30 March 2014

An unrecognized blessing

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Wisdom, pages 64-65, Pilgrim Publications.
"The Lord of love bestows it; His tenderness rocks the cradle for us every night; His kindness draws the curtain of darkness about us, and bids the sun cover his blazing lamp."  

How thankful should we be for sleep! Sleep is the best physician that I know of. Sleep hath healed more pains of wearied heads, and hearts, and bones than the most eminent physicians upon earth. It is the best medicine; the choicest thing of all the names which are written in all the lists of pharmacy.

No magic draught of the physician can match with sleep. What a mercy it is that it belongs alike to all! God does not make sleep the boon of the rich man; he does not give it merely to the noble, or the rich, so that they can monopolize it as a peculiar luxury for themselves; but he bestows it upon the poorest and most obscure.

Yea, if there be a difference, the sleep of the labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. He who toils hardest sleeps all the sounder for his work.

While luxurious effeminacy cannot rest, tossing itself from side to side upon a bed of eiderdown, the hard-working labourer, with his strong and powerful limbs, worn out and tired, throws himself upon his hard couch and sleeps: and waking, thanks God that he has been refreshed.

Ye know not how much ye owe to God, that he gives you rest at night. If ye had sleepless nights, ye would then value the blessing. If for weeks ye lay tossing on your weary beds, ye then would thank God for this favour.

As sleep is the merciful appointment of God, it is a gift most precious, one that cannot be valued until it is taken away; yea, even then we cannot appreciate it as we ought.

28 March 2014

"We were Enemies"

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 June 2010. Frank reminded us of some unpleasant truths regarding how we view others versus how we view ourselves.

As usual, the comments are closed.
We want our heroes to be just like us, and our perceived enemies to be completely unlike us, with nothing in common as if we are not all of Adam’s race, and as if the sin which cannot be forgiven is only possible in someone else’s bailiwick.

That’s the elephant in the room, btw: the way we toss people out of our circle of church with complete regard for their faults and no regard for their merit in Christ.

Let’s face it: we say we believe this --
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Rom 5]
I mean: that’s straight up-the-middle Book of Romans. It’s the Reformed Home Court. This is the promise those who have faith and have repented, and if you’re really ready to go for the gusto, those who have been baptized for the sake of faith and repentance, ought to all share.

Paul says in this we ought to rejoice -- so all the smart remarks about the Apostle John and John the Baptist being a real gas at parties and whatnot ought to take its snark to Paul and see what he has to say about that.

See: for all the assurance we can derive from Rom 5, and all the exhortations of Paul to be unified under Christ and to let Christ be the basis for unity and fellowship, we also have James telling us this explicitly:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [James 5]
One simple sentence, but I think we lose the force of it often. Here’s what I think we should read when we see this:

Some people – like you -- will from time to time wander away into sin.

Wandering people who have turned away from the truth can be turned back.

When these people turn back, they turn from death to life.

Other people are the instruments of turning the wanderers back to Christ.

James has the audacity to call both the wanderers and those who turn them back "My brothers".

Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that point us exactly to the same place Paul points us to – which is a refuge in Christ when we are confronting people who we believe are turned away from Christ and toward sin? James says that our approach to them, and our reproaches to them, ought to be as brothers and not as toward lawless men or people who are not in our own family.

25 March 2014

Book review — Philemon: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, by Seth M. Ehorn

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2011)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to grow. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner, then the commentary on the Song of Songs by A. Boyd Luter. Refer to the first (Derickson) review to understand the well-designed aim and focus of this series, which Logos provides me for possible reviews such as this.

Though Logos is selling Colossians (by H. Wayne House) and Philemon (by Ehorn) together, only Philemon is currently available. A longtime lover (and teacher, and preacher) of Colossians, I'll likely review that volume for you when it is released. The author of this commentary is Seth Ehorn, who is in the doctoral
program for New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, New College. Before this, Ehorn distinguished himself in his Master's studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, and has been creating entries for journals and upcoming publications.

As to this commentary, the thoroughness and currency of documentation once again immediately makes an impression. Six of the three hundred and sixty-eight footnotes speckle the first paragraph alone, referring to lit from the 1920s to the 2000s.

Approaching Philemon, Ehorn notes the letter's the lack of explicit development of usual Pauline themes (resurrection, etc), and the fact that theologies seldom refer extensively to Philemon. Yet,
[d]espite these apparent lacunae, Philemon is not just a fine literary and rhetorical achievement. Nor is it just an interesting cultural artifact. ...Presumably, Paul himself imagined that this letter would instigate great change in his hearers and especially in the life of a slave named Onesimus. Further, the multiple addressees in the letter seem to invite a wider readership, perhaps not only for the accountability of Paul’s request in the letter, but also for the edification of all who were addressed. It is in this latter sense that Philemon is to be understood as Christian Scripture.
In keeping with the brevity of the epistle, I'll keep my review briefer than some previous. I appreciated Ehorn's detailed and up-to-date attention to every aspect of the Greek text from every angle. I also appreciated the breadth and thoroughness of his documentation, which itself opens the doors to a lot of great material.

