24 January 2006

The downside of blogging

Click on the image above to go to the new gangblog.

A major announcement

When I launched this weblog in June, it was intended to be a modest experiment. I knew some of my immediate friends and family could be persuaded to read semi-regularly. I hoped some of the people in my fellowship group at church would want to read and get more insight into the mind of the guy who teaches them on Sundays. And I knew from experience that there are people all over the world who look to the blogosphere as a way to gain information about trends, conflicts, and new ideas in the evangelical world. I figured some of them would read my thoughts, too.

So I guestimated that (in the best-case scenario) the blog might build a readership of some 300 people per day by the time it was a year old—at which time I would be able to decide whether to keep blogging or quit.

I was completely unprepared for the actual number of readers who come daily. In the past week (my slowest posting week ever), PyroManiac racked up some 18,000 hits. That doesn't count the people who download posts via RSS feed.

Of course, more readers equals more comments. More comments bring more critical scrutiny, requiring more follow-up posts, clarifications, rebuttals, and further elucidation. All of that means more work, more stress, and (above all) more time. Before you know it, it's not so much fun anymore.

Blogging with open comments also gives angry or disgruntled people an easy, public opportunity to air whatever complaints they may be nursing against my pastor, my church, my friends, or organizations I'm affiliated with. I don't mind dealing with objective, rational differences of opinion; and I even try to let most of the petty personal attacks slide, as long as I'm the only target. But when someone uses my blog to make a personal attack on others whom I love, that is a major grief.

PyroManiac also seems to have brought people out of the woodwork who have personal axes to grind with me. Recently in unrelated incidents, I corresponded privately with two commenters whose feedback seemed persistently insulting in a much-too-personal way. Turns out both of them were nursing grudges over things they had heard me teach years before I began the blog. I barely knew either of them, and neither had ever tried to discuss their grievances with me personally, but the blog gave them an opportunity to go public and remain at least partly anonymous. Unfortunately, it's been something of a magnet for that sort of hostility.

Meanwhile, I seem to find new and unexpected ways to irritate new people daily. Some of that is unavoidable, of course (Luke 6:26). On most of the matters that we've focused on here at the blog, I have strong convictions and I tend to express my opinion robustly. I'm neither surprised nor offended when people express strong disagreements. What does surprise me, however, is that even when I post on something that ought to be totally non-controversial—a devotional thought, or a lighthearted diary-entry-style item—there always seems to be someone in the wings looking for a reason to pick a fight.

On top of that, blogging tempts me to write when I ought to be reading. It's virtually impossible to do any serious or in-depth study every day and also read all the blogs and blogcomments in my blogroll, while answering all the extra e-mail the blog generates.

My blog has become more than I can handle by myself in my spare time. In order to maintain it by myself and achieve the standard of excellence I want, it would require full-time maintenance. I simply cannot do that, and I don't want it to be mediocre.

If that all sounds like a convincing argument for the closure of PyroManiac, that's what I thought, too.

Instead, I've decided to make a radical change. I think a group blog is the way to go. That way the pressure isn't entirely on me to write every post and answer every question.

So as of this morning, PyroManiac is officially closed. Starting tomorrow noon, you'll find me at a new blogaddress, here, where I've recruited a few friends to help keep the fires burning.

I hope you'll join us there and update your RSS feed. I realize I'm forfeiting my standing with all the blog indexes by changing URLs, but the change fairly demanded a new URL and a new start.

The rest will look very familiar to you, I think—but better. I hope you like it.

And thanks for helping make PyroManiac such a popular stop in the blogosphere.

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23 January 2006

New Theology?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon


PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This item is an excerpt from an article that first appeared in the January 1884 issue of The Sword and the Trowel.

There will be no new God, nor a new devil, and we shall never have a new Savior, nor a new atonement: why should we then be either attracted or alarmed by the error and nonsense which everywhere plead for a hearing because they are new?

What is their newness to us; we are not children, nor frequenters of playhouses? Truly, to such a new toy or a new play has immense attractions; but men care less about the age of a thing than about its intrinsic value.

To suppose that theology can be new is to imagine that the Lord himself is of yesterday. A doctrine which is said to have lately become true must of necessity be a lie. Falsehood has no beard, but truth is hoary with an age immeasurable. The old gospel is the only gospel. Pity is our only feeling towards those young preachers who cry, "See my new theology," in just the same spirit as little Mary says, "See my pretty new frock."

C. H. Spurgeon

He was right, of course.

Phil's signature

20 January 2006

Here's where I am now

A few regulars have noticed and commented on the state of torpor at my blog here at week's end. I am not without excuse, but it's a long story.

Here's a quick update that will have to suffice for the moment: I'm away this weekend at a leadership retreat in beautiful Oxnard, California. When I get back, I'm going to announce some significant changes with the blog. Stay tuned.

PS: The link above is a Google Earth placemark that will give you a breathtaking view from a satellite of Oxnard's industrial district. It's safe to open or run. I promise.

Phil's signature

18 January 2006

Does anyone even remember when BlogSpotting was a staple here?

