31 March 2011

Various unrelated "wins": Kregel tours, Vos in English, free books and resources, and more

by Dan Phillips

Howdy, gang. Hopefully at least one of the items in this little assortment will interest and/or help you.

First may ultimately seem self-serving, but I actually think it's a pretty terrific opportunity for many of you.

Kregel has been putting out some great books, of which three in recent years have been this one and this one and this one. Wellsir (and ma'am), they're inviting interested and qualified bloggers to apply to become Kregel bloggers and participate in blog tours as part of introducing new books. Kregel has significant, interesting, solid titles coming out in each catalog.

Who knows? In a few months, Lord willing, you may host me for a World-Tilting Gospel tour.

The qualifications really aren't at all out of reach. If you're interested, check it out.

Second, are you interested in a (first-ever) English translation of Geerhardus Vos' Gereformeerde Dogmatiek? Logos is gathering interest to fund just such a project. Check it out here and here.

Third but still with Logos: check out the current state of their March madness sale. I already took advantage of the sale on Exploring the Old Testament, vol. 3: The Psalms and Wisdom Literature (— duh!).

Fourth, Westminster bookstore's having a nice sale on a book for Christian collegiates (more details, obviously, here).

Fifth, if you have an iPhone or an iPad and haven't checked out Olive Tree BibleReader 5, I recommend it. It's fast, and more intuitive and powerful than ever; really a sweet app. I mention that in order to mention this: Olive Tree offers something like 120+ free resources. Check them out.

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30 March 2011

Open Letter to The Average Pastor

by Frank Turk

Dear Pastor:

First of all, breathe a sigh of relief because this open letter, while to you, is not really “about you,” except as food for thought. This is not about your spiritual, exegetical, theological or humanitarian malfeasance. But it is about something that I think you probably think about often enough that I hope this can be of some use to you.


Now, about 5 years ago, Sir Ken Robinson delivered 20 minutes at the TED talks. For those of you who have no idea what that means, it was at the TED talks that the touchscreen technology that drives the iPhone and iPad was unveiled, and amongst the technological hoo-ha that goes on there, what is also delivered is a myriad or other ideas which, I think, are rightly labeled as one brand of secular humanism – a pretty gaudy and self-important kind of humanism, but humanism nontheless. This is how they describe themselves:
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design -- three broad subject areas that are, collectively, shaping our future. And in fact, the event is broader still, showcasing ideas that matter in any discipline. The format is fast paced: 50+ talks over the course of four days (to say nothing of the morning and evening events). This immersive environment allows attendees and speakers from vastly different fields to cross-fertilize and draw inspiration from unlikely places. This is the magic of TED.


Attendance at TED is by invitation only, and the attendees -- CEOs, scientists, designers, intellectuals -- are as extraordinary as the speakers, who in 2007 included former US President Bill Clinton, author Isabel Allende, legendary biologist EO Wilson, designer Phillipe Starck, and Virgin CEO Richard Branson; in 2008, speakers included brain expert Jill Bolte Taylor, physicist Stephen Hawking and undersea explorer Robert Ballard. Indeed, TED's success is based on the extraordinary effect of bringing together 1,000 of the world's most remarkable people. The result? Unexpected connections. Extraordinary insights. Powerful inspiration.
Now, get this: here’s an event where all the people are classed as “extraordinary”, and literally millions of people cannot come (though they can look in, via video) because they are by definition “not extraordinary”. So the average or common person is allowed to look in through the display windows, but they can’t be part of the actual magic (and I don’t use that word accidentally).

So there at TED, in 2006, Ken Robinson delivered this talk:



And you should pay close attention to this bit near the beginning:
Sir Ken Robinson [about 2:00]: I have a big interest in education, and I think we all do. We have a huge vested interest in it partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue, despite all the expertise that’s been on parade for the last four days, what the world will look like in 5 years time. And yet: we’re meant to be educating them for it. So the unpredictability I think is extraordinary.


And the third part of this is that we’ve all agreed, nonetheless, on the really extraordinary capacities that children have. Their capacities for innovation. I mean, Serena [Huang, 11-yr-old classical violinist] last night was a marvel. Just seeing what she could do? And she’s exceptional, but I think she’s not exceptional in the whole of childhood. What you have there is a person of extraordinary dedication who found a talent. And my contention is that all kids have these talents and we squander them – pretty ruthlessly.


So I want to talk about education, and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status (applause). [end – about 3:20]
OK – so Sir Ken is not a Christian as far as we can tell, so you’re not going to invite him to your next homeschooling conference. But look at what he’s saying here:
  1. The future is coming.
  2. We have no idea what it looks like.
  3. We are pinning our hopes for the future on education.
  4. This activity is so that we do not squander the talents of our children.
  5. To that end, we should be educating for the sake of growing creativity rather than growing results-oriented adults.
  6. Creativity is at least as important as literacy.
This is awesome, and let me tell you why.

First of all, it’s almost uncalled-for that Sir Ken would confess that we have no idea what the future looks like. I mean: the whole point of atheism is to say that we do know what the future looks like in broad terms, and it will always be better than right now because (if we obey humanist dogma) science will make our lives better. Better medicine, better technology, better quality of life, etc. The future is better. And maybe that’s implicit in Sir Ken’s view of things: we have no idea how good the future will be. But I think there’s something a little more menacing under his statement that we don’t know what the future will hold. The subtext of his statement is that the future will be far more complicated than it is right now, and in that we will need people who are up to the task of manning it. The subtext is simply that if we don’t prepare our kids, they are going to wind up “ruthlessly squandered”. So his confession here is a brutal confession for the kind of humanism TED is advocating: it’s a confession that the future is not necessarily a warm and safe place.

Second of all, Sir Ken’s belief in creativity to overcome the kind of adversity there will be in the future is a dead giveaway that he’s concerned that the future is not all bright lights and long European-style meals with charming and pretty people. You know: if he was advocating that industry will win the day (that is: hard work), he would be advocating for principles which guide us to right ends. So in the future, if we apply ourselves, we can accomplish the tasks at hand because hard work pays off. You can plant a crop if you work hard; you can tend it if you work hard; you can harvest it if you work hard; you can use it to feed yourself and others if you plan and execute that plan with some basic discipline.

But for Sir Ken, it is not a question of principles: it is a question of innovation. That is: old solutions will not work anymore – which speaks to the radical nature of the condition of the future. In some sense, the rules for the future are not even invented yet.

Now, to be fair to Sir Ken, he has other messages in this 20 minutes as well, and I think they are worth considering. But at the core, he has made it utterly plain: the principles which we work with today are, in the best case, for today and likely not applicable to tomorrow. It is imagination and creativity which ought to drive human value systems and our social systems.

So what’s in it for you, then?

Here’s what I think: Sir Ken and the TED network of extraordinary people have a kind of gospel they are proposing which says that humanity can and will save itself. The method of salvation is education. The means of salvation is innovation. Yet they confess that they have no idea what will actually be needed or what will actually be the state toward which we are innovating – we just have to believe that we can and will make the right choices when we are creative enough. Let me say frankly: that’s a path which has been trod down a hundred times historically, and it always ends up in disappointment.

This is where you come in, my dear local pastor.

What you have, instead, is a different Gospel -- which speaks to a future that the TED-ites cannot possibly imagine. The first thing is that it's not for the extraordinary -- its for the everyone.  That may in some sense make it rather mundane rather than a glittering gem which whoever it is that is doing Paris Hilton's job now would want to be seen in public with.  But at least it is not inherently a beauty pageant. It's actually the opposite of a beauty pageant because it is meant for the scum of the earth.

But get this: you know something about people which our friends at TED do not: people are not essentially creative – unless we call the ways in which we invent our gods “creative”. We do what is right in our own eyes. We know that what mankind does, in particular, every day, is that we set up created things as what are extraordinary instead of the maker of all created things. And when we do that, frankly, we cheat ourselves of the truth and live in the dark cover of what we believe rather than what is really out there.

You reformed guys are out there waving the Romans 1 & 2 banners now, I know, but stick with me for a second. While this is a theological way of looking at the matter, it’s not some high-brow thing which you have to be really, really smart to get: this is an extremely pragmatic approach to preparing ourselves for the fall out of the failure of TED-driven utopian thought.

