27 July 2005

Omnium gatherum redivivus

Lots of loose ends to gather up and blog about today. I'm writing this post piecemeal, so if it lacks coherence or seems to jump from topic to topic, that's a perfect metaphor for the kind of day this has been. At the end of this rambling post, I'll include some BlogSpotting entries.

First, I want to answer a few questions and respond to a couple of remarks that have come up in comments. These are in random order.

Let's see... I need a heading:

Assorted pleas, rebuttals, statements of self-vindication, a few insults, and other off-the-cuff reactions to the Barbarian hordes and home-school moms who frequent my blog:

  1. EdwardsFan asks: "no one just joins the blogosphere with a blog so fancy pantsy. I've tried and tried . . . lament . . . and still can't figure out this template stuff. Who's helping you on the side Phil? " No one is helping me yet. But I have been able to take advantage of many years' experience of barely cobbling together webpages. I used that meager knowledge to cut through the Gordian knot of blogdesign mystery and tweak one of the templates I found at Blogspot.com. But the whole thing still just barely makes sense to me. The graphics I likewise do by myself, usually hurriedly. Those with skilled eyes for design will notice that I have very limited artistic and design capability, so I've tried to keep it very simple and functional. My only goal is to look better than Triablogue.
  2. Kim said, "I'm sorry if our dictionaries frighten you. Would slide rulers be less daunting?" Not really. The thought of suffering the wrath of a home-school mom, not merely her weaponry, is what terrifies me.
  3. To all who comment: Please remember the rules—especially the rule about Christian civility. And please don't use my comments as a forum to debate issues that arise in other contexts. If you're disturbed with something Fred Butler posted on his blog, leave a comment there. If you're angry about something that was posted at the Boar's Head, leave a comment there. Oh, wait. Scratch that. If the BHT guys annoy you, join the club. But you'll have to start your own blog to answer them. Don't import fights from other forums into my blogcomments. We have enough to fight about here already.
  4. Scott Nichols thinks we should just leave the fads alone and see what becomes of them. He writes: "I've always taken the Gamaliel approach to these things." Well, see this. Also, it seems to me that any one of Paul's commands in Titus 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:5; and 2 Timothy 4:2-5 would trump Gamaliel's advice when it comes to the issue of dealing with creeping worldliness and doctrinal decline in the church.
  5. Jonathan Felt asks, What does it take for something to be "downright destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical doctrine"? How does one 'destroy' doctrine in the first place? Well, it's not the doctrine that is destroyed, of course, but the evangelical distinctives—i.e., the evangelical commitment to certain biblical truths that are fundamental and essential. When in order to increase their clout and visibility evangelicals move the boundaries of their movement so that even non-Trinitarians (T. D. Jakes, or Phillips, Craig, and Dean) are counted as "evangelicals"; when evangelicals link up in spiritual campaigns with members of sects and denominations where justification by faith in Christ alone is flatly denied; or when they count among their closest friends and allies religious leaders who deny essential doctrines—they have sacrificed evangelical distinctives for political expediency.
         Jonathan further asks, "If I decide to team up with someone on a legislative initiative, how does it follow that my core evangelical distinctives are in danger of being destroyed?" It depends, of course, on how much of your message or your testimony you have to stifle in order to "team up." If your allies are Jewish and you hold back from declaring the exclusivity of Christ in order to hold your coalition together; or if your allies are Roman Catholic and you carefully avoid any discussion of sola fide or sola Scriptura—then you are sacrificing your distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel. It happens all the time.
         Jonathan then opines: "It looks to me like the culture war stuff is the odd man out in your list, since by definition it does threaten people's comfort zone, rebukes people's sin, and so on." Perhaps, but it does so very selectively, focusing on what is peripheral, not what is central. And that is the point. The pattern has been that those who invest the most in "the culture war stuff" are often the last ones to press the actual claims of the gospel, declare the truth of redemption through Christ's atoning work, proclaim the exclusivity of Christ, and preach the full and unadulterated gospel. They become obsessed with issues like getting prayer back in schools, ignoring the fact that any prayer ever sanctioned by the American government would have to be a prayer that implicitly denies Christ's rightful lordship.
         Face it: the evangelical thrust for political activism has (historically, not just theoretically) had an ecumenical tendency. That's what I mean when I say culture wars undermine evangelical distinctives.
         By the way, if you want to see this principle in action, tune into "Focus on the Family" for six months and keep a record of how many times the gospel is clearly affirmed on that broadcast, compared to the number times you are exhorted to write your senator or participate in this or that boycott, campaign, or protest. Or ask yourself how Jerry Falwell got to be so friendly with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and why, when they appear together, Falwell often (but not even always) confronts Jackson's political ideas, but he (almost?) never challenges his false theology.
         I'll have much more to say about this issue in the coming weeks. It's one that is very important to me, because I was up to my eyebrows in conservative political activism before I became a Christian. I had many friends and political allies who, as it turns out, were Christians all along and ought to have realized that I did not know the Lord. But not one of them ever spoke to me about Christ or tried to give me the gospel message. I am convinced that the kind of political activism they were involved with is incompatible with the true calling and priorities of the gospel ministry.
         And the rationale for mobilizing the church to political activism is extremely muddy and without any clear biblical warrant. Even Steve Hays has not been very convincing on this issue.
  6. Several commenters echoed the request of Puritanicoal: "It would be great if you would devote a day or two blogtificating on what the everyday Christian should do when their Sunday School class decides to go through the latest Fad-Driven Sludge or a friend recommends reading the latest Freudian psychoBABEL they bought in the local Christian bookstore." Stay tuned. (And if I forget to do this, remind me in a couple of weeks.)
  7. Tyler Wallick says, "I'm not sure I can define what isn't timeless truth - if something does not stand the test of time, was it ever really true?" No, but notice that the contrast I made was between "timeless truth [and] passing fashions." Truth versus fashion, not "timeless truth" versus "temporary truth." Truth by definition is timeless.
  8. Mike Russell thinks "all the blogspotting and gimmicky things" at PyroManiac are "quite faddish."
         Ouch. You talkin' 'bout my graphics? What is it with all the people who hate the graphics? Should I go to THIS kind of thing as a blogformat? Maybe I could get Steve Hays to design the blog layout for me.
         Seriously, mere popularity—even temporary popularity—doesn't define what is wrong with faddism. The error of the fad mentality I'm describing is that it uses popularity and fashion as gauges and yardsticks for measuring truth. If you catch me doing that, slap me around. No, on second thought, just shoot me. Until then, humor me while I make my blog suit my own aesthetic preferences, and if you seriously suspect that I'm driven chiefly by a motive to court people's favor, I have a list of postmodernists, theonomists, charismatics, Arminians, drunken group-bloggers, Harry Potter-haters, Rick Warren aficionados, and home-school moms to whom I'll refer you for a more objective opinion.
         (By the way, if I inject a note of humor or post what you call "frivolous posts," it's not designed for anyone's benefit but mine. I'm not trying to tickle other people's ears—and oddly enough, until now, no one has ever suggested my style of humor serves such a purpose. Sorry if you don't like it. Lots of people don't. But my approach to writing a weblog is more like journaling than journalism. If you don't like it, you don't have to read over my shoulder.)
  9. Steve Camp said, "I believe biblically (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 2 Cor. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:1-6; 3 John 5-9) that anything less than that kind of "dramatic action" is just more evangelical spin and politics." Fundamentalist.
  10. Steve commented: "Advertising is marketing. Unless the advertising is done in poor taste or is pushy, we don't have any problem with such, do we?" (By the way, Steve had several interesting observations. You ought to read his comment.) No, I don't object to marketing per se. What I have objected to is a market-driven approach to ministry, where every aspect of our message and the style of its expression is filtered through a marketing plan designed to appeal to "felt needs," opinion polls, special-interest groups and whatnot. Market-driven ministry and marketing aren't necessarily the same thing. I will have more to say about this in future posts, but all my posts are too long as it is.