BlogSpottingIt's been so long since I've done this that I practically forgot how. The following short list is by no means a complete record of all the worthwhile links I've found pointing this direction, but it's a good-faith effort at logging as many as possible in the hour I have to devote to blogging tonight:

Two miscellanies on which I want to comment briefly:

  1. A group of scholars at The University of Edinburgh have started an excellent blog called The New College Conventicle as a way of sharing their interest in Puritan history. Here's a wonderful opportunity to eavesdrop on something worthwhile.
  2. There's a considerable amount of chatter in the Christian blogosphere about the new movie telling the story of Nate Saint's martyrdom. The conversation focuses on the Christian film producers' decision to cast Chad Allen, an outspoken gay rights advocate, in the role of Saint. Sharper Iron has had an active forum on the issue, and they are doing a good job of tracking the debate across the blogosphere.
         For those who have inquired as to my position: I agree with those who are appalled at the casting decision. But I can't honestly say I'm surprised or shocked at stuff like this anymore. It's what inevitably happens in the academic and entertainment worlds when Christians begin to care more about being accepted by the world than they do about proclaiming our Lord's message clearly.
         Some have asked whether I will boycott the movie. Is it technically a "boycott" if you weren't planning to attend anyway?
         It disturbs me that even while they are ratcheting up their ongoing campaign against everything righteous, Hollywood moguls want to exploit evangelicals. It disturbs me even more that so many evangelicals seem blithely willing—almost eager, in fact—to be exploited.

Phil's signature

17 January 2006

Karaoke worship

(We'll get back to the cessationism issue later in the week, I hope.)

Turning the corner

I once remarked that if the trends in "contemporary worship" were carried to their logical conclusion, church services would soon feature karaoke contests.

That remark prompted an outpouring of replies from people who informed me that karaoke was already being used "quite successfully" in their churches. It also sparked the following exchange with a contemporary "worship leader," whose words appear below in brown italics. My replies are in normal typeface:

What verse of scripture forbids the use of karaoke in worship?

My opposition to such methods is not based only on a single proof-text, but on the totality of what Scripture teaches about the principle of worship. Genuine worship aims to please God, not the worshiper. "Worship" designed primarily to entertain or amuse people is not even true worship of God.

In the words of the Westminster Confession, "The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture."

Biblical support? Sure:

  • Deuteronomy 12:31-32: "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way [like the pagans do]. . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" [NKJV].

  • Psalm 29:2: "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness."

  • Psalm 115:1: "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake."

  • Matthew 15:9: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

  • 2 Timothy 4:2-5: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."

Want more? I recommend John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel.

And shall we let Spurgeon weigh in?

For us to give ourselves to getting up entertainments, to become competitors with theatres and music-halls, is a great degradation of our holy office.
"A Call to Prayer and Testimony"

The Lord our God is holy, and he cannot compromise his own glorious name by working with persons whose groveling tastes lead them to go to Egypt?—we had almost said to Sodom—?for their recreations. Is this walking with God? Is this the manner in which Enochs are produced?

It is a heart-sorrow to have to mention such things, but the work of the Lord must be done faithfully, and this evil must be laid bare. There can be no doubt that all sorts of entertainments, as nearly as possible approximating to stage-plays, have been carried on in connection with places of worship, and are, at this present time, in high favor. Can these things promote holiness, or help in communion with God? Can men come away from such things and plead with God for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of believers? We loathe to touch the unhallowed subject; it seems so far removed from the walk of faith, and the way of heavenly fellowship. In some cases the follies complained of are even beneath the dignity of manhood, and fitter for the region of the imbecile than for thoughtful men.
"Restoration of Truth and Revival"

In the great day, when the muster-roll shall be read, of all those who are converted through fine music, and church decoration, and religious exhibitions and entertainments, they will amount to the tenth part of nothing; but it will always please God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Keep to your preaching; and if you do anything beside, do not let it throw your preaching into the background. In the first place preach, and in the second place preach, and in the third place preach.
"How to Win Souls for Christ"

"For the sake of argument (leaving off the Spurgeon quotes), does a karaoke sing-along contradict 2 Timothy 4:2-5, if—and this is a big if, perhaps—if the karaoke songs are later tied in to a theme of Biblical exposition? Why or why not?"

If someone wants to sing biblical songs, let him sing them as unto the Lord (Psalm 29:2).

Karaoke is a populist form of burlesque. Taking turns singing for others' amusement (usually badly and without adequate rehearsal) is a cheap amusement—the kind of frivolity that (in effect) has turned churches into cabarets. It's not worship. And doing it with biblically-based songs or hymns only demeans the message.

I also don't get the opposition to pre-recorded accompaniments. In churches where musicianship is limited, recorded music seems like a good idea.

It is not pre-recorded accompaniments per se that I am objecting to. It's the tendency to think of church music as a performance or an entertainment for the benefit of an earthly audience, rather than worship offered to the Lord.

Karaoke as liturgy, like virtually every novelty that has been introduced into our worship services over the past 75 years or so, violates the central principle of all true worship and authentic ministry: "As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God" (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

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16 January 2006

With You and In You

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

SpurgeonPyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "Intimate Knowledge of the Holy Spirit," preached March 10th, 1889, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. the main point he makes is one both cessationists and non-cessationists alike should be able to agree on.

"He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:17).

Mark well the increase. Is it not a blessed step from with to in? "He dwelleth with you"—that is, a friend in the same house; "and shall be in you," that is, a Spirit within yourself; this is nearer, dearer, more mysterious, and more effective by far.

