30 June 2005

Good eye!

Kudos to Steve Camp, who was the first one correctly to identify the mystery location featured in yesterday's post. He nailed it in the very first comment. It's Bunhill Fields, the famous Puritan and non-conformist burial grounds in City Road, London—burial place of Isaac Watts, John Gill, John Rippon and many other Protestant and Puritan celebs. Directly across the street to the east is John Wesley's home and the church he pastored. I'll try to post a more thorough description of Bunhill Fields with some pictures in Monday's blogpost.

By the way, speaking of Campi—he has officially entered the blogosphere. I always thought his website was his blog, but he now has a cleverly-titled alternative blog with cool graphics and room for readers' comments. (The blog seems to mirror what is already at Audience One, but with the opportunity for commentors to reply, and presumably it won't accumulate three miles of material and take longer than an episode of "Martha Stewart" to load.) Judging from Steve's blogcontent so far, he is going to be prolific. Legit.

PyromaniacAs noted all week, I am invading Adrian Warnock's nation for a week. If Britain had those silly colored terror-alert signals, I'm certain the powers that be would set the alert level to the brightest possible glowing crimson.

Anyway, my flight departs early this evening, but I've got to get home, pack, and get to the airport two hours early. So I'm signing off till I get to the UK. My hotel there is supposed to have high-speed access in every room. If it works, I'll blog a little bit when I get there, including a full update on what I plan to be doing in London and what I'll be speaking about during the School of Theology.

29 June 2005

Some quick thoughts on my way out

  1. Blogspotting Poll ResultsThe final tally on the BlogSpotting poll was lopsided in the extreme—10 to 1 in favor of the links. BlogSpotting stays for the time being, though you'll see a lot less of it in the near future, chiefly because—
  2. As announced, I'm leaving town tomorrow. Darlene and I will be in London for a week.
  3. Speaking of which, here, courtesy of Google Maps, is a satellite photo of a location in London. Note the grove of trees in the center of the photo, just north of the large green square. This is one of my favorite places in the whole UK. I'm planning to write about it in the "Monday Menagerie" post next week. Anyone recognize the location? Ever been there? If so, leave a comment.

In Memoriam: Dr. Jack MacArthur, 1914—2005

Dr. Jack MacArthur
Dr. Jack MacArthur, 1914—2005
Yesterday I made a fast round-trip flight to Eugene, Oregon to attend a memorial service at First Baptist Church for Dr. Jack MacArthur, who died exactly two weeks ago, at the age of 91—after 70 years of faithful preaching and teaching. He preached almost every week from the time he was 19 until poor health forced him to stop just a few short months ago. He was beloved by thousands who had sat under his ministry.

Dr. Jack was, of course, the father of John MacArthur and a profound role model not only for his son, but for many other young men who entered the ministry under his tutelage. Dr. Jack's own radio ministry, "Voice of Calvary," began broadcasting in 1942 and has aired continuously ever since. (Production of the program will cease in October.) From 1956 to 1983, Voice of Calvary also sponsored a television broadcast.

John MacArthur and Dr. Jack
John MacArthur and Dr. Jack
Over his long and distinguished career, Dr. Jack was a pastor, conference speaker, author, and church planter. He founded Calvary Bible Church, Burbank, CA—still a thriving congregation. In the 1940s, Dr. Jack served as an Extension speaker for the Moody Bible Institute. Later, while pastoring in Southern California, he and Dr. Edwin Orr founded an outreach ministry to people in the film and television industry.

Best-known as a biblical expositor, Dr. Jack influenced many other preachers (not the least of whom is his own eminent son) to preach the Word faithfully, helping to stem the tide in an era when evangelical preaching was becoming more and more gimmicky and less and less Bible-centered. John MacArthur has often recounted how when he told his father he sensed a call to the ministry, Dr. Jack gave him a Bible inscribed with Paul's instructions to Timothy: "Preach the word" (2 Timothy 4:2). Dr. Jack's faithful advocacy of biblical preaching may well prove to be the most important and far-reaching legacy of a very full and fruitful ministry.

Jack MacArthur was an inveterate reader with a broad range of interests. He had a particular concern for apologetics, and his preaching and writing were often peppered with facts and illustrations designed to demonstrate the trustworthiness of God's Word. One of his books was titled How to Stay Away from the Psychiatrist. It was a practical study of how biblical principles apply to the problems of life.

Dr. Jack earned a degree in theology from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and a D. Lit from Pacific College (now Azusa Pacific University). He also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Bob Jones University.

His wife, Irene, went to be with the Lord five years ago. They were the parents of three daughters and a son; with seventeen grandchildren. At his death, Dr. Jack had twenty-two great grandchildren.

"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord . . . that they may rest from their labours" (Revelation 14:13).

28 June 2005

Jon Campbell: Servant of all

Jon Campbell January 11, 1949--June 22, 2005
Jon Campbell
January 11, 1949—June 22, 2005
During the renaissance of Christian radio that flourished from the mid-1970s through the turn of the millennium and beyond, Jon Campbell was one of the most important men in the Christian communications industry. The Lord took him to heaven last Wednesday after a difficult battle with cancer.

