Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Dan Phillips

This is the first in a new series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Dan Phillips and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
DP: Greetings, Guy, and thanks. I feel welcome! I'm a hopeless sinner saved in Christ by God's grace alone. I needed His grace in eternity when He chose His own, I needed it when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to my desperate need for Christ in 1973, and I need it all the more today and every day. Thank God for His mercy, shown at Calvary. My dear wife is the amazing Valerie, our four children are Rachael, Matthew, Josiah, and Jonathan. My Master of Divinity in Old Testament came from Talbot Theological Seminary. I've had the joy of teaching in various seminaries and Bible colleges or institutes, and have pastored three churches. Currently I'm between pastorates, looking for fulltime ministry of the Word. I'm also hard at work on my first book. (I've a contract with American publisher David C. Cook.)
My dear family aside, life's greatest joy for me is digging into the Word, and opening up its treasures for others to see for themselves.

GD: Your blog is called Biblical Christianity. What made you start blogging?
DP: Since the day I was saved I've looked for ways to get the Word out. God has blessed me in written and spoken communication. From the early 1990's, I've used the internet any way I can to try to make Christ and His Word the issue, using news groups, message boards, and then my own web site (http://www.bibchr.com/ — very low-tech!). I first heard of blogging through an American radio talk show host named Hugh Hewitt, who was making a lot of the potential of blogs for self-expression and connection.I wasn't so much interested in self-expression as I was in a more effective way to communicate the Word, in its application to all of life. So, in November of 2004, I sallied forth. Now that I blog at Pyromaniacs, my own blog is a bit more far-ranging, while Pyro is almost without exception Biblically oriented. An astute reader said the latter is like hearing a pastor teach and preach, the former is like being able to "hang around" with a pastor and chat about a variety of things. Sort of cyber-"Table Talks."

GD: As you mentioned, you are also part of the Pyromaniacs team blog. How did you get involved there?
DP: Started as a big fan of Phil Johnson; I'm still that! I had known of Phil's Spurgeon blog, and his bookmarks. Then someone put me on to his Pyromaniac (singular) blog. I loved Phil's crisp, clear, mature way of writing, coupled with his bright mind and razor-sharp wit. Reading him was refreshing, theologically educational, informative, sharpening — and I virtually always agreed. I started commenting on his posts. Sometimes I tag-teamed, taking up a topic and developing it on my blog. It actually went back and forth that way.One day, to my lasting astonishment, Phil wrote that he was about to start a team-blog, and asked me to join up.Honestly, I feared he had me mixed up with another "Dan." I was afraid to answer... but shortly I did. If it was a mistake, he's been gracious enough not to say anything for the past three years. For which I'm thankful!

GD: So, yourself, Frank Turk, and Peccadillo are real people, not expressions of Phil Johnson's multiple personality disorder?
DP: I'm not a psychologist, but I can say that Frank is surreal, Pec is really scary, and I am really old.

GD: So you don't emphatically deny my multiple personality theory. Interesting. Now, the best thing about Pyromaniacs is the nice graphics. I just make do with stuff from Google Images. How does Phil create all that snazzy artwork?
DP: There it is again: "I like the pictures best." Perhaps we should do a month of graphics only?Seriously, I agree: what Phil does is amazing. The Po-Motivators are genius. As to the blog, if it has a Pyro logo in it in my posts, it's Phil; I gather the others. Frank also is a handy graphics dude. Frank loves Gimp. Phil uses Photoshop and something else. I own Photoshop, but haven't learned to use it yet.