However what often stood out to me was Ehorn's reluctance to commit himself. Now, obviously one would not want a scholar to pretend certainty unwarranted by the evidence. Yet one has to admit that one wondered why Ehorn was chosen to write this particular commentary, given that he did not appear to have many singular insights to bring to light or trumpet.

For instance, we read, the epistle might have been written from Rome. Or maybe it was Ephesus. The evidence is inconclusive — though Ehorn makes an extended case for an (undocumented!) Ephesian imprisonment. Ehorn then argued against too tightly joining Colossians and Philemon, as is commonly done; he thinks Philemon precedes Colossians. By how long? Unknown. Or maybe it should really be connected with Philippians, instead of Colossians? Don't know. Finally, he concludes, "In the light of Paul’s request for lodging, it is easier to think that Paul wrote to Philemon from Ephesus than from Rome, thus probably between A.D. 52 and 55." Oh, so Ephesus it is...maybe.

So, what is the letter about? Exactly who was Philemon? What was Onesimus’ relationship with him? Why was Onesimus absent from him? How did Onesimus come to encounter Paul? In response, Ehorn quotes C. S. Lewis: “Almost anything can be read into any book if you are determined enough,” adding:
These words—penned by C. S. Lewis—are acutely true of the letter to Philemon. All these questions are left unanswered by the letter that is both short in length and short on details. Of course, such information would have been unnecessary to include in the letter seeing as the recipients would have had intimate knowledge of such issues already. Thus, as modern interpreters we are operating at a deficit. We are reading only half of the conversation. Nevertheless, such historical distance (not to mention social, political, etc.) should not drive readers to despair. Rather, it should warrant caution against over interpretation and humility regarding conclusions.
I'll attest that Ehorn certainly heeds his own advice. For instance, what is the narrative frame to the epistle, the background? The traditional (fugitivus) hypothesis sees Onesimus as a runaway slave, converted by Paul's ministry, returned by Paul. But, Ehorn counters, this would be a legal offense, and no remorse is expressed by or for Onesimus. Ehorn floats other possibilities, then concludes that it is impossible to be sure. For his part, he is "tentatively inclined to follow the recent trend of interpreters who read the letter to Philemon as concerning a slave who intentionally sought Paul for intercession with his master." But who knows?

Ehorn then says that the subject of slavery, peripheral to the book itself, has come to overshadow the actual content of the book. So no great help on that issue, here.

Ehorn makes good theological observations. For instance, though  Philemon doesn't stress usual Pauline themes, Ehorn notes that God and Christ (not the Spirit) are mentioned numerous times directly, and 2 passages feature the "divine passive" in two passages:
In two instances Paul employed the divine passive to indicate God as agent (vv 15, 22).61 Taken thusly, Paul not only hinted at the providential outworking of God in the details of Onesimus’ separation and return (v 15), but indicated that it was God who could grant him freedom from his imprisoned status (v 22). If God’s hand were involved in the separation of Onesimus from Philemon, then Philemon’s response to his slave would have to be tempered by his own view of the reality of God’s presence and providence in his life. Much like the circumstances of Joseph with his conniving brothers (cf. Gen 45:5, 8; 50:20; cf. also Esth 4:14), Philemon was summoned to look upon his circumstances and see them as the outworking of God. Perhaps with the clarity of hindsight, Philemon saw that the return of a slave who was now “useful” (v 11) and “a beloved brother” (v 16) was an act of God, who works “all things for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28).
This is a good example of Ehorn's theological sensitivity, and the useful material he produces.

Back to the issue of slavery. Ehorn hasn't much to contribute on the issue:
The relationship of Paul to slavery will be discussed only briefly in this section because of the publication of a recent monograph surveying studies on Paul and slavery and another recent collection of specific studies on Philemon. There is hardly necessity for an in-depth rehearsal of the trends of research on Philemon in view of these works. Suffice it to say, the general impact of the letter vis-à-vis slavery is presently in flux.
So Ehorn footnotes two academic works which are not in general circulation to explain why he won't have much to offer on the subject. I rather think it is a major issue in how we approach this book. Will it really do to say "I won't write very much about this (—in a commentary on the letter to slave-owner Philemon!) because some books few people own have"?

This is not to say that Ehorn has nothing to say on the issue. He notes J. M. G. Barclay's verdict that Paul's silence is "disturbing," adding this:
One cannot help but agree with Barclay’s empathetic statement that, “one can only weep on behalf of those millions of slaves whose lives might have been immeasurably better had Paul been just a little less ‘poetic’ ” (125). This, however, is not so much a problem with Paul per se, as it is with the history of interpretation.
Then, without comment, Ehorn notes that Moo "concluded that Paul did not realize the full implications of the theology he explicated." What? That sounds disturbingly like Paul K. Jewett's (and others') view on the issue of Paul and women pastors — that Paul just hadn't worked out his own theology yet, so the apostle (!) wrote in error in some passages. Does Moo think that? Does Ehorn agree with Moo?