The bread yonder is "with" me. I eat it, and now it is "in" me. It could not nourish me until it advanced from "with" to "in."

What a distinct advance it is for the child of God when he rises from the Spirit of God being with him to the Spirit of God being in him! When the Spirit of God helped the apostles to work miracles, he was with them; but when they came to feel his spiritual work in their own souls, and to rejoice in the comfort which he brought to them, then he was in them. Even if you could obtain miraculous gifts, you ought not to be satisfied to speak with tongues, nor to work miracles; but you should press on to know the Spirit with yourself—indwelling, communing, quickening you.
C. H. Spurgeon

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12 January 2006

Allow me to reiterate...

Worn out

Today I'm going to take advantage of the fact that this is my weblog and simply reiterate (for clarity's sake and for emphasis' sake) the same simple point I tried to make yesterday.

I should explain, first of all, that although the past two days have generated a record number of comments, and I would love to interact in detail with all of them, I've barely had time even to read some of them. On Tuesday I spent the morning preparing a funeral sermon and the afternoon actually doing the funeral and graveside services. Yesterday I spent most of the day giving a deposition in an unusual legal case. (I can't really describe the nature of the case, but I'm just a peripheral witness, neither the victim nor the accused. Nonetheless, the process required me to spend all afternoon Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles. Obviously, that ate up the better part of the day.)

Tonight we have houseguests coming to stay through the weekend, and meanwhile unanswered e-mail and other pressing duties are stacking up. So it's unlikely that I'll be able to post another extensive entry in the "cessationism" discussion before next week. Thanks for your patience, and feel free to keep commenting.

I did, however, print out fifty or so comments that had been posted by 11:00 AM yesterday, and I took them downtown with me to read while I was waiting to be deposed.

As I said, I can't reply to every point and every question, but I want to respond to one issue that keeps coming up. I thought I had addressed this (albeit obliquely) several times before, and I also thought I was clearly making a major point of it in yesterday's post. But perhaps I have been too subtle. (That's a problem I seem to have sometimes. I'm trying hard to overcome it.)

Let's try again:

The kneejerk demand for "exegesis" at the very start of the cessationism discussion is fatuous.

"Exegesis" for what? So far I haven't actually taken any positions or made any controversial biblical claims that require "exegetical" support. All I have done to date is point out how hard it is to find any credible person, even from the charismatic camp, who really believes the apostolic signs and offices are still in full operation just like when the apostle Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. I quoted some charismatic authors to establish their position. There's hardly any need for supporting "exegesis" on that.

Furthermore, I have asserted almost nothing about the degree of cessationism I hold to. I have not even actually stated whether I believe miracles (as distinct from miraculous gifts) occur today. I've merely argued that a genuinely non-cessationist, strictly pure continuationist theology is practically unheard of.

(Even in the earlier discussion last month, when I made several posts pointing out what an extraordinarily high percentage of modern "prophecies" turn out to be bogus, I did not actually argue—yet—that the gift of prophecy has utterly and finally ceased. As a matter of fact, several times I explicitly pointed out that I was not making any such argument. See, for example, the statement in large red type near the end of this post.)

That refusal to assert any specific degree of cessationism is a deliberate omission and not an accidental oversight on my part. I am first simply trying to establish the fact that no one who is credible seriously believes that all the miracles and gifts of the apostolic era are commonplace today. I don't need a proof-text, or any amount of "exegesis" to validate that.

As a matter of fact (unless I missed a comment) no one has yet seriously asserted the contrary. No one has come forward to offer any earnest defense for the claim that nothing whatsoever has changed in the exercise of miraculous gifts since Peter commanded the lame man at the Temple gate to rise and walk. Moreover, everyone (including a few bold commenters yesterday who seemed to doubt whether the canon is really closed) has agreed that no new Scripture has been written for the past 1900 years.

Now, show me something there that requires "exegetical support," and I'll try to tackle the challenge. Otherwise, it would be better to stay with the actual argument that's being made, and interact with that.

And be patient. When some argument I'm making calls for biblical support, I'll do my best to give it. But the principle of sola Scriptura has never meant that all theological arguments are invalid unless they can be substantiated with some proof-text. What "exegetical proof" would you have cited in 18 BC to confirm the truth that no new Scripture had been written for 400 years, since the time of Malachi?

And does the fact that no Old Testament text actually predicted the cessation of the Old Testament Prophetic office alter the reality that the office did in fact cease?

Likewise, there has never been any hue and cry for proof-texts or "exegetical support" for the almost universal conviction that nothing has been added to the New Testament canon since the end of the first century. Why do you suppose almost no one ever demands any biblical argument for that?

Phil's signature

11 January 2006

You're probably a cessationist, too

If you believe any of the miraculous spiritual gifts were operative in the apostolic era only, and that some or all of those gifts gradually ceased before the end of the first century, you are a cessationist.

If you believe all the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament have continued unabated, unchanged, and unaltered since the initial outpouring of tongues at Pentecost, you are a continuationist.

It's pretty hard to find a real continuationist. Absolute non-cessationists exist only at the bizarre fringe of the charismatic movement. They are the sort of people who like to declare one another "apostles," claim (and inevitably abuse) all the apostolic prerogatives, sometimes invent fanciful stories about people raised from the dead, and twist and corrupt virtually every category of doctrine related to the gospel, the atonement, or Christian discipleship and self-denial.

