31 January 2014

"What is the Big Deal about Sin?"

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following excerpt was written by Dan back in January 2010. Dan explains why sin is infinitely more than "some stupid rule."

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Non-Christians are baffled by what seems to be the Christian obsession with "sin." To the non-Christian, "sin" often means "unauthorized fun," or "fun that breaks some dumb rule," or "fun that I don't want to have," or "fun that I really do want to have, but my religion says I shouldn't, so I don't want anyone else to have it, either!"

But it is the conviction of most of the non-religious that sin is not that big of a deal. In fact, sin isn't really bad. I mean, think of our language: if something is better than just good, we say that it is sinfully good.

Sin is just some stupid rule. Stupid rules should never stand in the way of fun, of happiness, of joy, of self-fulfillment, of a life of freedom and self-realization. A hundred movies, a thousand TV episodes, tell tale after tale of some poor noble soul oppressed by joyless, loveless, graceless, dour, dessicated, usually hypocritical religionists.

The problem with this line of thought is that it starts off with a wrong step, and never corrects course.

The way the world thinks about sin starts with the assumption that man is the measure of all things. Whether the talk is of "enlightened self-interest," or the heart's best impulses, or the "angels of our better nature," or what-have-you, the assumption is that man is both alpha and omega. Maybe an individual man, or maybe the human consensus of an enlightened society — but the assumption is that morality bubbles up from within. It can be divined by a poll, which often turns out to be a poll of one.

The problem with that is that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). You see, with its very first words, the Bible turns our thinking on its head. We don't define our universe. We don't create meaning. We come into a universe already created, already defined, with already-assigned values and borders and lines and definitions.

That reality is absolutely fundamental to all thought.  Undervalue it, and wisdom remains under lock and key.

Were that not true, then common thinking is correct: man is both alpha and omega. However, since it is not true, neither is man-centered thought true. Before the whirl of the first atom, God existed: self-sufficient, self-delighted, the font of all perfection. When He created, He created. All things are His things. All creatures are His creatures. He owns, possesses, has rights over all things.

Including you, whoever you are.

You may pound your chest and insist you're an atheist. God overrides your vote. God exists in defiance of your notions. God owns you. You will answer to Him one day, for every thought, action and word.

Or you may be a religionist, a relativist, a post-modernist, or a nothingist. No matter. Those are all labels applicable to you, and they are all irrelevant to reality.

In reality, God is the center of the universe. He is its source, its creator, its owner, and its definer.

Sin is my refusal to deal with reality — specifically, with the game-changing reality of God. Sin is my insistence on being self-defining (as if there were no God), self-ruling (as if there were no God), self-pleasing (as if there were no God). In fact, sin is living as if there were no God. It makes me the opposite of the real Jesus Christ; it makes me an anti-christ.

In fact, sin is the desire that there be no God. Sin sees God as the great obstacle. Sin wishes there to be no such obstacle. Therefore, sin wishes there to be no such God as the God of the Bible. Therefore sin is, at heart, a desire to murder God; and all sin is attempted Deicide.

All of which is simply to say: to me, I am God.

Which is a very, very old lie. Because, you see, the thing is: you aren't. God is.

And that's what makes sin a big deal.


28 January 2014

Book review — Song of Songs: Evangelical Exegetical Commentary, by A. Boyd Luter

by Dan Phillips

(Logos Bible Software, 2013)

Logos' Evangelical Exegetical Commentary series continues to churn out worthwhile volumes. I reviewed the first volume by Gary Derickson first, then the commentary on James by Will Varner. Refer to the Derickson review to understand the aim and focus of this series. I continue to appreciate both the design of the series and the structure of each volume.

The author, A. Boyd Luter, is Adjunct Online Professor of New Testament at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He has already written books on Ruth, Esther, preaching and other matters, as well as scholarly articles in periodicals such as BibSac and JETS.

Now to the part where I confess my weakness. Normally, when I review a commentary, I've already used some or many on that particular book. Not in this case. Song of Songs is a topic on which I'm not agnostic, but am unsettled. I could claim a position if you held a gun to a loved one's head, but once you eased off the trigger, I'd acknowledge others as having value, and admit indecision.

So I read this, my maiden voyage (if you'll pardon the minor pun) in the hopes that it would settle everything everything for me. Did it? Let's see.

Luter's tone is mature and reasonable throughout. He isn't in excited pursuit of any strange theory, and has no interest in bringing in readers with lurid discourses on erotic particulars. In fact if anything he's a bit (just a bit!) squeamish on the topic; that's all right, since others have clearly made up for that hesitance.

As to the topic of the Song, Luter says:
the overall movement of this ancient “love song” is from the early longings and expressions of affection of a young couple to their wedding day and night, then through the continuing growth of their relationship in the face of various problems that could easily derail their passionate love.
Very helpfully (and persuasively), Luter sees the book as composed of seven sections in chiastic structure. The first three and the last three frame the central section, which focuses on the wedding day and night. He also notes seven uses of the name "Solomon": two at the beginning, two at the end, and three in the middle.

As to authorship and date, Luter provides a good section on dating by language, in which he issues an overdue challenge to the old evolutionary model of the development of the Heb language, suggesting that so-called “classical” and “colloquial” Hebrew, which included extensive use of Aramaisms, developed side-by-side." He mounts an aggressive, positive case for Solomonic dating. He notes and responds to the various challenges to this position.

As to the opening words, Luter grants the wording could mean it was composed for or in the honor of Solomon, but then reminds that the goal of exegesis is finding the most likely meaning, not just possible meanings — and "the most natural meaning of 1:1 is certainly that Solomon is the author of the Song of Songs."

If you're like me, the big issue to you is how Solomon is in any way qualified to write this book. A tome titled "On the Virtue of Selfless Truthfulness In All Things" and written by Bill Clinton would receive nothing but derision and mockery, and rightly so. How is this different? And anyway, what is the Song actually about? King Solomon and one woman? Other figures? Christ and the church? Yahweh and Israel? Celebrity bloggers and hit-count?

