30 September 2005

Turns out I missed some yesterday, so here's more...

Note: For the few who are still unclear on the concept, these BlogSpotting posts are where I link to people who have linked to me. I do realize there are many fine blogs out there besides the ones that link to PyroManiac. But you gotta draw the line somewhere. And this is the best way I know to keep the most up-to-date links to people who are interacting with me out in the blogosphere. See my June 26 post on the subject.

If I linked everything I find interesting, my blog would look like a bad imitation of The Drudge Report. Instead, once a week or so I link to blogposts that have linked to me. (Blogrolls that include permanent links to PyroManiac are greatly appreciated, but except on rare occasions, I don't generally include them in the BlogSpotting lists.)

I do not limit these links to people who have positive things to say about PyroManiac. Lately there have been fewer critics linking here, but I don't deliberately exclude any critics. I actually look for them and use the link as an opportunity for brief interaction with their criticisms. There's only one exception to that rule: I do refuse to link to blogs with morally objectionable material or inappropriate links.

Most people appreciate the linkage, whether they are friends or critics. A few shy homeschool moms have said they aren't comfortable with the publicity and try (sometimes in vain) to disguise any reference they make to my blog. I usually link to them anyway. One guy whom I BlogSpotted wrote to say he wished he had left me alone and asked me to remove my link back to him. I did. If you feel that strongly about it, let me know. Despite what it may look like at times, it's not a goal of mine to upset as many people as possible.

So without further ado...

BlogSpotting

  • Dan Burrell gives me a thumbs up on Tuesday's post.
  • Daniel J. Phillips does some careful thinking about the disemvoweling of God's names and adds several good arguments I hadn't even thought of for why this practice makes no sense. He calls the practice "ostentatious," and after reading all the comments here, as well as Dani-l's post, I agree with him completely. In my opinion, the practice ought to be discontinued, relegated to the dustbin of forgotten evangelical fads, along with the PBPGINFWMY pins and "I Found It!" bumper stickers.
  • Jeremy Moore can hardly contain himself. He wants to be like me when he grows up. (My mom would say that's oxymoronic. Anyone who's grown up is nothing at all like me.)
  • Ian Clary links to a Christian festival where he thinks "The New Testament for Goth Girls" might seriously be a hit. He says he's not linking to me in order to be BlogSpotted, but I'm going to mention him anyway.
  • Ray at "Observations and Opinions" does some serious thinking and has some edifying thoughts about the limits of our duty to be all things to all men.
  • Jason Clark can appreciate the humor in some of my comic-book parodies. But he thinks too many of you people who comment here seem to enjoy being "rude, denigrating, biting, [and] cutting." (You were talking about the people who are critical of me—right, Jason?)
  • William Dicks unleashes his blog readers on PyroManiac.
  • Jeff Jones thinks I'm "redoubtable." I think that means "capable of provoking repeated doubts"—as in, "I keep getting the feeling I'm not too sure about this guy."
  • Pedantic Protestant (who is that guy?) figures he's ok if I don't BlogSpot him. Busted.
  • Matt Gumm has a brilliant post today dealing with the disastrous dumbing down of Bible translations. He's done some careful work to document two different approaches to translating Romans 3:23 and 1 John 2:2 and 4:10, where the concept is plainly that of "propitiation"—a very specific and important idea—but some translators have deemed the expression "too technical to communicate to many modern readers."
  • Michael Spencer does a riff on the tattoo-and-piercing issue and adds a helpful addendum: "What Phil Johnson is describing—the confrontation of culture—is exactly right....IF by that we mean the culture is confronted with Christ and the Gospel, and not simply another culture." I'll add an amen to that—and a big hands-in-the-air charismatic-style salute to the example he gives.
         In fact, here's the kind of "Christian culture" he rightly execrates: "Visit TBN and look at the hairstyles on everyone from Benny Hinn to
    Laverne Tripp
    Laverne Tripp
    Laverne Tripp to Jan Crouch. How is this different from the hair styles you would see on kids with piercings and tattoos? (It's, frankly, considerably weirder.)" Yeah, I've often wondered if Laverne Tripp really goes to Costco with his hair like that. He must get stared at and pointed at a lot, even by people who haven't a clue who he is. The rest of Michael's article is worthy of sober consideration, too.
         In fact, Michael's post prompted some thoughts I'll probably eventually blog about: historically, Christianity has elevated every culture it has penetrated. Beginning sometime in the past 150 years or so, however, the visible church (and I'm speaking very broadly here) has seemed to act as an incubator to some amazingly lowbrow and even circus-style subcultures. Shouldn't that clue us that something is seriously wrong, and shouldn't the mainstream be more wary of embracing the fringe, rather than more and more willing to accept aberrant theologies, aberrant cultures, aberrant styles, aberrant worship, and aberrant philosophies into our mainstream?
  • Confession time: I realize folks occasionally complain that my humor is too caustic or insufficiently considerate of the feelings of people who bear the brunt of my satire. My dear mom tells me that all the time, and she has borne the brunt of my satire more times than all my readers combined. For the record, I'm not insensitive to those concerns. I do not countenance name-calling, angry insults, or deliberate ill manners and bad behavior. And I do try to shut off the humor chip in my brain when I feel the sarcasm circuitry starting to overload. As Spurgeon once said, if you knew all the mischievous things I think about but never actually say, you would offer me hearty congratulations for my restraint.
         Nonetheless, I include this next BlogSpot as a cautionary tale for all of us. Here's something that puts the dangers of careless stridency in proper perspective:
         Darth Gill (aka Brandan Kraft) has some less-than-cogent and not-exactly-self-deprecating thoughts about arrogance, offensive language, pride, serious error, and theological discourse. He's "amazed at the number of people that routinely refer to [him] as mean, harsh, or arrogant." He'd really appreciate it if people would simply ignore his arrogance and listen to his opinions anyway. He does not and will not apologize "for calling others names and using derogatory terms such as stupid, idiot, ignorant fools." This memorable quip stood out especially: "Yes, I am mean harsh and arrogant. . . . If you dismiss or ignore me because of this, then it is nothing more than a pathetic exuse [sic] not to deal with the topics that I bring to you in this blog."
         Unfortunately, the "topics" Brandan brings to his blog, and his web page, and his discussion forum are all part of Brandan's relentless advocacy of the most radical hyper-Calvinist opinions. And since all who offer biblical arguments against his views automatically incur name-calling and denunciation from Brandan and many others in his crew, his blog is frankly a little hard to take except in small doses. In celebration of his defense of nasty arrogance, I've given Brandan's blog a place in my blogroll under "Appalling." Hopefully, its presence there will remind me to let my own speech (and writing) be seasoned with a little more grace.
  • Frank Martens tells a very poignant tale about his experience as the eldest son in a large family. Both Frank's and his sister's blogs speak well of their father's influence and the goodness of divine Providence.
  • Brian Colmery found Wednesday's post enjoyable.
  • Kevin Pierpont Notices the link to the "Grace to You" podcast over there in the Right-hand column.
  • Pierre Benz at "Bowl of Musing" enjoyed my correspondence with "Savage Countenance."
  • Jared at "The Thinklings" has been eavesdropping. De over there spotted the Biblezine parody. Here's another one:
    Product: New Testament for Fancy-oys
    HT: Pecadillo