Here is the pragmatism of the Gospel: If Christ really died for our sins, in accordance with Scripture, and was buried and raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture, then the world is not whatever we can imagine it to be. It is in fact something we must somehow know and comply with. So for example, we may all have iPads with wireless 9G connections which are completely free that also has an App Store where we can download anything we want including all manner of religious documents because after Steve Jobs is finally put in deep storage, the next guy will be creative enough to make money on obvious things. But when that happens, what kind of people shall we be? Will that actually make us more creative? Or more loving? Or more compassionate? Or more fit? Or better dancers? Will many children be liberated from the shackles of post-classical education where both literacy and creativity are equal values?

Or will it be with the iPad as it has been with every other device we have invented for ourselves: won't it rather make less of us by making us busy in yet another unreal way?

See: if history actually happened, and Christ's death and resurrection happened in it, in this world, then Sir Ken has really missed the boat. The problem is not that we surpress our creativity: it is that we forget that we are created beings, and that we have a place in this world under the rule of King Jesus. And for his sake, we should repent and ask forgiveness that we think of ourselves as extraordinary when in fact we are only extraordinary in our pride and our self-interest.

This is a world where people congratulate themselves for being creative literally to cover up their pronounced limp.  They somehow both fear and laud the future which holds nothing for them -- except that they might outsmart it (they're not afraid to fail, after all), but Christ is coming to judge them.  And in his judgment, there are no bonus points for making up your own way.  There is only one way, and it's our job to see to it that this is declared without any doubt.

See to it, my friend.  Start as soon as possible, and do not look back.  Unexpected connections, extraordinary insights, and powerful inspiration is all your home court.  See to it.







29 March 2011

Porn and paper pastors

by Dan Phillips

From almost two years ago comes this post, which engendered comment for some time, on-site and off. Illness and occupation of remaining resources with some feverish editing makes this a good time for me to present it again to friends old and new. I had opportunity recently to use some of these thoughts in a sermon.



Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.

The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.

He came to see that he had no actual relationship with these women whatever. If (he named a female celebrity) had sat down next to him in an airplane, she wouldn't know him from Adam. Whatever may have happened in his sinful fantasies, the two of them had no relationship in the real world.

Of course, this is why so many women resent actresses and models. It isn't catty pettiness or smallness. It is that they know how visually-tempted men can be, and they know that they can't compete with a fantasy — if their man is fool enough to chase one.

And they're right, in a way. They can't compete with these women. Because these women don't exist in the real world! They may not even look like their pictures! Thanks to computer wizardry, the pictures we see may actually bear only the slightest resemblance to the actual women.

Nobody can compete with a fantasy.

And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage.

It is about people with paper pastors.

Now, some professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We've talked about that, and they aren't our focus.


But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn't you. It's Dave Hunt. Or it's John Piper. Or it's John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it's Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme (Jr.), or J. Vernon McGee.

And they're such better pastors than you are! You know they are!

Why?

Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They're never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.)

They've never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word they can't even pronounce. They don't have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They're available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.

What's more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they're saying! With footnotes!

And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don't want to hear something, they don't press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball... nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.

Because they don't know you from Adam.

Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, "John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn't like that. Mahaney says that... Mohler says that... Lloyd-Jones said...."

So, because it's awkward for your pastor to say it to you — and because I've no church who'd suspect I'm talking to them, at the moment — I'll just tell you plain:

Brother, sister: John Piper isn't your pastor. John MacArthur knows nothing about you. Dave Hunt never got on his knees and prayed for you. Lloyd-Jones won't come to your house when you're recovering from surgery, or one of your children shatters your heart, or your marriage is shaking and rocking and barely hanging on. Charles Spurgeon won't weep with you as you weep.

You could buy or not buy _____'s next book, and he'd never know it. But if you're in a manageable-size church with a caring pastor and you're suddenly gone next Sunday, he'll be concerned. He may call. He may ask if everything's okay.

God gave you the pastor He gave you.

God told Paul to tell you:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
God told the writer to the Hebrews to tell you:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Your flesh-and-blood pastor can't compete with these paper pastors for the same reason you can't compete with paper women and paper men.

Because they're not real.

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27 March 2011

Spurgeon Lectures on "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from volume 3 of Spurgeon's Autobiography. It is the account of how Spurgeon responded to some critics who had charged him with hypocrisy. Spurgeon was fairly young at this point in his ministry but was already well known for opposing the growing tendency for preachers to stupefy their congregations with a show of erudition or entertain them with pageantry, a performance, or a parade. Secular critics (and some fellow churchmen) attacked Spurgeon for lecturing on a topic deemed "secular."
    Actually, Spurgeon used the opportunity to draw spiritual lessons from the naturalist's work, and he spoke passionately of the need for missionaries in unreached parts of Africa. But critics were relentless. The caricatures below are samples of how he was lampooned in the secular press.
    The episode nevertheless shows Spurgeon's thoughtfulness, tenderness, and good humor in the face of criticism.





We are now to be entertained by Mr. Spurgeon's lecture on the gorilla, but, in after ages,—according to the development theory,—we shall doubtless have a gorilla lecturing on Mr. Spurgeon."—Extract from the speech of the Rt. Hon. A. H. Layard, M.P., at Mr. Spurgeon's lecture on "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits"


N October 1, 1861, Mr. Spurgeon gave, in the Tabernacle, a lecture which was destined to attract more public attention than any which he had previously delivered. It was entitled, "The Gorilla and the Land he Inhabits," and was largely concerned with the volume, then recently published, and severely criticised,—Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, by Paul B. Du Chaillu (John Murray). A. H. Layard, Esq., M.P., presided, and by his side sat M. Du Chaillu. . . .

Coming to the gorilla,—a stuffed specimen of which was on the platform,—the lecturer said:—"He is an enormous ape, which claims to approach the nearest to man of any other creature. How nearly he approaches, I leave you to judge.

True, his claim to be our first cousin is disputed, on behalf of the koolo-kamba, by several very learned men. If we should, therefore, admit you (addressing the gorilla) to be man's first cousin, we fear that the koolo-kamba might institute a suit at law to claim equal rights, and so many cousins would be far from convenient.

Besides, I have heard that, if we should admit this gentleman to be our cousin, there is Mr. Darwin, who at once is prepared to prove that our great-grandfather's grandfather's father—keep on for about a millennium or two,—was a guinea-pig, and that we were ourselves originally descended from oysters, or seaweeds, or starfishes. Now, I demur to that on my own account.

Any bearded gentleman here, who chooses to do so, may claim relationship with the oyster; and others may imagine that they are only developed gorillas; but I, for my own part, believe there is a great gulf fixed between us, so that they who would pass from us to you (again turning to the gorilla) cannot; neither can they come to us who would pass from thence. At the same time, I do not wish to hold an argument with the philosopher who thinks himself related to a gorilla; I do not care to claim the honour for myself, but anyone else is perfectly welcome to it.

"Seriously, let us see to what depths men will descend in order to cast a slur upon the Book of God. It is too hard a thing to believe that God made man in His own image; but, forsooth, it is philosophical to hold that man is made in the image of a brute, and is the offspring of 'laws of development.' O infidelity! thou art a hard master, and thy taxes on our faith are far more burdensome than those which Revelation has ever made. When we have more incredulity than superstition can employ, we may leap into infidel speculation, and find a fitting sphere for the largest powers of belief.

But who can deny that there is a likeness between this animal and our own race? . . . There is, we must confess, a wonderful resemblance,—so near that it is humiliating to us, and therefore, I hope, beneficial. But while there is such a humiliating likeness, what a difference there is! If there should ever be discovered an animal even more like man than this gorilla is; in fact, if there should be found the exact facsimile of man, but destitute of the living soul, the immortal spirit, we must still say that the distance between them is immeasurable. . . ."



At the time of the delivery of the "gorilla" lecture, M. Blondin was performing at the Crystal Palace, and some wag wrote to him a letter purporting to come from Mr. Spurgeon. He sent it on to the Pastor, who endorsed it thus,—"This was received by M. Blondin, and is a specimen of the genus "hoax',"—and then put it away for future reference. The envelope contained the following epistle:—



"Metropolitan Tabernacle,
"Newington,
"Oct. 5, 1861.

