20 August 2014

8 days later

by Frank Turk

Technically, I am still on hiatus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 August 2014

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

by Dan Phillips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there I had scorcher of a sermon.

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

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17 August 2014

"Tell them that again"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Sermons Preached on Unusual Occasions, pages 189-190, Pilgrim Publications.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2014

Some here, some there — August 15, 2014

by Dan Phillips

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

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

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

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

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14 August 2014

Teaching Sound Doctrine, Adorning the Gospel

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 in the first of a two-part post back in July 2009. Frank discussed Paul's primary focus in his letter to Titus.

As usual, the comments are closed.
But as for you,teach what accords with sound doctrineOlder men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:1-10)

The thing about this letter is that it just wells up in the reader. I think a lot of people miss that for their own reasons -- most of them not intentional -- but here the stuff that ought to stick to your ribs, theologically and practically, is simply so obvious that I think most people read past it.

The reason I say that is this: it's somewhat astounding that Paul doesn't here break into doxology, doesn't break into Eph 1-2, doesn't publish a digested book of Romans.

To Titus, who is sent to put things in order, and who must raise up elders, and is in a culture that is, frankly, as far from the Gospel as the most unchurched city in the ancient world could be, Paul tells Titus, "teach people how to adorn the Gospel." Teach what accords with sound doctrine because these people need to adorn the Gospel.

This passage is astonishing for one reason only: it says unequivocally that the church ought to be training itself up in such a way that the word of God will not be reviled. That is: it ought to be teaching people how to live after they know the Gospel is true.

The doctrine in this passage is shoe-leather doctrine. It says that those of us who are in the church must act like the church -- that it is necessary and not optional. And in that: we have to be building each other up. The older must teach the younger -- not merely systematics but pragmatics, like how to love one's husband and be submissive to him, how to be a self-controlled young man, how to grow old with dignity and sound in faith.

And this makes perfect sense, given what Paul has already said about raising up elders: if elders ought to be men who are clinging to the word of God, and are formed by the word of God, bearing fruit by the word of God, somehow the church has to be the place where these kinds of men are grown.

We're going to come back to this again next week, but think about this, dear pastor reader: somehow good works adorn sound doctrine. Somehow, the facts about God ought to be adorned with a people who are a "model of good works". And it's your job to preach doctrine and the consequences of those doctrines -- that is, how to live now that this is true.

13 August 2014

A Preview of Things to Come

by Frank Turk

Happy Wednesday.  I spent the day yesterday working and raising kids and helping a couple in my care group at church decide to buy a house.  I engaged in efforts to save my employer 10x my salary in the next 90 days, and it looks like it worked.

And: I was assaulted for accusing another blogger of participating in click bait for making the death of a celebrity into a reason to read his blog/magazine.

Let me say this about that:

More to follow on or around 15 September 2014.

12 August 2014

Pastoral ministry: a call for Biblical thinking

by Dan Phillips

(See what I did there?)

The notion that pastor's are "called" to ministry is so enmeshed in evangelical culture that it is common for writers not even to bother attempting a Biblical demonstration of the idea. Consider this article as an example, with its list of categorical statements attended by nary a single warranting verse.

As I've already shown, the "call" model is without Biblical warrant. Not that the Bible says nothing, it just says something perfectly clear and quite different. Though I thought that article was clear enough, some of the same questions keep being asked, so we'll try to clear them up here, in two steps.

The Biblical model. "Pastors and teachers" are listed among the gifts of the ascended Christ (Eph. 4:11), though that passage gives no further clues about identifying pastors. The fullest treatment comes in 1 Timothy 3:1ff., which actually tells us all we need to know. It gives three lines of qualification.
  1. Desire. Paul uses two verbs to denote the desire a gifted man has in 1 Tim. 3:1. They combine to indicate that the man will yearn for the office, will strongly desire it. He'll be driven from within — not because he's idle, not because his dad did it, not because it looks like fun, but because he needs to do it. The first pastor who trained me said something I dismissed at the time, though later I came to see the wisdom in it. "Gentlemen," he used to say, "if you can be happy doing anything else, do it."
  2. Doctrine. Desire isn't enough. The man has to know his stuff. Unlike a deacon, the overseer must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Paul expands in writing to Titus, saying that an overseer must be able to identify and shut down false doctrine, and must be able positively to teach sound doctrine (Titus 1:9ff.). Not only must he be doctrinally sound, he must be doctrinally authoritative, in representing the Word of God and in guarding against error.
  3. Devoutness. Desire and doctrinal knowledge must be adorned by a godly character. Only so does the man show that he understands and believes what he teaches, and can serve as a faithful, reliable overseer for others. Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus give the particulars.
So there it is: an internal motivation on the level of desire, confirmed by theological soundness and holiness of character.

Why not just call that a "call"? One good brother said it doesn't matter what we label it, we end up the same place. I couldn't agree less, for two reasons:
  1. Sufficiency of Scripture. The contrary position amounts to "Okay, okay, the Bible doesn't exactly teach the pastoral 'call'... but we've always called it that, so what's the diff?" Well, the "diff" is that God has given us everything for which we need a divine word in Scripture, and we are supplementing it as if He did not. We're improving on a Scripture that doesn't need our improvements. It's a bad idea, it sets a bad precedent, and sends a bad message.
  2. The mystical mystique. Introducing the unbiblical notion of a "call" takes us out of the Biblical realm of desire tested by discrete evidences, into the realm of the God card. If an authority figure (another pastor) imagines that he hears another man's "call," he could push him into preaching, unqualified — of which I've heard story after story after story. Or the man (or woman!) can insist that the divine call takes precedence over everything else, and on that strength step into an office to the ruination both of himself and of his hearers.
In close, let me just do that thing I do. I know, as sure as Obama's already planning his next vacation, that people will have read this, will have no specific Biblical response, and will say "I just don't see any reason not to call it a 'call.'" 

To that, I can only reply, "Well then, you can't object if I call it a hamburger."

You're welcome!

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