Luter faces the question (well, most of it) squarely and at some length, though frankly I wished the section was longer and dealt more fully with objections. Here's the core of his response on the issue of Solomon's fitness:
    At this point, consideration of one of Solomon’s more widely accepted compositions, Prov 1–9, will be helpful in two respects: 1) the wisdom laid out there for his son to follow (e.g., 1:8; 2:1; 3:1) was clearly not followed by Solomon’s son Rehoboam, whose behavior in 1 Kgs 12:1–17 reflects anything but the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, and which likely is at least partly attributable to Solomon’s parenting; and 2) his own recorded wisdom in regard to the exclusivity of marriage in Prov 5:15–20 was followed only partially. There is no evidence that Solomon ever went after prostitutes (5:20), though he apparently married virtually any and all women he desired, whether for pleasure (1 Kgs 11:2) or political advantage (e.g., 3:1; 11:3–8).
    The key point here is that it was not necessary for a biblical author to be an exemplary figure with regard to the subject matter of the book in question. Under the dynamics of divine inspiration stated and implied in 2 Pet 1:21, the Holy Spirit sovereignly chose particular biblical authors and guided what was said. Relevant examples are Peter, who denied Christ three times, and Paul, who described himself as “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man” (1 Tim 1:13). In addition, the Spirit chose David, the author of many of the psalms, in spite of his adultery and blood-guiltiness (2 Sam 11–12; Pss 32, 51).
    The Lord chooses whom He will—sometimes irrespective of what many contemporary readers would consider to be major lifestyle blind spots—to accomplish what He wills. It appears He did exactly that with the flaws of character and practice of Solomon in his authoring of the Song of Songs.
Luter argues that the book was framed and written earlier in Solomon's life, during a possibly three-year coregency w/David, allowing for the freedom of movement the Song seems to reflect. Still, he thinks it unlikely that the Song depicts Solomon's first marriage.  There were at least two marriages during coregency. First-mentioned marriage, to Naamah the Ammonite, was probably political.

As to the purpose of the Song, the book
was intentionally crafted to portray God’s perspective on the romantic and sexual love between a man and woman. No other extended treatment of this subject, introduced as early in Scripture as the conclusion of the creation accounts (Gen 2:24–25) as a major aspect of man and woman coming together in marriage, is found elsewhere in the whole of Scripture. That is indeed a worthy purpose for the composition of the Song of Songs.
He notes that the "Interpretation of the Song of Songs is more varied than that of any other book in the biblical canon, other than possibly Revelation." Indeed. Luter alludes to "very long history of fanciful allegorical and blushing typological approaches," then discusses "The five major interpretive approaches to the Song of Songs," which "are the allegorical, typological, dramatic, cultic, and literal/natural." Each is explained, documented, discussed in turn. He concludes in favor of a consistently literal/natural approach. The book has many echoes of Gen 2–3 in the Song of Songs, as well important aspects of Gen 1 and Gen 4, and part of Gen 3 before the curse in 3:16, which he says have not received significant relevant discussion to this point.

Back to structure, Luter's most persuaded by a "grand chiasm" adapted from David Dorsey:

    A (1:1–2:7) Opening words of mutual love and desire
         B (2:8–17) The young man’s invitation to join him in the countryside
         C (3:1–5) The young woman’s first nighttime search for the young man
             D (3:6–5:1) Their wedding day and night
         C′ (5:2–7:11 [ET 7:10]) The young woman’s second nighttime search for the young man
         B′ (7:12 [ET 7:11]–8:4) The young woman’s invitation to join her in the countryside
    A′ (8:5–14) Closing words of mutual love and desire

In addition to this chiastic structure of seven sections, each structure itself is internally chiastic. (Jim Hamilton will love this book!)

On theology of love in the book:
the overarching theological focus of the Song is love and desire that has these characteristics: it is headed toward marriage (1:2–3:5), it involves making a very public commitment and having a very private consummation (3:6–5:1), and it includes working through the “growing pains” of a marriage relationship—including “baggage” brought into the marriage and tensions which develop within the marital bond (5:2–8:14).
   The theology of the Song of Songs sets forth a marriage-related love. Also, it is important to observe that the Song does so while honestly depicting the full bloom of youthful infatuation (Song 1–2), against the dark backdrop of the selfishness (5:2–4) and disappointment (5:5–8) of “real life,” life worked out against the shadowy unavoidable prospect of death (8:6)—in other words, love in a fallen world!
On that, a further and very interesting note:
    At this point, a careful consideration of Song 6:8–9 serves to reinforce and expand that general point. There, the contrast that is drawn between “the one” (the Shulammite) and the women (queens/concubines/young women) “without number”111 may well have affinities to another part of Gen 1–3. If Genesis 2:24–25 is almost certainly antecedent “marriage theology” for the Song of Songs, what about the immediately preceding verses: Gen 2:18–23? Is it stretching things to hear an echo of Adam going through the process of moving from his aloneness (2:18) to being introduced to his exact counterpart (2:21–23), against the backdrop of the differentiation that came from naming all the animals (2:19–20), in Solomon proclaiming the Shulammite—whom he may have given the name of his exact counterpart (Song 7:1) for the purpose of the Song—as “the one” (6:9) against the backdrop of women “without number” (6:8)? If nothing else, in both cases Adam and Solomon went through a process to come to their points of insight and appreciation for the counterparts Yahweh provided them.
I give the lion's share of this review to those general features since I consider them most important, and I think readers will agree. I also learned a lot of interesting particulars; for instance, I hadn't noticed a feature of the names "Solomon" and "Shulamith":
Solomon and Shulamith, likely the male and female versions of the same name, may echo “man” and “woman” in Gen 2:23 as being perhaps as close to the ideal human couple that there have been since the fall in the poetic depiction of the Song of Songs.
His commentary is detailed and frequently studded with references to the literature and to modern writers. I often wished, nonetheless, for more. For instance, on 8:6, which he renders as "a flame of Yahweh," this is his comment in a footnote:
It remains lexically unclear whether the ending of שַׁלְהֶ֥בֶתְיָֽה (i.e., -yah) should be understood as an intensive (“most powerful flame”) or as “a superlative formed with the divine name” (“flame of Yah” [Estes, 407]).
Yet he doesn't really discuss or defend his translation very much beyond that.

