31 December 2013

Answering Todd Friel about the emblematic charismatic Michael Brown

by Dan Phillips

This is one last (?) overdue bit from the Strange Fire Conference days.

Todd Friel — who actually is, as it turns out, freakishly tall, even next to my > 6' — asked me what was characteristically an excellent question. I (equally characteristically) didn't have an excellent immediate answer. I murmured something, stammered, and said I'd get back to him. Within an hour, I had a much better answer... but I was never able to penetrate the coterie of adoring fans to chat Todd up again. So I promised I'd give it to him this way. And heeere we go.

Todd's question was about Michael Brown. To paraphrase, it's this: here's this professedly Christian brother who's well-studied in many ways, right on a number of issues... but we say he's dead-wrong when it comes to Charismaticism. So what do we do with him? How do we see him? False teacher, erring brother, what?

In response: first, I concur that Brown's very well-studied, better than many with whom I agree on a greater array of doctrinal areas. I've used Brown's set of books on objections to Jesus as Messiah with profit. Indeed I was stunned to find that someone as learned as Brown had identified himself with as troubled (and troubling) a denomination as AoG. Yet when I hear him speak, Brown pulls out Hebrew and Greek from memory — accurately, and accurately-pronounced — as very few popular speakers can do.

An aside: this is the downside of reading the Bible in Hebrew and Greek for ~40 years. It is painfully obvious when some well-known folks attempt a Hebrew or Greek word in a message — painfully obvious, I say, that they're just trying to approximate a transliteration they read in a commentary. It's what a Brit must feel when a Yank misuses a Britishism, or affects an appalling attempt at an English accent. When Brown whips out a Hebrew or Greek word or phrase, he nails it. It's evident that he's studied the original. That's very apparent, and it's very much to Brown's credit.

So how to class Brown, given that he's thrown in with the wholly-wrongheaded movement, a schism responsible for some of the most harmful setbacks, distractions, and errors in Christian history?

Here's my best attempt:

Suppose you have a sister you love dearly.  Dear lady, good sister, many shared memories and values and loves. But then, as sometimes happens, she falls for this total loser of a jerk. Appalled, you try to talk to her; you reason and beg and plead. You even warn. But it seems like the more you reach out to her, the more tightly she wraps her arms around this odoriferous trainwreck of a man.

His name, of course, is Cary. You know, like Cary Grant? Only it's Cary S. Maddick. Yeah, sorry. Anyway.

Bad as that is, it gets even worse. You know for a fact that this Cary guy has a long and sordid past. There's airtight evidence of his collusion in a series of crimes and atrocities, though somehow he's managed to elude the authorities every time. What's worse, you find out that he can't be trusted around women, or even children. Given the opportunity, he'll work his way with them, corrupt them, and ruin them.

Now you find yourself living in a nightmare. You love your sister dearly; you're just sick with concern and regret for her bad choices. Your sister herself is welcome at your home any time, for any reason. But you've got kids, and you've got girlfriends who also come by to visit. If sister is there, Cary is there too. How could you in any way expose them to him?

So you tell your sister, "I love you. You can come any time you like. You're welcome here. But Cary is not, not ever, not under any circumstances. Don't bring him, and don't talk about him with those googly, swoony eyes you get. I don't want anyone I care about coming anywhere near Cary, or vice-versa. The man is poison."

"Oh come on," sis says. "You're blowing this way out of proportion. Cary's not that bad. He's grown. In fact, he's the best thing that ever happened to me. He's totally changed my life for the better. I'm liberated and happy, because of Cary. I think everyone should know him, and I want everyone to know him. If I come, he comes; if he goes, I go. I'm proud of him, and I'll tell the world. You can never part us."

Feel better? Has sister reassured you? Not so much?

So what do you do? As I say, it's a nightmare.

I think what you do is you love your sister, you pray for her, you long for her... but as long as (and to the degree that) she's twitterpated with this corrupt, pustulent, corrupting louse, she's going to have to stay away from anyone you care about, and you're going to have to warn everyone who knows her.

Make sense?

Now, I could massage this even further to get more service out of it. Suppose your sister is an excellent dance-instructor. People ask you if you'd recommend her. What do you say?

Well, on the one hand, there's no denying that she's really, really good at what she does. And you do love her.

But on the other hand, if they go hang around your sister, even if it's only for dance, they're going to meet Cary. Because she's made it clear: she's not apologetic about Cary, she's not embarrassed about Cary, she sees no harm in Cary. Perversely, she's proud of him...or so she insists, with significantly protesteth-too-much shrillness. She thinks he's the best thing since DVDs. Better. She wants everyone to know Cary. She'll use the dance-connection to bring out dear ol' Cary and introduce him around.

So, back to Brown and folks like him: yep, what he's good at, he's really good at... as he will tell you, over and over. This is despite Brown's lamentable charismaticism. But though often rebuked, Brown is stiffening his neck, and doubling down on what a powerful source for wonderfulness charismaticism is. If someone, with charitable motives, tries to say what I just said ("despite"), Brown will promptly correct that person. So we won't be looking for Brown to soft-pedal it.

Michael Brown may be a really good guy in many ways. But he's gotten tangled up with something that is a real nightmare, and he's doubling-down. I wish it weren't so; but ah, what a different world it would be if wishes were realities. The reality of the situation can't be shrugged off.

IN CONCLUSION: I don't know that this answer will make anyone happy. Giving it doesn't make me happy; having the situation doesn't make me happy.

But it is the best way I know how to yoke together three horses that want to pull in different directions: affection for a brother in Christ as such; appreciation for a brother's accomplishments; and necessary and appropriate horror and alarm over the harmful doctrine to which he insists on wedding himself.

SPECIAL NOTE TO FIRST-TIME COMMENTERS: since I have to keep deleting repeated attempts to comment off-topic from folks who apparently (A) haven't read the post, and (B) haven't read even the first comment, I lift two from the meta and put them here:
Commenters should note the premise/starting point of the post. It isn't, "What do we make of Charismaticism?" It is, rather, "Given that Charismaticism is a harmful error, what do we make of a beloved brother who very loudly and repeatedly insists on being identified with it?"
I continue to have to delete comments apparently responding to some other post, some post that begins "Hi! This is the first post this blog has ever done on continuationism! I wonder what to think of it. Would you please tell me?"
This is not that post.
Please, before commenting, READ THIS POST and at least the first comment. Then comment on it.
You're welcome.

