Pyromaniacs

A Nostalgic Post: Revisiting the Pyromaniacs and Some Response and Surprise in regard to Phil Johnson

If you have been following my blogging from the beginning (which my guess is at this point is that hardly anyone of you has — started in 2005) you will recognize the names that are prominent in this post. When I first realized there ever was such a thing as a theoblogosphere (or bibliosphere) one of the first blogs I ran into was Phil Johnson’s (at that point) Pyromaniac blog. As a newly minted seminary grad I felt armed with a knowledge of historical and biblical theology that I thought I could offer a constructive and critical voice for the members of Phil’s community; so I started my commenting career. Mind you, if you don’t know, Phil Johnson is and has been for years, John MacArthur’s executive director for Mac’s Grace To You radio program, as well as MacArthur’s editor for all things published; he also serves as a staff pastor at MacArthur’s church in Sun Valley, CA: Grace Community Church. After maybe a year or so, relative to my time visiting his blog, he expanded his blogging efforts by making his blog a group blog with his friends Frank Turk and Dan Phillips; he renamed it in the plural: Pyromaniacs.

Suffice it to say, they weren’t a fan of me; particularly Frank Turk and Dan Phillips. How do I know this? Because almost everyone of their responses to me was snarky. You see, the Pyromaniacs, along with MacArthur, are ardent Baptistic Spurgeonite 5 Point Calvinists; and of course I’m not! As a result of my training in seminary in the area of historical theology, and the mentorship I’d received under Dr Ron Frost in this area, I’d become aware of the antecedent and informing history of ideas wherein something as reductionistic as 5 Point Calvinism had taken shape—reductionistic in the sense that 5 Point Calvinism is not the full basket of what genuine Reformed theology entails (but it is what shapes the theology of John MacArthur, and indeed, the Pyromaniacs). So I’m still “friends” with Phil Johnson on Facebook, and just today he posted the following.

I was somewhat taken aback. And so I left the following comment to which Phil responded, then I responded; so on and so forth.

But it was this Martin Lloyd Jones point about the role of interpretive tradition that I constantly was banging on in my comments at the Pyromaniacs’ blog; and it was this that mostly Frank Turk, Dan Phillips (less Phil Johnson), and a host of their regular commenters responded to me with vitriol for. Just as I note in my comment to Phil on Facebook, it was the Aristotelian basis of their 5 Point Calvinist theology that I wanted folks to at least recognize as the informing theology in regard to how they were coming to their exegetical conclusions. I wanted the MacArthurites to stop and be critical about their Bible reading and study, and recognize that they weren’t reading ‘pure Bible,’ that they indeed were committed to a particular metaphysic which had real life consequences on their theological and spiritual thinking. I never got an amen from Frank or Dan on that; usually, again, it was always just pure snark.

So when Phil said what he said in his comment to me today—i.e. that it just proves I never understood them—it left me scratching my head. But it was nice to see that at least Phil, in principle, could admit that he has interpretive tradition. Of course he’s convinced his interpretive tradition is completely correlative with what the Bible teaches; but it’s a step in the right direction when any of us can admit we have interpretive tradition operative in our Bible reading and biblical exegesis. So I just wanted to give a kudos to, Phil Johnson for affirming what I so laboriously tried to get across to his comrades so many years ago: Kudos, Phil!

The Gospel According to John MacArthur at The Shepherd’s Conference Summit 2017

When I first started blogging in 2005 one of the first blogs I ran across was, at that point, Phil Johnson’s blog: Pyromaniac. Later, in 2006, Phil Johnson expanded his efforts and turned his blog into a team blog, renamed: Pyromaniacs. This new and improved team blog was staffed by, of course, Phil, but also with his primary compadres: Frank Turk and Dan Phillips. They doubled down on their efforts and produced a blog tour-de-force. If you don’t know, Phil is Executive Director of Grace To You Ministries, and primary editor of all of John MacArthur’s books and publications; johnny-mache is also a staff pastor at MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (Los Angeles County).

I was a recent graduate of Seminary, and Bible College not too long before that. My background is North American evangelical on the “conservative” side of that spectrum; and my formal training and education was steeped in that tradition. But the thing is, for me, I was never a 5 point Calvinist, and in fact I was quite antagonistic towards 5 point Calvinism; particularly of the MacArthurite kind. You see, I also grew up in Southern California (Long Beach, CA), and while MacArthur’s reach is international, the intensity of his reach in Southern California is very deep. I knew people who sat under MacArthur (at his church), or I knew of churches that were impacted by MacArthur’s teaching in heavy ways. More close to home, our home church, for awhile, was split (in 2004) by a Master’s Seminary graduate who we think intentionally came to split our Conservative Baptist church with the “truth” he had recently received from sitting under MacArthur’s teaching and his proxy professors at his seminary. Like I said, I was a recent graduate of seminary, and I found the theoblogosphere. My training, particularly in seminary, had me steeped in historical theology (and NT studies), and so I understood the history of ideas and the church history that funded the theology that MacArthur was pushing; even if he was pushing it in a watered down way.[1]

