02 September 2014

Truth worth dying for? Anyone? Bueller? Today, anyway?

by Dan Phillips

Privately and publicly, Phil Johnson and I have marveled at the spirit of some moderns regarding God's truth. We've wondered how Christianity could have survived, had it been animated by this spirit at its inception. We've wondered what the early martyrs would think of today's sofa-sitting latte-sippers.

One breed that apparently considers itself exempt from All That has long been the Academy, on which subject we've offered some thoughts previously. These are scholars; they're a breed apart from, well, from the folks who pay their salaries. That's because they've had the benefit of special training and special discipline, and thus are privy to special knowledge. They're specialists. They know facts and truths that mere garden-working pastors and ditch-digging churchgoers just can't understand.

It is important (to these folks) that we respect these folks, that we not malign or criticize them or make them feel or look bad. No matter what they say or write, we mustn't challenge their convictions or character. If they tell us that they fit in with a school's doctrinal position or confession, we must take their word for it. If they tell us that their books or lectures or articles are sound and orthodox, well then, they wouldn't lie or dissemble, would they? They're academics.

Their defenders and enablers surely communicate to all that not much is at stake, that it isn't anything to "get het up" about. They'll spill equal amounts of ink lauding the Christian characters of those who depart from anything the great unwashed would recognize as a commitment to inerrancy, and casting aspersions on less sanguine critics or opponents. Because it isn't as if we should expect someone to commit himself to a position as being binding on his conscience, as being something... oh, I don't know... worth dying for, or anything so drastic.

For instance, we recently read this:
Belief in the truthfulness of the Bible, then, like belief in the truthfulness of Christianity or materialism or anything else [!], is provisional—scholars hold to it (or not) on the basis of the evidence they've seen. Affirming the Bible is true, just like affirming the Christian creeds, is a statement of current conviction: “Based on what I know now, I believe that the Nicene Creed/the New Testament is correct, when properly understood.” It doesn't prevent individuals from researching carefully, nor from abandoning or adjusting their commitment if the evidence takes them that way; the changes of conviction, affiliation, and worship practices of many of the “aha” scholars, as well as those who have moved the other way, should be evidence enough. In some cases, no doubt, belief in inerrancy is associated with fearmongering, closed-mindedness, misrepresentation, and rudeness. But the same is true of evangelicalism, and Protestantism, and Christianity as a whole, let alone atheism, Islam, feminism, materialism, and virtually all beliefs held by human beings. I’ve seen a fair bit of it on Pete Enns’s own blog, and I imagine he’d say the same of mine.
Where did I see that? Patheos? BioLogos? Huffington Post? No; in the rarified air of TGC — which, I remind you, ostensibly stands not for The Great Clubhouse, but The Gospel Coalition; and which, I am sure, is funded and read and has its conferences swell with people who certainly are fiercely committed to the Gospel and the truths that underlie it.

This was a post at that site. And since one of the commenters dubbed this article "incredibly thoughtful and nuanced," well then, from one perspective, it must be considered a rousing success, a paradigm of carefulness and all that.

I made a comment in the meta; Phil shared this in Twitter:
Which provoked this wounded-sounding, bemused response from the author:
Now, ponder that, for a moment. Here's a scholar, who knows more than we all know. He professes Christian faith, at least "provisionally," according to what he knows right now. (Well, it's what he knew when he wrote the article; I suppose that may have changed since then.) Yet, speaking of his own fellow-believers ("Christians") in the third person, he professes bewilderment at Phil's eleven-word comment.

Remarkably enough, though, while unable to make sense of Phil's eleven words out there in print, he can read Phil's mood from the unknowable privacy of Phil's heart— and it's angry. Perhaps Phil is one of those scholarship-despising, progress-slowing fearmongerers lamented in the article? Phil certainly isn't being treated to the paeans of praise that the author heaped on those "thoughtful, insightful Christian brothers and sisters" and "good guys" in the Academy who find fault with the Bible.

