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.


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.”