29 October 2015

The Lie of "Liberal" Theology

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 [first name] back in January 2010. It was the second of two posts outlining the history of liberalizing theology.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Persons beset with the spirit of liberal religion invariably try to present themselves as cutting-edge visionaries. But liberalism is neither fresh nor progressive. Look at almost any era of church history and you will find the liberal spirit alive and well in some form or another. Even during Jesus' earthly ministry, He had to contend with the Sadducees, who denied virtually everything in the supernatural realm, including the existence of angels, the immortality of the human soul, and (of course) the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8). Some degree of Sadducean-style skepticism is a key element in all liberal religion.

Throughout the history of the church, practically every time there has been a major advance in clarity and understanding that brings some key gospel truth into clear focus, almost immediately some liberalizing tendency seeks to nullify the gain.

In the eleventh century, for example, Anselm of Canterbury untangled a millennium of confusion about the atonement in his landmark book Cur Deus Homo. Anselm demonstrated from Scripture that Christ's death was an offering to God—a full satisfaction rendered by Christ to God—rather than a payment to appease Satan or an act of martyrdom at the hands of wicked men. Anselm's work highlighted the simple but crucial truths that the atonement was the central reason God became a man, and that redemption is a gracious work of Christ to be received by faith alone. But no sooner had the truth of divine grace begun to regain its rightful place at the center of the gospel than Peter Abelard rose up and denied that Christ's death was any kind of payment or substitution at all. In Abelard's view, the cross was merely a radical example of self-sacrificial love, designed to win men's hearts and give them a pattern to follow. Abelard's explanation of the atonement (a classic expression of liberal thinking) thus made the work of redemption something the sinner must do for himself by mimicking Christ.

Nevertheless, Anselm's work paved the way for the Protestant Reformation 500 years later. But even the Reformation was immediately answered with a new liberalizing tendency, Socinianism. Named for Laelius Socinus (an inveterate skeptic who nevertheless retained a form of religion), Socinianism was a typically misguided liberal attempt to retain the moral essence of Christ's teaching while rejecting virtually every orthodox doctrine and supernatural element of the Christian faith, beginning with the authority of Scripture.

Socinianism was followed by a string of similar liberal movements. Most of them appeared in reaction to various revivals and expansions of gospel preaching. The Great Awakening in colonial America was followed by the rise of deism. The Second Great Awakening was severely marred by an upsurge of moralistic free-will theology and perfectionist dogmas. That in turn was exacerbated by a major movement toward Unitarianism in the early nineteenth century. Meanwhile, in Germany, Friedrich Schleiermacher was blending Enlightenment philosophies with Christian moral teachings, using higher criticism to justify skepticism about the Bible's supernatural claims.

Modernism managed to smuggle practically every classic expression of theological liberalism into evangelical circles under the guise of staying abreast of the times. Virtually every significant evangelical institution that embraced any degree of modernism soon abandoned evangelical principles. And practically all of them became empty shells of what they once were.

The legacy of such movements is clear—or it ought to be. No good has ever come from the liberalizing tendency. It is rooted in a way of thinking that is hostile to the authority of Scripture; it inevitably corrupts the simplicity of the gospel of grace; and it fosters skepticism and (in the worst cases) rank unbelief.

25 October 2015

Compounded good

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 Words of Cheer, pages 126-27, Pilgrim Publications.
“All things work together for good” that is to say, none of them work separately. 

I remember an old divine using a very pithy and homely metaphor:— “All things work together for good; but perhaps, any one of those ‘all things’ might destroy us if taken alone.

The physician, prescribes medicine; you go to the chemist, and he makes it up; there is something taken from this drawer, something from that phial, something from that shelf any one of those, ingredients, it is very possible, would be a deadly poison, and kill you outright, if you should take it separately; but he puts one into the mortar, and then another, and then another, and when he has worked them all up with his pestle, and has made a compound, he gives them all to you as a whole, and together they work for your good, but any one of the ingredients might either have operated fatally, or in a manner detrimental to your health.”

Learn, then, that it is wrong to ask, concerning any particular act of providence, Is this for my good? Remember, it is not the one thing alone that is for your good; it is the one thing put with another thing, and that with a third, and that with a fourth, and all these mixed together, that work for your good.

Your being sick very probably might not be for your good, only God has something to follow your sickness, some blessed deliverance to follow your poverty, and He knows that when He has mixed the different experiences of your life together, they shall produce good for your soul and eternal good for your spirit.