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29 December 2013

O God, look at Christ instead of me!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Able to the Uttermost, pages 175-76, Pilgrim Publications.
"We have no comeliness, but He gives us all His beauty. When He took us He took us as we were, but He made us to be as He is." 

And now when the Lord does look upon Christ what does He see in Him? I want you to think this over. I won’t try and put it in many words, but leave it for your own private meditation. It is a subject of that sort. I, being in Christ, desire God the Father to look at Christ instead of me.

Why? Why, because, first, when the Lord looks at Jesus Christ He sees in Him His own self, for the Lord Christ is God and one with the Father, and by a wonderful and mysterious union not to be explained; so that when He looks upon His Son He must look with ineffable love and affection because He is looking upon the godhead—the perfect godhead—in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is something delightful in that—that the godhead stands for me, and God in looking at my representative sees Himself. He cannot see anything there but what shall be to Himself well pleasing. But then He sees in Christ perfect manhood. When the Lord thinks of manhood is not there enough to make Him feel weary at His heart of the very name?

Remember how, before the time of the Flood, it repented Him that He had made man upon the face of the earth; and many a time, surely, if the Lord had been as we are, we should have been destroyed.

Manhood! It must be coupled in God’s mind with everything that is ungrateful, unnatural, vain, foolish, wanton, wicked. Shocking word, the word manhood! But now when the Lord looks upon His Son, He sees perfect manhood—manhood that never had a trace of sin about it—manhood the same as ours with this one exception, that it has never gone astray in thought or word or deed.

God sees there what manhood can accomplish—manhood that has obeyed His law without a single flaw—manhood that has suffered for God’s glory, suffered even unto death. And God loves man because there is such a man as Christ Jesus—that there should be a possibility of a creature being made like man who should be able sinlessly to suffer, which I suppose angels could not do.

God looks, therefore, upon manhood on account of what Christ has been and is, and looks upon it still with love.

27 December 2013

"Putting our passions into proper perspective"

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 January 2011. The topic was genuine versus artificial passion, and what lies behind each.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
When we consider Christ as the very incarnation of divine glory, it ought to put all our other passions into proper perspective. It ought to make us ashamed that our focus is so far off and we are not really passionate about the one thing that ought to excite us the most.

We imitate all the world's passions. We invent gimmicks to try to win worldly people by appealing to whatever mania has captured our culture's attention at the moment. We devote our energies and our emotions to things that are not even worthy of our attention. We do things to stir artificial passion—which is an especially sinister form of false worship.

Our passions should not need to be whipped up by spiritual cheerleaders and stadium chants. We shouldn't have to be worked into an emotional state by hype and melodrama and musical manipulation. If we can get pumped to a fever pitch by some rock-star pastor's antics rather than by the truth of the biblical message, then whatever we are feeling isn't even a legitimate passion in the first place.

Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming. With so many churches merely trying to entertain people, or lull them into a state of self-satisfaction, or simply gross them out, it's no wonder the world is not being won to Christ but actually becoming steadily more hostile to Christianity.

By the way, the passions stirred by a clear vision of God's glory aren't necessarily warm and comforting. It's not always a good feeling. In fact, it is much more likely that the first time someone catches a glimpse of God's glory, the result will be intense fear. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Do a study on this in Scripture and take note of how people usually respond when they first see God for who He is. They fall on their faces in sheer terror. Almost every time.

God's glory also provokes profound amazement and wonder. Sometimes it's delight and rejoicing. (Peter fell on his face and confessed his sin when he first began to realize who Jesus was. But he sounded almost giddy when he saw Christ's glory unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration.) All of those are legitimate emotions, and if they are real, they will make a lasting difference in us—something more than an impressive display of arm-raising and swaying with closed eyes during the song service; and something more credible than the pseudo-drunken behavior that has become such a plague in recent years.

Artificial religious enthusiasm is the bane of our age, and it's a powerful detriment to the church's testimony. There is perhaps no more reprehensible variey of raw hypocrisy.

On the other hand, if we really grasped and meditated on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Christ, we would never need any artificial gimmicks to stir our passions, and we certainly would never dream that we needed to try to make God seem "cooler" or more appealing than He actually is.

24 December 2013

6-Part Harmony

by Frank Turk (hiatus nothwithstanding)

If you have 15 minutes on Christmas morning, and you want the Bible to remind you why you're about to celebrate, please feel free to use this harmony of Scripture to get your heart and mind right.

God Bless you all, and Merry Christmas.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
    "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son"?
And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
    "Let all God's angels worship him."
Of the angels he says,
    "He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire."
But of the Son he says,
    "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to her. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But Mary was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God. … For nothing will be impossible with God." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
    "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.

A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. (this fulfilled what the prophet Micah had said, "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days." And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

And at the end of eight days, when [the child] was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

(they said this because the prophet Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, and he did not go, as at other times, to look for omens, but set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said,
    "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;")
After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

22 December 2013

The stooping down of Godhead

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 Christ's Incarnation, pages 54-55, Pilgrim Publications.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ is, in some senses, more completely man than Adam ever was." 

Adam was not born; he was created as a man. Adam never had to struggle through the risks and weaknesses of infancy; he knew not the littlenesses of childhood,—he was full-grown at once. Father Adam could not sympathize with me as a babe and a child. But how manlike is Jesus!

He does not begin with us in mid-life, as Adam did; but He is cradled with us, He accompanies us in the pains, and feebleness, and infirmities of infancy, and He continues with us even to the grave.

There is sweet comfort in the thought that He who is this day God, was once an infant; so that, if my cares are little, and even trivial and comparatively infantile, I may go to Him with them, for He was once a child.

Though the great ones of the earth may sneer at the child of poverty, and say, “You are too mean for us to notice, and your trouble is too slight to evoke our pity;” I recollect, with humble joy, that the King of Heaven was wrapped in swaddling-bands, and carried in a woman’s arms; and therefore I may tell Him all my griefs.

How wonderful that He should have been an infant, and yet should be God, blessed for ever! The Holy Child Jesus bridges the great gulf between me and God. There was never a subject of sweeter song than this,—the stooping down of Godhead to the feebleness of manhood.