Phil's signature

29 September 2005

BlogSpotting (because I couldn't think of anything else to say)

BlogSpotting
Blogtool Update:

  1. The Truth Laid Bare suddenly rediscovered a bunch of links to PyroManiac that had gone missing. It's still not working correctly, though. I've seen several bloggers' references to the vacillating way it accounts for links. Almost everyone's numbers seem to go up and down wildly every day. And some pretty odd blogs keep popping in and out of the top rankings. I've concluded it's giving me stats and other data that are practically worthless. I understand it's only a part-time hobby for NZ Bear. No wonder he's had a hard time keeping up with the explosion of blogs. It's frankly amazing that the TTLB concept works at all without lots of staff and corporate resources to maintain it 24/7.
  2. IceRocket is still very reliable. It always returns results rather than error messages, and that's good. But it doesn't seem to search as many blogs or index as frequently as the other two search engines I use regularly.
  3. Technorati finally seems to be fixed. It's been more than a week since I got the "server busy" message. Let's hope they keep it running. It still seems slow to index new posts, but it's at least 400 percent better than 2 weeks ago. If it works for another week or so, I'll put the Technorati link back on my blog template.
  4. Google's Blog Search, as you'd expect, is already very good and getting better every day. It seems to update and index new posts more frequently than the others. I predict its performance is going to be very hard to beat. But hey, am I the only one who thinks all the tools related to Blogger.com (Google) have ugly interfaces? Between the three major search engines I've linked to here, the Blogger's Blog Search is far and away the ugliest. (My favorite is the slightly retro look of IceRocket.)

Phil's signature

28 September 2005

Still more from the e-mail out-box

The correspondence I posted yesterday prompted an e-mail from someone who was mildly irritated with me. Here's my reply:




To: "Savage Countenance"
From: "Phillip R. Johnson"
Subject: Re: Cr—t-r?!!

Dear "Savage Countenance,"

Many thanks for your message. You wrote:

> why would you question a brother
> who just wants to fit in with the
> people he's trying to reach?...you
> should quit trying so hard to be
> different and try harder to be
> genuine...i'm making this point
> b/c my eyebrow is pierced and i
> have a tatoo on the back of my
> neck...i wear combat boots...and
> i usually wear all black..i listen
> to Christian metal and industrial
> music—i've seen too many christians
> hide in a corner away from the world
> and wait for them to come to
> us...and it just doesn't work
> that way, you know?

OK, first of all let me say that the point I want to make here has very little to do with the question of whether body piercing and tattoos are always inherently sinful.

Don't misunderstand: I would indeed argue that if you pierce or tattoo yourself as an act of self-mutilation, narcissism, or rebellion, then the motivation for such "body modification" is clearly sinful and therefore something Christians ought to avoid.

But that's really beside the point at the moment. Because your whole argument is that you have tattooed yourself and put studs in your face in order to be more "genuine" and to have a better testimony for Christ.

And that's what I want to respond to: the notion that adopting the fads of a juvenile, egomaniacal, shallow, self-destructive, worldly culture "works" better as an evangelistic strategy than a lifestyle that gives more prominence to the principle of Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 2:9.

As you have described it above, body modification and combat boots are a significant and deliberate part—if not the very centerpiece—of your evangelistic strategy. You seem to imagine that if you try hard enough to fit into the punk culture, you might actually win people by convincing them that Jesus would fit nicely into their lifestyle, too.

But wouldn't you yourself actually agree that there is—somewhere—a limit to how far Christians can legitimately go in conforming to worldly culture? Surely you do not imagine that the apostle Paul's words about becoming all things to all men is a prescription for adopting every vulgar fashion of a philistine culture. Do you?

Can we agree, for example, that it wouldn't really be good or necessary to get a sex-change operation in order to reach the transgendered community? OK, you might dismiss that as something inherently sinful and wrong for that reason. Well, how about pulling a few teeth and adopting the trashy patois and tasteless lifestyle of Jerry Springer's guest list in order to have a more effective outreach to the underbelly of the cable-TV community? How serious are you about your strategy of accommodation and conformity?

And why is it mainly the lowbrow and fringe aspects of Western youth culture that this argument is invariably applied to? Why are so few Christian young persons keen to give up video games and take up chess in order to reach the geeks in the chess club? or give up heavy metal and learn the cello in order to have a ministry to the students who play in the orchestra?

There used to be a misguided youth on the Web who ran a website called "Backyard Wrestlers for Jesus." He was trying to tap into the backyard wresting culture as a mission field. So he set up a Web site showing kids how to build a backyard wrestling ring, how to do what The Rock and the Dudley Boys do without getting hurt, and how to talk smack without really talking dirty—so that kids who wrestle in their own backyards could improve their style. Along the way, he figured they would see that his Web site had something to do with Jesus, and they'd know Jesus is cool, and they'd like Jesus better because he's so cool.

I admire his desire to reach a troubled culture, but the methodology is all wrong and completely without any credible biblical warrant. I realize making Jesus seem cool is the dominant evangelistic strategy of this age, and everyone from Rick Warren to Brian McLaren is trying in whatever way they think best to make Christianity more hip and trendy.

But I still think it's a bad idea.

Incidentally, I grew up in the 1960s in a liberal church with a fairly sizable youth group where dances with live rock music were the bait used to draw us on a regular basis. So there's nothing particularly fresh or innovative about this philosophy. It didn't work in my generation, and it's not really working now. It's made the church more worldly; it hasn't made the world more spiritual.

In fact, I'd say that this strategy represents the wholesale abandonment of the church's responsibility to a sinful culture.

The most effective way to minister to any culture—and this goes for every culture, from highbrow society to white middle-class suburbia to the urban street gang—is to challenge and confront the culture instead of conforming to it. "Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean'" (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Yes, I know Jesus was a friend of sinners, and His enemies accused Him—wrongly—of participating in their excesses. The truth is that He became their friend without adopting their values. That's the example we should strive to follow, not the example of worldly culture itself.