"M. Blondin,
   "Sir,

"In consequence of the overflowing attendance at my Tabernacle, on Tuesday evening last, when I gave a lecture on the gorilla, it has occurred to myself, and to my brethren the Managers of the Tabernacle, that to engage your services for an evening (say, next Wednesday) for the following programme, would result in mutual benefit. You must meet me at the Tabernacle, on Tuesday next, at 12 o'clock, to confirm or to alter the proposed order of entertainment, which I flatter myself will be highly gratifying to all concerned.
"Programme.

"At 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening, Oct. 9th, M. Blondin to ascend from the platform in the Tabernacle, by an easy spiral ascent, five times round the interior, to one of the upper windows, opposite to 'The Elephant and Castle,' thence by an easy incline in at the first-floor window of that inn, and return the same way to the platform. The admission to be, as at the 'gorilla' lecture, 6d., 1s., and 2s. 6d.

"Yours sincerely,

"C. H. Spurgeon."

The lecturer could well afford to laugh at this clumsy attempt to hoax M. Blondin; but some of the newspaper attacks upon him, with reference to the "gorilla" and other lectures, were of such a character that they could not be reproduced here. One friend was sufficiently influenced by them to write an expostulatory letter to Mr. Spurgeon, and thus evoked the following reply:—
"Clapham,
"October 22nd, 1861.


"My Dear Sir,

"I have been dumb under the cruel rebukes of my enemies, and the ungenerous reproofs of pretended friends. I have proved hitherto the power of silence, and although most bitterly tempted, I shall not change my custom, or venture a syllable in order to stay these mad ravings. But your brotherly note deserves one or two words of answer.
    "(1.) Have I well weighed what I have done in the matter of these lectures? Aye,—and so weighed it that neither earth nor hell can now move me from my course. I have a life-work to perform, and towards its completion, through evil report and good report, I speed my way.
    "(2.) You imagine that my aim is merely to amuse, and you then speak very properly of "stooping'. Indeed, if it were so, if I had no higher or nobler aim in view, it would be stooping with sorrowful emphasis; but, then, think you that the devil would care to roar at me? Why, surely, it would be his best policy to encourage me in forsaking my calling, and degrading my ministry!
    "(3.) 'Is the Master's eye regarding His servant with pleasure?' Yes, I solemnly feel that it is; nor am I conscious of any act, or motive,—the common infirmity of man excepted,—which could cause me to incur Divine displeasure in connection with that which is, to me, the work of my life.
    "(4.) With regard to laughter,—you and I may differ upon this matter, and neither of us be quite infallible in our judgment. To me, a smile is no sin, and a laugh no crime. The Saviour, the Man of sorrows, is our example of morality, but not of misery, for He bore our griefs that we might not bear them; and I am not John the Baptist, nor a monk, nor hermit, nor an ascetic, either in theory or practice. Unhallowed mirth I hate, but I can and do enjoy my Father's works, and the wonders of Creation, none the less, but all the more, because I am a Christian. At any rate, I hold my own views upon this point; and, during eleven years of ministry, have seen no ill effect, but very much good from my preaching, although the charge has always been laid at my door that I sometimes provoke the risible faculties.
    "(5.) Concerning 'sowing to the flesh,' I have not done so in these lectures, but have rendered honest and hearty service to my Lord, and believe that spiritual fruit has already been reaped.
    "(6.) As to the grief of friends, let them, as well as myself, be ready to bear the cross; and let them not attempt to evade reproach by weeping where no tears are needed. I have given no cause to the enemy to blaspheme, or only such blessed cause as shall be renewed with greater vigour than ever.
    "And now for my explanation;—I have, in connection with my Church, a College for young ministers, which is a work of faith as to temporals, and a labour of love on my part in the highest sense of the term. There are about 150 young men, who are getting an education with a view, in most cases, to preaching the Word in the streets, villages, and towns of this land. Their studies are such as their capacities can receive, and the ministering brethren are mainly given to the searching of the Word; while reading it in the original is the ambition of each. In the course of instruction there are lectures, delivered by myself, a regular lecturer, and other gentlemen. We have had about twenty lectures on English History. I have given lectures on Sabbath-school teaching, Preaching, Church Discipline, Ethnology, &c., &c. The Rev. George Rogers has lectured on Books and Reading, Habit and Instinct, on Ministerial Prerequisites, and on other matters. Various brethren have taken up other topics; and, having attended all the lectures, I can testify that the best spirit has pervaded all, and each lecturer has laboured, not merely to instruct, but to do spiritual good.
    "My present course is upon Natural History. For the lectures already delivered, especially the abused ones, I have had the thanks of the members passed spontaneously and unanimously; and I believe the lectures have been as acceptable to the audience as any which were ever delivered. We who have seen the wonders of wisdom in anatomy, providential adaptation, and creating perfection, have gone home praising and blessing God. We have laughed, doubtless; and we have wept, too; but, with an audience of 150 young men, and a considerable company of men and women of the working-class, what would be the use of dull, drowsy formality? Last Friday week, the 'shrews' lecture came in due course, and I thought it might be useful to give a few words as to the value of love and kindness in Christian families, for which words I have had grateful acknowledgment. We went home, and I have not heard of one of the audience who did not feel that it was an evening well and profitably spent. Many Christian people gave me a hearty shake of the hand and glowing thanks.
    "But, lo! to our utter amazement, one morning we discovered that the lecture was considered vulgar, coarse, and I know not what. The gentlemen of the press had nothing else just then to do, so they said, 'Let us abuse Spurgeon, no matter whether he deserves it or not.' Since this abuse, I have asked scores who were there if anything had been said for which one might be sorry, and all have answered. 'No, nothing was said at all deserving censure, or anything but approval.' Think you that my hearers are all so degraded as to tolerate conduct such as a lying press imputes to me? O my brother, you do ill to judge a servant of the Lord from the lips of his foes, and one, too, who has had abuse enough on former occasions without having given cause of offence, which renders it inexcusable that brethren should readily believe reports concerning him!
    "This work of my Institution is of God; lectures are a part of the necessary plan, they do good, I have a call to this work, so all this opposition is a spur to increased zeal. I would the Lord's people cared more than they do for these young preachers, for I feel sure that God the Holy Spirit will raise up from our midst many who shall do exploits in His Name. To this work am I called, and the Lord is with me in it. Void of offence towards God and man, trusting for acceptance to Him who has washed away my sin, shall I flee because my conduct is misunderstood and my words are misconstrued? Nay, verily, Jehovah-nissi! And now let hell roar, and saints themselves forsake. Time and eternity will clear the character of one who has given up even his good name to his Master, without reserve.

"Yours wearily,

"C. H. Spurgeon."

"P.S.—Get the 'gorilla' lecture; read it, and see if there be any evil in it; yet it is the least religious of them all.—C. H. S."


The vote of thanks and sympathy referred to in the above letter, together with the Pastor's grateful acknowledgment of it, are thus recorded in the Tabernacle church-book:—

"At the church-meeting, held October 14, 1861, from which the Pastor was absent through illness, the following resolution was proposed, seconded, and carried unanimously:—'That the members of this church, constantly refreshed by the gospel ministry of their beloved Pastor, and deeply obliged to him for the lectures he gives upon secular and social subjects, have noticed, with sincere regret, and heartfelt sympathy with him, the scandals heaped upon his name by the public press, and beg to express to him their most loving confidence, their strong desire to endure with him a full share of his reproach, and their full determination, by God's help, to bear him constantly on their heart in prayer.'

"Church-meeting, October 28, 1861.—Our Pastor expressed his thanks to the church for the vote of sympathy with him passed at the church-meeting on October 14, and rejoiced in the fact that all the members had remained steadfast notwithstanding the virulent attacks made upon him."


25 March 2011

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Heretic?

Evangelical Apathy and the Danger of False Teaching
by John MacArthur
The following is excerpted from The Truth War (Nelson, 2007, pp. 165-68)




hy do so many evangelicals act as if false teachers in the church could never be a serious problem in this generation? Vast numbers seem convinced that they are "rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that [they] are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17).

In reality, the church today is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in church history. Biblical ignorance within the church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation. If you doubt that, compare the typical sermon of today with a randomly-chosen published sermon from any leading evangelical preacher prior to 1850. Also compare today's Christian literature with almost anything published by evangelical publishing houses a hundred years ago or more.