When God manifested His power in the works of His hands, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy; but when God manifests Himself, what music shall suffice for the grand psalm of adoring wonder? When wisdom and power are seen, these are but attributes of Deity; but in the Incarnation of Christ, it is the Divine Person Himself who is revealed, though He is, in a measure, hidden in our inferior clay.

Well might Mary sing, when earth and Heaven even now are wondering at the condescending grace by which “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

20 December 2013

"The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us--permanently"

by Dan Phillips

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

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

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2006. The topic was the contrast between God's various temporary "dwellings" among us, and the permament "dwelling" accomplished in the birth of Christ.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Mirabile dictu, sometimes fancy-schmantzy words are actually useful. One such is metanarrative. The metanarrative is the grand, overarching story tying together and giving meaning to apparently disparate tales...The Bible's metanarrative is something like this: man flees from the presence of God, and God acts to restore man to His presence.

Focus with me on a single word that first appears in Genesis 3:24. It is the Hiph`il (causitive) imperfect form of the root sh-k-n, dwell. Most English versions have something like that God "placed" or "stationed" cherubim at the entrance to the garden; more woodenly the Rotherham has that God "caused to dwell" (cf. Young's Literal Translation). The cherubim dwelt at the entrance, so that man could no longer dwell in God's presence in the garden.

Fast-forward to another theologically weighty occurrence of sh-k-n. It is in Exodus 24:16a—"The glory of the LORD dwelt [sh-k-n] on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days." This was an awesome sight, etched into the minds of those present. But it was a temporary dwelling, a passing presence, if you will.

However, on this occasion, Yahweh immediately gives instructions to make possible a more abiding dwelling place: "Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it." The word translated "tabernacle" is mishkan, which is simply the root sh-k-n with the letter mem prefixed. In Hebrew, a prefixed "m" often denotes the place where something happens. Hence z-b-ch is "sacrifice," m-z-b-ch is an altar, a place where sacrifice takes place.

Fast forward to that day we mark each year on December 25. A baby was born that day. The Bible gives no support to superstitions of any miraculous means of birth. It was not the birth that was miraculous. No, it was the conception that was miraculous, as the seemingly oxymoronic prophecy of a pregnant virgin was fulfilled in young Mary.

What was that, in her womb? Who was it? The angel Gabriel had said to Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). But what is the full meaning of this child's birth?

It is found in what is probably my own favorite Christmas verse, John 1:14. Here is my translation of that verse: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us as in a tent, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the unique One from the Father, full of grace and of truth!" Focus with me for a moment on the single word translated "dwelt...as in a tent." It is the Greek word skenoo. Do you notice anything about that verb? What are its consonants? They are s-k-n, the equivalent (as Greek has no "sh") to the Hebrew word we discussed earlier, sh-k-n (dwell or abide). That word is in fact used often in the Old Testament, both in verbal and noun form, for both the Hebrew shakan and mishkan.

John is telling us that the passing picture of the Tabernacle has become eternal truth in Jesus Christ. In this baby, God Himself has tabernacled—permanently. He has come to be Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14), in the fullest sense. He has come to do in truth what was previously done only in picture-form: to dwell among us, to make atonement and propitiation for our sins, to cleanse us from their defilement, to give light to our darkness, food to our souls, and to make intercession for us. The shadow has become substance. In Jesus the presence of God is restored, and that fully and permanently.

Jesus Christ is both the fulcrum and the goal of the Bible's metanarrative. He restores the presence of God to us, and us to the presence of God. In Him God has come near, does come near, and shall come near forever.

18 December 2013

Proverbs book now available for pre-order on Logos

by Dan Phillips

A number of you have been interested in getting God's Wisdom in Proverbs in Logos format... well, including me! The good news is that now it's available for pre-order at Logos for under $16. Moneywise, this is the best time to order a book from Logos.

Since publication, folks have asked about getting the book on Kindle. As I've always said, I don't think this would be the best book for Kindle (of which I know no plans), given all the FOOTnotes. But (I've always said) I think it'd be perfect for Logos.

And now... here y'go!

It didn't ruin my day much to get this congrats from someone who bought both my books:
Let me ask you a favor, if I may. Many of you have used the book and encouraged me with the ways in which it's been helpful to you. Would you mind going over to Logos and rating it, and reviewing it so that folks will know why they should pre-order the book? I'd appreciate it.

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17 December 2013

Book review — James: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, by William Varner

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2012)

This book is another addition to Logos' growing Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson previously, and will refer you thither to come up to speed about the aim and focus of this series. I really think EEC has tremendous promise, and love the facets of the books' layout for each section:
  • Introduction
  • Outline
  • Original Text
  • Textual Notes
  • Translation
  • Commentary
  • Biblical Theology Comments
  • Application and Devotional Implications
This is a genius design. All those strengths are present in this volume by Varner, minus Derickson's lamentable weakness for Hodges' gutless-grace views.

That author, William Varner, is a professor of Bible and Greek at The Master’s College, guides tours in Israel, has authored a number of books, and pastors the Sojourners Fellowship at Grace Community Church. He's written before on James, on the Psalms, and on Jesus as Messiah. Here Varner incorporates some of his earlier material on James in a full-orbed commentary.

The book opens eye-catchingly:
After four hundred years of languishing in a backwater of neglect that was largely influenced by the opinions of two German “Martins,” the Letter of James is finally emerging into the light of serious scholarly attention.
The two "Martins" are Luther and Dibelius. Varner himself thoroughly engages the literature on James, old and new, as witnessed by 852 footnotes. Given the wealth of writing on James, though — including thirty significant commentaries in the past 40 years — why another? Varner answers:
‎Some may wonder if there is anything more that needs to be said about James. I can only say that there will always be a need for good commentaries on a biblical text, because “God yet has light to spring forth from His word” (attributed to a Pilgrim pastor). Furthermore, the application of fresh linguistic methods to exegetical analysis demands an occasional fresh look at familiar biblical passages.
One of the specifics I found most interesting and educational was Varner's emphasis on James' prominence in the early church. Before reading him, asked who the prominent leaders were, I would have answered "Peter and Paul." But Varner asserts that research on James "has led to a new perspective on James the leader and also on James the letter. There is still a need for a fresh reading of the James materials, and to that end results of my own fresh reading are offered."