I felt this a few times, as in his interpretations of 8:4 and 9 and elsewhere, where he doesn't fully explain or defend his view (to my mind). But that is not at all the rule, as Luter often notes and comments on points of syntax and lexicography, even relating to geography, as well as flora and fauna of the time.

The book is full of helpful tables and charts. Also, I noted the fewest typos of any EEC volume I've read so far, so something is improving in the editorial process!

In his final words of commentary, Luter gives what he thinks the book is about:
    This is how the Song of Songs ends: from 8:6–7 forward, the closing section paints a picture of silence where commitment needed to be by the man (8:6–7). This created an emotional and spiritual vacuum that was filled by the growing perception of domination (8:11–12) and distanced disenchantment (8:10, 13) on the part of the woman. In spite of all this, the desire for each other they both had exhibited through the book continued to the end (8:14).
    There it is: a struggle of domination and desire. In the end, the picture of the tension between wives and husbands portrayed in Gen 3:16 goes on, because the ongoing theological reality is that their mutual love must be played out in a fallen world.
CONCLUSION: do I recommend the commentary? Yes. Will I use it if I ever teach the book? Absolutely, it will be a first point of reference. Did it answer all my questions satisfactorily. No. But it made a great contribution towards an eventual conclusion.

AFTERWORD: I accidentally mis-typed the title at one point as "Song of Snogs." British readers would have had a merry time over that.

Dan Phillips's signature

26 January 2014

Love wins!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 15, sermon number 850, "Soul winning explained." 
"Love is the true way of soul-winning."

We win by love. We win hearts for Jesus by love, by sympathy with their sorrow, by anxiety lest they should perish, by pleading with God for them with all our hearts that they should not be left to die unsaved, by pleading with them for God that, for their own sake, they would seek mercy and find grace.

Yes, sirs, there is a spiritual wooing and winning of hearts for the Lord Jesus; and if you would learn the way, you must ask God to give you a tender heart and a sympathising soul.

I believe that much of the secret of soul-winning lies in having bowels of compassion, in having spirits that can be touched with the feeling of human infirmities. Carve a preacher out of granite, and even if you give him an angel’s tongue, he will convert nobody.

Put him into the most fashionable pulpit, make his elocution faultless, and his matter profoundly orthodox, but so long as he bears within his bosom a hard heart he can never win a soul.

Soul-saving requires a heart that beats hard against the ribs. It requires a soul full of the milk of human kindness; this is the sine qua non of success. This is the chief natural qualification for a soul-winner, which, under God and blessed of him, will accomplish wonders.



25 January 2014

The definitive John MacArthur gif


You're welcome.

HT: Dan Phillips & Steve McCoy

24 January 2014

Saved for eternity, saved to maturity

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following excerpt was written by Frank back in August 2010. Frank pointed out two senses in which faith saves.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
So I ask you: how much faith do you need, really, to be saved?

One answer the NT gives us is this: you don't really have to know anything to be saved. That is, you can have the faith of a little child, and God will welcome you (cf. Mt 18:1-6). You can have a simple faith, a milk-drinking faith (cf. 1 Cor 3), and be saved.

But there's another piece of the NT which frequently gets soft-soaked, and it's the answer which James gives: while a simple faith saves, it does not save only in the eternal sense. That is: it saves you to maturity: 
the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
That is, your simple faith is also a living and breathing faith which grows you through trials to a "complete faith."

Many folks read this – rightly, btw – to mean "a right faith does works", and that's fine. That's a good application. But is it the only application? Is it the only one James intends here?

For example, when James says, 
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
isn’t James saying that God's word is there so that we can take action upon it, and learn how to live in faith?

And glancing up this post a second, isn’t it also Paul's point in 1 Cor 3 that the Corinthians ought not to be forever babies in the faith, but that eventually they have to move on to the meat of the word? That is: their faith ought to make more of them, and be more to them than (as Paul implies) baby food.

So in that, there is a second answer to what you ought to know to have a saving faith: it ought to be true, and correct, insofar as you are mature and maturing in your faith.

What Scripture teaches us is what we must accept as the truth about our faith. And as we advance out of spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity, the burden upon us to accept and demonstrate the truth in Scripture becomes a greater responsibility. This is why the warning to teachers is such a serious thing; that's why the anathema against a different gospel – and the criteria for knowing what that is – is an anathema and not just a rebuke.

And for good measure, think about this: that's why John called the Pharisees who came to see him a brood of vipers, and why Jesus called the same men whitewashed tombs -- because the Gospel had not changed, but these men, who ought to have known better, did not know it when they saw it.

You don't need a perfect confession to save you, but you do need a faith which is perfecting you, not leading you into more error.


21 January 2014

Why no "killer" verses against charismaticism?

by Dan Phillips

A lazy resting-place for the would-be propper-up of continusmaticism is to demand a single verse that states,  in so many words, "When John dies, the following gifts cease:..." Absent such a verse, the theological sluggard claims victory and goes back to his careening sleepwalk.

Like most (all?) questions, this one has been answered often from various angles. I wanted to have a specific post with this particular answer, so I reached back over seven years to this post, then this one, for the following excerpts slightly edited.

First:

Adrian [Warnock, who's tried for years to iron-lung Charismaticism] then says,
I have also not seen [cessationists] give good explanations regarding the experiences so many of us describe or the benefits that those who speak in tongues receive from them. If the cessationist is correct, then the charismatic is, by definition, either deluded or demonised!
My first, honest, non-sarcastic response to this confession was to wonder how many cessationist books Adrian has read, and which ones; and how many cessationists he's talked with. But never mind that for now.

The question is simply answered.