We know right well that there are many things that happen to us in our lives that would be the ruin of us if we were always to continue in the same condition. Too much joy would intoxicate us, too much misery would drive us to despair but the joy and the misery, the battle and the victory, the storm and the calm, all these compounded make that sacred elixir whereby God maketh all His people perfect through suffering, and leadeth them to ultimate happiness. “All things work together for good.”

22 October 2015

Staying ahead of the (scholarly) curve

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 January 2013. Dan used the life of Adolf Schlatter as an example of how to stand against the academic Zeitgeist.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Hordes about us are desperate to be liked and well thought of by the current age. They seek this approval by trying to fit in, trying to keep up with each moment's swelling wave.

By contrast, I've often written and said that the real way to stay ahead of the curve is stick to what the Bible says. Eventually, in waves, reality has to come 'round and touch home with truth every so often, to avoid becoming completely unhinged.

Part of my morning reading afforded me an example of this from the 1800s. I'm reading Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century as part of my morning fare, and currently am on the chapter introducing Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938). Though little-known today, Schlatter was a voluminous writer and a meticulous student of the text of Scripture.

One of the reasons he was disregarded in his day was his refusal to bow the knee to the Biggest Things in Academics of his day. Rather, Schlatter plodded along with a single-minded focus on the precise wording of the text of Scripture. Schlatter was far from perfect, but where he fell short is where he failed to be true to Scripture.

In some authors, any extra-Biblical writer is treated as (pardon me) Gospel, but the Gospels are treated as necessarily unreliable and secondary. By treating the original texts, by contrast, with respect, Schlatter actually was ahead of the scholarly curve. My, such a simple principle; so many applications.

And yet, once again, the irony: it is those desperate to fit in with the times who doom themselves to pass into irrelevancy with them, while the few who stick with revealed truth remain always ahead of the curve.

Because, as we should never forget, everything — this material universe, human society, as well as all politics and all the sciences — is inexorably and certainly hurtling towards the day when all will be brought up under the headship of Christ (Eph. 1:10) in a universe where righteousness, no longer a stranger, is permanently at home (2 Pet. 3:13).

The great thing is to be on the right side of that curve.

21 October 2015

An Unforgiving World of Bumbles & Misfit Toys

by F. X. Turk

I have a little "file for future use" item that seems relevant this week.  I hope this will take up neither more than an hour of my time nor more than about 3 minutes of your time: the next time someone under 40 tells you about what a rotten church we all have here, please direct them to this piece of journalism from the National Review.  On the one hand, it's about something completely different than the problems of being a Christian church in a society which is insufferably Middle Class.  On the other hand, it is talking about the exact same problem and solution in a different context.

I bring it up because someone who is bucking to be a famous malcontent along the pedigree of the young and pretty Jefferson Bethke has written an essay getting a lot of "yeah, bro," comments concerning the idea that the church is something that is not a club and therefore he's leaving it for something else
(which I guess is supposed to be better, but he doesn't really say what it is or how it is better).  What always bothers me about these young fellers is that it seems really obvious to me that they think they are the first ones to come up with these ideas, the first ones who are going to strike out on their own like Hermie and Rudolph into a harsh and unforgiving world of Bumbles and Misfit Toys, and the first ones who will finally, finally, finally live the way Jesus intended people to live.

The biggest reason this bothers me is NOT that they are dissatisfied with the English-speaking church.  I think that the whole parcel of English-speaking churches is, by and large, disappointing for quite a laundry-list of reasons which all boil down to really one root cause: human beings.  Once you put two human beings together for anything to accomplish anything, the results are all of a sudden disappointing -- especially to the next 1 or 2 human beings who walk by and start auditing the results.

The bother comes from the idea that somehow we have finally found a group of fellas who are either more sanctified or more mature than anyone else has ever been, and these are the guys who are really ready to get down to the dirt of the thing and suffer for Jesus the way the NT says to suffer for Jesus.  And these guys are not yet 30 and not yet on the other side of the first time their circle of Jesus friends come up short against what's best next in their local community (which is to avoid saying it this way: "these guys haven't been pastors long enough to find out that every single person on earth is a disappointment, and every single church is populated with disappointing people, and those people are their own special kind of burden to carry").

What I think these guys need to do is not to read or to write a book.  They don't need to form another parachurch organization or a network of fellow disaffected young bucks who can't do church "like that" anymore.  They definitely do not need to start a podcast or a YouTube channel so that they can aggregate (again) all the ignorance of the internet to solve their problem.