While Ehorn writes and documents further, he does not really come to a conclusion, other than the conclusion that we do not know enough to come to a conclusion.

In fact later, commenting on vv. 15-16, Ehorn says Paul's "request was opaque."
This [opaqueness] is demonstrated by the variegated readings of v 16 among commentators. For example, one commentator boldly opined that “Paul is telling Philemon that he surely must manumit Onesimus now that he and Onesimus are brothers in Christ” (Witherington, 80; cf. Bruce, 217; Wolter, 270–72; Fitzmyer, 114–15). Conversely, other scholars find no legal implications regarding the issue of slavery (Lohse, 206; O’Brien, 305–06). Still others find the statement ambiguous, permitting either reading (Stuhlmacher, 43–45; Dunn, 335–36). Or, perhaps as Barclay argues, Paul may have been purposefully ambiguous because he did not know specifically what to recommend.
Ehorn's conclusion? None, apart from affirming that slave and master are now brothers — which is important, to be sure. But is it really all that is warranted?

This is all introductory. Ehorn's commentary, proper, is very detailed, sensitive to nuances of word-choice and case. For instance, on Paul not using "apostle" in the opening words, Ehorn makes a valuable observation:
It is of no small significance that the title ἀπόστολος is not found in letter opening, nor in the document at all, for its absence was likely part of the rhetorical strategy of the letter. That is, Paul had no intention of appealing to his authority as an apostle (cf. vv 8–9). The use of the self-appellation δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ ["prisoner of Christ Jesus"] sets the tone for the letter.
Ehorn's thoroughness is on display in his handling of verse 6 (ἡ κοινωνία τῆς πίστεώς σου ἐνεργὴς γένηται ἐν ἐπιγνώσει παντὸς ἀγαθοῦ τοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν εἰς Χριστόν), which he notes contains "the most exegetical difficulties of the letter." Ehorn contributes more than 2000 words (not including footnotes) of exegesis. First, he opens with an array of divergent translations, noting that even the NIV84 and current NIV differ. Here is his own translation: "that the fellowship produced by your faithfulness might become effective in the knowledge of every good thing that is yours for the sake of Messiah."

Later, Ehorn makes the valuable "applicational and devotional implication" that Onesimus' return teaches that
Onesimus too was to act in a selfless manner when he returned to his master as a “new man” (cf. Eph 4:24). By this it may be seen that conversion was not an escape from the responsibilities of his past. What was wrong still needed to be set right (cf. vv 18–19). Nevertheless, Onesimus’ new status in Christ would shake the foundations of his former relationship with Philemon, perhaps allowing for the forging of a new one as “a beloved brother” (v 16). By his example, Paul demonstrated that one effective way to guide fellow Christians is by gentle shepherding rather than coercive commanding (Calvin, 396).
Again, on the meaning of v. 21, Ehorn says maybe Paul wanted Philemon to release Onesimus to do gospel ministry with Paul. Or maybe Paul wanted Philemon to manumit him. Ehorn explains the former option, is a bit dismissive of the perspicuity of the latter, and (non-)concludes, "Either way, Paul left the options open, expecting Philemon to discern the right decision for himself..."

Ehorn's own translation is sometimes unusual. For instance, in verse 23, we read "my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus." This seems an odd rendering of ὁ συναιχμάλωτός μου ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. How "in reference to"? What does that even mean? Isn't "in Christ" a major Pauline theme? Ehorn doesn't really explain the phrase, except insofar as he debates whether the term "fellow-prisoner" is literal or metaphorical (—  here he is again noncommittal).

I did very much appreciate Ehorn's comment on the names in vv. 23-24:
“Epaphras, who is my fellow-prisoner in reference to Messiah Jesus, greets you. Likewise, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke my fellow-workers greet you.” Just as Paul opened the letter by including not only Philemon (v 1), but also Apphia, Archippus, and a church that met in Philemon’s house (v 2), so also Paul concluded the letter by including an epistolary entourage of no less than five people (vv 23–24). This confirms that the issue between Philemon and Onesimus is not just a private affair. Not only does the matter appear in a broader sphere of discourse, but the pressure is on, seeing as Paul had effectively “carbon copied” several others into the conversation.
So it's like using the "CC" function in an email, both spreading the mail, and alerting the primary addressee that others are reading it. Excellent observation. When I teach this, I'm sure I'll use that.

The book ends with a single excursus: "Christ, The Messiah In Theology And Translation." You know how many times you and I have pointed out that "Christ" isn't Jesus' last name? It's a title? Not so fast, says Ehorn in effect; sometimes it does function as a name in the NT, and not a title.