You may never have heard of Jon, but you have almost certainly felt the impact of his work. Together with his wife, Peggy, Jon gave direction to Ambassador Advertising Agency, a Fullerton, CA-based company that represents (and gives production and distribution support to) some of the best-known evangelical radio ministries now on the air, including Grace to You (John MacArthur); Breakpoint (Chuck Colson); and Joni & Friends (Joni Eareckson Tada). Ambassador was founded in 1959 by Jon's father-in-law, Al Sanders. Jon went to work there in the early 70s, after graduating from Biola.

In 1989 Jon became President of the agency. Under his leadership, Ambassador helped shape the entire Christian radio industry. Over the past three decades, Jon and Peggy helped launch the radio ministries of Dr. James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, and many others.

Jon was a true friend, and I am personally very much indebted to him. He began freely sharing his wealth of knowledge about Christian radio with me long before Ambassador became the official agency for Grace to You (the ministry I serve). I knew Jon for more than twenty years and never knew him to say or do anything harsh, inconsiderate, or unchristlike. He was always kind, generous, encouraging, gentle, gracious, thoughtful, and humble. That wasn't an image he cultivated. It's who he really was.

I last saw Jon a few months ago. He and Peggy came from Fullerton (about an hour and a half away) just to serve lunch to our entire staff. Jon knew then that he was seriously ill, but you would hardly have known it. His desire to serve us (even though he himself was weaker than anyone knew) embodied the spirit with which he lived his whole life. Content to serve and to stay in the shadows, he was nonetheless an authentically great man (Mark 10:43). We will miss him badly.

For a full bio of Jon, click here.

27 June 2005

Monday Menagerie IV

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

The Sad Case of the Collyer Brothers

The following is an excerpt from John MacArthur's 1991 book Our Sufficiency in Christ.

Langley Collyer
Langley Collyer in happier times
Homer and Langley Collyer were sons of a respected New York doctor. Both had earned college degrees. In fact, Homer had studied at Columbia University to become an attorney. When old Dr. Collyer died in the early part of this century, his sons inherited the family home and estate. The two men—both bachelors—were now financially secure.

But the Collyer brothers chose a peculiar lifestyle not at all consistent with the material status their
Living space?
Inside the Collyer mansion
inheritance gave them. They lived in almost total seclusion. They boarded up the windows of their house and padlocked the doors. All their utilities—including water—were shut off. No one was ever seen coming or going from the house. From the outside it appeared empty.

Though the Collyer family had been quite prominent, almost no one in New York society remembered Homer and Langley Collyer by the time World War II ended.

Langley Collyer
Langley ponders life as a recluse
On March 21, 1947, police received an anonymous telephone tip that a man had died inside the boarded-up house. Unable to force their way in through the front door, they entered the house through a second-story window. Inside they found Homer Collyer's corpse on a bed. He had died clutching the February 22, 1920 issue of the Jewish Morning Journal, though he had been totally blind for years. This macabre scene was set against an equally grotesque backdrop.

Homer leaves the Mansion one last time
The body of Homer Collyer is removed through the second-floor window
It seems the brothers were collectors. They collected everything—especially junk. Their house was crammed full of broken machinery, auto parts, boxes, appliances, folding chairs, musical instruments, rags, assorted odds and ends, and bundles of old newspapers. Virtually all of it was worthless. An enormous mountain of debris blocked the front door; investigators were forced to continue using the upstairs window for weeks while excavators worked to clear a path to the door.

Nearly three weeks later, as workmen were still hauling heaps of refuse away, someone made a grisly discovery. Langley Collyer's body was buried beneath a pile of rubbish some six feet away from where Homer had died. He had been crushed to death in a crude booby trap he had built to protect his precious collection from intruders.

The Collyer Mansion
Workmen haul away the stash
The garbage eventually removed from the Collyer house totaled more than 140 tons. No one ever learned why the brothers were stockpiling their pathetic treasure, except an old friend of the family recalled that Langley once said he was saving newspapers so Homer could catch up on his reading if he ever regained his sight.

Homer and Langley Collyer make a sad but fitting parable of the way many people in the church live. Although the Collyers' inheritance was sufficient for all their needs, they lived their lives in unnecessary, self-imposed deprivation. Neglecting abundant resources that were rightfully theirs to enjoy, Homer and Langley instead turned their home into a squalid dump. Spurning their father's sumptuous legacy, they binged instead on the scraps of the world.

Langley Collyer
Langley Collyer
Too many Christians live their spiritual lives that way. Disregarding the bountiful riches of an inheritance that cannot be defiled (1 Pet. 1:4), they scour the wreckage of worldly wisdom, collecting litter. As if the riches of God's grace (Eph. 1:7) were not enough, as if "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3) were not sufficient, they try to supplement the resources that are theirs in Christ. They spend their lives pointlessly accumulating sensational experiences, novel teachings, clever gurus, or whatever else they can find to add to their hoard of spiritual experiences. Practically all of it is utterly worthless. Yet some people pack themselves so full of these diversions that they can't find the door to the truth that would set them free. They forfeit treasure for trash.

More on the Collyer boys:

26 June 2005

The Death of BlogSpotting?