Phil's signature

29 comments:

Kim said...

Phil, are you sure your fear of wrath isn't some lingering fear from having been a bad boy in school? Maybe it's fear of teachers in general. I recommend Tiger Balm for that.

TulipGirl said...

Gordian knot.

*giggle*

jc said...

RE: Point #5 (response to Jonathan Felt)

I guess it's clear now where you stand on the issue of "evangelical co-belligerence." But I'd still like to get your opinion on my favorite newsmagazine, the magazine which made me dream of joining them as a pavement-pounding reporter: World Magazine. What do you think of them? As you may know, they have teamed up with Roman Catholics and others to fight the culture war.

This is not to say that they don't say not-nice things about their "team mates." For instance, they wrote this about Roman Catholicism:

"But though the pope was eulogized for all of his good works, the prayers begged God to let him into heaven, calling on Mary and the saints to intercede for him. Sadly missing was the liberating gospel of salvation through faith in the free forgiveness won by Christ alone."

homo unius libri said...

"Scott Nichols thinks we should just leave the fads alone and see what becomes of them. He writes: "I've always taken the Gamaliel approach to these things." Well, see this. Also, it seems to me that any one of Paul's commands in Titus 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:5; and 2 Timothy 4:2-5 would trump Gamaliel's advice when it comes to the issue of dealing with creeping worldliness and doctrinal decline in the church."

Ouch Phil,I stand properly rebuked. And to use the Mormons to do it...I repent in sackcloth and ashes.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Sorry for bringing up the "truth" thing again, but is all truth by definition "timeless"? I mentioned two passages yesterday:

"Exodus 21:28-32 (goring ox owner gets death for the death of a man, but the death of a slave is only worth 30 shekels) or Exodus 21:20-21 (death of servant only gets punishment, but if beaten servant lives for 1-2 days there will be no punishment because he is 'property')."

Phil, would you say God's commands here were "passing fashions" or "fads"? I tend to think that they were true then, but not true today. Of course this would mean that not all truth is timeless. Oh boy . . .

Mike said...

In a backdoor conversation (i.e., email; read: gossip), I had said to a good blogging friend, "If he is the sort of man I take him to be, I suspect he'll listen and then either agree or disagree; if I'm wrong, he'll rant and blow me off." I rarely win bets, but this time I seem to have been right.

As I pointed out to one of your defenders, I thoroughly enjoy, admire, and appreciate your graphics. It's the "blogspotting" (hereafter, BS) and such that seem gimmicky. BS is akin (in my mind, where things wander freely) to Googling one's own name. Spanking the ego monkey.

I'm not talking about humor - I thoroughly enjoy humorous posts or introjections in posts - but just the faddish, gimmicky stuff. It creates a lot of groupies, but do they come because they see signs and believe or because they eat the bread and are filled? The church doesn't need to be entertained: isn't that an enormous part of the problem you address?

You have a lot of substance; you don't need to be cute. Besides, at our age cute is no longer possible. I speak to my own shame. ;)

Libbie said...

Cute is fun, though.. Besides, when it comes to finding all these interesting new blogs, I'd rather Phil did the leg-work for me. I consider it a public service, he he.

Mike said...

I should say - and this may explain a great deal to you - that I have been a Cardinal fan for almost 45 years. See, we take things seriously and that's why we've won so many World Series! And we don't name our dogs "Busch."

I do understand that it is 100% your blog and that you can do with it as you please. It's a great blog, IMHO. But here's my point, via analogy: A decade or so ago I spoke at a state convention of Christian counselors, beginning with typical self-deprecating humor. When I finished, a faithful friend said to me, "What you said was good but I could have done without the clown suit." It was a valuable wound.