As to OT use, Ehorn notes that
With the exception of Dan 9:25–26, the use of “Messiah” always referred to a present person, not a future one. Thus, the OT itself does not provide the impetus for expectation of an eschatological figure who would be designated “the Messiah.”
This argument is almost too precise to be helpful, overlooking the body of material pointing to an eschatological priest, king, prophet — all of which share the term "anointed."

Ehorn concludes:
Although the consensus of scholarly opinion is that Χριστός had lost its titular significance within Paul’s letters, we have seen strong textual and historical reasons to see Paul’s use of Χριστός as not less than, but certainly more than titular.
In other words, Ehorn wants to translate it (sometimes!) as a proper name, not as a title. So he adds,
While translating the word Χριστός differently in context may present something of a problem to English sensibilities, particularly those who are used to hearing the word “Christ” in certain constructions, this is part and parcel of the task of understanding what ancient texts mean.
Accordingly, Ehorn works at coming up with a rationale for sometimes translating Χριστός as "Christ," and sometimes translating it as "Messiah," as the HCSB maddeningly does. So δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ in vv. 1 and 9 is "prisoner of Messiah Jesus," but ἀπὸ … κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in v. 3 is "from...the Lord Jesus Christ." Also: εἰς Χριστόν  in v. 6 is “for the sake of Messiah,” and vv, 8 and 20 ἐν Χριστῷ are “in Messiah.”

As with all the EEC volumes, Ehorn concludes by providing a list of foreign and technical words (such as anaphoric, conative, dittography, enclitic, hendiadys, inclusio, etc.), and extended bibliographies.

In sum: Ehorn has provided a good survey of the issues in the text, with commentary on those issues worth considering. He offers a number of helpful observations on the text, and is sensitive to its theology. The book is a good education on the current state of Philemon studies. That Ehorn views so much of the evidence as inconclusive earns my respect for Ehorn's humility and candor as a scholar, but prevents me from seeing the commentary as significantly ground-breaking in its own right.

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23 March 2014

Why me?

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 34, sermon number 2,031, "David dancing before the Ark because of his election."
"A sense of electing love will render you base in your own sight."

I cannot exalt myself, nor talk of my works, my prayers, my desires, my seeking of the Lord, or anything that is my own; for my salvation was all of grace, and the Lord wrought all my works in me. The doctrine of distinguishing grace sinks us, and our experience in connection with it sinks
us; we cannot lie low enough before the Lord.

David’s high position must have made him feel lowly when he knew to whom he owed it all. When a man prospers little by little he may become used to it and grow proud; but when the Lord heaps on his bounties, we become like Peter’s boat, which was so filled with fish that it began to sink.

Well may we be humbled by the great mercies of the Lord. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” A little while ago we were heirs of wrath even as others. How could the Lord adopt such poor creatures? I cannot make it out.

I that once loved sin am now made to hate it. I that was a stranger to God and to his service, am enriched with access to the throne of God. I that was without strength have now grace to do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me. Oh the greatness, the unspeakable greatness of almighty love!

Brothers and sisters, if this does not humble you, then you are not really believers. If you have really obtained the mercies of the covenant through the Lord’s gracious choice of you, the knowledge of this fact will lay you low and keep you there, your cry will be, “Why me, Lord; why me?”

I once had a dear friend, a man of God who is now in heaven, a clergyman of the Church of England, his name was Curme, and he used, with a pleasant smile, to divide his name into two syllables, and say—Cur me, which in the Latin signifies, “Why me?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice,
And enter while there’s room;
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

All the while David had a deep sense of his personal unworthiness. He did not know his own heart fully—no man does so. But he knew enough of himself to make him base in his own sight; for he could never think himself worthy of the choice of God, and all that it involved.

Our heart adores and wonders as we think of the election of God. As we rise in the assurance of the divine choice, we sink in our valuation of ourselves.

21 March 2014

The Addiction: Novelty; The Cure: Preach the Word

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 2012. Phil showed the sharp contrast between Paul's charge to Timothy and Titus, and current notions of "being missional."

As usual, the comments are closed.
In all of Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, there is not an ounce of encouragement for the person who thinks innovation is the key to an effective ministry philosophy.

Much less is there any room for the pulpiteers of today who like to exegete the latest movies, or preach on moral lessons drawn from television sitcoms, or build their sermons on themes borrowed from popular culture. You know what I mean: the kind of preachers who insist they are being "missional" when they are merely being worldly.

Still less is there any warrant for the celebrity rock-star pastor who continually makes himself the focus of his preaching. "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). "Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Paul's focus is extremely narrow—stiflingly narrow for the typical young-and-restless church planter for whom "style" is everything; and whose style (let's be honest) is conspicuously dictated by secular fashion rather than by the worldview Paul was exhorting Timothy to embrace.

"Preach the word." That's the centerpiece and the key to everything Paul tells Timothy about how to shepherd God's flock. That command is followed immediately by a second imperative that simply makes the first one more emphatic: "Be ready in season and out of season." The Greek verb means "stand by," and it does have the sense of readiness. (In fact, in radio, that is exactly what the expression "stand by" means: "Be ready." But the word Paul uses is richer and stronger than that.) It also carries the connotation of expressions like: "take a stand," "stand upon it," "stick to it," "stand up to it," or simply "carry on."