Here's a really long BlogSpotting post. Could be the last one ever. See below and top right.

Note to all with hyperactive RSS readers: No substantive changes here. I'm just reposting this to fix a broken link. I know I have edited this post a dozen times or more, but if this is going to be the last ever BlogSpotting post, I'm determined to make it the best, most complete one ever.


25 June 2005

Thought-fragments during a very busy day

  1. Crying over Spilt CoffeeI spilled a full cup of coffee (with cream, no sugar) directly into my keyboard this morning. Quick thinking seems to have saved my lap top. I instantly turned it off, flipped it upside down, and used a towel to dry off everything I could reach. Then I used Q-Tips to soak up as much from under and between the keys as possible. It's not the kind of keyboard where the key caps pop off easily. (Last time I tried popping keys off, I had to have my whole keyboard replaced.) So I just let it dry naturally for two hours. Since the coffee got all over my gym shorts, too, I waited till they were fully dry before turning the lap top back on. It seems to be working flawlessly so far. It's a Dell, BTW. It's been an amazingly sturdy machine. I've had it more than 2 years and dragged it all around the world with me. I can't tell you how many times it has been dropped and spilled on. Darlene saw how much coffee I spilt, and she was genuinely amazed when the computer started up perfectly two hours later. As it heats up, it's giving off a nice aroma of coffee & cream. But I think it's about time for me to start shopping for a new lap top.
  2. Contending for the FaithHere's a book you're not likely to encounter in most Christian bookshops, but it's well worth a careful read. Contending for the Faith is a biography of E. J. Poole-Connor, by David G. Fountain, originally published in 1966 with a foreword by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Poole-Connor was an important figure in British Evangelicalism whose ministry spanned the first half of the twentieth century. He was arguably the most important evangelical separatist in the UK between the time of Spurgeon (who influenced him greatly) and Lloyd-Jones (whom he in turn influenced). This revised edition includes an appendix about Lloyd-Jones's separatism and a postscript by Dr. Peter Masters, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. Unfortunately, biblical separatism is not a particularly popular idea these days among evangelicals anywhere—but especially in the UK. So I'm grateful to see this book in back in print in a new edition. It's an insightful perspective on the history of the early twentieth-century evangelical movement in the UK. If you're a subscriber to The Sword & Trowel, you should have received a copy by mail already. If not, you can purchase a copy at the Tabernacle Bookshop—and be sure to subscribe to S&T; you can do it on line.
  3. The Metropolitan Tabernacle, LondonSpeaking of the Met Tab, I'll be there next Sunday (a week from tomorrow), and for most of the following week. That week is the annual School of Theology, one of my two favorite annual conferences in the whole world. (The other is the Shepherds' Conference at my own home church.) You might think "School of Theology" sounds like a forum for dry, technical academic lectures. Not so. The conference is attended by hundreds of lay people and students, and although the biblical and theological issues that are usually addressed are not the kinds of things you would naturally think of as "user-friendly," I've never heard anyone complain that either the speakers or the issues were over anyone's head. I've always found it richly edifying, and the fellowship with likeminded people there is likewise manna for my soul.
  4. Another of those infamous BlogSpotting posts is on its way tomorrow. Could be the last one ever. Watch for details to come.
  5. The rest of this coming week promises to be a hard one for me. I have two memorial services to attend—one Monday, another Tuesday. They are for two different Christian leaders who were each used by God in profound ways to further the work of the gospel—and whose impact you have most likely felt in one way or another, whether you knew these men or not. They each went to heaven last week within days of each other. Their services are in separate states, so I'll definitely be on the road more than usual this week. I'm planning a couple of special blogposts to honor each of these two dear brethren. Watch this space.

24 June 2005

The Scandal of the Evangelical Fringe

The powers that be over at The Shepherds' Fellowship have graciously granted permission to post this article here.

Christianity Astray
Perhaps you page through each month's issue of Christianity Today as I do—baffled and disconcerted to see that venerable magazine being used as a platform for so many of the dubious fads and disturbing theological trends that constantly flourish at the fringes of the evangelical movement.

Until now, all I could think to do was wince and chuck the magazine in the circular file.

But from now on, I'm going to express my frustration by writing about it.

Pulpit magazine—the online periodical of The Shepherds' Fellowship—has allotted me a column ("Christianity Astray") to write about the latest aberrations seeking acceptance from the evangelical mainstream—in the pages of CT and elsewhere. This is from the May/June 2005 issue of that column.
Phil JohnsonPhil Johnson

The Scandal of the Evangelical Fringe

Ron SiderFor some thirty years, Ron Sider has been one of the most outspoken political liberals in the evangelical menagerie. He doesn't like that label, liberal. (And, to be fair, he is no knee-jerk leftist. Sider opposes abortion and doesn't support the gay-rights lobby.) But Sider's friend and fellow evangelical liberal Tony Campolo (who doesn't mind the label and who has voiced sympathy for much of the gay-rights agenda) says Sider is definitely a man of the left. According to Campolo, "If you want to know Ron Sider's view on capital punishment, you don't even have to ask. If you want to know his view on El Salvador, you don't have to ask. If you want to know what he thinks about disarmament and the military, you don't even have to ask. If it looks liberal, and it smells liberal, and it tastes liberal, it's liberal."