Phil's signature


27 September 2005

More from the e-mail out-box


To: K___ B_____
From: "Phillip R. Johnson"
Subject: Cr--t-r?!

Dear K_____,

You wrote:

> I serve M-ss--h in a Jewish
> context. Hence the omission
> of the vowels in the names
> of G-d. You have my per-
> mission to publish any part
> of my messages you choose,
> but I have one request: Please
> do not edit my words so as to
> add the letters I have omitted.
>
> Were my post to come into the
> hands of a Jew, my credibility
> with the community would be
> suspect for writing out the
> name of the Cr--t-r. See what
> Rav' Shaul (the apostle Paul)
> wrote in 1 Cor. 9:20-21.

Perhaps you could explain this practice further. It seems to me that this is an accommodation to a superstition that is grounded in an unbiblical notion of what it means to take the Lord's name in vain. And as far as I can tell, it is not even the whole Jewish community who follow this superstition, but a fairly narrow segment of Hasidim.

Since the whole idea behind this practice goes against what Christ taught, I've always felt it is inappropriate for Christians to cater to it. We don't cross ourselves or bow to the communion elements in order to accommodate the superstitions of Roman Catholics. Why omit vowels in order to accommodate selected Pharisaic-style superstitions? (And even in the word Cr--t-r?!! That's the first time I've seen that.)

This isn't a case of obeying any law or tradition that reflects the true intent of the Old Testament commandments. In fact, it tacitly seems to sanction a perversion of God's law. It's precisely the kind of thing Y'shua refused to accommodate for the sake of pleasing overscrupulous Pharisees (cf. Mark 7:2-9). In fact, He attacked the myth that lies behind the superstition against pronouncing or spelling out the name of God (cf. Matthew 23:16-24).

I also think it's a huge and totally unwarranted logical leap to portray this practice as a legitimate application of the 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 principle: "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law . . . that I might gain them that are without law."

Since you've appealed to that text, I have four questions for you:

  1. Have you carefully considered the possibility that your observing this practice is perpetuating a myth about the appropriate way to express one's reverence for God's name? Again, I refer you to Mark 7:2-9 for our Lord's own example of how to deal with Jewish traditions that subvert the true meaning of the law.
  2. If the no-vowels-in-God's-name rule is a perversion of the law rather than a legitimate application of the third commandment, do you really imagine Rav' Shaul would have sanctioned it?
  3. Do you follow both sides of Rav' Shaul's maxim? When you write to me, you're writing to a Goy. So why do you insist on retaining (and to a large degree, it seems, flaunting) the ceremonial and religious accoutrements of Jewish culture? What about becoming as one who is without law to them who are without law? Do you ever do that? Or are you treating certain Old Testament ceremonial requirements as inviolable, even among the Goyim?
  4. Are you really Jewish? Because in my experience, a high percentage of Christians who imitate Hasidic practices are not really from orthodox Jewish backgrounds at all, but Goyim-born Hebrew-wannabes (or secular Jews who have embraced Christ as Meshiach)—with the mistaken notion that cloaking the Christian faith in the robes and phylacteries of Orthodox Jewish religious traditions somehow makes Christianity seem more "authentic." (As if Christ were not Savior of the Goyim, too.) That's the very mindset that gave rise to Galatianism, and it's a troubling and persistent tendency of Messianic Judaism, I fear.

You wrote,

> As a trained Rav', surely Shaul
> would have not have shown such
> disrespect to G-d's name as to
> write it out when corresponding
> with fellow Jews.

However, he did just that, in his epistle to the Romans, which included Jewish recipients.

And he certainly would not have shown such disrespect to his Gentile brethren as to insist on treating God's name as unspeakable in his correspondence with them. Nothing you have said explains why you insist on observing Hasidic superstitions in your correspondence with me.

Thus my objection to the missing vowels still stands. This is not a legitimate principle of Old Testament law, but a manufactured tradition invented by men, or worse—a matter of superstition based on a serious corruption of the law.

And I think it is a serious mistake for Christians to play along with such superstitions.

Phil's signature


25 September 2005

Monday Menagerie XVII

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to esoteric and offbeat things, in the hope that these will supply learning experiences for us all.

The pioneer of polemic taxidermy, or building imaginary monsters as a satirical apologetic device

Charles WatertonCharles Waterton is one of the great eccentrics of English history (and let's be honest: that's a long story really full of peculiar characters).

Waterton was born at Walton Hall, in West Yorkshire, on June 3, 1782. He died at that same estate on May 27, 1865. In between, he traveled the world and made quite a name for himself.

His religion

If Waterton were looking over my shoulder right now, he himself would demand that any biographical sketch about him begin with the fact that he was Roman Catholic. He was an ardent and very proud Catholic. His ancestry, he claimed, included seven full-on Roman Catholic saints, ranging from Vladimir the Great to Sir Thomas More. British Roman Catholic author Graham Greene said, "Roman Catholicism has always been a great breeder of eccentrics in England. One cannot picture a man like Charles Waterton belonging to any other faith."

During his youth, Waterton's family was burdened by financial difficulties, which he blamed on the political policies of the Hanoverian Protestants. He grew up with a deep contempt for Protestants and Protestantism, and he practically wore his disrespect on his sleeve. He would attend meetings of the Protestant Reformation Society and heckle speakers whenever they used words like "Popery," or "Romanism."

His wit and his work

Charles Waterton was nonetheless a likeable man with a lively sense of humor and a roguish wit.

In fact, while Waterton was always a "good Catholic," he was not always a well-behaved one. In 1817, at age 35 (an age when lesser men have already begun to lose their youthful mischievousness) Waterton visited the Vatican. Touring the dome of St. Peter's, he climbed to an almost inaccessible lightning-rod on the roof and placed one of his gloves on top of it, like a flag. This caught the attention of no less than Pope Pius VII, who was not amused and demanded that the glove be removed. Waterton obliged, making the difficult climb for the second time in two days.

Climbing was one of Charles's passions. He was a prodigious climber, who could scale almost any wall, tree, or rock face. It is said that even at age 80, he still thought nothing of shinnying up a tree to examine a bird's nest.

This ability went well with his career. Waterton was a naturalist.

His career

In 1804, at age 22, Charles Waterton went to Guyana, where he oversaw the large estate of an uncle. This was a perfect life for an early nineteenth-century naturalist who wanted to make a mark in that field of study. He was the first to bring a usable sample of the poison curare back to England for study. He was a contemporary, acquaintance, and sometimes mentor to Charles Darwin (though he reportedly had little respect for Darwin's work). Many species of birds and other creatures in the West Indies were discovered and first described by Charles Waterton.