Paul is urging Timothy to be absolutely, unswervingly devoted to the truth of the Word and to the task of proclaiming it. "Stand firm, and stand ready. Keep at the task, no matter what." That's the idea. And the proof is in the rest of the phrase: "Be ready in season and out of season"—literally, "when it's timely and when it's untimely": when it's popular and when it's not.

Or to contextualize the phrase for the current crop of evangelical fashionistas: Preach the Word even when preaching the Word seems hopelessly uncool and unstylish.

The expression is ambiguous as to whether Timothy or his audience is the barometer declaring what's "in season [or] out of season." It doesn't matter. Regardless of how you or your audience—or anyone else—feels about it, keep preaching the Word.

Preach the word whether the timing seems opportune or awkward. Preach it whether it's convenient or inconvenient. Preach it whether you feel like it or not. Preach it whether the door is open or closed. Preach it no matter how much resistance you encounter. Preach it whether or not people say they want it. Preach it—and make it the heart and soul of your ministry strategy—no matter how many church-growth experts tell you otherwise.

Paul goes on to give several more imperatives, and all of them expand on or modify this initial command: "Preach the Word."

18 March 2014

Repentance: unrepentant reminders

by Dan Phillips

Repentance is a Topic right now. In itself, that's a good thing. Repentance should be a constant topic in the lives of Christians — not just a constant topic, but a constant reality.

At the moment, I don't want to make a direct comment on the current issue that's brought this to the fore, and readers really shouldn't infer such from what follows.

Instead, I'd like to remind Pyro readers (and inform others) of how our readers have had the opportunity to be prepared to analyze and process such events Biblically, analytically — and not simply emotionally, whether by bitter and accusatory emotions, or chummy and exculpatory emotions.

In October of 2010 an article titled Repentance: fake and real laid down some cautionary warnings about imitations that can pose as real repentance, while withholding the actual cure itself.

Two days later a followup article titled The fruits of repentance keyed off of that very phrase, which is itself Biblical, and discussed the most commonly missing element in purported repentance: the productive element of repentance, the transformative, mortifying, and thus liberating element in repentance.

Just over a year later I wrote what I refer to as one of my Most Regrettably-Ignored Posts, Ever. Blogging is weird; some posts concerning which I had no particular expectations (like this and this) became huge things; while others of which I had large aims and expectations were virtually ignored.

One of the chief posts in this latter category was T. D. Jakes (and the like) Part Two: thinking clearly about repentance. Unlike later celebrated articles, this was written before the Elephant Room 2 disaster. Had the ideas in the post been broadcast and made the issue, a lot of damage and harm could have been averted.

Ironically, that post involved Mark Driscoll; and as it turned out, involved Driscoll a great deal. Driscoll was the Big Dog who was looked to to give a clean bill of health to T. D. Jakes... which Driscoll pretty much did. So much so, that anyone who didn't hop on-board was a racist.

If the thinking about repentance in this article had been made an issue to Driscoll before the fact, so that these questions and issues could not have been ignored, things might have gone very differently.

But they weren't, and they didn't, respectively.

So here we are again: repentance is an issue, and clarity is a need.

And so once again, I do what I can.

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16 March 2014

"We are coming, brethren!"

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 34, sermon number 2,037 "The rule of the race."
"The sight of the crown removes all weight from our crosses."

Keep on looking and running till you are with him. Oh, I talk to you now about being with him, but how soon this may be realized in the most literal sense! During my ministry in this place it has occurred two or three times, that when the service has ended, dear friends have essayed to go to their
homes, but they have died in this House of Prayer.

What must it be to go from this congregation to the assembly above? What a change from the poor talk of the preacher to the voice of the Well-Beloved! We do not know how near to Jesus on the throne we may now be. The sea fog is around our vessel. Could we see before us, the white cliffs of our native shore are almost within touch. Think not that we are far out at sea. Within the next week, perhaps, some of us will see the King in his beauty.

We may spend next Sunday in heaven! Does anybody shrink from such a prospect? No: each heir of heaven says “Amen; so let it be.” Then the sweat of the race will be wiped away, and the sweet of the triumph will begin. Then the fatigue and distress will have ended, and the rest and the glory will have commenced.

I would cheer you with the thought that you are much nearer the winning-post than you think. How soon you may sit among the blood-washed throng! You older brethren and sisters in the course of nature must be there soon: be glad of it.

Do not talk about being on the wrong side of seventy: you are on the right side, for you are so much nearer heaven. Formerly when great ships went to the Indies, the passengers would for a while toast the friends they left behind. But when they were in the Indian Ocean, they began to drink the health of friends ahead.

