Friday, June 22, 2012

Pyromaniacs: When Bullies Lose a Leader


The Three Stooges, comedy characters from the earlier days of film, were archetypal in their style which, sadly, many have tried in vain to reproduce. However, since Moe, Larry and Curly (the film originals), there have been other troikas of notoriety, some earning the informal designation, “stooges”, though being stooges was not their objective. I am not so certain I am confident using such categorically derisory adjectives for my brothers in the Lord is of good service so I won't, but I must admit that the word stooges comes to mind, at times, when I read Pyromaniacs and observe their antics or in the past when I interacted with them as a commenter at the blog (which I decided a few months ago to no longer do).

Though they do not qualify as quintessential internet Christian bullies, they can adequately be described as possessing much of the flavor of bullies, hence a brand of such a sort. This does not mean they are wrong on all their points, sometimes they are quite right, but still they behave like Romper Room tyrants too frequently. And it does not take someone very long to draw the conclusion,  after investing common trust in attempting to dialog with Pyromaniacs, that either you imitate their sycophantic style and exalt them or you are faced with the tactics of children who take their ball and go home because they insist on preeminence. Anything which threatens their constructed online illusion of being the “smartest one in the room” is a threat they need to eliminate with whatever tactic is on hand. It is their little heaven on earth, I suppose, and they don’t want anyone coming along and showing them that there are mountains all around them. In their mind, five feet off the ground must be seen as the highest perch on earth and they are its triumvirate. Yes, I know, a Monty Python skit comes to mind.

But alas, Phil Johnson is gone; Larry and Curly are left to themselves. Maybe, possibly, but mistakenly, they will try to replace Moe with a Larry or Curly like themselves, not knowing it was Moe whose teats they need and not another acolyte's. So it is time to survey the land for both those who are unfamiliar with this point on the internet globe and those who are.

The Good 

Read their blog, they will tell you all about its goodness and each other's goodness. But for the record they do hold to orthodox Protestant Christian confessions and have articulated, at times, good thoughts. But of course God’s Word does not teach us to end our considerations here, now does it?

The Bad

Piperite sycophants? Yes, that is bad enough. However, they have feigned the courage to take on John Piper a few times, apparently hoping their readers would be impressed that they took him to task for associations with Rick Warren. Yes, laugh out loud because in pretending to take on Piper they ignored his grotesque doctrine of Christian Hedonism (sadly because they believe in it) which has done more damage to sound doctrine than any handshake or platform sharing with Warren could ever do. But let’s look at the Napoleonic Triad individually and understand what was, and is, being served.

Phil Johnson

I do find it somewhat difficult to calculate that a person of alleged significant spiritual and theological contribution to the Evangelical community at large would, still in his prime, sever so comprehensively (Johnson’s own statement)

So: (gladly, with no reluctance whatsoever) I'm officially retiring from blogging, social media, and every other activity that intrudes on things that ought to be the real priorities in the final two decades of a man's life
his ministry to a world outside of his local assembly which, according to one blog he is a “stalwart” voice (as the DBTS blog describes). But the DBTS blog does appears a bit skeptical themselves describing Johnson’s abandonment of this part of his public ministry in stating “Phil’s decision seems to be related to health issues and a desire to focus on his most important ministry”. Interestingly, their choice of words in describing Johnson's decision is (underline mine) “seems to be related” in light of Johnson’s own emphatic statement as to why. Are they not certain? Is there something they believe exists in addition to this? But we must take the man at his word, of course, nevertheless we may also express incertitude.  

Johnson’s claim to fame, as some can be observed expressing, is his association with John MacArthur, a man of no weak constitution and certainly noted for strong, convicting and precise rebukes, admonitions, teachings and instruction from the Bible. Hence, Johnson was given a template of theological and spiritual courage and authority. No doubt, Johnson's editing of MacArthur’s works had a significant impact on Phil. Though I believe John MacArthur has compromised some of his ministry with hyper-Calvinism  Neo-Calvinism and associations with Piper, Mahaney and other transfers of trust, still John MacArthur is a faithful Pastor and committed to many right teachings and principles. So it is understandable that Johnson’s association with MacArthur yielded a courageous and informed lay theologian.

