02 June 2005

A quote that says it all

One of the things I do for a living is edit books. In my first job out of college, I was as an editor for Moody Press (while simultaneously holding down a position as night watchman in a mortuary). I have always maintained close ties with the world of Christian publishing (while trying to keep my distance from mortuaries). For the past 22 years, one of my joys in life has been to assist my pastor, John MacArthur, in preparing his major book manuscripts.

For the past two months, I've been pretty much closeted away editing the manuscript for John's next major book (due from Thomas Nelson this fall), titled Twelve Extraordinary Women. It's not exactly a "sequel" to Twelve Ordinary Men, MacArthur's bestselling study of the Twelve Apostles. But it is very much in the same vein—character studies of the lives of twelve of the key women in Scripture.

The project itself has been grueling, but the material has made it highly rewarding. One of my favorite chapters deals with Martha and Mary of Bethany. In one of the more poignant lines in the book, MacArthur says this:
Human instinct seems to tell us that what we do is more important than what we believe. But that is a false instinct, the product of our fallen self-righteousness. It is a totally wrong way of thinking—sinfully wrong. We must never think more highly of our works for Christ than we do of His works on our behalf.

That pretty much sums up the whole gist of my concerns about the drift of modern evangelicalism—including evangelicals' obsession with political remedies for moral maladies, the rise of sacramentalist doctrines, the various attacks on the doctrines of imputation and the active obedience of Christ, and the general tendencies of "purpose-driven" and "seeker-sensitive" philosophies (where methodology is stressed and the content of the gospel message is neglected).

All those trends are deviations from the principle Paul spells out so clearly in 1 Cornthians 2:2: "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."


37 comments:

DeoVolente_2 said...

It is the false piety in much of evangelicalism combined with the American philosophy of Pragmaticism that results in stressing "doing" at the cost of "believing."

Great quote:
"We must never think more highly of our works for Christ than we do of His works on our behalf."

johnMark said...

Think about it..the Mormons and Jehovahs Wittnesses have religions based on what they do. Some may even say Roman Catholics do too.

Mark

James Spurgeon said...

That's it? When I got to the bottom I was looking for a link or something to the rest of the article.

;)

I hope you're not responding to that yahoo yesterday who tried to say your first post was too long. He kind of reminded me of the guy who wrote you wanting to solve deep theological subjects in a paragraph or less.

GIVE US MORE!

Random thought: What brand of sunglasses are you wearing?

Rebecca said...

Glad to see you have a blog!

I especially enjoyed this post and agree that it should have been longer.

burttd said...

Phil -

I'm tracking with most of what you're saying here, but...

Sacramentalists think that it is God doing the "heavy lifting" in the sacraments.

It is non-sacramentalists who think that the sacraments are only things we do.

Why lump sacramentalists with the rest? :-/

Frank Martens said...

Burttd,

Question... Isn't the difference between the sacrementalists and what Phil is saying, the fact that they think the works makes them closer to God?

When we keep in mind what Phil is saying, I think the key is to remember the direct commandments of God and do them. NOT because they get us closer to God, BUT BECAUSE we LOVE HIM.

Cheers!

Frank Martens said...

Actually, my falt, I read you wrong.

What I ment to say is this...

Don't sacramentalists fail to do these things of God because they believe God does everything?

If that's the case, then they are not following commandments of Christ. While the commandments don't make you any closer to Christ, they are still commandments that we must follow.

Tim Enloe said...

Unfortunately for your reasoning, Mr. Johnson, sacramentalist doctrines don't constitute "works we do for God." In historic (read: pre-Reformation) Christianity and in the Reformation itself, sacraments are God's works for us, or God condescending to meet us where we are, as creatures who live in bodies and their inescapable conditions of finitude and physicality. Physicality is not bad; it is not a "work" that is "added" to "the Gospel." This is a prevailing Baptist misunderstanding of everything from Roman Catholicism to legitimately Reformational Calvinism. It's piously intended and held, but it's a misunderstanding nevertheless.