Though comparatively young, I have many, many friends who are in the land beyond, to which I am making my way. I salute the glorified. Some of the dearest and best people that ever lived were members of this church, but they are now safely landed on the celestial shore. They are waiting and watching for us. We are coming, brethren! We will be with you soon. Best of all, our Lord is there.

Once crowned with thorns, his head is now radiant with the diadem of universal dominion. He will come to welcome us on that blessed shore. Hasten, O time! Be like a seraph with six wings and bear us swiftly to that golden strand where we shall see the face of him we love, and shall be

“Far from this world of grief and sin,
With God eternally shut in.”

15 March 2014

Weekend Extra: which ones need a Kleenex?

by Frank Turk

It's sort of an odd hiatus when I keep poking my head back in for this and that (some of it: spoiling Dan's day), but it is what it is.

As some of you know, I have been conducting a dialog with a fellow from Central Time, USA (same area code, even, as me) over at a little blog called Notebook Luncheon.  Bryan is a continualist -- a full-on Jack Deere daGifts kind of guy (who, if I am to be fair to him entirely, evangelizes foreign students at the local university, and has a lovely family) -- and he and I have been asking each other questions about our place in the question of cessationism vs. continualism.  While neither one of us has any kind of triumphalistic view of the exchange there, I think it has been at least as helpful as my exchange with Adrian Warnock.  The most important thing, I think, in this situation, is that the two sides at least honestly put their differences on the table.  Bryan has done that, and of course I have done that.

The reason I stopped by this weekend was because of the chain of answer Bryan has made regarding whether or not we can tell if the continualist camp is theologically/doctrinally healthy or not.  His view of it, frankly, is that we have to assume the best and forgive the worst -- but that the cessationist ought to consider that there's an explosion in moderate/conservative continualism right now.

I think his view of it is naive, and I wanted to spend a few minutes saying why.

1. My first contention is that if Bryan is able to make the claim that there is a "growth" in anything that resembles the net number of Continualists on Earth (and he does), he has all the tools he needs to take a look and see how many of them actually believe and practice his "moderate" version of Continualism -- let alone any form more moderate, and especially any form less moderate than he is.  He can't claim, for example, that there is an explosion of continualist scholarship (he can count those noses) and then pretend he doesn't know if they are saying anything unorthodox (he doesn't know if any need a Kleenex?).

2. My second contention is that Bryan has a stunningly-Anglo-centric view of the Christian world.  What I am not saying is that he's any kind of a racist -- because I know he is not.  What I am saying is that he somehow only measures the church by the people he can see in his small group at his local church.  I have no idea how he can do that when he, again, wants to make claims about how many new scholars there on on his side.  Maybe he only sees those he likes and ignores those he doesn't like?  If that's true, why is he so worried about all the ruddy cessationists?

3. My last contention is that while Bryan (like Adrian before him) has a crystal ball into the hearts of the Cessationist, where's his crystal ball into the hearts of those who are rightly counted on his side of the ledger?  Is it really so difficult to see that the Continualist movement is really chock-full of those who are far more interested in seed money than they are in the Word of God?  Is it really impossible to see that the followers of those people are legion compared to Bryan's small colony of moderates?  The blind spots which have been demonstrated in the blog so far (not much longer to the end, all) are startling.

That's all.  Have a nice weekend.

14 March 2014

(Biblical) Love Wins

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in July 2011. The world's view of love is "an all-encompassing matrix of deception...God's view is very different."

As usual, the comments are closed.
You don't need me to tell you that "love" is an important word, both in our culture and in the Bible. The problem is that English Bibles and American English speakers use that same word, "love," but with very different cargoes. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

I can't speak for other cultures, but in America, "loving" people don't judge and they don't ever say "no"... which is to say they don't say that certain things are wrong, or shouldn't be done.

"Loving" people are against murder (except of the unborn), sexual violence (unless consensual), theft (unless warranted), tyranny (unless by their political party), oppression (unless of the views they oppose), and wealth (unless possessed by themselves or their celebrities). "Loving" people disapprove of people who disapprove of people. Well, certain people. Disapproval of homosexual behavior, for instance, is wrong because it is hateful; disapproval of disapproval of homosexual behavior is right because it is loving.

It is a reflection of the world's view of itself, which is framed in an all-encompassing matrix of deception (Jer. 17:9). The world is our great-great-grandparents' real firstborn. The world is the invisible bastard child born to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, long before Cain uttered his first cry. The world was begotten by the embrace of the foundational lie "You shall be as gods." This became the central motto. Anything, then, that affirms my godhood (over against God's godhood) is good and loving. Anything that challenges that view is bad and hateful.

It can't surprise us that God's view of love is very different. While the world's view rests on sheer and unbridled autonomy, God's rests on the truth of His Lordship. Love is at the center of both ethical systems: in the world, the autonomous self is the center. In reality, God Himself is the center. The two could not be more polar opposites or more mutually exclusive. The ramifications are countless.

Therefore, in American culture if not in others, "love" has come to mean "unconditional approval of what the world accepts."