All of this made me rife for an encounter with these guys, and it ended up happening over and over again; they didn’t like me. I challenged them, primarily on their inability to admit that they read the Bible through interpretive tradition; like we all do! I informed them of what that tradition was, and where many of its themes came from, from within the development of Post Reformed Orthodox theology. They didn’t like that, and would never admit to any of that; that’s because they believe that they approach Scripture on Scripture’s terms alone; that they simply follow what the Bible teaches at the most basest of levels. This type of encounter went on with them for years and years; if you don’t believe me go peruse their comment metas from years past on various posts and you’ll see our exchanges and how they went down.

I supply all of this background information simply to note something that has not changed, not at all. If you’re unaware, MacArthur’s church puts on what they call The Shepherd’s Conference Summit annually; this year’s just kicked off today. It is a conference for pastors of churches from all around the country intended to provide a type of retreat and edification for these pastors; and I would say more negatively, intended to keep many of these pastors indoctrinated with the mood and teaching of John MacArthur. The conference is made up of plenary sessions, break-out sessions, so on and so forth.

Today, guess who?, but Phil Johnson spoke at one of the plenary sessions, he was assigned Galatians 1:6–7, titled No Other Gospel: The True Gospel of Christ. This is right in the wheelhouse of Johnson; he loves this type of passage.[2] I actually listened to his whole talk (in front of 4,500 pastors/men), but I didn’t really have to. You see, Johnson, on his blog, and his cohorts, on their team blog, bandied this passage about as if it was their life proof-text.[3] Basically, the way Johnson&co. use passages like this, particularly Galatians, is justification for being sectarian and calling everyone else out for not actually teaching The Gospel According to Jesus. Remember earlier I noted that they believe they have a singular and simple hold on the genuine teaching of Holy Scripture; that they have the genuine approach and mood that should be associated with presenting the Gospel? Well, to no surprise of mine, Phil stuck to the usual marching orders and called out everyone under the sun—i.e. if they don’t follow the Gospel according to MacArthur&co.—for not necessarily teaching and proclaiming the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ. He called out the hipsters, the academics, the progressives, corporate styled evangelicalism, etc., and asserted, essentially, no one but he and his styled cohorts actually teach the Gospel; in fact he said anyone who does not teach the Gospel the way he does, and MacArthur&co. does, be damned! In other words, he took the mantle of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1 and anathematized every other Christian in the church catholic who does not comport and conform to the 5-point Calvinist Gospel (in idiosyncratic MacArthurite drag) as proclaimed and articulated by the magisterium in Sun Valley, CA. Phil and his cohorts have used passages like we find in Galatians as justification for being sectarian bullies in attitude and act towards fellow believers world-wide for a very long time.

I wanted to note this, not because I haven’t over and over before, but because I haven’t for a long time. You would hope that after some time there might be some sort of enlightenment for folks like MacArthur and Johnson et al., but the reality is there hasn’t been (and me saying this would prove to them that I ought to be damned). They are slavishly and egotistically committed to their idiosyncratic form of Christianity, and they will go down swinging and bludgeoning as many people as possible as they live their ecclesial lives at Grace Community Church. They are intent on indoctrinating as many pastors as they can to ensure this process and self-styled Christianity continues on long after MacArthur moves on; that’s what the Shepherd’s Conference represents to me.

With all of the above said, am I saying that we should not be critical theological thinkers? No, just the opposite! We need to admit that we are all theological, that we all approach Scripture through interpretive tradition, and constantly be willing to test and re-test our exegesis and theological conclusions as we encounter the reality of Scripture, the living Word of God in Christ. This is precisely what you will NOT find in the mood and attitude at any and all of MacArthur’s venues of influence; and unfortunately this Gospel of Sectarianism is being spread far and wide through MacArthur’s reach and exposure. I realize some think it’s minimal, but it really isn’t. The fact that MacArthur has 4,500 pastors at a conference, from all over the country and world should demonstrate otherwise; that’s not to mention the viewing audience online. His impact is actually quite ubiquitous.

Since I believe what MacArthur et al. is communicating is ultimately damaging, I will continue to stand against it, as I can. Not in the ways I used to, but here and there I will post blog posts like this one, just to remind people of who MacArthur&co. are, and to challenge their theological foundations at the core.

