TeamPyro
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 except was written by Phil back in April 2007. Phil addressed a common—and seriously erroneous—view of propitiation.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Too many Christians think of divine forgiveness as something that utterly overturns justice and sets it aside—as if God's mercy nullified His justice—as if God's love defeated and revoked His hatred of sin. That's not how forgiveness works.


Is forgiveness from sin grounded only in the love and mercy and goodness of God—apart from his justice? Does love alone prompt the Almighty to forego the due penalty of sin, wipe out the record of our wrongdoing, and nullify the claims of justice against us, unconditionally?

Or must God Himself be propitiated? In other words, do His righteousness and His holy wrath against sin need to be satisfied before He can forgive?

It truly seems as if most people today—including multitudes who identify themselves as Christians—think God forgives merely because His love overwhelms His holy hatred of sin. Some go even further, rejecting the notion of propitiation altogether, claiming it makes God seem too harsh. The problem with every such view of the atonement is that mercy without propitiation turns forgiveness into an act of injustice.

That is a seriously erroneous view. As a matter of fact, that very idea was one of the main errors of Socinianism.

The original Socinians were 16th-century heretics who denied that God demands any payment for sin as a prerequisite to forgiveness. They insisted instead that He forgives our sin out of the sheer bounty of His kindness alone. They argued that if God demanded an atonement—an expiation, a payment, a reprisal, or a propitiation—for sin, then we shouldn't really call it “forgiveness” when He absolves us. They claimed that sin could either be paid for or forgiven, but not both.

In other words, they defined forgiveness in a way that contradicts and contravenes justice. They were essentially teaching that God could not maintain the demands of His justice and forgive sins at the same time. They thought of forgiveness and justice as two incompatible ideas.

Scripture expressly refutes that idea. One of the most glorious truths of the gospel is that God saved us in a way that upheld His justice. Justice was neither compromised nor set aside; it was completely satisfied. God Himself was thus fully propitiated. And our salvation is therefore grounded in the justice of God as well as His mercy.

Our thoughts about such things are almost always too shallow. We take God's mercy for granted and ignore His holy justice. But a right view of God will always exalt His righteous hatred for sin as much as it magnifies His love and mercy. God's mercy is not some maudlin sentiment that causes Him to forget about His holiness and set aside His righteous anger against sin. The demands of righteousness must be fully and completely satisfied if God is ever going to forgive sin. He cannot and will not simply overlook sin as if it didn't really matter.

In other words, the gospel is not only a message about the love of God. It is that; but it is not only that. The true gospel magnifies His justice as much as it magnifies His love.

When was the last time you thought of the gospel as a message about divine justice?

“Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).


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 except was written by Phil back in September 2009. Phil offered his thoughts on the so-called transparency that has been en vogue in recent years.

As usual, the comments are closed.

I'm not impressed with the postmodern notion of transparency as a substitute for the old-fashioned (and biblical) virtue of humility.

The type of transparency I'm speaking of is that faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts. This exhibitionistic “virtue” is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.

Here's a biblical case-study that goes against conventional postmodern “wisdom”: In Psalm 73, Asaph is rehearsing the confusion he felt over the reality that wicked people sometimes prosper while righteous people suffer. He says:

I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. (Psalm 73:3-12)

A note of resentment against God? A model of the very kind of transparency I decry? Sure sounds like it, huh? He continues:

All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

Self-pity, too. Wow! Is that not a classic example of brilliant, transparent, postmodern confessional writing? The psalmist is venting his spleen, giving voice to his doubts, teaching us that it's OK to broadcast whatever doubts and resentments we maybe harboring against God. Right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, the point Asaph is making is precisely the opposite: “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,' I would have betrayed the generation of your children” (v. 15).

In other words, Asaph confesses that if he had broadcast his doubts before resolving them, it would have been a sinful act of betrayal against God and against the children of God.

Asaph is actually testifying about how he resolved those doubts and resentments: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end” (vv. 16-17).

