31 October 2006

Reformation Day thoughts, chuckles, challenges

by Dan Phillips
  1. It seems fitting to mark this Reformation Day by quoting the first and third of the ninety-five-shot volley that Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Wittenberg church. Note how timely it is:
  2. 1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent," He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

    3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one's heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.

    Read all ninety-five debate points here. Does this give us a clue as to where Luther might be on the "Lordship" question?
  3. Dr. Martin Luther, the thirty-something monk who shook the pillars of power and changed history by insisting on Scriptural truth in the face of fierce opposition, loved a good joke. I think he might have enjoyed The Reformation Polka. At our house, we do; and we plan to sing it happily (along with A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) at our Reformation celebration tonight.
  4. To my great delight, my pastor loaned me the pulpit last Sunday. It being the Sunday before Reformation Day, the sermon's focus was Romans 1:17, and it is titled Five "Alone's" that Changed Everything. (Audio difficulties for about the first 23 seconds.)
  5. Thought: Luther not only was used by God to start the Reformation, but he serves as a good illustration of it. I can't count how many times Romanists have cited this or that goofy, offensive, or just downright wrong statement of Luther's, as if my faith will collapse in shards. They just can't fathom my response, which is twofold: (A) That's the thing about Sola Scriptura, isn't it? Unlike Romanists, I am not chained to defend and repeat the mistakes of past erring men. And what's more, (B) think of it: even a goof like Luther could figure out that Scripture teaches salvation as solo Christo, sola gratia, sola fide, soli Deo gloria. What does that say about the learned geniuses of Rome (and elsewhere), who still deny what Scripture affirms?
  6. What a point of contrast Luther serves to the namby-pamby lightweights of our day. Clearly Luther did not oppose Rome happily. Clearly he was aware that his life was in danger. Clearly, if another way could have been found that would have preserved his conscience and his church affiliation, he would have taken it. Yet at the real risk of the cost of everything, of "goods and kindred" and "this mortal life," Luther stood forth and declaimed. By stark and shameful contrast, how many of today's "leaders" won't risk -- not even life nor limb, but merely -- their reputations as thoughtful, broad-minded moderates and academics; their connections to the similarly tepid; their Q Score; their associations; in short, their friendship with the world? There were giants in the land, in Luther's day. In our day? Not so much.
  7. More Luthery goodness in the form of John Piper's talk, Martin Luther: Lessons from His Life and Labor. It is also available in print. Check this quotation from Luther, and say "yowch":
    It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor— yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame.
    Then there's the very fine talk by Pastor Tom Browning, Reformation Day: October 31, 1517. Browning has other lectures on the Reformers on their times as well. And if you haven't seen the 2003 movie Luther, I recommend it highly.
  8. Read an engagingly-written article by J. D. Wetterling, on the life and impact of Martin Luther. I do have one quibble, however. Wetterling writes that Luther
    had been a monk for three or four years when, while reading the first chapter of Romans, he was struck by verse 17: "...as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’" It was as if "…the door of heaven had been thrown open wide."
    One could gain from this the impression that Luther read through Romans, saw this verse, the floodlight instantly burst on, and everything changed in an instant. This isn't at all how Luther describes the process. Hear the Reformer himself:
    I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable, monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in Conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

    Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven....

    If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain, as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face. [Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (Pierce and Smith: 1950), p. 65]

    I stress Luther's own stress of the agonizing and protracted process, because it affords some encouragement to those of us for whom the light dawns slowly -- when it dawns at all. The greatest insights are not always gained in an instant, in easy and effortless flashes of insight. Sometimes the process is very much like protracted and difficult labor and childbirth. A child is born, yes; but not without agony and blood.

Luther was a man who accomplished great things heartily, and failed heartily. As free, Biblical Christians, we are right to learn and draw back from his errors and misstatements. But we also, in our timid and pallid day, stand in awe of such a man, gripped as he was with such passion for the Word and glory of God.

Surely, in his own way, Luther was quite the PyroManiac.

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30 October 2006

The Word, not chaffy fancies nor fiddle-faddle

A double dose of Spurgeon
posted by Dan Phillips

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. Phil had thought he'd be out of town and wanted one of us to do a Spurgeon, so I found this goodie. Now, you get double your Spurgeon, double the offense to wishy-washy SpongeBob Christians!

In keeping with the momentous day we mark tomorrow, this week we enjoy an excerpt from A Luther Sermon at the Tabernacle. It was preached on November 11, 1883. Spurgeon's text was Habakkuk 2:4 — "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith." See what Christianoid movements Spurgeon's words bring to your mind.


he text ...cuts off all idea of living by mere intellect. Too many say, “I am my own guide! I shall make doctrines for myself and I shall shift them and shape them according to my own devices.” Such a way is death to the spirit. To be abreast of the times is to be an enemy to God! The way of life is to believe what God has taught, especially to believe in Him whom God has set forth to be a Propitiation for sin, for that is making God to be everything and ourselves nothing. Resting on an Infallible Revelation and trusting in an Omnipotent Redeemer, we have rest and peace. But, on the other unsettled principle, we become wandering stars for whom is appointed the blackness of darkness forever. By faith the soul can live—in all other ways we have a name to live and are dead.

The same is equally true of fancy. We often meet with a fanciful religion in which people trust to impulses, to dreams, to noises and mystic things which they imagine they have seen— all of it is fiddle-faddle! And yet they are quite wrapped up in it. I pray that you may cast out this chaffy stuff—there is no food for the spirit in it. The life of my soul lies not in what I think, or what I fancy, or what I imagine, or what I enjoy of fine feeling, but only in that which faith apprehends to be the Word of God! We live before God by trusting a promise, depending on a Person, accepting a Sacrifice, wearing a righteousness and surrounding ourselves with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Implicit trust in Jesus, our Lord, is the way of life—and every other way leads down to death. It is a narrowing statement—let those who call it intolerance say what they please—it will be true when they have execrated it, as much as it is now!
C. H. Spurgeon

29 October 2006

How Would Spurgeon Respond to the "New Perspective on Paul?"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This excerpt is from "Everywhere and Yet Forgotten," a sermon preached on July 29, 1860, at Exeter Hall, London.


here is something so enticing and yet so flimsy in the modern theological school,that I feel constrained to warn you constantly against it.

Its mystery is absurdity, and its depth is pompous ignorance. There is no theology in it; it is a futile device to conceal the want of theological knowledge.

A man with an education that may be complete in every department except that in which he should excel, stands up and would teach Christians that all they have learned at the feet of Paul has been a mistake, that a new theology has been discovered, that the old phrases which we have used are out of date, the old creeds broken up.

Well, what shall we do to this wiseacre and his fellow sages? Serve them, wherever you meet them or their disciples, as Job did Zophar: laugh at them, dash their language to pieces, and remind them that the best things they tell us are only what the fishes of the sea, or the fowls of the air, knew before them, and that their grandest discoveries are but platitudes which every child has known before, or else they are heresies that ought to be scouted from the earth.