Near the end of his life, Waterton built a nine-foot wall around the family estate, effectively creating the world's first wildlife preserve. He also fought one of the first successful conservation campaigns—a long legal battle he waged and finally won against a soap manufacturer who was allowing chemicals to run downstream onto Waterton's property. Many of his ideas, which seemed as bizarre as his ultra-short haircut in his own time, are now (like the haircut) accepted as mainstream.

But there's still no denying that the man's eccentricity ran deep. It wasn't merely that he wore a buzz cut in an era when long hair was considered an essential part of good grooming; he also was known for bizarre antics like biting guests on the leg under the table like a dog. He also was flexible enough to scratch behind his ear with his big toe, and he loved to demonstrate that ability. And he deliberately bled himself copiously and regularly, believing this was how the body healed itself. He referred to the practice as "tapping one's claret."

His marriage

Understandably, Waterton remained unmarried until age 48, when he was wed to a girl 31 years his junior. She was an orphan with whom he had become infatuated in her infancy. He waited till she was old enough to marry, and by all accounts, their brief marriage was a happy one, but she died a year later from complications related to the birth of their son.

Charles was burdened with guilt related to his wife's death, and from that time on, he used a wooden block as a pillow, apparently as a form of penance.

His taxidermy

He practiced taxidermy as an extension of his work as a naturalist, and the skill he developed was remarkable. He pioneered the use of mercuric chloride to make the animal-skin hard and ward off harmful insects. Unlike other taxidermists, who stuffed specimens to fill them out after dissection, Waterton developed a process of shaping and hardening the animal skin, so that many of his finished works were hollow. This was a time-consuming process, but it enabled Waterton to mix taxidermy and high art. He found he could manipulate hides in order to give the animals a lifelike stance and appearance.

In 1824 Waterton returned more or less permanently to England to be the squire of his ancestral home, Walton Hall, (after 20 years in Guyana, and just a few years before his short-lived marriage).

Back home, he found an even more interesting use for his ability to sculpt animal hides.

"The Nondescript"

On one of his trips through British customs at Liverpool, an inflexible and rather stern customs inspector, one Mr. Lushington, informed Waterton that he would have to pay the highest commercial duty for the importation of animal specimens from the New World.

Waterton protested, complaining that the specimens were museum pieces and of no commercial value. Lushington was unyielding, and though Waterton argued long and passionately, in the end, he had no choice but to pay an exorbitant price to get his collection home.

The NondescriptAfter his next trip to the West Indies, Waterton returned with an animal specimen he labeled "The Nondescript." He claimed it was the preserved remains of a large animal, nearly human. It had furry skin but a human face. Many naturalists of the day were fooled by it. People who saw it were aghast, wondering if the creature Waterton had killed and mounted might have been truly human. It was in fact the skin of a red howler monkey, with an artificial face formed from the animal's backside, and carefully sculpted to look like Agent Lushington.

from the frontispiece of Waterton's book
"The Nondescript," from the frontispiece of Waterton's book
The practical joke was not discovered for some time, and the details of its craftsmanship are still disputed by experts. But "The Nondescript" became the inspiration for other similar frauds, most notably the Piltdown Man.



Other creations

Martin Luther After His Fall
"Martin Luther After His Fall"
Waterton began using his taxidermist's skills to make monstrous caricatures as satires to lampoon his Protestant enemies. One creation was "Martin Luther After His Fall," a monkey that had been given human facial features and horns.

"Noctifer" was made of an owl combined with a long-legged marsh bird, symbolizing (in Waterton's own words) "the Spirit of the Dark Ages, unknown in England before the Reformation." (No one ever claimed he was an expert in history.)

John Bull and the National Debt
"John Bull and the National Debt"
Other creations by Waterton made political statements, such as "John Bull and the National Debt," A porcupine with a turtle-shell, being attacked by devils. Even this had an anti-Protestant message, because Waterton blamed virtually every financial ill in England on the Hanoverian Protestants until the day of his death.

What can we learn from this?

I (of all people) can certainly appreciate Waterton's sense of humor, even though I disagree completely with most of the sentiments expressed by his satire. In those days, long before humor began to carry the same social stigma as deliberate cruelty, Waterton's humor was usually appreciated on some level by friends and foes alike. His sense of humor made even an outlandish eccentric like Waterton seem approachable and likable.

As someone who often defends the legitimate use of satire and sarcasm, I want to acknowledge that (while a caricature can often make a valuable point in bold relief) there's a lesson to be learned in the opposite direction, too: If the only thing you have is a stuffed animal made of borrowed parts of this and that, you don't really have much of an argument.

Grotesque taxidermy specimens and comic-book covers are good for illustrative purposes, and the right use of humor can lighten even the most serious discussions. (Here's hoping humor itself will never be totally outlawed by "polite" society.) But caricatures and manufactured monsters are valid only if they substantiate an argument that has elsewhere been made rationally, with true facts, solid logic, and reasonable arguments.

I think we can all agree on that.

Still, if the rational argument has been made, the stuffed monkey can be a very useful illustration or icebreaker. I sometimes wish I had the skill, time, and resources to do taxidermy.

For further study:

  1. "Charles Waterton," from the Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. "The Gentle Art of Political Taxidermy: Charles Waterton, Squire of Walton Hall,"
    by Sally Shelton, from Annals of Improbable Research
  3. The Charles Waterton Home Page
  4. Wanderings in South America, a free eBook by Charles Waterton

Phil's signature

Oh, it's a conversation? Huh? My two cents? Sure...

Here's 35 cents worth:

Phil's signature

24 September 2005

Some recycled thoughts for the weekend: Brian McLaren and the assurance of faith

PyroManiacBack in April, about the time I began seriously thinking about entering the blogosphere, Tim Challies featured an enthusiastic review of Bob DeWaay's insightful critique of Brian McLaren's A Generous Orthodoxy. I like Bob DeWaay's plain-spoken, sensible approach to analyzing hard issues, and Challies' blogpost about that particular article was also very succinct and to the point.

I especially liked one sentence where Challies contrasted historic Reformation Christianity with McLaren's post-whatever Emergent-style religion.

So I left a short comment expressing my appreciation for the clarity of this one statement by Challies: "This may be the very heart of a postmodern versus Reformational understanding of Scripture. The Reformers believed that man could know and could understand the Bible. The postmodernist cannot see beyond the fallibility of the one who does the reading."