Bible teaching, even in the best of venues today, has been deliberately dumbed-down, made as broad and as shallow as possible, over-simplified, adapted to the lowest common denominator—and then tailored to appeal to people with short attention spans. Sermons are almost always brief, simplistic, overlaid with as many references to pop culture as possible, and laden with anecdotes and illustrations. (Jokes and funny stories drawn from personal experience are favored over cross-references and analogies borrowed from Scripture itself.) Typical sermon topics are heavily weighted in favor of man-centered issues (such as personal relationships, successful living, self-esteem, how-to lists, and whatnot)—to the exclusion of the many Christ-exalting doctrinal themes of Scripture.

In other words, what most contemporary preachers do is virtually the opposite of what Paul was describing when he said he sought "to declare . . . the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Not only that, but here's how Paul explained his own approach to gospel ministry, even among unchurched pagans in the most debauched Roman culture:
I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Notice: he deliberately refused to customize his message or adjust his delivery to suit the Corinthians' philosophical bent or their cultural tastes. He had no thought of catering to a particular generation's preferences, and he used no gimmicks as attention-getters. Whatever antonym you can think of for the word showmanship would probably be a good description of Paul's style of public ministry. He wanted to make it clear to everyone (including the Corinthian converts themselves) that lives and hearts are renewed by means of the Word of God, and by nothing else. That way they would begin to understand and appreciate the power of the gospel message.

By contrast, today's church-growth experts seem to have no confidence in Scripture's power. They are convinced the gospel needs to be "contextualized," streamlined, and revamped anew for every generation. Forty years of that approach has left evangelicals grossly untaught, wholly unprepared to defend the truth, and almost entirely unaware of how much is at stake. The evangelical movement itself has become a monstrosity, its vast size and visibility belying its almost total spiritual failure. One thing is certain: the cumbersome movement that most people today would label "evangelical" is populated with large numbers of people who are on the wrong side in the Truth War.

We are right back in the same situation the church was in a hundred years ago, when modernists were busily re-inventing the Christian faith. Far from being a strong voice and a powerful force for the cause of truth, the evangelical movement itself has become the main battleground.



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24 March 2011

The Japan/God dilemma (NEXT! #26)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: So, does the earthquake in Japan prove that God is benevolent and impotent, omnipotent and malevolent, or imaginary?

Response: Sorry — you are...?
 


(Proverbs 21:22)

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23 March 2011

Open Letter to Rob Bell

by Frank Turk

Dear Rob –

First of all, I wanted to thank you for giving me something to do from my flight back from Europe last Friday as my choices were looking rather bleak. In-flight movies were lame (except for the re-run of the Dark Knight, which of course I cannot pass by), and thanks to your new publisher, I had the Kindle version of your new book to keep me occupied. I had 9 hours to go over your new book, and I wanted to send you a note about it.

Before I get to the single bite of meat and the one french fry I wanted to add to the total conversation about your new book and your take on what constitutes the Christian faith, there’s a video out there from your friend Doug Pagitt which I wanted to bring to your attention.



It's an interesting reproach, but it also gives an insight into the way Doug (and I think you personally) receives and responds to criticism.  One of the things I took away from your book is that you have a pretty wide net when it comes to the Gospel. Now by that I mean not that you take in all manner of things and call it the Gospel (which, maybe that’s true, but that’s for another day), but rather that you want the Gospel to cover everything that man does. In fact I think it’s totally fair to say that you think the Gospel does cover everything that man does, one way or another. You sum it up nicely when you say this in the Kindle version:



Right? In your view the unlimited love of the Father is for everyone and will be manifest for everyone because it’s His love, and not ours. Now, I bring that up in the context of your friend Doug to say this: you and Doug have this horrible problem when it comes to the kind of Christianity you think you are trying to explore and expand: you can’t live it.

See: if this is the kind of God there is, and the kind of Gospel there is, then your outburst in the promo video about whether we can know who is and is not in Hell (that is, your incredulity at someone who said that someone else is in Hell) which casts indignation and aspersions on that person is a contradiction of the Gospel you preach. If indeed the person who never hears the Gospel preached and who never knows for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ has nothing to fear from the Gospel, then I suggest to you that the person who thinks Hell is the place where people who reject Christ wind up also has nothing to fear from the Gospel – and your attitude toward him should be the same as your attitude toward others you perceive as unbelievers. And likewise, when Doug Pagitt get all frothy in the mouth because John Piper says you have exited orthodoxy with your promo video and your new book, why can’t he find the tentless love of God which he says works out for Buddhists and Muslims and atheists -- but for Dr. Piper? Why does he have to transgress the circles they both travel in to make a point of saying Dr. Piper is a very bad man?

The fun part would be to speculate on that – but that’s not why I’m writing. I leave it to you to speculate why the truth claims of some make you livid when you demand that truth claims should make no one angry or scared but only hopeful. That speculation would be profitable for you, I am absolutely certain.

Now, that said: your book.

Others have made much of it, so I’ll be brief. The only chapter worth going back to for me as I think about what I’d say in response to you, or (if we’re lucky) to open a discussion with you, is the chapter titled “Hell”. In it, you make three significant claims:

  1. The OT does not mention Hell at all
  2. There are only a handful of mentions of Hell in the NT (you say there are 12+2 mentions of Hell), and those are probably metaphors or object lessons and not references to a final, eternal place where God’s judgment is carried out.
  3. Our modern view of Hell is a superstitious one based on “devious” “pagan” notions meant to control people.

For #1, I can take it or leave it – that’s a pretty shallow reading of the OT if you ask me, but it’s not any more shallow than any other one-paragraph summary of any topic which may or may not be in the Hebrew Scripture. I think it’s close enough to being true, and common enough in all kinds of commentaries, to be your part of a longer hermeneutical discussion, and something a reasonable person can stipulate without an onset of theological madness.

For #3, it’s an unsupported statement – you toss it out there as if there is a legion of theological, anthropological, and historical work in this field which just makes this common knowledge. I think it’s not entirely kosher to do that, but it doesn’t make you a liar. Maybe you’re just writing devotional literature where the broad brush is just fine because you’re not trying to really convince anyone. Maybe you’re just trying to draw a dividing line between pre-modern worldviews from what you have today, which I guess is more enlightened than Shakespeare, Augustine, and Luther. Again – I can take it or leave it. I disagree, but it’s not worth the academic battle of attrition that would have to ensue to show you that this is a poorly-imagined statement.

What I want to get serious about is #2 – that Hell is only mentioned a few times, and probably not as a place, in contrast to the place where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all dwell with God.

I think your assertion here tells us how you read the Bible. You say that the Bible only mentions Hell 14 times, but conspicuously-absent from your list are the passages where the end of those without faith and without Christ is discussed explicitly without saying, “and this, of course, is a place called ‘Hell’ which is a real place.”

For example, in Luke 6:46-49, Jesus himself says that those who come to him are like the man who builds his house on the Rock, which is therefore not washed away; there is another man who builds without a foundation, whose house falls immediately, and the ruin of his house is great. That has to be disturbing to you because it speaks to the fact that Jesus – in the great wisdom literature tradition – polarizes the issue of having faith in him. He is the one who makes out the proposition to be either/or, and that there are two groups of people in the ultimate tally. That theme comes up again and again in Jesus’ storytelling, but you don’t really go there to say that this is about how Jesus thinks about his Kingdom.  And it's funny that in your view, all the Kingdom talk of Jesus doesn't set up the contrast between what is in the Kingdom and what is outside the Kingdom.

And that’s an important matter: what is the Kingdom like, right? Turns out, if you ask Jesus, in Luke 19:11-27, he tells us the parable of the 10 Minas.  There are lots of conclusions to be drawn there, I think, but the first is that there are servants who the returning ruler will not receive – he will in fact punish them for being unfaithful. And I think you and I would identify those guys the same way: people who had the riches of Jesus who did not use them to bring great things back to Jesus. But the other is a stunning portrayal of what the Kingdom of God is like -- because after sorting out his own servants, the ruler then orders that all who opposed him from the far away country will be brought as a footstool under his feet. “Let them be slaughtered before me,” he says. That doesn’t sound very promising, does it? But "H-E-L-L" or "G-E-H-E-N-N-A" isn’t spelled out as a word there, so you have simply not included it. The same, I think, is true of Rev 20-21 where there is judgment and then some meet the same fate as Sin, Death and the Devil. The word “Hell” is missing, so these passages are missing from your system of references.