Rather what they need to do is to re-read the letters of Paul to the churches he planted and the pastors he left behind to help these people to know Jesus and to love one another.  They need to know what is means to teach sound doctrine and also what accords with sound doctrine.  They need to learn how to come not for the sake of glory from other people, not for the sake of filthy gain, but to come as gentle and nurturing parents who toil night and day in order to be no burden themselves but to preach the Gospel.  And they need to stop, immediately, thinking that when they are finished they are going to end up looking like anything other than what faithful men who do this always look like: in disrepute. They should look hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, persecuted, slandered, and the scum of the earth.

And it would probably serve them well to remember that the guys they think have completely blown it started exactly where they are right now, but 20 or 30 or 40 years ago -- and this is how well they were able to do it.  We're all hoping you do better, but we all remember where we started 20, 30 and 40 years ago and what those guys whom we were disappointed in looked like.  Here's to you becoming a better class of scum, I guess.

Closing note: I have picked this post, for personal reasons, to be the page my Twitter page sends you to as my "home page." It explains almost everything you need to know about me and why I am mostly on hiatus these days and not blogging. However, if you want to know what I think about everything, if you click on the "centuri0n" label below [it's an internet handle which originated in the days of dial-up that sorta stuck], you can find all the stuff I ever wrote here at TeamPyro. Good luck and God Bless.

18 October 2015

The cure for heartache

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 Words of Cheer, pages 112-13, Pilgrim Publications.
"A troubled heart will not help us in our difficulties or out of them."

It has never been perceived in time of drought that lamentations have brought showers of rain, or that in seasons of frost, doubtings, fears and discouragements, have produced a thaw. We have never heard of a man whose business was declining, who managed to multiply the number of his customers by unbelief in God.

I do not remember reading of a person whose wife or child was sick, who discovered any miraculous healing power in rebellion against the Most High. It is a dark night, but the darkness of your heart will not light a candle for you. It is a terrible tempest, but to quench the fires of comfort and open the doors to admit the howling winds into the chambers of your spirit will not stay the storm.

No good comes out of fretful, petulant, unbelieving heart-trouble. This lion yields no honey. If it would help you, you might reasonably sit down and weep till the tears had washed away your woe.

If it were really to some practical benefit to be suspicious of God and distrustful of Providence, why then you might have a shadow of excuse; but as this is a mine out of which no one ever digged any silver, as this is a fishery out of which the diver never brought up a pearl, we would say, Renounce that which cannot be of service to you; for as it can do no good, it is certain that it does much mischief.

A doubting, fretful spirit takes from us the joys we have. You have not all you could wish, but you have still more than you deserve. Your circumstances are not what they might be, but still they are not even now so bad as the circumstances of some others.

Your unbelief makes you forget that still health remains to you if poverty oppresses you; or that if both health and abundance have departed, you are a child of God, and your name is not blotted out from the roll of the chosen.

15 October 2015

"Make Disciples of All Nations"

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 July 2012. It was the second of a 3-part series on the subject of Biblical Evangelism. The entire series was a transcript of a talk that Frank gave at the 2012 Call to Discernment Conference in Tulsa, OK.

As usual, the comments are closed.
You know: Jesus could have said, “Go and make subjects of all nations,” or “Go and conquer all the nations,” or “Go and drive out all the nations,” or “Go and make a footstool of my enemies,” and sound very Old Testament and New Testament at the same time. “Go claim the promise to Abraham,” he could have said, I guess. All of those could be misinterpreted to mean, “Go and make war on all things,” or worse “Go and set people aside until I can come back and finish up here.”

But Jesus says, “Go and make disciples.” The blessed King James translation says, “Go and teach all nations.” That word doesn’t mean you cause people to wear a t-shirt, or get a plastic fish on their cars, or hand them a card to fill out, or to write a date down in the front cover of their Bible. It means you cause them to sit under the teaching. In the days of Christ, it meant that you gave up something in order to follow your teacher around – or at least to be available when he is in town to teach.

When you go and make disciples, what are you doing? That is: what ought you to do? Listen: without question, you are telling them the definition of the authority of Christ: Christ died for our sins, in accordance to the Scriptures. He was buried, and he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures. Christ has the authority over all life and even over death. In that, because of Christ’s authority, they must repent: they must go – depart from the life of this world into the life of Christ’s kingdom. But to say that and gain the first act of obedience is a one-time event. Evangelism is not merely a call to a one-time event.

