26 March 2015

"A church full of pretty people"

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 March 2010. "A church full of pretty people with no problems" can be a source of discouragement to those in broken circumstances.


As usual, the comments are closed.
There's this guy I used to work with.

He and I had a few conversations about the Christian faith because he says he's a Christian, but he doesn't go to church anymore -- and here's the irony: it's not because church is too judgmental. It's because, as he says, church is too full of pretty people.

That's his phrase: "pretty people." Now, if you ask him what that means, he'll tell you that he's a pretty messed-up guy with a lot of spiritual problems, and a church full of pretty people with no problems doesn't do anything for him but frustrate him. Their lives don't encourage him or make him a better person or turn him toward God: their lives actually discourage him because he knows, frankly, that he'll never get there.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. The first one is this -- we really have to answer the questions people have, and not the questions we wish they had. In one sense, those of us with the Gospel are driving along on the highway of life and we see a lot of cars on the side of the road -- all kinds of breakdowns -- and we are in the only bus that is going to get people to someplace other than the junkyard. And we're supposed to be stopping and picking people up, not just driving past and worrying about these people.

But if we stop the bus and get out wearing a tuxedo (or, for the ladies reading, a wedding dress) and tell these people we've come to help, they're probably not going to take our offer at face value -- because they don't really need a pretty person in nice clothes to help them with a busted jalopy: at the very least, they think they need a mechanic, or a cell phone to call a mechanic, or maybe a guy with a toolbox. They're not looking for someone in clothes so nice that they'd be afraid to mess them up.

The other reason to bring this up is that while they may recognize some part of the problem, the other half of the truth is that they don't really know what they need. They have "felt needs," right? They might be worried that they can't get to work because their car is busted, or they might be worried that they can't afford a new car so this old one has to keep running. But the real solution for anyone is that they have to get on the bus. They don't have to pay a fare, they don't have to sit in any particular seat: they just have to get on the bus and leave the old car behind.

We probably should be dressed in a way that they'll believe us when we tell them to get on the bus, but they have to get on the bus -- and the reason is not because the bus will take them where they think they want to go: it's because the jalopy is going someplace they definitely don't want to go, whether they believe it or not.

24 March 2015

Was the Serpent right?

by Dan Phillips

God told Adam, "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17). In response to the Serpent, Eve more or less quoted God: "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die'" (Gen. 3:2-3).

Satan flatly denied this threat: "You will not surely die" (Gen. 3:4).


Well, what happened? Eve ate, Adam ate. Did they die? We read, "she took of its fruit and ate" (v. 6) — are the next words, "and she died"? No; they are "and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." Oh. Okay; so are the next words, "and he died," or "and they died"? No again; they are "Then the eyes of both were opened," and so forth.

So... what happened? Did that bomb fizzle? Was the threat empty, or forestalled?

Or was the Serpent right?

It's interesting to read in the aftermath that God does not say to the man or the woman, "you will die." He does say Adam will return to the ground (v. 19); but He doesn't say he will die. Why not? Is death just implied or assumed or reworded? Or possibly something else?

In answer, this excerpt from The World-Tilting Gospel, pages 47 and following:

**************************

We watch expectantly, like the Maltans in Acts 28 watched Paul after the serpent bit him. They expect Paul to swell up and fall down, or something. Not to keep eating his barbecued chicken.

In the same way, we watch Adam and Eve after they eat the fruit. Cue the “death scene.” Any minute now they’re going to gasp, maybe clutch at their throats, reel around a bit, cry out, then collapse in a heap, dead. Any minute now. Yes, sir. Soon. Really soon. Should be big. So we watch, and we watch, and . . .

Nothing! They just go on. They make some itchy lame clothes. But them? They seem fine. Apparently air’s still going in and out, heart’s still pumping, blood’s still flowing. Not so dead as all that.

What gives?

Not dead? Are you sure? You don’t think they died right away? I think they did. Just like that. It simply took their bodies a few centuries to catch up to the fact.

It’s all in what you mean by death and life.

What is life, anyway? In the Bible, life can denote physical existence (Eccl. 9:4), but it connotes far more than mere existence.