Suppose you say, "Oh, look! A cat!" And you point to a snake. So I go fetch a textbook that we both respect, and I read, "Cat: mammal, possessed of four legs, a tail, a head, lots of fur, and an insatiable appetite. Purrs when petted." Then I say, "That thing you're pointing at doesn't look anything like a cat. At. All."

What do you say? "Yeah, but maybe it's a furless, legless, reptilian cat who never purrs! Or maybe it's just warming up, and one day it will be a cat! You have to give me a good explanation of what it is, or I'll pick it up and call it a cat!"?

No, actually, see: I really don't have to. I've demonstrated that it isn't a cat. In so demonstrating, I have demonstrated that, if you do pick it up, you won't be picking up a cat. My work is done.

You meanwhile, might call yourself a "Cat-ist," and run about, waving the viper over your head. You might persuade 100, 10000, even 1000000 or more people to do the same. "Cat-ism" might become the fastest-growing movement in the world, all of you waving slender, wriggling, scaled, cold-blooded, fork-tongued, lidless "cats" over your heads. You might "prove" your case by producing academic "Cat-ists" who produce literary passages describing cats as slinking ("Aha!"), and curling up ("Oho!"), and wrapping themselves around their owners' legs ("QED!").

You can call the thing in your hand whatever you like. You can get millions to call it the same. It still won't be a cat, and any decent description of a real cat will be a "killer verse" to your movement.

And what of identifying the actual thing you're holding? If I keep looking through my nature guide, I'll find several things that are long and thin and wiggly. It might be a worm. It might be an eel. It might be a snake. Ah, that's it: a snake. What kind of snake, though? Maybe I can't identify the exact species of snake you're pointing at. But I know that there are various venomous vipers about, and that's reason enough to worry. I advise you that it's best not to pick it up until we're sure what it is.

Doesn't that make good sense?

But at any rate, even if you pick it up, and suffer no immediate harm, and report that it gives you warm emotions to hold it, I'm still going to insist that you not call it a cat. And particularly, if you are going to take a job as a veterinarian, and tell others how to acquire and care for animals, I'm going to urge you in the strongest terms to get your head straight about the differences between cats and snakes. You really could hurt somebody with your wretched advice.


Second:
Why no "killer verses"?

Finally [of the challenges from Charismatic Adrian Warnock]: 
Most importantly of all, if the Bible never intended that we get the impression that gifts are for today, why are there not any real "killer verses" to make it clear to us that this is not the case?
There aren't? I believe I've given and/or linked to several such verses, already.

Every description of tongues and prophecy in the Bible is a "killer" verse . Allow me to allude to our "standard of proof" discussion from the previous post.

Every description of a real cat is a "killer verse" to anyone who wants to wave a snake around and call it a cat.

Similarly, anyone who wants to babble and burble, and call it tongues; or pop off gauzy generalities or inaccurate predictions and call it prophecy, is condemned and rejected by every Biblical description of the real, legitimate phenomena. No such widespread, well-documented phenomena as described in the Bible has ever characterized post-apostolic Biblical Christianity, from the second century to the present day. The charismatic movement has tried with increasing desperation for one hundred years, and so far the best it has come up with is an attempt to redefine everything, covering up its consistent failure by trying to define-down the Biblical exemplars.

And there is no Biblical explanation why this should be so—unless what Paul announced as future to him, in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, is past to us.

Which, I submit, it is.

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19 January 2014

Wonders!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 19, sermon number 1098, "Wonders."
"If studiously investigated the word of God tells us wondrous things concerning the world to come."

Beloved, we shall, in the better land, wonder more than we do here, for we shall there understand far more than we do now, and shall have clearer views and wider prospects. Our present capacities are narrow, there is scant room within our mind for great things; but in yon bright world the veil shall be taken off, and we shall know even as we are known, seeing no more in part and through a glass darkly: in the heavenly mansions our growing knowledge will excite in us increasing wonder, and we shall sing there the praise of him who hath dealt wondrously with us.

I believe the poet was right when he said:

“And sing with wonder and surprise
Thy lovingkindness in the skies.”

In the abodes of endless bliss we shall see what we escaped; we shall look down from Abraham’s bosom and see the sinner afar off in torment! It will be a dreadful sight, but O, with what hearts of gratitude shall we bless redeeming love, knowing each one of us that were it not for grace divine that fate so desperate had been ours.

In the heaven of perfect holiness we shall know the true character of sin. When we shall see the brightness of God’s glory, and the splendour of his holiness, sin will appear in all its hideousness, and we shall adore that matchless mercy which pardoned us, and bless the precious blood which cleansed us though we had been defiled with such pollution.

We think we praise God for forgiving our iniquities, and no doubt we do in some measure, but, compared with the blessing that saints in heaven render to God for deliverance from sin, our praise is as nothing. We do not know sin as they know it: we do not understand its blackness as they perceive it.

Up in heaven, too, we shall see our life as a whole, and we shall see God’s dealings with us on earth as a whole. A great many matters which now appear mysterious and complex, concerning which we can only walk by faith, for our reason is baffled, will be so clear to us as to excite our joyous songs in heaven.

“Now I see why I was laid aside when I wanted to be busy in God’s work: now I see why that dear child, whom I hoped to have had spared to me as a stay for my old age, was taken away; now I
understand why my business was suffered to fail; now I comprehend why that foul mouth was allowed to be opened against me; now I comprehend why I was assailed with inward fears, and was suffered to go tremblingly all my days.”

Such will be our confessions when the day dawns and the shadows flee away. Then we shall say and sing: “He hath dealt wondrously with us.” We shall feel that the best was done for us that even Eternal Wisdom could devise, and we shall bless the name of the Lord.



17 January 2014

Legalism: (Possibly) More than what you think

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following excerpt was written by Phil back in May 2010. Phil warned against the legalism of both the Judaizers and the Pharisees.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Legalists sometimes defend themselves by claiming that legalism, properly understood, is just what Paul condemned in Galatians 1: the sin of making justification conditional on some work or ceremony performed by the sinner. In other words, legalism is works-salvation. So, they say, if you formally affirm the principle of sola fide and preach that people can be saved without any prerequisite work, you can't possibly be a legalist, no matter how many rules you make and impose on the consciences of people who are already converted.

