30 November 2005

Because I like this meme better:

More risky comic-book-parody humor

Regarding humor—sarcastic humor in particular—Spurgeon said,

I must confess that I would rather hear people laugh than I would see them asleep in the house of God; and I would rather get the truth into them through the medium of ridicule than I would have it neglected, or leave the people to perish through lack of reception of the message.

I do believe in my heart, that there may be as much holiness in a laugh as in a cry; and that, sometimes, to laugh is the better thing of the two, for I may weep, and be murmuring, and repining, and thinking all sorts of bitter thoughts against God; while, at another time, I may laugh the laugh of sarcasm against sin, and so evince a holy earnestness in the defense of the truth.

I do not know why ridicule is to be given up to Satan as a weapon to be used against us, and not to be employed by us as a weapon against him.

I will venture to affirm that the Reformation owed almost as much to the sense of the ridiculous in human nature as to anything else, and that those humorous squibs and caricatures, that were issued by the friends of Luther, did more to open the eyes of Germany to the abominations of the priesthood than the more solid and ponderous arguments against Romanism. I know no reason why we should not, on suitable occasions, try the same style of reasoning.

"It is a dangerous weapon," it will be said, "and many men will cut their fingers with it." Well, that is their own lookout; but I do not know why we should be so particular about their cutting their fingers if they can, at the same time, cut the throat of sin, and do serious damage to the great adversary of souls.

C. H. Spurgeon
Lectures to my Students

There are a couple of things I would like to add about humor, sarcasm, cruelty, kindness, and the Christian's duty not to look for reasons to take offense—but I'll wait till it's clear that the recent ugliness is really in the past and everyone is a little more calm.

(Finally, to the handful of individuals still badgering me about the blogwar, please re-read this.)

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29 November 2005

Ugliness everywhere

Coupla ugly items today:

The life and times of Pecadillo

Pecadillo leaves his car at the Park and Ride, and from there he travels via carpool each day to the police academy. When he returned to the Park and Ride yesterday afternoon, his car had been broken into. The steering-column key-slot was clumsily ripped off in an attempt to steal the car. The miscreant who did the deed did it so badly that it rendered the ignition switch inoperable.

Instead of stealing the car, then, the perp made off with Pecadillo's radio and CD player, the multiple-CD changer in the boot, Pecadillo's entire CD collection (about 100 CDs in a special case), and everything else of value in the car.

Well, everything except for Pecadillo's Mr. T® bobble-head, which was inexplicably left behind undamaged (perhaps because Pec has a potty-training award ribbon hanging on Mr. T's neck. Don't ask me what it means. I don't know.) So anyway, Pec is without transportation and (more tragically) his life is totally devoid of music at the moment.

Of course, he'd better not expect the folks at the police academy to cut him any slack. He won't be getting time off to sort things out with the insurance company. In fact, since Pec was involved in an incident that required a police report, he is most likely going to have a whole lot of extra paperwork to do.

It's a really good thing Pecadillo did not return to his car during the actual robbery carrying anything like a frozen meat chub. I know Pecadillo. He once challenged a seminary student with a baseball bat when the poor guy accidentally set off the burglar alarm at Carey Hardy's house and the "intruder" didn't properly ID himself. (I'll let Pec write about that at his blog someday.)

Anyway, I'm pretty sure Pec's normal instinct would be to challenge the perp, and if necessary employ said meat chub in a way that might have required some dentistry to repair the thwarted car-thief's grin. At the moment, however, Pecadillo could actually get in serious trouble for doing that. Recruit officers are strictly prohibited from intervening in any criminal incidents until they actually earn their badges. So for the next few months, Pecadillo has to be very cautious with the bad guys. One thoughtless meat-chub incident could cost him his whole career.

So it could have been worse, but it was bad enough. I hate when stuff like that happens.

The Blogwar

Regarding the Great Thanksgiving Blogwar: Yes, I agree it's really ugly. Maybe not for all the same reasons everyone else says it's ugly. But it is definitely ugly.

I'm reluctant to say anything more about it at all. I'm pretty sure whatever I say is going to get me in trouble. In fact, I haven't referred to the Blogwar in any context for some 48 hours or more—after I made a comment on one of the larger blogs trying to make a reasonable point and was angrily rebuffed by someone who, for good measure, also questioned my manhood—immediately after the fellow had bemoaned the fact that the whole thing had got too petty and personal. (I'd link to the post in question, because it was a beaut, making an impassioned appeal to Ephesians 4:29. But the author himself employed vulgar language to make that appeal. It wasn't the vilest possible profanity, but it was extremely crude and angry—and enough to violate the standard of what I am willing to link to.)

I decided at that point it would be prudent to bow out of the discussion without fanfare.

All of this is to say that the hypocrisy and histrionics on one side are every bit as ugly and blameworthy as the smug and arrogant tone those same folks are busily complaining about. It's also amazing to see so many people who claim to be absolutely outraged by public disagreement among Christians, but who nonetheless feel it prudent to dissect the whole business in an angry, slanted, and very public way.

I've watched at least two well-known bloggers publicly condemn the controversy at their own blogs, claim they were swearing off the dispute completely, and then simply carry the fight to the comments section of another blog or two where the debate was still brewing. That's ugly.

And if you want to see something really ugly, you should see a few of the private messages I have received in the past 48 hours. One person angrily declared me the chief culprit in the whole conflict, even though he admitted he hadn't actually read anything I have written. He refuses to read me because I'm too closed-minded! A number of people have begged me to join the dogpile on Frank Turk, saying it's "obvious" that he is out of control. (Presumably this is "obvious" just because of the sheer number of people who are angry at Frank.) One or two other people have written to say they are angry with me because I won't simply "drop it." Apparently, they were so busy reading others' opinions about the conflict (and writing their own diatribes) that they didn't notice I did actually drop it a couple of days ago. Still others have pleaded with me to end my silence and voice my disapproval for the way the people on "my side" of the conflict are conducting themselves.

OK, since I'm apparently going to be blamed and criticized for the whole ugly incident no matter what I do or don't do, let me offer a very brief analysis of my own. I make no claim that I am perfectly objective, but I really am trying to be.

First: the penalty points against "my side":
  1. I wasn't happy with Frank Turk's title or tone on this post.
  2. If I were Frank, I wouldn't punctuate my points with expressions like "Booyah!"—especially after so many people are already angry. The advice given in Proverbs 15:1 and 25:15 is, I think, a sounder strategy for a conflict like this.
  3. I think the Fide-O post with the dead hawgs was predictably inflammatory. I therefore would not have posted those particular pictures at that moment. At a different time, they would have been somewhat amusing. But coming when it did, that post frightened even Darlene, who is naturally inclined to sympathy for "my side" and (after 27 years with me) isn't particularly squeamish.
  4. In retrospect, since what I intended to do was add some comedic final punctuation to (what I thought at the time was) the end of a blogfight, it turns out my comic-book tribute to Frank Turk was a tad premature. I did think it was essentially neutral and non-harmful to anyone in the conflict (there was no actual brunt of that "joke"). However, I clearly overestimated some folks' ability to appreciate the joke. For any pain and anguish my artwork may have caused people whom I love (which includes all y'all), I apologize.
  5. I think "my side" probably ought to work harder to treat serious issues as seriously as possible when conflict is involved, keeping the humor to a minimum, especially when it becomes obvious that the drollery is inflaming people's rage rather than lightening the mood.

I'll say this again, however: It's my candid opinion that raw histrionics, vulgar language, hypocritical fanning of the flames, the wrath of man, the supercilious contempt of people who thank God that they are not like the "TRs" (and who cannot pass up any opportunity, no matter how cheap, to take that shot just one more time)—and a lot of the other stuff from the "other" side—is every bit as reprehensible and just as bad a testimony to casual observers as everything people rightly and wrongly judged "my side" guilty of.

And for the record, I do not think there is anything inherently or necessarily shameful in disagreement between Christians, even when it is expressed publicly and candidly. We of all people ought to love the truth that much.