This would be like saying buying a house is a one-time event: I signed the papers, but I don’t have to move in. I am the owner of the property, but you can’t expect me to live there, can you? Cut the grass? Know my neighbors? Pay the utilities and keep up the building? That sounds like you’re asking a lot of me – I just want to buy the house so I could claim the fancy address.

But that is exactly the paradigm we have to avoid in evangelism: merely getting people to volunteer or somehow agree. We have to get them to move into the household of God – because that’s where the Kingdom is. That’s where the Holy Spirit is. That’s where Salvation is. We are not looking for them to agree that we have won an argument with them: we are ambassadors for Christ, with God making his appeal through us. And we implore them on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made Jesus to be sin even though he knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And in that, we are not asking them simply to say they need help: we are making them disciples. We are teaching them what Christ has taught us. In fact, Christ says that explicitly, doesn’t he? “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

If we see evangelism as something more than this, or less than this, we have utterly missed the point.

11 October 2015

Are you ready?

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, pages 219-220, Pilgrim Publications.
That our Lord is coming, is certain; that his coming may be at any moment, is a matter of faith; and that we are ignorant of the time of his coming, is a matter of fact: “Ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”

Christ’s coming to the world will be like that of the thief, when it is not suspected or expected, and therefore when due preparations for his reception have not been made; but his true followers will not let “that day “overtake them “as a thief “(1 Thessalonians 5:4).

They ought ever to be looking for his appearing. Our Lord’s injunction to his disciples ought to have even greater weight with us who live so much nearer to the time of his Second Advent than it had with those to whom he addressed his warning words, “Therefore be ye also ready.”

We ought to be as watchful as if we knew that Christ would come to-night; because, although we do not know when he will come, we do know that he may come at any moment. Oh, to be ready for his appearing, watching and waiting for him as servants whose Lord has been long away from them, and who may return at any hour!

This will not make us neglect our daily calling; on the contrary, we shall be all the more diligent in attending to our earthly duties because our hearts are at rest about our heavenly treasures.

08 October 2015

Unity, not Uniformity

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 2007. It was the last of a four-part series on unity among believers. Phil pointed out the extent of unity that exists even across modern denominational lines.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Here's a fact many miss: To a very large degree, the unity Christ prayed for does exist among genuine believers, and it is a unity that transcends denominational lines.

All Christians are "in Christ"; therefore they are all one with the Father, and one with each other as well. Notice carefully what Christ says in verses 22-23: "[I pray] that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity." The basis of that unity is not a denominational affiliation; it is our position in Christ.

Faithful evangelical Protestants believe God is answering that prayer of Christ even now. We enjoy an amazing degree of unity with one another, despite our denominational distinctions. In other words, the kind of spiritual unity Christ prayed for does exist in the true body of Christ worldwide despite denominational barriers. Our Lord's prayer for His church has not gone unanswered.

Christ's true church is not confined to a single congregation, denomination, or earthly organization. The church is composed of all true believers in Christ, regardless of denominational affiliation or membership in any earthly assembly. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (25.1). When the Confession speaks of the church as "invisible," it does not mean the church is inconspicuous or utterly hidden from view. It means that its precise boundaries cannot be detected through human perception. There are people who claim to be, and appear to be, part of the body, but they are not. Others, perhaps unknown to us, are true believers and members of the body. The exact boundaries of the true church are not always easy to discern. But nonetheless genuine believers are "all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28)—united with Him, and therefore united with one another. "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

During His earthly ministry, Christ told the disciples: "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16). The "one shepherd" is Christ himself, not an earthly vicar. And the "one flock" is also a spiritual reality even now, with believing Jews and Gentiles united in one new body, and the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile having been broken down (Eph. 2:14-16). The perfect manifestation of that unity awaits fulfillment in a future time, when "we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). In the meantime, to settle for the superficial unity imposed by a monstrous worldwide ecclesiastical hierarchy would be a serious mistake.

The unity Christ prayed for has always existed in the true body of Christ. It is an organic, not an organizational unity. It is a spiritual, not a corporeal unity. And it is not a unity without diversity. (If He had wanted unity with no diversity, He would not have gifted us with different spiritual gifts.) But the kind of unity Christ prays for is a unity in spite of our great diversity.

07 October 2015

Whimpering Commands We Must Follow

by F.X. Turk

In my family, we own two dogs.