And Johnson began strongly at his blog. Unfortunately, on his own and without the oversight of someone who could monitor his impolitic trends, it became ugly and abusive on too many occasions. And to that end he diminished, to some degree, the MacArthur name, at least in my view.

I can understand his acolytes, Phillips and Turk, and their applicant, Chantry, being rude, indiscreet, abusive, adolescent and so on, with Phillips stepping in to teach his children the good manners (1 Peter 2:12) exampled by MacArthur and then passed on by Johnson to his associates, but it didn’t go that way, it went in the other direction. Johnson’s lesser habits were encouraged and bolstered by the uncultured and unpolished brand of Phillips and the supercilious and astigmatic personality of Turk, whose ridiculous series of “Open Letters” unabashedly paraded spiritually adolescent presumption, and these all aided in bringing it downward, or in the least kept it from rising to its potential.

I can tolerate, as we should, shortcomings in Teachers but significant failures in leadership and deportment while disallowing any contests to the contrary is simply tyranny in its basic form. It is egotism unchecked. And this is what Pyromaniacs became, in the end, on too many days and in too many ways under Johnson’s reign.

I am glad Johnson took on what he did, at times. I am glad he approached some of the things  he did and that he displayed the courage to speak out as he did against the bizarre and simply unexplainable leniency, if not pure indulgence, of The Gospel Coalition (and the like) of persons such as T.D. Jakes and Mark Driscoll. These men are devastating the spiritual condition of many of God’s sheep. As well, I appreciate Johnson’s taking on difficult and controversial doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues. Thank you Mr. Johnson, though I am not confident you will appreciate my thanks here noting what has been said thus far.

However, you failed to lead in a most important manner, by example. You failed to temper yourself and your juniors who now believe their intemperate and bellicose style, which they attempt to pass off as “polemics”, is a good thing. Though we all cross boundaries with exuberance leading the way, such foibles should not be excused, justified or worse, imagined as virtues.They are children without a father, now, and unwise in so many ways in which you know better. You did not leave it better than it was when founded.

Dan Phillips

Dan Phillips was once a Christian blogger who wished to hit the big time. He wanted a big audience. His blog, which he still manages, is called Biblical Christianity. Yes, its pretension as a blog title is a bit amusing. I can imagine Dan sitting around when Blogger opened its doors and with Phillips rushing in to quickly claim the title “Biblical Christianity” for his blog so that everyone would immediately understand he is the proprietor of Biblical Christianity,  thus the followers would come. How could anyone resist? You know, just like in the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come” (often misquoted as “they will come”). Dan’s field of dreams, it was. That didn't happen. In fact, Dan readily conveys his frustration at his “hit count” early on at his blog in his Pyromaniac farewell to Johnson:

I've often told the story about how I got The Email That — to use a florid but accurate phrase — Changed My Life. It popped up in my Inbox on January 19, 2006. Ironically, I had actually emailed Phil (not sure whether he knew me from Adam, or Jay Adams, for that matter) about the fact that I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere in my blogging. I had a couple of hundred visitors a day, I think, and just wasn't penetrating, wasn't getting anywhere, wasn't making a dent.

It is inherent in those with the spiritual teaching gift to wish to teach. They are compelled. And Dan does have the teaching gift so he is spiritually compelled, that is not just understandable but to be expected.  However, spiritual Teachers are instructed to curtail their personal ambition and quest for notoriety. And as a Teacher, the gift, itself, is not sufficient to be either a Teacher at-large or specifically, one in a local assembly, or both. It must be accompanied by certain personal elements of deportment and maturity, self-restraint, excellent self-expression and a general quality of spiritual poise and advancement. 

Phillips is, by all means, eager and gifted but impetuous and perilous with regard to the example he sets, as I have observed. He, like the others, shares the incapacitation for dialoging without controlling the thermostat. He, like his companions, are poor guests and unpredictable hosts. He is not known to venture, for too long, into the dens of those he understands as those to whom he may lose in a debate.  That is because, again as I have observed, debate for Phillips is not about seeking and testing truth, rather about winning arguments and posturing. This is an unhealthy example.