So: It's all well and good to tell the unwashed that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). For them, maybe it is. For academics, however, it is at best a provisional conclusion tentatively reached, perhaps, at the end of investigation. It is held as today's conviction, which may be overridden tomorrow, depending on what our real starting-point dictates tomorrow.

Seriously: where would we be, had Doctor Martin Luther said "Here I stand —provisionally. At the moment. I think. Today. But tomorrow... who knows?"

Regardless, I wasn't going to say anything further about it — knowing the waves of anger and offense and indignation that it will provoke from folks who already haven't much use for me, if the usual "ignore it and it will go away" method employed for our posts doesn't serve as well as it usually does for them.

But then I came on this from Spurgeon. As so often, once Spurgeon says a thing, it can't be much improved on. So I'll give him the closing word, and he speaks for me:
I have often wondered whether, according to the notions of some people, there is any truth for which it would be worth while for a man to go to the stake. I should say not; for we are not sure of anything, according to the modern notion. Would it be worth while dying for a doctrine which may not be true next week? Fresh discoveries may show that we have been the victims of an antiquated opinion: had we not better wait and see what will turn up? It will be a pity to be burned too soon, or to lie in prison for a dogma which will, in a few years, be superseded. Brethren, we cannot endure this shifty theology. May God send us a race of men who have backbones! Men who believe something, and would die for what they believe. This Book deserves the sacrifice of our all for the maintenance of every line of it.
[C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 35 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1889), 264.]
Aha, indeed.

And amen.

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31 August 2014

Barely (bearly) helpful!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Speeches at Home and Abroad, pages 73-74, Pilgrim Publiications.
"There can be no difficulty in discovering some points in which your pastor excels; dwell upon these excellencies and not upon his failures."

I remember when I came first to London preaching to eighty or ninety in a large chapel, but my little congregation thought well of me, and induced others to come and fill the place. I always impute my early success to my warm-hearted people, for they were so earnest and enthusiastic in their loving appreciation of “the young man from the country,” that they were never tired of sounding his praises.

If you, any of you, are mourning over empty pews in your places of worship, I would urge you to praise up your minister. Talk of the spiritual benefit which you derive from his sermons, and thus
you will induce the people to come and listen to him, and at the same time you will do him good, for the full house will warm him up and make him a better preacher, and you yourself will enjoy him the more because you have thought and spoken kindly of him.

I have already said, those who are doing no good are the very ones who are creating mischief. Have you ever observed that exceedingly acute critics are usually wise enough to write no works of their own? Judges of other men’s works find the occupation of the judgment-seat so great a tax upon their energies that they attempt nothing on their own account.

Mr. Gough used to tell a story of a brave man and admirable critic in Russia, who on one occasion was visited by a bear. Now, there was a ladder which led up to the room on the roof, and the aforesaid hero climbed it nimbly, and for fear the bear should come after him he took up the ladder, and left his wife with Bruin below.

His wife, who must have been his “better half,” seized a broom, and began to belabour the beast right heartily, while her heroic lord and master looked on from above, and gave her his opinion as to her proceedings in some such terms as these: “Hit him harder, Betty.” “More over the nose, Betty.” “Try the other end of the broom, Betty,” and so on in the most judicious manner.

Surely his spouse might have said, “Good man, you had better come down and fight the bear yourself.” Those who are doing nothing are sure to be great in discovering flaws in the modes and manners of those who bear the burden and heat of the day. Surely they would be much more nobly occupied, and usefully occupied, if they would show us our faults by doing better themselves.

29 August 2014

Some here, some there — August 29, 2014

by Dan Phillips

As we prepare to bid adieu to August, and the temperatures here in Houston plummet to the upper 80s, one last look-around. Remember, updates through the day. Check in later.