But evangelical charismatics (especially the Reformed variety) do not really believe there are apostles today who have the same authority as the Apostles in the early church. Some may use the term apostle, but they invariably insist that the apostleship they recognize today is a lesser kind of apostleship than the office and gift that belonged to the apostles in the first century.

Now, think through the implications of that position: By arguing for a lesser kind of apostleship, they are actually conceding that the authentic, original New Testament gift of apostleship (Ephesians 4:11) has ceased. They have in effect embraced a kind of cessationism themselves.

Note: There is no more or less biblical warrant for this view than for any other kind of cessationism.

Nonetheless, every true evangelical holds to some form of cessationism. We all believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, right? We do not believe we should be seeking to add new inspired material to the New Testament canon. We hold to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)—delivered in the person of Christ, and through the teaching of His apostles, and inscripturated in the New Testament. We believe Scripture as we have it is complete. And those who do not believe that are not really evangelicals. They are cultists and false teachers, who would add to the Word of God.

But notice this: if you acknowledge that the canon is closed and the gift of apostleship has ceased, you have already conceded the heart of the cessationist argument.

That's not all, though. Most leading "Reformed charismatics" go even further than that. They freely admit that all the charismatic gifts in operation today are of a lesser quality than the gifts we read about in the New Testament.

For example, in Wayne Grudem's book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988)—probably the single most important and influential work written to defend modern prophecy—Grudem writes that "no responsible charismatic holds" the view that prophecy today is infallible and inerrant revelation from God (p. 111). He says charismatics are arguing for a "lesser kind of prophecy" (112), which is not on the same level as the inspired prophecies of the Old Testament prophets or the New Testament apostles—and which may even be (and very often is) fallible.

Grudem writes,
there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that [today's] prophecy is impure, and will contain elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted.

Jack Deere, former Dallas Seminary prof-turned charismatic advocate, likewise admits in his book Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), that he has not seen anyone today performing miracles or possessing gifts of the same quality as the signs and wonders of the apostolic era. In fact, Deere argues vehemently throughout his book that modern charismatics do not even claim to have apostolic-quality gifts and miracle-working abilities. One of Deere's main lines of defense against critics of the charismatic movement is his insistence that modern charismatic gifts are actually lesser gifts than those available in the apostolic era, and therefore, he suggests, they should not be held to apostolic standards.

Again, consider the implications of that claim: Deere and Grudem have, in effect, conceded the entire cessationist argument. They have admitted that they are themselves cessationists of sorts. They believe that the true apostolic gifts and miracles have ceased, and they are admitting that what they are claiming today is not the same as the charismata described in the New Testament.

In other words, modern charismatics have already adopted a cessationist position. When pressed on the issue, all honest charismatics are forced to admit that the "gifts" they receive today are of lesser quality than those of the apostolic era.

Contemporary tongues-speakers do not speak in understandable or translatable dialects, the way the apostles and their followers did at Pentecost. Charismatics who minister on the foreign mission-field are not typically able to preach the gospel miraculously in the tongues of their hearers. Charismatic missionaries have to go to language school like everyone else.

If all sides already acknowledge that there are no modern workers of signs and wonders who can really duplicate apostolic power, then we have no actual argument about the principle of cessationism, and therefore all the frantic demands for biblical and exegetical support for cessationism are superfluous. The real gist of our disagreement boils down only to a question of degree.

In a very helpful book, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), Thomas Edgar writes,

The charismatic movement gained credence and initial acceptance by claiming their gifts were the same as those in Acts. For most people this is why they are credible today. Yet now one of their primary defenses is the claim that [the gifts] are not the same [as those in the New Testament.] Faced with the facts, they have had to revoke the very foundation of their original reason for existence. (p. 32)

As for biblical arguments, in Scripture itself, there is ample evidence that miracles were extraordinary, rare events, usually associated in some significant way with people who spoke inspired and infallible utterances. It is obvious from the biblical narrative that miracles were declining in frequency even before the apostolic era drew to a close. Scripture says the miracles were apostolic signs (2 Corinthians 12:12), and therefore by definition they pertained specifically and uniquely to the apostolic era.

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10 January 2006

Why the cessationism "discussion" may be a non-starter

I'm about to conclude that it's practically impossible to have an open, candid, rational conversation about cessationism and invite charismatics to participate without finding yourself at the bottom of an angry dogpile of "Spirit-filled" critics, no matter how charitably you try to approach the subject.

Several weeks ago, I brought up the issue of false messages from God (which, as I pointed out, is a serious problem among charismatics and non-charismatics alike). This wasn't a post or an issue that targeted charismatics in particular, but a number of exasperated charismatics nevertheless showed up instantly in the comments thread. Some came with chips on their shoulders, daring me to knock them off. Unless I first made a biblical case for cessationism, they insisted, I had no business bringing up the modern-prophecy issue at all.

But I declined to discuss or debate cessationism at the time. (OK, I made one comment in reply to those who were insisting the issue needed to be settled by dueling proof-texts. Still, for the most part, I steered clear of any "debate" on the issue.) Cessationism wasn't the issue I was aiming at when I brought up failed prophecy, and I didn't see any sense in following the discussion trail down the most rancorous path, away from the point I wanted to make, which (you remember) was only about the dismal track-record of people these days who claim God has given them private messages.