But even where Jesus does say “Hades”, in Luke 16, you don’t really tell the reader the right version of the story. The context of that story is the Pharisee’s love of money – not a socialist vision of the equality of man. And to that end, you dismiss or ignore that the man, there in agony in the afterlife, fears for his brothers and does not want them to suffer as he is suffering.  You make it out to be a story of a man who wants others to serve him -- a point not at all in the context of the Pharisee's error!

So how can we receive that? In the very best case, maybe you just haven’t read all the NT, and therefore you may simply not know the NT. That’s forgivable – but you are writing a book here, and the least an author can do is to actually know what his source material says before he refers to it. I think, however that you have read the NT, and this simply shows how you are willing to treat it as a text – which is, without respect.

You know: if I read your book and made a case against it which says you don’t really even show the hope of the Gospel when in fact you have specifically spent a chapter on it, that’s simply disrespectful.

But maybe it’s more than that: maybe this speaks to us of how you’re willing to reason about the Christian faith and its message. See: the problem with the Scripture is that it is not written by us for our purposes. It’s written by God for His purposes, and in that it’s going to make all of us uncomfortable.

Let me admit to you that God’s Law makes me uncomfortable – both in the OT and the NT interpretations of it. I know that I am not the person who can keep even some of the Law. If the measuring stick is Jesus’ retelling of the law in the Sermon on the Mount, my score is zero. I have never done anything right – even when it looks pretty good on the outside. If it were up to me, we ought to find a way to read the Law as maybe good advice. Then we could aspire to it rather than be condemned by it.

But that’s me – maybe you don’t have a problem with the Law. But clearly: you have a problem with the Gospel. That is: you have a problem with the need for it. As I read you, all your real-world examples are about how Hell is what other people do to us. I should believe in hell because there are children maimed in war; I should believe in hell because there are rape victims; I should believe in hell because those who commit suicide have families. That is: the hell I should believe in is the one other people inflict on me. That’s how I know there is a hell: bad people make innocent people suffer.

But then when you retell the Rich Man and Lazarus this gets utterly inverted. See: if your reading of what Hell is holds up, the Rich Man put Lazarus in Hell. That’s the definition you build from real life: Hell is the bad things others do to us. But when Jesus tells the story, the one who did bad things winds up in Hell. To your credit, you don’t actually try to make Jesus’ version of Hell into the Hell you have already explained to the reader. But what you do make of Jesus’ version of Hell is not any better – because now you try to make this into a tale where Jesus tells us that those who do harm to others, and think selfishly, make their own hell. Really? Someone knows this for sure?

Here's how you set up the reader for your answer:



Let me say it frankly: this characterization is a slander to those who hold to the traditional, majority-held view of Hell. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, for all its flaws, teaches a literal hell and is also one of the largest international providers of humanitarian relief – so much so that the Red Cross relies on them as first responders. But to see traditional religious people this way means that you have to give them credit for thinking in categories that are larger than the ones, frankly, you play at for those who read your books and listen to your sermons. They see traditional people as evil haters, and therefore you have to see them that way.

This goes back to my preface about you and your enthusiasm for God’s grace. It’s crazy that you can extend a hopeful view of the final destination of Gandhi – who, in spite of the movies, was not a ruler with very modern ideas of how to rule India – but you make out the kid with the “turn or burn” t-shirt to be some kind of thug? Why is it that all manner of people with real sociological -- and indeed: moral -- faults can get a pass from you, but that people who hold to an older and more-robust view of the Bible and the Gospel than you do have to get cast as intellectual hicks and people prone to uncivil behavior?

I’m at my normal 3-page limit, so I’ll close with this: one of the reasons Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees is that they had a tradition which they thought was greater than Moses – greater than the Temple, greater than what God actually wants from men, which you have framed in your own Sunday talks as the “greater matters” of “justice and mercy”, the greatest commandments to love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. To that end, they taught all kinds of things, and behaved in all kinds of ways which made them blind to Jesus and to dismiss Jesus and ultimately to hate Jesus – to the point of plotting to kill him.

And in your view of your message, you are keyed on the question of the greater things so that we do not miss them. But the greatest thing was not the Law: it was Jesus himself. It was his work on our behalf. When Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, Jesus started to tell him that he didn’t come to reclaim the throne of David: Jesus said that he had to suffer and die, and be raised on the third day.

For your own good, please think about this. What you are teaching now is, in the best case, a Christian-flavored secular Judaism. That is: you make Jesus a good rabbi and not a great savior. Repent of it, Rob: repent because there’s no shame in turning away from even decades of wrong teaching to turning over a new leaf and teaching that Jesus saves sinner from their own sins and from God’s displeasure if they repent and believe. That is actually the message of the NT, and it ought to be your message if you’re really concerned with the real people you meet every day.

Think about it, and thanks for your time. As always, I’m available at frank@iturk.com if have any questions.







22 March 2011

On the nature of blog-posts: strengths and limitations

by Dan Phillips

In reading and understanding Proverbs, it is sometimes helpful to preface a verse by mentally supplying "Other things being equal," or "Generally speaking." For instance: "[Other things being equal,] a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Without that understanding, for instance, John 18:19-23 is a contradiction.


No one (I hope!) will ever publish a version of Proverbs with these additions, because that would spoil the particular beauty of the book. After all, the point of a proverb is to make a point pithily and memorably. Brevity is a necessity. No one who reads wisely reads as if he had a legal contract or a magic spell book in his hands. It's the particular genius of a proverb to make a categorical assertion as if it were a statement of universal truth — but its success depends on the reader realizing that it is usually not intended as any such thing.

Which brings us to posts on blogs.

I see posts as short-form literature, as a rule. I don't go to blogs for long studies. Some very popular blogs do regularly feature what seem to me to be very, very, very long posts. They lose me, frankly. I don't bother with them. There, I've said it. If I want a study, I'll buy a book or consult an academic journal. The closest a blog will come to that for me will be if it posts a series on a topic — a series of mid-sized or shorter posts.

I think most people understand this, though clearly some do not. For instance, I wrote a post on depression last week. I've also done one on marriage. And another on parenting. And one on pastoral ministry. And on and on and on.

Now, could anyone fairly read any of those posts, and think I was setting out, in 800-1600 words (or whatever) to say everything that could be said on the subject? On any of those subjects?

That would be a fair approach to a post titled "Everything that can possibly be said about _____." I don't think any of us has written one like that. The first comment would point out something we missed, and all would be lost.

As it is the nature of a proverb to make compress some truth about a subject and make it unforgettable, so it is the design of a post to examine one or two aspects of a subject. If it's a good post (as I judge posty goodness, anyway), it will do it informatively, memorably, and perhaps a bit provocatively.

But anyone who sets to at the post to complain about all the things the post didn't say has quite a long row to hoe. But in that, it's a bit like this post about Jesus' teachings on truth and love. We noted that when Jesus said disciples would be known by their love, His omission of other marks was not in itself meaningful. It just meant He set out to make that point, not to exclude everything else He'd already said (and would say) on matters of faith and truth and obedience.

Most of you don't need me to point this out.

But in cases where we do need to remind some folks who pass by, perhaps now Phil or Frank or I can just link to this post. As a reminder.

A brief one.

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20 March 2011

Grace

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The Following excerpt is from "Dei Gratia," a sermon Spurgeon preached on Sunday morning, 30 october 1870, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.




O truth is more plainly taught in God’s word than this, that the salvation of sinners is entirely owing to the grace of God. If there be anything clear at all in Scripture, it is plainly there declared that men are lost by their own works, but saved through the free favor of God their ruin is justly merited, but their salvation is always the result of the unmerited mercy of God. In varied forms of expression, but with constant clearness and positiveness, this truth is over and over again declared.

Yet, plain as this truth is, and influencing, as it should do, every part of our doctrinal belief, it is frequently forgotten.