 

[1] In other words, MacArthur pushes his “Lordship Salvation,” which is really nothing other than a baptistic styled 5-point Calvinism. His approach, really, is rather idiosyncratic, since he is also a hardcore classical pre-trib dispensationalist. So his approach isn’t even really rooted in the historic confessional Baptist tradition. Nonetheless, he pushes 5-point Calvinism and classical Reformed theology-lite towards his parishioners. Culturally, MacArthur is just a step above, maybe, Independent Baptists; in other words, the culture he has created through his church, seminary, college, and teachings is legalistic and a performance focused Christianity, with a commitment to a nuda Scriptura or solo Scriptura focus on Scripture; versus actual and historical sola Scriptura.

[2] His pastor after all did write a book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus.

[3] Which makes me wonder if Phil was really “assigned” this passage, as he made it sound (like it was random).

An Example of Solo Scriptura Gone Wrong — "Da Gifts"

This post is out of the ordinary for my blog here, it’s a bit “off-topic,” ironically, in regards to the intent of this blog; but I just wanted to offer a response to Dan Phillips, of Pyromaniacs fame. He recently did a series of posts dealing with topics like: New Revelation, spiritual gifts, “hearing from God” today, prophecy, etc. Anyway, I made a comment challenging, by-in-large, the logic and premises of his thought; which he promptly deleted, disallowing any kind of critique of his “forceful” thinking in this area. I thought I would re-present what I originally offered over at the Pyromaniacs site here (basically giving what I gave over at the Pyros, which Dan arbitrarily muted/deleted). So before this post makes any sense, you’ll have to go and read Dan’s thoughts here.

Here’s my comment, bullet-pointed:

  1. Your (Dan’s) premise is unsound because it engages in the argument of the beard (or fails to make a distinction on a continuum of belief). In other words, you fail to offer distinctions between folks who believe that God “speaks” to people’s hearts today, and those who believe that they receive “new revelation” from God today (this also is equivocating the terms).
  2. Your argument is based on an argument from silence; assuming that you’ve made your point, thus there are no other valid alternatives besides those you have supposedly “knocked over.”
  3. You’ve created a false dichotomy (this is related to my first point); meaning that you’ve assumed that either your position is the biblical perspective, or the one you’re arguing against is (this is also straw-manning). What if there are other ways to frame this.
  4. You’ve assumed that a “close canon,” ipso facto establishes your point; again this is shaped by all of the wrong assumptions I’ve just noted in my first three points. Your argument on a closed canon (in fact), I presume, is based on the flimsy thinking typically presented from I Corinthians 13. I agree that the canon is “closed,” de jure (in principle), but not de facto (in fact).

In the end, you have done an injustice to thinking this issue through, and scriptuarally so. To equate folks who believe that God speaks to them from His “Word” today (in applied and sensitive ways, see Jn 14–16), with folks who believe that they receive new revelation from God is just sloppy.

————————————-

That ends the gist of my comment, the one that Dan deleted. I don’t think the Pyros like me (most people over at the Pyros site seem to think that I am too “intellectual,” and thus I am immediately snarky and insincere in my comments — you’ll see that Dan appeals to this in his comment back to me), or instead, like anyone who might actually challenge what they are saying. They can’t handle thinking outside of the box that they have deemed within the boundaries of “Scripture” (their interpretation); and they can’t, apparently, handle the notion that there might be folks who have studied (just like they have) Scripture and Theology, and come to different (and substantial) conclusions that they have.

I entitled this post with the solo scriptura [scripture only] (in contrast to sola scriptura [scripture alone]) nomenclature because, typically, the Pyromaniacs, in general, and Dan in particular, pride themselves on approaching scripture with the “keys,” and apparently without any informing interpretive grids that they just might be reading into Scripture. This has the effect, on their faithful readership, of a magesterial-like authority; that appears to end all discussion with a resounding “LET IT BE SO!”

Phil Johnson Critiquing Robert George and the 'Old Thomism'

This is in response to Phil Johnson of Pyromaniac fame. He recently posted an article, at his blog, on Robert George [Princeton Lawyer, and champion of conservative ethics, also devout Roman Catholic] (one of the signers of the “Manhattan Declaration”); he was offering a scathing critique of George’s usage of “Natural Law.” You can read his “critique” here.

I ended up making a comment on Phil’s article, I said:

Phil,

I agree with your critique of George’s use of reason; but where do you think that comes from? He is, and Rome is, pure and simple Thomist. This dichotomy between Faith and Reason fountain-heads from there.

What I find ironic about your critique is that your sword cuts both ways. I wish the TULIP and its history was as pure and biblical as we are lead to believe; but unfortunately it is not. It’s informing doctrine of God is as thoroughly “Thomist” as George’s ethics and natural law are. So either the “Calvinist” can simply reject what I just said; or accept it, and just remain internally inconsistent when critiques are made of natural law theory.

Just my 2 cents . . .