I tried more than once to clarify all of that. In one place, for example, I wrote,
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.

It's not that cessationism isn't a serious issue, and worthy of discussion. It's just that I wasn't looking for a debate with people who were angry with me already just on the basis of something they expected me to say.

Meanwhile, a "debate" about cessationism supposedly broke out elsewhere in the blogosphere. Note: 1) I did not participate, and 2) I didn't ever actually see any credible evidence that a serious "debate" ever really took place. I saw quite a few posts about the debate, but I was never able to locate any actual debate.

Anyway, commenters kept demanding that I give a full argument for cessationism before dealing with the subject of errant prophecies, so I finally said I would tackle the issue of cessationism soon after the first of the new year.

Note again: Virtually all my entries on this subject have included an appeal for discussion without rancor. And—please don't forget—it wasn't I who asked for the discussion about cessationism in the first place.

But when I brought the topic up again (as promised) and merely said that I planned to try to respond to some of the questions and challenges that had already been raised, that unleashed a flood of outrage and ill humor from certain charismatic neighborhoods in the blogosphere.

For one thing, I apparently had the bad taste to bring the subject up within 24 hours after Dan Edelen "joked" about jumping back into the debate. Dan therefore wrote a long, fractured, frustrated lament about the "black hole" of the Christian blogosphere, targeting me in particular and accusing me of boasting that I would "prove ONCE AND FOR ALL that the gifts have ceased"—a claim I have nowhere made, or even insinuated.

Nonetheless, Dan went on to call me out publicly with a fairly ironic plea to "stop one-upping each other so we can prove who's right and who's wrong."

Now, I invite you to reread the offending post, follow the original thread, and notice that to date I still have not even posted a single argument against cessationism, unkind or otherwise. I merely stated that I would begin to respond to questions that had been raised—in some cases by the very same folks now taking me to task for ostensibly picking a fight.

By the way, Dan's plea was quickly echoed in similarly histrionic tones across the blogosphere, mostly by other non-cessationists who (having taunted me with questions and challenges) now apparently want to see the cessation of any and all debate over this particular issue. And, predictably, there were also some who couldn't resist using Dan's post as a club with which to beat "Reformed Theology."

Notice, however: while it's true that some nasty remarks were made in the comments thread after my post last Wednesday, virtually all the surliness and sarcasm came from the charismatic side of the aisle, not from "Reformed" commenters. I did not answer any of those comments, nor did I see any cessationist, Reformed or otherwise, respond in kind.

So all the hand-wringing about the Christian blogosphere's "black hole" is badly misplaced, and somewhat hypocritical, if you ask me. Seriously, the mere fact that Christians frequently disagree on certain points of doctrine, does not constitute a "black hole." Those who refuse to listen to a rational argument before attempting to shout down the opposition are frankly as much a part of the problem as those who want to argue about everything.

It's more like a sucking chest wound than a black hole, I fear. Hopefully, you get the point.

That's a long explanation of why I have stalled this discussion for the past week, and yet I still wish to pursue it. Can we try again? Can we discuss this issue seriously, without rancor and without all the histrionics?

PS: For those who have asked for a definition of cessationism and continuationism, see the post here.

New readers wanting to catch up on the previous discussion may likewise start with that same post, which is a summary of things heretofore blogged on this issue.

Phil's signature

09 January 2006

A letter from London

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

Charles SpurgeonHere's a letter Charles Spurgeon wrote to his father within days of the younger Spurgeon's first visit to London. He had gone to preach a trial sermon for the famous congregation he would pastor for the rest of his life.

What interests me most about this letter is the insight it gives into Spurgeon's early concerns about high-Calvinist doctrinal tendencies of his new congregation. John Gill had pastored that congregation a hundred years before Spurgeon, and by Spurgeon's era, the nascent hyperism that was popular in Gill's day (and which Gill himself had a hand in promoting) had gone to seed.

Spurgeon's own opposition to hyperism never waned. For more on the subject, see Iain Murray's excellent book titled Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism.


I concluded rather abruptly before;—but you are often called out from your writing, and therefore can excuse it in me. I hardly know what I left unsaid. I hope to be at home three days. I think of running down from London on Tuesday, January 3rd, and to go home by Bury on Friday, 6th. I hope it will be a sweet visit though a short one.

Should I be settled in London, I will come and see you often. I do not anticipate going there with much pleasure. I am contented where I am; but if God has more for me to do, then let me go and trust in Him. The London people are rather higher in Calvinism than I am; but I have succeeded in bringing one church to my own views, and will trust, with Divine assistance, to do the same with another. I am a Calvinist; I love what someone called "glorious Calvinism," but "Hyper-ism" is too hot-spiced for my palate.

I found a relation in London; a daughter of Thomas Spurgeon, at Bailingdon. On the Monday, she came and brought the unmarried sister, who you will remember was at home when we called last Christmas. I shall have no objection to preach for Mr. Langford on Wednesday, January 4th, if he wishes it.

I spent the Monday in going about London, climbed to the top of St. Paul's, and left some money with the booksellers.