He has acquired a decidedly un-postmodern kind of confident faith. He reaches a settled certainty about the very things he was tempted to doubt. Then he goes on to explain to his readers that the state of the wicked is not as comfortable as it appears to carnal eyes. He's spreading his new-found faith; not soliciting companions who share his doubts.

So this psalm is not an apologia for the sort of “transparency” whose only aim is to vent in a way that aims to legitimize skepticism; it's a condemnation of precisely that sort of intemperance.

There's nothing vague or confusing about the point Asaph is really making. As a matter of fact, the whole psalm starts with an explicit statement of his main thesis: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”


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 except was written by Phil back in February 2012. Phil showed the sharp contrast between Paul's charge to Timothy and Titus, and current notions of “being missional.”

As usual, the comments are closed.

In all of Paul's instructions to Timothy and Titus, there is not an ounce of encouragement for the person who thinks innovation is the key to an effective ministry philosophy.

Much less is there any room for the pulpiteers of today who like to exegete the latest movies, or preach on moral lessons drawn from television sitcoms, or build their sermons on themes borrowed from popular culture. You know what I mean: the kind of preachers who insist they are being “missional” when they are merely being worldly.

Still less is there any warrant for the celebrity rock-star pastor who continually makes himself the focus of his preaching. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Paul's focus is extremely narrow—stiflingly narrow for the typical young-and-restless church planter for whom “style” is everything; and whose style (let's be honest) is conspicuously dictated by secular fashion rather than by the worldview Paul was exhorting Timothy to embrace.

Preach the word.” That's the centerpiece and the key to everything Paul tells Timothy about how to shepherd God's flock. That command is followed immediately by a second imperative that simply makes the first one more emphatic: “Be ready in season and out of season.” The Greek verb means “stand by,” and it does have the sense of readiness. (In fact, in radio, that is exactly what the expression “stand by” means: “Be ready.” But the word Paul uses is richer and stronger than that.) It also carries the connotation of expressions like: “take a stand,” “stand upon it,” “stick to it,” “stand up to it,” or simply “carry on.”

Paul is urging Timothy to be absolutely, unswervingly devoted to the truth of the Word and to the task of proclaiming it. “Stand firm, and stand ready. Keep at the task, no matter what.” That's the idea. And the proof is in the rest of the phrase: “Be ready in season and out of season”—literally, “when it's timely and when it's untimely”: when it's popular and when it's not.

Or to contextualize the phrase for the current crop of evangelical fashionistas: Preach the Word even when preaching the Word seems hopelessly uncool and unstylish.

The expression is ambiguous as to whether Timothy or his audience is the barometer declaring what's “in season [or] out of season.” It doesn't matter. Regardless of how you or your audience—or anyone else—feels about it, keep preaching the Word.

Preach the word whether the timing seems opportune or awkward. Preach it whether it's convenient or inconvenient. Preach it whether you feel like it or not. Preach it whether the door is open or closed. Preach it no matter how much resistance you encounter. Preach it whether or not people say they want it. Preach it—and make it the heart and soul of your ministry strategy—no matter how many church-growth experts tell you otherwise.

Paul goes on to give several more imperatives, and all of them expand on or modify this initial command: “Preach the Word.”


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 except was written by Phil back in February 2012. Phil recounted an encounter during a trip overseas that highlights the bankruptcy of “performance art” as a substitute for preaching the Gospel.

As usual, the comments are closed.

This past week I've been thinking a lot about my first visit to Kiev, with John MacArthur, more than 20 years ago. I remember those days clearly. It was late September and early October 1991, exactly 50 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews at a Kiev ravine called Babi Yarand less than two months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. People were hungry—starved—for the gospel.