C. H. Spurgeon



27 October 2006

t-shirt contest ends Tuesday ...

by Monte Hall

... and if nobody does anything about it, Martin Lloyd-Jones is going to win and I'll have to send prizes via air-mail to Martin Downes across the pond, doubling my expenses on this contest.

Help me: buy some other guy's shirts.


Book review: To Be Continued, by Samuel E. Waldron

by Dan Phillips

[PREFACE: and now, as a break from the controversy... a post about tongues! Bwahhh-hahaha!]


To Be Continued, by Samuel E. Waldron
(Calvary Press: 2005; 116 pages)

The only thing about which all Pyro readers will agree is that this is a brief book, weighing in at a mere 116 pages. The size of the book, however, attests to the author's focus and conciseness. He has a lot to say, and wastes no words in saying it.

In his introduction, first Waldron concisely sums up the issues and defines terms (p. 11):
Continuationism is the teaching that (at least some of) the miraculous gifts assumed and described in the Bible ought to continue in the church and, in fact, do continue to be given to the church. ... Cessationism is the opposite of Continuationism. It teaches that all the miraculous gifts have ceased to be given to the church today.
Aside #1: I'd demur mildly. I would not say miraculous gifts, but rather revelatory and/or attesting gifts. All the Biblical gifts are "miraculous" insofar as they are direct acts of God the Holy Spirit on the soul of man (1 Corinthians 12:11). The subset of gifts under debate are defined by Scripture as revelatory and/or attestational in function (Exodus 4:15-16; 7:1-2; Hebrews 2:1-4, etc.), which also explains their designed obsolescence.

Waldron has an engaging way of dealing out substantial information winsomely and conversationally. After the definitions, he sounds the same note that I've sounded elsewhere; namely, that the leaky-Canon set wins the PR game by its very terminology.
To my Continuationist friends who read this book, let me admit that I fear you have already defeated us Cessationists in the propaganda battle. Continuationism sounds so much more bright and hopeful than the dour and sour sound of Cessationism. In a day where it is so important to be positive (Insert here a smiley-face!) and so bad to be negative (as in "Don't be so negative!"), Continuationism sounds more positive than Cessationism (p. 14).
Waldron notes that this applies even to the non-committed, who like to refer to themselves as "open, but cautious"—implying that we Cessationists are closed, and reckless (ibid.).

What struck me right off about this book was that Waldron approaches the issue along exactly the same reasoning that liberated me from Charismaticism.

I had sagely noted that there was no verse in the Bible that said, "Once the Apostle John buys the farm, the following gifts will be taken off the shelf: prophecy, tongues, etc." From that I concluded that the only Biblical position could be that the gifts would all continue until Jesus returned. And of course, I held the (impossible) interpretation that Jesus was "the perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10, so that was that.

But then I realized the very fact that Waldron argues extensively, pointedly, and very effectively:
The New Testament makes clear that Apostles of Christ are not given to the church today; they lived only in the first century. We know for sure, therefore, that one gift, and that the greatest gift, has ceased to be given. This clear New Testament teaching provides a vital premise for the argument against Continuationism. Unless it wishes to contradict the plainest evidence, Continuationism cannot claim that there is no difference in the gifts given to the church today and the gifts given to the church in the first century (p. 15)
Like the doctrine of the Trinity, no single verse says this in so many words. The point in each case is to take the germane teaching honestly and seriously, and see how it adds up. As Waldron shows, no one could possibly fulfill the requirements for being an apostle of Christ today (pp. 21-44). Therefore the gift that Paul ranks as the most important and supreme gift to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28) has ceased, has fulfilled its purpose and been withdrawn. This creates an a priori readiness to accept that other gifts might also be designed for a limited shelf-life, like dissolving sutures—though no single verse may say so in so many words.

So Waldron builds what he calls a "cascade" argument, where the fundamental truth of the cessation of the apostles is laid down, and other implications cascade from that fountainhead (pp. 15-16). The apostles were the chief and foundational gift, and they ceased with the first century; NT prophecy was fundamentally identical to OT prophecy, was also a foundational and Canon-creating gift, and also fulfilled its purpose in the first century; tongues are "substantially equivalent" to prophecy, and ceased with it; miracle-workers attested the giving of fresh revelation, which is no longer being given (pp. 15-16).

(Hey—sounds like one of those meta-narrative arguments that are so trendy today!)

To back up: Waldron defends the view of prophecy that all serious students would have today, were they not trying to defend a traditional understanding, and/or a pale imitation: that prophecy is defined by such passages as Exodus 4:10-17 and 7:1-2, and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22 (p. 47ff.). He demonstrates that there is no solid reason for taking New Testament gift as inferior to Old Testament phenomenon. He briefly but tellingly demolishes recent attempts to make up a sort of semi-prophetic gift so as to provide cover for the complete failure of modern "prophecy" to measure up to the Biblical reality.

Aside #2: isn't it rather remarkable to argue that the New Covenant is a better covenant—and yet that its gifts are inferior? Under the inferior, older covenant, prophecy was inerrant, or it was not prophecy. But under the better, New Covenant—without a whisper of warning or note—it's demoted to hit and miss holy guesswork. Silly, silly, silly... unless, I suppose, it's your ox whose goring you're desperate to prevent. Then, the wish is father to the theory.

Waldron shows that this gift was foundational, and formational for the canon. He argues that
The choice for Continuationists is stark. They may maintain their claims to continuing prophecy in the church, or they may have a closed canon. They may have continuing prophecy, or they may have the witness of the New Testament that the principle of canonical authority departed from the church nearly two thousand years ago (p. 78, emphases added)
Waldron also discusses the Biblical gift of tongues, and agrees with Luke and Paul that it is the supernatural gift of unlearned human languages. He deals with the attempts to controvert the Biblical data, then argues that translated tongues are the functional equivalent of prophecy (pp. 88ff.). He points out that Acts 2:14-18 quotes Joel's prophecy about, well, prophecy, as applying to the outburst of tongues—which makes no sense if tongues are unrelated to prophecy (p. 89). Waldron also notes Paul's statement that "The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets" (1 Corinthians 14:5; p. 89). Paul's implication is that translated tongues are equivalent to prophecy. Waldron also points to the parallel between prophetic knowledge of mysteries in 1 Corinthians 13:2, and speaking mysteries by tongues in 14:2 (pp. 89-90).

Tongues are related to prophecy, and prophecy has ceased; therefore tongues have ceased (p. 90). This makes fact of the silence of Bible-level prophecy and tongues from the first century until our own; as a bonus, it doesn't require us to torture and mangle perfectly innocent texts to "define down" modern imitations.

The book closes with some very powerful remarks and applications from Luke 16:19-26, contrasting Scriptural sufficiency with its competitors: Roman Catholicism and Charismaticism (pp. 109-115).