This is Annie.  She is completely and utterly in charge of the house, trumping even my wife, and the reason is obvious.  That much cute in one body is actually immoral and a tool of the devil.  It up-ends the economy of our home so significantly that I really just don't want to talk about it.  We spend more money on her grooming than on mine in any given quarter, and often she has bows in her hair.

This is Tugger.  In spite of his charming exterior and athletic good looks, he is a natural-born killer.  He is the singular reason our home has never been broken into in spite of a rash of crimes in our neighborhood, and he is also responsible for the deaths of all the arrogant squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits which have thought it was a good idea to try to steal our vegetables and strawberries (and also 2 copperhead snakes).  He is also more effective than an alarm clock to get me up to exercise every morning at 5 AM (more like 4:30 most days) as he is far more committed to running for 30 minutes than I am.  However, his efforts have helped me lose 20 lbs this past summer, and for that he is worth his weight in gold.

Having met them, let me explain one other thing about them before I get to the real reason for this blog post.  If we calculate what it costs to keep them up, and observe the amount of medical care they receive annually, and add in the dollars that my family spends to care for them when we travel and they cannot join us, I think it is entirely safe to say this: compared to most people ever, they are better fed; they have better physical health; they are more often warm when it is cold and cool when it is nekked-hot in Arkansas than most people who have shuffled off this mortal coil.  To say they are beloved members of our family is probably an overstatement, but not by much.

I break my hiatus to bring it up because something happened last week which, frankly, shouldn't surprise anyone but it did surprise me: a moral crisis was ginned up by the evangelical conscience-builders regarding the ethical treatment of animals.  I actually "got into it" with my internet foil Karen Swallow Prior, and the amount of venom I received in return (not from her, but from others who follow her on twitter) was also not surprising but still surprised me.  Maybe in spite of being 20lbs down I am out of fighting shape for the internet.  That's probably a good thing, but that's also a digression.

To further my surprise about this, something else happened in parallel a few days later. Al Mohler weighed in with this:
This statement achieves a very important balance, stating that we have a responsibility to the creatures that God made for his glory. That we have a responsibility to animals, but the first responsibility we have is to understand that human beings are not mere animals. That there is a distinction between human beings and other creatures that is not merely of degree but of kind. We come to understand that that is rooted in the fact the human beings and human beings alone are made in God’s image. But we have also come to understand that the animals are not evolutionary accidents anymore than ourselves. And we come to understand that God the creator, takes delight in these animals and that he created them for his glory and he created them for his pleasure. But he also created them for our use and they are as Scripture says, given unto us, for that use including explicitly for food. But even as we understand there is this categorical distinction between the human being and other creatures. We also understand that as we are given the responsibilities of stewardship and dominion in Scripture, we are given a responsibility to prevent cruelty to animals.
And it seems pretty hard to argue with that sort of semantic and theological fire power, yes?  What probably ought to happen at this point is that I ought to simply rethink my own biases here whenever the words "animal rights" come up because Al Mohler is Al Mohler.  Unfortunately for everyone, that is not what is happening, and here we are.

First, let me flash you back to 2009 when the Manhattan Declaration was originally proffered, and which Dr. Mohler signed.  I offered this response to the whole affair, Dan offered his 18-point assessment, and ultimately R.C. Sproul (not due to our involvement, but on the same page) had a few things to add which are probably worth your time.  At the root of it, the major failing of that document was that it made a big wind when it came to the clarity of the Gospel, and it was because it confused co-belligerence with Gospel partnership.  That's one kind of error that these sorts of declarations make, but fortunately for the "Every Living Thing" crowd they are all (at least at first glance) Evangelicals, so the words they use are probably not entirely confusing words.  They avoid the problem of confusing the Gospel by being on generally-evangelical soil for their declaration.

But as I read it, and I have my big dog at my right hand and my fluffy white dog on a throne above us all whimpering commands we must follow, I find myself facing another objection to such a thing: moral seriousness.  I honestly don't want to make too much of this, but let's for a moment shake off the disorienting exhilaration of falling down the cliff over which Western Civlization has been pushed: by a long shot, "Every Living Thing" is an incidental white paper and "animal rights" (or if we are fair, "creation mandate" maybe is how they would say it) is the least of our problems.