As a matter of fact, the first edition of Sider's 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, was so fiercely radical that some early critics denounced it as socialism in sheep's clothing. Sider blamed all poverty on systematic injustice perpetrated by governments, corporations, and economic systems. "Evil" was something embodied in institutions. Almost every solution he proposed involved a scheme for restricting capitalism and transforming government into an instrument for the redistribution of wealth. Out-and-out Marxists could—and did—advocate many of the same policies Sider championed.

In 1981, David Chilton wrote a scathing book-length rebuttal, published by the Institute for Christian Economics (ICE) and titled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators. Chilton argued (quite convincingly) that Ron Sider's views on economics were wrongheaded, naive, unbiblical, and full of potential mischief. The release of Chilton's book coincided roughly with the end of Jimmy Carter's administration, the onset of the Reagan years, and the rise of the religious right. Sider's book (which had already sold more than a quarter million copies) suddenly all but disappeared from the evangelical radar.

Although he still prefers left-wing politics, Sider's views have softened considerably over the years. What persuaded him to tone down his radicalism is not entirely clear. It might have been Chilton's book, the collapse of Communism, the changing political climate in America (especially with the militant secularization of the radical American left), or all of the above. Whatever the reasons, Sider has issued two major revisions of Rich Christians (a second edition in 1984, and a twentieth-anniversary third edition in 1997). Each new edition was significantly less radical than the preceding one.

In fact, none other than Gary North, ICE founder (and publisher of David Chilton's book), declared Sider's third edition "harmless." In a review ("Ron Sider Has Moved in the Right Direction"), North wrote, "For a man who rejects economic reasoning and biblical blueprints, what he proposes is not all that bad—uninspiring, but not that bad."

"It is also not very good," North was quick to add.

On a personal level, however, it is easy to feel a sympathetic fondness for Ron Sider. He grew up in rural Ontario in a denomination with strong Anabaptist roots. His radicalism, his pacifism, and his insistence on an abstemious lifestyle are all deeply engrained convictions that Sider has drawn from his spiritual heritage. By all accounts he is a gentle soul who practices what he preaches. He lives a simple life in a modest home in a non-exclusive urban neighborhood.

Self-styled "evangelical liberals" sometimes enjoy stirring controversy by questioning core evangelical doctrines like the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of hell, or the exclusivity of Christ. (Evangelical post-modernist guru Brian McLaren, for example, who has strong sympathies with the political left, sneers at the historic evangelical stance on all three of those doctrines.) Sider hasn't done that. He frankly doesn't have a lot to say about abstract theology. But what he does say about salvation, Christ, the authority of Scripture, and other vital Bible doctrines seems more genuinely evangelical than most of the self-styled evangelicals who are camped out at the left end of the political spectrum these days.

Don't mistake that remark as a wholesale endorsement of Sider's theology. Far from it. Although Sider has backed away from some of his 1970s radicalism, it's hard to imagine that he could have emerged totally unscathed from a phase that might well be interpreted as a dalliance with Liberation Theology. But for the record, Sider's organization, Evangelicals for Social Action, uses the Lausanne Covenant as a doctrinal statement. It may not be the most thorough and doctrinally precise doctrinal statement ever written, but Lausanne does explicitly affirm the authority and inerrancy of Scripture as well as the exclusivity of Christ. I am very glad that Ron Sider affirms those truths. Many of his political allies on the evangelical left do not.

The Scandal of the Evangelical ConscienceAnyway, Mr. Sider is back in the limelight again with a new book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? (Online excerpt courtesy of Books & Culture.) While it's not a book I would recommend overall, it is a much better book than Rich Christians, and Sider makes some points that I would gladly add a hearty amen to. For example, he decries contemporary tendency to turn the gospel into a message about self-fulfillment—the polar opposite of Jesus' message about self-denial. He deplores the materialism and worldly superficiality of the modern megachurch movement. He is rightly concerned about Western Christians' infatuation with entertainment. He points out that our giving isn't really as generous as we like to think. On those and other points, his message cannot be gainsaid. When he is right, he is right.

The April 2005 issue of Christianity Today features an interview with Ron Sider about his new book. Of course, it caught my attention.

I won't dissect the interview, because that would take more time than I can afford and more space than I've been allotted. But I do want to respond to Mr. Sider's central argument, perfectly summarized in the subtitle CT gave their article: "Ron Sider says the [evangelical] movement is riddled with hypocrisy, and that it's time for serious change."

Of course, it's perfectly obvious that the evangelical movement is long past due for "a serious change." We've been saying the same thing on almost every page of Pulpit for the past two years. So I agree with that part of the assertion. What I disagree with is Mr. Sider's diagnosis of the underlying malady. He thinks the problem is merely hypocrisy—that people just aren't living up to what they believe. Therefore he simply repeats the same mantra he has been chanting for thirty years: what evangelicals need most is a lifestyle change.