By contrast, in the Bible "love" means something like commitment to pursue God's glory and others' good, as defined by God. That definition needs work, but I think it's a good start.

So it is that the real world, as created and ruled by God, is structured with love for God as primary, and love for fellow-man as derivative and secondary (Matt. 22:37-40). The fantasy-world, ruled over by the prince of lies, finds this ethical system offensive and repugnant... and immoral. Ironic, no?

You see, the thought that anything or anyone (even God; particularly God) could take precedence over our (or anyone's) yearnings and passions and dreams... terrible! Terrible!

Ah, but that is where we have the eternal parting of the ways. If God is not God, then indeed it is a monstrous, hateful thing to try to deny anyone his desires; and chaos necessarily results.

But if God is God? If Jesus is true? Then what could be more loving than to turn someone (anyone) from damning, destructive ways to the saving and liberating knowledge of the true and living God?

"Love wins," indeed.

Defined God's way.

09 March 2014

The Christian life in a nutshell

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 34, sermon number 2,010, "The Word a sword."

"The best private devotion is made up, half of searching Scripture in which God speaks to us, and the other half of prayer and praise, in which we speak to God."

07 March 2014

"Why the Church needs Marriage"

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 January 2012. In the last of a three-part series, Frank explained why the institution of Marriage is vital in order "to fully and rightly demonstrate the Gospel to society." (The entire series is a transcript of a presentation Frank gave, and is available in audio format here.)

As usual, the comments are closed.
Jesus has a definition of Marriage, and Society needs that kind of marriage – if for nothing else than stability and continuity.  But does the Church need Marriage?  Can the church abandon marriage to the culture and still be the sort of thing Jesus intended?

I think the answer, quite frankly, is no: the church must again bring marriage to society in a way that is greater than the Law.  You see: marriage is a necessary way in which the church brings the Gospel to Culture – and in this case, the Gospel is actually the solution to culture.

This is why our argument for marriage, our apologetic for this union, is not merely an evolutionary argument which says that because there are two sexes, marriage is for two sexes only.  Our argument rests not on the brute fact that men and women exist and seem to have the equivalent of matching Lego parts, but on the matter that God has actually said something about this.

This is the point: God says it.  That is: he makes it clear with words that this is what he means by it.  Jesus sums it up briefly in his response to the Pharisees, but that question of “one flesh” comes up again as Paul instructs the church in Ephesus:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, … that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 
And to the wives he said:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Now let me ask you: how can this be translated into a Law when it is in fact utterly the woof and weave of the Gospel?  It cannot be translated into Law.  Trying to do so makes it something which human people cannot do.  You cannot legislate the humility this takes.  You cannot legislate the priorities this requires.  You cannot legislate the profound intimacy this creates.  You cannot legislate the love at the very heart of this relationship which God wrote into the very creation of our kind.

In closing:

The church needs marriage because it is a necessary part of God’s order in creation.

The church needs marriage because broken people need to be sanctified and to learn the meaning of sacrifice and love.

The church needs marriage to fully and rightly demonstrate the Gospel to society.

Is marriage the only way we send this message?  Absolutely not.  But consider the question we are asking today: what do we do about sexual confusion?  What do we do about our society where the norm is quickly becoming illegitimacy and an knee-jerk retreat to divorce when things get hard?  What do we do to show people what virtue is rather than beat them down over their failings when ours are frankly no less visible or obvious?

If our concern is whether or not our culture understands the right roles of men and women under God’s design and authority, the solution to the culture is the Gospel – as wrapped up in the design of marriage.  Missing this, and setting our hope on the transforming power of the Law rather than on the work of Christ in the message of the Gospel, is never going to achieve what we intend to achieve.

Life Coach

by Frank Turk

As many of you know, I am on hiatus, but being like that does not absolve one of his responsibilities to other people.  So for example, if a friend or an acquaintance to whom you own some small debt publishes a book while you are taking a long break from your world-famous blog, it seems right to come out of hiatus for a few minutes and give your friend a hand.  It wouldn't be a sin to do otherwise, but it would be a little thick.

Some of you may know Alex from his previous book, Thriving at College. Born and raised in Chicago, IL, he earned a B.S. Degree at Alfred University in Ceramic Engineering and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Material Science & Engineering from U.C. Berkeley. He worked as an engineer for IBM for three years (1996-1999). From 2005-2007 he was an apprentice at The Bethlehem Institute (now Bethlehem College and Seminary), a masters-level theological training program overseen by Pastors John Piper and Tom Steller. During those years, Alex got his start in Christian higher education at Northwestern College. As of 2007, he’s been a professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University.

Back in 2011, I met Alex and tried to do a podcasted interview with him, but due to operator error in my equipment use, that never happened.  I dutifully posted a review of his previous book, and promised to help him with his next project as thanks for the time he spent (or wasted, as it might seem) with me at the Little Rock Airport.