For instance, Varner notes that
‎A careful reading of Luke’s account in Acts and Paul’s comments in Galatians fully supports the idea that James was not merely a significant leader in the early church and not just the leader of the Jerusalem church, but that he was the leader of the church. The implications of this fact are significant not only for the Roman Catholic attitude toward Peter, but also for the Protestant evangelical attitude toward Paul.
Ironically, Varner observes that it was a chapter written by still another “German Martin” (Hengel) that first raised the possibility of a new perspective on James.‎

So what is the "new perspective on James"?
The argument is that after the Pentecostal effusion James rose quickly to a parity of leadership with the traditional apostles and by the early forties was the leader, although as a primus inter pares (“first among equals”), not only of the Jerusalem church (a point usually recognized) but of the entire Jesus movement. If a stranger arrived in Jerusalem or in Antioch between the years A.D. 40–62 and asked, “Who is the person in charge of this movement?” any knowledgeable Christian, including Peter or John or Paul, would have answered without hesitation, “James.”
Vaerner also points out neglected indications of James' priority, such as the fact that apart from alluding to "the tribe of Christians" in the Flavian Testimony about Christ, James is the only NT church figure Josephus mentions.

Varner sees James as "‎probably the first NT document written and the first Christian writing of any kind," written about 46-48. He has a good section on literary connections with the OT, notes the absence of allusion to cultic elements, and notes the frequent resorting to Lev. 19 connected with Christian specifics, ‎which "suggests the function of James as a sort of halakhic midrash (“commentary”) on Leviticus 19." He also includes a solid survey of James' relationship to 2nd Temple literature.

A judicious section on James' theology counters Dibelius' assertion that James "has no theology," as well as criticisms of un-Christian/Christless orientation. I was helped by Varner's observation that "allusions to the oral teaching of Jesus are so abundant that it is not going beyond the evidence to call James the most Jesus-soaked book in the NT after the Gospels" (emphasis added).

Further on that subject, Varner discusses standards of identification, and says that
‎When we realize...the thorough way in which Jesus’ teachings permeate the writing, we could conclude that, after the Gospels, James is the most Jesus-centered book in the NT canon. While Paul theologizes about Jesus, he displays a measured interest in the teachings of Jesus (Acts 20:30). However, almost every point that James makes is grounded in or illustrated by an adapted saying or aphorism that echoes in some way a logion of his brother.
He shows by a table how "‎the teaching of Jesus in some way influences every paragraph of the book." Later, in the commentary, this perspective often "pays off," as in his treatment of 2:5. Varner uses this as an occasion to delve into reflections of Jesus' words in James, probing "layers at which many commentators cease exploring." For instance he sees this verse as echoing Matt 5:3//Lk 6:20b, and says "‎It is more than a chance similarity because both Jesus and James mention the poor as recipients and heirs of the kingdom."
How does Varner deal with the perceived clash between James and Paul? He laments, "Rarely has reading James apart from its being a foil for Pauline theology ever really taken place." He also says, very pointedly: "If either Paul or James is opposing the other, neither has done a very good job, because neither addresses the central point of the other’s argument." Specifically, James' "concern is not 'Should a person have faith?' but rather 'When is faith dead and when is it alive?'"

As Varner later observes:
James and Paul are not opponents facing each other with swords drawn. They are standing with their backs to each other, each drawing swords as they face a different opponent.
Aside: a helpful feature of this book is a list of foreign and technical words. Oddly, however, in discussing James' literary type, Varner uses the uncommon word "protreptic" and doesn't define it or list it later appendix.

In his commentary, Varner shows that he is a very attentive reader of James, frequently featuring judicious observations on James' use of word linkage, catchwords, and alliteration, as well as employment of discourse analysis. And though very scholarly, Varner writes with a pastoral eye. Note his comment on 1:2 —
‎The salutation of 1:1 might sound like a mockery to those who were suffering under various trials, but James proceeds to show that these very trials are grounds for joy. For this thought, see also Matthew 5:10–15 and 1 Peter 4:12–14, where the teaching is that suffering is not strange or foreign to the Christian life, but is a part of the training for glory. Therefore, χαίρετε [rejoice]! The idea is exemplified by the disciples in Acts 5:41: “… rejoicing (χαίροντες) that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for the name.” “Joy is the proper perspective for the test of faith: ‘consider it sheer joy.’ This joy, however, is not the detachment of the Greek philosopher (4 Macc 9–11), but the eschatological joy of those expecting the intervention of God in the end of the age (Jud. 8:25)” (Davids, 67–68).
Every word and every turn of James' syntax receives thorough analysis and documentation. Varner's style of writing is solid and broadly accessible. Sometimes, it's just plain fun. For instance, after a very technical exegesis of 1:5-8, in the Biblical Theology Comments Varner refers to "‎Mr. Facing Both Ways" from Pilgrim's Progress. Also, Varner calls the χρυσοδακτύλιος of 2:3 "Mr. 'Goldfinger'"! And how many other technical, exegetical commentaries on James will reference Cool Hand Luke, as Varner later does?

One interpretive quibble I might voice is on 1:5-8, where I would have liked to see Varner more explicitly counter the (mis-)reader who would take this as a prescription for mysticism. (My own attempt to do this can be found in God's Wisdom in Proverbs, 107-126.)

Despite the thoroughness of the volume, I might have wished for more, here and there. For instance, still with the stench of Hodges' influence over the commentary on the Johannine epistles, on 2:26 I would have liked to see Varner interact with the pernicious idea that the faith being dead means that this faith was once alive, so it's really saving faith, just not robust in-fellowship faith. You know, it isn't really really dead, it's just restin', just pinin' for the Fjords. Yuck. Varner clearly does not hold that view but, as I say, I'd have liked to see specific engagement and annihilation.

I would have liked more comment on the grammatical force of the aorist passive imperative in 4:10 (ταπεινώθητε — get yourselves humbled?). How do I actively obey the command to receive an action? However, in the Biblical Theology comment section Varner does say:
To “humble ourselves before the Lord” means to recognize our own spiritual poverty, to acknowledge consequently our desperate need of God’s help, and to submit to His commanding will for our lives. As was already mentioned, this humility is exemplified in the tax-collector of Jesus’ parable, who because of the consciousness of his own sin, called out to God for mercy. In response, Jesus pronounces him justified, and declares: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). This saying was echoed later in 2 Corinthians 11:7 and 1 Peter 5:6 and becomes part and parcel of the rich series of paradoxes which convey the true nature of the Christian life (e.g., the last shall be first; the slave will be truly free; to die is to live; to be humbled is to be exalted—see the homiletical suggestions below).
Also, I was a little surprised not to read any comment per se on the unusual words ἡ εὐχὴ or τὸν κάμνοντα in the commentary on James 5:15.