Evaluation. Waldron has made a worthy, emphatically-Biblical contribution to the discussion. I could wish it were twice the size; I could also wish that the endnotes (A) had been footnotes, and (B) had been much more carefully proof-read, to weed out the numerous, largely-typographical errors. I'm also not convinced by his position on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, but that is hardly a pivotal single consideration.

On balance, I can gladly recommend To Be Continued? as a helpful and useful voice for Biblical sufficiency in the face of the traditionalistic, leaky-Canon shoddiness that defines modern Charismaticism.



Pyro rating: 4.5 matches out of 5.



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26 October 2006

Words

by Phil Johnson

on't think for a moment that I regard my comments about language, propriety, and grace as good advice for others but not for me.

As a matter of fact, I'm rather surprised that no one yet has flung the whole argument back in my face: "You may not preach like Driscoll, but do you think everything you post at your blog is edifying? You don't think some of your hard-edged humor and love of sarcasm is also less than edifying? What about all the people you offend?"

Some commenters have hinted at that, but no one has really clubbed me over the head with it yet. They've uncharacteristically let me off light.

So what's my answer to that charge?

"I lay my hand over my mouth" (Job 40:4). "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). My "tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5).

Scripture is full of admonitions about seasoning our words with grace: "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6). "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers" (Ephesians 4:29).

"The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up; the words of his mouth begin with foolishness, and the end of his talk is raving madness. A fool also multiplies words" (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14).

"My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And Your salvation all the day, For I do not know their limits. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only. O God, You have taught me from my youth; And to this day I declare Your wondrous works" (Psalm 71:15-17).

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

And then there's this wonderful couplet from the Proverbs: "A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent" (Proverbs 15:4-5).

The point is simple: This is a huge issue, and a major part of what the Bible has to say about the sanctification we require. Scripture is full of admonitions to guard our language carefully.

Only a rank fool would try to defend filthy talk or see how close he could come to the limits of impropriety without actually crossing the line. We (and as Frank says, "We" includes "me") need to cultivate the exact opposite attitude toward this particular transgression.

That, I think, is the whole point of James 3:1-2.

By the way, I realize that passage is not merely a caution against a list of forbidden words. It has to do with how we speak to and about one another as well as what we speak about. It rebukes me with as much force as it rebukes the people whose comments I have to delete because they are rule-2 violations.

I confess that to my shame.

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How Men Love

by Frank Turk

I couldn't think of a more provocative title for this post, and I'm sure that I am stretching some of you by bringing it up at all—but today at TeamPyro you will learn a lot of things about the Christian life.

It's somewhat ironic, I think, that in the last week the soft and sensitive underbelly of the Christian blogosphere called us Pyros (and Phil in particular) "bullies." However, I think it also turns out that today is going to be a classic clinic in how men who love each other in Christ can disagree and still not violate that love.

And it's going to occur on so many levels—the most obvious being that I disagree with Phil about whether or not Mark Driscoll is an "emergent".

But then there's the level of how to disagree with Driscoll and not take him out to the bone yard with the boys and have a blanket party—because while I disagree with Phil's assessment Mark Driscoll is just another end of the spectrum which contains Rob Bell, I also do not think we should give the Pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle, WA, a pass on his indulgent view of the culture of the grungy Pacific Northwest and how it may intrude on the ministry of God's word.

OK—let's agree that what Mark Driscoll does 3 times on Sunday is not secular stand-up comedy, nor should it ever be such a thing. You know: TeamPyro stands for the idea that God's word is like fire, and that it is a sharp sword that separates the parts of a man down to the soul and spirit. That means handling God's word requires some kind of care.

There's an interesting moment in the DGM 2006 National Conference audio. Driscoll set up the analogy in his hour that ministry has two hands—one which is doctrine, and the other which is context. In that, he said that as long as we have everything in the doctrine hand correctly, we have a lot of liberty to manage what's in the context hand. The interesting part was when, later in the Conference, John Piper made the statement that it didn't matter to him what was in the "context" hand as long as the "doctrine" hand was sound—and he made that statement acknowledging that some of "us" (the "TRs", the people who really care whether or not people are going to go to hell if the Gospel doesn't reach them—including those who hear a false Gospel which they mistake for the true Gospel) think that there is a place where the "context" hand corrupts the "doctrine" hand.

Listen: I am one of those people. I have used this example elsewhere, but let's be serious for a moment. Let's imagine that some man has a past in which he was involved with the porn industry in that he was involved with women who are strippers and prostitutes—he was friends with them, had relationships with them, and so on. Then, let's imagine that he has this thing happen to him in which he says that he recognizes that he's a sinner, and God is offended, but that Jesus Christ is his only salvation—that Christ died for his sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that Christ was buried and was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. Amen.

In that confession, any Baptist church would baptize this man, yes? So he's saved, right? What do we make of it if, after making this confession, this man seems to find the liberty to stay inside that lifestyle while making only minor changes—for example, he abandons the drinking and the drugs and most of his former promiscuity, but he keeps his live-in girlfriend and he still goes to strip shows. What do we make of that even if he says, "Dude—this is the only way to reach these women for the Gospel?"

Those of you who are right-minded, of course, have just muttered a forceful expression of disgust consistent with the principle of Ephesians 4:29.

There's no question: the ruse that I can go ahead and, for example, attend strip club performances "for the ministry" is completely transparent. You can't go to a strip club under the auspices of 1 Cor 9 because, frankly, "all" does not mean "all" there, does it?

So how do we go ahead and apply that to Mark Driscoll? That is: he says 1 Cor 9 is a call to radical missionary zeal, and that we should become skate punks and Vidiots to the skate punks and the Vidiots. Is that a valid interpretation—since the Bible never tells us, for example, that skate punks are reprobate and should be treated as people who cannot receive the Gospel?

For those who haven't taken advantage of the ESV pop-up to read 1 Cor 9, here's the passage in context:

    For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
When you read that, I think it's easy to hear Paul say, "I went to every culture I could find, and I became part of that culture, so that the Gospel could be served to them." And I think that's right—there's no question we are called to every tribe, tongue and nation to preach the Gospel.

But what if we are called to a nation which, for example, accepts culturally the matter of prostitution? You know—like in Ephesus where women who wore their hair up and with jewelry in it were recognized as prostitutes? How do we react to that? More particularly for our case here, how did Paul—who says he became all things to all men so that some might be saved—react to that?

It seems to me that he went to the culture but rejected all parts of the culture which manifested a rejection of the Gospel. For example, he knew how prostitutes dressed—and he forbade women from dressing like prostitutes. So on the one hand, he wasn't ignorant of the culture—and on the other, he wasn't going to get fooled into being just like the culture. He wasn't going to put silver fish jewelry on all the prostitutes and claim he just added 500 to the body of Christ.