That said, I appreciate the fact that Frank Turk has not once lost his temper throughout this whole imbroglio. Whether you agree with him or not (and of course, I do), he deserves credit for his patience, persistence, and even-temperedness. I also do think there's a real, significant, rational, biblical point in the stand Frank has taken this past week, and he summed it up well right here, at a point in the conflict where I confess I would have found it pretty hard to be that restrained. I'm very glad to have Frank as my friend.

Bonus points also to Jus Divinum, who joined the fray with some careful thinking and dispassionate wisdom at a key point in the discussion. Jus has probably argued longer and harder against some of my opinions than anyone else in the blogosphere, and I'd much rather have him on "my side" than arguing against me. Either way, he's usually worth listening to, and this was no exception.

I also appreciated Steve Hays's contribution, but you already knew I would. I nearly always find his thoughts lucid and helpful. He is very pithy too, and I know that rubs some people the wrong way, but I was very glad he stepped into the fray when I'm pretty sure he would have liked to stay out of it.

I'm not so naive as to declare the whole imbroglio finally over once again. I hope it is. We'll see. But I do want to add two more things:

  1. I really do think there were some vitally important points on the table at the start of this quarrel:
    • The church does not need loose-cannon critics of the perpetually-cynical variety who are driven (to a conspicuous degree) by their own passions.
    • Christians ought to evaluate everything with careful and critical discernment—but especially voices that are unrelentingly censorious and constantly shifting positions.
    • Authentic "transparency" and "vulnerability" are not best expressed in fiction pieces.
    • We ought to be wary of preachers who freely and gladly admit that their persona in the pulpit is different from the way they represent themselves elsewhere—especially when they declare the out-of-pulpit persona an honest and "vulnerable" expression of the real person.
    • A person who taunts a critic shouldn't complain when he gets what he asked for.

  2. There's also an important point I hope someone will make at the end of all this: Real discernment is not a matter of evaluating everything by how it makes us feel. Often, the truth makes us uncomfortable. That's the way it is supposed to be. One of the real, serious dangers posed by the pervasive postmodern spirit is the tendency to treat "truth" as something determined in my own mind and heart from my unique perspective. Naturally, by that measure, whatever makes us uncomfortable isn't likely to be widely embraced. That's actually a dangerous form of sensuality, and it is a grievous sin, especially in the matter of discernment. It's disturbing to see how widespread that tendency is nowadays.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Another Fracas

Speaking of pomoism, Doug Wilson and Andrew Sandlin have gotten into it over postmodernism—and it's a much more rollicking, more entertaining, and more enlightening fight than my little back-and-forth tussle with The Blue Raja in the comments threads here at PyroManiac. <joke>(Raja is bucking for a demotion to "irritating" in my blogroll, I think.)</joke> Back in July, I put up a link to the archive of Wilson's articles on pomoism, but the archive has grown considerably since then, and it's great stuff to read. A couple of side notes:
  • F. J. DeAngelis has a chronicle of Sandlin's about-face in the pomo debate here.
  • Sandlin posts an interesting quick first impression of Tom Wright's book The Last Word here.

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28 November 2005

Let's not lose in truthfulness what we gain in charity

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from an article titled "Ministers Sailing under False Colours," originally published the February 1870 Sword and Trowel:

SpurgeonOur forefathers were far less tolerant than we are, and it is to be feared that they were also more honest. It will be a sad discount upon our gain in the matter of charity if it turn out that we have been losers in the department of truthfulness.

There is no necessary connection between the two facts of growth in tolerance and decline in sincerity, but we are suspicious that they have occurred and are occurring at the same moment.

We freely accord to theological teachers a freedom of thought and utterance which in other ages could only be obtained by the more daring at serious risks, but we also allow an amount of untruthfulness in ministers, which former ages would have utterly abhorred. . . .

Our love to the most unlimited religious liberty incites us to all the sterner abhorrence of the license which like a parasite feeds thereon.

the plea of spiritual liberty, of late years certain teachers who have abjured the faith of the churches which employ them, have nevertheless endeavored, with more or less success, to retain their offices and their emoluments. . . .

Our complaint is . . . not that the men changed their views, and threw up their former creeds, but that having done so they did not at once quit the office of minister to the community whose faith they could no longer uphold; their fault is not that they differed, but that, differing, they sought an office of which the prime necessity is agreement.

All the elements of the lowest kind of knavery meet in the evil which we now denounce. Treachery is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood. . . .

It is frequently bewailed as a mournful circumstance that creeds were ever written; it is said, "Let the Bible alone be the creed of every church, and let preachers explain the Scriptures as they conscientiously think best." Here again we enter into no debate, but simply beg the objector to remember that there are creeds, that the churches have not given them up, that persons are not forced to be ministers of these churches, and therefore if they object to creeds they should not offer to become teachers of them; above all, they should not agree to teach what they do not believe.
C. H. Spurgeon

26 November 2005

Can't we all just get along?

Why "playing nice" by postmodernist standards is a losing proposition


The favorite buzzwords of the postmodern spirit all sound so warm and friendly, don't they? Conversation, dialogue, openness, generosity, tolerance. Who wouldn't want to participate in discourse with someone who truly prized human values such as those?

On the other hand, the very same Zeitgeist has demonized a host of other essential biblical values, such as authority, conviction, clarity, and even truth. In the milieu of the emerging discussion, this second category of words has been made to sound harsh, unreasonable, arrogant, and extreme—if not downright evil.

Moreover, postmodern human values are increasingly being defined in a way that expressly precludes eternal biblical values. For example, the prevailing opinion nowadays is that you cannot be "open" and certain at the same time. A person who speaks with too much conviction is ipso facto deemed an "intolerant" person. Above all, anyone who recognizes the full authority of Scripture and insists that God's Word deserves our unconditional submission will inevitably be accused of deliberately trying to stymie the whole "conversation."

This is not to suggest that disagreement per se is prohibited in the postmodern dialectic. Quite the contrary, "deconstruction" is all about disputes over words. Postmoderns thrive on dissent, debate, and contradiction.

And (giving credit where credit is due) it should be noted that postmodernists can sometimes be amazingly congenial in their verbal sparring with one another.

One thing the participants in the postmodern "conversation" simply will not tolerate, however, is someone who disagrees and thinks the point is really serious. Virtually no heresy is ever to be regarded as damnable. The notion that erroneous doctrine can actually be dangerous is deemed uncouth and naive. Every bizarre notion gets equal respect. Truth itself is only a matter of personal perspective, you see. Everything is ultimately negotiable.

Now, if you want to join the postmodern "conversation," you are expected to acknowledge all this up front—at least tacitly. That's the price of admission to the discussion. Once you're in, you can throw any bizarre idea you want on the table, no matter how outlandish. You can use virtually any tone or language to make your point, no matter how outrageous. But you must bear in mind that all disputation at this table is purely for sport. At the end of the day, you mustn't really be concerned about the truth or falsehood of any mere propositions.

Some "conversation." The ground rules guarantee that truth itself will be a casualty in every controversy, because regardless of the substance or the outcome of the dialogue, participants have in effect agreed up front that the propositions under debate don't really matter.

Entering the "conversation" at all is tantamount to breaking the seal on a software package. The moment you do it, you have putatively given your consent to the postmodernist's ground rules. If you then violate those rules—meaning if you take any doctrine too seriously or insist that Scripture is really authoritative—you will be savaged as someone who is cruel, intolerant, unenlightened, and hopelessly arrogant.

That's why it is well-nigh impossible to have an authentic, meaningful conversation with a devoted postmodernist and ever see anything genuinely resolved. The postmodernist by definition has no real hope or expectation of arriving at the truth of any matter. That's not the goal of the postmodernist exercise. It's not even a desirable objective. The only real point is to eliminate certitude altogether. This is done not by settling disputes, but by silencing or assimilating everyone who resists the unrestrained free flow of the postmodernist idea-exchange.

Truth is under attack on countless fronts today. What's popular these days—even among professing Christians—is glorying in ambiguity and uncertainty. Precious few are still committed without reservation to the truth and authority of Scripture. The very last thing I would willingly do in times like these would be to pledge a moratorium on candor or agree to a ceasefire with people who delight in testing the limits of orthodoxy. See Nehemiah 6:2-4.