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological discussion?
DP: Paul would either have blogged, or asked one of his apprentices to blog. I'm convinced of it. That is one of the apostle's characteristics I admire most: he used everything he had, for all it was worth and all he was worth, to get out the Word. Synagogue kick you out? No problem; rent a school hall. Go to the center of commerce and communication. Write letters, raise it to an art form.A great strength of blogging is that folks like you and me can open up the Word, unedited and uncensored, to the entire online world. On my own blog, I have visitors from every continent except Antarctica — including Islamic countries, China, India, places I will likely never visit. I can't go to them, but they come to me. Anyone can say anything.
Which is also the weakness: anyone can say anything. Crackpots and cultists of all varieties can make a pretty blog and pedal their goods. So there is great need for discernment.But if you ask me whether I prefer a free medium such as it is today, or one policed and controlled by some government agency — I'll take freedom, without hesitation, and I'll ask God to help me make the most of it.

GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
DP: If this doesn't sound too pretentious, I sincerely hope the Bible has. What converted me was the Spirit's opening my eyes to Jesus as He is in the Gospels, and specifically to John 14:6, against the backdrop of my own deep conviction of sin. Every major formation in my theology has come from interaction with the text of Scripture.
But I've had teachers to whom I'm forever indebted. J. Gresham Machen had a strong impact that has lasted over thirty years and counting, particularly his What Is Faith? Cornelius van Til's The Defense of the Faith had a major influence on my worldview and apologetics, as well as my degree of Calvinicity. John Owen's Death of Death hammered me flat on the subject of particular redemption; I have never yet seen an effective response to his painstaking, meticulous, strike by stroke argument. Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God showed me the sufficiency of Scripture for life's decisions; Jay Adams' Competent to Counsel its sufficiency for personal and relational issues. We'll talk about Spurgeon later.
That's really just for starters!

GD: What with the "Young, Restless and Reformed" thing and Calvinism making it big in Time Magazine, its seems that there is something of a resurgence of the Reformed faith in the USA. What factors under God have lead to this Calvinistic renewal in the States?
DP: Part of it is that God has raised up and blessed a diverse lot of godly men who love Him and His word, and communicate it effectively. Each has opened up new groups of disciples to the doctrines of grace, groups which had otherwise been closed. Calvinism is no longer seen as a Presbyterian doctrine. John Piper and Mark Dever and Al Mohler and Tom Ascol reach Baptist audiences with the sovereign grace of God, John MacArthur reaches dispensationalists and the more independent, baptistic-minded. Mahaney similarly reaches charismatics. Plus these men are willing to partner and minister together in ways that show that no single denomination or confession "owns" the truths of God's sovereignty in salvation.
I think that's key. I vividly remember how shocked, and even horrified I was the first time I heard straight-up Calvinism. It sounded like flat-out heresy, to someone who defined the Gospel by the Four Spiritual Laws. But that was Charles Spurgeon, and I thought well of him. Then I found out Packer was one, too.
It helps when you find that what strikes you as odd and offensive is held by someone you already trust, like a MacArthur, or a Begg, or a Sproul, or a Packer, or a Piper. You're likelier to give it a listen, a second look. And so I think God has used these men to get American Christians to look afresh at Scripture, and hear it speak more clearly of the mighty and invincible God revealed in its pages.

GD: All you Pryo guys seem to be big Spurgeonistas. Some of you even have Spurgeonic whiskers. What do you find so helpful about the great man's life and ministry?
DP: I love Spurgeon because he is like a beggar who has happened onto a vast fortune, and delights in plunging his hands deep into the piles of gold coins, then letting them run and tinkle between his fingers for all to see and marvel — and he bids us come, dig in deep, and take to our heart's delight. Only it isn't gold, it's better. It's the riches of Christ, the glories of God's redeeming faithfulness, His condescending love, His precious promises. No one shows Christ as lovelier, nor God's grace as richer, than does Spurgeon.
But even more, Spurgeon reaches me because it isn't theory to him, it isn't interesting doctrine or textbook cures he's reading off. I think some pastors read a passage, and think, "That's really interesting! What great ideas! I'm really excited about teaching and explaining those concepts, and refuting error with them!"
Not Spurgeon. Scripture was life to him, as well as truth. He knew dark sorrow and trial, hatred and persecution, frightful depression. He had to run to the cabinet and find healing for his own wounds. What he holds out to me, he has tried first, and found more than sufficient. He knows the darkness I've known, and he's found light, and he points the way. His preaching is not only true; it rings true.
His sermons and writings have been a balm to my soul more times than I can say.