The radical missionary zeal evident in 1 Cor 9 is not a fashion statement. Paul is not saying at all that when in Rome, he attended orgies—though, of course, he only partook in the gluttony and not the sex. And what is most evident in 1 Cor 9, it seems to me, is by what standard he lived for the sake of other men.

That standard is evident in the sentence I underlined—he became "weak" to the "weak". Now: what does that mean? Does it mean that he always acted inside a "mere" version and vision of the Gospel—or does it mean something else? Let me ask those questions this way: who is the weak in 1 Cor 8?

For example, are unbelievers ever called "weak" by Paul? Why no: they are not. They are called sinners, and reprobates, and liars and murderers and adulterers. And particularly in 1 Cor 8, are the "weak" unbelievers, or people who have some relationship to the body of Christ but have a conscience which is "weak"?

The answer seems obvious, doesn't it? Paul is not saying, "to those who were immoral, I became a libertine of sorts to fool them into the Gospel which requires a death to self," but in fact he is saying, "to those who have a weak conscience and do not have liberty in (for example) dietary laws I became weak like them, extra sensitive to their conscientious observance." And in that, isn't there an irony that this passage is used to extol apparent moral laxity when Paul was using it to say that he served by being more sensitive to their moral standards?

The other way to read this—which is, I think, how Driscoll wants us to read this—is that Paul is saying to the Corinthians, "dude: you can't look down on me for being a guy who is rough around the edges. I'm a friend of sinners, just like Jesus, and if you can't handle that you're not really into missions." There's no careful way to read this passage that way. 1 Cor 9 is, from start to finish, Paul taking the finger some are pointing at him (cf. 1 Cor 9:8-18 ) and pointing right back by demonstrating he has never taken anything from anyone—even that which is his by right in the ministry by the Law of Moses. If Paul's point through v. 20 is, "I have joyfully suffered for your sake in the Gospel," how can it be that suddenly he is saying, "and I have enjoyed all kinds of privileges and exotic customs for the sake of the Gospel"?

It can't be. So when we are talking "missiology" here, Paul isn't looking for an excuse to behave like a gentile: we are talking about the nature of the missionary as an ambassador for Christ who made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Wow! Isn't that something—Paul is actually talking about being Christ-like when dealing with other people. Christ-like! And being Christ-like, it turns out, means that we love God enough to refrain from our own weaknesses. We don't let people accidentally think that potty humor has a place along side the Gospel.

And Christ—he didn't have to use potty language or dirty jokes or scatology to preach the Kingdom.

Our high-minded reformed doctrines may, sometimes, make us think of Jesus as some kind of soteriological Terminator—you can't stop him, he doesn't really have anything to do with the world except his mission through it, and his catch-phrase is "I'll be Back." And there are real weaknesses in that—because, as Driscoll has pointed out, Jesus really did live, really did get tempted, really did suffer in every way as a man, really did die on a cross. But in knowing that Christ was a man, was made flesh and dwelt among us, we cannot trade in our reverence for him as King of Kings—who, in his own words (Luke 19:27), is going to have his enemies brought before him and slaughtered for failing to recognize Him as their rightful king.

If we are going to make the call on Mark Driscoll—"we" being all of us in Christ, and "the call" being a call to real repentance and reconciliation—we need to make sure it's not because we think (or want him to think) that we want him to stop being "Emergent" "right now": speaking for myself, a man with unclean lips among a people with unclean lips, who is undone by the vision of God in his glory to whom the angels sing, "Holy! Holy! Holy! Is the Lord God Almighty!", I just want Mark Driscoll to speak of Jesus and his word in a way which reflects the stated belief that Jesus is worthy of all honor and glory and praise.

It's not "emergent" to use potty language: it's indiscriminate. It's immature. And it doesn't in any way reflect the missional servanthood of 1 Cor 9 to be all things in service to men who are weak and dying. If we, as men, are going to love them, we can't love them by being more like them. We have to love them by being more like Christ.

You want to dip yourself in Pop culture DVDs, CDs, TVs and podcasts to know what "the kids are thinking these days"? Remember that those things are not the Gospel, nor are they vehicles for the Gospel: they are the symptom of our need for the Gospel.

And with that, I leave the Meta open for your weeping and gnashing of teeth.

IMPORTANT END NOTE: For those of you who are concerned right now that this post was edited after it was originally put up, you should lay your concerns to rest. One of the things which is critical to understand about me personally is that I am not above valid criticism. In that, my friends helped me review this post at my request because I knew it was controversial at a level which was frankly higher than my usual altitude for creating a dust cloud. I posted the old draft to the blog after making a series of correction I thought resolved all the concerns, but I was mistaken. I was pleased to make further corrections and revisions for the sake of removing the concerning statements.

If, in your book, that's conspiratorial or crooked, or that somehow it is dishonest to call that "mistakenly hitting post" when, in fact, it was a mistake to hit post because I had not done what I intended to do, I apologize to you for giving the appearance of wrong-doing.

Thanks for your concern about my moral well-being.










25 October 2006

Fed Up



erhaps you are one of those who thinks I have been too hard or too shrill in my criticisms of "the Emerging Church." In all honesty, the more I have been exposed to the various streams of the movement, and the more closely I have examined the agglomeration of trends and ways of thinking that make Emerging-style "ministry" distinctive, the more I want to distance myself from everything "Emerging." If any ostensibly-Christian movement since late-nineteenth-century modernism was more deserving of a shrill warning, I can't imagine what it would be.

Here is a lie writ large: "Postmodern Ministry Takes Us Back to The Bible." I invite you to follow that link; read the page; notice the sound file linked at the bottom of the page; and give it a careful listen.

It's a sermon by Rob Bell. David Posthuma introduces the message with this hopeful claim: "I present this teaching for one purpose alone . . . to illustrate how radically different postmodern Biblical facilitation is from the Seeker-Sensitive Topical Talk model so prevalent within our churches today."

OK. I'll grant that Bell's message is completely and radically different from anything you would hear in a seeker-sensitive context. But Posthuma's blogpost seems to imply that Bell's sermon proves Emerging-style ministry is somehow more "biblical" than seeker-sensitive worship.

Hardly. Bell's message is not only unbiblical; it's anti-Christian. He takes a bit of drivel he apparently learned from a yoga instructor somewhere, badly rephrases in quasi-biblical terminology, and spends 36 minutes doing "exposition" on a breathing exercise.

The result is not merely trivial: it's flat-out heretical. And in more ways than I care to enumerate.

I'll give one brief example, though. Here's a sample of what Bell does with the gospel: "You can't get enough points to get in with the Big Guy. You can't do enough good deeds and then God will like you. One of the things the Spirit does is remind us that we belong. Period. Just exactly as we are. You are loved by God."

Bell's syncretized amateur yoga exercise is not Christianity by any stretch of the definition. I'll go further: if this is what Bell really believes, he himself is no Christian.

The message actually proves that the stream of Emerging religion represented by Rob Bell hasn't a clue or a care about basic biblical truth. It's nothing but an experiment with the deconstruction of Christianity.