My people are very sad; some wept bitterly at the sight of me, although I made no allusion to the subject in the pulpit, as it is too uncertain to speak of publicly. It is Calvinism they want in London, and any Arminian preaching will not be endured. Several in the church are far before me in theological acumen; they would not admit that it is so, but they all expressed their belief that my originality, or even eccentricity, was the very thing to draw a London audience. The chapel is one of the finest in the denomination; somewhat in the style of our Cambridge Museum. A Merry Christmas to you all; a Happy New Year; and the blessing of the God of Jacob!

Yours affectionately,
C. H. Spurgeon

More on cessationism tomorrow, Lord willing.

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07 January 2006

Publisher prevails in important lawsuit

This is very good news: "Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Harvest House and Its Authors, John Ankerberg and John Weldon."*

Harvest House had been the target of a protracted lawsuit** filed by "Living Stream Ministry" and "The Local Churches," an aberrant group closely associated with the teaching of Witness Lee, and known for answering their critics with litigation.

The group's litigious tendencies have effectively silenced most of their critics. The suit against Harvest House came after a short chapter critiquing the group's teaching was included in the Ankerberg/Weldon book Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions. The four-year-long legal battle has been extremely costly to Harvest House, but they have persevered rather than settling (as some other publishers have done previously), because they were fighting for an important matter of principle.

The court's ruling Friday included this:

Because the allegedly libel statements are not defamatory, as a matter of law, we sustain the publisher and authors’ first issue on appeal. Accordingly, we need not address the remaining issues and decline to do so.

We reverse the judgment of the trial court and render judgment that the church take nothing from the publisher and authors.

*The first link in the above article goes to a news release published at the Harvest House Website. They have also posted a thorough account of their position in the suit. Links at the site will take you to some documents filed in the suit, news accounts, and other information that will help you understand the nature of the case.

**The second link above goes to a website operated by "The Local Church." In my opinion, it is evident from the sect's own slanted accounts that this lawsuit was frivolous and sinister from the start. Even the spin they put on the facts cannot disguise that fact, and I therefore always believed it was merely a matter of time before Harvest House would be vindicated in court. Unfortunately, the lawsuit might have (what I suspect was) the intended effect anyway: silencing others from speaking out because they fear a costly, protracted lawsuit like this.

For a brief, helpful overview of "The Local Church," see this entry from Anton Hein's Apologetics Index.

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06 January 2006

Yeah, I'm still here

Here's a real-life parable about the manifold follies of postmodernism:

Artist Accused of Vandalizing Urinal

I'll leave it to readers to work out the symbolism. But let me just say that I'd have a hard time arguing that one of these forms of "art" is more artistic than the other.

Read this recent article from BBC News if you don't get what's so ironic about the above story.

Note: I hate dissecting irony, but a few confused readers asked for help with this one, so here goes:

In the BBC item linked above, an "art expert" explains the theory behind Dadaism: Art "can be made of anything and can take any form"including, the argument goes, a urinal.

The postmodern performance artist who is the hero of our story simply took that idea to the next logical level, raising the question of whether "art" may therefore consist of a crazy guy making a critical public statement (with a hammer) about Dadaism, modernism, and all the other ridiculous modernist notions the postmodern mind rightly wants to turn away from but can't seem to find a way to shed.

I think the vandal actually has a point when he speculates (in the original story) that his performance "might have pleased Dada artists." It certainly suggests he took the philosophy underlying their art very seriously.

Anyway, I found it an interesting illustration of how postmodernism attacks modernism but can't really get away from modernist philosophies,. It encourages me to realize that all of pomoism is likewise bound to self-destruct, and probably sooner rather than later.

Speaking of irony, while looking for a graphic of Duchamp's "Fountain," I found this book of drawings offered by Cokesbury.com (motto: "Resources for the Christian Journey").

I'll try to post my first real entry on the cessationism issue before the end of the weekend. Sorry to keep people waiting after promising so much, but the first of the year is always hectic, and I'm trying desperately to juggle multiple responsibilities. My new broadband connection is certainly faster, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee that I will keep up any better.

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05 January 2006

Broadband at last

The new computer

Here's something a lot of visitors to my websites may find hard to believe: for the past five-plus years, virtually all my home computing has been done via a 28.8k dial-up connection. (With occasional forays to Starbucks or Panera Bread to use the high-speed wireless networks there.)

Shortly after I started The Spurgeon Archive in 1995, I upgraded to a 56K modem, and it seemed really fast at the time. When we moved into the new hovel at the end of 1999, I intended to upgrade to DSL, but after moving in, I discovered we were just outside the area where DSL is offered.

Worse, I soon discovered that the phone line here is so bad, I couldn't connect any faster than 28.8, and I lost the connection every half hour or so.

No problem, the phone company assured me. The whole city will be wired for DSL within six months.

Yeah, right. Five years and three laptops later, I still can't connect any faster than 28.8, and I finally got fed up.

So two days after Christmas, I went to Best Buy and purchased a new HP desktop computer. I also bought a wireless router and ordered cable broadband service from Earthlink.

I spent the week after Christmas installing software and setting up the computer. (See part 1 of this post for an explanation of why that's no small task. That partly explains the lack of blog activity last week.)

Today the cable guy came and hooked up my broadband. After he left, I spent the afternoon setting up the wireless router and home network (something I was totally inexperienced at). But it's all working flawlessly now.