GD: News of Mark Driscoll is beginning to waft across the Pond. What do you make of his ministry? Should we smile benignly at his antics or frown in holy horror?
DP: Oh, dear. That's a sticky subject. I'd say "proceed with caution, if at all." True, the tree is large, and has lustrous, shiny fruit. But look closer: the fruit has spots and marks that alarm me.

GD: You recently wrote, "All of the coolest guys are amillennial". Thanks for that. But John MacArthur once had the cheek to claim that "All self respecting Calvinists are premillenial." What has Plymouth (home of J. N. Darby) got to do with Geneva?
DP: You're very welcome. It doesn't get much cooler than Calvin and all. But then again, we've got Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the apostle John... not a shabby crowd, either.
Did MacArthur say "Are," or "Should be"? Regardless — being no MacArthur student — I answer for myself.

Why am I a Christian? I was in a mind-science cult as a teen, which taught a spiritualizing, allegorizing approach to Scripture that sought a "deeper [read: "alien"] meaning" behind every text. A large factor in my conversion was when the Holy Spirit would not let me get past John 14:6 until I had dealt with Jesus' actual words, and asked myself, "If He had meant to say what they words seem to mean, could He have said it more clearly?" The answer was "No." Jesus really was the one and only way, truth, and life; the one and only way to a relationship with God. The ordinary, common, grammatico-historical sense of the words of Scripture — carrying the meaning to writer/speaker and readers/hearers — was the means of my salvation.
Why am I a Calvinist? I was a sloshy Calminian. But I became convinced that, when Paul said we were dead, that we were blind, that none seeks God, that we naturally hate God and lack the ability to submit to His word, that we were slaves to sin, he meant exactly what he wrote. That when Christ said none has the ability to come to Him unless drawn by the Father, and that all of those so drawn will come, He meant exactly what He said. That when Paul said Christ came to save sinners, and not merely to provide them with the opportunity to get themselves saved, he meant exactly what he wrote. The ordinary, common, grammatico-historical sense of the words of Scripture — carrying the meaning to writer/speaker and readers/hearers — was the means of my becoming a convinced Calvinist.
But then the same people who would argue right in line with both of those previous 2 paragraphs turn around and tell me, "Yes, but you see, when that same Christ and those same apostles and prophets talk about future conversion and vindication and restoration of and blessing and ministry for Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem, you have to understand that those words mean something that none of the writers, and none of the readers, would ever have taken them to mean. Those verses do not mean exactly what they say! Though, on the other hand, when those same writers speak of judgment and rejection and misery for Israel and Judah and Jerusalem, those verses do mean exactly what they say."
When they do that, though they are my betters in a great many ways, I must demur.
And so, I am a dispensationalist for exactly the same reason I am a Christian and a Calvinist. Thank you for the graciously-offered soapbox. I yield it back.
GD: We're going to have to disagree on that one I'm afraid. I like to think that we amils have Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the apostle John... and Calvin on our side. Cornelis Venema makes a very good case for amillenialism in his The Promise of the Future, Banner of Truth. But shifting from the future to the past, if time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet (apart from JND), and what you say to him/her?
DP: Another terrific question. (JND isn't even on my list.) I've actually taken the longest on this question. I keep coming back to Spurgeon, though I'd don't know that I'd want to talk to him so much as hear him preach, or attend his lectures to his students, or be at a less formal gathering with him and hear him talk.

GD: What is your early assessment of the your President and the "Leader of the Free World", Barak Obama?
DP: Obama is the triumph of postmodernism. America elected a hollow image, a human projection-screen, prepped and served by our media. They gave arguably the most powerful office in the world to a man with no accomplishments, no preparation, and no qualifications. Worse, they elected a faux-Christian who sat under a viciously racist, marxist ministry for 20 years, who embraces abortion in every form and wants to crush liberty under totalitarian governmental control.
Otherwise, no opinion.