Confession: in my smug, snobbish, self-important way - that is, in my normal state of mind - I wrote a post re you and employed euphemisms for "PyroManiac" so you would not find me and BS me. (Man, how pathetic is that?!?) OK, I feel much better now.

DJP said...

Yeah: I appreciate having been blogspotted, but have had that same question about getting on your blogroll.

I have an orange belt, and a son who's about to earn a black belt in karate. Does that count? I can break boards with my head. Well, probably could do.....

bibchr.blogspot.com

Steve said...

Is this matter of blogspotting drawing the blogspotting Scrooges out of the woodwork?

On blogspotting, consider this: Aren't the citations in the margins of a reference Bible a form of blogspotting?

As for humor, if it's used with a purpose, it's one more means of effective communication at our disposal. Pyromaniac's blogspotting is a clever way to call our attention to some astute (and not-so-astute) observations other people are making in the blogosphere.

It's humor that's irrelevant to the matter at hand that wastes our time.

My only suggestion to PyroManiac is to blogspot sparingly in your down time. The substance comes first--to work, to family, and to feeding Wrigley.

Phil Johnson said...

Jonathan Moorhead:

I hope you don't think that just because the Old Covenant gave way to the New, the old ceased being true. Certain laws and ceremonies may no longer be applicable under a new covenant, but they are nonetheless true. I think you are failing to make a proper dstinction, and it's going to get you into serious trouble, if you start to think of truth itself as fluid and changeable.

Carla said...

Agreed with Libbie - the blogspotting has been a source of some great new blogs for me. I appreciate Phil doing all the work, and me enjoying all the benefits. I suggest he continue, and often.

:-}

Sojourner said...

Jonathan Morehead:

Here's how I think this quandry can be solved. We all know, or should know, that the wages of sin is death (Rom.6:23). All sin merits death. Even lying merits death, or dwelling on lustful thoughts, or clicking on disgusting internet pages.

The law as God gave it did not prescribe the death penalty for all sin, even though all sin merits only death. Though the punishments of the past may be changed, they are still good and true punishments. Grace was active then because not all sin was immediately and justly punished. (God left room for repentance, among other things.)

So, keep your gate locked and your dog on a leash. If you are careless with an biting dog, and it mauls your neighbor, you sin. And though the government may not bring the sword of judgment against you in this case, we would still be liable to the second death for such a sin if we are not found in Christ.

This is, a very short apologetic I know, but I believe that it is sound.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil writes, “I think you are failing to make a proper dstinction [sic], and it's going to get you into serious trouble, if you start to think of truth itself as fluid and changeable.”
I was actually thinking the same thing about your post: “the contrast I made was between ‘timeless truth [and] passing fashions.’ Truth versus fashion, not ‘timeless truth’ versus ‘temporary truth.’ Truth by definition is timeless."
I think there is a fear (and rightly so) that if truth is in any way “fluid and changeable” then we are on the proverbial slippery slope to liberalism. Make no mistake, I believe in absolute truth, but I also believe that we have to allow that there is a category (here is a distinction) of truth that is fluid. If you scan God’s commands through the OT and NT vis-à-vis slavery, you will see that the commands change in relation to culture – it happened piecemeal. Of course God could have implanted our infallible 21st century understanding of slavery to ancient Israel, but for some reason He did not.

Example: when Jedidiah was a wee lad, I suppose you had to tell him, “Now Jedi, do not touch the buttons in the Pyromobile.” In his advance wisdom he would have asked, “Daddy, is it true that you do not want me to touch the buttons in the car?” Answer: yes it is true. Fast forward to 2005, is it still true that Jedi cannot touch the buttons in the car? Answer: no it is no longer true.

Phil’s logic: because the original command is no longer true, then it could not have been true when Jedi was a youngin’. After all, “truth by definition is timeless.” Yes Phil, I agree that we must make proper distinctions.

Jus Divinum said...

I'm flattered that Phil Johnson chose to interact with one of my posted comments about ECB. Cf. point 5 of the present post.

I had asked:

>> What does it take for something to be "downright
>> destructive to the core distinctives of evangelical
>> doctrine"? How does one 'destroy' doctrine in the
>> first place?

And Phil replied:

> Well, it's not the _doctrine_ that is destroyed, of course,
> but the evangelical _distinctives_—i.e., _the evangelical
> commitment to certain biblical truths that are fundamental
> and essential_.

Essential _for what_, exactly? To be a Christian? Yes. To be a member of a Christian church? Again, I say yes. To fight tooth decay? Obviously not. To cooperate with non-Christians to bring about various social goods? Again I say, obviously not. Notice that evangelical distinctives are essential to _some_ of these things, but _not_ to others. And that's the way it's supposed to be.

So we can't just fling out the word 'essential,' and make it do work it can't do in an argumentative vacuum. We need to specify what we are applying it to. ECB is a form of cooperation. And while it should be a truism that 'evangelical distinctives' are essential to _being an evangelical_, it's not so clear that they are essential to _anything an evangelical does in society_. Is that not, in fact, what the whole dispute is _about_? So appealing to the 'essentiality' of evangelical distinctives looks question begging in this context.

> When in order to increase their clout and visibility
> evangelicals move the boundaries of their movement so that
> even non-Trinitarians (T. D. Jakes, or Phillips, Craig, and
> Dean) are counted as "evangelicals";

Keep in mind that my interest was in looking at Christian political activism, or (just so no questions are begged as to who is and is not a Christian) ECB, that is, Christians cooperating with non-Christians. I of course would abominate labeling as 'evangelicals' those who are not evangelicals. To the extent that this goes on in ECB, it should be identified and rebuked. But the point of ECB is not "to increase the clout and visibility of evangelicals," but to enact various political, judicial, and legislative reforms. If it were to increase the clout of evangelicals, why is the head of the Catholic League getting up there with Al Mohler at Justice Sunday I?