People in hell exist forever, but I can’t think of any passages that refer to their existence as “life.” Life, in its fullness, connotes the enjoyment of God’s presence, and the blessings that this enjoyment entails. To die is to be cut off—not from the bare reality of God’s presence, which is impossible (Ps. 139:7–12), but from the enjoyment of His presence, from experiencing Him as other than terrifying (2 Thess. 1:8–9; Rev. 14:10).

Life isn’t merely the length of the line on a chronology chart; it is the quality of that line. Moses elsewhere paints it so; when he preaches that man does not enjoy life merely by eating bread, but by feasting on what comes from Yahweh’s6 mouth (Deut. 8:3). When Moses lays before Israel the options of life and good, and of death and evil (Deut. 30:15), and urges them to choose life (v. 19), he means more than mere existence. Moses parallels “life” with “blessing” (v. 19), and says plainly that the Lord “is your life” (v. 20). Solomon will later describe life as the opposite, not only of death, but of sin (Prov. 10:16).

...Looking millennia ahead, we see a validation of this when the Lord Jesus prays, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). The essence of life is knowing God, relating to the triune God.

Real life, then, is a gift of God, and bears His presence and blessing. Likewise, if life is the enjoyment of God’s intimate presence, then death will be the loss of the joy of that presence, and of all of the blessings that fellowship with God brings.

And so I say that Adam and Eve did die, right away. When the horrible reality of physical death eventually overtook them, it was the culmination of a ghastly process that began the moment sin touched them.

Disease produces symptoms. When she was a young girl, my dear and only daughter Rachael caught Chicken Pox. In those pre-vaccination days, we wanted her brother Matthew to catch it as well, to get over it while he was still young and the symptoms would be mild. When he became a bit ill and broke out in red spots, we knew he’d caught it. (And so did I, by the way, with a whole lot more misery!)

So we see Adam and Eve breaking out in death right away. The symptoms begin to appear immediately. What are they?

We see one “red spot” of death instantly in their self-consciousness and awareness of guilt (Gen. 3:7). Before, being naked had not been a problem. They were naked, and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). Suddenly, now, being naked is a bad thing. They feel guilty because they are guilty; they are ashamed, because they are shameful. So they patch together some leaves.

But a worse and more extensive complex of “spots” is seen the moment Yahweh arrives for fellowship with the man. The presence of God really brings out the symptoms. Our bold, brave, pioneering godling-wannabes actually hide (3:8).

Isn’t that just the most pathetic scene in the entire Bible? Adam hiding in the bushes from Him who made the bushes. As if God couldn’t see him!

So, you see, this one wretched act is in truth an ugly constellation of “spots,” and reveals the spread of death in their mental/spiritual makeup:
  • God’s presence is no longer beloved and welcome and sought-out, but excruciating and terrifying and repellant.
  • Offending God, indeed insulting Him (by running and hiding from Him who fills heaven and earth) is an acceptable option; so
  • God is no longer God in their universe; so
  • God’s glory is no longer their central heartbeat; it has been supplanted by their own self-preservation according to their own pitiful notions.
  • Their very notion of God has become warped and inadequate. (“Hide here, honey! He’ll never see us!”)
  • They are evasive about their sin, blame-shifting (“Maybe I can throw Him off!”), rather than openly confessing it, throwing themselves on His mercy, and pleading for a way back into His favor.
  • Adam, in fact, has the dead/blind audacity to blame his sin not only on Eve, but also on God (“The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree” [v. 12]; as if to say, “It’s not my fault! You gave me a defective woman! You messed up!”). 
Adam and Eve, then, have died both in vertical relationship and in horizontal relationship. They’ve lost sight of God, and they’ve lost hold of each other. All that remains is their dead, blind, sinravaged selves. Thus, even after He redeems Adam and Eve, God will send ultimate physical death almost as a blessing to relieve them of an interminable existence in sin.

But what is infinitely more gracious and glorious, one day God will send a second Man, a last Adam, to win out where they so miserably failed (Gen. 3:15; more on this in chapter 3).