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25 November 2005



For my readers who wonder what in the world this means,
Matt Gumm has provided a more-or-less objective (and admirably complete) Soap Opera Digest-style rundown of this week's
For those who wonder: No, I am not attempting to prolong someone else's blogwar. I'm an editor, and I have an obsessive urge to supply final punctuation where I see it missing. This imbroglio was fairly screaming for a comic-book cover.

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24 November 2005

Here's to a traditional Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving feast

Almost as soon as the Johnson boys were old enough to have firm convictions and express strong opinions (I think all three of them were still under 5 at the time), they let us know that the inevitable two weeks of turkey leftovers, turkey soup, and turkey goulash associated with Thanksgiving had become an unbearable burden for them. Could we do something less poultry-oriented this year? (All my sons were born with a preference for red meat, just like their dad.)

So, some 15 years ago or so, we started a new tradition in our family: Thanksgiving pizza.

It's not that effeminate matzo-crust delivery stuff with nothing of any substance on it. This is serious made-from-scratch deep-dish gourmet pizza with a full pound of cheese and a pound or more of meat in one large-size classic 2-inch-deep Chicago-style pizza pan.

The sauce and crust must be made from scratch. The cheese must be grated by hand from solid blocks of three different varieties of sharp Italian cheese purchased at the deli—not that cheapo, bagged, pre-grated Costco "mozzarella."

Making the pizza is a minimum four-hour project. Cooking a stuffed 18-pound turkey would frankly be quicker. But nowhere near as good.

I'd post my recipe for the gourmet pizza, but it's a closely-guarded family secret. In an era where few people really appreciate the value and richness of tradition, we fiercely guard our family customs.

We hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

7:00 PM Update:

An actual photo of the Johnsons' 2005 Thanksgiving pizza (before consumption). It was fine.
This is an actual photo of the Johnsons' 2005 Thanksgiving pizza (after cooking and carving, but prior to consumption). It was fine.

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23 November 2005

Hoping to clear the air


For reasons I cannot quite fathom, I've received public scoldings here and there around the blogosphere for supposedly waging "war" against another blog.

I'd just like to point out that the supposed "feud" has been rather one-sided. I haven't mentioned the blog in question in ages. I've alluded to it exactly twice in the past month—once when I expressed disgust at a snide and utterly inappropriate remark posted there, and a second time (without even saying whom I was referring to) when I objected to some gratuitous scatology that was posted there.

I won't give a tally of how many times I have been mentioned or held up to ridicule on that blog in the past ten days, except to say that it has been a steady stream of snark. That isn't a "feud"; it's a blitzkrieg.

Some thoughts about all this unpleasantness:

  1. Can we lay the "It’s a tavern, not a Swiss watch doctrinal precision factory" mantra to rest? In the first place, I don't see how that is supposed to exempt bad theology, bad attitudes, or bad manners from criticism.
         In the second place, I generally try to discourage Christians from trying to develop a better understanding of theology by listening in on heavy-drinking armchair-theologians' dialogues anyway. Taverns these days tend to be the worst venues for theological dialogue and Christian fellowship. So I'm not sure how the "it's a tavern" abracadabra is supposed to make aberrant ideas and ungodly words untouchable.
  2. I have never been deliberately unkind to anyone at the Tavern, including the monk who usually tends bar. My personal interaction with all of those guys has always been friendly and polite. A few of my jokes about them have ruffled feathers, but even in those cases, I did everything possible beforehand to make it obvious that I wasn't entirely serious, and I have never acted out of malice.
         On the other hand, every time I have ever expressed any disagreement with anything posted there, it has prompted an angry response and days of retaliatory sneering.
  3. To my knowledge, not one of the people who routinely expresses outrage about every uncomplimentary remark or criticism directed toward the Tavern has ever once made a similar complaint about the sarcasm, filthy language, and foolish talk that pours forth from there on a nearly daily basis.
  4. Frank "Centuri0n" Turk accidentally unleashed a firestorm of "PyroManiac" proportions yesterday. Contrary to conjecture that has been publicly posted elsewhere, I did not in any way consult beforehand with Centuri0n about anything he posted, stir him up to post it, dare him to do it, or ask him to do it. (Actually, the person who incurred Mr. Turk's criticism is the one who did all those things himself.)
         I'm not going to comment on that controversy, except to say that I believe those who are so absolutely sure that they know Frank's heart and insist that his request for prayer was merely flippant and sarcastic have misjudged him. See John 7:24.
         Ironically, some who are most outraged at Frank's supposed irreverence are individuals whose own blogs and comments (especially in their interactions with people who push the limits of sound doctrine) seem beset with a chronic and constitutional inability to be serious about anything that really is serious.
  5. Well, OK. Here's one more comment about the controversy at Centuri0n's blog: I was glad to learn that I am not the only one who has noticed that the so-called "confessional essays" have become increasingly shrill. And conversely, let me go on record saying that Frank Turk is not the only one who finds them worrisome.
         Perhaps I am not empathetic enough. But let me share my heart: Darlene and I don't have prolonged fights about petty issues. If we ever had one, I wouldn't blog about it. I don't think that's appropriate or edifying, much less laudable. (And it's well-nigh blasphemy to compare that kind of drivel with the book of Lamentations.)
         I've had my share of pastoral struggles and disappointments, but honestly, I have never once regretted entering the ministry or questioned my calling. If that makes me seem less "authentic" in the eyes of people who have a voyeuristic need to enter vicariously into someone else's angst, I'm sorry. But in all candor, and with no rancor whatsoever, I do sincerely wonder if someone so bitterly disappointed with his own failures, so openly disillusioned with the church, and (by his own testimony) so emotionally fragile really is called to ministry. And my heart has been burdened to pray for him. You want me to be transparent? There it is.
  6. Finally, some of the patrons at the Tavern have repeatedly and publicly asserted that I "hate" them. For the record, I have never entertained a hateful thought about any of them. If I were even tempted to hate them, I would simply ignore them.
         Why don't I just ignore them anyway? Because they insist on airing their criticisms of everything I stand for, replete with links and jeering references back this direction. (They were doing it before I even started blogging.) Meanwhile, the outpouring of complaints every time they are criticized is proof of their influence.
         And I really do think much that is posted at their blog is unnecessarily negative toward the church, rooted in a low view of the Scriptures, and detrimental to impressionable readers.
         Those concerns are serious. Mere melodrama (a lot of it, too!) has not been sufficient to convince me that it would be appropriate to stifle those concerns for the sake of an artificial pretense of "unity."

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22 November 2005

This should be good

Some guys I know are starting a blog, January 1. Flag this one. These guys will tackle provocative issues without fear and without equivocation, but in a way that's a lot more cultured, well-mannered, and respectable than the PyroManiac.

In their introductory post, they say,

We chose the name "faith and practice" because it encompasses all areas of theology, from the systematic to the practical; and also because it serves as a vivid reminder to all of us that true Christianity does not consist of mere theory, but of wholehearted obedience to the truth (cf. John 14:15).

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21 November 2005

About those blogroll revisions...

bog-rollAll sorts of speculation has been going on about the revisions in my blogroll and What It All Might Mean.

It's simple, really. The blogroll has needed an overhaul for some time. It reflects blogs I read regularly. Until now, it has been a list of blogs I try to read daily, but I wanted to expand it, because there are several good blogs I wanted to link to that I can't necessarily read every single day.

Some observations:

  1. "Entertaining" is a perfectly good category, and not a "lesser" category than "Interesting." There are many blogs that could fit equally well in either category, but I have tended to put those that keep me amused and smiling in "Entertaining," and those that make me pensive and reflective in "Interesting." If I had to assign PyroManiac to any category on my own blogroll, I would proudly and without hesitation add it to the "Entertaining" category.
  2. "Convivial" is a perfectly good category, too. If it seems like all the girl-blogs wound up in "Convivial," I noticed that, too. I'm not trying to segregate the women in a category of their own. (Note that Intellectuelle made "Interesting.") It's just that the women bloggers whose writing I enjoy tend to write more personal and less didactic material. They seemed to fit best in "Convivial," which is not to say I don't find them interesting and entertaining as well. (Hey, no one is more entertaining than a home-school mom who has her hackles up.) But I organized my blogroll by what makes sense to me. If someone thinks my male chauvinism is showing, so be it. Here's a blog you might like.
  3. I did not "demote" or delete anyone as a punitive measure for a post that I disagreed with. If I wanted to send someone a message, I wouldn't be so subtle about it.
  4. Speaking of which, some blogs may be listed but not linked. They are in my penalty box. Why? you ask? "A couple of reasons," I reply. I'll unlink a site temporarily if they post gratuitous scatology, blasphemy, or anything else that deeply offends my moral sensibilities. If they insult or offend Darlene, I may unlink them for a much longer period of time. If someone posts white supremacist or neo-Nazi material, I may unlink them permanently but leave their name in a category such as "Apalling" (especially if they have at times linked to any of my websites), because I think it's appropriate to signal my displeasure, but I don't want to drive traffic to their sites.
  5. I know there are blogs I should be linked to but haven't listed yet. I'll add them as I think of them. Bribery and threats won't get you listed here, however, so don't try it.