Many of the heresies which divide the Christian church, spring from a cloudness upon this point. Were that word "grace" but fully read, marked, and learned, the great evangelical system would be far more firmly held, and plainly preached: but forgetfulness that "by grace ye are saved," is a common fault among all conditions of men. Sinners forget it, and they seek salvation by the works of the law; they refuse to surrender to the sovereign grace of God, and entrench themselves behind the tottering fence of their own righteousness. And saints forget this, too, and therefore their minds become dark, their spirits fall into legal bondage, and where they ought to rejoice in the Lord unceasingly, they become despondent, and full of unbelieving dread.

Brethren, I am incessantly preaching here the doctrines of grace, they are growingly dear to me; but often as I preach them, I trust they are not wearisome to you; and if they should be, that sad fact would not induce me to be silent upon them, but rather urge me to proclaim them more frequently and fervently, for your weariness of them would be a clear proof that you required to hear them yet again, and again, and again, until your souls were brought to delight in them.

There is no music out of heaven equal to the sound of that word "grace," save only the celestial melody of the name of Jesus.

C. H. Spurgeon


18 March 2011

I Had Nothing to Do with This

by Phil Johnson

he music department at Grace Community Church used this white board to plan the order of service for each session of the Shepherds' Conference:


CLICK TO ENLARGE

ere's what the white board looked like after some anonymous miscreant (a seminary student enjoying Spring Break, perhaps) used it to reimagine what "The Shepherds' Conversation" might look like if we had been prone to follow the evangelical drift of the past couple of decades:


CLICK TO ENLARGE

I'm not saying how I got the pictures, either.

EXTRA: One of our readers, Ric Kolseth, made a version of the graphic that changes on mouseovers, making it easier to compare the two versions. I now have a whole new appreciation for the level of detail that went into the scheduling process for next year's "Shepherds' Conversation." If they would just add a seminar for Scot McKnight to give us a more detailed deconstruction of the question Martin Bashir kept asking Rob Bell, along with Scot's own apologia for Bell's brand of universalism, we could all sleep easier.


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(BTW, I'm still convalescing; I'll be back at the blog April 4, Lord willing. If you're waiting for me to reply to an e-mail, snail-mail letter, or any other query, I'm doing my best to catch up. Thanks for your patience.)

17 March 2011

The peril of the "if only"

by Dan Phillips

Last post was pretty long; this one, not so much.

In my reading through the Hebrew OT, I just arrived Wednesday at perhaps the most depressing verse in the Bible, and at the same time one of the scariest. That would be 1 Kings 11:1, which begins "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women...." Of course, that verse is just the opening note of the narrative of Solomon's dismal descent into spiritual wreck and ruin.

The passage stands out like a lump of coal on a field of fresh-fallen snow, coming as it does after the previous chapters' extended narrative of spiritual, intellectual, cultural, and material blessedness. One reaches the end of chapter ten, virtually expecting to read of Jesus gently touching down in Jerusalem and commencing the Millennial Kingdom, right then and there.

Yet we read the resounding clang of doom: "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women...." Oh no; he loved them. In fact, "clung to these in love" (v. 2b). But he was supposed to love Yahweh with all his heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). He was supposed to cling to Yahweh (Deuteronomy 10:20). He knew that. And Yahweh said not to marry women from these nations (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Solomon knew that, too. He knew all that (1 Kings 2:3; cf. Proverbs 4:3-4).

Another thing Solomon knew was
Cease to hear instruction, my son,
and you will stray from the words of knowledge
(Proverbs 19:27)
...which Solomon clearly did, and which Solomon clearly did, respectively.

What a calamity. So wise, so blessed, so favored... such a fall. No Millennial Kingdom for Solomon. Even such a blessed, wise, godly man — still, the Cross loomed as an absolute necessity.

Now the punch-line.

Some time past, I wrote in my BW notes:
Here, it all goes south. This is SO DEPRESSING to read!  But what a solemn and needed warning.  Was any man ever so blessed as Solomon?  God had visited and spoken to him; He had blessed Solomon in every way imaginable -- spiritually, psychologically, materially, socially, martially, politically, he was in the best shape a mortal could be.  And what was the outcome?  What was the result of meeting every one of Solomon's needs?  Did it produce godliness, holiness, contentment?  No. His heart was weaned away from God by loving idolatrous women.  Listen up, my soul. You dream how great everything would be if only, if only, if only? Look at Solomon.  Fear.
Fear.

Postscript: possible companion-pieces here, here, and here.

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16 March 2011

Open Letter to Greg Damhorst & Cameron Nations

by Frank Turk

Warning to all readers: this is 9 pages single-spaced in WORD, so pack a lunch.

Dear Greg and Cameron,

First, thanks for your reply to my open letter to Chris Stedman. A reply is always nice rather than, as has been the case in several other open letters, being talked about, or merely scorned via Twitter, and I credit you for it. I see it as an open door to actually making some headway on some of the issues my letter laid out, and then some of the issues your letter laid out either in opposition or as a basis for finding out what the much-vaunted "way forward" is.



Before we get to the text of your letter, there’s also a down-side to what you posted: the substance of the comments which followed. This is the internet, after all, and what’s most obvious about the internet is that someone on it is wrong. That fact drives so much of the bandwidth for most blog posts which real-live human beings read that when one finds a blog post which has no detractors commenting, one has to wonder if anyone has read that blog at all.

And this is Chris’ blog we’re talking about, so I hope that a guy like this who get face time at the Huffington Post will have a few people pass by to check in on him and his exploits. He’s no humanist Challies, to be sure, but my thought is that someone would wander past his blog in the course of three weeks and read your post and find something to critique, if not something to disagree with outright. But there is a curious absence of any detractors.

There are probably 500 hypothetical permutations of why this might be true, but let me say frankly that I know for a fact why it is true: posts with criticisms don’t get past the Blogger approval screen. I know that for a fact because I posted several comments there – all only pointing out that I disagree with you – and they never appeared. I thought it was my iPod for the first post, so I tried from both my PowerBook and my work laptop, and none of those comments appeared, either.

So as we consider the nature of the kind of "conversation" Chris is promoting, at least place in the field of consideration that actual dissention from his version of "better together" orthodoxy doesn’t make the cut when he is allowed to choose the method of engagement. You can compare that to what happens routinely here where people are allowed to say almost anything for dozens of comments before they are asked to reign it in.  Ask yourself which is a "discussion" and which is something else.

Important correction: Chris did chime in in the comments below to say that he did not see my comments at all in his administrative filter -- that in fact those comments simply got lost in the bandwidth. Having been the victim of the Internet at my own various blogs myself, I take him at his word, and I stand corrected on the cause of the lack of detractors on his own blog posts. Let this correct the record.



Now: that's just the preface. I wanted to go through your reply and see if there’s anything I can learn from you, and that with some luck or God’s grace you might learn from me. We’ll see how that all pans out between us.

You begin:
While we as Evangelical Christians discuss frequently on our site the importance of interfaith relationships – including relationships with those of a secular tradition – we are reminded that not everyone sees things the way we do.

Earlier this week, our friend Chris Stedman, a secular humanist and a leading voice for the involvement of the nonreligious in interfaith cooperation, was the target of an open letter written by Frank Turk, contributor to a Christian blog "PyroManiacs" (tagline: "Setting the world on fire…"). We wanted to respond – not because a response was invited, but because we are Evangelical Christians, we disagree with the approach to religious difference that particular Christians ("PyroManiacs" included) have taken, and because we are offended by the idea that someone representing Jesus Christ would make some of the statements that were made toward Chris.
This is an interesting approach to your reply, because I think it goes back to the problem of what constitutes a "discussion". See: Chris is your "friend" who is a "leading voice" and I am a blogger who "targets" him – in spite of the fact that (let’s face it) I am actually a "leading voice" in the blogosphere as are my fellow blog-mates here at PyroManiacs. This blog ranks in the top 10 of all "Lifestyle" blogs consistently, and in the top 5 "Religion" blogs  as well.  I wonder if you intended that immediate distinction between what Chris does and what I do – or if it was unintentional and a function of your already-formed conclusions? You’re certainly welcome to the latter – I think well-formed conclusions are the basis for real dialog and real improvement of all manner of things. But factually, you have started your piece by marginalizing me and telling the reader that Chris is the credible one, and your friend.

In terms of starting a "discussion", I wonder if I started a discussion this way about Chris you would find it in any way fair – let alone constructive.