Habitans in Sicco said...

But the history of sacramentalISM--going back to the time of the Judaizers--more than confirms Mr. Johnson's assessment.

Mia Storm said...

"We must never think more highly of our works for Christ than we do of His works on our behalf."

Hmmm. So, what are we to think of those works of ours that Christ himself says inspire glory to be given to the heavenly Father?

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).

I know this is a quibble, because I agree that our works can never compare to Christ's work and indeed depend on Christ's work for efficacy, but I get tired sometimes of seeing Christians oftentimes apparently dismiss human good works as unimportant.

James Spurgeon said...

Mia,

It is not that our good works are unimportant, but rather, as you said yourself, they are wholly dependent upon God's grace effectually working in us, so much so that apart from that grace they would never be done. In that sense, these works that we do are only made possible as a part of the great salvation package purchased for us by Christ at Calvary.

Pointing that out does not degrade or devalue the works themselves. It simply gives credit where credit is due.

Not unto us . . .

ct said...

Sacramentalism has a wolf in sheep's clothing motive always: to exalt clerical hierarchies and ritual (priestcraft) in order to suppress the Word and the Spirit.

Look no further than the Roman Catholic Church.

The devilish false promise of ritual water baptism effecting regeneration keeps people asleep and dumb in the darkness of the kingdom of death.

centuri0n said...

{scribens instituo}
sacramentalist doctrines don't constitute "works we do for God." In historic (read: pre-Reformation) Christianity and in the Reformation itself, sacraments are God's works for us, or God condescending to meet us where we are, as creatures who live in bodies and their inescapable conditions of finitude and physicality.
{scribens finis}

See: I thought that's what the incarnation of Jesus Christ was all about. Little did I know that God became flesh in order to institute rituals in order to work for us in our inescapable conditions of finitude and physicality.

Gosh, I hate myself for being a Baptist.

Kurt N. said...

xenophon, I wouldn't call myself a sacramentalist, but the different between that statement and a bucket of a cow manure is, frankly, the bucket.

You might not agree with sacramentalist reasoning (I usually don't), but don't demonize their motives.

ct said...

kurt, question: what happened to the Word in the totaliatarian domain of the Roman Catholic Church?

Enough said.

It is a fundamental tactic of the devil when he seeks to control visible churches to do it by supressing the Word and the Spirit by replacing them with clericalism and sacramentalism.

I don't need to 'demonize' their motives, their actions and their history speak for themselves.

Kurt N. said...

xenophon: Lutherans and some Calvinists believe in efficiacy of Baptism. Lutherans and classical Anglicans believe in the Real Presence during the Eucharist. Do I hold to these things? No, I do not. Do I believe that my Lutheran and Anglican brethren are "exalting clerical hierachies" or "supressing the word and spirit"? Get real.

C'mon man, you're painting with an overly broad brush. You'd better call into the White Horse Inn and let the boys know what Rod Rosenbladt is really up to.

centuri0n said...

Oh crud --

It's {scribens instituit} and {scribens exigit}.

Sorry 'bout that.

ct said...

xenophon: Lutherans and some Calvinists believe in efficiacy of Baptism. Lutherans and classical Anglicans believe in the Real Presence during the Eucharist. Do I hold to these things? No, I do not. Do I believe that my Lutheran and Anglican brethren are "exalting clerical hierachies" or "supressing the word and spirit"? Get real.

Your affecting a nonchalant, i.e. 'cool', attitude. So be it. I call it lukewarm (if you do understand the difference, as you say you do). Anyway, where is the Word of God in the visible churches today such as the Anglican church? Their archbishop wrote a forward to a new New Testament translation that left out the Book of Revelation and replaced it with the Gospel of Thomas, and that also made the apostle Paul say that everybody should have alot of sex, while deleting all that Paul said against homosexuality. The archbishop of Canterbury wrote a forward recommending this translation.

The fact is, once people know that regeneration is the most important thing and that it is effected, when it is, by the Word and the Spirit, then all this nonsense such as what is happening in the Anglican church is exposed for what it is.