GD: So I guess he didn't get your vote. What is it with evangelicalism and right wing politics in the States?
DP: Perhaps because a lot of people have noticed that the Ten Commandments are very private-property, small-government, and pro-life? They go where their distinctively Biblically-rooted values have even an occasional serious welcome.

GD: There's also some stuff about caring for the poor and social justice in Scripture, so I don't think the right have it totally right. Now, care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

DP: Handel's Messiah. Magnificent. Never tire of it.
And Can It Be? Soul-stirring, eloquent exultation over the Gospel. I'd like this sung at my funeral, if the Lord tarries.
Before the Throne of God Above has also done me a lot of good, lifting up Christ's priestly sacrifice and satisfaction.
GD: List three facts about Wales.
DP: I'll list four:
It isn't actually in America. Rather well east of here.
My dear wife's people come from the Pentyrch, Wales. Her great-grandfather changed his surname from John to Johns.
That same dear wife and my dear daughter had a wonderful time in Wales a few years ago, tracing family roots
Catherine Zeta-Jones isn't really Spanish! She's Welsh!
GD: You gave me four facts rather than three and didn't even mention Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Shame on you, man! The Taffia will be out to get you. Moving quickly on, what is the most helpful theological book you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
DP: I'll say Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, because he brings Scripture and wisdom and confronts my weakness for over-analysis, over-thinking, and wanting to know everything, be guaranteed of success, before making a move. Really good book.

GD: What is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
DP: Here's exactly what I think it is: failure truly to understand, believe, embrace, and live out a robust conviction of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I see that as the common theme behind the various church-growth fads, the Emerg*** movement, crippling forms of mysticism and charismaticism, and pulpit ills in general. We don't really believe Scripture is enough. It must be supplemented with techniques, programs, experiences, exercises, entertainment. The Reformation put the pulpit (for the preaching of the Word) at the center, and we're working hard to move it aside and replace it with a thousand and one distractions. "Preach the word!" Paul cried to Timothy as he finished his own course. God grant us ears to hear, greater hearts to grasp, bolder lips to proclaim, and stiffer spines to stand on the Word alone.

GD: Stirring stuff. But one more thing. I've noticed that Pyromaniacs links to the blog of our mutual friend Martin Downes. For some strange reason there is no link to my blog. I'd just like to point out that 'Exiled Preacher' would fit very nicely between 'Eddie Exposito' and 'Expository Thoughts' on the blogroll. Just saying that's all. I won't mention that I link to the Pyros. Oh no.
DP: Actually, it's pretty simple, and you'd be welcome. CLICK
GD: Oh, thanks. And thanks very much for this conversation. Bye!

4 comments:

Citizen Grim said...

Great questions, and great answers. The discussion of Spurgeon's impact was poetic. :)

Also, I would humbly like to suggest that the notion that the right doesn't care about social justice is a caricature drawn up by the left. Really, though, the whole right/left scale is poor for really describing political viewpoints.

I read a book called Political Visions and Illusions last fall. Definitely recommend. It takes a look at a number of political systems (socialism, conservatism, democracy, nationalism, etc) and explains how each one can easily turn into idolatry, and also presents what the author (he's Canadian) believes to be preferable Christian perspectives.

Exiled Preacher said...

That's kind of what I was trying to suggest. No political party whether left or right has a monopoly on biblical values.

danabbey said...

i highly enjoyed that. thanks for asking dan some interesting questions and posting his answers.

O Pregador said...

Enjoyed the interview. Thanks. One point and one question about one of your rebuttals to one of Dan's responses. The point - caring for the poor should be done on the personal and ecclesiastical level and not on the governmental level, in my opinion. The question - in sincerity, where do you see social justice in Scripture?