It seems to me that the trouble with today's evangelical movement runs much deeper than that. The real problem is that many self-styled "evangelicals" don't truly believe basic evangelical doctrine anymore. Large numbers of them couldn't even explain the gospel in the simplest terms. Many flatly deny the relevance of God's Word and its authority over their lives. Leaders like McLaren and Campolo have fostered these problems and now are openly challenging our right to believe anything with any kind of certainty or conviction. What kind of behavior would you expect to be the fruit of such thinking?

Let me be more explicit: I fear that many (perhaps most) of the religious people whom Christianity Today and Ron Sider want to sweep into the evangelical movement aren't even true Christians.

CT's interview with Ron Sider begins precisely where Sider's book begins: citing data from a controversial 1999 survey conducted by evangelical pollster George Barna. Barna's figures supposedly demonstrate that the divorce rate among evangelicals is no better than the divorce rate among the total population of America. The problem with Barna's survey is his watered-down concept of what constitutes "evangelicalism." (See the lead section of "The Good the Bad, and the Ugly" in this issue of Pulpit for more on this same subject.)

Pollsters like Barna, aided and abetted by Christianity Today, have systematically been moving the boundaries of the evangelical movement outward for years. It's pretty hard to imagine any theological opinion so deviant that one could not hold it and credibly claim to be an "evangelical," given the paradigm for evangelicalism used by people like Barna, Sider, and CT's editors. The evangelical fringe has become so large and all-inclusive that old-style mainstream evangelicalism frankly seems like an oddity when you look at the whole of the visible movement. Historic evangelicalism is now under fierce attack on several sides from within the "evangelical" camp. As a result, the group Barna and company label "evangelical" is filled with people who don't even understand the most basic truths of the gospel—justification by faith, the authority of Scripture, the lordship of Christ, and all that. Their real problem is not that they don't live up to their beliefs, but that they don't really even have a biblical belief system.

Ron Sider himself is part of the problem. He denies that orthodoxy takes precedence over orthopraxy. He would claim, of course, that sound doctrine and good works are equally paramount. That's essentially the argument he attempted to make in his 1993 book One-sided Christianity (republished in 1999 as Good News and Good Works), where he claimed that evangelism without social action is "lopsided Christianity." Throughout the book, he treats sound doctrine and good works as disparate virtues to be balanced.

He is wrong on at least four counts.

First, in practice, Sider himself does not place nearly as much stress on sound doctrine as he does on humanitarian works. Virtually all his books tend to neglect the issue of faith (or take it for granted) while emphasizing the importance of good deeds. Far from attaining "balance," he has reversed the proper priority between faith and praxis.

Second, Mr. Sider is obsessed with a peculiar kind of "good works." For some thirty years he has talked incessantly about social activism, political justice, environmental protection, government-based anti-poverty programs, and similar liberal public policy issues—as if these were the epitome of all truly "good works." He actually seems to regard political support for a liberal social agenda as the true barometer of authentic Christian piety.

Third, it is a serious mistake to think either truly sound doctrine or genuinely good works can stand alone. The two are not distinct features to be set in balance by weighing them against one another.

Which is to say, fourth, that authentic good works flow from sound doctrine; not the other way around. Orthodoxy is what gives rise to orthopraxy. It never works in reverse. This, after all, is the basic message of Christianity: good works are a fruit of genuine faith. Faith, not any kind of work, is the sole instrument by which we lay hold of justification (Romans 4:4-5). And the practical righteousness of sanctification follows that (Hebrews 11:6; Galatians 5:6). Genuinely good works do not—and cannot—precede faith (Romans 8:7-8).

In other words, orthodoxy does take precedence over orthopraxy. That is an essential ramification of true biblical and evangelical doctrine. Orthodox doctrine really is more important than social action.

That is not to suggest that good works, human compassion, or godly virtues are optional. Far from it. (That certainly ought to be clear; for more than 35 years, our ministry has opposed the kind of antinomianism that portrays good works as irrelevant to authentic faith.) But good works are secondary to faith and sound doctrine, because they flow from it. They are caused by it. They are never the cause of it. Social action and political causes (whether on the right wing or the left) are simply not as important as the truth of the gospel message, and every Christian's personal priorities ought to reflect that principle.

Furthermore, whenever good works are absent in someone's life, you can be certain that person's doctrine is not really sound. It is an utter fallacy to imagine (as George Barna seems to want us to believe) that right belief can fail to produce righteous behavior.

To give Ron Sider credit, he does touch on this truth, albeit briefly. In the middle of his analysis of Barna's statistics, he writes, "Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches."

What makes Sider's book so utterly disappointing is that he never develops that point. He gets sidetracked, as usual, by the political agenda. Unfortunately, Ron Sider himself has a seriously faulty worldview, and it begins with the fact that he invariably defines "good works" in political, rather than biblical, terms.

Sound doctrine is not just "one important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior." It is the answer to the whole problem. "Orthodox theological belief" is the key to a proper Christian worldview. And a truly biblical worldview is the only possible foundation for right praxis. That is what we must stress if the evangelical movement is ever to be salvaged from its current scandalous state.

At the end of the day, the real scandal is not merely that people who call themselves "evangelicals" behave badly. What is truly scandalous is that so many men at the forefront of evangelical leadership don't seem to understand this basic truth: The kind of teaching that encourages people who live worse than infidels to think of themselves as "Christians" isn't really Christianity at all—even if CT persists in labeling it "evangelicalism."