Prepare for more change-ups than an early Chicago song.
  • Remember the first time you were exposed to Calvinism?
  • ...but then, much as you tried, you just couldn't get it out of your mind?
  • ...until finally:
  • Enough of humor, for the moment.
  • I said, enough!
  • In other subjects: Author Darrin Patrick tweeted that he would "love to hear thoughts on race & the gospel" from Phil, Frank and me. "Love to"? Well! How could I refuse? That being the case, I thought surely Darrin would be delighted to learn that I've written on this area a number of times, including in last Friday's post. Yet when I pointed Darrin to the 2012 post titled (hel-lo?) Racism, for some reason he seemed to lose interest. I still really, truly don't know what that was about.
  • A lot of armchair quarterbacking has been done on the Ferguson matter; Joshua Waulk, a brother-pastor who's a former police officer provides some helpful instruction and context.
  • Fred Butler says: "It is grieves me, almost to the point of despair, that generations of black Americans have been taught to believe by their leaders, as well as a political party, that their fellow white Americans are racists at heart and there is nothing they can do to better themselves in our society because of that racism." Amen, among much else that could be said. Fred links to a multi-racial lawman round-table discussion.
  • So once again: you don't fight fire with gasoline, you don't lose weight on an all-Oreo diet, and you don't cure racism with racism. The sufficient, effective, and only real cure is in the Gospel.
  • In other news...
  • You may have heard that Mark Driscoll is taking time off with pay while getting counsel of some unspecified kind, after which he'll get back to the work of the American people preaching. This is also being reported as "stepping down," though I wouldn't describe it that way. Doug Wilson weighs in, and manages to be at the same time characteristically incisive and insightful and (in my opinion) overly sanguine. Doug even manages very wrongly to extend cover for Driscoll's still-unrepented boast of receiving I-accuse-Grandpa-but-then-heh-heh-heh-I-could-be-wrong porn-sorta-visions. (Wilson avers to Ezekiel's vision of "abominations" which, by stark contrast, [A] was presented as a full-on prophetic vision without modern leaky-Canonism's wiggle-words, and [B] was defined explicitly in-context as visions of idolatry, not of X-rated porn enactments of the sexual sins of the citizenry.)
  • I did, by the way, share a meal with Doug before going public with this. It was months and months before, and completely unrelated; but oh well. And, more recently, I dropped him an email.
  • Seriously, that anyone can read Phil's thoughtful and relentnessly pastoral working-through of that appalling video, with the discussion that ensues in the meta, and say in effect "Well, that's kind of like Ezekiel, isn't it?" — yeah, just like Ezekiel. "Like" in the sense of opposite. In the sense that Howard Stern is like Charles Spurgeon... because they both talk. Less like, in fact.
  • After Driscoll's "apology," someone asked in Twitter what I thought of John Piper's tweet, which (again, to my surprise) Doug Wilson quoted approvingly. I replied:
  • good sermon will do you a lot of good, right? Not necessarily, says pastor Joseph Franks, and he's absolutely right. Some wonderful needed jabs here:
We are informed but incorrigible. Our heads and mouths are filled with God’s Word, but it does not affect our hearts and feet. We know what to do, but do it not. And in the end, our miserable existence is made more miserable. We heap sin upon sin and wonder what is wrong with our minister, our church, and our holy religion. On Sunday we walk into the church, and walk the aisle, but on Monday we forget to walk after the model of Christ.
  • Oh my gosh, everyone who has ever preached has to watch this ad for a book by David Murray. Absolutely hysterical. If my books had such videos... well, they'd be New York Times bestsellers and TGC would love me!
  • On his way to commending Michael Kruger's posts responding to Paul Peter Enns' latest attempts to make his stance not look like such a bad thing, Todd Pruitt notes that "unbelief is all the rage among some who identify themselves as Christians." I quote that because it lets my re-post one of my very favorite of Phil's Po-Motivators:
That's it for now! Have a little snack, and get on with your day.

Just be careful what you pick.

(How'd they know what price to set?)