So, I agree that what you say in the cited portion is a bad thing. I just don't see its relevance to ECB.

> when evangelicals link up in spiritual campaigns with
> members of sects and denominations where justification by
> faith in Christ alone is flatly denied;

If by 'spiritual campaign' you mean some sort of gospel ministry, surely I join you in deploring this. But ECB is not a 'spiritual campaign'. It's something else.

> or when they count among their closest friends and allies
> religious leaders who deny essential doctrines—they _have_
> sacrificed evangelical distinctives for political expediency.

It all depends on what they are 'allies' _for_. The work of the church? Gospel ministry? Sure, there's a problem _there_. But if I'm a surgeon in a hospital, and many of my 'closest friends and allies' there are non-Christians, have I sacrificed evangelical distinctives for surgical expediency? ;-) Ditto for cooperation in the pursuit of any kind of good that is equally nonspiritual and noneternal.

I had asked:

>> If I decide to team up with someone on a legislative
>> initiative, how does it follow that my core evangelical
>> distinctives are in danger of being destroyed?

And Phil replied:

> It depends, of course, on how much of your message or
> your testimony you have to stifle in order to "team up."
> If your allies are Jewish and you hold back from declaring
> the exclusivity of Christ in order to hold your coalition
> together; or if your allies are Roman Catholic and you
> carefully avoid any discussion of sola fide or sola
> Scriptura—then you are sacrificing your distinctives for
> a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel. It
> happens all the time.

It's reasoning like this that leads me to believe that the opponents of ECB just aren't being charitable to their fellow Christians. Let's take Dr. Al Mohler as an example. Does it follow from the fact that he has Jews and Roman Catholics as 'allies' in a cooperative effort to push for legislative and judicial reform at the government level, that therefore Dr. Mohler "holds back from declaring the exclusivity of Christ" or "carefully avoids any discussion of sola fide or sola Scriptura"? Why would someone think this?

Look at what has happened here. You first publish a broadside against 'fads' all and sundry, and when challenged as to the relevance of your critique to one of these 'fads,' you must resort to total speculation about what ECBers do or not do with respect to their non-Christian friends. For all you know, Dr. Mohler (and other ECBers) has not only made plain his evangelical distinctives to all the Jews and Roman Catholics he works with, but he has _repeatedly_ done this. I mean, really, what do we know about the personal conversations he's had, or personal letters he's written, to people he works with? We know _nothing_ about this, right?, not only with respect to Dr. Mohler but just about all of the other ECBers as well! And yet you'd have to know quite a bit here in this precise area to make the claims you make above.

Indeed, we actually _do_ know something about Dr. Mohler, and what we know doesn't support your view. Dr. Mohler introduced his remarks at Justice Sunday by publicly declaring his commitment to sola fide (and sola gratia and solus Christus), with the Catholic League guy standing right next to him! He's also clear that the Roman Catholic church is an apostate church.

The fact of the matter is that being frank with your coalition partners about where you stand with respect to your theological distinctives is quite compatible with working with them on something _other than_ the Great Commission. Since you're not _appealing to_ soteriological distinctives in order to accomplish the task at hand, why are they at all _relevant_ to the cooperative endeavor? One might as well say that the Christian car mechanic at Pep Boys is "sacrificing his distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel," because he doesn't tell the incoming customers that he thinks his fellow mechanic over there is going to hell! ("Sure, I'll fix your car, but just so you understand, the guy helping me is part of the army of darkness. Comprehende?") Surely car repair (and legislative repair) is a cooperative endeavor aimed at bringing about a particular social good, and the fact of theological diversity is utterly irrelevant to the task at hand.

This leads to the final point: an equivocation on the term "sacrificing" in "you are sacrificing your distinctives for a lesser cause than the proclamation of the gospel." (This parallels your earlier equivocation on 'destroying,' BTW.) If by 'sacrificing' you mean "no longer believing evangelical distinctives" or "declaring to the world that you no longer believe evangelical distinctives," then sure, all such 'sacrifice' is anti-Christian to the core. But if by 'sacrificing' you mean: "not appealing to my evangelical distinctives, while I'm seeking to attain a social good in cooperation with others," then that's not an immoral 'sacrifice' at all. Christian policemen cooperate with non-Christian policemen in order to police the streets, and the Christians don't demand of the non-Christians that they believe the gospel or else they won't patrol the streets with them. Ditto for doctors, librarians, real estate agents, trash collectors, and so on. _None_ of these Christians are "sacrificing their evangelical distinctives". _All_ of these forms of cooperative endeavor are legitimate.

Here's the irony: it's precisely _because_ people are working together on "a _lesser_ cause than the proclamation of the gospel" that it's _completely OK_ to "sacrifice your [evangelical] distinctives" to forward that cause (in the sense of not appealing to them). Surely you don't need to agree on the gospel in order to agree that certain legislative and judicial changes are a good thing, and are worth working for. Ditto for a thousand other cooperative endeavors we're involved in every day.

Now, if you were working on _the proclamation of the gospel_, then it would be an _abomination_ to sacrifice your evangelical distinctives in order to accomplish _that_ task! But to accomplish a lesser task? Yes, precisely because it's a lesser task. What, really, is the problem here?

I had said:

>> It looks to me like the culture war stuff is the odd
>> man out in your list, since by definition it does
>> threaten people's comfort zone, rebukes people's sin,
>> and so on.

And Phil replied:

> Perhaps, but it does so very selectively, focusing on what
> is peripheral, not what is central. And that is the point.

No, as far as I recall, your 'point' -- which I cited in my original comment -- was that "Content is deliberately dumbed down—purposely made soft, generic, and non-threatening." Just check out any of the more liberal political websites, or commentary on 'Christians in politics' in any major newspaper. Hordes of people are _incensed_ that Christians would dare to try to influence public policy. What ECBers are attempting to do _is_ threatening to a great many people. It _does_ threaten their comfort zone and rebuke their sin. That, in the end, was my main point: that your inclusion of political activism on this list seems out of place, by the criteria you yourself selected for getting on the list.