If these are even seen as issues, they are minor. The beauty of the EEC series is that Varner easily might expand any of these with ease in future editions. In the course of reading, I found a host of typos, as I had with Derickson, again making me wonder about the thoroughness of the editorial process; but these were submitted to Logos and were or are being corrected — something impossible in hard-copy volumes.

I recommend Varner's commentary on James. Any evangelical pastor who wants to preach or teach on James must have Varner. Happily for you, there's time to get it for your pastor for Christmas! I appreciate Logos providing it to me for my impartial review, and happy to make a hearty recommendation.

Also: I just learned that this volume will be the inaugural volume of the EEC series to be printed as a hard copy.

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15 December 2013

"The eternal Name"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The New Park Street Pulpit, sermon number 27, "The eternal name."
"The scorners have said that we should soon forget to honour Christ, and that one day no man should acknowledge him." 

Now, we assert again, in the words of my text, “His name shall endure for ever,” as to the honour of it. Yes, I will tell you how long it will endure.

As long as on this earth there is a sinner who has been reclaimed by Omnipotent grace, Christ’s name shall endure; as long as there is a Mary ready to wash his feet with tears and wipe them with the hair of her head; as long as there breathes a chief of sinners who has washed himself in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleaness; as long as there exists a Christian who has put his faith in Jesus, and found him his delight, his refuge, his stay, his shield, his song, and his joy, there will be no fear that Jesus’ name will cease to be heard.

We can never give up that name. We let the Unitarian take his gospel without a Godhead in it; we let him deny Jesus Christ; but as long as Christians—true Christians, live, as long as we taste that the Lord is gracious, have manifestations of his love, sights of his face, whispers of his mercy, assurances of his affection, promises of his grace, hopes of his blessing, we cannot cease to honour his name.

But if all these were gone—if we were to cease to sing his praise, would Jesus Christ’s name be forgotten then? No; the stones would sing, the hills would be an orchestra, the mountains would skip like rams, and the little hills like lambs; for is he not their creator?

And if these lips, and the lips of all mortals were dumb at once, there are creatures enough in this wide world besides. Why, the sun would lead the chorus; the moon would play upon her silver harp, and sweetly sing to her music; stars would dance in their measured courses; the shoreless depths of ether would become the home of songs; and the void immensity would burst out into one great shout, “Thou art the glorious Son of God; great is thy majesty, and infinite thy power.”

Can Christ’s name be forgotten? No; it is painted on the skies; it is written on the floods; the winds whisper it; the tempests howl it; the seas chant it; the stars shine it; the beasts low it; the thunders proclaim it; earth shouts it; heaven echoes it.

But if that were gone—if this great universe should all subside in God, just as a moment’s foam subsides into the wave that bears it and is lost for ever—would his name be forgotten then? No. Turn your eyes up yonder; see heaven’s terra firma. “Who are these that are arrayed in white, and whence came they?” “These are they that came out of great tribulation; they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore they are before the throne of God, and praise him day and night in his temple.”

And if these were gone; if the last harp of the glorified had been touched with the last fingers; if the last praise of the saints had ceased; if the last hallelujah had echoed through the then deserted vaults of heaven, for they would be gloomy then; if the last immortal had been buried in his grave,—if graves there might be for immortals—would his praise cease then?

No, by heaven! no; for yonder stand the angels; they too sing his glory; to him the cherubim and seraphim do cry without ceasing, when they mention his name in that thrice holy chorus, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of armies.” But if these were perished—if angels had been swept away, if the wing of seraph never flapped the ether; if the voice of the cherub never sung his flaming sonnet, if the living creatures ceased their everlasting chorus, if the measured symphonies of glory were extinct in silence, would his name then be lost?

Ah! no; for as God upon the throne he sits, the everlasting One, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And if the universe were all annihilated, still would his name be heard, for the Father would hear it, and the Spirit would hear it, and deeply graven on immortal marble in the rocks of ages, it would stand,—Jesus the Son of God; co-equal with his Father. “His name shall endure for ever.”

13 December 2013

"God With Us"

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

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

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in December 2010. What sort of sign was a baby in a manger? What did God intend to convey by such a sign? Frank offers his thoughts.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Last time I pointed out that the Angels, in speaking to the shepherds in the field on the night Christ was born, pointed them to a sign that it was true that unto them was born a Savior who was Christ, the Lord. And the sign was not a double-rainbow in 3D made of fire and lollipops; it wasn't that their seed money was returned 1000-fold; it wasn't that somehow someone was speaking in the tongues of angels (since plainly: angels were speaking in the tongues of men).

The sign was that there was a baby laid in a manger, wrapped in "swaddling clothes."

I want to linger there a second, because the Greek word there rendered by Luke is "σπαργανόω," which comes from the word "σπαράσσω." It's rightly translated "swaddling clothes," but it means to wrap up in rags -- to wrap up in torn fabric as in to "swaddle" a baby.

swad·dle   [swod-l]
verb, -dled, -dling, noun
–verb (used with object)
1. to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.

2. to wrap (anything) round with bandages.

3. a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging.

So the sign the Angels point to is this baby placed in a feeding trough wrapped up in rags -- rags which might be for babies, or for the wounded. Maybe for the dead.

So that's the sign at Christmas -- the sign at the birth of Christ: there's a baby born not in a temple or a castle or some lofty estate, but born so low as to be born with the poorest of the poor, in a stable among animals. And his garments are not fine cloth or soft linens: they're rags that are only good enough for a baby's back-end business or to wrap the sick and dying in.

So what to think of this? Here are three things to think about as you get on with your Christmas:

1. In that sign, it is clear that God is with us.

That's the ultimate promise YHVH makes to Israel -- when the savior is born, he will be "Emmanuel - God with us." And the Angels point out that the sign to the Shepherds is that this child is born of no account at all -- above no one in the world. This wouldn't be so true if Jesus had been born in Solomon's courts -- because as the Prince of the nation, he would be above so many and unreachable by them.