No. Legalism is the error of abandoning our liberty in Christ in order to take on a yoke of legal bondage (Galatians 5:1). There are actually two kinds of legalism.

First is the one recognized and despised even by the fundamentalist with his thick rule-book. It's the legalism of the Judaizers. The Judaizers wanted to make circumcision a requirement for salvation. They had fatally corrupted the gospel by adding a human work as a requirement for salvation. That is certainly the worst variety of legalism, because it destroys the doctrine of justification by faith and thereby sets up "a gospel contrary to the one you received" (Galatians 1:8-9).

But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It's the tendency to reduce every believer's duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of "standards." This type of legalism doesn't necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers' brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.

That is precisely what happened in the fundamentalist movement, and one of the major reasons that movement has failed so notoriously. Legalism diverts people's attention from sound doctrine, so that the typical fighting-fundie legalist is doctrinally ignorant, reserving his or her "convictions" for a silly man-made system of rules. Ask the typical self-styled fundamentalist to define the difference between imputed and imparted righteousness, and he will not be able to do so. Suggest that it's OK for women to wear pants, or for people to use another version besides the KJV for Bible study, and the same fundy will lock and load his angry dogmatism, ready to do battle or even die for some ridiculous man-made "standard." Thus, as Jesus said, they have nullified the Word of God for the sake of their man-made traditions.

Let me say this plainly: It is a sin to impose on others any "spiritual" standard that has no biblical basis. When God gave the law to Israel, He told them, "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). And, "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).

If we add rules that Scripture doesn't make—especially if we try to impose our man-made rules on other people's consciences as a standard of spirituality—we are guilty of the same sin as the Pharisees and worthy of the same harsh rebukes Christ leveled at them.


16 January 2014

Glimpsing Hell's miseries in that instant of pre-excuse guilt

by Dan Phillips

Jeremy Taylor was a pastor who'd been born two years after the KJV. In our circles, he's the author of the oft-misquoted and seldom-sourced statement, God "threatens terrible things to us if we would not be happy." Actually, it's "He threatened horrible things to us if we would not be happy," and the source is this sermon.

Though that is the quotation that brought me to read the sermon, it isn't what I'm bringing to you. In the sermon, Taylor takes a clear-eyed, sober, terrifying read of judgment to come. He's at great pains to see to it that no man take lightly the stroke that is about to fall, at any moment, on God's enemies.

In imagining the miseries of Hell, he does a brilliant and fearful thing. He slows time down. Taylor brings us to seize on that moment — those seconds, that split-second — after someone has been caught in a sin, and before he has invented a pretext falsely to shield and comfort himself.

Hear how Taylor does this, and what use he makes of it:
We may guess at the severity of the Judge by the lesser strokes of that judgment which He is pleased to send upon sinners in this world, to make them afraid of the horrible pains of doomsday–I mean the torments of an unquiet conscience, the amazement and confusions of some sins and some persons. For I have sometimes seen persons surprised in a base action, and taken in the circumstances of crafty theft and secret injustices, before their excuse was ready. They have changed their color, their speech hath faltered, their tongue stammered, their eyes did wander and fix nowhere, till shame made them sink into their hollow eye-pits to retreat from the images and circumstances of discovery; their wits are lost, their reason useless, the whole order of their soul is decomposed, and they neither see, nor feel, nor think, as they used to do, but they are broken into disorder by a stroke of damnation and a lesser stripe of hell; but then if you come to observe a guilty and a base murderer, a condemned traitor, and see him harassed first by an evil conscience, and then pulled in pieces by the hangman’s hooks, or broken upon sorrows and the wheel, we may then guess (as well as we can in this life) what the pains of that day shall be to accurst souls. But those we shall consider afterward in their proper
scene; now only we are to estimate the severity of our Judge by the intolerableness of an evil conscience; if guilt will make a man despair–and despair will make a man mad, confounded, and dissolved in all the regions of his senses and more noble faculties, that he shall neither feel, nor hear, nor see anything but specters and illusions, devils and frightful dreams, and hear noises, and shriek fearfully, and look pale and distracted, like a hopeless man from the horrors and confusions of a lost battle, upon which all his hopes did stand–then the wicked must at the day of judgment expect strange things and fearful, and such which now no language can express, and then no patience can endure. Then only it can truly be said that he is inflexible and inexorable. No prayers then can move Him, no groans can cause Him to pity thee; therefore pity thyself in time, that when the Judge comes thou mayest be one of the sons of everlasting mercy, to whom pity belongs as part of thine inheritance, for all else shall without any remorse (except His own) be condemned by the horrible sentence.
You see? Taylor takes that sickening moment of fear and guilt, and freeze-frames it long before the invention of the freeze-frame. He says, "Imagine existing like that forever. Imagine that sense of guilt and shame, of panic and nakedness — forever."

For will that not be Hell? Not The Great Divorce's image of sophisticated reprobates lost in self-deception, but of a mass of humanity whose "secrets" have been exposed, stripped naked, and judged, whose every rationalization has been blown away like the faintest wisp of steam, who now find themselves before the Judge's pitiless eye and under His condemnation for an hour, then another, then another, in endless succession, never nearer the end than at the start.

Brilliant picture, and all the more so if it sent (and sends!) one sinner flying to Christ and the Gospel for grace and refuge while it may still be had.

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15 January 2014

An Open Letter to T4G

by Frank Turk

To my Dear Friends in Christ at T4G.org;

I waited and waited, but
nobody would join me for coffee
Everyone has an idiom in which his voice is most clearly heard, and unfortunately for all of us, mine is "Hitler Reacts" videos.