As you yourself say to Mike Russell in p. 8 of this post: "The error of the fad mentality I'm describing is that it uses popularity and fashion as gauges and yardsticks for measuring truth." But that's precisely what ECB _isn't_ doing. If they were, there'd be no need for legislative and judicial change in a democratic republic. Whatever is popular and fashionable in law would rule the day, and ECBers would agree with it. Obviously, they don't. And when you go on (in the same pt. 8) to rebut the charge that you're "driven chiefly by a motive to court people's favor," you respond by saying, "I have a list of postmodernists, theonomists, charismatics, Arminians, drunken group-bloggers, Harry Potter-haters, Rick Warren aficionados, and home-school moms to whom I'll refer you for a more objective opinion." Well, don't you think ECBers have a list of enemies and critics equally long, from every non-evangelical segment of society? So why are they faddish and you are not?

Now, you're quite right that ECB work isn't the gospel. It doesn't effect regeneration. It doesn't even proclaim the law of God in all of its depth, so that its fullest demands -- which cut to the very heart -- are not on the civil lawbooks. But, once again, _that's not its purpose_. It seems strange to condemn something like ECB for failing to do something it never set for itself. _Lots of cooperative endeavors between Christians and non-Christians_ fall into this category. It falls far short of gospel ministry. But that's OK, because _it's not gospel ministry_!

> The pattern has been that those who invest the most in "the
> culture war stuff" are often the last ones to press the actual
> claims of the gospel, declare the truth of redemption through
> Christ's atoning work, proclaim the exclusivity of Christ, and
> preach the full and unadulterated gospel.

_But why are they required to do that?_ Can someone answer this simple question? The "culture war stuff" (in this case, legislative and judicial change) _is not the gospel_. It's something else. Unless you're proposing that a Christian can't do _anything_ in society -- either individually or in cooperation with others -- unless it's a proclamation of the gospel, these standards you're pressing on ECBers just look like simple legalism. One might as well say, "Christians who sell houses for a living are often the last ones to press the actual claims of the gospel, declare the truth of redemption... etc." Well, sure, but how is that any kind of a criticism of the activity in question?

> They become obsessed with issues like getting prayer back
> in schools, ignoring the fact that any prayer ever
> sanctioned by the American government would have to be a
> prayer that implicitly denies Christ's rightful lordship.

For the record, I think the 'prayer back in schools' thing is idiotic. I don't sign on to that particular piece of the agenda. I've never seen the need for it. But then again, that's the great thing about these totally voluntary ECB coalitions: you don't have to agree on everything to be a part :-)

> Face it: the evangelical thrust for political activism has
> (historically, not just theoretically) had an ecumenical
> tendency. That's what I mean when I say culture wars
> undermine evangelical distinctives.

Face it: the evangelical thrust for car repair (historically, not just theoretically) had an ecumenical tendency. I mean, look at all these Christian mechanics working with non-Christian mechanics, to bring about social goods which are neither spiritual nor eternal! The horror! And when you throw in the way so many Christian dentists, accountants, and doctors spend the bulk of their time cooperating with their non-Christian counterparts, it's a wonder that we still have an evangelical church in America! ;-) The tooth decay wars undermine evangelical distinctives, I say! ;-)

Now let's really face it: if we were talking about _the church_ or _gospel ministry_, then you might have a point. But your reasoning, applied consistently, would involve either a complete retreat of evangelicals from society, or an absurd insistence that evangelicals only contribute to society by cooperating with evangelicals alone, or proclaiming the gospel alone. I'd like to see a single evangelical follow that policy for 24 hours.

Perhaps if "Focus on the Family" broadcasts were purporting to be the pastoral ministry of some church, then you might have a point. But they're not, and so you don't. Or at least it looks that way to me. (And I mean that in the nicest way possible! :-)

Phil Johnson said...

Jonathan: You describe a change in circumstances, and treat it as a change in truth itself.

I'm speaking of truth and falsehood as something that applies to propositions. I know it's not very pomo of me, but I still believe truth is propositional, and I still accept the classic laws of thought.

In the example you give, the subject of your proposition at start (young Jedidiah) is different from the subject of your proposition at the end (adult Jedidiah).

I.e., your argument hinges on an equivocation and is therefore false.

Mike said...

Jonathan and Phil:

I have made a concerted effort to hijack your conversation and convert it into a profitable post on my blog. You can find it here.

My self-serving reasons are explained in the post. But hopefully it sheds a little light on things.

Sled Dog said...

Hey Jus,

That was a long post! Time to open a blog, ya think? :-0

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil and Mike,

Thanks to both of you for continuing the debate. I admit that I am struggling to work through these things and I do not even know if I agree with myself yet! However, Phil, as I read your response I wonder if you are trivializing the truth of the historical narrative into just “circumstances.” Are you willing to say that the OT commands were “true?” If you refuse to use the word “true,” how do you describe it?

Also, to say that I commit the fallacy of equivocation is exactly the point. The subject (or culture) changes, and so does the nature of what is true for them (slavery again is an excellent example). As a person (or culture) matures, God accommodates Himself to them, moving them toward the Divine standard. Yes, circumstances changed and so did God’s commands for behavior. What was once true is no longer true.

The DANGER in all of this talk is William Webb’s “redemptive hermeneutic” that wants to go beyond the NT ethic in order to, for example, free women up to teach. Since our culture accepts women teachers (unlike the culture of Paul), then we can now accommodate for women teachers in our churches. As the super conservative that I am (who believes that women should still wear head coverings) I disagree with this concept - it is farther down the slope of slipperiness than I care to go.

I still call for a definition of truth.

Jeff Blogworthy said...