Since then I have been to some 35 countries on five continents, and I've never seen any culture more eager to listen to the gospel than Ukraine (and the rest of the former Soviet Union) in 1991. The churches I visited were all crowded. A steady stream of recent converts gave their testimonies in every service I attended. Each new believer was brought to the front of the church and encouraged to “repent.” And they did—confessing their sins with heartfelt remorse, and verbally professing their newfound faith in Christ with overflowing joy and enthusiasm. It was amazing and uplifting and deeply convicting to someone like me, who had become somewhat sluggish spiritually with the comforts and refinements (and superficiality) of Western evangelicalism.

Anyway, one of my most vivid memories of Kiev in 1991 was a day we were walking across a public square in downtown Kiev with a bundle of Russian gospel tracts and Scripture booklets. Ukrainian people crowded around us, clamoring to get one. I was caught quite off guard by the suddenness and enthusiasm of people's response. The moment was unforgettable.

But we weren't the only Western Christians in the square that day. There was a group of “gospel clowns” and mimes from some American church, and we inadvertently interrupted their performance, because even the people who had been watching them suddenly ran over to get gospel literature from us as we approached the center of the square. One of the mimes glared at me. And then, breaking character, he said something to me in English. He wanted us to move on so that they could get on with the task of pantomiming the gospel.

To this day it amazes and appalls me that anyone confronted with the openness of Eastern Europeans in the wake of the Soviet collapse would think wordless “performance art” is a better medium for declaring the gospel than straightforward preaching, simple one-on-one witnessing, and plain-language gospel literature. It's like anti-contextualization—culturally insensitive, incomprehensible to the target culture, and tainted with the scent of spiritual jingoism—but I'm certain those mimes believed their method was the very epitome of innovative “relevance.”

And it occurs to me: That reflects precisely how multitudes of American evangelicals still think. They are more enthralled with their clever methodologies and ingenious “contextualizations” than they are with the gospel itself. Honestly, they seem at times to love their own flamboyance far more than they care about lost souls.

A lot of what's called ministry these days is mere spectacle. Authentic apostolic-style gospel ministry is nothing like performance art.

When evangelical megachurches gave up the pulpit for a stage; traded psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for AC/DC tracks; hired vaudevillians instead of pastors; and turned away their ears from the truth to follow fables, they chose a path of apostasy.

The only way back starts with repentance.


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 except was written by Phil back in March 2010. Phil offered his thoughts on the warning Paul gives in 1 Cor 16:13.

As usual, the comments are closed.
“Be watchful” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

 

That's a single word in the Greek text, γρηγορέω. It's a common New Testament word with doctrinal, practical, and eschatalogical overtones, and Paul clearly has all those things in mind in his message to the Corinthians: Stay on guard. Enemies of the truth are already in your midst. You need to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.” And the Lord is coming. (That's the exact meaning of Maranatha in verse 22.)

The mass of modern and postmodern evangelicals simply ignore this command. I'm tempted to say they rebel against it. Many are simply too arrogant to think they need an admonition like this. They carelessly think they are skilled enough and knowledgeable enough to recognize any and every error at its very first appearance, so they have let down their guard.

Mostly, though, evangelicals simply have no stomach for the duty—and they won't tolerate it if anyone else tries to interrupt the evangelical frat party with shrill alarms—even while the frat house is engulfed in flames.

We don't mind reading about Spurgeon's courage and foresight in the Down-Grade Controversy; we just don't want anyone today to exercise that kind of discernment. In fact, listen to what Spurgeon said about that very same phenomenon in his era:

    It is very pretty, is it not, to read of Luther and his brave deeds? Of course, everybody admires Luther! Yes, yes; but you do not want any one else to do the same to-day. When you go to the [zoo] you all admire the bear; but how would you like a bear at home, or a bear wandering loose about the street? You tell me that it would be unbearable, and no doubt you are right.

    So, we admire a man who was firm in the faith, say four hundred years ago; the past ages are a sort of bear-pit or iron cage for him; but such a man to-day is a nuisance, and must be put down. Call him a narrow-minded bigot, or give him a worse name if you can think of one. Yet imagine [if] in those ages past, Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and their compeers had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great row, and get ourselves into disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night-caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake up things will have grown better.” Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on.