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Is there a universal aspect to the atonement?

SpurgeonYour weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

Charles Spurgeon, like all Calvinists, understood that the saving efficacy of the atonement is limited to the elect alone. But he rejected the notion of those high Calvinists who deny that the atoning work of Christ has any application or relevance to the reprobate whatsoever.

Spurgeon taught that the atoning work of Christ had universal and particular aspects. Of course, he stressed that the substitutionary aspects of the atonement—where Christ stood in the place of sinners and bore their punishment in their stead, propitiating God and providing full expiation for sin—were applicable to the elect alone.

But he also saw a universal aspect to the work of Christ on the cross. He taught that common grace is (at least to some degree) grounded in the atonement, because the kindness and benevolence of God to humanity in general—especially as reflected in the well-meant offer of salvation—would not have been possible at all apart from Christ's death. That is why those who reject Christ are guilty of the most egregious kind of personal affront against His goodness toward them (cf. Romans 2:4).

The following excerpt is from sermon no. 650, "Judgment Threatening but Mercy Sparing," delivered Sunday Morning, 17 September 1865 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London:

We do not believe in general redemption, but we believe in every word of this precious Bible, and there are many passages in the Scripture which seem to show that Christ's death had an universal bearing upon the sons of men.

We are told that he tasted death for every man. What does that mean? Does it mean that Jesus Christ died to save every man? I do not believe it does, for seems to me that everything which Christ intended to accomplish by the act of his death he must accomplish or else he will be disappointed, which is not supposable. Those whom Christ died to save I believe he will save effectually, through his substitutionary sacrifice.

But did he in any other sense die for the rest of mankind? He did. Nothing can be much more plain in Scripture, it seems to me, than that all sinners are spared as the result of Jesus Christ' death. And this is the sense in which men are said to trample on the blood of Jesus Christ. We read of some who denied the Lord that bought them. No one who is bought with blood for eternal salvation ever tramples on that blood; but Jesus Christ has shed his blood for the reprieve of men that they may be spared, and those who turn God's sparing mercy into an occasion for fresh sin, do trample on the blood of Jesus Christ.

You can hold that doctrine without holding universal redemption, or without at all contradicting that undoubted truth, that Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, and that where he suffered he suffered not in vain.

Now, sinner, whether thou knowest it or not, thou art indebted to him that did hang upon the tree, for the breath that is now in thee. Thou hadst not been on praying ground and pleading terms with God this morning if it had not been for that dear suffering one.

C. H. Spurgeon

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18 November 2005

This is where I was yesterday

Frank TurkAs planned, Darlene and I had lunch Thursday with Frank Turk and three-fourths of his family. In deference to Mrs. Turk, who shuns all the fame and accolades that go with being Centuri0n's wife, I'm not going to mention any first names. But they have a daughter who is beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated, witty—and four years old. I want grandchildren like that. They also have a son who I am told is equally bright and athletic (he plays soccer), but he was stuck in school yesterday.

CheddarsLunch was at Cheddars Casual Cafe on 71st street—one of my favorite Tulsa places. We swapped home-school-mom tales (Frank has some good ones) and gossipped about the blogosphere. I'm not going to get specific here, but if you're a regular reader, commenter, or blogger and wondering if we talked about you, the answer is yes. We talked about you all. For a couple of hours.

Then we drove to Mardel, the Christian and Educational Supply store, which is just down the street from Cheddars. That was the highlight of the day. Frank is the perfect guy to walk through a massive warehouse-sized Christian retail store with. He's a Christian retailer himself, and he also works for a Christian publisher. I've been involved in various aspects of Christian publishing for 30 years. We could have spent the whole week at a place like Mardel and not run out of things to talk about.

We walked through the greeting-card aisle (an area where Frank's expertise is unsurpassed and I have asolutely no experience—not even as a customer, because Darlene does all the card-buying in our family). Frank gave me an education and a whole new appreciation for what's involved in writing, publishing, and marketing cards.

We groused about the tripe that fills the Wall o' Best-Sellers in Mardel's book section.

We watched a video of Emerging Church leader Rob Bell and analyzed his idiosyncratic delivery style.

We talked about the current state of affairs in Christian publishing, critiqued cover art and packaging concepts, sized up the latest Biblezine®, reminisced about our first impressions of Clarence Larkin's architectural-drawing approach to eschatology, traded anecdotes about James White, speculated about what Steve Hays looks like, confabulated some more about the rest of you, and played with the Christian Koosh balls.

QOtD from Frank's daughter: "How do you make them koosh?" She's absolutely adorable.


I'm not finished messing with my blogroll. I'm thinking of adding a couple more categories. I have to find something worse than "irritating" but just short of "loathsome" to accommodate a certain blog that is screaming for a category all its own. And without expanding my "stellar" category so much that it means nothing, I need to have a new category above "interesting" to place a few of my favorites that deserve special recognition. Give me a few days to get it like I want it before you try to draw any conclusions about what it all means.

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17 November 2005

This is where I am going to be Today

PyroManiacYou know what? I'm too tired to write the next post in the "Modern Prophecy" series. I realize yesterday's post was about five times longer than optimum. (I probably should have held the Adrian Rogers anecdote out till today and made it a post on its own. If you skipped it because of the overflow of words yesterday, go back and read it.)

I also don't have the energy to do a BlogSpotting post.

And despite the undue length of yesterday's post, I neglected to mention two items I wanted to headline:

  1. Discoshaman is back. Big time. His blog, Le Sabot Post-Moderne, deserves a category of its own in my blogroll, combining all the best elements of "Stellar, Interesting, Entertaining, Convivial, and Informative in one. It was a favorite of mine (and countless other readers) when he was writing from Ukraine. Then he came back to the States and put the blog on hiatus. Now the silence is finally over. And Discoshaman also has a second blog to enhance your reading experience: "Religion of Peace?"—which he says he hopes will become "a nexus for all things Islamist, military and terrorifical." I love his biting wit and vibrant sense of humor. He is clever enough to get by, and even garner accolades, saying things that would get me stoned by my readers. I'm delighted he is back.
  2. An old friend of mine, Chris Jenkins (now known as C. Ryan Jenkins) has (along with some friends) started a new group blog, Reformata, whose contributors include Paul Helm (yes, the Paul Helm, Emeritus Professor, University of London; J.I. Packer Professor, Theology and Philosophy, Regent College) and Frank Turk (yes, that Frank Turk). The blogosphere is having a good week, I'd say. I really need to update my blogroll.

The Magnificent Frank TurkSpeaking of Turk, I'm planning to have lunch with him today. Business brings him to Tulsa once a year, and today happens to be the day he had scheduled to be here this year. When he learned last week that I too would be in Tulsa, he tried to rearrange his schedule so he'd be in Memphis instead—but without success. I have bullied him into meeting me for lunch at a restaurant here in Tulsa. We're going to trade jokes about home-school moms.

The last time I had lunch with Frank was an unforgettable day. He's a really bad influence on me. Brace yourselves for the worst.

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16 November 2005

This is where I am Right Now


I haven't mentioned it on the blog yet, but I've been in my home state of Oklahoma since Sunday evening.

John MacArthur spoke Monday at a Southern Baptist pastors' conference in Edmond, just prior to the Baptist General Convention at Henderson Hills Baptist Church there. Darlene and I were there to staff a book table for Grace to You. I learned only after arriving that Falwell was supposed to be there, too. He canceled at the last minute. Perhaps he heard the PyroManiac was going to be there.

