Sunday, July 26, 2015

On original writing

Good, original writing is difficult to come by. I think you know what I mean by "good".  Although the adjective is subjective, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all, and sometimes, like a good wine, writing takes time to become good even if it is deemed dull and not worth a second glance at first pass by the critics, overall you get my meaning.

Original, on the other hand, may take some explaining.  Anyone can write something truly horrid and still be original.   By original I don't mean to say that it is completely foreign to the history of writing. Perhaps the first writings ever could be called somewhat original, but even in that case the thoughts themselves most likely were not. No, by original I mean the same thing a wine taster (wine appears to be an apropos analogy when it comes to writing) might mean when he notes a wine as being original.  How can it be?  Wine is simply grape juice fermented over time in a cask. Yet just the right mixture of various factors such as location, temperature, time, etc. make a mostly banal list of ingredients into something original and praiseworthy.  The same can be said of original writing.  An author takes in life experiences, including the writings of others, lets them ferment for a while in their "cask" and if everything is just right the outcome can be very original and refreshing.

I've read writings by others that have been more an anthology of other writers than original thought of their own.  The book is full of quotes and footnotes and although the arrangement and commentary can be interesting, the writing can hardly be said to be original unless the author completely misrepresents the people they are quoting (which happens surprisingly often these days). Clearly in the case of biographies and anthologies I doubt people are really looking for original thoughts.  They want to know the thoughts behind the character or characters being written about and not necessarily those of the biographer or compiler of the anthology.  But I'm not really talking about that here. And it is true that a bio (although I don't think I can say the same for anthologies) can be original of presented in a certain light.  But this is tricky and often times results in something original and false. However, I think it is clear that that is not what I am meaning when I use the word original.

In the case of original writing quotes can be good if, like spices on a good meal, they are used to enhance the flavor not change it.  However I suspect many times people quote others because they themselves have very little in the way of original thought themselves.  Or, perhaps, they feel compelled to include quotes because they are afraid their writings lack authenticity otherwise.  That somehow the critics and the reading public will not take them seriously unless they do so.  That they don't have the strength to stand on their own literary two feet.  And the may be correct in some sense. How often do I see a book written by a "nobody" endorsed by a number of nobodies.  The endorsements make no real difference and adds nothing to the work.  But publishers and writers alike know that by self-endorsing (i.e., getting someone else to toot your horn) they have a better chance of selling the book.  Note, I didn't say "read" but "sell".  Selling is, unfortunately, the end game for most publishers and not a few writers (I would snark here a bit by suggesting such are not real writers, but that's not the purpose of this post, so I'll shut up now on that matter).

When I read an original writing, no matter what media form it is in, I mean that it consists of the thoughts of this writer that are purely from their own mind.  Even if the base ingredients are not, these they write from have been processed, fermented, percolated, churned, mixed, dissembled and reassembled and have truly become their own.  They own these thoughts and now they are presenting them in their own unique setting.  They are fresh and their originality is refreshing.

These sorts of writings don't come along often.  One reason is that we miss them.  They may seem so odd and counter-cultural, so antithetical to our perception of reality, so anarchic to acceptable procedure, that we dismiss them out of hand.  Another reason is that people typically lack the patience to allow these thoughts to form.  It take time and effort to let all the ingredients do their thing inside of our heads.  Many writers are chomping at the bit to express their opinions to the whole wide world that they blurt it all out before the real work is done.  They vomit instead of digest (much like this post).

Original writing comes at a cost both to the writer and to the reader.  The writer must be ready to both allow the time necessary for the ingredients to coalesce into a final product for real consumption and the reader must be ready to take each work at face value and think outside the box for a little while.  Take each writing and set aside prejudices and preconceptions for a moment in order to hear the writer speak for himself or herself.   This doesn't mean you don't pick those things back up again or that you read completely devoid of a moral framework or personal-historic setting, but only that you give the writer a chance to speak without immediately being shot down as uninspiring and unoriginal (as critics are wont to do).

Perhaps I should rephrase what I said earlier about the rarity of original writing.  Perhaps it is best to say original writing is rare because it comes with a rather high price tag both for the writer and the reader.  I think I'll leave it at that.









Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Please...hush!

I just read one more of those, “Let me tell you what a great calvinist I was and all the [famous, superstar, big name, author, leader] calvinists I know or rubbed shoulders with or am related to, but I saw the light and [grew up, moved on, got saved] so you should listen to me”.   Get this: I could care less who you know, what you’ve done or where you’ve been.  If what you are believing is [unbiblical, anti-God, false, heretical] everything else you might have said concerning your relationship with God or your council as to my relationship with God means so very little.  So please just stop talking.  You weary me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cart before the horse

I'm not sure what caused it or the whole procedure of it; perhaps the cart was set before the horse or maybe it is simply a wrong headed reaction to a bad situation.  Either way it is all wrong.  The church has gotten into its head that works are more important than good and right theology.  It may seem strange to some, but the church has always done good works more or less.  Take a look at how many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after saints or run by church or para-church organizations.