If we are anywhere right now in the neighborhood of that issue, it is here: we think we are completely in charge of nature and have the authority to say whatever we want about it.  That problem doesn't get us to the place where we are commonly making the lives of our pets and cattle hard: it is where we are calling what is in a human woman's womb a commodity which has a market value, and we justify the transaction as a "donation" on both sides.  We are at the place where there are a variety of ways to deny that boys will be boys and girls will be girls (it's a mixed up, jumbled up, shook up world, after all), but the only one which doesn't just indicate medical treatment but requires it is when someone says their mind is right but their body is wrong -- and we need to start cutting until we find the real body meant for that person's mind.  We are now remaking the family into something so unfathomable that it soon won't even be called a family anymore because why bother.  Not only are we content to do what seems right in our own eyes, we are in fact ready to rename everything in a grotesque burlesque of Gen 2:15-20, not because God asked us to but because we are ready to say to God, "hey: who asked you?"

In that world, signing a piece of paper that says sad puppies need love too seems a little small and short on sobriety (no matter how rhetorically and theologically gilded the language is) to be something the leaders of Christendom ought to be promoting.  Especially, I will add, when most pets in America live better than mine, and my pets live better than most human beings who ever lived.

You know what?  Nevermind.  I'm supposed to be on hiatus.  The people who don't get tired of telling you what's best next and don't go on hiatus have told you what they think is most important, and who am I to say they have lost their ever-lovin' minds if they think they can march out the weiner dogs of war against the moral zombie apocalypse we are facing today.  They must know something I don't know.

"nekked-hot" is a term invented by by son when he was 2 or 3 after we moved to Arkansas. It is when it is so hot that he would rather be nekked than wear anything if he has to be outside. It does actually get this hot in Arkansas, but we have all grown out of succumbing to being "nekked-hot." I know you are greatly relieved.

06 October 2015

Lament of the pathetic preacher — and what we all must learn from it

by Dan Phillips

What mediocre preacher said this?
It is a long time since I preached a sermon that I was satisfied with. I scarcely recollect ever having done so.
If you didn't suspect a trick-question, you might speculate, "You, DJP?" — a fair and appropriate guess. But no, the mediocre preacher was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in a sermon titled "Good Earnests of Great Success," preached in 1868 (thanks to Dave Harvey, whose post brought this to my attention).

Spurgeon goes on:
You do not know, for you cannot hear my groanings when I go home, Sunday after Sunday, and wish that I could learn to preach somehow or other; wish that I could discover the way to touch your hearts and your consciences, for I seem to myself to be just like the fire when it wants stirring; the coals have got black when I want them to flame forth.
If I could but say in the pulpit what I feel in my study, or if I could but get out of
my mouth what I have tried to get into my own soul, then I should preach indeed, and move your souls, I think. Yet perhaps God will use our weakness, and we may use it with ourselves, to stir us up to greater strength. You know the difference between slow motion and rapidity. If there were a cannon ball rolled slowly down these aisles, it might not hurt anybody; it might be very large, very huge, but it might be so rolled along that you might not rise from your seats in fear. But if somebody would give me a rifle, and ever so small a ball, I reckon that if the ball flew along the Tabernacle, some of you might find it very difficult to stand in its way. It is the force that does the thing. 
So, it is not the great man who is loaded with learning that will achieve work for God; it is the man, who, however small his ability, is filled with force and fire, and who rushes forward in the energy which heaven has given him, that will accomplish the work—the man who has the most intense spiritual life, who has real vitality at its highest point of tension, and living, while he lives, with all the force of his nature for the glory of God. Put these three or four things together, and I think you have the means of prosperity. [Paragraph breaks added]
Were I interviewed on truths that loom larger and larger over the decades, particularly regarding preaching, I know what would come near the top. It is this: the centrality and native impotence of preaching.

No reader of Pyromaniacs will need convincing of the former. It is the "preacher" who brings the word that saving faith requires (Romans 10:14, 17), and through the folly of what we preach that God saves sinners (1 Corinthians 1:21). Our paramount and awesome imperative, as pastors, is to "Preach the Word" regardless of opposition (2 Timothy 4:2, with context).

How, then, can I speak of the impotence of preaching?

My readiest answer is "From experience!" But let me back up. As a young Christian man and a beginning preacher, so high was my estimate of the Word of God that I virtually saw it as a magic book. Here's what I mean: Hebrews 4:12 was a central verse, with its declaration that "The word of God is living and effective and sharp beyond any two-edged sword," piercing where nothing else can reach. There it is. That book is full of divine power.

I still utterly believe that, more than ever. But the way I rather expected it to work was virtually ex opere operato. That is, you preach the Word, and wonderful things happen. Every time. Kazingo. Just by doing it. Because the Word is so inherently powerful.