Then Tuesday night, I spoke at the Heartland Regional FIRE conference in Oklahoma City. Lance Quinn was also in town for the FIRE conference, so it was good to spend some time with him. Jerry Marcellino, whose home and church took a hit from Katrina, was also there, as were Dennis Gundersen from Tulsa, Jim Elliff from Kansas City, Pastor Jim Kirby from Rio Rico, Arizona, and too many other friends to itemize.

Today we will be driving back to Tulsa via Stillwater, where we plan to have lunch with my younger sister.

Tomorrow, Frank Turk and his wife will be in Tulsa, so we'll get to spend a little time with them.

So it's a busy and fun week for me, and I thought I'd let the modern-prophecy theme simmer for a day while I post a collection of miscellaneous thoughts:


Edmond is where my dad grew up in the 1920s and '30s. In fact, as a boy, he used to catch the school bus a few yards from where Henderson Hills Baptist Church is today. My nephew, Chris Freeland, was married at that same church last year.

I spent lots of time in Edmond as a child, visiting my grandmother. She lived in the same house from the time I was born until after I was married, and when I drove by the house two years ago, it was abandoned and in a state of terrible, heartbreaking disrepair. I drove by it again Tuesday, and it has been completely renovated and now has a family living there. That warmed my heart.


Tuesday we also drove by the Oklahoma City National Memorial, and St. Anthony's Hospital a few blocks away, where I was born. My mom reminded me of a detail that helps round out the story I told in last Friday's post: Within a day or two after I was born, while my mom was still in hospital, an earthquake hit Oklahoma City and shook the downtown area pretty hard. That's really rare for this part of the country.

Being here always makes me nostalgic. My family's roots here run deep. Two of my great-grandfathers were cattlemen who helped settle and build Oklahoma City. Some of the ancestral family lands here (no longer in our family's possession) were acquired by my great-great grandfather, who participated in one of the famous Land Runs. Or supposedly. My mom uncovered some evidence in the family documents that indicates he may have been a true Sooner—having come in early in order to get prime land. (But my mom wants it emphasized that the record shows "he purchased the land from an Indian," rather than stealing it outright.)

I say "prime land," because it was deemed so at the time. Providence had different plans for the family fortunes. Today all that land is dotted with auto salvage yards, graveyards for rusty oil field equipment, and abandoned farmlands overgrown with wild juniper bushes.

Adrian Rogers

I want to say something about the passing of Adrian Rogers. I had the highest respect for him, a great love for his preaching ministry, and a special appreciation for the courage and diligence he showed in resisting the erosion of confidence in the Scriptures in some SBC circles.

I also made a short personal connection with Dr. Rogers once.

This happened while I was working as acquisitions editor for Moody Press in 1982. I was still in my 20s, but my job at Moody gave me access to a number of well-known preachers and authors. Moody Press sent me to the ICBI convention in San Diego that year, because every major Moody Press author (as well as every person we ever dreamed of recruiting to be a Moody Press author) was there. My assignment was to get to know as many of them as possible and find out what they were interested in writing. (That conference was where I really got to know John MacArthur for the first time.)

Anyway, one morning during the conference, I had breakfast scheduled with Adrian Rogers. Just the two of us. To talk about books. I was in awe. It was hard not to be. Of course, his voice was the deepest, richest, most mellifluous voice ever. In person, he had the presence to match. He was poised, elegant, refined—the very picture of dignity. And he seemed genuinely interested in talking to me about writing.

I ordered grapefruit. I had so many restaurant-meetings lined up for three days solid that I would have preferred not to eat at all, but he was having breakfast, and it would have been impolite to sit there and do nothing besides talk business while watching him eat.

This was a pretty good grapefruit, with only a few seeds, and small ones. But about halfway through my grapefruit, at a point in the conversation where he was laying out a really interesting book idea, I took a bite of grapefruit that turned out to have a seed in it. If I were at home with Darlene, I would just get up, walk over, and spit the seed directly into the bin. (Or else take aim and spit the seed across the kitchen in the general direction of the bin.) But in this classy hotel restaurant with fabric napkins and fine silverware, sitting across a small table from Dr. Rogers, I wanted to be as well-mannered as possible.

In retrospect, it would have been wise simply to swallow the seed. What I tried to do was quietly, discreetly, put the spoon to my mouth, deposit the seed there, and then silently put it back on the edge of my plate. But this was a really sticky seed, and I couldn't get it off my lip. I tried to blow it softly onto the spoon, but it didn't budge. So I blew harder.

Much too hard, actually. The maneuver launched the seed, which bounced off my spoon, arced across the table, and stuck fast to Adrian Rogers' lapel. His dark blue tailored suit was now decorated with a rather conspicuous grapefruit seed.

Worse, he didn't seem to see it happen. He kept talking to me without missing a beat, as if the whole thing had utterly escaped his notice.

I quickly realized I was no longer hearing him. My attention was fixed on the grapefruit seed, which sat there like a large, grinning lapel pin—getting bigger the more I looked at it. I couldn't decide whether to mention it to him or let him start his day with a seed from my breakfast clinging to his suit, waiting until someone else pointed out to him that it was there. In every scenario I could imagine, he would be embarrassed to discover the grapefruit seed hanging from his lapel, and of course, he would immediately know where it must've come from.

But after a 90-second eternity, during a moment when he thought I had looked down at my note pad, he quickly flicked his wrist and brushed it off. He knew it was there all the time, but he said nothing about it, I presume because he was too gracious to embarrass me.

From that day on, every time I ever saw him or heard his voice on the radio, I have remembered the grapefruit-seed incident; his classy, gentle compassion; and the care he took not to notice my disastrous lapse of etiquette.

I know he was beloved by his people, and I completely understand why. He'll be missed.

Miscellanies found on the Web today

Here's a collection of stuff I'd like to comment on, but time doesn't permit more than a short listing of them:

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15 November 2005

Some said they blundered

PyromaniacThe continuationists' response to this series of posts continues to amaze and amuse me. No matter how many times I point out that I am not making an argument for cessationism—not trying to make one; wasn't planning to make one; wasn't talking about the issue; did not even intend to bring it up when I began this series—we still have this flood of frantic comments from people who think cessationism is the issue and who demand to be given proof-texts so that they can dismantle whatever exegetical claims cessationism might rest on.

Let me say again: cessationism is not the issue here. I am simply pointing out the dismal track record of all modern prognosticating "prophets."

My point is not merely (as one commenter proposed) "that people sometimes claim divine inspiration and are lying." My point is that since the time of the apostolic era until now, there is not a single "prophet" on record who has proved to be a reliable source of "new revelation." Modern prophets don't just "sometimes" make prophecies that miss. When they make detailed predictions that are capable of being tested and verified or debunked, they are usually wrong.

And you don't have to be a cessationist to see the truth of that.

Now, I realize it would be impossible to get accurate figures on how many modern prophecies go unfulfilled. But if you really have the impression charismatic prophecies are right most of the time, you are naively gullible.

By the prophets' own testimony, their track record is lousy. The Kansas City Prophets, who rose to fame on the "Third Wave" tsunami in the 1990s, boasted that their success rate was about two-thirds accurate. One of their leading prophets said, "I figure if I hit two-thirds of it, I'm doing pretty good. . . . [T]hat's better than it's ever been up to now, you know. That's the highest level it's ever been."

Moreover, examine the "successful" prophecies, and I think you'll have to admit that many claims of fulfilled predictions are exaggerated. (I'm thinking of examples such as the one cited in Friday's post, where a non-disastrous earthquake was claimed as a fulfillment of a prophecy of doom. Or Oral Roberts's inventive reinterpretation of the Prophecy of the Nine-Hundred-Foot-Tall Jesus.)

Frankly, the statistical probability of successful results on random yes-no questions from a Magic Eight-Ball® is almost exactly the same: one-third yes; one-third no; one-third undecided.

Think of it: in very best of cases, modern prophets are dead wrong at least a third of the time. One of every three "prophecies" is totally bogus. That would be more than enough to get a seer stoned to death in Old Testament Israel.