Some of the commenters at Challies' blog were more or less sympathetic with the "Emerging Church Conversation," and a lively exchange was already taking place there, even before I posted—especially on the subjects of faith, knowledge, spiritual understanding, and the confidence with which a Christian is entitled to express the grace of assurance.

Here's an edited summary of some things I wrote in the brief dialogue that ensued. I'm recycling these thoughts here, because they expand on some remarks I have posted over the past two days:

Certainty

No one in his right mind would suggest that "we have no limitations when it comes to [understanding] the Bible." But it seems rather obvious that if divine grace really does enable us to know truth (as we are taught in several passages like 1 John 2:20; Hebrews 8:11; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16), then certainty, confidence, righteous conviction, and the assurance of faith are by no means impossible for redeemed sinners.

It's true that our knowledge is imperfect until we are glorified (1 Corinthians 13:12). Still, what our faith enables us to know (albeit imperfectly) is objectively true. Our fallibility doesn't nullify Scripture's infallibility. We don't need to doubt that which is sufficiently clear in Scripture.

And despite what McLaren and other postmodernists insist, it is not necessary to argue that someone's reading of the Bible is infallible in order to discover significance in the truth that the Bible itself is objectively infallible.

Unlike postmodernism (which has no room for certainty of any kind), the Reformers (with Scripture on their side), stressed the perspicuity, authority, and absolute certainty of the essential gospel message. Reformation theology highlighted the biblical promise of the assurance of faith. That was one of the ways Reformation theology differed most dramatically from Medieval Roman Catholicism, and it is the very thing postmodernist theology seems bent on destroying.

The Reformers' consensus on these matters is carefully spelled out in the Westminster Confession of Faith. After affirming the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Confession says:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

The Confession goes on to speak of "an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, [and] the testimony of the Spirit."

Isn't that the very thing McLaren denies? I've heard him mention "certainty" dozens of times, always to denigrate the assurance of Christians who (in his opinion) are too cocksure about what they believe.

Arrogance

I don't deny that there are many people out there who have a poor testimony for Christ because they are too smug about things they have blindly and brashly embraced. (That includes hordes of "emergent" Christians, too, by the way.) But I think it's a serious mistake to suggest that every expression of assurance or certainty is carnal or unjustified. Assurance—which stems from faith in what God has revealed—is presented in Scripture as a virtue. It is not the same thing as arrogance, which is overconfidence in the flesh.

By comparison with the faith of the Reformers, the emergent variety of "faith" seems a very cynical brand of dogma, obsessed with uncertainty rather than assurance; glorying in self-doubt rather than confidence.

In my estimation, this perpetual uncertainty about anything and everything, though claiming to be a form of humility, is in fact shot through with the very worst kind of human arrogance. Often, I fear, it is a subtle expression of unbelief.

Perspicuity

Curiously StrongAt this point in the conversation, someone wrote, "I'd suggest that the things that are 'sufficiently clear in Scripture' [are] relatively few things . . .and most of them are the main important things that even McLaren and John Shelby Spong (who is not a postmodern, btw!) agree with."

My reply:


Knowing how much biblical truth Spong rejects, it's pretty hard to see that statement as anything other than a practical denial of the perspicuity of Scripture.

The Bible's clarity can't be measured by an opinion poll to see how many people agree on what it means. If you really think Scripture is that unclear, it seems to me that you have eliminated the ground of Christian certainty after all. You've managed to demonstrate rather than refute my point about the utter inability of postmodernism to accommodate any meaningful degree of biblical certainty or conviction.

When you go on to suggest that McLaren's criticisms of certainty "were always in the context of things beyond the basics of Christianity"—that's a pretty hollow reassurance if your view of "the basics of Christianity" includes nothing more than Bishop Spong would affirm.

No significant critic of the emergent movement has ever suggested that "if you cannot know something omnisciently then you can't know anything." The point we're making is practically the polar opposite: You don't need to know anything "omnisciently" to be certain about some things. Specifically, we can be certain that what God has revealed is true.

Now, the true disciple of Brian McLaren will instantly claim I haven't solved anything with that affirmation, because the process of knowing "what God has revealed" is too subjective and we as sinners are too prone to misunderstanding. If we can't even be sure what God has revealed, it's an empty claim to say that "we can be certain that what God has revealed is true." So in the end, the only biblical certainties are reduced to a few meaningless (and, frankly, still-debatable) propositions that even Bishop Spong might assent to.

Sorry. My faith brings enough assurance to permit me to say I am absolutely certain Bishop Spong is grossly wrong even if Bishop Spong doesn't seem to understand that he is grossly wrong. I'm not convinced Brian McLaren could honestly say that. It's certainly not characteristic of the kinds of things he has said. In fact, he has rather pointedly made it clear that this is just the kind of certainty he hates. He thinks it is high-handed and egotistical.

Well, I think it's high-handed and egotistical to insist that God hasn't spoken with sufficient clarity. My judgment would be that the pomo-attitude of "Hey, i don't know everything . . .this is what i believe . . .i could be wrong, but let's not quibble over it and go get a beer—" is arrogant in the extreme.

McLaren is unsure of things no Christian ought to be unsure of. He doubts the authority of Scripture. He questions the exclusivity of Christ. He can't seem to find a clear moral compass in Scripture. All of this stems from his postmodern relativism.

Relativism

Now, obviously, as a clever relativist, McLaren would never admit to being an absolute relativist (pardon the expression). So he claims he is certain about a select few things, such as the fact that he is a "sinner"—which in his case (since he doesn't seem to have a very orthodox hamartiology) turns out to be just another way of saying he is fallible and therefore shouldn't be too dogmatic about anything. Nonetheless, some of his readers have apparently swallowed the argument that this claim absolves him from any and every charge of relativism.

It doesn't. At the end of the day, when Brian McLaren is done dissecting the Christian faith, there clearly is not a whole lot left that Christians can be certain about. You can argue that it's hyperbole to say that McLaren "believes nothing can really be believed." Fine. But it is certainly true that there's not much of any real substance that he thinks Christians ought to be certain about. And that approach to Christianity lacks biblical and historical integrity. It is rooted in relativism, and it does undermine the very soul of Christian assurance.

Skepticism

The rise of Open Theism, which was cited by someone as "proof" that we shouldn't be too certain of our theology in this postmodern day and age, actually illustrates my point. If we suddenly can't even be confident about something as essential as divine foreknowledge, then how can we really say we "know" the God of Scripture? And if we don't know the one true God (or can't really say with a high degree of certainty that we know Him), we really don't know anything worth knowing, do we?