As for putative Calvinists who believe ritual water Baptism regenerates... They exist and they are usually very abashed of new theologies such as Auburn Avenue and NPP. No, they're not cool. They're at odds with their Westminster divines as well.

When the subject is how the devil controls visible churches a lukewarm (masked as 'cool') approach to exposing it or just calling it what it is signals a default sympathy with it.

Kurt N. said...

Okay xenophon, I'm calling your bluff. Tell me honestly that you're not "c.t."

ct said...

Please don't draw me into your off-topic games.

Efrayim said...

Perhaps the reaction to the concept of "doing" is a result of so many years of "not doing" what Messiah said to do. If obediance is better than sacrifice, then why do we place so much emphasis on sacrifice? There is no "false piety" in obeying the instructions of our Father in heaven.

ct said...

I think there is a misunderstanding among many Christians about 'doing' and 'effort' vis-a-vis the pre-regenerate and the regenerate state.

When a human being is not regenerate he can do no good. He can't choose God, and even good acts he does are tainted with sin in various ways to various degrees.

Once regenerate the teaching of the New Testament seems to be you better be able to do good. Jesus, afterall, says repeatedly "do this, do this, and do this". Love your enemies is a command that requires effort, afterall.

The parable of the talents is instructive on this subject: regeneration is like being given the talents, and you are expected to make something from them, not burying them in the ground.

But the main confusion, I think, or concern, is that people might think they can do anything to effect their own regeneration. No, we can't do anything to effect our own regeneration. We can do things like read the Word of God (Romans, faith comes by hearing, etc.) and draw nigh to God (James, draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you), but that doesn't guarantee anything. Only God can effect regeneration. This is necessary to see to realize our state and to truly see out situation without God and God's undeserved grace.

Kurt N. said...

Please don't draw me into your off-topic games.

Let me run that through the translate-o-matic xenophon:

"Yes, I am c.t., who was kicked earlier, but I'm not ready to be kicked again, so I'm not going to admit who I really am."

Carry on, carry on. ;)

ct said...

God bless, whoever you are.

dug said...

I'm not comfortable with weighing works against belief in a win-lose fashion. The principle is not which is more important, but which comes first. Belief is the handle by which we grasp works. People who try to start from works and grow to faith never get there.

Just as papers and journals are the product of any scientific institution, and gowns and degrees are the product of any university, works are the product of faith. Plenty of imitators try to affect the signs and symbols of academia, but ape-ing scholarly language does not make one a professor. Others err in the opposite direction, claiming the credentials are unnecessary.

Going through the motions of the Christian works achieves nothing. Neglecting them is no better. It's grace that "comes first," but it never comes alone.

Tim Enloe said...

Wow, Frank, don't know what I've done to make you so bitter lately, but it's really getting tiresome. Are you just mad because I haven't answered every single letter you've peppered me with since CS went online? What's the deal, dude?

centuri0n said...

Tim --

"the deal", Tim is that you don't actually answer any questions, and you make posts like the one I responded to here expecting immunity from criticism.

See: posting words that are causally connected to someone else's words is not "responding" except in the sense that when I turn on a light switch, the light (if it is not broken) "responds".

A "response" works like this:

[player1] I think baptists abandon the historic faith because they deny efficacy in sacraments.

[player2] Well, I'm a Baptist, and I think that the "historic" view you are proposing starts at the wrong place in history and frankly rejects what the NT says about the sacramental ordinances.

[player1] The place I start viewing this in history is valid because {reason X}, and it is supported by the NT as we read {exegesis Y, Z and Q}

[player2] OK: even if I accept your historical reasoning, I do not accept your exegetical reasoning for {objections A, B, and C}. However, I'm curious: even if I am wrong about A, B and C, is this not a matter of underdstanding acceptable practices in the church visible, rather than orthodoxy vs. heresy?

[player1] Hm. Why do you ask that?

[player2] Because you used the words "outside the historic faith". Mormons and JWs are outside the historic faith; Baptists are not.