As with all error, there is truth in all of that. Something does happen. Both preacher and hearer now stand under the testimony of God. It counts. Whether we repent or reject, whether we mourn or mock, whatever our response, God has spoken. He is on record; and His speaking to us is on our record.

But what was not prominent enough in my thinking was the absolutely and constantly essential ministry of the Triune God, whether the hearers are saved or unsaved. The work of conversion, of blessing, of edification, completely and utterly depends on God attending, using, and applying His word with power (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13).

Consider this: Paul preached Christ. Lydia believed. Yay, there you have it, Hebrews 4:12! Yes indeed — but other ladies present did not believe. Uh-oh. Why not? Because "the Lord opened [Lydia's] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14b), and He did not do that for the others who heard the exact same preaching.

Was the fault Paul's? Had he done a better job, given a better altar-call, furnished a glossier Anxious Bench, could he have produced more responses? Well, maybe so; but he couldn't have opened more hearts.

This is the vital and indispensable element: the work of God behind, in, with, above, through, and often despite our preaching. It is the vital element, and it is the element we cannot control or produce by formula. We can only plead and beseech Heaven, that God would move His hand, and work to His glory.

Until and unless that happens, we are like Elijah on Mt. Carmel. By the very best of our preparation and passion, we can lay plenty of wood. And by our innumerable flaws and idiocies and patheticalities, we will surely drench the wood with abundant water.

But the fire?

That must come from Heaven, or it will not come at all.

This is a truth that Charles Spurgeon, probably the greatest preacher ever to use the English language, grasped and believed. John Stott (no slouch as a preacher) relates the story that Spurgeon, as he climbed the steps to his pulpit, regularly repeated over and over "I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost."

So must we, consciously and in great, pleading, abject dependence.

How? I'll close with a few specific exhortations:
  1. The pastor himself must pray as he works on his sermon. I knew a preacher who would not prepare at all, because he felt that the Holy Spirit needed to give him the word on the spot. I wondered, "Couldn't the Holy Spirit have helped you on Monday, and Tuesday, as you worked on a message?" Of course He can, and does.
  2. The pastor himself should pray for the work of God before, during, and after the delivery of the sermon. I confess I am still learning this...along with everything else worth learning.
  3. But the congregation must also join in. Paul often pled for his converts' and readers' prayers for his ministry of the Word (cf. Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 3:1). So attend your church's midweek prayer meeting, and join your brothers and sisters in opening your mouth in prayers for conversions, for conviction, for instruction, for transformation through the ministry of the Gospel and Word. Then on Sunday, take time before the service starts to find your seat and begin praying for yourself and others, for your pastor, and for the effective ministry of the Word.
I stress this last, because my mistake as a pastor can fall to others in the congregation as well. You may feel you have a good and faithful pastor who preaches the Word. If so, praise God. And then perhaps you think that'll do 'er. He preaches, and presto! magic happens. If it doesn't, well then, the pastor must not be preaching well enough. He must not be working the formula. Cancel Pastor Appreciation Day/Month until he figures it out.

But no, think again. Do not imagine that even the very best preacher's sermon will accomplish any more than a snowball in the Sahara, apart from the hand of God on it. And that's where you are called to come in, and wrestle alongside  him in your prayers (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11).

Paul knew it, Spurgeon knew it. Let us know it as well.

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04 October 2015


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 Till He Come, pages 286-87, Pilgrim Publications. 
"If you have been washed, you are even to that highest and purest degree clean before the Lord, and clean now."

Your cleanness is not a thing of degrees, it is not a variable or vanishing quantity, it is present, abiding, perfect, you are clean through the Word, through the application of the blood of sprinkling to the conscience, and through the imputation of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then lift up your head, and sing for joy of heart, seeing that your transgression is pardoned, your sin is covered, and in you Jehovah seeth not iniquity. Dear friends, let not another moment pass till by faith in Jesus you have grasped this privilege. Be not content to believe that the priceless boon may be had, but lay hold upon it for yourself. You will find the song of substitution a choice song if you are able to sing it.

"In my Surety I am free,
His dear hands were pierced for me;
With his spotless vesture on
Holy as the Holy One."

Much of the force of the sentence before us lies in the Person praising. To be certified as clean by the blind priests of Rome, would be small comfort to a true Christian. To receive the approving verdict of our fellow-men is consoling, but it is after all of small consequence. 