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28 August 2014

"Marching Orders for a Backslidden Church: Man Up!"

by Phil Johnson

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

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

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in March 2010 as Part 3 of a series of four posts. The entire series was the transcript of a talk that Phil gave at the 2010 Shepherd's Conference. The subject was the four imperatives found in 1 Corinthians 6:13.

As usual, the comments are closed.
"Act like men" (1 Corinthians 6:13)

The expression literally means, "Be men," or "Be manly." Paul uses the Greek verb andrizomai in the middle voice. It's another one-word imperative, though it's hard to make it one word in English. It means "play the man."

It's a word that speaks of masculinity as opposed to femininity. He's not saying be grownups rather than children; he's saying, "Act like men, not like girls." And frankly, that was a fitting charge to give to the church at Corinth. As a reminder and a rebuke, it is also well-suited for a large segment of evangelicals today.

Remember, the context is militant. This is first of all a call to arms and a summons to battle. "Fight like men; defend the faith in a manly way." That is surely the cardinal idea here.

Now it's worth noting that this verse is written to the whole church—it's not addressed to men only—and much less does Paul single out only the elders and the church leaders. This apples to every Christian. But while this applies to everyone in the church, it is nevertheless the particular duty of the elders and pastor to model the spirit of virile, vigorous, vigilant faith—steadfast and courageous. And I love it that Paul has no scruples about connecting those ideas with manliness. "Act like men!" Masculinity. That is certainly one of the missing qualities of churches today.

In my judgment, the typical evangelical church of this generation has become weak and womanly. Churchgoers demand that preachers be soft and dainty—especially when they are dealing with hard-edged truths. If you don't sufficiently tone down every severe text or hard-to-receive doctrine in the Bible, the tone police will write you up for an infraction before you can get from the pulpit to the front door. All the rough edges of every truth must be carefully sanded smooth and painted in pastel tones. We've traded up to cushy seats instead of hard-bench pews and we expect our preachers to fashion their message accordingly. None of this sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God stuff.

Instead, today's evangelicals favor feminine themes: Let's talk about our emotional hurts, our personal relationships, our felt needs. We're hurting people. The church has begun to look weak, effeminate, frightened, sissified—like a society of fops and milksops instead of soldiers.

These trends have received a lot of attention in recent years, and more and more people are recognizing the problem. The church is not reaching and ministering to men—we're actually driving them away. But those who see the problem more often than not have really bad solutions. You know: have the Men's Bible studies over beer, cigars, and poker games. Get your men watching cage-fighting and encourage them to develop a taste for blood sport. Or go out in the woods, put on war paint, and perfect the art of the primal scream. Salt your vocabulary with a sailor's favorite expletives. Or (my favorite) Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, where you dress up like a knight or a gladiator and assume that persona out in a vacant field somewhere with other people who are doing the same thing.

Paul has none of those things in mind when he tells the Corinthians to man up. He is telling them as simply and straightforwardly as possible to be bold, sober-minded, mature, and committed to their calling—like soldiers. Be valiant soldiers in the battle for truth.

In fact, notice the two imperatives on either side of this command to act like men. They explain the true gist of it: "Be steadfast." "Be strong." Those are character qualities. And sandwiched between them is this: "Act like men." The imperatives in that string of commands basically explain one another. Strength, steadfastness, courage, and even vigilance—these are all vital aspects of what Paul means when he says, "Act like men."

27 August 2014

Theology vs. Racism - a primer

by The Late Frank Turk

In 2008, Thabiti Anyabwile spoke for about 66 minutes on the theological problem of using "race" as away to see our differences, and someone ought to review those 66 minutes as soon as possible.  I'm embedding that talk here, unabridged, for your edification.  Also: so that person who ought to review it can find it easily.

We have an obligation to minimize us and maximize Christ.  It is to be displayed in the local church.