[player1] Ah! See: I mean that Baptists have given up important practices which have {K, L and M} value to the faith -- not that they are heretics.

[player2] Well, that's a whole other matter. I might even agree with you about that in general if not in the details.


That may seem somewhat condescending to you, but it seems (and I will admit: it seems that way from inside the circle of people I would consider my "usual suspects"; my friends and advisors) that you do not understand this method of communication, Tim. You are great at writing dry monologues. But when any objection gets posed to you -- in any circumstances -- the best one can hope for is that you will say something at all. To hope that you will say something clearly and intentionally with the objective of either resolving the dispute or refuting objections directly is a futile hope.

You and I have had some interesting -- and extremely civil -- dialogs, and this one is not actually any less civil than most of them. You are simply offended that I would use sarcasm to underscore the real weakness in your statement -- which is that you treat Baptist theology like dirt.

"You are re-baptizers", you might say; "You reject valid forms of baptism," you might intone; "You call RC's 'non-christian' in spite of their baptism," you might expound. Yep. Guilty -- as far as any of these reflect the facts.

Studying the issue of baptism has become a hobby of mine since the Wilson/White debate, and I found an interesting document regarding baptism from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which you can find here:

http://www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum=3932

If you want to continue or support your criticism of Phil Johnson (and Baptists in general), read that article and then come back. Apparently even Rome recognizes that form, intention and disposition can, in fact, invalidate this sacrament -- but perhaps ol' Rome has finally gone donatist, too.

It is not bitterness to reject your view openly and clearly. If it bothers you that sometimes others use something more than a finger pointing at a stack of books to get their message across, brush up your Shakespeare. It might make a difference.

Tim Enloe said...

That's not a true characterization of my responses, Frank. I've written far more than "dry monologues", and you know it. Fact is, Mr. Johnson's swipe at "sacramental views" in the context of talking about "works" was just silly, and only shows how little "Reformed" Baptists actually listen to what other traditions are saying. We can toss texts around all day long and it isn't going to solve anything. That's been going on for what, 350 years now, and nothing has come of it. The beginning of fruitful discussion is actually understanding what someone else is saying before issuing a diatribe against it. And claiming that sacramental views enthrone "works" in some sort of contra-Gospel sense is a prime example of not listening to others and consequently not understanding. Myself, I think there's a good bit of pride in it too. "Reformed" Baptist polemicists are very prideful folks, pretending that nobody really takes the Scriptures seriously except for them. How tiring.

centuri0n said...

What?! A Response?!!!

(1) You're a dry writer, Tim. Sorry. You overcome that at the end of this particular post (I think it is by accident), but you're dry.

(2) If you're going to criticize Phil for "how little 'Reformed' Baptists actually listen to what other traditions are saying", you might recognize that he's criticizing "the rise of [evangelical] sacralist doctrines", which is not the same as saying that Presbyterians are Pelagians for baptizing babies. He's talking about modern, trendy sacralism and not confessional/creedal sacramental beliefs. Again: posting words does not equal a response.

(3) oh: PRIDE! Listen -- that laughing you can hear in Idaho is me personally absolutely bawling from the Ozark mountains at you (without church office or completed degree{s}) as you continue your perpetual lecture against church pastors and degreed professors about their vocations. PRIDE! Tim, that's not CLASSIC, that's categorically Armstrongian.

(4) And lastly, the leap you make from "Mr. Johnson's swipe at 'sacramental views' in the context of talking about 'works' was just silly" to "'Reformed' Baptist polemicists are very prideful folks, pretending that nobody really takes the Scriptures seriously except for them. How tiring", is so disjointed from the context of the blog and the point he was actually making that to call it "non sequitur" is generous.

Blog on.

Tim Enloe said...