The need for vigilance today is greater, not less, than it has been in times past.

When before our very eyes we can see “evil people and impostors [going] from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived”—it is more important than ever to stay alert and on guard against false teaching and against personal temptations. And it's more important than ever to make ourselves ready for the return of the Savior.

That's what Paul was telling the Corinthians: “Be watchful”—first of all over yourselves—your hearts, your passions, your words, and your whole way of life. Be watchful over one another, lest you fall into sin and temptation. Be on guard against Satan, “so that we would not be outwitted by [him]; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Likewise, be on guard against false teachers, who lie in wait to deceive and who have already begun to sow their deception in your midst. Be on guard against the world, with all its snares and seductions. Also, watch unto prayer, and prepare yourselves for the Lord's return.

All of that is packed into this one-word admonition: “Watch.”


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 except 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.


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 except was written by Phil back in January 2011. The topic was genuine versus artificial passion, and what lies behind each.

As usual, the comments are closed. 

When we consider Christ as the very incarnation of divine glory, it ought to put all our other passions into proper perspective. It ought to make us ashamed that our focus is so far off and we are not really passionate about the one thing that ought to excite us the most.

We imitate all the world's passions. We invent gimmicks to try to win worldly people by appealing to whatever mania has captured our culture's attention at the moment. We devote our energies and our emotions to things that are not even worthy of our attention. We do things to stir artificial passion—which is an especially sinister form of false worship.

Our passions should not need to be whipped up by spiritual cheerleaders and stadium chants. We shouldn't have to be worked into an emotional state by hype and melodrama and musical manipulation. If we can get pumped to a fever pitch by some rock-star pastor's antics rather than by the truth of the biblical message, then whatever we are feeling isn't even a legitimate passion in the first place.

Ersatz enthusiasm and crass tomfoolery actually contradict the message we're supposed to be proclaiming. With so many churches merely trying to entertain people, or lull them into a state of self-satisfaction, or simply gross them out, it's no wonder the world is not being won to Christ but actually becoming steadily more hostile to Christianity.

By the way, the passions stirred by a clear vision of God's glory aren't necessarily warm and comforting. It's not always a good feeling. In fact, it is much more likely that the first time someone catches a glimpse of God's glory, the result will be intense fear. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). Do a study on this in Scripture and take note of how people usually respond when they first see God for who He is. They fall on their faces in sheer terror. Almost every time.

God's glory also provokes profound amazement and wonder. Sometimes it's delight and rejoicing. (Peter fell on his face and confessed his sin when he first began to realize who Jesus was. But he sounded almost giddy when he saw Christ's glory unveiled on the Mount of Transfiguration.) All of those are legitimate emotions, and if they are real, they will make a lasting difference in us—something more than an impressive display of arm-raising and swaying with closed eyes during the song service; and something more credible than the pseudo-drunken behavior that has become such a plague in recent years.

Artificial religious enthusiasm is the bane of our age, and it's a powerful detriment to the church's testimony. There is perhaps no more reprehensible variey of raw hypocrisy.

On the other hand, if we really grasped and meditated on how the glory of God is revealed to us in Christ, we would never need any artificial gimmicks to stir our passions, and we certainly would never dream that we needed to try to make God seem “cooler” or more appealing than He actually is.


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 except was written by Phil back in February 2012. Here Phil outlines the dire consequences of faddish “innovation” and “relevance.”

As usual, the comments are closed. 

After five decades spent obsessing over a warped notion of “relevance,” American evangelicalism is overrun with “change agents” who are so steeped in worldly values that they can't distinguish true relevance from mere trendiness. Their philosophies of ministry are complex, wrong-headed, counterproductive, and hostile to the notion that some things—namely God Himself and the truth He has revealed in His Word—are by definition not susceptible to change. By contrast, what Paul bequeathed to Timothy in two brief epistles was a remarkably simple, straightforward, but comprehensive ministry philosophy. Not only did Paul not urge Timothy to be innovative; what he did urge Timothy to do flatly contradicts practically every ministry philosophy currently in vogue.