Now I won't argue that the church could be doing more good works, but it shouldn't be assumed she has never done or is not now doing them.  Good theology without good works isn't merely dead theology but bad theology.  On the other hand bad theology with good works is mere activity and will save no one. Salvation, the spreading of the gospel, is the first work of the church here on earth. Without that we are worse than nothing for we have the truth which has been vouchsafed to us and we are hiding it from the world.

The church must take her responsibility to teach true doctrine about the one true God to the sheep, making sure they understand it well and put it into practice. She has all but set aside this emphasis for a show of it to those they think are watching.  She entertains and focuses on being culturally relevant while her lack of teaching correct, biblical doctrine makes here wholly irrelevant.  But this is what the world really wants.  As long as we keep our mouths shut or, at least, sound like we are agreeing with the world, we are left alone.  We are not a threat so the world and the enemy will not soon bother with us.  But give me one prophet who can't keep his mouth shut and a crucifixion is sure to be on the program.

This teaching is the responsibility of everyone, but especially leaders.  And not just the elders of the church but also the fathers or, if the father is unavailable, the mothers or grandparents or guardians. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 God commanded the Israelites:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

and

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

(Deuteronomy 11:19 ESV)

The Bible is full of the results of Israel's failure to do this.  And likewise the church, who equally has a mandate to teach God's commandments, has demonstrated abundantly the results of our failure in this area.

It is true that faith without works is dead (as I've already agreed to above), but the American mentality is that if one isn't working and doing many things he or she is lazy or somehow lacking in diligence.  Ours is the culture of the workaholic.  And what has it gotten us?  Over ninety-percent of the world's wealth and the most powerful country (read: bully) on the planet and little else of lasting benefit.  Broken homes, psychological disorders, violence, millions of murdered children, a culture spiraling into moral decay unprecedented in history and more.  And the church has followed after the world like the adulterous fool spoken of in Proverbs 7.  But boy is she busy.  So busy and yet the sheep die for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

It is time that all of God's congregations get back to the centrality of the teaching of God's word.  No more topical sermons centered around the cleverness of a good public speaker.  No more movies.  No more pep-talks.  No more concerts on Sunday morning (we get it already; you are a cool church with a really radical band.  But your sheep know nothing about true worship!).  It is time to preach the Word of God and not the opinions of men.  It is time to take a break from all your running to and from and sit at the feet of the Master.  It is time to choose the better part. It is time to get the horse back in front of the cart.


Monday, July 06, 2015

False prophets and false prophecies

[The following article appears here.  It is an important read.  I am currently writing a post along the same lines but haven't finished editing it yet so I'm posting this as a lead-in to some of my thoughts. This post is by John MacArthur and is copyrighted by Grace to You 2015, appears in its entirety, and used with permission.]

Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time

False Prophets and Lying Wonders


Selected Scriptures

Code: B100111
John MacArthur

Have you noticed that no matter how many times charismatic televangelists make outlandish false prophecies, they never lack for followers, and they don't stop claiming the Lord has spoken directly to them?

Benny Hinn, for example, made a series of celebrated prophetic utterances in December of 1989, none of which came true. He confidently told his congregation at the Orlando Christian Center that God had revealed to him Fidel Castro would die sometime in the 1990s; the homosexual community in America would be destroyed by fire before 1995; and a major earthquake would cause havoc on the east coast before the year 2000. He was wrong on all counts, of course.

That did not deter Hinn, who simply kept making bold new false prophecies. At the beginning of the new millennium, he announced to his television audience that a prophetess had informed him Jesus would soon appear physically in some of Hinn's healing meetings. Hinn said he was convinced the prophecy was authentic, and on his April 2, 2000, broadcast, he amplified it with a prophecy of his own: "Now hear this, I am prophesying this! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is about to appear physically in some churches, and some meetings, and to many of His people, for one reason: to tell you He is about to show up! To wake up! Jesus is coming saints!"

Hinn's failed prophesies are more outlandish but nearly as memorable as the notorious claims Oral Roberts began making about three decades ago. In 1977 Roberts said he saw a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus, who instructed him to build the City of Faith, a 60-story hospital in south Tulsa. Roberts said God told him He would use the center to unite medical technology with faith healing, which would revolutionize health care and enable doctors to find a cure for cancer.

The building, completed in the early 1980s, was a colossal white elephant from the very start. When the City of Faith opened for business, all but two stories of the massive structure were completely vacant.

By January of 1987 the project was saddled with unmanageable debt, and Roberts announced that the Lord had said unless Roberts raised eight million dollars to pay the debt by March 1, he would die. Apparently not willing to test the death-threat prophecy, donors dutifully gave Roberts the needed funds in time (with the help of $1.3 million donated at the last hour by a Florida dog-track owner).

But within two years, Roberts was forced to close the medical center anyway and sell the building in order to eliminate still-mounting debt. More than 80 percent of the building had never been occupied. The promised cure for cancer never materialized, either.