I'm not lecturing on Societas Christiana, Frank. I'm not a teacher or a leader in any capacity. I'm not a church or a ministry. I'm just a layman who uses a good portion of his spare time on the Internet. I'm just what Alastair has called a "determined dilettante." I read lots of interesting things and share a lot of them on the blog, hoping that some will find them useful. And, judging from many of the comments I get, many people do find them useful. You seem increasingly to find them merely irritating, irrational, and insufferable. Why keep reading, then?

centuri0n said...

Tim --

Why I read is that it is valuable to read those with whom you disagree. If all you do is stick your head under an intellectual rock, you become a wonk or (worse) a shill -- someone with a vision so narrow that he starts to think his viewpoint is the only one that treats all subjects fairly.

In that, for you to claim both "I'm not lecturing on Societas Christiana", and "judging from many of the comments I get, many people do find [my writings] useful", you have placed yourself in the interesting position actually imparting knowledge or skill to, of actually providing knowledge of, of actually conditioning to a certain action or frame of mind, of actually causing to learn by example or experience, by advocating or preaching (please -- read some of your essays against James White's exegesis and tell me again you're not preaching), and actually carrying on instruction on a regular basis, but claiming not to be a teacher. That would be like me saying, "I own a Christian Bookstore" and "I don't actually sell the Bible -- I just engage in the supply chain of the ministry of the Word on a cost-plus basis". Phil's current blog entry on the responsibilities of bloggers is spot-on.

That is itself the soul of pride, Tim: being willing to say that you are not what you are because you are you, and you couldn't possibly be doing something untoward. Let's say you're just "opining" on the work of pastors and the work of degreed professors: my point is that you are not qualified to make statements (as you clearly have) that one of them must be ignorant of some aspect of the Lord's table, or another of them has a faulty method of philosophy of exegesis. It is one thing for you and I to dispute each others' comments on various matters -- because we are in a very real sense, peers. It is another entirely for you or I to impune men in positions we do not have the expertise or authority to impune. With your high view of a societas christiana, you should see that in yourself at least.

Why I respond is that there is a very weird place where you and I are "on the same team". See: I think that the question of true catholicity is as important as "Who is Jesus Christ" -- that is, the actual, visible unity of the church is as important as a practical matter as whether or not we are preaching Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. But you find the matter to be one of political/institutional viability (and you justify that using incarnational language -- that the incarnation of the church has a direct relationship to the incarnation of Christ), and I see it as one of Christ's headship over a people called out from every tribe, tongue and nation (which is also an incarnational issue -- the real Christ sending forth the real Holy Spirit to real people who are not culturally homogenous to local assemblies where they embody Christ and bring new life {spiritual, and thereafter material} for His glory) who have both a right and a responsibility to accept God's word at face value.

I'm sure my friends and fans hear a lot of emergent chords in that chorus, and they can come to my blog and work that out with me. However, what is evident in the dissagreement that you and I have is that your view means "and a uniform sacramentology", and mine does not -- the matter of full-dunking baptism notwithstanding.

So expect me to repond. Just don't expect it to be fan mail.

My kids are waking up. I have to go make chocolate milk.

ct said...

CENTURION WROTE:
Let's say you're just "opining" on the work of pastors and the work of degreed professors: my point is that you are not qualified to make statements (as you clearly have) that one of them must be ignorant of some aspect of the Lord's table, or another of them has a faulty method of philosophy of exegesis. It is one thing for you and I to dispute each others' comments on various matters -- because we are in a very real sense, peers. It is another entirely for you or I to impune men in positions we do not have the expertise or authority to impune. With your high view of a societas christiana, you should see that in yourself at least.

You really fell off the pier here, centuriOn. Ever read 'degreed professor' Paul Owen? How about the degreed professor from CUNY who says you're a 'moral retard' for being a believing Christian? What about that Joel Garver guy, a professor somewhere in Penn., who once told me I had an 'evil spirit' because I stated regeneration was not effected by ritual sacraments? How about the 63,000+ liberal 'degreed professors' who drool all over themselves in classrooms and faculty lounges daily in the United States?

As for pastors and 'reverends' and other church leaders...well... Let the buyer beware...

Here's another thing to think about: imagine if Tim Enloe ever becomes a 'degreed professor'. See what I mean?