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04 January 2006

Prophecy revisited

PyroManiacSeveral weeks ago, I began a series of posts critiquing the contemporary conceit that leads people to think God routinely gives them private revelation—either through subjective impulses, or by whispering inaudibly into their brains, or by otherwise employing their emotions as a barometer to reveal His will.

I had planned to make several points, among which were these:

  1. Absolutely no one is receiving consistently reliable, demonstrably authentic messages from God today—including the best-known and most outspoken people who regularly make the claim that "God told me" this or that.
  2. There is really no substantive difference (other than scale) between the spectacularly failed prophecies of questionable televangelists like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn, and the misguided presumption of the non-charismatic Southern Baptist who thinks God routinely communicates to him via specific messages about virtually every daily decision in life, and who thinks he is obliged to order his life according to those impulses.
  3. That sort of presumption has been the cause of constant embarrassment, error, and unsanctified behavior throughout the annals of church history. George Whitefield was susceptible to it, and Jonathan Edwards admonished him about it. Cotton Mather had a series of disastrous disappointments that were all rooted in the notion that God was giving him private guarantees that his prayers would be answered.
  4. Private "revelation" invariably tends to usurp the authority and the proper role of Scripture, even when it turns out to be demonstrably false.
  5. Nothing in Scripture ever commands us to seek such revelation, especially on a routine basis. On the other hand, we are constantly exhorted to seek guidance daily from the Scriptures; to devote ourselves to rightly dividing the inscripturated Word; and to make biblical wisdom and discernment the main source of guidance in all our decision-making.
  6. Thinking you can discern the will of God by your own feelings is not only perilous; it is positively, carnally sinful.

I'm still willing to discuss those points, most of which transcend the normal differences between charismatics and cessationists. Note that none of these points necessarily presupposes cessationism.

But it seems we must talk about cessationism first, or else the noise level in the comments threads will drown out the real point anyway. When I began to post on this subject a few weeks ago, my comment-threads were spammed with demands that we either drop the subject altogether, or else deal with the cessationism issue first. I tried several times to pursue the subject without getting into a fight over cessationism, but the critics stuck their fingers in their ears and kept trying to pick that fight.

So cessationism it is. And we'll start that subject either tomorrow or the next day.

But fair warning: Someday, I do want to get back to the real issue I started trying to talk about. There are a lot of people out there who have been influenced by Gothard, Blackaby, and other non-charismatic subjectivists who teach people to think that God routinely guides them by their feelings, so much that if they don't think they are hearing private messages from God all the time, they are not really "experiencing" God.

And I eventually want to make the point I set out to make in the first place: That ordering your life by your feelings is the polar opposite of the biblical concept of discernment.

Anyway, I leave you today with an extra quotation from Spurgeon on the subject. He said:

We often meet with a fanciful religion in which people trust to impulses, to dreams, to noises, and mystic things which they imagine they have seen. Fiddle-faddle all of it, and yet they are quite wrapt up in it.

I pray that you may cast out this chaffy stuff, there is no food for the spirit in it. The life of my soul lies not in what I think, or what I fancy, or what I imagine, or what I enjoy of fine feeling, but only in that which faith apprehends to be the Word of God.

C. H. Spurgeon

From "A Luther Sermon at the Tabernacle," delivered (on Martin Luther's 400th birthday) Sunday Morning, November 11, 1883.

By the way, this is post number 200 in the PyroManiac archive. That's a lot of words since the bloglaunch on June 1. Thanks to all who have given me encouragement and good advice.

Thanks also to my beloved friend, Frank Turk, who awarded me one of his coveted wooden nickles yesterday. A wooden nickle from the legendary Centuri0n is high praise indeed. Thank you.

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03 January 2006

An inauspicious start to the New Year

I was suddenly awakened very early this morning by a loud noise. It jolted me out of the stupor of my sleep like a gunshot. In the fogginess of whatever dream I was having, I remember thinking it sounded as if a ceiling beam had suddenly snapped.

Whatever it was, it was loud. It was also clearly something right there in the room, not down the hall. I began fumbling around to see if I had knocked anything off the night-stand that might have made a crashing noise.


We always sleep with music in the background, and the music was still playing. The iPod was in the middle of a collection of John Rutter hymn arrangements, so I was pretty sure the startling noise didn't come from the iPod-speaker thingy.

But the noise had been loud and vivid, and I was fairly sure it was real, and not a dream. So I decided to look around. I turned on a light, and that didn't reveal anything amiss. Darlene was still sound asleep, even though she usually awakens quickly at unusual noises. Wrigley was still snoring soundly.

I was beginning to think the whole thing was my imagination when I heard the smoke-detector chirp. It wasn't sounding an alarm; it was just that chirping noise those things make when the battery begins to wear out. Since I was still half asleep, I didn't instantly recognize the chirp as a low-battery signal, so I started sniffing the air closely, to see if I could detect any smoke. Sure enough, I could smell the unmistakable fragrance of that ozone smell you get when you have an electrical fire or something shorts out.

It was a faint odor, and after 15 seconds or so, it seemed to be getting weaker, not stronger. But clearly something had shorted out, and most likely whatever it was, was the source of my noise. I ruled out the iPod speakers, because I figured a short there would have stopped the music. There wasn't much else in the room actually using electricity, so I looked around at all the electrical outlets themselves. While I was doing that, the smoke-detector chirped three more times.