Consider the undue stress today's leading church-growth gurus invariably put on innovation. We are relentlessly told that pastors and church leaders must be novel, “contemporary,” cutting-edge—architects of change within the church.

Evangelicals have been obsessing for at least four decades about “relevance.” But that word as used in evangelical circles has become practically synonymous with novelty and fashionableness. It has little to do with actual relevance.

Of course, the church's only true relevance lies in her role as a community where God's Word is proclaimed, where the whole counsel of God is taught, and from which the gospel is taken into the world. But when a church nowadays advertises itself as “relevant,” we know exactly what is meant—and let's be honest: it isn't about anything Paul told Timothy to do; it's about being “innovative.”

[…]

“Innovation” in evangelical contexts almost never has anything to do with real originality. The best-known fruits of recent “innovative” thinking in the evangelical realm have been Emergent religion and hipster Christianity. But both Emergents and hipsters slavishly ape worldly fads and conform to postmodern and politically-correct values. “Innovation” has conditioned evangelical churches to follow every new wind of faddishness. “Innovation” itself turns out to be a worn-out cliche. There's nothing truly fresh or original about it. How it continues to get so much publicity is a mystery to me. The more evangelicals imitate worldly fads and values, the more irrelevant they become.

Here's a gentle word of admonition for those who have made an idol out of “innovation”: There is hardly any more wrong-headed approach for anyone who aspires to be a true spiritual and biblical leader in the church. It's an emphasis that is entirely missing from Paul's instructions to Timothy. Actually, the truth is even more alarming than that: The church's current infatuation with novelty and contemporary fashion is antithetical to Paul's message to Timothy. It is irreconcilable with a Pauline approach to ministry. It represents precisely the path Paul warned Timothy not to follow:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5).


TeamPyro

Interesting thoughts on pragmatic preaching by John MacArthur's editor, Phil Johnson. – Greg

 

Thoughts on The Purpose-Driven® Church (18 years late)
by Phil Johnson

In 2005, a little more than a week after I started blogging, I posted an item about Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven® Life. It was literally just a photograph and transcript of some marginal notes I had jotted in the flyleaf when I read the book, not anything like a full review.
Then almost exactly two years ago, when the blogosphere was abuzz with controversy over the lineup for 2010's Desiring God Conference, I posted my thoughts on the Piper-Warren connection.
Aside from those two posts, I can't think of any other blogposts I've written that deal with Rick Warren and his deleterious influence—which has been considerable. That seems like a major omission on my part, so today I'm going to post something I would have posted in 1997 if I had been blogging then. At the time, Warren's book on the church was required reading for evangelicals. To this day, countless evangelicals uncritically accept the Purpose-Driven® philosophy as received wisdom—and far too many pastors regard The Purpose-Driven® Church as virtually canonical. Warren now even has John Piper's seal of approval.
I have a different point of view, and I'd like to share it with you.
This post, like that first one, is not meant to be a thorough review; it's just some thoughts on preaching that were prompted by the claim Warren makes in his book's subtitle.

r13ick Warren's The Purpose Driven® Church is now 18 years old. It is the best-selling book on church ministry philosophy ever.

Warren is sensitive about complaints that his overtly pragmatic strategy for church growth leads to doctrinal compromise, so he subtitled his book, “Growth Without Compromising your Message & Mission.” He insists throughout the book that you can follow his “seeker-sensitive” model of ministry without compromising or watering down your message. On page 244, he writes, “A worship service does not have to be shallow to be seeker sensitive. The message doesn't have to be compromised, just understandable.”

But then, just a few sentences later, he writes, “The unchurched . . . do want to hear how the Bible relates to their lives in terms they understand and in a tone that shows you respect and care about them. They are looking for solutions, not a scolding.”