After a series of comments (of which one of the “Pyros” deleted two of mine), Phil says to me, in a summarizing kind of way:

. . . Moreover, the threads of similarity and realationship between Thomist soteriology and Calvinism are a lot less clear-cut than you imply. That’s only one of several reasons your argument is simplistic and jejune.

But for the umpteenth time, this is not the place to have that discussion. Not only does the above post have nothing to do with Calvinism; it makes no reference to Thomas Aquinas, either. You’re the one that brought him up. I realize he stressed “natural law,” but he didn’t invent the idea, and this post was not making any argument about Aquinas per se.

Incidentally, one of Thomas’s central beliefs, and something he wrote tons of material in defense of, is the doctrine of divine omniscience. Would you suggest that everyone who argues against Open Theism is a “Thomist”? Do you think everyone who accepts the doctrine of divine omniscience is so indebted to Thomas that it would be inconsistent to accept omniscience and yet reject Aquinas’s stress on natural law? Are we obliged to entertain a debate about Thomism in our meta every time a post makes reference to divine omniscience?

That’s essentially the argument you’ve tried to make about Calvinism. It’s silly.

Period.

I’ll clarify one more time: because this post made no reference to either Thomas Aquinas or Calvinism, the debate you want to have is off topic here, and any further reference to it, by anyone–for ANY reason–will result in a ban. (And it will be a permanent ban if the culprit is a repeat offender.)

I want to provide more feedback to this kind of thinking by Phil, but if I do it over there, It will either be deleted and/or I will be banned or both; so I’ll do it from the safety of my own little cyber-space.

It is severly naive to think that the TULIP and the ethics of Robert George have nothing to do with eachother; and yet this is exactly what Phil believes. It is naive because both start, methodologically, with a Doctrine of God that is Thomist (viz. a doctrine of God that construes God as the ‘unmoved mover’ or a ‘Monadic singularity’ from whence the persons of the Trinity ‘subsist’). It is this vision of God that strings reality together in a series of analogical connections; so that all of reality finally finds its cause in the “First cause” God (we can analogically work our way, through ‘reason’ by ‘perfecting grace’ through a series of links that ultimately get us to this God — i.e. start with man, move to Angels, move to God). It is this doctrine of God that allows for the appeal to “Natural Law” that George makes (an inseparably related dichotomy between ‘faith and reason’); and at the same time allows for a TULIP’ist to appeal to the notion that God died for a limited amount of people known as the elect.

Let me explain: Both the “natural lawist” and the “TULIP’ist” assume on this split between “nature and grace;” so that nature predicates grace (or man somehow predicates who God is), at least this is the unwanted implication. The Thomist sees this dilemma, so they appeal to Aristotle’s causation, which allows them to speak of primary and secondary causation; more popularly known as “decrees.”

When applied to George’s Thomist ethics, this means that he can appeal to “Natural Law” because it is something that fits within a Thomist world of “secondary causation.” God is the primary cause, but He has so created that nature has the ability to act “freely” within itself — according to itself — because of this man has the appitude within himself to know right from wrong by simply looking at nature. What this does, though, is assume on a split between nature and grace so that God is seen as the primary cause, and ethics are seen as the result of man reflecting upon observations of nature (which is a result of secondary causation, not directly associated with God — God remains untouched by nature).

Similarly, the TULIP’ist, like Phil Johnson represents, when thinking through the logic of the TULIP also appeals to this aforementioned split between nature and grace. For him, he believes that God ‘unconditionally elected’ a particular group of people to ‘save’ and die for (limited atonement); and that this choice is based within God’s decree (secondary cause). This belief places a wedge between nature and grace by assuming the Aristotelian notion that ‘God’ is an unmoved mover who cannot be touched by His creation (if so He has been moved by someone/thing other than Himself). The problem is, is that in this framework, God in Christ, then becomes subserviant to His decrees when He becomes man in the Incarnation. This means that something/one other than Himself (nature — secondary cause) has dictated how or who He should be; and that is apart from His own self-determined person.

The similarity between both George and Johnson’s approaches is in their respective ‘Doctrine of God’. They both work out of the notion that God is the ‘unmoved mover’ (even if Phil denies it, this is the history and framework that has given birth to the TULIP). They both assume that God works through ‘secondary causes’. Thus they both assume that God is predicated to be who He is by nature — thus they make God ‘contingent’ upon His creation; whether that be in the realm of ethics (George), or in the realm of soteriology (Johnson).

For Phil to say that my points on his critique of George were simple and jejune is simply to admit that he is either unaware of the facts; or he is aware, and simply chooses to ignore them in order to maintain a modicum of ‘biblicism’ when in fact what is really being maintained is a ‘Thomist’ doctrine of God in the name of ‘biblicism’ (which is even worse).