As the scene closes, God pronounces His judgments on the couple (Gen. 3:16–19), and they begin to ponder the repercussions of their act. Their responsibilities and structures—work and marriage—remain. But all will be more difficult, and physical death waits at the end. Childbirth will be an agony, and the relationship between husband and wife will become a difficult competition

**************************

Subsequent chapters then deal with the transmission and the total effect of sin, with our hopelessness, and with God's grand plan of salvation, first announced in Genesis 3:15.

So was the Serpent right? Of course not. He is the "father of lies."

Adam and Eve died; and, in Adam's death, we died. Only in Christ can we be made alive.

Dan Phillips's signature


22 March 2015

No discharge in this war

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 30, sermon number 1,773, "What is your life?"
"The old must die, the young may die."


If, therefore, death be so impartial that he smites down the captains, let not the rank and file hope to escape. Death, which forces entrance to a prince’s bedchamber, will not respect our cottage door. To us also in due time shall be brought the message, “The Master is come and calleth for thee.” My ear hears a voice crying aloud, “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.”

Will not you hear it? Will any one of you refuse the voice which speaketh from Heaven? Death evidently pays no respect to character, age, or hopefulness. A man may addict himself to the service of his country, but his patriotism will not protect him. He may be surrounded with a wall of affection, but this will not screen him. He may have at his command all the comforts of life, and yet life may ooze out before the physician is aware. He may be tenderly loved by an affectionate mother and his name may be engraved on the heart of the fondest of wives, but death hath no regard to the love of women.

“It is appointed unto men once to die.” There is no discharge in this war: we shall all march into this fight, and unless the Lord himself shall speedily come and end the present dispensation, we shall each one fall upon this battle-field, for the shafts of death fly everywhere, and there is no armour for either back or breast by which his cruel darts may be turned aside. I would to God that all of us retained this truth in our memories.

“Lord, make me to know mine end and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” We have a very clear conviction that others will die, but as to ourselves, we put far from us the evil day, and care not to dwell upon a subject which smells so unpleasantly of the charnel-house.

Yes, we admit that we shall die, but not so soon as to make it a pressing matter; we imagine that we are not within measurable distance of the tomb. Even the oldest man gives himself a little longer lease, and when he has passed his four-score years, we have seen him hugging life with as much tenacity as if he had just commenced it. Brethren, in this we are not wise; but death will not spare us because we avoid him.

What is there about any one of us that we should fare better than the rest of our fellow-men? We are in the same army, marching upon the same field; how shall we escape where all others fall? Only two of our race have gone into the better land without crossing the dark river of death—Enoch and Elijah; but no one among us will make a third.


20 March 2015

We scarpered

by Dan Phillips

My dear wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary yesterday (I write proleptically, so with a "DV" attached). This year, we ran away! We headed off Wednesday to some not-too-far-off part of unexplored Texas — "unexplored" could describe about 99.9% of it, in our case — for a brief anniversary getaway. We're headed back today.


So no SHST today. Instead, in keeping with the theme, you could listen to the Sunday School series I taught on marriage. Or you could read the first blog post I ever published.

See you next week, or in church, whichever comes first.

Dan Phillips's signature

19 March 2015

Overtolerance of Heresy

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 February 2011. Phil addressed one of primary reasons for American Evangelicalism's vulnerability to false teaching.


As usual, the comments are closed.
Rob Bell's latest heresy neither surprises nor interests me. What does intrigue me is the tragic drift of popular, mainstream evangelicalism. Here we see clearly why the evangelical movement is in grave trouble: The passions of today's self-styled evangelicals are easily aroused in defense of someone who makes a career dabbling around the edges of truth. Rob Bell likes to play with damnable heresies as if they were Lego bricks, and yet anyone who points out the glaring errors in Bell's teaching will be met with a wall of angry resistance from young, self-styled Christians who grew up in the evangelical mainstream.

Where is that much passion ever employed these days in defense of the truth?