2. In that sign, it is clear that God loves us.

Jesus gave up Heaven for a stable so that, as he said to the disciples, he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. For us.

That's actually how we know what love is: the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

3. In that sign, God clears up everything He has been saying for the past 2 or 3 millennia.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son -- the one who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word...God makes everything He said come true in the birth of a child in a barn because there was no room at the Inn.

All the ideas of blessing: rolled up in swaddling clothes.

All the ideas about being chosen by God: laying in a manger.

All those judgments and warnings in the Old Testament: now in the hands of a mother who admitted she didn't understand these things, but submitted to them and considered them in her heart.

All the promises: in poverty, to the least of these, with the least of these.

All the power: not considering equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, but rather, made nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.

Here in the manger is the very clarification of all God meant -- because he is here in this world as it is created.

12 December 2013

Don't "try"

by Dan Phillips

I imagine that every pastor (and most Christians) runs into this. Someone is dealing with a significant, longterm issue — depression, marital friction, scary children, what-have-you. The person sketches out his woes in moving, saddening detail, with great feeling and emotion. You listen with compassion.

Then you interact, sharing your concern and care, and communicating God's word. Let's say for the sake of a post's length (which, after all, is not a doctoral dissertation) that the issues involved are fairly clearcut, and directly addressed by Scripture. You bring the Scripture out, you discuss it, you discuss implementation and application.

And either at that moment, or at the next conversation, you hear it: "I tried that."

If you're geek enough, perhaps you silently think...

Of course the green Muppet has a point. I liked the story I heard of the psychologist who, confronted with the "I'll try" response, would throw a $20 bill on the floor and say "Try to pick that up." Point made.

Except that isn't my point.

Here's my point: in a situation such as I've described — and remember, this is my situation; I created it for illustration purposes — the "I've tried" response is very revealing, and not in a happy way.

Walking with God isn't something you try. Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might is not something you try. Loving your neighbor as yourself isn't something you try. The fear of Yahweh, living in the fear of Yahweh all day, living as in the presence of God, continuing in the word of Christ, abiding in Christ — these aren't things we try.

These are the calls of God on us. They reflect the way the world really is. To have a relationship with God is to go in those directions; not to do so is to live a doomed lie. All of these are facets of the life to which God calls us. They are descriptions of where we are going, where we must be going, if we are in Christ.

What I am afraid the "I tried that" response often reveals is a fundamental misunderstanding of all that. I am afraid it reveals that the person thinks of Christian living as a technique, a means to achieve an end. Particularly, in many of the specifics I have in mind, it is a means to achieve the end of making others treat me in a certain way.

So take the husband with the shrewish, emasculating wife. Say you counsel with him to love his wife as Christ loves the church, regardless of her behavior. Say you open up in Biblical depth and breadth all that means, and you relate it to the Gospel as you should.

Sometime later, he once again begins listing off to you a long and lurid narrative of his wife's crimes and misdemeanors. He goes on and on. The subtext seems to be: she's so awful, I'm so mistreated.

You stop him, and remind him of the call of Scripture on him. The conversation you already had.

"Oh, yeah. I tried that," he says.

Well then. There you go. You see? He thought you were giving him a way to make his wife behave, to make her treat him the way she should. He tried it. She didn't. What now?

That's the misunderstanding, and it's a deep one. As I read the Gospels, as I read 1 Peter, as I read the whole Bible, a Gospel-grounded, Christ-centered life is what we're called to live no matter what anyone else does.

Specifically, as a pastor, preaching the Word is definitional and non-negotiable for me, in fair weather and foul, open ears or itching ears, crowds flooding in or crowds bailing out. It isn't something I "try," and then if my church doesn't get big quickly, I reach around for something else. As a husband, loving my wife as Christ loves the church is definitional and non-negotiable. It isn't something I "try." Ditto my calling as a father, a church-member, a friend.

So, the next time you hear (or say) "I tried that," don't shrug it off. It may be a telling symptom of a major maladjustment in orientation.

We're not called to try. We're called to die, and to live again.

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10 December 2013

Is God the worst girlfriend, ever?

by Dan Phillips

Men, at our worst (and, some would say unkindly, at our best) can be rather cheeseheaded. We don't do it on purpose, usually; it's just the way we are. Women, at their worst, can be a pretty impatient about it.

And so you have the classic scene playing out something like this:
Poor Dullard: Wait — you're angry, aren't you?
Angry Shrew (icily): Oh? You're so perceptive. What gave me away?
PD: So... you are mad. Why? What did I do?
AS: (furious silence)
PD (growing desperate): What? I don't have any idea. I thought I was doing what you wanted. What did I do?
AS (deadly calm): Oh, I think you know.
PD (whites showing around eyes): I don't know! How could I know? I don't know! Just tell me.
AS: If you loved me, I wouldn't have to tell you.
Is God like that?

Oh, a reader might scoff, nobody thinks God is like that.

I would agree that nobody says he thinks that God is like that, but there is a whole school of thought that insinuates that God is exactly like that. Like that, indeed, and much, much worse.

This is the subjective-revelation school, the pinprick-individual-semi-revealed-will-of-God school. Most Charismatics hold this, and all Blackaby fans are bound to it. If you haven't, I'd urge to your read the multi-part takedown (starting here), where I laid out the approach and showed the disastrous pastoral implications that advocates never deal with.

On this school, you can (theoretically) be doing everything you know God wants you to do, out of deeply Biblical, Spirit-breathed faith and love — and walk right out of God's will. You can marry the wrong person, take the wrong job, turn the wrong direction, buy the wrong car, and be out of God's perfect will for your life for the rest of your life. In my Proverbs book I tell the tale of the woman who told her daughter that she'd married the wrong man — meaning she was out of God's best will, forever — and meaning that her daughter should never have been born!

She had, to my knowledge, violated no Scripture in marrying this man. He wasn't an unbeliever, he wasn't married to someone else. He was human. He was of the opposite sex. But she was convinced she hadn't read the signals right. She hadn't caught the arched eyebrow, the pursed lips, the slight tilt of the head, the tense posture, the icy tone. She hadn't divined the Divine properly. And now there was Hell to pay for it for the rest of her life, a Hell into which she now had pulled her daughter.