6 problems that are not immediately apparent to us when we trade in race:

1. The abuse of people and scripture in the name of "race". The category causes us to treat God's word and other people with the wrong assumptions.
2. It's a short walk from positing "race" to practicing racism.  It leans to into racism.  It assumes that I love people (only) like me.
3. It hinders meaningful engagement with others. It is inherently Ad-Hominem, against the man.  Ethnicity is permeable and subject to change; race is non-negotiable and an impasse.
4. It undermines the authority of Scripture. Race (as biology) denies that Scripture defines us and establishes our identity.
5. It causes us to resist the Holy Spirit.  It creates a barrier to sanctification and illumination.
6. It undermines the Gospel.  If we deny our common ground in Adam, how can we ever find our unity in Christ?

Our fundamental objective is not to build ethnic shrines.  Our project in Christ is to be living monuments to the living image of Christ.

26 August 2014

Dear single Christian sister

by Dan Phillips

Dear single Christian sister,

Probably you, like most single Christians, dream of getting married. Your ideas of marital bliss are fed by the high regard the Bible holds for the institution, by your friends, and probably by your church culture. It's easy to feel like the "odd man (or woman) out" in a church built around the assumption that most or all of its members — or, at least, the ones who count — are married.

But I wanted to be a good brother to you and put some thoughts before you that any Christian who loves and cares for you would want you to consider. I'll be brief and pointed; my aim isn't to detain you, but to help you, and perhaps even to save you a great deal of heartache. So here are cautionary thoughts on marriage:

Firstthere are worse things than dying a virgin. That I even have to say this is a reflection of our culture, most of whom would hoot with derision at the suggestion. But as Christians, while we see marriage as a sacred and blessed institution, and a wonderful opportunity to serve and glorify God, we should know better (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul either never married, or was unmarried through his apostolic labors. Wouldn't you agree that he had a meaningful life? He saw singleness as having its own advantages for the service of God (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35).

"But I want to get married!" you say? That's absolutely fine, and I say "go for it." But I also say "—don't go for it at all costs." Remember: there are worse things than being single.

Secondyou don't owe marriage to any man you're not married to. What seems obvious to you may not be obvious to all, so I stress this: perhaps you've been dating for a year, seven years, whatever; perhaps you've talked about this and that. Perhaps you know he's got his heart set on marrying you, and he's counting on it. Yet, if you haven't married him, you needn't marry him. Particularly if one of the next considerations persuades you that it'd be unwise.

Thirdmaster everything the Bible says about marriage, particularly about the wife's obligations. Study Genesis 1—2, 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, all the passages. I'd recommend to you my series on marriage, where I try to help single (and married) people to do just that. Also use chapter seven, "Skill in Godly Marriage," in my book on Proverbs.

"But I'm not even engaged yet," you say? Perfect! There is no more strategically-vital time to get this understood. Because once you are married to a man, you are morally obligated before God to perform and be everything the Bible calls you to do and be, to do so heartily as unto the Lord, and to do so as long as you are married. You are obligated to respect him from the heart (not just externally), to subordinate yourself to his leadership, and to back his plays unless doing so requires you to sin. You are obliged to do all this if he turns out to be a wise, godly, loving, caring saint; and you are equally obliged if he turns out to be a fickle, surly, selfish, childish, uncaring, hypocritical jerk.

"Yikes," you say. "You're scaring me." Terrific. I mean to. See #1, above.

This leads me to...

Fourthif he wasn't already showing a years-long pattern of Christian commitment and involvement in a local church you could gladly attend before you met him, you probably shouldn't marry him. I say "probably" because there will be exceptions — but be very slow to claim to have found one.

What I mean is: do they all know him at his church? Has he served, faithfully and a lot? (Best training for being a leader is being a follower.) Has he invested his greater energy and free time as a single to serve to further the ministry of the church and help the needy within it?