On a side note, but a related subject I thought in the interests of balance, after hearing that sermon by Bell, I ought to listen to a sermon from the "conservative" side of the Emerging movement. So I listened to this one by Mark Driscoll. I wish I hadn't. Driscoll's smutty language and preoccupation with all things lowbrow are inappropriate, unbecoming, and dishonoring to Christ. I completely agree that many Christians fail to appreciate the true humanity of Jesus. But it's not necessary to get vulgar in order to communicate the truth about His humanity.

This is the first time I have ever posted anything critical of Driscoll. I have appreciated his defense of the atonement and his willingness to confront the neo-liberalism of other Emerging leaders honestly. But I don't think his perpetually coarse language in the pulpit and his apparent preoccupation with off-color terms and ribald subject matter are merely minor flaws in an otherwise healthy ministry. It is a serious shortcoming.

No, it's actually worse than that, because it blatantly violates the clear principle of Ephesians 5:3-4. It is shameful (v. 12) and therefore a reproach. It's characteristic of the old man and one of the fleshly behaviors we are expressly commanded to put aside (Colossians 3:8). Scripture even seems to indicate that unwholesome language signals an impure mind (Matthew 12:34). And yet this is a deliberate, calculated, and persistent practice of Driscoll's. It is practically the chief trademark of his style.

That's troubling, and even more troubling when I see young Christians and older believers who ought to know better mimicking the practice. If this is the direction even the very best Emerging-style ministry is headed, it's not a trend any Christian ought to find encouraging, much less one we should follow.

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24 October 2006

No Bible verses were harmed (--or even touched!) in the writing of this sermon

by Dan Phillips

I attended a Baptist church, years ago. The pastor was evangelical, Calvinistic, very professional (much more professional that I've ever been able to be). He preached topically. Believed in the Bible completely; expounded it seldom, per se. Very neat sermons -- "neat" in the sense of "tidy" and, as I thought at the time, hermeneutically-sealed.

One Sunday, the pastor preached on what happens to the Christian after death. I was eager when I learned of the topic. Here was a subject that surely would force him into the Word. Think of it: we have absolutely no experiential, first-hand knowledge of it, no alternative avenues for gaining knowledge. We are absolutely and totally shut up to Scripture for truth on this topic.

I'll say this. It was the most remarkable sermon I've ever heard. I've never forgotten it. That is, I've never forgotten one particular thing about it: this orthodox, Bible-believing man did not engage with so much as one Bible-verse on the topic at hand. Not one. Not a verse, not a text, not a reference, not a punctuation-mark. Not so much as a leather binding or a place-marker ribbon. Bibles remained closed, if they'd been brought at all.

What we did hear was "We as Christians know," and "We believe," and "We hope." But how do we know these things? Why do we believe them? On what basis do we hope? The Bible might as well have been chained to the public, its contents reserved for some Magisterium to chew up, digest, and dole out, piecemeal, as it saw fit.

I'll admit that providing proofs and substantiation of what I'm saying in my sermons is almost a mania with me. But here's why: my charge is to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:4). I've been made a steward of something that isn't mine; that is, I didn't create it, and I don't control it. It was given me to give away, to those who have just as much right to it as I (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2). I am to use it feed Christ's lambs (cf. John 21:15-17). I am not called to lord it over their faith (2 Corinthians 1:24), nor to rule as if on my own authority (cf. Habakkuk 1:7). I'm no priest, no prophet. I have nothing to bring the people that isn't theirs by rights, anyway.

And so it is the preacher's burden to open up the Word -- not as if opening a museum, but a picnic basket. My goal isn't for my hearers to stand at a distance and marvel; it's for them to dig in, and be filled.

At the back of my mind in crafting my sermons is always the concern that my hearers will see God's truth for themselves. God forbid that they should believe anything simply because I say it, if I can help it! What an atrocity that would be. How appalled I would PyroManiacs have been as a pastor, had I heard one of those in my charge saying "Well, I believe ___ because our pastor says...." My goal is to hear them say, "The Bible says," and then see that they're able to open the Word themselves.

After all, is this not the chasm between Rome and the Biblical Christian? Is it not our conviction that God spoke His word to His people at large (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Hebrews 1:1-2, etc.), and not to some favored elite subset? What God gave us, did He not mean us to give away (cf. Matthew 10:8)? Do we really want to tell them what God says, as if God had said it to us and not to them? Or do we not want to show them, so that they can see it for themselves?

Of course I'm concerned about the Word being sidelined in churches where it no longer is believed. Of course it's grievous that historically-sound denominations have gone deep into apostasy, and the Word no longer has the place God means it to have even in their confession, let alone practice.

But what is even more grievous are those churches who still formally profess faith in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, but who then sideline it as effectively as the Romiest Romanist. Their leadership agrees with Jesus, formally, about the Bible. Formally. But in practice? In the pastor's own possession and use of the necessary tools? In his employment of those tools towards their designed end? In his vision of the purpose of his sermon, his burden, his goal?

Let's be brutally candid. Might some of our fellow-professors be more honest if they wore Roman robes, and let the "evangelical" Sacraments of stories, sideshows, music, skits, announcements, dance, handbell choirs, prayers and the rest do their work ex opere operato?

Spurgeon has been quoted as telling his people that there's enough dust on the Bibles of some that the word DAMNATION could be written in large letters. Could the same be said of some Bibles in the pulpit, though the word written might instead be ICHABOD?

God grant that our fine Biblical and Reformed theory not be cancelled out by a de facto Roman practice.

(These thoughts tangentially jogged by this post from m'mate CraigS.)

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Busted!

by Phil Johnson

Yeah, I know: It's Dan's turn to bump Frank. He had dibs on it and everything. He'll just have to bump me instead. Look at it this way: now he doesn't even have to wait till noon.

o on Sunday nights after church, Darlene and I like to stop by the Starbucks at Sepulveda and Nordhoff. It's not the finest neighborhood in the Valley, but that's the only Starbucks between church and home that's open so late at night.

It's also in the heart of the district Pecadillo patrols, and he's working nights. I mentioned to him last week that we were there, and he solemnly instructed me never to go there at night again. "People get shot in that neighborhood and cars get carjacked all the time," he said.

"Right," I scoffed. "I used to do street evangelism in Chicago in the 1970s in some of the toughest neighborhoods on the North Side. I can handle myself. Besides, I'm just going through the drive-through. I don't even get out of the car."

"Don't do it," he said with finality. "I'm serious."

Sunday night, I knew I would be staying up late. Our board meeting was Monday morning, and I still had some last-minute preparation to do. I wanted a Venti® drip with extra cream.

So after the evening service, when I turned left out of the church parking lot (toward Sepulveda, instead of toward the Hollywood Freeway), Darlene asked, "Where are you going?"

"Starbucks."

"But Pecadillo said not to go there any more," she said, aghast that I would be so foolhardy.