Many bloggers welcome anyone to comment, no matter the opposition, other than gratuitous vulgarity. But even vulgarity I can tolerate if it contains a point to which I may learn, respond or possibly enlighten an otherwise misguided soul or even to use such errant comments as a demonstration of the deficiency of the commenter to readers. There is no need to invest one's ego in such matters.

But Dan, to me, manifests that he has a deeply invested ego. One of example was the concern of his book sales, so much so that at every turn he could not stop pitching them, much like a carnival barker begging for patrons. Rather unbecoming.

One can benefit from a bit of insight into Dan Phillips' personality as abundantly revealed online. I see Dan as a dependent personality, narcissistic and the most childlike of the three Pyromaniacs and their moon, Tom Chantry. When John MacArthur endorsed Phillips’ book, The World-Tilting Gospel here is how Phillips responded:

Plus, you have blessed me by showing me great personal kindness by (A) even looking at, much less (B) endorsing my literary firstborn. I shall never forget that kindness, as long as I can rub two neurons together and raise a spark.

Now that you have preached through the NT, your church (and we onlookers) are eager to learn where you'll launch next. Would you consider a suggestion from a face in the crowd?

Preach Proverbs. All of it.

I see you as a man of Caleb's spirit, though not yet of his years. (You already know where I'm going with this.) When in his mid-eighties, Caleb did not seek a retirement villa. He wanted to take the hill country. I am certain that you are of the same mind: you will aim for the hill country.

Well, sir, that's Proverbs. I don't know offhand of anyone who has preached through the book in its entirety. I think you could serve the church well by taking your literal, Christ-centered hermeneutic, and showing how the rubber meets the road in preaching Proverbs. It's ripe, it's unplowed field, and it's waiting for someone of your caliber. Lady Wisdom still cries in the streets for hearers and for an effective spokesman ( Well, sir, that's Proverbs. I don't know offhand of anyone who has preached through the book in its entirety. I think you could serve the church well by taking your literal, Christ-centered hermeneutic, and showing how the rubber meets the road in preaching Proverbs. It's ripe, it's unplowed field, and it's waiting for someone of your caliber. Lady Wisdom still cries in the streets for hearers and for an effective spokesman (Prov. 1:20-33). Might that person be you?

It is clear that through Phil Johnson, Dan Phillips was given the mild attention of John MacArthur, enough that MacArthur would provide a brief but very generic endorsement of Dan’s book. Knowing someone has its advantages, this is not to be decried. But to Phillips, he now imagines that such a rudimentary recommendation from MacArthur should propel him to propose to MacArthur, the Teacher over whom he fawns, that which MacArthur should consider preaching.  Instead of simply appreciating the general favor, Phillips engages in a narcissistic exercise where he believes this courtesy of MacArthur’s is a stage upon which to practice audacity. 

But observe, still yet, something else. Did you see it? That is right, the ridiculous statement by Phillips to MacArthur about preaching through Proverbs:

“I don't know offhand of anyone who has preached through the book in its entirety. I think you could serve the church well by taking your literal, Christ-centered hermeneutic, and showing how the rubber meets the road in preaching Proverbs. It's ripe, it's unplowed field, and it's waiting for someone of your caliber.

Before making a suggesting to John MacArthur and assuming you have his audience beyond a polite gesture of a mild book endorsement, it would be wise if not imperative for Phillips to investigate whether or not someone has, indeed, preached through or written a commentary on the entire book of Proverbs instead of saying “offhand” he doesn’t know if anyone has done so and then recommend John MacArthur do this. Isn't John MacArthur worth a little research and consideration before making presumptive suggestions as to what he should or should not teach? But to the point, though Phillips is correct that it is a ripe field, since all of God’s Word is, he should know it has been plowed more than once. But just in case here is a suggestion, Proverbs - Concordia Commentary, by Andrew E. Steinmann, Ph.D.

But what this reveals is the self-absorbed world of Phillips, a kind of infantile preoccupation with all things Phillips. Instead of thanking MacArthur and leaving it at that, his ego must insert itself and suggest to his admitted better what he should be doing. This is an arrogance complex or simply stated, narcissism. Did all the years of experience of MacArthur and the degree of exposure to other materials MacArthur has had, including Proverbial works and commentaries, even dawn on Phillips in making this suggestion? Apparently not.