This is the popular image of God, as Worst. Girlfriend. Ever.

By contrast we have the God of the Bible, who spoke to the fathers in the prophets and, in the last of these days, spoke to us in one who was His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). This God has told us in so many words absolutely everything we need to know in order to be saved, and to be fully-equipped to serve Him (2 Tim. 3:15; see also this post, and this sermon).

If something is important to the real, living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — He has told us. We've got it in writing, and it binds and informs and guides us sufficiently (1 Cor. 14:37).

Beyond that, if He wants something done, He is more than capable of doing it without subjecting us to the bondage of abusive-girlfriend treatment, by His sovereign working of all things in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), by which even bad events serve His purpose (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28).

Brothers and sisters chained to mysticism, find out what it really means to trust God, and to have a relationship with Him. It's freeing, and wonderful.

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08 December 2013

The separated life

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 Able to the Uttermost, pages 100-101, Pilgrim Publications.
"Now, if we are God’s, let us maintain the separated life."

I do not know any practical truth that wants preaching more to-day than this—that God’s saints must be separated from the world. Now, nonconformity—you may say what you will of that, but one thing is certain, that nonconformity to the world is the badge of the Christian. “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed.”

I wish that all Nonconformists were more non-conforming to the world. And oh, that all professors of religion were more distinct from the rest of the world! Whenever you make the lines of demarcation between the Church and the world to be indistinct, you do both the Church and the world a serious damage.

The Flood was probably brought upon this world because the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and so there was a blending of the two, and the distinction ceased. Then God swept the whole population away.

“Ye are the salt of the earth.” “Ye are the light of the world.” “What communion hath light with darkness ?” “What concord hath Christ with Belial ?” How can you eat at the table of the Lord and
then eat at the table of the devil? How can you be Christians and yet be worldlings? “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”

There must be the separation, for “no man can serve two masters: either he will love the one and hate the other, or else he will despise the one and cleave to the other.” “Ye cannot,” says Christ, “serve God and Mammon.”

“Come ye out from among them. Be ye separate. Touch not the unclean thing, and I will be a father unto you; and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord God Almighty.”

06 December 2013

"A simple declaration of truth"

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 April 2008. The topic was Paul's approach to addressing the Areopagus.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Paul declared the truth in the Areopagus without apology, without undue respect for their academic stature, and without artificial deference to their points of view. He preached the gospel; he did not sponsor a colloquium about it. In the synagogue and marketplace of Athens, Paul had engaged in discussions and debates about the gospel (Acts 17:17), but these were no doubt the typical sort of give-and-take every open-air evangelist would have with hecklers, inquisitive people, people under conviction, and people who are simply curious. Paul would have answered any questions or objections that came to him. It is inconceivable that he might have been holding round-table discussions with the goal of finding "common ground" and winning Athenians with persuasive words of human wisdom.

Especially now that he had his foot in the door and an audience with the Areopagus, he wasn't going to say, "Let's talk about this. I'm interested in learning more about your approach to the spiritual disciplines and your ideas about ethics. And tell me what you guys think about the God of Abraham, and maybe we can learn from one another."

Instead, he homes in on the very heart of what he wants them to know. He is preaching here, not inviting a conversation. Here's the start of his sermon: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (vv. 24-27).

Notice: this is a simple declaration of truth, not an offer to exchange ideas. He starts with the basic principles of theology proper. He declares that God is creator ("God . . . made the world and everything in it"). That's the essential starting place of all biblical truth. He affirms the authority of God ("He is Lord of heaven and earth"). He affirms the spirituality of God to these materialistic philosophers ("[He] does not dwell in temples made with hands"). And he affirms the sufficiency of God, His sovereignty, His transcendence, His imminence, and His power as the giver and sustainer of all life. It's a remarkable course in theology proper in a very brief economy of words. And all of it was flatly contradictory to what these philosophers believed.

But there's no give-and-take exchange of opinions. Paul does not act deferential in the presence of these great minds. He does not assume a false humility and pretend he's just a truth seeker on his own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way. He declares the truth of God to them with authority and conviction. He does not use the conversational style and subdued demeanor most people today think we need to use so that we're not thought arrogant.

05 December 2013

How God gives us hope

by Dan Phillips

We read this in Romans 15:4 —
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The end-product is hope. Hope is a vital theme for Paul. He says we were saved in hope, and live in hope (Rom. 8:24-25). But how do we have hope?

Many might say we should pray for it, and that's not in itself a bad idea. It could, however, become a bad idea if that's all we do. In fact, it could become a terrible idea if that's all we do, if we then go on to lament how distant and uncaring God is because He does not directly instill hope in our hearts by some mysterious unmediated ministry of the Spirit.

In the text cited above, Paul explains how a Christian comes to have hope. It's pretty simple, though the thought is foreign to too much of professed Christianity. To Paul's mind:
  1. In order to have hope, we need Scripture
  2. In order to gain hope from Scripture, we must read it
  3. In order to gain hope from what we read, we must receive instruction
And there you have it. That is how God plants and cultivates hope in our hearts. We read Scripture, read the stories of the lives of past believers and what they suffered in faith (Hebrews 11). We read God's precious promises, and read of His mighty hand and impeccable character. We read, we think, we analyze, we apply, we memorize, we embrace, we cling, we boast.

We hope.

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03 December 2013

Continusmaticism: lunges and ripostes — the research phase

by Dan Phillips

This is probably too ambitious, and I probably don't have the time.

That rousing beginning uttered: Continusmatics keep recycling the same lame challenges and comebacks and evasions that have already been answered over and over. Though each quip has been killed dead more times than Freddy and Jason combined, they're always pulled out of a hat as if they'd just sprung fresh from Zeus' brow, never heard before, never answered even once (let alone myriad times), and always produced with the invincible air of the Aha.

This happens a lot in Twitter, where I guess I get followers (or non-following drive-bys) who don't know who I am and haven't actually read any of the dozens of articles I've ever written on these subjects. So I've taken simply not to wasting my time on folks who don't "follow" me, because there's no context there, and I've no time to do each lazy challenger's research for him.

So in that all, I've often thought it'd be nice just to be able to give a link, say "Read #47," and be done with it. Create a master post, with as many comebacks and/or links as I can manage, maybe let it grow like the Axioms post, and use it.