I suspect that if the truth were known, far fewer than two-thirds of all modern prophecies ever see any kind of real fulfillment—even if you count the liberally reinterpreted "fulfillments" like what Oral Roberts claimed after his 900-foot-high false prophecy.

So here's my challenge to those continuationists who insist that the problem of bogus prophecies pales in importance compared to the exegetical issues raised by cessationism: Name one faithful modern prophet whose prognostications are both objectively verifiable and always one-hundred percent accurate. Because that is the biblical standard (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

If you argue (as most do) that the gifts being practiced today are different in quality from the gifts possessed by the apostles themselves, you are actually arguing for a kind of cessationism yourself. If no one can identify a prophet who meets the biblical standard for basic accuracy, the question of cessationism is essentially moot anyway.

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14 November 2005

For people obsessed with prognostication

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following selection is an excerpt from "Witnessing Better Than Knowing the Future," a sermon originally preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Thursday evening, August 29th, 1889.

Spurgeon is speaking of the dangers of being overly detailed in our speculations about eschatalogical schemes, but much of what he says is doubly applicable to those who are so eager to hear fresh revelation that they invent "prophecies" out of their own fancy.

SpurgeonIt is not for us to know the times and the seasons, and to be able to make a map of the future. There are some great events of the future very clearly revealed. The prophecy is not at all indistinct about the facts that will occur; but as to when they will occur, we have no data. Some think that they have; but our Lord here seems to say that we do not know the times and the seasons, and that it is not for us to know them.

I pass no censure upon brethren who think that, by elaborate calculations, they find out what is to be in the future; I say that I pass no censure, but time has passed censure of the strongest kind upon all their predecessors. I forget how many miles of books interpreting prophecy there are in the British Museum; but I believe it amounts to miles, all of which have been disproved by the lapse of time. Some of the writers were wonderfully definite; they knew within half-an-hour when the Lord would come. Some of them were very distinct about all the events; they had mapped them all within a few years. The men who wrote the books, happily for themselves, had mostly died before the time appointed came.

It is always wise to pitch on a long period of prophecy, that you may be out of the way if the thing does not come off; and they mostly did so. There were very few of them who lived to suffer the disappointment which would certainly have come to them through having fixed the wrong date. I let time censure their mistake. God forgave it, for they did it with a desire for his glory. The bulk of them were most sincere students of the Word, and herein are a lesson to us, even though they were mistaken in their calculations; but, beloved, it is not for you to know the times and the seasons.

First, it is not proper for you. It is not your work. You are not sent into the world to be prophets; you are sent into the world to be witnesses. You do not come here to be prognosticators of the events of tomorrow about yourself, or about your children, or about your friends, or about the nations of the earth. A veil hangs between you and the future. Your prayer is to be, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."

You are told to look for the coming of your Lord, and to stand in perpetual expectation of his return; but to know the time when he will come, is no part of your office. You are servants who are to look for your Lord, who may come at cock-crowing, or at midday, or at midnight. Keep you always on the tiptoe of expectation. It would be wrong for you to profess that you need not watch until such and such a time, for he would not come until such a date arrived.

As it is not proper for you, so it is not profitable for you. What would you be the better if you could make a map of all that is yet to be? Suppose it were revealed to yon to-night, by an angel, in what respect would it alter your conduct for to-morrow? In what way would it help you to perform the duties which your Master has enjoined upon you?

I believe that it would be to you a very dangerous gift; you would be tempted to set yourself up as an interpreter of the future. If men believed in you, you would become eminent and notable, and you would be looked upon with awe. The temptation would be to become a prophet on your own account, to head a new sect, to lead a new company of men to believe in yourself. I say that that would be the temptation. For my part, I would rather not know any more than my Lord pleases to reveal to me; and if he did reveal all the future to me, I should feel like the prophets who spake of "the burden of the Lord."

Neither would it ensure your salvation to be able to foretell the future, for Balaam was a great prophet, but he was a great sinner; he was an arch-rebel although he was an arch-divine. Nor do I know that, by foretelling the future, you would convince your fellow-men; for Noah told them that the world would be destroyed by the flood, he could give them a very accurate account of the time when the rain would descend, and yet they were not converted by his preaching, neither did they come into the ark. Those truths which God has revealed, you must accept for yourselves and proclaim to others; they are profitable for all purposes, and sufficient for your work; but the future is known only to God.

And as it is not proper or profitable, so it is not possible for you to know the times and the seasons. You may study as you will, and pray as you please; but the times and the seasons are not committed to you. Our Lord, as man, spoke of one great event of which lie did not know the time: "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." He does not say that now that he has risen from the dead, but he seems to hint that he did not know so as to tell his disciples; he must keep secret, even from them, that, which the Father hath put in his own power."

Notice, next, dear friends, that it is not good for you to know the times and the seasons. That is what the Savior means when he says, "It is not for you to know." For, first, it would distract your attention from the great things of which you have to think. It is enough for your mind to dwell upon the cross and the coming glory of your Lord. Keep these two things distinctly before you, and you need not puzzle your brains about the future.

If you did know that something important was going to happen very speedily, you might be full of consternation, and do your work in a great hurry. You might be worked up into a frenzy that would spoil all your service. Or, if there was a long time to elapse before the great event, you might feel the indifference of distance. If our Lord were not to come for another hundred years, and he may not, we cannot tell,—then we might say, "My Lord delayeth his coming," and so we might begin to sleep, or to play the wanton. It is for our good to stand ever in this condition, knowing that he is coming, knowing that he will reign, knowing that certain great events will certainly transpire; but not knowing the exact times and seasons when those events are to be expected.

But there is something better than knowing the times or the seasons; it is good for us to know that they are in the Father's power: "which the Father hath put in his own power." The events will come to pass, then, in due time. The future is all in God's hand. No prophecy will lack its mate. No word of God will fall unfulfilled to the ground. Possess your souls in patience: the things that are foretold are sure to happen. "Though the vision tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." I am persuaded that God never is before his time, but he never is too late. He never failed to keep tryst with his people to the tick of the clock. The future is in the Father's power.

And especially let it be remembered that it is in his power as our Father. He must arrange it rightly; he must arrange it in infinite love to us. It cannot be that, in some dark hour yet to come, he will forget us. He is our Father; will he forget his children? If the times could be in my hand, how earnestly would I pray that Christ would take them into his hand, or that the Father would take away from me the dangerous power, and wield it all himself! Did we not sing just now,—

"All my times are in thy hand,
All events at thy command"?

The time of birth, the time of the new birth, the time of a sore trial, the time of the death of your beloved one, the time of your sickness, and how long it shall last, all these times must come, and last, and end, as shall please your Father. It is for you to know that your Father is at the helm of the ship, and therefore it cannot be wrecked. It may rock and reel to and fro; but, since he rules the waves, the vessel will not have one more tossing than his infinite love permits. Let us, then, not seek to unroll the map of the future, but calmly say,—

"My God, I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes,
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright scenes arise;"

but just leave it all with God. The Father hath it in his own hands, and there we wish it to be.

C. H. Spurgeon

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12 November 2005

Let's review the discussion so far:

(because someone asked):
cessationism: the belief that the miraculous gifts such as healing, tongues, prophetic revelation, and supernatural knowledge pertained to the apostolic era only, served a purpose that was unique to the era before the New Testament was complete, and passed from use before the canon of Scripture was closed.

continuationism: the assumption that the miraculous gifts are normative and have continued in uninterrupted operation since Pentecost.

Can a bad tree bring forth good fruit?Careful readers ought to have noticed (because I have emphasized this fact repeatedly) that I have not yet posted a single argument in favor of cessationism. I really haven't dealt with the issue yet at all.

I have pointed out how influential and audacious certain false prophets have become—especially among those who dominate the world of charismatic media. I have decried the extreme gullibility of people who are driven by a hunger for "fresh revelation." I have suggested that such gullibility breeds sinful superstition. And I have pointed out that there is a valid and vital distinction that needs to be to be made between "miracles" and God's providential control over all that He has made.

But so far, I have not offered a single argument in favor of cessationism. If the only thing you read were my blogposts on the subject so far (ignoring what has been said about me in the comment-threads and forgetting for a moment where I work) there would be no reason for anyone to assume that I am a cessationist. Despite several commenters' baiting me on the issue, I haven't yet jumped into that debate.