I'm not looking for crass watchbloggers or anti-intellectual zealots for whom every disagreement is an excuse for insults and a shouting match. We are up to here with people like that. They are a tiny minority, I think, but a noisy one. They represent one extreme out there on the evangelical fringe: people who can't tolerate any difference of opinion.

But the other extreme seems to be a much larger, more pervasive problem (and this is the trend currently pushing the most evangelicals off the edge): people whose "tolerance" is bent in favor of distorted and unorthodox teachings. They despise unvarnished criticism. They especially hate it when a critic suggests this or that heresy is truly damnable. Evidently there is no doctrine so important that they are willing to fight for it—much less die for it.

Both our Lord and His apostles told us plainly that we would need to defend the faith against false prophets, vicious wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15), minions of Satan disguised as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14), and corrupters of doctrine who arise within the church (Acts 20:29). Why is it that the average Christian today flatly refuses to take those warnings seriously?

As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, American evangelicalism is clearly confused, fragmented, and frighteningly vulnerable to false teaching. Evangelicals are too worldly-minded and untaught to be able to recognize all the deadly errors that have made themselves at home within the movement. Evangelical leaders are far too tentative and timid in denouncing those errors—up to and including the damnable ones. Rank-and-file evangelicals won't stand for it if their leaders do point out false doctrines, especially when the error is being peddled by a slick celebrity.

These problems are serious. What we commonly refer to as "the evangelical movement" is actually no movement at all anymore. It has morphed and melted down into a variegated, muddled, incoherent swamp—without any meaningful boundaries. And we are sending to the world a message that is as garbled and bewildering as this ersatz movement.


17 March 2015

The power of the word of God: oft-overlooked ramifications

by Dan Phillips

All Christians attribute power and authority to God's word, for the simple fact that it is God's word. In his Sufficient Fire talk, Phil Johnson mentioned that Brian Maclaren attempted to make mileage over the fact that 2 Timothy 3:16 said that Scripture was useful, not that it was authoritative. In my later talk I chuckled a bit over that, wondering how much more authoritative you could get than "God-breathed"!

I find John Frame's phrasing of Scripture's authority very helpful and memorable:
[Scripture] imposes on them an obligation to respond in an appropriate way. That is the proper definition of authority: an authoritative word is one that imposes obligations on those who hear. And the word of God imposes an absolute obligation.
[John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 529.]
There are obvious implications to this. It's easiest to see in the commandments. For instance, when God says not to commit adultery (Exodus 20:14; Ephesians 5:3), I'm to obey by not committing adultery. When God commands that we love Him (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), we know we are to love God.

But do the narratives obligate me, as well? The Bible begins with a narrative: God creates the universe in six days, and rests on the seventh. Does that narrative obligate me? Or does the narrative of the call of Abram, or the Exodus, or the Passover, or Balaam's loquacious donkey, or Jonah and the big big fish? Or the narratives of Jesus' casting out demons, of His resurrection, and of dead rising in conjunction with that resurrection?

Do these stories obligate me in some way? Is there something I must do, reading them?

One's first thought might be that no moral obligation arises from a story. If so, one's first thought would be mistaken. These aren't newspaper items or oddments in old books. These present themselves to me as God's Word. As such, I am obligated — morally obligated — to believe them. If I disbelieve them, I not only err, I sin.

How so? God tells me they are true, on His honor. Reject the stories, I reject His honor. If that doesn't plunge me into blasphemy, doesn't it bring me right up to the door and knock?

But wait, there's more.

What of the passages that tell me I should fear God (Proverbs 1:7; 1 Peter 2:17), that I should rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:3-4), that I should hope (1 Peter 1:13)? Do those obligate me as well? Surely they do.

But wait, there's still more!

This all brings us to the Charismatic issue.

The great achievement of modern Charismaticism is to dupe so many otherwise-fine people into letting Charismatics carve a niche for themselves where they can both promote themselves and avoid all meaningful accountability. Or, put another way, both to canonize and sanctify their personal experiences and claims and to avoid testing of any sort.

One of these ways is that they will ostensibly quote God, some "word from the Lord" — but then, when challenged, hurry to say "That's just for me!"