Jus Divinum;

Excellent thoughts, cogent arguments. This whole discussion is an enjoyable, though provoking read.

I must say that I share your sentiments regarding the breaking of fellowship/friendship/cooperation with those whom we deem to be unevangelical or not doctrinally sound enough. It smacks of a kind of separatism and pridefulness unbefitting a Christian.

Jeff Blogworthy said...

The parable of the unjust merchant

There was a certain evangelical Christian (named Phil Johnson) who went to market to buy a portion of meat. Coming before him was a man dressed in poor clothes who inquired of the merchant to buy one and one half pounds of beef. The merchant carefully weighed out the requested amount on the scale and charged the poor man accordingly. The amount of meat the poor man received looked suspiciously scarce to the evangelical Christian, so he asked the man to remain nearby.

Being a shrewd man, the evangelical Christian removed a 16 ounce weight from his pocket to test the merchant’s scale. Just as he suspected, the scale was heavily inaccurate in the merchant’s favor. "Foul!" cried the evangelical Christian, "You sir, are a thief!"

Suddenly, a Rabbi, a Catholic Priest and a heathen who were standing nearby observing the whole thing, joined the evangelical Christian. "Here! Here!" they cried at the merchant. "We demand justice!"

While turning to leave, the evangelical Christian was stopped by the poor man. "Where are you going?" inquired the man. "Hey buddy, this is getting way too ecumenical for me – you’re on your own!" said the evangelical Christian, as he walked sorrowfully away.

Heh.

Chris Pixley said...

Jus and Jeff:

I appears to me that you have errected a straw man with whom you are now arguing. As I read things, Phil has consistently expressed concerns about evangelicalism as a movement, not individuals per se. That being the case, your arguments based on the examples of Christian doctors, mechanics, etc. are simply comparing apples to oranges.

Brian said...

Jonathan,

After your comment, I would be interested in your take on the following URL (your take on The Source NT translation in relation to your comment on women and teaching).

http://englishbibles.blogspot.com/2005/07/women-passages-from-source.html

AMDG

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Brian,

I honestly don't care for the dynamic translations. However, the point comes across in 1 Cor 11 fairly clear.

GeneMBridges said...

I have to echo Chris Pixley here:

Going on about Al Mohler is a prime example. As Jus admits, we know about Dr. Mohler's stand on these issues...but what Jus leaves out is the way Dobson hangs Al out to dry in public on some of those issues, and says (paraphrase) "see Mohler defies your standard." However, Phil's standard is specifically a sliding scale, not a blanket assertion about every individual involved the movement. He very clearly states that "It depends, of course, on how much of your message or your testimony you have to stifle in order to "team up..."

For every Mohler, there's a Dobson or, worse, a Parsley or a T.D. Jakes, or a denominational editor who will write openly about those that "prattle on about the separation of church and state," in the July 3 church bulletin, even though the confession he signed says under no uncertain terms, "The church and state are separate," waiting in the wings. That's one of the problems. The very name that is being used, "ECB" must be redefined in order to accomodate Catholics, Word of Faith teachers, and Sabellians. We know what "co-belligerent" means, but what about "evangelical?" What about some consistency here?

Likewise comparisons between tooth decay and evangelical distincitives don't really work either, and analogies between ecumenism and car repair are completely improper. Dental hygiene isn't doctrine. Christians and non-Christians working together as mechanics or doctors, etc. isn't the issue. These people aren't trying to change the value system of the US. The issue is whether or not the church is called to this kind of activism at the expense of the gospel in some cases, that is to say, in a manner in which the E in evangelical means nothing at all.

>>>The "culture war stuff" (in this case, legislative and judicial change) _is not the gospel_. It's something else.

But nobody ever actually defines what that "something else" is for us from anything that these organizations have produced to tell us, from Scripture. The best anybody else can do is take a guess, unless you can point us to some printed literature on the subject.

>>>Since you're not _appealing to_ soteriological distinctives in order to accomplish the task at hand, why are they at all _relevant_ to the cooperative endeavor?

Wilberforce did not fail to highlight the actual problem in Britain. He said that all the spiritual and practical errors of the nominal Christians of his day "result from the mistaken conception entertained of the fundamental principles of Christianity" They consider not that Christianity is a scheme 'for justifying the ungodly' (Romans 4:5), by Christ dying for them 'when yet sinners' (Romans 5:6-8), a scheme 'for reconciling us to God-when enemies' (Romans 5:10); and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled."

When describing the moral decay of Great Britain of that era, he wrote:

"The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the popular doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nourishment" (A Practical View of Christianity).

In other words, by creating a tidy dichotomy here between "gospel ministry" and "activism," the tendency, since it is the tendency of human nature to do it, is to rob the ends of the one means that can nurture it and grow it. Opposing gay rights and gay marriage does nothing about homosexuality itself. Passing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage does nothing if we're not planting churches in gay ghettos. As I've said before, I'm not altogether opposed to ECB...as long as it is undergirded with the spiritual equipment and means to make such work last. Simply foisting it on the churches while the ECB organizations do their own thing simply isn't acceptable. The churches have to deal with the fallout from the ECBO's (ECB Organizations), and, honestly, it is painfully apparent they're not that responsive to the churches.

In the Christian community at large, doctrine DOES matter, because these ECBO's also endorse each other, and the people that work with them trade on their association with ECBO's. Recently, I and a handful of others in my area had a run-in with our local radio station and the largest SBC church here, which I and one of the others I was with, concerning Phillips, Craig, and Dean. This church has a reputation for being a sound doctrinal church. It's retired pastor is very well known and respected in the state and national convention. The current pastor and many staffers are in key SBC positions of leadership, and the Christian community at large looks to them for guidance and sound teaching. The local radio station and they decided to have this concert, so, being good stewards of doctrine, a group of us lobbied both groups extremely hard to try and convince them to at least ask PCD directly about their modalistic theology when they arrived, preferably to cancel the concert, since nobody these days seems able to get a straight answer from them.