See also:

Copyright © 2005, Pulpit-Shepherds' Fellowship. All Rights Reserved.

23 June 2005

One Final Round of BlogSpotting for a Busy Week

A huge thanks to those who e-mailed me with links and tips on how to find bloglinks to PyroManiac without hours of Googling. The biggest HT of all goes to the anonymous commenter who posts as "Josiah." He gave me a link to TechnoratiTM—where I found way more than enough stuff to fill this special bonus edition of "Blogspotting."

Mid-Morning Addendum:

22 June 2005

"For the sins of the whole world"

A friend who struggles with Calvinism writes:
Calvinists never seem to face 1 John 2:2 head on. It says, "He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Calvinists always dismiss the plain meaning of the verse, saying that "whole world" can't possibly mean the whole world, because if it did, it would include trees and mountains and rivers and slugs and termites and other stuff.

Here's what a thoughtful Calvinist might say about 1 John 2:2, without resorting to the "slugs and termites" argument:

The apostle is writing to a primarily Jewish audience. He reminds them that Christ "is the propitiation for our sins; and not for [us Hebrews] only, but also for [the sins of Gentiles from every tongue and nation throughout] the whole world."

Notice, the phrasing of John 2:2 is an exact parallel of John 11:51-52: "He prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad."


There is little doubt that this is how John's initial audience would have understood this expression. "The whole world" means "people of all kinds, including Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, and whatnot"—as opposed to "ours only"—i.e., the Jewish nation.

What the apostle John is saying in the John 11 passage is particularly significant: Christ died so that he might gather "the Children of God"—the elect—from the whole world. That is a very clear and explicit statement of so-called "limited atonement."

Understood in its Johannine context, then, a Calvinistic interpretation of 1 John 2:2 seems unavoidable. As one classic work on the atonement says,
The words plainly allude to the atonement as offered and applied—that is, to the actual expiation, which does not go beyond the number of believing recipients. It is a perversion of the language when this is made to teach the dogma of universal propitiation; or that atonement was equally offered for all, whether they receive it or not, whether they acknowledge its adaptation to their case or not. The passage does not teach that Christ's propitiation has removed the divine anger in such a sense from all and every man. Nothing betokens that the apostle had others in his eye than believers out of every tribe and nation.
(George Smeaton, The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement, 460).

BlogSpotting where I left off Monday

  • Justin Taylor tags me with a book meme, which is probably going to stall right here at PyroManiac, because it came just at the start of my vacation, while I was off line—and I came home to a desk full of urgent stuff. How about I just keep it here until someday when I'm looking for something good to blog about? Then I'll resurrect it just when everyone least expects it. If someone out there would like to be tagged with it, let me know.
  • Carla Rolfe thinks you people are all snobs.
  • Frank Martens is euphoric when he discovers that a "Blogspotting" entry causes his hit counter to increase. When you visit his site, hit "reload" at least five times, and tell Frank I sent you. It's a cheap and harmless tonic for both him and me.
  • Bret Capranica thinks I am out of control. He notes with barely-contained glee that I haven't been able to keep my promise to blog only sporadically. Hey, Bret, tell Kelly hi from Darlene and me. Here's a miniature of the Bobble-head for her:
  • Kevin Jones wonders what he has to do to get BlogSpotted. I thought Jared over at the Nexus of the Cerebral Universe® had already made that clear.

Of course, I do miss the occasional blogreference, no matter how unrelentingly I Google for blogged links to PyroManiac. If anyone wants to be sure to get BlogSpotted, send me an e-mail with a link to your blogged insult, disagreement, mockery, or words of appreciation. I try my best to be an equal-opportunity BlogSpotter.

20 June 2005

Blogspotting Again

  • Swamphopper at The Rough Woodsman has some nice things to say. He points muddled people this way.
  • Jared at Thinklings was confused about whether I'm confused about the correct way to handle links to other blogs. He notes "that when most bloggers do a posted collection of links, they don't normally just collect links to posts about themselves." Yes, I know. That's what the blogroll is supposed to be for, isn't it? Problem is, I keep finding links to PyroManiac, and I want to interact with them all—friends and critics alike. It's my nod to the native narcissism of the blogosphere. Plus, it helps my mom keep track of all the new things people have found to criticize me for.

That's all I have time for now. My flight is about to board.

Monday Menagerie III

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

I'm writing from one of my favorite spots in the world, the ferry landing at Mukilteo, WA. The ferry to Whidbey Island docks adjacent to the Mukilteo lighthouse, one of the best-looking and most easily-accessible lighthouses in the world. You can walk to the top for a close-up view of its really-cool lens. The famous Ivar's Mukilteo Landing Restaurant on the opposite side of the ferry entrance has been there for decades, with a walk-up window to serve clams and fish and chips to people waiting for the ferry.

A cup of cappuccino would make my morning perfect. You can normally get a nice cappuccino within short walking distance of any given point in the Seattle metropolitan area, and this place is no exception. I walk over to Woody's, an establishment across the street from the lighthouse. It looks more like a bait shop than a coffee shop, but the cappuccino is first-class. The foam is at least two inches think, with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top.