You continue:
Turk’s "Open letter" centers on a tweet posted earlier this month that read: "Exciting to hear about how @ChrisDStedman is reshaping the conversation between religious and nonreligious." While Turk seemingly attempts to belittle Chris’s work by calling out his sexuality and tattoos, we are reminded of the very need for reshaping just such a conversation. Turk asks "Is that really ‘reshaping’ anything?"—in other words, is Chris really making a difference? And later implies that dialogue won’t change humanity’s propensity to, as he calls it, "err," calling into question the very efficacy of the interfaith endeavor. We contend that Chris Stedman is in fact reshaping the conversation, and that constructive dialogue is playing a great part in this.
One thing I would point out to you here is that your summary of my "open letter" (scare quotes and all) is entirely reductive and frankly unreflective of what I actually said. That’s a far cry from what I did for Chris in my open letter by introducing him to my readers with his own words, and his own description of himself.  In fact I said this to him:
I mean: what I took away from the HuffPo piece was that you think there's a common cultural context that people with and without religion can sort of participate in, and that they can cooperate with each other to achieve some kind of socio-political good together. Is that really "reshaping" anything?

I think it can reshape the atheist evangel, to be sure -- it will move the popular atheist stereotype out of the ghetto of cage-stage positivism and adolescent nihilism/hedonism into a plump, congenial middle-age. This kind of thinking is frankly understood as the norm in Europe, and to say and do otherwise there is shocking. But American atheism has been a lot like American fundamentalism at least from the days of the vile Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and its ability to seek converts through fear and intimidation has probably been a very powerful factor in keeping it a marginal ideology. So kudos to you for being a stand-up guy for humanism rather than something and someone less concerned about a so-called path forward in a multicultural world.
That’s pretty significantly more-generous than your Reader’s Digest version.

The next paragraph sounds very nice (we’ll get there in a second), but so far I think that you don’t really mean what you say there – for one reason only: it’s not what you practice. And given that Chris endorses your way of doing this – both by publishing your response, and by prefacing it with his very-glowing approval – I doubt he really wants a "discussion" either. What he wants is people to agree with him, and to talk with people who agree with him. That’s not much of a conversation: it’s more of a mutual admiration society.  What kind of dialog are you looking for when this is how you treat people who disagree with you?
Here’s what you say next, before I go on:
The conversation "between religious and nonreligious" as mentioned in the tweet is not a two-way discussion between Christians and atheists; rather, Christians and atheists are simply two pieces of a much broader discourse among peoples of all different faith traditions, worldviews, philosophies, and perspectives. Whether it is a church being bombed in Egypt, a pastor threatening to burn the Qur’an, or the recent protests of a Muslim community fundraiser in California, we would say that conversations around religious differences still need some major remodeling. And in the arena of atheists’ relationship to religion in particular, Chris is doing phenomenal work to show that being a non-religious person does not mean one has to be aggressively anti-religious. As a religious man himself, Turk should at least grant this much in Stedman’s favor.
Now, this is exactly what I mean. As you can see from quoting my open letter, I did say exactly that about what Chris has done. Turk did in fact "grant this much in Stedman’s favor." It’s hard to deny when you look at it, in fact – but you have explicitly denied it, haven’t you?

Why? Maybe – and I think this is likely – you skimmed my open letter, or didn’t read it at all. What you found was an old guy who said something you believed would be disagreeable about your friend, and you felt like you needed to say something in response which makes it clear that Chris is your friend and I am not. Fair enough: but does actually saying untrue things – you know: saying I did not give Chris any credit for working the Atheist fundamentalists over when in fact I said explicitly that he’s doing that and it is a good thing – work out to improve me, or make some point about Chris contra my point about Chris?

Probably not – but here’s what I’m willing to do at this point: I’m willing to chalk it up to youthful hubris and collegiate spirit because I was once one such as you – or more realistically, more like Chris as I was an atheist in college. I’m sure that’s news to you, but it’s not any kind of a secret. I like to call it the surprise in the Cracker Jack box which is my faith and mission as a blogger: surprising people with the idea that there are really folks who have walked the field of faithlessness and come out the other end with a different conclusion. But I say that only to say this: if there were actually any discussion going on, you’d probably have discovered that.

Instead, you took it for granted that I was one kind of person, and I think – in fact, I know – I am someone else entirely. That you cannot read my most generous statement about Chris in even a remotely-fair (let alone generous) way, speaks to that directly, and clearly, and to your own discredit. That Chris did not see that or offer you a chance to revise your way out of that prior to endorsing you and signing off on you as a credible replica of Jesus also speaks to his own blinders in this matter.

Now, from that, you jump to this without any bridge:
We believe that interfaith cooperation efforts—and atheists/humanists’ involvement in them— are relevant, timely, and crucial in today’s global society, and that they stand in line with the values espoused by Christ to love one’s neighbor and bring peace to the world. Chris Stedman has contributed greatly to the cause of interfaith cooperation, making it a visible and vibrant part of the discussion happening on university campuses all across the country.
I agree. In fact, my quote proves I agree. It turns out that we agree about this – yet with your lead-up to it, the casual reader of your post will think I do not agree with either you or Chris or Jesus. This is especially troubling when we read your next paragraph:
Because the model for interfaith cooperation to which we adhere depends upon mutual respect, value judgments on the morality of human sexuality or concern with one’s personal choices lie largely beyond the purview of the discussion. We, like Chris, simply advance the message of peace and sociological pluralism. Our concern is not with individual religious practice or belief or widespread social concerns except where they intersect with violence, strife, and bigotry. Our own Christian religious identity informs our desire to build bridges of cooperation with those of other traditions and worldviews, but does not in any way muddy our own values or compel us to entreat them on others.
As we say on this side of sociological pluralism, "Aha!"

Let’s start with the underlined part rather than the last sentence. That statement is so utterly incomprehensible in the context you provided it that I have to work through it with you. Let’s ask a simple question: would someone who tells lies, for example, be welcome in your circle of cooperation? I’m thinking not of someone spreading malicious gossip or actually framing the statements of someone else in such a way to make them a bad guy: I’m thinking of someone who was in your fold of cooperation who did not share all your objectives of "peace and sociological pluralism". Maybe this person actually had the objective of eliminating meaningful distinctions between any two of the cooperating sociologically-plural identities in order to eliminate one or both of them. Would that person’s "concern with one’s personal choices" really not matter to you? If not, how can you say you actually want any kind of pluralism – that you actually respect the differences between those who are different?

As you ponder that, let’s then approach your last sentence there with some gusto. You say your desire to "build bridges" does not in any way "muddle the waters" of your own core values – but that is also completely and transparently false. The fact that you’re careless with the truth toward those who disagree with you ought to indicate to you that this is less than compelling – but the fact that this endeavor is itself dubious in real sociological improvement ought to also put a twinge in your "Evangelical" (scare quotes intended) funny bone.

See: you are using great timeless words to describe your objectives – "peace", and "respect" vs. "violence, strife and bigotry." You might as well be saying you’re in favor of ice cream and against feeding babies BP oil spill tarballs. Who exactly would come out and say, "Bigotry saved my family, and I’m proud to hate people based on stereotypes," or "strife is just a hobby; I’m actually a professional force of malevolence?" Prolly no one, I am sure you will admit. Nobody is actually in favor of bigotry, violence and strife – when you put it that way. The problem, of course, is that adult humans never put it that way.



And therein lies the real problem. Think about the striking civil servants in Wisconsin for a moment. They are causing a lot of strife, no? They have put children out of school, taken police off the street, disrupted the capital of their state, and so on. But if you ask them, what they are doing is combating the strife caused by the Governor and the elected conservative majority in the state government, right? So it’s actually the Governor and his agenda who caused all this strife. Or maybe it’s the people of WI who elected these characters who caused all the strife – you know: they voted for a guy and his political buddies who promised to balance the budget and end deficit spending in state government.

I mean: we’re against strife – but if that’s true, do we overturn the election results in WI to oppose strife? How do we oppose strife in actual examples unless we get our difference out in front of us?

This is where what you think you’re standing up for falls apart – and it’s at the core of my letter to Chris, but you missed it there, so I’ll rephrase it here for your sake. In real life, the problem is not what we might agree on: it’s what we do not agree on that causes us to have to choose a new course of action, and simply affirming each other for what we think are our good points does not get us anywhere.