"Who's the dad in the family?" I asked.

I got my coffee and headed north on Sepulveda, toward the 405 freeway. Within two blocks, a black-and-white LAPD cruiser suddenly came from behind, pulled alongside me, slowed suddenly to match my speed, and honked angrily.

I don't care who you are, that's unsettling. I instantly was overwhelmed with guilt and fear, trying to think what law I might have broken. Then the cop rolled his window down, and it was Pecadillo, frowning and pointing at me angrily. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to pull over or not. His lights weren't flashing, so I kept going, trying to look nonchalant.

To my profound relief, he turned at the next corner and drove away.

I called him Monday, hoping to laugh it off. He wasn't smiling yet.

"Dude," he said. "I told you not to go there. I'm serious. If I see you there at night again, I'm hitting the lights and pulling you over. If you have so much as a burned out tail light, I'll write you up. Stay away from that neighborhood at night."

I feel like a little kid again.

And not in a good way.

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bumpable update

by P.T. Barnum

For those of you who were worried about it, "Richard Sibbes" and "Louis Berkhof" have been spell-checked in the t-shirt contest with just under a week to go. I am sure, frankly, that they were handicapped by my spelling errors, but now that you have a week to order your junk, you nutty Sibbes and Berkhof fans will probably pummel all the Lloyd-Jones fans.

And, as you can see to the right, there's a new design at the Pawn Shop -- it's a lightly-aged "Varsity" style design, and the backs of the shirts which accept a backside design say "get schooled". I thought it appropriate, given the recent bru-ha-ha over how Phil, Dan, myself and all of you faithful readers are bullies.

And I'm posting this early so it doesn't have to dominate the top spot today. Dan will likely update around Noon and you'll have something better to do with your day than shop the Pawn Shop. Though I'm not sure what that would be ...


23 October 2006

Spurgeon's Best-known Ecclesiastical Antagonist

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This week, instead of simply quoting an excerpt from Spurgeon himself, we're recounting an instructive episode in his life.


oseph Parker is probably best-remembered today for Parker's People's Bible, a 25-volume collection of his expositions. Starting in 1869, Parker pastored in London for 33 years, and his preaching drew crowds that regularly numbered in the thousands. In his day, Parker was practically as famous as Spurgeon and would have been deemed by most of their contemporaries as more cutting-edge, more influential, and certainly more sophisticated than Spurgeon. Naturally, Parker appealed to a younger generation.

Parker was a progressive. Doctrinally, he was orthodox enough, but he assiduously avoided doctrinal controversy in an era when many evangelical essentials were being discarded and attacked. Without overtly denying any vital point of doctrine, he managed to tiptoe around certain doctrines deemed controversial or outmoded by many modern intellectuals.

Parker had also hosted Henry Ward Beecher as a guest preacher in the pulpit of City Temple. Beecher was hands-down America's most famous preacher of that era, but he had disgraced himself and scandalized all of Christendom by carrying on an adulterous affair with the wife of a friend. Spurgeon was outraged that Parker would welcome such a man into his pulpit.

Most of all, Parker strove to be stylish. He openly attended the theatre in an era when London theatre was considered shockingly bawdy by most evangelicals. Those and other aspects of Parker's lifestyle and public behavior struck Spurgeon as worldly and unbecoming for a minister.

Spurgeon said nothing publicly that was expressly critical of Parker, but in 1887, when Parker invited Spurgeon to participate in "a public conference between ministers of all denominations—gathered from all parts of the country," Spurgeon sent a private note quietly declining. He reluctantly told Parker (in essence) that he generally agreed with his doctrine but couldn't affirm his lifestyle.

"I feel I have no right whatever to question you about your course of procedure," Spurgeon wrote. "You are a distinguished man with a line of your own, but your conduct puzzles me. I can only understand a consistent course of action, either for the faith or against it, and yours does not seem to exhibit that quality. I am sorry that frankness requires me to say this, and having said it, I desire to say no more."

Parker insisted that Spurgeon needed to say more: "If thou hast aught against thy brother, go and tell him his fault between thee and thy brother [cf. Matthew 18:15]. But as your health is uncertain, I will so far modify the terms as to go to you at your house at any mutually convenient time. This strikes me as the Christian way—the Lord's own way—why should we invent another?"

Spurgeon was clearly put off by Parker's insistence on coming to see him. As far as Spurgeon was concerned, his differences with Parker were not merely personal conflicts but vast differences in ministry philosophy—including a fundamental difference of opinion about how to weigh vital doctrine and balance it with a good public testimony. Spurgeon wasn't looking for an argument or a conflict with Parker; he was just trying (politely but honestly) to decline an invitation to participate in a meeting that would have forced him to make a public show of approval toward men whom he conscientiously felt he could not affirm.

Spurgeon replied with a terse but private letter:

DEAR DR. PARKER,
     If I had aught against you I would see you gladly; but I have no personal offense, nor shadow of it. Your course to me has been one of uniform kindness, for which I am most grateful.
     The question is very different. You ask me to cooperate with you in a conference for the vindication of the old evangelical faith. I do not see my way to do this. First, I do not believe in the conference; and second, I do not see how I could act with you in it, because I do not think your past course of action entitles you to be considered a champion of the faith.
     There is nothing in this which amounts to having aught against you. You have, no doubt, weighed your actions and are of age. These are not private but public matters, and I do not intend to go into them either in my house or yours.
     The evangelical faith in which you and Mr. Beecher agree is not the faith which I hold; add the view of religion which takes you to the theater is so far off from mine that I cannot commune with you therein.
     I do not feel that these are matters in which I have the slightest right to call you to account. You wrote to me, and I tried to let the matter go by. You write me again and compel me to be more explicit, altogether against my will. I do not now write for any eye but your own, and I most of all desire that you will now let the matter drop. To go further will only make you angry and it will not alter me. I do not think the cooperation sought would be a wise one, and I had rather decline it without further questioning.
     To make this public would serve no useful end. I have told you of the matter alone, and now I must decline any further correspondence.
          Yours with every good wish,
          C. H. SPURGEON.

Parker's only private reply was a postcard: "Best thanks, and best regards. —J. P."

Parker had more that that to say to Spurgeon, but he chose to say it two years later in a way calculated to embarrass Spurgeon. On April 25, 1890, The British Weekly published "An Open Letter—Parker to Spurgeon":

MY DEAR SPURGEON,
     I know I may speak frankly, because I am speaking to a man whose heart is big and warm, a heart that has an immense advantage over his head. When people ask me what I think of Spurgeon, I always ask, which Spurgeon—the head or the heart—the Spurgeon of the tabernacle or the Spurgeon of the orphanage.
     I will speak frankly as to a brother beloved. Let me advise you to widen the circle of which you are the center. You are surrounded by offerers of incense. They flatter your weakness, they laugh at your jokes, they feed you with compliments. My dear Spurgeon, you are too big a man for this. Take in more fresh air. Open your windows, even when the wind is in the east. Scatter your ecclesiastical harem. I do not say destroy your circle: I simply say enlarge it. As with your circle, so with your reading.
     Other men will write you in a vein of condolent flattery, and will hold up their riddled gingham to save you from the refreshing shower, but you know as well as I do that their good offices are meant for themselves and not for you.
     Good-bye, you sturdy, honest old soul. You have been wondrously useful, and wondrously honored. I would double all your honors if I could. Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth? In your inmost soul you know I am not your enemy, but your friend.