Just kidding -- mine is obviously the Open Letter.  I have taken a lot of flack from all sorts of people over the years for having the audacity to use a blog like this to write letters like that.  It has even made some wonder whether or not the Open Letter is a dead medium, a dead form.  Personally I love to write them because it gives both me and the readers of this blog the sense that we are actually speaking to certain people and not merely about them.  Moreover, I think I have a long record of using both gentleness and reverence in them (with a handful of exceptions that, frankly, prove the rule), so I am taking a break from my hiatus to write one to you.  I hope it finds you well, and in good spirits.

We're closing in on the early bird registration deadline (well: it's a month off), and it has caused my friends and I to have off-line chats about whether we are going.  I'm sure that's a common discussion happening right now as everyone tries to decide whether or not they have $1000 (registration, room & board, travel) to spend a week with 5000 (7500?  How many?) brothers and sisters in Christ.  I have gone in the past, so for the record I'm not casting any shade on those who will chose to do so this year.  (For those reading: if you choose to go this year, God bless you; may it bless you greatly; may it make you better disciples and better body parts in your local church [whichever part you may be]).  But, I'm not going this year.

Someone suggested I should have expected an invitation since other bloggers have been invited and I am an allegedly-famous blogger.  I think that's absurd on the face of it, to be honest: the "bloggers" invited to this event are actually proteges of the fellows instrumental in creating T4G, and I am not that; I'm not from SBTS, or CHBC, or from what used to be the Sovereign Grace network of churches, or a Presbyterian.  Given my close relationship to Phil Johnson, both public and private, it would seem more likely to see me invited to something GTY/GCC put on -- but Phil and I have discussed that, and I have no interest in being that guy.  And more to the point, I really am on hiatus from all things blog-related in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Maybe what those asking me that question were really asking me is this: since T4G is now a decade old, is it time for you to freshen up the mix?  For example, when we listen to the recording of Band of Bloggers last time, how fresh was that?  Was it really worth the price of admission -- even factoring in the Chick-fil-A and the free books?  Once we get past aggregating other people's work, and being famous for assisting better writers with getting their works into print, what are we seeing at BoB -- and why?  Would it help to include someone from outside the echo chamber those fellows represent to see what else could be helpful?

Personally, and to be as clear as possible, I have nothing to add that would freshen up that mix.  My currently-jaded perspective on how Christian celebrity works, and whether or not it's legitimate to cultivate such a thing, would not make that hour of discussion more helpful -- because I am self-aware enough to know that I am, currently, very jaded on that subject.  I am very weary and squint-eyed from disappointment in the public face of our faith.  I'm not yet 50 (but almost), and I would sound like a one-eyed centenarian misanthrope if you put me next to Colin Hansen and asked me anything about which both he and I could comment.  That would not be worth bringing me there to perform, or be worth anybody's money to pay and see.

But that question is still worth considering: what could refresh T4G and it's ancillary services?  What would revive, in the intellectual, catechetical or phenomenological senses, the vibe at T4G?  Maybe if you brought in that fabled faithful pastor who has been at the same church for 4 or 5 decades ...?

I can remember the first time I went, which was the second time it ran.  We were not filling the YUM Center yet but were still in the big room at the Convention Center in Louisville (I think it might have been the room the bookstore is in now, but that may be a faulty memory of it). You could hear the other men singing (and yes ladies: sorry, it was something like 99.9% men) in a way that (if you will forgive me for saying it) sounded like church.  It sounded like we were there together, and not merely there in attendance.  I actually accidentally one morning walked into the conference center next to CJ -- though I am sure he didn't know me from Adam, and I didn't realize it was him until we reached the end of the skyway.  It still had the sense, as you still propose it to be, of being a conversation among friends.

It's not really that anymore, is it?

Maybe it is.  Maybe that's what actually causes some of the comments like the ones sent to me about who gets invited and who doesn't: real friendly relationships can cause those on the outside of them to feel somehow left out.  People feel like maybe they have something that belongs with such a thing as T4G, and when T4G ignores it (intentionally or accidentally; and sometimes "intentionally" can even mean "because there's no more room for stuff here" rather than something more tawdry like "not invented here") it seems like a sleight because other people and other "stuff" get included when others did not.  But that's what happens when people or things get famous: fans mistake fandom for friendship, and when it turns out that Mark Dever really has no idea who I am or whatever, it seems like a slight when it's not anything like that.

Yet when we think about it that way, the riddle of what T4G has become still doesn't get puzzled out. It actually gets harder to unpack because we're really not talking about church here anymore, are we?  We're not talking about real human relationships but the experience. We're talking about something that looks and acts more like the other events that fill the YUM Center.  I mean: it costs $1000 to go to T4G if you live right.  It could cost one $2500 easily by simply picking different meal options and hotels.  To the average pastor, $1000 is more than a week's salary -- in some cases, it's more than two.  It stops being a conversation between friends when the first checkpoint of self-selection into the conversation is which quintile of income can afford to join in, doesn't it?

Now, look: this is not an attempt to heap scorn on you fellows for price or venue or any of that.  I think that the audio files from T4G are worth the price of a decent double album (note: I just dated all of us since most of the young fellers reading this have never seen the glory of Pink Floyd's The Wall in real vinyl in real dust jackets), and I have honestly been edified by every T4G since its inception.  The words of the message are clear every time.  I am worried that maybe there is something else being said by the medium which needs to be worked out more completely than by a sidebar panel discussion.  One speaker self-exonerating himself and the panel by saying his wife keeps him honest and there are no superstars in his household is not a solution to this conundrum.

So as people think about attending your event, and follow it on Twitter, and look forward to the able-bodied messages and the impressive line-up of powerful speakers both new and time-tested, I'm asking you to consider what you have become -- which is somehow both more and less than a conversation among friends.  You have become influential across denominational lines, and somehow have also lost the physical appearance of a local church.  And in doing these things, you are shaping others in ways that are probably unintended -- and as with all unintended consequences, it is the father of all manner of children.

Please be good fathers to the children you have made here.  Be good servants of Christ, because I know your faith in Him is both real and good, and your hope for His final victory is the same as mine, and the only real reason we should care about what we are doing personally, both privately and publicly.  He's our savior, our king, and also our judge.  Let's all be judged worthy by Him when we at last see his face.