We tried five times, responding to each attempt by both the church and the radio station to tell us PCD are Trinitarians in detail. We would take every argument from them and walk them through the issues carefully and explain the way that PCD talks around the issue. We even gave them the addresses and phone numbers of the Oneness churches these men serve and told them to call them and ask for their doctrinal statements. All to no avail. Why? Because, in the end, they produced for us a set of documents from PCD saying "the group was “grilled” by both Focus on the Family and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association." (direct quote)

That was, it seems of greater weight than any reputable apologetics ministry had written or could say, not even two former staff members and the leader of local Rescue Mission and two other local pastors who had even obtained the doctrinal statements of their churches and given the source material, walked through it with them, and all sorts of interaction. What mattered was Focus on the Family's and the BGEA's 'investigation' and continued use of PCD. So, we were left with a concert to raise money for the radio station and a prime chance to take a stand for sound doctrine was missed by a beloved church, in part, due to an endorsement. All this is to say, an ECBO's word carries so much weight, groups like PCD can use them to continue their ministries under the noses of people that should know better, while the rest of us work to sort out the fallout.

>>>What ECBers are attempting to do _is_ threatening to a great many people. It _does_ threaten their comfort zone and rebuke their sin.

A. It is threatening their comfort zone. Agreed.

B. By your own admission here: "ECB work isn't the gospel. It doesn't effect regeneration. It doesn't even proclaim the law of God in all of its depth, so that its fullest demands -- which cut to the very heart -- are not on the civil lawbooks. But, once again, _that's not its purpose." How then is it rebuking their sin apart from the gospel since , by your own yardstick its not gospel ministry? At a minimum it would have to be an "extension" of the gospel to be said to rebuke sin, but that would then put ECB into the category of "gospel ministry" wouldn't it? If not, why not? Where is there conviction of sin as sin apart from special revelation?

ECB is also making us potential enemies to the gospel itself in the long run. Many of the folks on the other side of the political aisle, particularly in the gay community are unregenerate. Granted, they're already in rebellion against God and find the gospel foolish, but do we really want to give them further reason to turn away? These organizations need to realize, if they are going to continue their work that this is just one more complaint, one more arrow that the children of the enemy have to shoot, and, honestly, it gets very frustrating. I like what John Hendryx wrote in one of his articles at monergism.com:
____________________
I think it is clear that Scripture does not conceive of the church's primary role in the world as one of opposing public immorality through political means. The early first and second century Christians lived in an extremely diverse, corrupt and immoral society where they did not have any access to political power or influence in public policy other than through persuading people to believe the gospel. These early Christians did not waste their time picketing or protesting, as we now see some doing. Shouting matches were not their calling. They witnessed to the historic fact of the resurrection, they prayed, worshiped, and lived pious & holy lives. Indeed this witness, in many cases, influenced society, but in many other cases, society went on in its paganism. These Christians knew that if there were to be a vast change of public ideas of morals, it would have to come through the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by an imperial edict or judicial ruling. Laws do very little to change people's thinking or heart's disposition on such matters. And there is no evidence that Jesus went out of his way to take on any political causes, probably because, in themselves, they do have any power to change hearts.

Of course, many wanted Jesus to be a political organizer but that wasn't His interest (except in an eschatological sense). But that does not automatically mean He approved of the status quo. On the contrary, it simply means that the path of Jesus Christ is not identical with the path of political activism. I think Jesus' view of society really tended to grow out of his view of our individual and corporate alienation from God. He gave a diversity of responses to our alienation, but He did not mistake any symptomatic aspect of our lost condition--sexual depravity, greed, poverty, war, ignorance--from the root cause and remedy of that alienation: the gospel.

Jesus lived His life submerged in a culture of social problems and sympathetically tended to those problems, yet he never held out any hope for the substantial eradication of those problems apart from the gospel. The first century Christians, as revealed in the Scriptures, exemplified radical kinds of love and service, but none of these manifested itself as a stress on political activism. So there is great hope in the difference in the way Jesus views the actions of a Christian from the romantic possibilities for a political utopia, which may restrain some evil but itself really has no power to transform anyone.

Frankly, I have always viewed moralizing crusades with great suspicion. It appears to me to commit the church to such a course of action, which was never part of its original purpose, and is an attempt to accomplish something that must ultimately fail. The ultimate effect of merely attempting to focus on legal change might very well be to impede the hearing of the Gospel by those who need it most. To put it in other terms, we cannot minister to people if they perceive us primarily as their political enemies.
____________

Was the fight over the filibuster really necessary? For that entire debacle, I kept saying to myself..."The other party is going to get voted back into power one day, and, if this push goes too far, then the first thing they're going to do is have an up or down vote on every liberal judge in the nation to undo what they perceive as harm, and the party no longer in power will be powerless to stop them, and it will be their own doing. I was once a lobbyist in the NC General Assembly. I know how legislators think, and that is very likely what would have happened. All we did was make more enemies, and we almost cut our hands off to spite our faces. It's this kind of OTT behavior that needs to end.

As a word of testimony here, I was on the opposite end of the political activism as Phil when an unbeliever. Whereas he was on the conservative side, I was on the liberal side. I can't tell you how many "dialogues" I would attend with some of these ECBer's where not one time would they ever share the gospel with a person. Some were people that would be friendly to you, but they wanted you to sign onto their agenda, not their gospel, and that was, and remains to this day, offensive to me. Here were the people with "the truth" and they wouldn't share it with "those people." I have seen the way some of these organizations needlessly and careless make enemies of unbelievers because in threatening their value system, they do so in a less than Christlike manner. Over time, this problem has gotten worse, as the voices have become more shrill on both sides.

Phil Johnson said...