Spurgeon made no public reply. When he learned friends were planning to reply on his behalf, he stayed their hand. By then, Spurgeon was already embroiled in the Downgrade Controversy. If Parker was so committed to evangelical essentials, he ought to have lent his public support and encouragement to Spurgeon. Instead, he chose the very moment when Spurgeon was under siege from enemies of the gospel, and he jumped on the dogpile.

Parker would have insisted—and did insist—that his doctrinal sympathies lay with Spurgeon. His actions belied that claim.

Spurgeon was nearing the end of his life and ministry. The dominant opinions among British evangelicals had already turned against Spurgeon. He was already perceived as a theological dinosaur, because of his unbending commitment to the old doctrines.

By contrast, most Christians considered Parker the epitome of forward-thinking evangelicalism. He was trendy, he shaved the corners off unpleasant truths, he bent the message as much as possible to contextualize his preaching and placate the spirit of the age.

But more than a hundred years later, Spurgeon still speaks to our generation. By contrast, Parker's sermons, so stylish in their time, sound terribly quaint today. What seemed so advanced and trendy in Victorian times is so outdated nowadays that almost no one reads Parker anymore.

And here's the greatest irony of all: when Spurgeon died, Parker wrote a tribute to him that was published in The Times of London. What do you suppose Parker regarded as Spurgeon's most outstanding feature? It was Spurgeon's unbending commitment, throughout his entire ministry, to the same doctrines he had preached at the start. Parker wrote:

     The only pulpit name of the nineteenth century that will be remembered is no longer the name of a living man. His simplicity, his constancy, his stand-stillness, won for him, through many difficulties, a unique and invincible position in Christian England. Mr. Spurgeon had but one sermon, and it was ever new. Other young preachers are naturally great in the treatment of Biblical narrative and anecdotes. They can handle drama better than doctrine. Mr. Spurgeon boldly went at once to the deepest and greatest themes. At nineteen he preached to countless thousands from such texts: "Accepted in the beloved"; "No man cometh unto me except the Father draw him"; "And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." Some men have never ventured to take those texts even after a lifetime of service. Mr. Spurgeon took them at once, as the very seven notes that made all God's music, and he did so by Divine right and impulse. As he began, so he continued: he never changed; he never went in quest of the fourth dimension or of the eighth note; his first and his last were one.
     That great voice has ceased. It was the mightiest voice I ever heard: a voice that could give orders in a tempest, and find its way across a torrent as through a silent aisle. Very gentle, too, it could be, sweet and tender and full of healing pity.


"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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21 October 2006

Bully Pulpit

by Phil Johnson

e've had a hard week here at PyroManiacs. Some of our critics have been talking amongst themselves and decided that we are common bullies. We're theological thugs who will stand for no dissent.

At first, we lodged a mild protest: Every post here has an open comment-thread. We permit anyone to say anything he (or she) likes, with just a few simple rules to circumscribe the discussion. We ask that commenters keep their comments within the bounds of good taste and biblical propriety. We insist that they avoid profanity. We request that they stay on topic (or thereabouts). We don't particularly like it when someone posts spam. And we expect all our commenters—friends and foes alike—to take responsibility for their views and assertions.

But our commenters post lots of dissenting opinions. We get more people trying to pick fights with us than just about any blog I regularly read, with the possible exception of the gentlemen at Triablogue, and occasionally (depending on what he is dealing with) Tom Ascol.

Frankly, most blogs that deal with as many controversial issues as we do simply refuse to permit comments (including some who are generally friendly to our perspectives, and others who despise pretty much everything we stand for). It's hard to argue against the claim that most hostile comments are unedifying. Yet because some of these comments are edifying and others give us opportunities to clarify our views or improve our logic, we have opted to allow all comments.

I enjoy the feedback. (It's the most valuable aspect of blogging, if you ask me.) And we rarely ban anyone from commenting here.

As a matter of fact, Frank Turk singlehandedly doubled the size of our Banned-Commenters List yesterday by interdicting two commenters at once. But (despite the expressions of contempt one fresh commenter instantly spat at the whole blog) that's hardly a typical day at PyroManiacs.

The timing was somewhat unfortunate. Even before Frank banned the two antagonists, another blog was already sponsoring a comment-thread about how terribly gauche and mean-spirited we are over here. That thread has now deteriorated into a discussion about who among the three regular PyroManiacs posters is the most contemptible. (I would have expected Frank to be the clear hands-down winner if creative sarcasm truly equals cruelty, but to my surprise, Dan and I seem to be running neck and neck for the lead. No one has even seriously argued that Frank is our worst bully—even though he is the only one among us who has actually banned anyone in the past six months, and he embargoed two at once.)

Anyway, I'd like to point out that apart from one unfortunate episode involving a frozen beef chub, none of us has ever stooped to threats of violence or aimed at being menacing. There is a legitimate place for righteous indignation, but even at our most curt, we don't ever deliberately use an angry tone instead of an argument.

So on what grounds do our critics call us "bullies"? Our chief sins, it seems, are these: We reserve the right to answer our critics with as much rhetorical force as they themselves employ. We have the bad taste to tell people who express disagreement with us that we still think they are wrong. Sometimes (especially when dealing with critics and gadflies who aren't being serious) we refuse to treat off-the-wall arguments seriously. In such instances, we might even state an opinion tersely or mix sarcasm with our disputation. We never (well, OK, rarely) change our theological opinions, a fact which is set forth as irrefutable proof that we lack humility. And we stubbornly refuse to submit our blog to postmodernism's rules of engagement.

We make no apology whatsoever for any of those things. If someone is upset with us for refusing to imbibe the spirit of postmodernism, we can direct you to some blogs you might like better, where the edges of truth are purposely made blurry and every kind of doctrinal mischief is politely taken on board as part of the "conversation."

On the other hand, we don't claim to be free of all guilt with regard to our words, our tone, or our attitudes. "We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well" (James 3:2).

I'm a man of unclean lips (descended from ancestors who all had the same fault) and I live in a community of people who revel in having unclean lips. I freely confess that I stumble often and fail to bridle my tongue as I should. Moreover, it does indeed grieve me when someone is insulted or offended by something I have written, even if the offense stems from a misunderstanding.