But this helps explain how and why he operates as a bully at Pyromaniacs. It is about Dan Phillips, not necessarily the truth. Allow me to contrast it with The Gospel Coalition blog. I don’t care for their intramural set-up since their platform is quite broad and includes tolerance of heretical forms, but if you comment there you are quite free to comment with vigorous disagreement and rarely does one get banned, never mind threatened as often is the case with Pyromaniacs.

Why?

Because, in spite of its short-comings, The Gospel Coalition blog does practice what it claims, this is a desire for the truth which may come in the form of challenges to its product. Egos, to its praise - in this context- are restrained.

Finally, you will understand Dan Phillips’ personality and the whys of his online practices in examining his approach toward Johnson, Pyromaniacs’ long time but apparently now retired, pilot. In his farewell post to Johnson, Phillips writes:

So let's get back to the singularity that is Phil as a blogger. There simply is no one blogging who does what he has done, let alone do it as well as he. I am not saying there aren't great and valuable bloggers. But there simply isn't anyone who combines Phil's sharp wit, his humor, his robust jocularity, his directness, his clarity, his steady ability to keep first things first, and his ability to cut directly to the heart of the matter memorably and forcefully.

Elitist blogs pretend not to see him, but they do, and we all know it. The errant and erring pretend not to know who he is, but they do, and we all know it. We all laughed at Frank's absolutely hysterical video — but, you know, I laughed and winced at the start. Things will happen, those who should know better will say idiotic and  harmful things, and those who should speak up will remain silent.

Do you, again, see what is preeminent in Dan Phillips’ mind? The attention of others. He complains about Pyromaniacs not being acknowledged by “elitist blogs”. Does this really matter? No. In fact, it makes no sense. Why would he want the attention of elitists with which he apparently has a beef and views them with disapproval? Would they suddenly not be elitist if they had given Johnson or Pyromaniacs the attention Phillips seems to insist has been earned? For all the complaining and crying about people building kingdoms for themselves, Phillips unwittingly, with his own words, demonstrate this to be one of his objectives.

Secondly, notice the ridiculous superlatives he heaps on Johnson. He states:

There simply is no one blogging who does what he has done, let alone do it as well as he...But there simply isn't anyone who combines Phil's sharp wit, his humor, his robust jocularity, his directness, his clarity, his steady ability to keep first things first, and his ability to cut directly to the heart of the matter memorably and forcefully.

This is what is called sycophantism. It is exaggeration and excess which comes from the mind of someone possessed by an immature perspective because for Dan Phillips, the world and its reality, as demonstrated here,  is about all that he knows and experiences and anything outside of that consideration is subordinate. Yes, Johnson has hit some high notes in his Christian blogging here and there, but claims of peerless performance is simply the foolish evaluation of an acolyte who must enlarge the image of a father figure to the measure of absurdity in order to continue self-validating beliefs and practices.

Frank Turk

Once referred to as “The Eddie Haskell of Pastoral Trouble-Making” Turk models himself, in my view,  with a particular semi-eccentric touch which seems to encourage in himself the view that he is placed outside of the common and well within the novel, at least so he dissembles. Now mind you, he is creative and I suspect a smidgen above average on the IQ. scale, so in this present world that is about all it takes to pass one’s self off as special which sometimes gives rise to the assumed license for exceptional rules of behavior or engagement (it doesn’t, in reality, and certainly not for the Christian, but let’s ignore that little inconvenience, shall we?)

Unfortunately, Eddie Haskell is a television character whose template we ought not to follow and I can promise you, having met Ken Osmond, the actor who played Eddie Haskell, you can be assured he has never sought to embody any of the stagnated adolescence of the Haskell character, which seems to be something Mr. Turk failed to have passed on to him in forming his persona. The rhetorical device of satire and sarcasm and its use is telling. For the adult it is used with discretion and accuracy and with the adolescent it is used aggressively and often as if it is endemic to the person -all day every day. Mr. Turk appears to prefer the latter.

