24 January 2006

The downside of blogging



Click on the image above to go to the new gangblog.



A major announcement

When I launched this weblog in June, it was intended to be a modest experiment. I knew some of my immediate friends and family could be persuaded to read semi-regularly. I hoped some of the people in my fellowship group at church would want to read and get more insight into the mind of the guy who teaches them on Sundays. And I knew from experience that there are people all over the world who look to the blogosphere as a way to gain information about trends, conflicts, and new ideas in the evangelical world. I figured some of them would read my thoughts, too.

So I guestimated that (in the best-case scenario) the blog might build a readership of some 300 people per day by the time it was a year old—at which time I would be able to decide whether to keep blogging or quit.

I was completely unprepared for the actual number of readers who come daily. In the past week (my slowest posting week ever), PyroManiac racked up some 18,000 hits. That doesn't count the people who download posts via RSS feed.

Of course, more readers equals more comments. More comments bring more critical scrutiny, requiring more follow-up posts, clarifications, rebuttals, and further elucidation. All of that means more work, more stress, and (above all) more time. Before you know it, it's not so much fun anymore.

Blogging with open comments also gives angry or disgruntled people an easy, public opportunity to air whatever complaints they may be nursing against my pastor, my church, my friends, or organizations I'm affiliated with. I don't mind dealing with objective, rational differences of opinion; and I even try to let most of the petty personal attacks slide, as long as I'm the only target. But when someone uses my blog to make a personal attack on others whom I love, that is a major grief.

PyroManiac also seems to have brought people out of the woodwork who have personal axes to grind with me. Recently in unrelated incidents, I corresponded privately with two commenters whose feedback seemed persistently insulting in a much-too-personal way. Turns out both of them were nursing grudges over things they had heard me teach years before I began the blog. I barely knew either of them, and neither had ever tried to discuss their grievances with me personally, but the blog gave them an opportunity to go public and remain at least partly anonymous. Unfortunately, it's been something of a magnet for that sort of hostility.

Meanwhile, I seem to find new and unexpected ways to irritate new people daily. Some of that is unavoidable, of course (Luke 6:26). On most of the matters that we've focused on here at the blog, I have strong convictions and I tend to express my opinion robustly. I'm neither surprised nor offended when people express strong disagreements. What does surprise me, however, is that even when I post on something that ought to be totally non-controversial—a devotional thought, or a lighthearted diary-entry-style item—there always seems to be someone in the wings looking for a reason to pick a fight.

On top of that, blogging tempts me to write when I ought to be reading. It's virtually impossible to do any serious or in-depth study every day and also read all the blogs and blogcomments in my blogroll, while answering all the extra e-mail the blog generates.

My blog has become more than I can handle by myself in my spare time. In order to maintain it by myself and achieve the standard of excellence I want, it would require full-time maintenance. I simply cannot do that, and I don't want it to be mediocre.

If that all sounds like a convincing argument for the closure of PyroManiac, that's what I thought, too.

Instead, I've decided to make a radical change. I think a group blog is the way to go. That way the pressure isn't entirely on me to write every post and answer every question.

So as of this morning, PyroManiac is officially closed. Starting tomorrow noon, you'll find me at a new blogaddress, here, where I've recruited a few friends to help keep the fires burning.

I hope you'll join us there and update your RSS feed. I realize I'm forfeiting my standing with all the blog indexes by changing URLs, but the change fairly demanded a new URL and a new start.

The rest will look very familiar to you, I think—but better. I hope you like it.

And thanks for helping make PyroManiac such a popular stop in the blogosphere.

Phil's signature

23 January 2006

New Theology?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This item is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in the January 1884 issue of The Sword and the Trowel.

There will be no new God, nor a new devil, and we shall never have a new Savior, nor a new atonement: why should we then be either attracted or alarmed by the error and nonsense which everywhere plead for a hearing because they are new?

What is their newness to us; we are not children, nor frequenters of playhouses? Truly, to such a new toy or a new play has immense attractions; but men care less about the age of a thing than about its intrinsic value.

To suppose that theology can be new is to imagine that the Lord himself is of yesterday. A doctrine which is said to have lately become true must of necessity be a lie. Falsehood has no beard, but truth is hoary with an age immeasurable. The old gospel is the only gospel. Pity is our only feeling towards those young preachers who cry, "See my new theology," in just the same spirit as little Mary says, "See my pretty new frock."

C. H. Spurgeon

He was right, of course.

Phil's signature

20 January 2006

Here's where I am now

A few regulars have noticed and commented on the state of torpor at my blog here at week's end. I am not without excuse, but it's a long story.

Here's a quick update that will have to suffice for the moment: I'm away this weekend at a leadership retreat in beautiful Oxnard, California. When I get back, I'm going to announce some significant changes with the blog. Stay tuned.

PS: The link above is a Google Earth placemark that will give you a breathtaking view from a satellite of Oxnard's industrial district. It's safe to open or run. I promise.


Phil's signature

18 January 2006

Does anyone even remember when BlogSpotting was a staple here?