I decided I had better awaken Darlene and get her to help me investigate. She was just starting to wake up when there were two more muffled gunshot sounds, not as loud as the one that awakened me, but enough to jolt Darlene immediately awake.

It was instantly clear to both of us that the explosions came from the smoke-detector itself. It was still chirping, only now more frequently than ever. It wasn't technically sounding the smoke alarm, but it was obviously trying to tell us something.

The commotion and chirping finally awakened the watch-beagle, and he was not happy. He started barking ferociously at the chirping smoke-detector, acting as if he had cornered a ferret or something on the ceiling.

The ceiling in our bedroom is at least nine feet high where the smoke-detector is placed, so I had to go down to the garage, get a step-ladder, and bring it back up. That took four or five minutes, which seemed like an eternity, because Wrigley was barking non-stop and Darlene was frantically trying to shush him. (She has this idea that the neighbors can hear the beagle bark even when he's indoors, so she tolerates no barking at night. Wrigley normally understands that, but this was clearly a special case, and he would not be shushed.)

Anyway, when I finally got the ladder set up under the smoke-detector (no small feat, but that's another story), I couldn't get the battery compartment on the smoke-detector to open. Darlene had changed the batteries about a month ago, and she assured me she had no difficulty opening it. So in that tender way preoccupied and agitated husbands tend to speak, I asked, "You didn't jam the new battery in backwards, did you?"

She insisted she had put the battery in correctly. Nonetheless, the battery-door simply would not open. In my fumbling with it, however, I discovered a half-twist would free the entire smoke-detector from its mounting. It was now hanging from the ceiling by two wires, still chirping. It's a dual-powered device, so the back of it has a special plug to connect to the wiring, and I unplugged this.

The infernal thing kept chirping, even after I disconnected it.

Back on ground level, I could see that the battery-door on the smoke-detector was being impeded by the battery itself, so I took a pair of tweezers and carefully pried it open.

The battery inside had exploded. Both top and bottom had been blown out of the battery, and there was some thick gray residue inside the smoke-detector. (The picture at the right is a photo I took of the actual battery.)

Even without battery or power source, the smoke-detector chirped at least three or four more times. The final chirp tailed off like a dying penny-whistle.

I looked at the clock. It was 3:15 AM.

At that point, most people would just go back to bed. I, however, wanted to see what would happen if I put a new battery back in the smoke-detector. So I carefully swabbed all the gray goo out with Q-Tips® and replaced the battery. (Note: This time it's an Energizer®.) I remounted it, tested it, and it seems to be working OK.

I have no clue what would make a fairly fresh battery explode, but just in case it's a problem with the smoke-detector, I'm getting a whole new one ASAP. After all, this one had a battery explode right inside it, and it didn't even sound an alarm, which seems kind of lame. (I was going to draw a parallel here with the less-than-stellar performace of my guard-dog, but I promised Wrigley I wouldn't make a public issue of his incompetence.)

Anyway, the Lord was gracious to us, and the whole thing is a reminder of why we should never put our ultimate trust in the devices of men. I'm thankful that this happened while we were home, and not while we were out of town for two weeks, so that the corrosive contents of a defective alkaline battery weren't left to drip out of my ceiling. I'm also very thankful that the outcome wasn't worse than it was. Think about the irony of dying in a fire caused by an explosion inside your smoke-detector! (On the one hand, I suppose that would make a funny and fitting conclusion to an extremely bizarre biography. On the other hand, I would love to be a grandfather someday.) So I am grateful for the Lord's goodness to me, and this is a reminder of His loving care for us.

That's all I'll have time to blog about today. This (for me) is the first day of work in 2006. Tomorrow (Lord willing) I'll try to start blogging some more meaty content.

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01 January 2006

A New Year Greeting from the Prince of Preachers

Signs of good things to come

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following is excerpted from a sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, on Thursday Evening, January 1, 1885.

"And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new."—Revelation 21:5.

How pleased we are with that which is new! Our children's eyes sparkle when we talk of giving them a toy or a book which is called new; for our short-lived human nature loves that which has lately come, and is therefore like our own fleeting selves.

In this respect, we are all children, for we eagerly demand the news of the day, and are all too apt to rush after the "many inventions" of the hour. The Athenians, who spent their time in telling and hearing some new thing, were by no means singular persons: novelty still fascinates the crowd.

As the world's poet says—"All with one consent praise new-born gawds." [Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3.]

I should not wonder, therefore, if the mere words of my text should sound like a pleasant song in your ears; but I am thankful that their deeper meaning is even more joyful. The newness which Jesus brings is bright, clear, heavenly, enduring.

We are at this moment specially ready for a new year. The most of men have grown weary with the old cry of depression of trade and hard times; we are glad to escape from what has been to many a twelve-months of great trial. The last year had become wheezy, croaking, and decrepit, in its old age; and we lay it asleep with a psalm of judgment and mercy.

We hope that this newborn year will not be worse than its predecessor, and we pray that it may be a great deal better. At any rate, it is new, and we are encouraged to couple with it the idea of happiness, as we say one to another, "I wish you a happy New Year."

“Ring out the old, ring in the new;
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
C. H. Spurgeon

May you have a blessed New Year.
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