Should airing disagreement have to be a war of attrition? Your open letter says yes (as above, and as we’re going to get to, below – that is, you have to take the other guy down and out in order to dismiss him [not win him]), but factually it does not. What it does have to do, though, is recognize that there are reasons for our differences, and mull them over in a way which sizes up the real choices we are about to make if we are going to be "better together".

The WI civil employee union strikes are just one example – but others far more wide-spread are easy to think of. Should abortion be legal? If so, is it just a medical procedure? What if our policy causes more black babies in NYC to be aborted than to be born – does it turn out that abortion law is racist in practice? Is that bad? How do we know?

A better example is Chris’ most recent public preaching against hearings about Muslims to be conducted in Congress – and at the same time coming out to say we need to hear "more Muslim voices". Do you not find any irony at all in the fact that the lack of Muslim voices (except for extremists) has caused some of our elected representatives to call for hearings so that the Muslim community will speak up for itself – and Chris opposes that? How do we discover the right way to "hear more Muslim voices"?  Can we do that if our core sociological ethic is to overlook others’ personal values?

In your view, we can just overlook personal moral choices and be joined in some kind of sociological group hug and it all gets better. But in practice – and I mean, to even get off the bench to start stretching before the actual game – there’s no way that makes one iota of difference in effecting change.

Now, seriously – this is my favorite part of your response:
Dialogue, though discounted in Turk’s letter, has the power to produce empathy through understanding. Part of the goal of interfaith cooperation is not simply an end to something (i.e. violence), but is actually a positive, proactive movement built around service that aims to improve our world and address the problems we face. (See Greg’s post on the Million Meals for Haiti even at UIUC for an example of this.)
Again, Aha!

Do I need "epathy and understanding" to think to myself, "huh! The people in Haiti who have been decimated for more than a year by the aftermath of a natural disaster probably need something to eat!" Or do I just need the raw facts? I mean: even the Southern Baptist Convention can mobilize for the Red Cross (and does so) without checking anyone’s baptism certificates. Is that really a wild leap forward for "interfaith dialog", or does it turn out that you guys just found out that this happens in real life all the time, and that it happens mostly when people can agree on really gigantic incidents of suffering? The problem is not seeing the gigantic incidents of suffering: everyone can see those, and no one with a Western values system will tell you that humanitarian aid is uncalled for. The problem is that you guys think that this is new, and an innovation, and a neoteric way to do society – and that it’s the most important thing you can be concerned about.

Here’s how I know that:
As devout Christians, we understand the desire and imperative to point to Christ as the answer to any perceived iniquity; we want our friends to know Christ and his saving grace. Yet we often struggle with the way the church presents these messages of salvation to the world, having been frustrated by our own past experiences.

Chris Stedman, once a church-going Christian himself, doesn’t need a lesson on the teachings of Christ or what the Christian church believes about salvation; doubtless he has picked up on these things through his years as a member of the church and as a student in religious studies programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. We, like Turk, desire for Chris to know Jesus as his savior—Chris knows that full well.  But to see the gospel tacked on the end of a Bible-brandishing diatribe in which the author takes jabs at both Chris’s sexuality and his body art comes across as condescending.
You see: you say you want Chris (for example) to know Christ, but because he has rejected Christ – and ask him, because he has – you are willing to settle for a lot less in his case. That doesn’t actually have anything to do with what the church might do: that has to do with your uneasiness with the actual Christian message.  And to make sure I tie that back to you previous statements, you have utterly forgotten that historically the church does both, and that's how the West in particular has changed so much for the better in the last 1000 years.

What interests me is the characterization of my post as a "bible-brandishing diatribe" in order to again score point. If you would be so kind as to indicate how many verses of the Bible I cited to make my points to Chris, I would be glad to retract all of them – but again, I think this falls into the category of you personally not actually reading my open letter, and therefore not actually responding to what I wrote.  There are no direct references to the Bible in my original open letter, and you ought to have seen that immediately.

The final irony, of course, is that you resort in your final arc of reasoning to a little Bible-brandishing of your own:
The Bible states in 1 Peter 3:15:

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"

We’d like to suggest that the conversation of interfaith cooperation – the precise conversation that Chris Stedman indeed does work to shape – presents a better opportunity for giving that answer mentioned in 1 Peter than the method observed in Turk’s "open letter."  Ironically, this verse can be found on one of the "Pyromaniacs" logos plastered all over their site. Yet it seems they’ve forgotten this respect in their determination to criticize our friend and wave the gospel in his face.
This is an interesting way to put this, since you have already decried any "giving an answer" in your sociological approach. You could go to any of the examples I have reaised so far and consider it in the light of what you say here and find yourself in a very challenging position: how do I advocate for the Christian solution to this problem, when I am already committed to making sure I do not bring into consideration the personal ethics of the people I am talking to?

And this is the greatest challenge to your attempt at a rebuke here which you simply do not see: you call yourselves "Evangelicals". In your defense, that title doesn’t really mean anything today except "sociologically-Christian," so Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and all manner of post-Christian cults might be rolled up under that umbrella. But the title "Evangelical" actually has a meaning in reference to one’s theology as it was historically understood. According to Wikipedia, this term means:
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s. Its key commitments are:
  • The need for personal conversion (or being "born again")
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel
  • A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus
David Bebbington has termed these four distinctive aspects conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, noting, "Together they form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism."
And this, really, lies as the foundation of all your other problems. You self-identify with "Evangelicalism" and call yourselves "Evangelicals", but you are no such thing. An "evangelical" thinks proclaiming the Gospel is of the highest priority; you think it is a hopeful secondary objective. An "Evangelical" has a high regard for inerrancy and Biblical authority; you believe that the Bible’s authority is as one source of information in the secular context. An "Evangelical" thinks that teaching what the death and resurrection of Jesus means is a key emphasis; for you, it hasn’t yet come up – and can’t, because it will offend the personal ethics of those you would have to tell it to. You assume they have heard it and that is enough. Finally, an "Evangelical" places the conversion of others to being followers of Christ – not just admirers or glib flatterers of Christ – as the key objective of the Christian faith; for you, playing well with others is the key objective, and if that objective means they don’t hear the Gospel or respond to it, there’s always tomorrow.

With all that said, WORD says I have waterfalled over 9 pages in response to you – which I think is more than adequate. That’s 3X what I usually limit myself to for a Wednesday blog post. I have addressed your concerns line by line, and have added my own points of contention with your approach, theology, and objectives.



What I will leave you with, then, is this: If what you want is a secular, sociological philosophy which fosters pluralism and only focuses on doing good deeds on the largest scale without reference to any specific epistemology for knowing what is right and wrong except that we are "better together", I’ll be grateful for you to do that. I’ll be pleased that someone has found for themselves a goal they think is worth spending their life on. But there are three things I cannot do with that:

1. I cannot pretend that when you advocate for that, and need to suspend the use of truth to do so, you haven’t done anything wrong. There are probably humanist reasons I could advocate for here, but I’m not a Humanist. As a Christian, I am offended (but not surprised) that the first line of reproach against me is to tell the world something false about what I have done.

2. I cannot pretend that your version of what you say you mean to do is better than what has come before it. At least the old main-line Liberal approach stood in the Sermon on the Mount and in Leviticus and looked for the longest possible list of good works to produce rather than to a reductive consensus which everyone can agree on. Your version compared to your intellectual fathers is not even compelling in terms of what it is seeking to accomplish.

3. I cannot pretend that what you are advocating for here is "Evangelical" – unless we change the meaning of the word to be "something people who grew up in church call themselves".

If that further offends you, so be it. But in that, I offer you the chance to repent of your mistakes. The real message of Jesus is that when we turn away from what God has actually said to what seems right in our own eyes, we can repent if we believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised to new life to prove his work was worthy.

This is your chance to repent, if you believe. You can repent of abusing facts to advocate for social ends; you can repent of neglecting evangelism for the sake of making more friends; you can repent of denigrating the authority of the Bible; you can repent of making Jesus into merely a good example.

And I call you to it. I am travelling on business this week, so my availability to moderate the comments here and respond further is severely limited.  I am leaving the comments open only for the sake of fostering further actual dialog here, but if they get out of hand I am sure Dan and Phil will shut them down.  However, if you want to discuss this further in another forum, my e-mail address, as always, is frank@iturk.com.  My thanks for your time and consideration.