So McLaren's "new kind of Christian[ity]" turns out to be little more than optimistic skepticism. Sound irrational? I think it is.

I've read McLaren's responses to his critics, including his open letter to Chuck Colson. I don't agree that McLaren has successfully answered the major criticisms that have been leveled at him. I think he has just dug himself deeper into a dry well. But that's a subject for another day.

See also:


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23 September 2005

Oh, why not? Here:

BlogSpotting




Miscellany

fireballSpeaking of hurricane damage, I realize I promised to post links to recommended relief agencies. I'm not finished compiling the list; I hope to get it posted shortly after the current hurricane crisis is over.

fireballAfter almost four months in the blogosphere, I still have no clue what BlogShares is all about, but my blog is getting more expensive than I can afford. I'll tell you what: anyone who wants to buy it, I'll take half that amount for it.

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22 September 2005

An excellent jeremiad from Mr. Spurgeon

The following excerpts are from an editorial Charles Spurgeon published in The Sword and the Trowel in 1871, more than a decade before the famous Downgrade Controversy.

Spurgeon makes no effort to disguise his passion for the truth, hide his contempt for the skepticism of the day, or otherwise tone down his rhetoric in order to mollify people who were demanding that he be more "charitable" in his treatment of unorthodox opinions.

He also had nothing but disdain for the notion that uncertainty is a mark of holy humility or a sign of intellectual sophistication that ought to be cultivated.

The arguments Spurgeon employs make it clear that the movement he opposed (nineteenth-century modernism) had a lot in common with the postmodern cynicism that infects the wider evangelical movement today. He leaves little doubt about how he would respond to the writings of Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, Tony Campolo, the Open Theists, and their fellow post-evangelicals.

Here are some especially poignant excerpts:

That these gentlemen . . . are not liberal, but intolerant to the last degree, is evident, from their superciliousness towards those poor simpletons who abide by the old faith.

Why, it's almost as if he had been reading the latest issue of Christianity Today or surfing through some of the blogs I monitor:

Let half a word of protest be uttered by a man who believes firmly in something, and holds by a defined doctrine, and the thunders of liberality bellow forth against the bigot. Steeped up to their very throats in that bigotry for liberality, which, of all others, is the most ferocious form of intolerance, they sneer with the contempt of affected learning at the idiots who contend for "a narrow Puritanism," and express a patronizing hope that the benighted adherents of "a half-enlightened creed" may learn more of "that charity which thinketh no evil."

Sounds suspiciously like some fellows I know who regularly use "TR" or "RB" (acronyms for "truly Reformed" and "Reformed Baptist") against their adversaries as if those were the grossest of obscenities.

To contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints is to them an offense against the enlightenment of the nineteenth century; but, to vamp old, worn-out heresies, and pass them off for deep thinking, is to secure a high position among minds "emancipated from the fetters of traditional beliefs."

Spurgeon was quoting the precise expressions broad churchmen had published. He was clearly the unnamed target of their disdain. The hypocrisy of their subsequent pleas for "charity" was obvious.

Great is their indignation at the creeds which render their position morally dubious. Churches have no right to believe anything; comprehensiveness is the only virtue of a denomination; precise definitions are a sin, and fundamental doctrines are a myth: this is the notion of "our foremost men." For earnest people to band themselves together to propagate what they hold to be the very truth of God, is in their eyes the miserable endeavor of bigots to stem the torrent of modern thought. . . .

The proper course, according to their "broad views," would be to leave doctrines for the dunces who care for them. Truths there are none, but only opinions; and, therefore, cultivated ministers should be left free to trample on the most cherished beliefs, to insult convictions, no matter how long experience may have matured them, and to teach anything, everything, or nothing, as their own culture, or the current of enlightened thought may direct them. . . .

Notice that the modernists of Spurgeon's era apparently had the same distaste for strong convictions that infects their twenty-first-century postmodern cousins:

It appears to be, now-a-days, a doubtful question whether Christian men have a right to be quite sure of anything. . . . He who teaches an extravagant error is a fine, generous spirit: and, therefore, to condemn his teaching is perilous, and will certainly produce an outcry against your bigotry. Where the atonement is virtually denied, it is said that a preacher is a very clever man, and exceedingly good; and, therefore, even to whisper that he is unsound is libelous: we are assured that it would be far better to honor him for his courage in scorning to be hampered by conventional expressions. Besides, it is only his way of putting it, and the radical idea is discoverable by cultured minds. As to other doctrines, they are regarded as too trivial to be worthy of controversy. . . .

The right to doubt is claimed clamorously, but the right to believe is not conceded. The modern gospel runs thus: "He that believes nothing and doubts everything shall be saved." Room must be provided for every form of skepticism; but, for old-fashioned faith, a manger in a stable is too commodious. Magnified greatly is the so-called "honest doubter," but the man who holds tenaciously by ancient forms of faith is among "men of culture" voted by acclamation a fool.

Hence, it becomes a sacred duty of the advanced thinker to sneer at the man of the creed, a duty which is in most cases fully discharged; and, moreover, it is equally imperative upon him to enter the synagogue of bigots, as though he were of their way of thinking, and in their very midst inveigh against their superstition, their ignorant contentedness with worm-eaten dogmas, and generally to disturb and overturn their order of things. What if they have confessions of faith? They have no right to accept them, and, therefore, let them be held up to ridicule.

Men, now-a-days, occupy pulpits with the tacit understanding that they will uphold certain doctrines, and from those very pulpits they assail the faith they are pledged to defend. The plan is not to secede, but to operate from within, to worry, to insinuate, to infect. Within the walls of Troy, one Greek is worth half Agamemnon's host; let, then, the wooden horse of liberality be introduced by force or art, as best may serve the occasion. Talking evermore right boastfully of their candor and hatred of the hollowness of creeds, etc., they will remain members of churches long after they have renounced the basis of union upon which these churches are constituted. Yes, and worse; the moment they are reminded of their inconsistency they whine about being persecuted, and imagine themselves to be martyrs.

Spurgeon was well aware of how his criticism would be viewed by the tolerance-police of his day:

This is most illiberal talk in the judgment of our liberal friends, and they will rail at it in their usual liberal manner; it is, however, plain common sense, as all can see but those who are willfully blind.

His reply was a reminder about the source and the nature of the truth he was defending:

While we are upon the point, it may be well to inquire into the character of the liberality which is, now-a-days, so much vaunted. What is it that these men would have us handle so liberally? Is it something which is our own, and left at our disposal? If so, let generosity be the rule. But no, it is God's truth which we are thus to deal with, the gospel which he has put us in trust with, and for which we shall have to render account. . .