You say "Cappuccino";
I say "Capuchini"

Thinking about cappuccino reminds me of another of my favorite places in the world. It's the most macabre and fascinating tourist attraction I have ever seen: the Capuchini Catacombs in Palermo, Italy.

Cappuccino, you may know, is so named because its color matches the trademark hooded garment of a Capuchin monk. The Capuchins are an order of Franciscans founded about the same time the Protestant Reformation began in the early sixteenth century. The Capuchini recognized the need for reform in the church, but instead of doctrinal reform, they favored an approach that called for a return to the strict austerity of the original Franciscans. They were a monkish version of the strictest kind of fundamentalists. They went barefoot, lived in extreme poverty, and adopted a famous hooded habit like the one worn by St. Francis. (The garment, known as a capucize, was so much the emblem of the order that their name was derived from it. Padre Pio, famous mystic and stigmatist, now a saint, was a Capuchin.)

The early sect was much persecuted, even by other Franciscan friars. The pope made a rule confining the Capuchin order to Italy. One of the Capuchini's two founders soon left, and the other was expelled for insubordination. The third Capuchin vicar-general, Bernardino Ochino, was supposedly converted to Protestantism and became a Calvinist. The pope responded to that "setback" by forbidding all Capuchins to preach. (Ochino later flirted with Socinian ideas and was expelled from Zurich.)

Meanwhile, however, as the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation gained influence and the truth about worldliness and corruption in the Roman system was exposed even from within, reform movements like the Capuchini became increasingly popular. Within a decade after the Council of Trent, Italy boasted some 17,000 Capuchin monks.

By the beginning of the sixteenth century, leading elements in the Capuchin order seem to have acquired a macabre fascination with death—human remains in particular. The Capuchin brothers specialized in various kinds of "burial art"—making decorations from human bones, and preserving the dead for display.

My first personal encounter with Capuchini deathcraft was in Rome, about a decade ago. The Capuchini have decorated the crypt of the church of Santa Maria della Concezione on Via Vittorio Veneto street (near Piazza Barberini) with thousands of human bones. The Marquis de Sade visited there and wrote of the place in 1775. It was just his cup of tea.

So a few years later, while teaching at a conference in Sicily, a small group of us were traveling near Palermo (under the guidance and hospitality of our dear friends Joe and Georgia Aleppo). Another good friend and fellow pastor, Carey Hardy, pointed out an ad in one of those local-attraction magazines for tourists. The ad featured a gruesome picture of a rotted corpse, and promised thousands of similar mummified cadavers on display at the Capuchin Crypt in Palermo.

Naturally, Carey and I both wanted to go there without delay.

Our wives were less enthusiastic, of course, but we prevailed. It turned out to be well worth the trip. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of ancient corpses in the crypt, dating back to the early 1600s, all in various states of decay, and most dressed in their finest clothing. They are on display right in the open, not behind any glass or bars.

Apparently, the crypt's collection began in 1599, when the Capuchini preserved one of their own so that they could actually see him while they prayed to him. The properties of dry air and temperature in the crypt turned out to be perfect for drying and preserving corpses, and the friars perfected methods of preservation that produced better and better results all the time. Wealthy citizens of Palermo all wanted to be preserved there, so that relatives could always visit. Thus the crypt holds many wealthy and important figures, including Giovanni Paterniti, American Vice Consul, who died in 1911.

Some of the remains are mere skeletons, but many others, apart from being shrivelled and creepy and looking very much like discarded props from horror movies, are amazingly well preserved, with every pore in the skin still visible and almost every hair still intact. In some cases, the corpse's clothing is more decayed than the carcass itself. The clothing alone is a fascinating study in the evolution of styles.

One famous mummy is the perfectly-preserved body of Rosalia Lombardo, a child who died about 1920 and was one of the last corpses added to the collection before city officials prohibited any more. She is preserved with perfect lifelikeness and color.

Darlene did not enjoy the Capuchin crypt. I was so fascinated by the authentic 400-year-old clothing and the sketchy life stories of the corpses that I could have spent hours there. It remains my top recommendation for the most interesting tourist attraction I have ever seen, and a graphic reminder of the truth of Isaiah 40:6-8: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field . . . The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever."

Now I'm ready for clams at Ivar's. See you when I get home.

16 June 2005

A few days' vacation. See you after.

I'll be gone this weekend. I'm leaving early this morning for a conference sponsored by a FIRE church in a different part of the country. I would tell you where, but with so many people perturbed with me at the moment, that might not be prudent.

Anyway, I don't know whether I'll be able to blog at all till I get home on Tuesday. It's an opportunity for me to stay out of mischief for awhile, and I'm going to take it. Even when I do get home, I have a busy summer ahead and will almost certainly not be able to blog with the ferocious frequency of the past 2 weeks. Now that PyroManiac is truly and officially launched, I'm going to have to get into a slower rhythm with it.

One thing I've learned: I'll never, no matter how hard I try, be able to match the volume and quality of stuff blogged by James White, much less Steve Hays. How those guys manage, I'll never know. But I respect them both more than ever, having tried my hand at blogging in earnest.