So for those times when I have been unkind, thoughtlessly posted an insult, or put a real offense in someone's way, I sincerely beg forgiveness of the aggrieved parties. There are probably more instances of that than I realize, but, frankly, most of the complaints we get about our "tone" on the blog aren't specific enough or objective enough to be very helpful.

If someone wants to confront me about a specific offense, please quote the actual instances of my unkind or ungodly words, and show me my sin with reference to a biblical principle of righteousness (not merely postmodern standards of politeness). I would be eager to right any such wrongs, and it would be my duty to make an expression of repentance that's as public as the offense.

(I have no doubt that the other Pyros would echo the same thing, too.)

However, if the point is merely that you would prefer a milder tone at PyroManiacs, let's just say we get that. We would prefer not to see truth and error get jumbled all together in the Christian blogosphere and the compromise winked at in the name of brotherly kindness. Both goals are good and valid, but they do sometimes conflict.

Also, we're serious about what we are doing here, even if we sometimes inject some fun and silliness.

For the record, however, the post that touched off this week's anti-Pyro blitzkrieg was written with nothing but goodwill and benign intent, and without so much as a hint of foul temper in my heart. If I had even written something that could reasonably be interpreted as unfriendly or spiteful, the recent outpouring of rage and fury from our critics might be understandable, and I would crawl on broken glass to beg forgiveness if that's what it took to win my brothers.

But that's not what happened in this instance. I disagreed with someone's interpretation of something I wrote. I expressed my disagreement in a way that some of my readers found humorous. The person I disagreed with was not amused. I'm sorry about that. I did not offend anyone purposely. I'm terribly disappointed that someone was offended. But I said nothing unkind; I do disagree; and I still think the critic's original complaint was pretty far-fetched. I gotta be honest with you.

I will, however, be very careful what I BlogSpot in the future, so as not to call attention to any disagreements I might have with those who are so easily offended.

Incidentally, it has heretofore been my policy to BlogSpot just about anyone who links here via an actual in-post link. (You can't usually earn a BlogSpotting link by putting this blog in your blogroll.) I rarely include more than a single-sentence remark about a critic's reference. The point is to link them, not refute them, and I do try to be brief and fair.

In the future, however, I'm going to avoid linking to those who just seem to be spoiling for a fight.

To be clear: we're not hoping for a fight. But neither will we back away from a necessary fight (Jude 3) when a vital point of truth is at stake.

Now, how about some BlogSpotting?

This will be very short this week, because Blogger has been down for a couple of hours and I don't have an infinite amount of time. But without further ado:


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19 October 2006

Is spiritual growth automatic?

by Dan Phillips

Continuing in my series on Things I Know Nothing AboutTM....

No, seriously; I was praising God this morning for an area of small growth—which, yes, is the only sorts of areas of which I'm ever aware—and it brought on this reflection.

My mind went to a jarring image. I thought of a stillborn child. You see the child, lifeless. You could will it alive, you could plead with it to live, you could order it to live. Your efforts would be fruitless. Nothing in your power will make that child live.

How do you know it is not alive, without the benefit of a medical degree? It doesn't cry. I'm sure parents over the globe will agree with me that your child's first cry is one of the most wonderful sounds you've ever heard in your lives. It isn't that you love the sound of crying; it is that this is how you know your child is alive, and doing what living babies do: they cry. They wiggle. They struggle. They demand food. They're alive.

There is a parallel in the Christian life. If none of those activities has its answering spiritual image, life is unlikely. Newborn babies do not need to be reasoned with to have an appetite. They don't need to be told to express their needs in the best way they know. They don't need to see a Powerpoint presentation on moving and wiggling.

Now, I imagine one portion of my readership, at this point, is thinking that I am going to say that Christian spiritual life is like that. At the same time I imagine another portion, perhaps of equal size, who thinks I'll say it isn't. And—drumroll—you're both right!

It is like the newborn in that we don't give ourselves life. God makes us alive by sovereign grace alone (Ephesians 2:1ff.). In our re-creation, our regeneration, we become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). We're declared perfectly righteous through faith, as a gift (Romans 3:24; 5:1). We're blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3ff.). We're baptized with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), gifted (1 Corinthians 12:11), filled full in Christ (Colossians 2:10). We die to sin, and are alive to God (Romans 6).

In sum, we're given all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). No crises are necessary, forehead-slaps, second-blessings, upgrades, nor reboots are necessary to the essential equipment we need for Christian living: it's all there, original factory equipment.

Now comes the all-important But.

But first, a word from our false teachers. Various forms of false teaching come in here and preach that the rest is pretty much on auto-pilot, or should be. The Lord saved me from a New Age-type cult; early in my Christian life, I came on higher-life type books that seemed eerily similar to what I'd just been saved from. They held forth a vision of abiding in Christ so that I would be the glove, and He the hand. He would live His life through me—in my stead. I've heard various other forms since; they're still popular.

One man ended up fleeing my church, because he didn't like all the "law" he kept hearing. (He hadn't heard that all us dispensationalists are supposed be antinomian—or maybe he thought I wasn't a very good one.)

In one conversation he, influenced by a popular writer, told me that Christ lives his life through him, and commandments are not necessary.

Trying to be pointed, as always, I asked, "So, if you found yourself tempted to cheat on your wife, you wouldn't just remember the commands 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' or 'Flee fornication,' and get the heck out of there?"

"No," he said, "the flow of the life of Christ just wouldn't lead me in that direction."

Uh-huh.

So here's the problem with that line of thinking. It's a ruinous lie.

As I pointed out to him (to no avail), the New Testament is chock-full of commands, and not one of them is addressed to the Holy Spirit.

Here's the disconnect with my baby analogy. You don't have to reason with a healthy, living child to do those things. But you do with Christians.

You don't have to tell a newborn to have an appetite, or to grow. But evidently God thinks He does have to tell us, "like newborn babies," to "long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). He thinks He has to command us to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14). He thinks we need to be told to "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18).

God doesn't trust us to intuit from the "flow" of the blah-blah-blah that we must, we have to, we need to "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2:11).

And I broken-record you again: not one of these commands is addressed either ot the Lord Jesus, or to the Holy Spirit. You won't find one syllable such as "Holy Spirit, hold off from fleshly lusts for this passive little sock-puppet," or "Jesus, love God with all of each believer's heart, soul, mind and strength instead of him." God addresses us. He gives what He commands, and then commands what He will—but He does command. And He commands us.

Perhaps you have a different plan for growth. If you do, it's wrong.

Is spiritual growth inevitable? For a Christian, yes. Where there's life, there's growth. Where there's literally no growth, life is at best undetected.

But automatic? No way.

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Today's e-mail brings this....

t appears Frank's pawn shop has competition from a more or less authoritative source:







Hi Phil:

Caleb Maskell here from the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale. Nice site...some great stuff...

FYI (and perhaps that of your homeboy-inclined readers) the "official" CT-licensed Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy t-shirts are now available at our website...http://edwards.yale.edu.

Thought you might like to know.

Cheers,

caleb


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