BlogSpottingIt's been so long since I've done this that I practically forgot how. The following short list is by no means a complete record of all the worthwhile links I've found pointing this direction, but it's a good-faith effort at logging as many as possible in the hour I have to devote to blogging tonight:


Two miscellanies on which I want to comment briefly:

  1. A group of scholars at The University of Edinburgh have started an excellent blog called The New College Conventicle as a way of sharing their interest in Puritan history. Here's a wonderful opportunity to eavesdrop on something worthwhile.
  2. There's a considerable amount of chatter in the Christian blogosphere about the new movie telling the story of Nate Saint's martyrdom. The conversation focuses on the Christian film producers' decision to cast Chad Allen, an outspoken gay rights advocate, in the role of Saint. Sharper Iron has had an active forum on the issue, and they are doing a good job of tracking the debate across the blogosphere.
         For those who have inquired as to my position: I agree with those who are appalled at the casting decision. But I can't honestly say I'm surprised or shocked at stuff like this anymore. It's what inevitably happens in the academic and entertainment worlds when Christians begin to care more about being accepted by the world than they do about proclaiming our Lord's message clearly.
         Some have asked whether I will boycott the movie. Is it technically a "boycott" if you weren't planning to attend anyway?
         It disturbs me that even while they are ratcheting up their ongoing campaign against everything righteous, Hollywood moguls want to exploit evangelicals. It disturbs me even more that so many evangelicals seem blithely willing—almost eager, in fact—to be exploited.

Phil's signature

17 January 2006

Karaoke worship

(We'll get back to the cessationism issue later in the week, I hope.)

Turning the corner

I once remarked that if the trends in "contemporary worship" were carried to their logical conclusion, church services would soon feature karaoke contests.

That remark prompted an outpouring of replies from people who informed me that karaoke was already being used "quite successfully" in their churches. It also sparked the following exchange with a contemporary "worship leader," whose words appear below in brown italics. My replies are in normal typeface:

What verse of scripture forbids the use of karaoke in worship?

My opposition to such methods is not based only on a single proof-text, but on the totality of what Scripture teaches about the principle of worship. Genuine worship aims to please God, not the worshiper. "Worship" designed primarily to entertain or amuse people is not even true worship of God.

In the words of the Westminster Confession, "The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

Biblical support? Sure:

  • Deuteronomy 12:31-32: "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way [like the pagans do]. . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" [NKJV].

  • Psalm 29:2: "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness."

  • Psalm 115:1: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake."

  • Matthew 15:9: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

  • 2 Timothy 4:2-5: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."

Want more? I recommend John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel.

And shall we let Spurgeon weigh in?

For us to give ourselves to getting up entertainments, to become competitors with theatres and music-halls, is a great degradation of our holy office.
"A Call to Prayer and Testimony"

The Lord our God is holy, and he cannot compromise his own glorious name by working with persons whose groveling tastes lead them to go to Egypt?—we had almost said to Sodom—?for their recreations. Is this walking with God? Is this the manner in which Enochs are produced?

It is a heart-sorrow to have to mention such things, but the work of the Lord must be done faithfully, and this evil must be laid bare. There can be no doubt that all sorts of entertainments, as nearly as possible approximating to stage-plays, have been carried on in connection with places of worship, and are, at this present time, in high favor. Can these things promote holiness, or help in communion with God? Can men come away from such things and plead with God for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of believers? We loathe to touch the unhallowed subject; it seems so far removed from the walk of faith, and the way of heavenly fellowship. In some cases the follies complained of are even beneath the dignity of manhood, and fitter for the region of the imbecile than for thoughtful men.
"Restoration of Truth and Revival"

In the great day, when the muster-roll shall be read, of all those who are converted through fine music, and church decoration, and religious exhibitions and entertainments, they will amount to the tenth part of nothing; but it will always please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Keep to your preaching; and if you do anything beside, do not let it throw your preaching into the background. In the first place preach, and in the second place preach, and in the third place preach.
"How to Win Souls for Christ"


"For the sake of argument (leaving off the Spurgeon quotes), does a karaoke sing-along contradict 2 Timothy 4:2-5, if—and this is a big if, perhaps—if the karaoke songs are later tied in to a theme of Biblical exposition? Why or why not?"

If someone wants to sing biblical songs, let him sing them as unto the Lord (Psalm 29:2).

Karaoke is a populist form of burlesque. Taking turns singing for others' amusement (usually badly and without adequate rehearsal) is a cheap amusement—the kind of frivolity that (in effect) has turned churches into cabarets. It's not worship. And doing it with biblically-based songs or hymns only demeans the message.

I also don't get the opposition to pre-recorded accompaniments. In churches where musicianship is limited, recorded music seems like a good idea.

It is not pre-recorded accompaniments per se that I am objecting to. It's the tendency to think of church music as a performance or an entertainment for the benefit of an earthly audience, rather than worship offered to the Lord.

Karaoke as liturgy, like virtually every novelty that has been introduced into our worship services over the past 75 years or so, violates the central principle of all true worship and authentic ministry: "As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God" (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

16 January 2006

With You and In You

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

SpurgeonPyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "Intimate Knowledge of the Holy Spirit," preached March 10th, 1889, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. the main point he makes is one both cessationists and non-cessationists alike should be able to agree on.