Magic 8-BallAs a matter of fact, I would like to reiterate something I said earlier: When I brought up this subject of prophetic-utterances-gone-bad in the first place, I wasn't trying to pick a fight with my charismatic readers. I originally had no intention of even getting into the issue of cessationism. I think I have much more in common with my "Reformed non-cessationist" brethren than I have with liberal cessationists. And oddly enough, the main targets I was originally planning to take on were non-charismatics like Henry Blackaby and the Gothardites.

Let me be as clear as possible. You could boil down everything I have tried to say since the beginning of this series into about four simple points. Regardless of your position on cessationism, it seems to me that you ought to be able to affirm these four points:

  1. There is a monstrous potential for evil in blithely assuming that all your private imaginations are supernatural promptings that come to you as divine revelations from the Holy Spirit.
  2. Those who order their lives by such an assumption are being willfully gullible and sinfully superstitious, and they have no biblical warrant for the practice. In fact, such a mindset is hostile to the biblical concept of discernment.
  3. Claiming God told you something when in fact He did not is a profoundly wicked kind of presumption whose fruits are always evil. In fact, it was a capital crime under Moses' law.
  4. That kind of presumption, paired with a declining concern about biblical doctrine, has unleashed an untold amount of mischief in the visible church over the past century.

Looking at the issues dispassionately, I can't imagine why even the most devoted Reformed continuationist (assuming he has some biblical scruples and a genuine concern for sound doctrine) would object to any point I have made so far. And yet the subject has already provoked some of the harshest disagreement and bitterest feelings we've seen in the comment threads here at PyroManiac since The Great Comic-Book Apocalypse of the Summer of 2005.

Worse, some of my Reformed-charismatic readers want to jump past the weighty issues I have raised and debate cessationism instead. Some have actually scolded me for not posting any biblical proof-texts in favor of cessationism—as if the truth of any of the above points hinged on a biblical argument in favor of cessationism.

I think that fact speaks volumes about the inevitable tension that arises between continuationism and biblical discernment. In effect, what the continuationists seem to be saying is: "Yeah, yeah, OK, false prophecies are bad. Over-gullibility is a problem. We can manage those things. They are incidental issues. The real danger (or a far greater danger) lies in the opposite direction."

That has been the knee-jerk response of many Reformed continuationists who have commented here and on their own blogs. As if a strict commitment to the absolute sufficiency of Scripture posed a greater and more immediate threat to the church in our generation than the horde of false prophets that are rising up everywhere.

Nothing less than the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura is at stake here, and I suggest that anyone who truly thinks cessationism poses a greater threat than the proliferation of false prophecies has already effectively abandoned the formal principle of the Reformation.

(One commenter even seemed to suggest that my opinion on these matters isn't worth hearing unless I have received some new revelation from the Holy Spirit. Wow.)

All of this has convinced me that it is indeed impossible and impractical to try to divorce the issue of bogus prophecies from the problem of cessationism—not because cessationists are unwilling to deal with one issue apart from the other, but because continuationists are incapable of doing so.

As a matter of fact, in the real world, the two issues do intersect all too often, because of many leading Reformed-charismatics' unfortunate failure to practice biblical discernment consistently and responsibly. For example, Sam Storms lent his considerable credibility to the Kansas City Prophets for years, even after it was clear they were false prophets. Wayne Grudem has likewise shown an undue tolerance of prophetic abuses in the Vineyard movement. Jack Deere renounced cessationism and within a few short years virtually engineered the spiritual train wreck that culminated in the public disqualification of Paul Cain. I think it's fair to point out that the track record on these issues ought to be an embarrassment to my Reformed continuationist brethren—even if we limit the discussion to the fruit of their very best teachers.

Now, before someone parrots the standard line, let me just say I realize that's still not an exegetical argument for cessationism. Hey, I'll go even further: it's technically no argument for cessationism at all. But it is a reminder of the very serious and profound truth of Matthew 7:15-17:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

I admit that one of the things that concerns me most about Reformed non-cessationism is that when you trace the movement back to its roots, it stems from a bramble bush, not a fruit tree. And I rather suspect that fact is one of the chief reasons when I started talking about the disastrous effects of the current epidemic of false prophets, my Reformed charismatic friends came out of the woodwork spoiling for a fight.

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11 November 2005

Whole lotta shakin'

JollyBlogger wisely pleads for a careful distinction between God's constant providential control over the natural order of everyday events and His occasional miraculous intervention in worldly affairs. Adrian Warnock doesn't see the point. Here's a real-life illustration that I hope will help.

Friday mid-day update: I added the material in the large text box below. It simply expands and clarifies some issues a few readers may have felt were not quite clear in the original post.


Between April 1997 and April 2000, I lived through six earthquakes on four different continents. They were all fairly significant earthquakes that registered between 4.9 and 6.8 on the Richter scale—the kind that make you stop and gasp while you hold onto something for dear life. Falling frescoesBut they weren't really catastrophic events (unless you count the 6.8 quake at Assisi, in September of '97, which killed 10 people and destroyed some ancient frescoes on the ceiling of the Franciscan basilica there. By the way, that one struck within an hour after I had flown into Italy, while Carey Hardy and I were literally standing at our hotel's front desk, checking in.)

Here's the complete list, with documentation:

Twin 5.0 quakes in southern CAApril 26 and 27, 1997
6.8 quake in Assisi, ItalySeptember 26, 1997
5.3 quake Hollister, CAAugust 12, 1998
5.1 quake near Queenstown, NZApril 24, 1999
5.1 quake near Pune, Maharashtra, IndiaMarch 12, 2000

The first two of those quakes hit within 24 hours of each other, while I was home. The others all occurred in places where I had gone to minister. The string of earthquakes in and of itself seemed a rather bizarre turn of providence. (An earthquake occurred every place I visited, practically every time I traveled overseas, for three years! What are the odds of that?) I admit that I wondered after the fourth and fifth quakes whether these tremors had some sort of apocalyptic significance, and whether they were meant to convey some divine message to me personally.

Falling frescoesIt also occurred to me that if I were a charismatic charlatan, I could have parlayed my connection with the earthquakes into big-time fame and credibility, simply by inventing whatever "prophetic" significance I wanted to imagine and claiming the earthquakes were divinely-inspired punctuation marks for my prophecies. After all, I had multiple witnesses to my presence in all six earthquakes. The one in Queenstown, New Zealand, occurred while I was preaching about Jonah, right after I had made an emphatic point about God's sovereignty over the forces of nature.

If you have spent any time in charismatic circles, you know that I could have easily sold the idea that the earthquakes were proof that I am endowed with amazing prophetic gifts.

As a matter of fact, the day before the Pune earthquake, an American faith-healing evangelist launched a series of open-air meetings in Pune, in a vacant lot across the street from where a friend of mine lives. This faith-healer was known for making prophecies of doom. He had preached in Pune a year earlier and prophesied a long series of catastrophic disasters that he said would devastate the region if people did not repent—earthquakes, floods, famines, etc.

Of course, if you make enough prophecies like that, chances are you're going to get one of them right someday. Since this guy's constant theme is disaster and he had already prophesied the full range of possible catastrophes (storms, earthquakes, financial disasters, and so on) the odds were pretty good he'd be able to claim something someday.

Since this earthquake hit the day after his first Pune meeting, he immediately claimed the phenomenon was sent by God specifically as a fulfillment of his prophecies.

Now, this earthquake was by no means a disaster. It was enough to shake me out of a deep jet-lag-induced nap and into an immediate state of fervent prayer as the ceiling fan swayed over my head. It shook the whole city pretty hard. But it didn't really do any major property damage. As far as I know, no lives were lost.

My first thought, as soon as the shaking subsided, was, That guy is going to claim this as a fulfillment of his prophecies.

That is precisely what he did. That night more than 10,000 people showed up to hear this counterfeit prophet. They didn't notice the fact that no actual disaster occurred. The famines and financial disasters he had predicted never materialized. Even the earthquake itself was not really a disaster. But that fellow was claiming it as proof that he spoke for God, and multitudes believed him.