Does the pastor know him well? Would he vouch for this man? Is your fella a once-a-week-at-best-skimmer, barely known or unknown to most of the pillars and doers, or is he deeply committed and involved? Has he read his Bible through? Can he explain the Gospel well, from the Bible? Ask him to read TWTG, and tell you his thoughts — you'll be able to tell a lot by that (his view of the nature of God, of man, of Christ, of the Gospel, of the sovereignty of God, of sanctification; his worldview, etc.). Can he explain his own convictions and values and aspirations in Biblical terms — that is, does he show signs that he's gotten it from Scripture, or vetted it by Scripture, before he set his heart on it?

Can he demonstrate the ability to think things through, and make decisions, Biblically?

You see, this man is going to be making the decisions for your family. If he's wise and godly, you'll get truckloads of input — but the final call will be his. You will need not only to accept his final decision, but to dive in and do your best to make it work. Under God, your life will hang on his judgment. Can you trust him? With the rest of your life, and with your children's lives, can you trust him?

Now you see my point.

(If you and he attend different churches, be sure to let your pastor meet and get to know him, interrogate him, put him under the hot white lights. He's the man who has care for your soul, so he will be motivated to care for you and go the extra mile to be sure you're making as wise a decision as a person can make.)

Now, if we're talking about a man who is not a Christian at all, then he's not even a candidate, and you shouldn't be involved with him anywhere near this level, for his sake and yours.

But if he says he's a Christian but isn't much involved in a local church, then he doesn't much have the heart of Christ. Particularly if he's got "reasons" and excuses and rationales, he's not the man for you. He doesn't follow Christ. And you want obligate yourself to follow him?

"But he says he's a Christian!" one might sob. Yes, sister, if he's interested in you and knows you have this Jesus-thingie going on, I'm sure he does. I could train a parakeet to say he's a Christian. In fact, I've known parakeets who would make better Christians than some of the guys who've assured their girlfriends that they're Christians until they got what they wanted. It's just words. I could say I'm a MMA champion. Talk's cheap.

I just gave you ways to weigh that talk, and that's what you really need to do.

Remember, dating is the selling phase. All the best is put on display, to sink the deal. You should assume that marriage will not instantly make him a better man. If he is godly, it will; but you need to be convinced of that now. I can't tell you how many heart-wrenching stories I've heard about men who made this and that religious gesture, and then once the trout is in the creel, everything changes.

If you're a believer in Christ, you're a precious treasure to God, and your life is a stewardship. You need to make this decision slowly and carefully. If I may indulge my imagination in order to engage yours, your unborn kids are begging you to pick their dad v-e-r-y  c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y.

Too much is at stake to risk everything on a maybe-sorta lip-service until-the-deal-is-closed-and-the-deed-is-done sort of "Christian" male.

There are plenty of good godly men out there. Why haven't you seen them? They're probably going to smaller churches than your mega-church, because they prize Biblical preaching and look for opportunities to serve, and not simply be served. That's the sort of man you want to join yourself to in marriage.

Don't settle. Really, truly: don't. You'll be so sorry, and I'll be so sad.

PostScript: for the "But I know someone who [did a really stupid, un-Biblical, lamebrained thing] and it turned out just fine!" retort, see the "Real-Live Final Thought" at the end of this.

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24 August 2014

The chief end of man

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Speeches at Home and Abroad, page 71, Pilgrim Publications.
"The great object of our church teaching should be to educate efficient workersworkers filled with holy ardour, strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might."

I was requested to address this meeting upon the subject of Christian work, and I will now, without further apologies or salutations, proceed at once to what I have to say.

Is it not God’s chief end in the conversion of sinners, and in the sanctification of his people, to promote his own glory by making each converted man and woman his instrument for enlarging his

Not for ourselves alone does he give us grace. The design of our heavenly Father in all his gracious work for us, and in us, is, that we should become willingly his servants here, and in perfection his servants for ever above.

Should we not all of us press forward beyond the winning of personal security, to the desire that, by our influence, example, and labours, others may be turned from sin unto righteousness, and so be plucked as brands from the burning?