So enjoy a PyroManiac-free few days, and look for me when I get back.

15 June 2005

The Do-It-Yourself Group Blogging Kit for Emerging Religious Types

Virtual drinking guilds and smoking-fraternity group blogs are all the rage these days—especially those devoted to picking fights about theology and religion. Here's a step-by-step guide to everything you need to start your own similar frat-house-cum-religious-debate blog. Follow my advice, and you and your coterie of compadres can soon be starting your own theological food-fights in the virtual realm, just like the Big Boys:

  1. You have to have a clever name. Pub-names (as well as names of famous writers' brotherhoods who once hung out in pubs) have been done to death. Yawn. Try something fresh: adapt the name of your favorite sports team ("Manchester Separated"), motorcycle club ("Heaven's Devils"), fast-food joint ("Bloggo Bell") or something similar. (I don't think "Posse Blogitatus" has been used yet. Whoever takes it first can have it, courtesy of the PyroManiac.)
  2. Recruit five to ten contributors with major attitudes. They don't necessarily have to be able to think; but they must be outspoken. Some of the über-bad-boy bloggers use copious amounts of brew to achieve the desired effect. I don't recommend this. Your blogger-team can include women, but they must be kept mostly in the background—and it's good if they at least try to be cruder than the guys.
  3. Always blur lines. Especially blur the lines between humor and malevolence; between cleverness and bad taste; and between fresh thinking and old heresies. Mock what is sacred and celebrate what is worldly, but never do this overtly or without a disclaimer—no matter how insincere the disclaimer.
  4. Speaking of fresh thinking, be careful to guard against affirming any old ideas. You don't want to be thought of as too staid. You must be provocative if you are going to compete in the cutting-edge religious-frat-house-blog marketplace. If you are concerned about retaining your good standing in your church or some Christian organization that you work for, you don't really need to advocate anything unorthodox to accomplish this. It's sufficient just to question the old orthodoxies.
  5. In fact, be careful not to affirm too much of anything. Instead, ask questions; raise doubts; stir controversy; foment scepticism. Again, always include the requisite disclaimers.
  6. Tolerate no criticism from readers. You might have to turn off the comments at your blog if your blog-team isn't clever enough to answer detractors. (By "answer" I mean, of course, that you need to insult and belittle them with personal put-downs.) One blog ran out of insults before running out of critics, so they devised a brilliant all-purpose answer for every criticism: Just tell people you are having a "private" conversation, so would-be critics of your ideas should pay you no mind. Inventive, huh?
  7. Now, here's the coup de grâce—a virtual cheat-sheet so that when you can't think of anything truly clever, you can still sound theologically erudite: Do-It-Yourself Impressive Theological Constructs®.

Voila! Your own group blog.

Now get blogging.

A PyroManiac talks about FIRE

PyroManiac: A Blog by Phil Johnson
I'm a member of FIRE—The Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. FIRE's doctrinal stance is specific (Baptistic, soteriologically Calvinistic, and historically evangelical on all key fundamental doctrines), yet charitably broad with regard to many of the secondary matters about which Particular Baptists have often differed among themselves.

Fire is a fellowship of like-minded churches and Christian leaders, not a denomination. There is no centralized structure or authority. There are no membership fees. There are no paid staff or permanent offices. Annual conferences and other activities are initiated and overseen by the local churches that host them. The network functions only through the voluntary participation of members. Yet it is a thriving, warm fellowship, of which I am pleased to be a part.

Check out FIRE's website for free downloadable resources.

14 June 2005

On Baptist Confessions and the Dumbing-Down of Doctrinal Standards

Sam Waldron has written an article responding to a controversial piece by Shawn Wright ("Should you use the 1689 London Confession in your church?"), which was posted last month at the 9Marks website.

Waldron's article is also posted at the 9Marks site, with a very gracious introduction from Mark Dever, Executive Director of 9Marks Ministries.

I have no dog in this fight, since I don't hold to every detail of the 1689 Confession's Sabbatarianism anyway. The church where I serve uses a different (though still fairly detailed) doctrinal statement, which was written by the elders here long before I came. But I nonetheless think the 1689 is a fine confession—in some significant ways superior to the 1644 London Baptist Confession, which I do affirm without reservation. (By the way, I think there's much to be said for using the historic confessions, rather than writing a brand new one every time we plant a church. That's a slightly different issue than the debate between Wright and Waldron. But only slightly.)

Anyway, I read both articles, and I agree in principle with Waldron's objections to Wright's rationale. Here's the money quote:

Wright’s position requires that the church confess only as much as its newest, baptized member understands and believes. This is clearly wrong. Surely the Bible requires the church to believe and confess much more than this. The great Reformation confessions are treasuries of what the church had come to believe over the previous 1600 years. The confession of the church must not be held hostage to the immaturity of its youngest members. The youngest members must be nurtured redemptively and lovingly up into the fullness of its faith.

I'm glad 9Marks posted the follow-up. Waldron's article is wonderfully clear, and his discussion of the role of doctrinal statements says exactly what I would have wanted to say—only Pastor Waldron says it far more elegantly and succinctly than I could have.

13 June 2005

More BlogSpotting