I happened to be visiting my friend across the street that night, and we moseyed over to hear the guy preach for a half hour or so. He was the worst kind of false prophet and charlatan, preaching a man-centered health-and-prosperity message to people the vast majority of whom lived in extreme poverty. And he took their money as a "seed-faith offering" that was supposed to make them rich. The amount of money he collected was astonishing. Then after prophesying more doom, he took a second offering.

He was preying on superstition for personal profit.

Superstition is irrational awe or fear of the unknown, resulting credulity regarding the supernatural. In this case, people's superstition was purposely manipulated and intensified by the preacher's deliberate blurring of any distinction between God's supernatural intervention by miracles and His providential control over everything that happens.

A miracle is a particular kind of sign—an unmistakable display of supernatural power calculated to confront unbelief and provoke awe—with the purpose of authenticating an agent of divine revelation. True miracles are not merely arbitrary displays of God's power; they are manifestly supernatural and are themselves a form of revelation.

The earthquake was a natural occurrence, not a "miracle." It had no more significance as a "fulfillment" of that false prophet's wild-eyed forecasts than it had as a harbinger of my presence in Pune. There was no reason whatsoever to see it as an example of immediate and preternatural intervention by God. There was no reason to assume it was a special judgment against the sins of the people in that city, as if they were worse sinners than the people in Calcutta (cf. Luke 13:1-5. As a matter of fact, there was far more evidence of mercy than judgment in the providential outworking of the Pune earthquake). The only reason anyone assumed otherwise was sheer superstition, aggravated by the claims of a man who was pretending to speak for God, even though he clearly did not.

By denying that there was any overt supernatural significance or special revelatory message from God in the earthquake, am I suggesting that God had no involvement in the event at all? Am I claiming it was without any meaning or significance whatsoever—as if it were a chance event, utterly devoid of divine purpose? Of course I am not saying that.

On the contrary, I would insist that God is always working through providence, so that every detail of everything that happens is part of His eternal plan and purpose—right down to "insignificant" details like the number of hairs on your head, or the falling of a sparrow (Matthew 10:29-30). It's not necessary to invent a "miraculous" explanation for every extraordinary turn of events in order to give God due credit for accomplishing His will in human affairs. In fact, it downgrades the biblical concept of miracles to imagine that everything unusual qualifies as a "miracle."

I am convinced by all the clear commands and best examples of Scripture that God would have us ordinarily seek an understanding of how His will and His purposes are being providentially fulfilled (insofar as such understanding is given to us at all) by seeking wisdom in the more sure Word of Scripture, rather than the declarations of uncredentialed modern "prophets" who (I think we all agree) often mistake their own imaginations for revelation from God.

That's true of ordinary and extraordinary providences alike. Miracles are a whole different category, and by definition, they are extremely rare events—even on the pages of Scripture.

If you mask the proper distinction between providence and miracles, you confuse things that ought to be clear—and such confusion always breeds superstition.

David Wayne, the JollyBlogger, has a post that makes this point well: "We reformed cessationists believe that God has ceased revelation, but He hasn't ceased upholding, directing, disposing and governing all creatures, actions and things. In other words, God is working in a mighty way at all times."

Adrian Warnock rejects any such distinction: "I honestly believe it is the cessationist who makes the supernatural/natural distinction too large. "For me, it really doesn't matter too much if God answers my prayer for the healing of Phil Johnson's allergic rhinitis by means of a new medication, his body just suddenly deciding one day no longer to exhibit such symptoms. . . , by miraculously changing something physically wrong with his white cells or by . . . taking Phil home to be with him and performing the ultimate miracle of healing. I just want Phil to be healed."

I appreciate the prayers and the well-wishes, and I agree that God's answer to Adrian's prayer (by sending rain that eliminated the high pollen counts) was just as much an answer to prayer as a miracle of healing would have been. I also agree that it would have likewise been an answer to prayer if He had called me home.

But it's still not precisely the same thing. Ask Darlene if the dead-Phil option and the natural-relief option are functionally equivalent in every sense, and she'll explain why they are not.

This post is longer and more far-ranging than I planned, so I'm going to cut it short. Here's the point: The faith that sees the hand of God in the natural outworking of divine providence (and understands that God is sovereign over every detail of everything that happens) is not a lesser faith than the kind of belief that can only see God at work when He intervenes in spectacular, supernatural, and miraculous ways.

Falling frescoes
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10 November 2005

One more quick personal update

I want to say a very sincere thank-you to all the well-wishers who have expressed concerns and suggestions about my health. I'm still feeling the buzz from Tuesday's dose of Benadryl, but the good news is that it rained yesterday and is raining hard this morning, and my allergy symptoms have mostly subsided.

LAPDI spent all day yesterday (Wednesday) in an orientation seminar with the illustrious Pecadillo, who enters the Police Academy this month. The hiring process for LAPD is long and arduous. For every 1,000 applicants who are considered, fewer than 50 are selected. So I'm very proud of Pecadillo for all he has gone through to get this far. He won't want me to blog much about it, because one of the cardinal rules for a recruit is not to stand out or call attention to yourself in any way. (And this rule of thumb was stressed repeatedly. They are not kidding.)

Even the normally upbeat and jovial Pecadillo sees no humor in any of this, and I don't blame him for taking it so seriously. Every one of his training supervisors intimidated me, and I'm not easily intimidated. That includes a couple of petite young women who I'm absolutely positive could beat me into a coma in a matter of seconds without raising much of a sweat, take great delight in doing so, and yet never even crack a smile in the process.

Since some of my readers are also fans of Pecadillo, I thought I'd mention that he might be putting his blog on hiatus or posting very sporadically for a while. Life for him is not going to be all that funny for the next 8 or 9 months. Nor will he have a surplus of spare time. His mornings for the next few months will be starting at 3:30 AM. That's not a lifestyle that is very compatible with writing a humor blog. I think he'll blog at least once more before officially launching his new career. After that, I predict his posts will be pretty spotty and perhaps even nonexistent—at least until he gets back into a less stressful routine.

The Illustrious PecadilloIncidentally, when he was a little kid, Pecadillo was the least literate of all our sons. He hated every minute of school. He struggled with learning how to read. His two elder brothers loved Sesame Street and learned the alphabet and basic reading skills before entering kindergarten. Pecadillo's tastes ran to the Three Stooges, and he didn't read anything voluntarily until late Junior High, when someone gave him a biography of Curly. He was the least likely person in our family to blog. He started his blog quietly, without even mentioning it to me, while Darlene and I were out of town a few months ago. I have been amazed by his latent literary abilities. It took me completely by surprise. I honestly don't know when and where he developed his writing skills, but—wow.

I just wanted to put on the record how proud I am of him.

Finally, an iPod update: I'm still ripping CDs and will be for weeks. I own some 1,500-2,000 CDs, and I've never had them well organized or easily accessible all at once. So I absolutely love the iPod. I got one of those docking stations that plays music from the iPod through speakers, so I can program several hours of music and let it play through the night. I've always liked music in the background when I sleep, and the classical radio station is at best unpredictable. Occasionally they'll play something with a screeching soprano that's impossible to sleep to. On the other hand, CDs are too repetitive. With a 5-CD changer, I wake up to the same thing I went to sleep to. Then it's in my mind all day. Boring.

I already have 9 solid days' worth of nonstop music (no repeats) ripped to the iPod, with only a tenth of my CD collection uploaded. That's amazing.

BachLast night I started the process of ripping all my Bach cantatas. Bach's cantatas are without a doubt the finest anthology of sacred music ever produced by a single composer. (How did Protestants ever get from Bach to the insipid stuff we call "worship choruses" today?)

Anyway, I've just begun to appreciate all over again how much great church music Bach produced, and I'm realizing for the first time how large my collection of Kantaten had become. After ripping CDs for three hours last night, I had some 10 hours of Das Kantatenwerk in the iPod. So I put it on and fell asleep to Christ lag in Todesbanden ("Christ Lay in death's bonds") and got up this morning to the triumphant strains of Wachet Auf ("Sleepers Awake"). Is that a perfect night's sleep, or what?

Look for the next post in the "Modern Prophecy" series within 12 hours. We'll get this blog back on track ASAP.

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