If truth were ours, absolutely; if we created it, and had no responsibilities in reference to it, we might consider broad-church proposals; but, the gospel is the Lord's own, and we are only stewards of the manifold grace of God, and of stewards it is not so much required that they be liberal, but that they be found faithful.

He took a low view of that fashionable brand of "charity" which demanded approval for various new-fangled expressions of infidelity:

Moreover, this form of charity is both useless and dangerous. Useless, evidently, because all the agreements and unions and compromises beneath the moon can never make an error a truth, nor shift the boundary-line of God's gospel a single inch. If we basely merge one part of Scriptural teaching for the sake of charity, it is not, therefore, really merged, it will bide its time, and demand its due with terrible reprisals for our injustice towards it; for half the sorrows of the church arise from smothered truths.

False doctrine is not rendered innocuous by its being winked at. God hates it whatever glosses we may put upon it; no lie is of the truth, and no charity can make it so. Either a dogma is right or wrong, it cannot be indifferent. . . .

The rule of Christians is not the flickering glimmer of opinion, but the fixed law of the statute book; it is rebellion, black as the sin of witchcraft, for a man to know the law, and talk of conceding the point. In the name of the Eternal King, who is this liberal conceder, or, rather, this profane defrauder of the Lord, that he should even imagine such a thing in his heart?

Nor is it less important to remember that trifling with truth is to the last degree dangerous. No error can be imbibed without injury, nor propagated without sin. The utmost charity cannot convert another gospel into the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor deprive it of its deluding and destroying influence. There is no ground for imagining that an untruth, honestly believed, is in the least changed in its character by the sincerity of the receiver; nor may we dream that the highest culture renders a departure from revealed truth less evil in the sight of God.

If you give the sick man a deadly poison instead of a healing medicine, neither your broad views of chemistry, nor his enlightened judgment upon anatomy, will prevent the drug from acting after its own nature.

Spurgeon reminded his detractors of how the apostles responded to false teaching, and of the dangers of flirting with unbelief:

Paul pronounced a curse upon any man or angel who should preach another gospel, and he would not have done so, if other gospels were harmless. It is not so long ago that men need forget it, that the blight of Unitarian and other lax opinions withered the very soul of the Dissenting Churches; and that spirit has only to be again rampant, to repeat its mischief. Instances, grievous to our inmost heart, rise up before our memory at the moment of men seduced from their first love, and drawn aside from their fathers' gospel, who only meant to gather one tempting flower upon the brink of the precipice of error, but fell, never to be restored.

No fiction do we write, as we bear record of those we have known, who first forsook the good old paths of doctrine, then the ways of evangelic usefulness, and then the enclosures of morality. In all cases, the poison has not so openly developed itself, but we fear the inner ruin has been quite as complete. In the case of public teachers, cases are not hard to find where little by little men have advanced beyond their "honest doubt," into utter blasphemy.

Spurgeon's closing words are a fitting reply to the purveyors of doubt in our era:

We are not believers in stereotyped phraseology, nor do we desire to see the reign of a stagnant uniformity; but, at this present, the perils of the church lie in another direction. The stringency of little Bethel, whatever may have been its faults, has no power to work the mischief which is now engendered by the confusion of the latitudinarian Babel. To us, at any rate, the signs of the times portend no danger greater than that which can arise from landmarks removed, ramparts thrown down, foundations shaken, and doctrinal chaos paramount.

We have written this much, because silence is reckoned as consent, and pride unrebuked lifts up its horn on high, and becomes more insolent still. Let our opponents cease, if they can, to sneer at Puritans whose learning and piety were incomparably superior to their own; and, let them remember that the names, which have adorned the school of orthodoxy, are illustrious enough to render scorn of their opinions, rather a mark of imbecility than of intellect.

To differ is one thing, but to despise is another. If they will not be right, at least, let them be civil, if they prefer to be neither, let them not imagine that the whole world is gone after them. Their forces are not so potent as they dream, the old faith is rooted deep in the minds of tens of thousands, and it will renew its youth, when the present phase of error shall be only a memory, and barely that.

Twenty-first century postmodern "emerging" types in the church love to try to paint themselves as the polar opposite of modernists. The fact that Spurgeon's criticism of early modernism so perfectly refutes the rhetoric of the postmodern innovators shows why that claim is bogus. Far from being the antithesis of modernism, "evangelical postmodernism" is really nothing more than Modernism 2.0.

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21 September 2005

How far did Spurgeon's liberality go?

Spurgeon"There is no bigotry in the world equal to the bigotry of modern liberalism. Sectarianism may be bitter, but latitudinarianism is wormwood and gall."—C. H. Spurgeon, from "Ourselves and the Annexationists", in The Sword and the Trowel




A time to embrace

In the comments section of yesterday's post, someone posted a portion of one of my favorite quotes from Spurgeon. The full paragraph it was extracted from is a tad long, but the additional context is well worth reading:

It has been the desire of the true Calvinist,—not of the hyper-Calvinists, I cannot defend them—to feel that if he has received has received more light than another man, it is due to God's grace, and not to his merits. Therefore charity is inculcated, while boasting is excluded. We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians,—not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of this world. A man may be evidently of God's chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We set not their fallacies down to any wilful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think as mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus, even though as yet the ministering spirit has not led all of us into all the lengths and breadths of the truth—C. H. Spurgeon, "Effects of Sound Doctrine," a sermon delivered on Sunday evening April 22nd, 1860.

Alongside that excerpt, this quote from "A Defense of Calvinism" was also posted in a comment yesterday. It's a commonly-cited section, but this one is also worth hearing again. Here it is, with a little additional context:

There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer—I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it. But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one "of whom the world was not worthy." I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

By the way, that second quotation is taken from the same article in which Spurgeon made another famous statement—one of his most controversial statements about Calvinism ever:
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.

Some very narrow Calvinists love to cite that third quote apart from its context as if it proved Spurgeon rejected all Arminians as infidels. Clearly, that is not what he meant.

In fact, the context of the full article makes clear precisely what Spurgeon did mean in that third quotation: He was simply saying that the central principle of Calvinism is the very gist of the gospel: Salvation is God's work; it is not something the sinner can do for himself. Plainly, he was not insisting that the only authentic Christians are Calvinists. The first and second quotations above make his position on that issue quite clear.

I agree with all three of those statements, of course. I also agree with the use Spurgeon made of the principle he was defending. Although he had no sympathy whatsoever for Arminian theology, he was charitable toward Christians who struggled to understand the doctrines of grace. Even though he regarded Arminianism as a serious error and a system fraught with all kinds of theological mischief, he did not automatically write off all Arminians as non-Christians.

