somewhat singular circumstance, recorded in my memory, connects this text with myself and my grandfather. It is now long years ago. I was announced to preach in a certain country town in the Eastern Counties. It does not often happen to me to be behind time, for I feel that punctuality is one of those little virtues which may prevent great sins. But we have no control over railway delays, and break-downs; and so it happened that I reached the appointed place considerably behind the time.

Like sensible people, they had begun their worship, and had proceeded as far as the sermon. As I neared the chapel, I perceived that someone was in the pulpit preaching, and who should the preacher be but my dear and venerable grandfather? He saw me as I came in at the front door and made my way up the aisle, and at once he said, “Here comes my grandson! He may preach the gospel better than I can, but he cannot preach a better gospel; can you, Charles?”

As I made my way through the throng, I answered, “You can preach better than I can. Pray go on.” But he would not agree to that. I must take the sermon, and so I did, going on with the subject there and then, just where he left off. “There,” said he, “I was preaching on ‘For by grace are ye saved.’ I have been setting forth the source and fountain-head of salvation; and I am now showing them the channel of it, through faith. Now you take it up, and go on.”

I am so much at home with these glorious truths that I could not feel any difficulty in taking from my grandfather the thread of his discourse, and joining my thread to it, so as to continue without a break. Our agreement in the things of God made it easy for us to be joint-preachers of the same discourse. I went on with “through faith,” and then I proceeded to the next point, “and that not of yourselves.” Upon this I was explaining the weakness and inability of human nature, and the certainty that salvation could not be of ourselves, when I had my coat-tail pulled, and my well-beloved grandsire took his turn again.

When I spoke of our depraved human nature, the good old man said, “I know most about that, dear friends”; and so he took up the parable, and for the next five minutes set forth a solemn and humbling description of our lost estate, the depravity of our nature, and the spiritual death under which we were found. When he had said his say in a very gracious manner, his grandson was allowed to go on again, to the dear old man’s great delight; for now and then he would say, in a gentle tone, “Good! Good!” Once he said, “Tell them that again, Charles,” and of course I did tell them that again.

It was a happy exercise to me to take my share in bearing witness to truths of such vital importance, which are so deeply impressed upon my heart. While announcing this text I seem to hear that dear voice, which has been so long lost to earth, saying to me, “TELL THEM THAT AGAIN.” I am not contradicting the testimony of forefathers who are now with God. If my grandfather could return to earth, he would find me where he left me, steadfast in the faith, and true to that form of doctrine which was once delivered to the saints.

15 August 2014

Some here, some there — August 15, 2014

by Dan Phillips

The argument could be made that bloggers condition loyal readers to expect to receive high-quality product at zero cost. Is that the case? Hm.

Well, relax and enjoy. But don't be ridiculous about it.

BTW, it's the nature of this kind of post that it will likely expand through the day. You should check back at day's end, or tomorrow. For instance, I've been pointed to some posts, but they were long enough that I haven't been able to read them yet. Perhaps later?
  • Your kid's school sometimes has mice running around? Yeah, I guess that'd be scary to some people. Here in Texas, we have gators.

  • I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that turning a Jack Chick tract into a movie is one of the signs of the apocalypse. Well, not the apocalypse... but some apocalypse
  • Highlighted from Kindle:
  • Did anyone else think it was weird to see RAANetwork plugging a 1+ year-old piece about Bryan Loritts firing at Doug WilsonFirst, whenever I see the name Bryan Loritts, I think of this, and I really think everyone (including RAANetwork) should, until it's righted. Second, no acknowledgement or apparent awareness of the absolutely magnificent discussion that ensued between my friends Wilson and Thabiti Anyabwile (here's the wrapup). I just don't get the objective, here.
  • From race-relations to music...
  • I don't know from Vicky Beeching, but I am beginning to see why some people don't want to sing anything by anyone who's still alive.
  • Aimee Byrd chirps about courtship, dating, all that.
  • Our feeling was that our daughter could begin dating when she turned 34, and then only if Dad could come along.
  • Here's a dandy little short discussion on the place of evidences in apologetics, involving Scott OliphintDavid Powlison, and Kevin DeYoung. It only leaves me asking, "Show me how." (Its labor in that very vineyard is what I liked about Nate Busenitz' book.)
  • I love Denny Burk enough — just barely enough — to forgive his use of "impact" (A) as a verb and (B) not referring to colons or wisdom teeth. For so he surely did in his essay How will gay marriage impact [sic!] your marriage? 
  • BTW, if anyone, in this connection, says "But everybody's using 'impact' that way, and it's now gotten into the dictionary!" the universe may collapse under the unintended irony.
  • FWIW, five years ago I put on my turban, got out my crystal ball, and foresaw some of the bumps we'd encounter slipping down this slope. I also traced out some of the ramifications, last year, of forcing everyone to redefine a well-known word/institution, here (briefly) and here (less so, and parabolically).
  • Now to a more somber note.
  • The sad occasion of self-murder by the prodigiously-talented Robin Williams elicited much comment, most of it repetitive. Here are some notables: Matt Walsh spoke a great deal of needed truth, intended to de-glamorize the ugly reality of suicide. However, he left out the most important truth: the Gospel. (An avalanche of vitriol moved Walsh to post a well-written follow-up, which was clarifying, but still had no Gospel.)
  • Jordan Standridge over at Cripplegate served better in that regard, in a very well-written essay titled RIP? The Gospel can also be found in an earlier post on the occasion of yet another celebrity's self-murder
  • Somewhere in the middle, Erick Erickson made a perfectly valid point about not rushing to say hard truth in an insensitive way. My only "but" to Erickson's point is that in this situation. so many were rushing to say so much that ranged from the sentimental and untrue to the positively harmful, that to fail to respond was probably also a disservice.
  • It should be noted that Pyromaniacs has had a wealth of posts about depression as well, over the years.
  • Hm. No Resurgence conference this year. Cancelled.
  • Now for something(s) completely different...
  • Did you see where Kevin Halloran listed >250 free online seminary resources? Value will vary, of course, — but, still! Schreiner, Moo, Barrick, Vlach, Frame, Duncan? Duuude.
  • Fifty cents? Bloggers do it for free:
  • If Cornelius Van Til were blogging, he'd definitely use a picture from the "Thriller" music video.
  • I can understand why people believe in all sorts of things I don't believe in. I can understand believing in a local Flood, in varying views of the days of creation, in varying dating for the Exodus, in varying dating for Galatians... heck, I even understand why some people spatter water on babies and think it means something spiritual! But the hardcore KJV Only position exists in a world where facts, rationality, and logic cannot thrive. Fred Butler — a man of great learning and patience, who himself specializes in responding to such — points to a two and a half-hour conversation between an advocation and an apologist. If you want that sort of thing.

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