But is that option open? They have dared to claim to quote God. They have had the breath-taking, astonishing hubris to position themselves as mediators of revelation — claiming that God said words directly to them and them alone, words they now convey to you and to me.

Can that be a private affair? If so, too late now: they've spoken. They've claimed to speak God's words!

So now I am indeed obligated. Their word obligates me. I cannot escape. (Nor can they, though they try.)

You see, if what they speak is a word of God, I am morally obligated to believe it. It doesn't matter what the content is: a word from God has God's authority, and "an authoritative word is one that imposes obligations on those who hear." Well, I hear. What is my obligation?

If it is God's word, I am obligated to believe it. And if it is not, I am obligated to rebuke and expose them as false prophets.

I want to be sure you get this. Even if what they say is "God told me personally, 'Hey, buck up, my precious darling cuddly lambie-dear, I just want to cuddle you close in sweet saccharine waves of My unconditional love and approval, and have great plans for you'" — now that they've told me, I'm obliged.

If that's God speaking and I do not believe it, I am sinning.

But if it isn't, and I do? Same result — or, at the very least, I am complicit in enabling another's sin (cf. Ezekiel 3:18).

And so, an open-but-clueless sort is obligated to search out every claim to revelation, and decide whether to embrace and submit to it, or reject and expose it. That means that such poor souls are morally obligated to be constantly directing their attention from inspired, inerrant, sufficient Scripture, to vet and test and decide on every modern claim to quote God. Because if those are words of God, I am obligated to receive and believe them, myself.

Those are our choices. Either reject the movement as a whole and stand on the sufficient Word of God, or devote yourself to constant, daily distraction.

My, that sounds like a clever way to keep Christians off-focus, doesn't it? Devilishly clever!

Claiming to speak for God is a big, big deal, as I argued at length. They want us to forget it, so they can keep the charade going.

But we mustn't forget it. And we mustn't lose focus on God's real, abiding Word.

Dan Phillips's signature


15 March 2015

The power of the Scriptures

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 21-22, Pilgrim Publications.

"Dear friends, what are you doing towards scattering the Bible?" 

Do you give it away? Somebody may say it is of very little use to give away Bibles and Testaments. That is a very great mistake. I have very seldom found it to be a labour in vain to give a present of a Testament.

I was greatly astonished about a month ago. A cabman drove me home, and when I paid him his fare he said, “It is a long time since I drove you last, sir!” “But,” said I, “I do not recollect you!” “Well,” he said, “I think it is fourteen years ago; but,” he added, “perhaps you will know this Testament?” pulling one out of his pocket. “What!” I said, “did I give you that?” “Oh, yes!” he said, “and you spoke to me about my soul, and nobody had done that before, and I have never forgotten it.” “What,” said I, “haven’t you worn it out?” “No,” he said, “I would not wear it out; I have had it bound!”— and he had kept it very carefully indeed.

It encourages one to give books when they are so valued. Sometimes people will not value a tract. I believe it is often the cheapest thing to give a better thing; that which costs you rather more will be more highly treasured, and “a Testament for twopence!”—who would not scatter such a thing broadcast?

Should you be unable to give away the Book itself, quote the Scriptures often. A colporteur last Monday said there was a man in the habit of addressing him upon religious subjects when he was “half-seas over,” as they call it. Whenever he had plenty of drink in him he came to the colporteur to talk about religion. This colporteur said, “He came and knocked at my door, and I felt vexed that he should so often come to me in that condition, and I hurled four texts at his head out in the street with all my might.”

He quoted the four texts. They were very appropriate to the man’s condition, and contained a full statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, “I do not know whether I did that man any good or not, but there was a woman next door, who had just opened her door to put two dirty children off her doorstep. She stood still, and heard all the four texts, and the Spirit of God carried them home to her heart and conscience ;” and he added, “I have been awakened at night many times, and glad to be awakened, by hearing her sing, whilst she lies dying upstairs in the room next to mine.”

I wish every person here who knows the power of the Scriptures on his own soul would incessantly be trying to spread the Word of God and to expound it.