Tim Enloe said...

Frank, well, I suppose all I can say about the "you have no right to criticize degreed people because you aren't their peers" is to point out that most of what I have written in criticism of, say, particular exegetical methods has been based solidly in the work of men who ARE the peers of those I've been criticizing. For instance, in my recent set of posts on "The Evangelical Love Affair with Enlightenment Science" I didn't present "Nobody Tim Enloe's private, ungrounded thoughts on 19th century Baconian hermeneutics", but rather the serious scholarship of others. And at any rate, much of what I write along those lines has far more widespread application than the work of a couple of Semi-Reformish apologists on the Internet. I don't even mention them most of the time, nor do I any longer pay any significant attention to their forums.

centuri0n said...

Xenophon:

I have read Paul Owen, and let's say that I have no peer basis to criticize his conclusions (I only hold a Master's Degree in Literature in English and not a Ph.D. from a European University -- which makes my atrocious typing a mortal sin and not a mere faux pas), but as a person in his right mind I have the ability to criticize the consistency of his actions.

As for Tim Enloe becoming a degreed professor, it would do him good. The first time he would have to defend a prepared thesis in an academic setting would make him a better man and a better advocate for the kind of work he is trying to do right now via blog. I have no idea where Tim plans to do his future study to complete his degree(s), but actually picking and doing will make him better at what he is trying to do.

Tim:

Reducing my criticism of "you can't criticize degreed people" overlooks the real issue that you criticize degreed people who hold church office -- which is another matter altogether. You have this alleged view of christian society in which the plebs like you and me are bound by conscience to follow legitimate church leaders, but when it comes to the actual plebs like you (and by implication, me), the force of the argument is lost because church office doesn't mean anything regarding the method or means by which you criticize these men.

As for "not mentioning" anyone in particular, not naming names is the 8th grade way of "not mentioning" somebody. Perhaps we can put your last post in the objective exegesis machine and see what comes out the other side.

Now we are off to Fun City for the day, and if my wife is merciful I will get a Wendy burger and a Coke in the process. We might even get to go to Sam's Club and snack at the buffet, uh, I mean try the samples.

I hope your weekend is equally yummy.

Tim Enloe said...

And btw, Frank, my view is not so much one of requiring "political / institutional viability" for the Church as it is requiring a refusal to absolutely denigrate that in the name of something that is supposedly "higher" and "more spiritual"--namely, a complete political / instititutional irrelevance of the Church because the Church is merely an aggregate of a bunch of autonomous, supposedly verifiably regenerate individuals all essentially doing their own thing in near-total disregard of larger concerns that cross the borders of sub-groups, and the Gospel merely a couple of propositions about the mechanism of justification.

Tim Enloe said...

Frank, WHAT? You write in your last post:

"You have this alleged view of christian society in which the plebs like you and me are bound by conscience to follow legitimate church leaders, but when it comes to the actual plebs like you (and by implication, me), the force of the argument is lost because church office doesn't mean anything regarding the method or means by which you criticize these men."

That's a weird way to describe my view. I don't claim that us plebs are bound by conscience to follow legitimate leaders. I believe the WCF when it says "God alone is the Lord of the conscience." As for church office not meaning anything, well, I do admit it's hard to respect a claim to have an office made by men who deliberately set themselves outside of all accountability structures beyond their own eensy local churches and / or limit their accountability to two or three people who fully agree with them about the validity of Roman Catholic baptism, the propositional-mechanical nature of the Gospel, and the utility of Church history only as a sledgehammer against all other views. That's YOUR mentors, Frank, not mine.

centuri0n said...

I see -- They're not ordained and serving in churches unless these are churches you think are legit.

I almost missed that response. I wonder ... how does it turn out that in this case legitimate baptisms don't make legitimate church bodies (and therefore legit church offices), but in some other high-profile European example they do?

It is an honor to be associated with the men that I associate with, Tim. That they give me the time of day is a credit to their charity and pastoral views.