This week, Alex is releasing his follow-up book Preparing your Teen for College. To read a thorough review and recommendation of this book, have a look at Bob Hayton's write-up as I think he covers more than enough ground to encourage you to buy this book if you have a teen who you are preparing for college.

However, I do have a few items about this book which you might also enjoy:

1. I really have no idea how the publishing industry decides on titles for books.  Actually, I do, and I hate it.  What Alex has written is a book on teen parenting -- which takes a correctly-balanced view of academics in the whole picture of preparing a young person to launch into life -- and they have wrapped it in cover which does two things: tries to leverage the franchise created by Alex's first successful book, and misleads you to think this books is really about college.  It's the second part which you ought to ignore because this book really isn't about college so much as it is about focusing on the right critical few items in parenting kids through teen years in our culture so that they will become faithful, useful adults when they leave your home.  There's a better book inside the cover than the title will lead you to believe.

2. It is rare for me to endorse a book over 400 pages which is not a reference book.  I'm endorsing this book in spite of its length.  Personally, I don't have a lot of use for a book which is too long to remember unless it is also worth filling with post-it tabs for reference in the future.  This book, which covers a lot of ground, will be one you'll want to read and mark up before your kids turn 12, refer back to as they turn 14 and 16, and then review and send off with them when they turn 18 and need to know the story behind all the things you expected from them.  To call this a reference book doesn't do it good service, but you will use it for reference after you read it the first time.

3. Alex doesn't need my endorsement. He has the likes of R.C Sproul, Doug Wilson, and Gene Veith endorsing this book. But he gets it because he's the real deal as a professor, a father, and a christian guy.

I'm a fan of Alex.  He would be a good life coach for you as a parent.

06 March 2014

Criteria for evangelical leaders?

by Dan Phillips

I am reading through Robert Culver's systematic theology, with varying degrees of profit. Twitter followers have enjoyed quotations I've lifted out and shared, some by Culver, some of those Culver quotes.

This falls into the latter category. I don't know much about the writer (Nathan Hatch of Notre Dame University, then Wake Forest University), but these remarks are dead on-target, could have been written by David Wells or even Carl Trueman
The evangelical movement is amazingly dynamic: entrepreneurial, decentralized, and given to splitting, forming, and reforming.…
The tendency is for us to anoint as leaders those who build a mass following in the free religious market. The thorny problem is that these leaders are not necessarily wise churchmen. They are more likely to be those who assume prominent political roles or who build mass special-purpose ministries. To the extent that this is the case, we allow the market to set the terms of church leadership.
The long-term question for evangelicals is what kind of shepherds we will follow, whether we will follow leaders whose interest is the well-being of the church itself, men and women who are theologically savvy, historically informed, and committed to seeing the church prosper in all of its dimensions and for all of its people.
[Nathan O. Hatch, Wheaton College Alumni Magazine (Summer, 1999), pp. 10, 11; quoted in Culver, R. D. (2005). Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical (p. 807). Ross-shire, UK]
Explains — or at least properly frames — a lot, doesn't it?

Dan Phillips's signature

02 March 2014

It's alive!

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 34, sermon number 2,010, "The Word a sword."
"How much that can be said of the Lord Jesus may be also said of the inspired volume! How closely are these two allied! How certainly do those who despise the one reject the other! How intimately are the Word made flesh, and the Word uttered by inspired men, joined together!" 

The Word of God is said to be “quick.” I am sorry the translators have used that word, because it is apt to be mistaken as meaning speedy, and that is not the meaning at all; it means alive, or living.

“Quick” is the old English word for alive, and so we read of the “quick and dead.” The Word of God is alive. This is a living Book. This is a mystery which only living men, quickened by the Spirit of God, will fully comprehend. Take up any other book except the Bible, and there may be a measure of power in it, but there is not that indescribable vitality in it which breathes, and speaks, and pleads, and conquers in the case of this sacred volume.

We have in the book-market many excellent selections of choice passages from great authors, and in a few instances the persons who have made the extracts have been at the pains to place under their quotations from Scripture the name “David,” or “Jesus,” but this is worse than needless. There is a style of majesty about God’s Word, and with this majesty a vividness never found elsewhere.

No other writing has within it a heavenly life whereby it works miracles, and even imparts life to its reader. It is a living and incorruptible seed. It moves, it stirs itself, it lives, it communes with living men as a living Word. Solomon saith concerning it, “When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.”

Have you never known what that means? Why, the Book has wrestled with me; the Book has smitten me; the Book has comforted me; the Book has smiled on me; the Book has frowned on me; the Book has clasped my hand; the Book has warmed my heart. The Book weeps with me, and sings with me; it whispers to me, and it preaches to me; it maps my way, and holds up my goings; it was to me the Young Man’s Best Companion, and it is still my Morning and Evening Chaplain.

It is a live Book: all over alive; from its first chapter to its last word it is full of a strange, mystic vitality, which makes it have pre-eminence over every other writing for every living child of God.