Jus, I haven't time to answer your post in detail, so I'll just make a few points:

1. "Christian mechanics working with non-Christian mechanics" don't call it "ministry" and aggressively raise money from evangelical donors to support it. More importantly, they don't try to make the case that it is every Christian's duty to support their work financially and make car-mechanic work one of our own personal priorities.

2. You, not me, applied my statements about Dobson's "culture war" strategy to all forms of "evangelical co-belligerence" and dragged Al Mohler's name into it into it (while conveniently leaving Dobson's name out, I noticed). I seriously doubt that even you honestly believe Dr. Mohler is typical of the leading evangelical figures who have served as generals the culture war. More typical would be Chuck Colson, who has explicitly called for the kind of compromise I was criticizing. He regularly urges evangelicals to cease their opposition against Romanism and embrace Catholics as our true brothers and sisters in Christ. Colson himself suggests this would be advantageous for increasing our clout in the culture war. (See also his endorsement of Kreeft's Ecumenical Jihad.) Dobson has repeatedly expressed agreement with Colson's opinion on Catholic-Protestant rapprochement, and Dobson makes it clear that he believes Romanism is authentic Christianity almost every time he has a Catholic guest on his broadcast. It was clever of you to defend what Al Mohler is doing, because it's certainly easier to defend than Colson's or Dobson's agendas, but in point of fact, I made no criticism of (not even a reference to) Mohler.

3. Morality is a spiritual issue.

4. Laws passed by a government not committed to the lordship of Christ will never accomplish what is needed to reverse moral decline in our society.

5. I did not "speculat[e] about what ECBers do or not do with respect to their non-Christian friends." I observed what has happened in several evangelical ministries, and what several evangelical leaders, starting with Colson, have expressly advocated, and what Dobson practices in his "ministry" (which is not dentistry or brake-pad replacement). See also Blinded by Might, by Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson for a couple of former culture-warrior insiders' perspectives on the same thing. It's not "speculation" to say that sort of compromise happens all the time. I suspect you would indeed admit that in a context where it didn't damage your argument.

Unfortunately, this is about all the time I have to interact with you on this subject at the moment. As I said, I intend to post on the subject in the weeks to come. But for now, I'll let you have the last word, if you want to post once more. I have only one request: be brief and succinct. The full-length Steve-Hays-style comments aren't really "comments"; they are more like term papers. They're pretty well-written term papers, but despite your skill at weaving detailed and long-winded jeremiads, I don't see where you have refuted any point I was making. You'd actually do better with me if you could stay with the point I actually made, and stop arguing against what Steve Camp posted on his blog two weeks ago. :-)

Joe said...

I would like to address GeneMBridges briefly.
What in the world was that all about?

Jeff Blogworthy said...

Chris Pixley:

Chris accuses me of erecting a straw man because, I guess, my little parable deals with individuals instead of groups as a whole. Frankly, I did not think it was rocket science that the parable is designed to represent larger issues, greater injustices, and entire groups of people. If there is a straw man there, I am not seeing him.

GeneMBridges said:

I think it is clear that Scripture does not conceive of the church's primary role in the world as one of opposing public immorality through political means. The early first and second century Christians lived in an extremely diverse, corrupt and immoral society where they did not have any access to political power or influence in public policy other than through persuading people to believe the gospel. These early Christians did not waste their time picketing or protesting, as we now see some doing. Shouting matches were not their calling. They witnessed to the historic fact of the resurrection, they prayed, worshiped, and lived pious & holy lives. Indeed this witness, in many cases, influenced society, but in many other cases, society went on in its paganism. These Christians knew that if there were to be a vast change of public ideas of morals, it would have to come through the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by an imperial edict or judicial ruling. Laws do very little to change people's thinking or heart's disposition on such matters.

I agree with you, to a point. Of course the church’s “primary” role is not one of opposing public morality through political means. And of course the early church lived pious lives without access to political power. But the early church did not live in a representative republic where they are given the privileges and charged with the responsibilities of citizenship. Nor were they self-governed.

Do you not think it is the Christian’s duty to “submit to the governing authorities” and to fulfill the duties of good citizenship, such as voting, paying taxes, and contacting your representatives? As Lincoln observed, we live in a land where the government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” No other such government ever existed on the face of the earth, so to compare our system of self-government to the rights exercised under Roman authority is inaccurate. Should the Christian remain silent? Should the Christian just “sit it out”?

I would argue that it is a sin for the Christian not to vote. Moreover, it is a sin to vote for rulers who openly support things directly opposed to God’s word.

The ultimate effect of merely attempting to focus on legal change might very well be to impede the hearing of the Gospel by those who need it most. To put it in other terms, we cannot minister to people if they perceive us primarily as their political enemies.

You make a good point here, but one may also wonder about the impact of the church on pagans who instinctively know right from wrong and observe the church standing idly by in the face of the greatest injustices, wondering, “Why don’t they do something?” Does this not damage our credibility and witness for Christ as well? It has often been indignantly observed that the Church was largely silent during the Jewish holocaust. Do we need a repeat?

Speaking for myself only, my focus in activism is not to make pagans behave morally; this is obviously futile. The impetus for my activism is the state of gross injustice we currently find ourselves in. The people of the U.S. did not vote and are not voting to embrace abortion, homosexual marriages, euthanasia, destruction of religious symbols and texts, etc. These things are being accomplished through a cadre of people who have overstepped their rightful authority - judges. Had the people actually voted for these things, my attitude would be more like the one you outline. A runaway judicial oligarchy seeking to overturn both the will of the people and our entire system of government is another matter. This outrage needs to be immediately corrected given the appropriate channels embodied in our constitution. Christians should lead the way.

Jus Divinum said...

I've replied to Chris Pixley, genembridges, and Phil Johnson, over at:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/07/blogspotting-with-bro-phil.html#112257359238943138

... for anyone that's interested.

Thanks for Jeff Blogworthy for additional thoughts here :-)