In His name, and for His sake, I thank you for your time and attention.







14 January 2014

The right discontentment, the wrong contentment

by Dan Phillips

Too often, professed Christians are both contented and discontented about the wrong things.

God has given His church an absolutely sufficient, living, inerrant revelation of His person, works and will. Yet rather than focus all our prayerful energy on mastering and being mastered by all of its contents, we allow a dangerously unbelieving and ungrateful discontentment to divert our attention and leave us open to harmful substitutes, as well as pastorally-disastrous schemes and mazes.

In that case, we need to re-read the book of Numbers. We need to remind ourselves just what raging death God visited on those who were constantly, repeatedly, whiningly discontented with His provisions. We need to repent of our unbelief and ingratitude. We need to revise our approach to Christian living, by joyfully embracing a robust affirmation of God's own testimony to the sufficiency of His Word.

Then on the other hand (and, as I think on it, relatedly) we are too easily contented in our relationship with God. Let me 'splain.

All of us professed Christians, if asked "Would you like to know God better?", would answer "Yes." But what if we were asked a different question? What if we were asked if we are willing to do what it takes to know God better, know His word better, be better prepared to serve Him, be more immersed in worship and service, be more fruitful and productive and effective in serving Him (see the sermons on Proverbs 3:1-12 in this series)? What if we were asked if we were willing to do what it takes to move ahead in those areas?

In that case, I'm certain that candor would force too many to reply "No thanks, I'm good."

I'm called to consider this by that arresting, alarming verse, Proverbs 1:32 —
For the turning away of the gullible will slay them,
And the complacency of the stupid will destroy them. [DJP]
"The complacency of the stupid," the wise man zings. In context, this complacency would take in everything the stupid man does to quiet, dull, numb, defang, decaffeinate, and otherwise deflect God's call. He refuses, rejects, belittles, doesn't want... in short, he's complacent. He's good. He's A-OK, he's five-by-five.

And that's stupid, God says; and that will destroy them, God says.

Knowing people as I do (I met one once!), I imagine some will say "Well yeah, but that clearly is talking about unbelievers, lost people. Not saved people."

In response to which, rather than going John Owen on you, I'll just leave you with this question:

You really think God likes complacency better in professed believers, and thinks it's smart?

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12 January 2014

God must help

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 39, sermon number 2,341, "The undying Gospel for the dying year."
"Beloved friends, whatever the condition of a child of God is, he is not without hope." 

A believer in the Lord Jesus Christ may be very sorely tried, his afflictions may be multiplied, and they may be very keen; but, even in that condition, he has hope. It is not possible for him to be forsaken of God; his God must help him.

If the worst comes to the worst, and he is altogether forsaken of men, and sees no way of escape out of his tremendous difficulties, still his God must help him. He has no right whatever to be afraid. Since the Lord Jesus Christ saved us when we were ungodly, and came to our rescue when we were without strength, we can never be in a worse condition than that; and if he then did the best thing possible for us, namely, died for us, there is nothing which he will not do.

In fact, he will give us all things, and he will do all things for us, so as to keep us safely, and bear us through. The argument is that, looking back, we see the great love of God to us in the gift of his dear Son for us when there was nothing good in us, and when we were ungodly, when we had no power to produce anything good, for we were without strength.

At such a time, even at such a time, Christ came on wings of love, and up to the bloody tree he went, and laid down his life for our deliverance. We, therefore, feel confident that he will not leave us now, and that he will not keep back anything from us whatever we may need.

He has committed himself to the work of our eternal salvation, and he will not be balked of it. He has done too much for us already ever to run back from his purpose; and in our worst estate, if we are in that condition to-night, we may still confidently appeal to him, and rest quite sure that he will bring us up even to the heights of joy and safety.



10 January 2014

"Reading" providence? That's a fool's game...

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.


The following excerpt was written by Dan back in January 2007. Dan pointed out the folly of trying to "read providence" apart from Scripture.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Reading providence is a fool's game, yet it never lacks players.

Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God's personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.

One particular point of conventional diviner's wisdom is the idea that God's hand can be discerned by the feelings a situation creates. A girl I knew decades ago decided against something important because thinking about it made her feel confused, and "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33, kidnapped at gunpoint from its context), so it could not be of God. QED.

God's hand, His presence in an event, is discerned (we're told) by the feelings of serene peace, joy, love, and/or closeness to God that we experience. If it makes us happy, if it makes us feel close to God, then it is of God. If it's frightening and repellent, God cannot be in it.

When you state it in broad sunlight, it's fairly silly on the face of it, and advocates must hastily trot out the "but-but-but"'s. But one passage in particular, from Mark 6, strikes me as fairly fatal to the view.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. ...47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Note again verse 49—"they all saw him and were terrified."

What was it they saw? It was in fact Jesus. They actually were looking right at Him, they saw Him on the water. And He was there to do them good, with nothing but love in His heart for them.

But they misperceived Him, they did not see Jesus as Jesus, and they mispercieved the significance of what they did see. Instead, they saw Him as a ghost, a being that struck horror in their hearts. The emotions that seeing Jesus stirred in them were not peace, joy, love, and closeness to God. They were terrified, they were filled with alarm and fear at the sight of Jesus.

It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant.

Read God's stance towards you, and discern God's will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.

Is the Lord "in the storm"? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39  ["Hush! Be still!"]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God's love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life's storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).

Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the "afterwards," the "later" -- as in "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).


07 January 2014

C. S. Lewis on Hell: really deep, oft-quoted, really wrong

by Dan Phillips

Love reading C. S. Lewis. Always have. Doesn't mean I think he's always right.

For instance, take one of Lewis' most oft-quoted observations on Hell:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.
This is quoted and re-quoted all over the place. I just read it again, in Ortlund's little book that treats parts of Proverbs (48). Why do we like this Lewis quotation so much?