Spurgeon held this position precisely because he did not believe Arminian opinions about free-will, unconditional election, or the extent of the atonement were tantamount to a denial of any fundamental, inviolable point of gospel truth. Which is to say that while Spurgeon clearly regarded the central idea of Calvinism as a truth that embodied the very essence of the gospel, he obviously did not regard every aspect of the doctrines of grace as essential gospel truth.

In other words, Spurgeon taught that the principle of grace per se is a primary and essential truth. But when it came to some of the more technical aspects of Calvinistic doctrine, including the doctrines of perseverance and effectual calling, he regarded them as secondary, and he allowed that a genuine believer in Christ might—through confusion or ignorance—reject those truths. He embraced people who made such a profession of faith as authentic brothers and sisters in Christ.

A time to refrain from embracing

On other issues, however, Spurgeon was unwilling to grant such latitude. He made it perfectly clear that he regarded the principles of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith as absolute essentials—and he steadfastly refused to embrace or give encouragement to the purveyors of alternative opinions on those points:

The largest charity towards those who are loyal to the Lord Jesus, and yet do not see with us on secondary matters, is the duty of all true Christians. But how are we to act towards those who deny his vicarious sacrifice, and ridicule the great truth of justification by his righteousness? These are not mistaken friends, but enemies of the cross of Christ. There is no use in employing circumlocutions and polite terms of expression:—where Christ is not received as to the cleansing power of his blood and the justifying merit of his righteousness, he is not received at all.—Spurgeon, "A Fragment Upon the Down-Grade Controversy."

Spurgeon steadfastly refused to admit anyone who denied any essential doctrines of Christianity into the circle of his fellowship, and he regarded all attempts to seek Christian fellowship with such false teachers as sinful:

It used to be generally accepted in the Christian Church that the line of Christian communion was drawn hard and fast, at the Deity of our Lord; but even this would appear to be altered now. In various ways the chasm has been bridged, and during the past few years several ministers have crossed into Unitarianism, and have declared that they perceived little or no difference in the two sides of the gulf. In all probability there was no difference to perceive in the regions where they abode. It is our solemn conviction that where there can be no real spiritual communion there should be no pretense of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin. Those who know and love the truth of God cannot have fellowship with that which is diametrically opposed thereto, and there can be no reason why they should pretend that they have such fellowship.—Ibid.

The whole of the article is well worth reading.

So Spurgeon was no latitudinarian, and he had no patience whatsoever for the convoluted "liberality" the modernists of his day were peddling (and postmodernists today are likewise attempting to foist on well-meaning Christians):

I should like to ask modern broad churchmen whether there is any doctrine of any sort for which it would be worth a man's while to burn or to lie in prison. I do not believe they could give me an answer, for if their latitudinarianism be correct, the martyrs were fools of the first magnitude. From what I see of their writings and their teachings, it appears to me that the modern thinkers treat the whole compass of revealed truth with entire indifference; and, though perhaps they may feel sorry that wilder spirits should go too far in free thinking, and though they had rather they would be more moderate, yet, upon the whole, so large is their liberality that they are not sure enough of anything to be able to condemn the reverse of it as a deadly error. To them black and white are terms which may be applied to the same colour, as you view it from different standpoints. Yea and nay are equally true in their esteem. Their theology shifts like the Goodwin Sands, and they regard all firmness as so much bigotry. Errors and truths are equally comprehensible within the circle of their charity. It was not in this way that the apostles regarded error. They did not prescribe large-hearted charity towards falsehood, or hold up the errorist as a man of deep thought, whose views were "refreshingly original"; far less did they utter some wicked nonsense about the probability of there living more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds. They did not believe in justification by doubting, as our neologians do; they set about the conversion of the erring brother; they treated him as a person who needed conversion; and viewed him as a man who, if he were not converted, would suffer the death of his soul, and be covered with a multitude of sins. They were not such easygoing people as our cultured friends of the school of "modern thought", who have learned at last that the Deity of Christ may be denied, the work of the Holy Spirit ignored, the inspiration of Scripture rejected, the atonement disbelieved, and regeneration dispensed with, and yet the man who does all this may be as good a Christian as the most devout believer! O God, deliver us from this deceitful infidelity, which, while it does damage to the erring man, and often prevents his being reclaimed, does yet more mischief to our own hearts by teaching us that truth is unimportant, and falsehood a trifle, and so destroys our allegiance to the God of truth, and makes us traitors instead of loyal subjects to the King of kings!

I could quote dozens of similar comments from Spurgeon. The last years of his life were spent fighting against the kind of "liberality" that insists every type of religion that goes by the name "Christian" deserves to be embraced as such.

Unfortunately, Spurgeon's life was shortened by that battle, and he died before he wrote anything carefully outlining his views on how to distinguish essential doctrines from secondary ones. But it is absolutely clear that he made such a distinction, and that it defined his views on when to separate and when to seek fellowship with others who profess to be Christians.



A postscript about Packer's remarks

Yesterday's comments also included this quotation from J. I. Packer's explanation of why he supports the ecumenical Juggernaut of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together":

Fundamentalists . . . are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxism, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on the persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance.

I agree that it's possible in a more or less passive sense for an ignorant, untaught, or immature (albeit authentic) believer to hold a deficient ("notionally incorrect") understanding of justification by faith, the doctrine of the Trinity, or any number of essential Christian doctrines. But would any genuine Christian deliberately, actively, and with full knowledge reject such essential doctrines and teach the contrary errors? That is what I deny, on the authority of dozens of texts of Scripture, such as John 10:4, 27; 1 John 2:27; 2 John 2, 7-11; and many others.

Christians are those who "believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:3). There must be some minimal degree of "notional correctness" in what we affirm and teach, or else we would fall under the condemnation of Galatians 1:8-9. Packer as a Calvinist certainly ought to understand that God sovereignly opens the heart and understanding of believers (1 John 5:20).

Packer is simply wrong to show such contempt for fundamentalists' concern for "notional correctness"—which is, after all, nothing but a nickname for sound doctrine.

So we've come full circle to the issue that began this series of posts last week: Which truths must be affirmed with some degree of "notional correctness," and how (i.e., by what biblical principles) do we assign relative importance to this or that doctrine? There is no way for any Christian to dodge this question ultimately, and how we answer it has massive practical ramifications. Cynically dismissing fundamentalists because of their concern for "notional correctness" frankly doesn't make the difficulty go away, but it does open the door for all kinds of evil doctrine.

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