"He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:17).

Mark well the increase. Is it not a blessed step from with to in? "He dwelleth with you"—that is, a friend in the same house; "and shall be in you," that is, a Spirit within yourself; this is nearer, dearer, more mysterious, and more effective by far.

The bread yonder is "with" me. I eat it, and now it is "in" me. It could not nourish me until it advanced from "with" to "in."

What a distinct advance it is for the child of God when he rises from the Spirit of God being with him to the Spirit of God being in him! When the Spirit of God helped the apostles to work miracles, he was with them; but when they came to feel his spiritual work in their own souls, and to rejoice in the comfort which he brought to them, then he was in them. Even if you could obtain miraculous gifts, you ought not to be satisfied to speak with tongues, nor to work miracles; but you should press on to know the Spirit with yourself—indwelling, communing, quickening you.
C. H. Spurgeon


Phil's signature

12 January 2006

Allow me to reiterate...

Worn out

Today I'm going to take advantage of the fact that this is my weblog and simply reiterate (for clarity's sake and for emphasis' sake) the same simple point I tried to make yesterday.

I should explain, first of all, that although the past two days have generated a record number of comments, and I would love to interact in detail with all of them, I've barely had time even to read some of them. On Tuesday I spent the morning preparing a funeral sermon and the afternoon actually doing the funeral and graveside services. Yesterday I spent most of the day giving a deposition in an unusual legal case. (I can't really describe the nature of the case, but I'm just a peripheral witness, neither the victim nor the accused. Nonetheless, the process required me to spend all afternoon Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. Obviously, that ate up the better part of the day.)

Tonight we have houseguests coming to stay through the weekend, and meanwhile unanswered e-mail and other pressing duties are stacking up. So it's unlikely that I'll be able to post another extensive entry in the "cessationism" discussion before next week. Thanks for your patience, and feel free to keep commenting.

I did, however, print out fifty or so comments that had been posted by 11:00 AM yesterday, and I took them downtown with me to read while I was waiting to be deposed.

As I said, I can't reply to every point and every question, but I want to respond to one issue that keeps coming up. I thought I had addressed this (albeit obliquely) several times before, and I also thought I was clearly making a major point of it in yesterday's post. But perhaps I have been too subtle. (That's a problem I seem to have sometimes. I'm trying hard to overcome it.)

Let's try again:

The kneejerk demand for "exegesis" at the very start of the cessationism discussion is fatuous.

"Exegesis" for what? So far I haven't actually taken any positions or made any controversial biblical claims that require "exegetical" support. All I have done to date is point out how hard it is to find any credible person, even from the charismatic camp, who really believes the apostolic signs and offices are still in full operation just like when the apostle Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. I quoted some charismatic authors to establish their position. There's hardly any need for supporting "exegesis" on that.

Furthermore, I have asserted almost nothing about the degree of cessationism I hold to. I have not even actually stated whether I believe miracles (as distinct from miraculous gifts) occur today. I've merely argued that a genuinely non-cessationist, strictly pure continuationist theology is practically unheard of.

(Even in the earlier discussion last month, when I made several posts pointing out what an extraordinarily high percentage of modern "prophecies" turn out to be bogus, I did not actually argue—yet—that the gift of prophecy has utterly and finally ceased. As a matter of fact, several times I explicitly pointed out that I was not making any such argument. See, for example, the statement in large red type near the end of this post.)

That refusal to assert any specific degree of cessationism is a deliberate omission and not an accidental oversight on my part. I am first simply trying to establish the fact that no one who is credible seriously believes that all the miracles and gifts of the apostolic era are commonplace today. I don't need a proof-text, or any amount of "exegesis" to validate that.

As a matter of fact (unless I missed a comment) no one has yet seriously asserted the contrary. No one has come forward to offer any earnest defense for the claim that nothing whatsoever has changed in the exercise of miraculous gifts since Peter commanded the lame man at the Temple gate to rise and walk. Moreover, everyone (including a few bold commenters yesterday who seemed to doubt whether the canon is really closed) has agreed that no new Scripture has been written for the past 1900 years.

Now, show me something there that requires "exegetical support," and I'll try to tackle the challenge. Otherwise, it would be better to stay with the actual argument that's being made, and interact with that.

And be patient. When some argument I'm making calls for biblical support, I'll do my best to give it. But the principle of sola Scriptura has never meant that all theological arguments are invalid unless they can be substantiated with some proof-text. What "exegetical proof" would you have cited in 18 BC to confirm the truth that no new Scripture had been written for 400 years, since the time of Malachi?

And does the fact that no Old Testament text actually predicted the cessation of the Old Testament Prophetic office alter the reality that the office did in fact cease?

Likewise, there has never been any hue and cry for proof-texts or "exegetical support" for the almost universal conviction that nothing has been added to the New Testament canon since the end of the first century. Why do you suppose almost no one ever demands any biblical argument for that?