Well, I think we like it because its binary, and many of us like binary. In fact, I suppose I could say there are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who like binary, and those who don't.

Sorry. Anyway.

That Bible is certainly binary on most things that matter: two wisdoms, two ways, two ends. This Lewis quotation is like that: "only two kinds of people." We like that. And we like that Lewis exalts the Lordship of God, makes clear that knowing God, belonging to God, necessarily involves an embrace of His will.

I daresay many people really, really like this snippet because it makes Hell seem less objectionable. It takes the heat (no pun intended) off us — and off God — and puts it all on the lost. "They're in Hell because they want to be," we say, echoing Lewis. Oh. Well then, that's not so bad, is it? We thought of Hell as a place God threw people, screaming and wailing and miserable. Terrified, not wanting to be there. But heck (again, no pun), if they want to be there anyway...

Yes, well, except that's just the thing. They don't want to be there. There is no evidence whatever that they want to be in Hell. This quotation, at least as commonly used, is mostly fudging, and mostly balderdash.

Nobody wants to be in Hell! Look at the actual folks who are sent there. Look at the folks in Matthew 7:22f. Are they thinking, "Oh, terrific, what a relief; we were afraid we'd have to go to Heaven and, you know, that would really suck"? Heavens (again, no pun), no! Every last one of them wanted to be in Heaven, expected to be in Heaven! Jesus' pronouncement was unexpected and unwelcome.

What of those in Matthew 25:41ff.? Again, not a one hears what he expects to hear. Every one expected to hear an "Attaboy! Come on in!" from the Lord. His pronouncement of doom is a shock.

What of the lost in Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30 and so forth? Do these sound like folks who are being sent where they want to go? Do they sound happy, satisfied? Weeping? Gnashing their teeth? Are those happy sounds?

The image of God actually saying, "Oh well, look; I'd just as soon you come be in My Heaven; but if this is what you really want, if you insist, here you go: you can go over there and be rid of Me" may work in the short run. We don't have to explain the justice of God sending people to Hell. He's hardly even doing it. They're doing it to themselves. "They're there because they want to be," we say, and we feel done.

Except, again, it just isn't Biblical.

First, God doesn't say "Thy will be done," to the thwarting of His will of decree. Ever. To anybody. Check Psalm 115:3, Proverbs 16:4, Daniel 4:35, and Ephesians 1:11, for starters. God says "My will be done."

Secondif God did say "Thy will be done," none would ever be saved. We hate God, we flee God, we want nothing to do with God or His law (Rom 3:11-12, 18; 8:7). We are saved because God sovereignly, supernaturally transforms our will (Ephesians 2:1-10). If He did not, all would be lost.

Third, God does this transforming work in the hearts of some men, not all (Matthew 22:14; 2 Thess. 3:2)

Fourth, Hell isn't where you go to get away from God. There is no getting away from God (Ps. 139). That in part is what makes Hell Hell: eternal existence under the unrelenting wrath and displeasure and judgment of God. However, it is the ultimate, ultimately-failed destination in the flight from God.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, what sinful men actually want is not to be allowed to go to Hell. What men actually want is for God to go to Hell. Men actually want to do their will (this much Lewis has right), and they want to get away with it. They want no interference and no negative consequences. God represents both. Leaving a binary situation of two choices:
  1. We must repent and bow the knee to God; or
  2. God must be eliminated.
And which one does your Bible tell us is the choice of fallen man, left to ourselves?

Lewis' thoughts could be used with adjustment, I suppose. If I were to reword him to make it more Biblical, it might go like this:
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "My will be done, despite your will." All that are in Hell, are there because they rebel against God. Without rebellion against God there would be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. Our problem is that none of us seeks those things, so long as we keep trying to be God instead of seeking Him. And none of us does seek Him — until God in sovereign grace transforms us.
What puzzles me is how many Reformed types who know their Bibles continue to use Lewis, without a bit of reworking.

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05 January 2014

Forgetting the things of time

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Able to the Uttermost, pages 201-202, Pilgrim Publications.
"Why, to have one’s self prepared for the eternal dwelling-place might well become so absorbing a pursuit that we might forget the things of time." 

I could comprehend a mental abstraction that should make us absolutely foolish from day to day as to ordinary affairs if the mind were set upon superior and spiritual concerns; but I cannot comprehend this raving madness of humanity that men seem to be utterly abstracted from spiritual things, and rapt and taken altogether away about these bubbles, these trifles, these children’s toys.

I passed the Lake of Thrasymenus one evening, in traveling from Rome, and I marked the spot right well, for it is said that there when the Romans and the Carthaginians were engaged in deadly war there happened a terrific earthquake which shook the ground beneath their feet, and heaved the lake in waves, and tossed the mountains about on either side, but the combatants were so desperately set at slaughtering one another that they never observed the earthquake and did not believe it on the following day when they were told of it.

It seems so strange, does it not, that they should be so taken up with it? And men seem to be so taken up with the concerns of this life that even were God to set up His throne of judgment, and it did not interfere with the Stock Exchange, and the corn market, and the coal market, I believe men would still go on buying and selling and getting gain, and if the last thunderbolt were even now to be rushing through the sky, they would be so occupied with the things of time and sense that they would not be startled even then until it came in even closer proximity to their own souls.

Oh, what perversity of intellect is this! May God rouse us from it. When a man comes to see how all his lifetime he has been busy about these things and lost his soul, what a look it will be in looking backward! "I gained that money, scraped it together, for my heirs—used the rake, and used the shovel. I pinched myself, fool that I was! Why did I? I pinched myself for nobody."

"There I was up early in the morning, and late at night still at my business, my Bible covered with dust, the House of God forsaken, or, if I went to it, too sleepy to attend to what I should have heard; meanwhile no private prayer, no cleansing of myself in Christ’s blood, no seeking reconciliation with God; and all for what? Just that I might leave this heap of money to those who will forget me and probably be glad that I have gone, so that they may inherit what I have scraped together."

"What a fool I have been to live for that which I must leave, and to scrape together the thick clay which I must now renounce for ever."