A list of similar failed charismatic prophesies could fill several volumes. And yet, amazingly, the "prophets" who make such fantastic claims now appear to have more influence than ever—even among mainstream evangelicals. And the idea that God routinely speaks directly to His people has found more widespread acceptance today than at any time in the history of the church.

The charismatic movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. Its chief legacy has been an unprecedented interest in extrabiblical revelation. Millions influenced by charismatic doctrine are convinced that God speaks to them directly all the time. Indeed, many seem to believe direct revelation is the main means through which God communicates with His people. "The Lord told me ... " has become a favorite cliche of experience-driven evangelicals.

Not all who believe God speaks to them make prophetic pronouncements as outlandish as those broadcast by charismatic televangelists, of course. But they still believe God gives them extrabiblical messages—either through an audible voice, a vision, a voice in their heads, or simply an internal impression. In most cases, their "prophecies" are comparatively trivial. But the difference between them and Benny Hinn's predictions is a difference only of scale, not of substance.

The notion that God is giving extrabiblical messages to Christians today has received support from some surprising sources. Wayne Grudem, popular author and professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary believes God regularly gives Christians prophetic messages by simply bringing spontaneous thoughts to mind. Such impressions should be reported as prophecy, he says.[1]

Similar ideas have found sweeping acceptance even among non-charismatic Christians. Southern Baptists have eagerly devoured Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, which suggests that the main way the Holy Spirit leads believers is by speaking to them directly. According to Blackaby, when God gives an individual a message that pertains to the church, it should be shared with the whole body.[2] As a result, extrabiblical "words from the Lord" are now commonplace even in some Southern Baptist circles.

Why do so many modern Christians seek revelation from God through means other than Scripture? Certainly not because it is a reliable way to discover truth. All sides admit that modern prophecies are often completely erroneous. In fact, the failure rate is astonishingly high. In my book Charismatic Chaos I quoted one leading "prophet" who was thrilled because he believed that two-thirds of his prophecies were accurate. "Well that's better than it's ever been up to now, you know. That's the highest level it's ever been."[3]

In other words, modern prophecy is not a much more reliable way to discern truth than a Magic Eight-Ball or Tarot cards. And, I would add, it is equally superstitious. There is no warrant anywhere in Scripture for Christians to listen for fresh revelation from God beyond what He has already given us in His written Word. In fact, Scripture unsparingly condemns all who speak even one word falsely or presumptuously in the Lord's name (Deut. 18:20-22). But such warnings are simply ignored these days by those who claim to have heard afresh from God.

And not surprisingly, wherever there is a preoccupation with "fresh" prophecy, there is invariably a corresponding neglect of the Scriptures. After all, why be concerned with an ancient Book if the Living God communicates directly with us on a daily basis? These fresh words of "revelation" naturally seem more relevant and more urgent than the familiar words of the Bible. Is it any wonder that they draw people away from Scripture?

That is precisely why modern evangelicalism's infatuation with extrabiblical revelation is so dangerous. It is a return to medieval superstition and a departure from our fundamental conviction that the Bible is our sole, supreme, and sufficient authority for all of life. In other words, it represents a wholesale abandonment of the principle of sola Scriptura.

The absolute sufficiency of Scripture is summed up well in this section from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (1.6, emphasis added).

Historic Protestantism is grounded in the conviction that the canon is closed. No "new" revelation is necessary, because Scripture is complete and absolutely sufficient.

Scripture itself is clear that the day of God's speaking directly to His people through various prophetic words and visions is past. The truth God has revealed in Christ including the complete New Testament canon is His final word (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19).

Scripture—the written Word of God—is perfectly sufficient, containing all the revelation we need. Notice 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul tells Timothy:

From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

That passage makes two very important statements that pertain to the issue we are looking at. First, "All Scripture is inspired by God." Scripture speaks with the authority of God Himself. It is certain; it is reliable; it is true. Jesus Himself prayed in John 17:17: "Your word is truth." Psalm 119:160 says, "The entirety of Your word is truth."

Those statements all set Scripture above every human opinion, every speculation, and every emotional sensation. Scripture alone stands as definitive truth. It speaks with an authority that transcends every other voice.

Second, The passage teaches that Scripture is utterly sufficient, "able to make you wise for salvation ... [and able to make you] complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." What clearer affirmation of the absolute sufficiency of Scripture could anyone ask for? Are extrabiblical messages from God necessary to equip us to glorify Him? Certainly not.

Those who seek fresh messages from God have in effect scorned the absolute certainty and absolute sufficiency of the written Word of God. And they have set in its place their own fallen and fallible imaginations.

If the church does not return to the principle of sola Scriptura, the only revival we will see is a revival of the superstition and darkness that characterized medieval religion.

Does this mean God has stopped speaking? Certainly not, but He speaks today through His Word.

Does the Spirit of God move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly, but He works through the Word of God to do that. Such experi­ences are in no sense prophetic or authoritative. They are not revelation, but the effect of illumination, when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truth. We must guard carefully against allowing our experience and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word.

[1]. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testa­ment and Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988).

[2]. (Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 1990), 168.

[3]. Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 67.