The human standard of purity is itself grossly incorrect, and therefore to be judged by it is but a poor trial, and to be acquitted a slender comfort; but the Lord Jesus judges no man after the flesh, He came forth from God, and is Himself God, infinitely just and good, hence His tests are accurate, and His verdict is absolute. 

I wot whom He pronounces clean is clean indeed. Our Lord was omniscient, He would have at once detected the least evil in His disciples; if there had remained upon the man unpardoned sin, He must have seen it; if any relic of condemnation had lingered upon them, He must have detected it at once, no speck could have escaped His all-discerning eye; yet did He say without hesitation of all but Judas, "Ye are clean."

We stand in the righteousness of Another. No measure of personal weakness, spiritual anxiety, soul conflict, or mental agony can mar our acceptance in the Beloved. We may be weak infants, or wandering sheep in ourselves, and for both reasons we may be very far from what we wish to be; but, as God sees us, we are viewed as washed in the blood of Jesus, and we, even we, are clean every whit.

What a forcible expression, "clean every whit;" every inch, from every point of view, in all respects, and to the uttermost degree! Dear friend, if a believer, this fact is true to you, even to YOU. 

02 October 2015

The existence-of-evil dodge (NEXT! #44)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: I see so much evil in the world, I just can't be a Christian.

Response: Did you mean to say that's why you can't be a Christian Scientist? Only Biblical Christianity can make sense of the evil in the world.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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01 October 2015

Pastoral "call"? Not in the Bible...

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 October 2012. Dan addressed the popular but unscriptural idea of a "call to preach."

As usual, the comments are closed.
There it was again. Listening to one pastor interview another, "the call" came up.

They were chuckling and sharing the story of how one of them felt, as a (young!) teenager and a brand-new convert, that he "had the call," meaning "the call" to preach. So he announced his call one week, and got up to preach the next. Period. No training, no apprenticeship, no evidence, no clue as to what it meant Biblically to preach (let alone be a pastor). He attributes this to a move of the Lord at that time in that location, as He reportedly grabbed up a lot of young men and "called" them to preach.

The brothers clarified that in their culture, all one need to is announce that he has "the call," and he is to preach. Like, right away.

Later, the brothers alluded to the fact that a pastor should understand "the call" in terms of that of Samuel, of Jeremiah, and of Amos. They call it an "unction" as in King James language, though I'm aware of no such verse relating specifically to the office of elder.

I single this out only because I just heard it. I've heard or read elements of this conversation many times. Surely you too have heard similar, many times. Maybe you've said it. Maybe you believe it.

The concept of a call to pastoral ministry or a call to preach is deeply ingrained, and deeply traditional. It is down there at the point of men wearing pants when they preach. You don't question it, you just do it. Actually, it's deeper, since it is believed to be a Divine necessity, a movement of the Holy Spirit. I've heard of "the call" looming as a critical facet of ordination committee meetings. The candidate has to relate his sense of calling. If he can't, his "call" is suspect at best.

So I'll just ask one question. It should be a really obvious question. In fact, it should be the first question, shouldn't it? You regular readers know what the question is, already.

What verse in the Bible talks about a pastor's "call"?

The answer, of course, is no verse. Not one.

 "But what about Jeremiah, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Amos, and all the rest?" What about them? We must at least say this: they all have the same two things in common --

  1. They all are prophets.
  2. They all are not pastors of Christian churches.
I mean, here we are yet again, aren't we? The only "call" the Bible talks about in this sense is a revelational and verbal call to prophetic ministry. Then there is the Christian's call to salvation (1 Cor. 1:26) and to live a holy life (Eph. 4:1), which is found in so many words in Scripture.

A pastor is not a prophet. A prophet is a prophet, a pastor is a pastor. (I'm having that surreal feeling I get when I have to say things that shouldn't even need to be said, and yet are points of actual contention.)

So a newcomer to this blog will, at this point, be fairly bursting with the question, "Then how does a man know whether he's ca... whether he's supposed to be a pastor?"

Well, you tell me.

Do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture? Really? Then it should have an in-context, sufficient answer, shouldn't it?

What does it say? When you closely study and reflect on passages that expressly address the issue of pastoral qualification (1 Tim. 3:1ff.; Titus 1:6ff.), what do you see? Can you discern anything that is better expressed in terms of a "call"? Do they overwhelm you with internal, mystical, privately-revelatory elements? Or are they not rather almost shocking in their relative matter-of-factness?