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 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 except was written by Dan back in April 2006. The topic was the proper approach to dealing with Biblical metaphors.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Thank God that the Bible as a whole doesn't read like a legal document or — worse — anything written by any department of any branch of any government. Whereas legaloids, bureaucrats and eggheads tend to generate documents addressed mostly to themselves and the rarefied atmosphere of their peers, the Bible is addressed to craftsmen, tradesmen, farmers, parents, kids. Folks like us.

For that reason the Bible bristles with vibrantly colorful ways of communication, including stories, riddles, poems, aphorisms, personal letters, alliterations, similes and metaphors. We pretty instinctively know what a metaphor does: it illustrates something about something. It doesn't illustrate everything about anything. We shouldn't go nuts with it.

So when we read that Yahweh is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), we're usually smart enough to let the psalm itself bring out the implications of that word picture. We don't go nuts, and depict God as wandering around in the desert, carrying a literal stick, picking grit out of His stew and being bitten by bugs. That's leagues beyond, and beside, the point of the metaphor.

On the other hand, of course we don't sniff, “Well, of course, He isn't literally a shepherd,” and then simply ignore the point of the psalm. The metaphor is used for a purpose, and we're both fools and the poorer for it if we evade that purpose.

We should similarly avoid going to either extreme when it comes to Biblical metaphors applied to believers. There are many of them.

Take the one I think is most misunderstood: disciple. What does that word itself mean? Ask any church gathering and, assuming that you know the answer, you'll be a bit disheartened. “Follower?” the first brave soul will venture. “Apostle?” “Believer?” “Disciplined, uh, person?”

They'll all mean well, and they'll all probably be wrong, because disciple has just become one of those words we use without definition. In Greek, it's quite unambigous. Mathetes is related to the verb manthano, which means “I learn,” and it simply means “a learner,” “a pupil,” “a student.” (See how much better sense that understanding makes of Matthew 28:18-20, and John 8:31-32.)

It's a neglected and much-needed metaphor, in my view. How many professed Christians come to church, Sunday after Sunday, mentally and physically prepared to do everything but learn? No pen, no pencil; no laptop, parchment, crayon, stub of coal. More often than I can bear to think, no Bible. They simply come to watch, to observe, perhaps to sing, hopefully to be entertained to some degree — but not to participate, not to catch what they hear, tie it up, make it their own, and do something with it. They feel that their mere bodily presence fulfills all requirements.

So we'd move on a good bit towards the reality of Hebrews 5:11-14 if we stressed that image, that picture, that metaphor, more insistently. But it is not the only metaphor! Is the only goal of a church's function to fill up notebooks, or load heads with facts? Is a pastor doing his job if he develops a vocabulary that only his special students can understand, and develops the atmosphere of a college classroom?

Not at all. The Bible also pictures the church under the metaphors of a body (1 Corinthians 12:12), a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), a temple (Ephesians 2:2), a new man (Ephesians 2:15), a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), and a family (Galatians 6:10) — among others.

In sum: the Bible is a big book, on purpose. In crafting our view of anything, we should take in the whole range of revelation, and not just isolate the bit that strikes us at the moment.