Yes, we can even be ornery at times but as a mainstay of our modus operandi, it is juvenile, thus immodest and unbecoming of someone who wishes to have the ears of learners or to be taken seriously. With Turk it is like a man who waxes between adulthood and then to a teenager who learned a few jujitsu moves and now practices them quite regularly as a remedy for all problems. He is forever Batman and never a Gardner. Always Eric Cartman and never Hobbes.

But what Turk gave as a contribution in a most negative way , which more than underscored but established his defection from modesty, was his absurd attempt at “Open Letters”. An open letter, now and then, is acceptable and a socially ratified way of addressing public issues or concerns. But they are to come in limited numbers. For Turk, this idea was not one to be restrained by humility or modesty but one in which to recklessly indulge himself so they became obnoxiously self-serving and tediously alliterative.  An open letter for each week of an entire year. And eventually some voices in the blogosphere admonished Turk for this.

It is essential to understand that it requires a rather high degree of egotistical posturing that leads someone to imagine themselves in sufficient a place to write open letters of a directive nature, to leading Christian men and women at large, and in mass. This comes from what is commonly called megalomania. It is egotistically based spiritual grandiosity.

If you are not following me, the “Open Letters” were a year-long endeavor by Turk to write an open letter to some issue, personality or Teacher, most often in the body of Christ, who was large enough to have made a blip on Turk's radar whom he determined warranted his personal direction, whether it be praise or correction and admonition or both. The very sad closing to this project was Frank Turk’s attempt to justify his unbridled egotistical excursion by creating a narrative about Paul’s letter to Philemon as synonymous with an open letter, such as Turk’s series. It was laughable but sad.

I took Turk on in the comments section only to have Phillips and Turk remove the comments I made which exposed the lunacy of Turk’s rationalistic and pubescent attempt to defend the indefensible. Ultimately, my responses were so deft that I was given an additional rule for commenting by Phillips which required me to say what I had to say in far less words than anyone else or I would be banned.

They simply could not take it. They were caught and the only way for them to free themselves was to cheat. And I certainly was not alone in exposing this fraudulent exercise. But I understood, by then, that this was Pyromaniacs’ unstated policy. I was amused. And I knew, one day, such antics would grow to the point of the blog losing its goodwill and being left only to a choir of sycophantic echoing fans.

Pyromaniacs in the Future

I must say, again, that it is not surprising to see Johnson depart from a stage that is, in the least, desperately in need of repairs, but probably simply one that is facing its Peter Principle. It has risen to its level of incompetence. It can go no further without the needed remedies.

Why do I read them? The same reason I read everything, to inform myself at various levels. They aren’t so horrible with information, though often careless, that at times they cannot be informative. And there are occasions in which I can be edified though they are serving food from ditch on too many days. The smell and taste of what should be concentrated clarity is marred by self-aggrandizement.

They are bullies on too many days. Not because they take on issues but because they cannot withstand cross-examination. Bullies have to be in control, always. And of course bullies always throw up their hands and say, “What, what? Where? Show me.” As if they are willing to listen. Well, maybe someone finally sat up, payed attention and listened and saw something they did not like.

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Teach Your Children about God and His Word

The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 11 is worth concentration for an extended period but pertinent to the title is this section which reveals that God is indeed the God of practicality and reality. How is it we are to transfer to our children the seriousness of God and His Word? Of all the ways many Christians attempt to influence their children within the church, here is a prescription from God which challenges all of our ecclesiastical youth oriented dog and pony shows:
19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up... 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
God is not prescribing magic, cleverness or zippity-zappity soul patch bohemian Jesus coolness, God is prescribing a way of life. Maybe in all your business to get your children into the hands of other people to convince them God is true, you have failed to do the very thing you should be doing most. But maybe that is because you really aren't all that interested in talking about God all the time because you don't have him on your mind enough to talk about God's Word or God Himself when you sit at home or when you walk along the road (or drive your car) because you are always preoccupied with other things.

You want to teach your children about God and His Word? Do this, first and foremost because if you are not doing this then all the effort of people, other than you-the parent-, is undone by your apathy and fortuitous example.