That's what this is for: research for a future post. To be written, you know, in my spare time.

  1. Anyone (who hasn't been banned) can play. Charismatic, non-, apostolic, third-wave, tenth-degree, 49th parallel, second amendment... whatever. 
  2. But the comment must be one sentence long or I will delete it. Comment as many times as warranted, but each comment must be one sentence long, and must be what the next rule says it must be.
  3. The comment is and must be only something a Charismatic says either to defend, go on offense for, or dodge the implications of his position.
  4. For examples, see below.
Simple, eh? Yeah, I know; "We'll see."

So I'll start it with these examples:
  1. God still heals.
  2. The Bible says "earnestly desire to prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:39)
  3. The Bible says "do not forbid speaking in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:39)
  4. The Bible says "do not despise prophecies" (1 Thess. 5:20)
  5. The Bible says "do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19)
  6. No verse says the gifts have ceased.
  7. No verse says the gifts would cease with the closing of the Canon.
  8. A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.
  9. There were prophecies in the Bible that weren't added to Scripture.
  10. We aren't claiming to write Scripture.
  11. NT prophecy is different from OT prophecy.
  12. Saying that prophecy should be tested and sifted (1 Thess. 5:21) and discerned (1 Cor. 14:29) proves it is different from OT prophecy.
  13. Great Man A had a weird experience that's hard to explain, so the gifts are still around.
  14. Some Continusmatic wrote an answer to your answer of #___.
There y'go. Sound like fun? Depends on you. So have at it, homies.

Dan Phillips's signature

01 December 2013

The long run

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Counsel, pages 38-40, Pilgrim Publications.
"Let no man be deceived with the idea that if he carries out the right, by God’s grace he will prosper in this world as the consequence." 

It is very likely that, for a time at least, his conscientiousness will stand in the way of his prosperity. God does not invariably make the doing of the right to be the means of pecuniary gain to us. On the contrary, it frequently happens that for a time men are great losers by their obedience to Christ.

But the Scripture always speaks as to the long run; it sums up the whole of life—there it promises true riches. If thou wouldst prosper, keep close to the Word of God, and to thy conscience, and thou shalt have the best prosperity.

Thou wilt not see it in a week, nor a month, nor a year, but thou shalt enjoy it ere long. Hundreds have I seen, and I speak within bounds when I speak of that number, who in different times of dilemma have waited upon me, and asked my advice as to what they should do.

I have almost always noticed that those persons who temporise, or attempt to find out a policy of going between, and doing as little wrong as possible, but still just a little, always blunder out of one ditch into another, and their whole life is a life of compromises, of sins, and of miseries; if they do get to heaven they go there slipshod, and with thorns piercing their feet all the way.

But I have noticed others who have come right straight out, and rent away the cords which entangled them, and they have said, “I will do the right, if I die for it”; and though they have had to suffer (I could mention some cases where they have suffered for years, very much to the sorrow of him who gave them the advice upon which they acted, not because he regretted giving them the advice, but regretted that they had to suffer), yet always there has been a turn somewhere or other, and by-and-by they have had to say, “I thank God, after all, notwithstanding all my crosses and losses, that I was led to be faithful to my convictions, for I am a happier man, if not a richer man.”

In some cases they have absolutely been richer men, for after all, even in this world, “honesty is the best policy.” It is a very low way of looking at it, but right and righteousness do in the end, in the long run, get the respect and the esteem of men. The thief, though he takes a short way to get rich, yet takes such a dangerous way that it does not pay; but he who walks straight along the narrow road shall find it to be the shortest way to the best kind of prosperity, both in this world and in that which is to come.

29 November 2013

Christ: Our all-sufficient reason to be thankful

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

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

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in November 2011. Dan reminds us that if we have Christ, we have every reason--in fact, the only necessary reason--to be thankful, whatever our circumstances.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
It is impossible not to think of Americans (or non's) who view our day of Thanksgiving with bitterness. "Yeah, right; easy to say thanks if you're employed, healthy, young, popular, happily married, in a growing and united church, borne on the shoulders of grateful, godly, loving children. And then there's me."

To that person, I'd just say: if you have Jesus Christ, you have reason to overflow with thanks, regardless of your situation.

I don't say this as a theoretician, though I'll not take you with me into the sloughs I've rented over the years. It's an ongoing lesson. So let me just turn to a better, a familiar friend to us all, Charles Spurgeon. One of the greatest, pithiest, truest, most encouraging little points he ever made was a meditation on Jeremiah 31:33 — "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Spurgeon wrote this:

Christian! here is all thou canst require. To make thee happy thou wantest something that shall satisfy thee; and is not this enough? If thou canst pour this promise into thy cup, wilt thou not say, with David, “My cup runneth over; I have more than heart can wish”? When this is fulfilled, “I am thy God”, art thou not possessor of all things? Desire is insatiable as death, but he who filleth all in all can fill it. The capacity of our wishes who can measure? But the immeasurable wealth of God can more than overflow it. I ask thee if thou art not complete when God is thine? Dost thou want anything but God? Is not his all-sufficiency enough to satisfy thee if all else should fail? ...
[W]hat more canst thou hope for than the fulfilment of this great promise, “I will be their God”? This is the masterpiece of all the promises; its enjoyment makes a heaven below, and will make a heaven above.

There it is: "I will be their God" is "the masterpiece of all the promises; its enjoyment makes a heaven below, and will make a heaven above."

Think about it, Biblically. Make yourself, if your feelings aren't "there." Pray for God to help you think about it. What is the lot — the long-term lot — of the person who has everything but that promise to call his own? Family, friends, health, wealth... but God is not his God?

Then think: What is the lot — the long-term lot — of the person who has nothing but that promise to call his own? Little material good... God is his God?

We've worked at unfolding the treasures in that depository over the course of many posts; and we will do so, Lord willing, in many more. But that is it: if you have God as your God, through saving faith in Jesus Christ, then you have reason today for joy and gratitude. Though they matter, this central truth is true no matter how hard, happy, or non-existent your marriage; how thriving or struggling your church; how grateful or treacherous your children; how abundant or feeble your health; how many or few the candles on your birthday-cake.

Wherever you are, whatever your lot, look to Christ your Savior, Christ your Lord, and thank Him today.

You have reason, Christian friend.

I know this for a fact.