Notice how quickly Warren undermines his own commitment not to compromise the message. People don't want to be scolded, he tells us. And yet Paul told Timothy that Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). How do you preach reproof and correction—not to mention instruction in righteousness—without someone feeling scolded?

I frankly don't think it's the business of the preacher to trouble himself with whether people feel scolded. The preacher's task is to unfold the meaning of Scripture in a clear, authoritative, and persuasive manner—and if people feel scolded when Scripture rebukes them (as they inevitably will), then that is between them and the Lord. As a matter of fact, as preachers, we are instructed to reprove and rebuke, as well as exhort—with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2).

Doctrine?

Doctrinal preaching also takes a hit from Rick Warren. Notice in that quote that I cited above, he says, “The unchurched . . . want to hear how the Bible relates to their lives.” He makes clear throughout the remainder of the book what he means by this. He is arguing for an emphasis in our preaching that is practical rather than doctrinal—more “emotional, experiential, and relational” than didactic. He is dismissively critical of what he calls “classroom churches.” In Warren's words: “Classroom churches tend to be left-brain oriented and cognitive focused. They stress the teaching of Bible content and doctrine, but give little, if any, emphasis to believers' emotional, experiential, and relational development” (p. 340).

Now I happen to believe that all doctrine is inherently practical—or at least I would say that there is inherent practical value in understanding and defending sound doctrine. Furthermore, all legitimate religious emotions, experiences, and relationships are a believing heart's response to biblical truth soundly taught: doctrine.

So I don't quite agree with the dichotomy that is typically made by advocates of “seeker-sensitive” ministry. But they make this dichotomy nonetheless. They suggest that there is a significant distinction to be made between truth that is doctrinal and truth that is practical. And according to them, any style of ministry that is too didactic—more “doctrinal” than “practical”—is inappropriate for seeker-sensitive worship.

For example, a defense of the deity of Christ or a systematic presentation of justification by faith might have some academic interest, but doctrinal messages like that aren't deemed sufficiently practical and felt-needs oriented for the seeker-sensitive church environment. You are not at all likely to hear such truths dealt with from the Purpose-Driven® pulpit.

Newsweek once quoted a seeker-sensitive megachurch pastor who said it like this: “People today aren't interested in traditional doctrines like justification, sanctification, and redemption.” What people want to hear, this pastor believes, are sermons that address their “felt needs”—how to improve our relationships with other people, how to have success in business, how to find peace of mind—and other things more instantly relevant to busy lives than academic doctrines like justification and sanctification.

Rick Warren is one of the foremost advocates of preaching to people's “felt needs.” That is the expression he prefers: “felt needs.” That's what he says should determine what we preach. He claims that is how Jesus Himself preached, and he even implies that the didactic content of Paul's epistles contrasts unfavorably with the more practical preaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of urging preachers to declare the whole counsel of God, Rick Warren expressly encourages preachers to consider what the audience wants to hear and let those “felt needs” determine what they preach.

Naturally, Warren attempts to argue that this approach in no way compromises the message. On p. 228 of his book, he writes, “The crowd does not determine whether or not you speak the truth: the truth is not optional.” But then in the next breath he says, “Your audience does determine which truths you choose to speak about. And some truths are more relevant than others to unbelievers.”

If that sounds like double-talk, it's because that is precisely what it is. The truth itself is not optional, but some truths are optional in practice, because they are not relevant? So much for the whole counsel of God.

Now, I realize that most evangelicals who have bought into the Purpose-Driven® philosophy wouldn't dream of attacking the doctrines of justification by faith, or the deity of Christ, or the absolute authority of Scripture. But they ignore such doctrines rather than risk boring people with academic teaching. The long-term effect is the same as a full-scale assault against those doctrines.

In short, although Rick Warren claims his brand of pragmatism doesn't compromise doctrine, it absolutely does. From the very start, pragmatic considerations determine what he will preach and how he will preach it. And because pragmatism establishes the value system by which he assesses everything, he is not even capable of appreciating how man-centered and watered down his message has become.

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