***Update – August 11th, 2013: I was made aware of some of the less than honoring rhetoric I employed in this article and have attempted to soften the language in an effort to keep the discussion as cordial and brotherly as possible.***
Well, just like LeMans, the whole Strange Fire hullabaloo just keeps on going…and going. All the updates stuff that happened until July 27th is listed here, and now it’s time for the update update.
Dr. Michael Brown responded to both Fred Butler’s GTY post and his personal thoughts. Then, Fred Butler responded on his personal website with some recap, some clarifications, and some rebutting thoughts. Also, in response to Dr. Michael Brown’s article, Phil Johnson made the following comments on Facebook:
If I were still blogging, I’d answer with an article titled: “Enough Talk; Let’s Fight–Together. Let’s Agree to Drive the Rank Charlatans and False Prophets from Our Midst.” If Michael Brown truly sees the problem MacArthur is concerned about, that’s the kind of alliance he ought to be seeking. On the other hand, he is hopelessly naive (and thinking unbiblically) if he thinks a brokering a cease-fire or a moratorium on criticism from concerned cessationists will somehow cure the ills of the charismatic movement.
And frankly, Brown is dissembling if he means to suggest that he has been seeking a private audience with John MacArthur and MacArthur has replied by stiff-arming him. He has made no such request and no attempt to contact MacArthur or say anything to him except in a public Charismatic forum. Ironic, no? MacArthur might well respond: “We ARE talking, aren’t we?” As Dr. Brown’s own behavior seems to acknowledge, a public forum is a perfectly suitable place for that discussion to take place.
(Feel free to quote me in the discussion forum on his blog if you think he’ll read it.)
Then, over at the Pyromaniacs, Frank Turk posted some links with no real commentary except wondering why we have to go over this stuff again and again, and “Tell Dr. Michael Brown we said Hi” (will do Frank). I’d definitely recommend look through those articles. Good stuff. And on August 2nd, there was a “Classic Phil” post at Pyromaniacs about thinking about balance. Given the topic and the call to discussion by Dr. Michael Brown, I’m guessing there’s some sort of subtle connection (though being privy to the thoughts and motivations of the fellows at TeamPyro is far above my pay-grade..which is $0.00).
The Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics camp has been quiet, with just a peep from TurretinFan. I guess those guys have other fish to fry, so more power to them!
So, that is an update for where things be at right now…except for one thing.
I have previously mentioned the blog post from Conrad Mbewe about why the Charismatic movement is thriving in Africa. Dr. Michael Brown has responded in writing here, and today (August 5th) he’s devoting his radio program to the issue. Go ahead and read Mbewe’s articles and then Dr. Brown’s.
I’ll number my interactions to help keep things organized, and I’ll write my comments in italics:
1. Dr. Brown opened his article with “According to the article, which is entitled “Why Is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?” this movement is not a powerful visitation of the Holy Spirit. Rather, ‘We need to sound the warning that this is not Christianity.’”
Dr. Brown presents Mbewe as if he’s suggesting that the entire charismatic movement is false Christianity. When Dr. Brown quotes Mbewe saying “We need to sound the warning that this is not Christianity.”, he’s cherry picking a quotation from 4/5 of the way through Mbewe’s article, where Mbewe has already suggested that the form of “Christianity” in Africa is the product of the Charismatic Movement speaking language that is heard using the dictionary of African Spirituality. The product isn’t African Spirituality nor Christianity, but rather a hybrid form of paganism that has adopted western spiritual terminology and religious classifications as replacements for African spiritual terminology and religious classifications. I’ll be nice and suggest that Dr. Brown must have missed that. He’s a very busy man with a lot of things on his mind.
2. Dr. Brown then said “Now, had Pastor Mbewe said, ‘I praise God for the wonderful things that He is doing throughout Africa by His Spirit, but there are serious errors that need to be addressed,’ I would have said, “Amen,” to many of his concerns.“
I doubt it.
Serious errors like false healings done to appeal to a pagan mentality? Serious errors like the false gospel of the prosperity gospel? Serious errors like the tsunami of false doctrine that travels under the banner of “spiritual warfare”? I’d suggest that Mbewe and Brown fundamentally disagree with regards to what the “serious errors” are.
3. Dr. Brown followed that by writing of Mbewe “He distinguishes the modern charismatic movement in Africa from ‘the old conservative form of Pentecostalism once represented by the Assemblies of God churches,’ claiming that the new movement is spreading like wildfire because it ‘has not challenged the African religious worldview but has instead adopted it.'” and then quoted a Pentecostal scholar who said “The ministries of healing and deliverance have thus become some of the most important expressions of Christianity in African Pentecostalism. Much of the worldviews underlying the practice of healing and deliverance, especially the belief in mystical causality, resonates with African philosophical thoughts.”
Wait a minute! Say again? The reason why healing and deliverance have become the “most important expressions of Christianity in African Pentecostalism” is because “much of the worldviews underlying the practice of healing and deliverance, especially the belief in mystical causality, resonates with African philosophical thoughts“…i.e. it’s not foreign to their thinking. It’s what they already believe. It’s not a change of thinking. How many ways can I say this?
I don’t get it. That sure sounds like that Pentecostal professor was saying, in different language, basically what Mbewe was saying. Didn’t Mbewe say “what the modern Charismatic movement in Africa has done is to simply take this entire erroneous superstructure of African religious worldview and baptize it with wrongly applied Bible verses and Christian language”?
So that Pentecostal professor seems to realize that the Charismatic movement resonate with African (pagan) philosophical thoughts…and Mbewe says that the Charismatic movement resonates with existing African (pagan) spiritual beliefs, just with some name changes.
Is it just me, or does Dr. Brown agree with Mbewe?
4. Dr. Brown then quoted Daniel Kolenda, successor to Reinhard Bonnke, as saying “The Western brand of stale, cold, theoretic and purely cerebral Christianity that Africans have been offered by many of the [Western] evangelical denominations is laughable to them. For Africans, their faith must have real-world consequences or it is worthless.”
Right. So the “theology” of the gospel isn’t seen as valuable to unregenerate Africans because they’re looking for “real world consequences”…which I’m guessing is chalked up by 2 words: Health and Wealth.
Mbewe wrote that in traditional African spirituality “a person who is beset with perennial illnesses, failing to get a job, failing to find a spouse or to have children, whose business is failing to thrive, etc., simply goes to the witchdoctor who alone has the key to look into the spirit world. He is told that it is either a deceased person or an evil spirit who is frustrating him.” and the Mbewe writes that “in the African Charismatic circles, the “man of God” has replaced the witchdoctor. He is the one who oozes with mysterious power that enables him to break through those two impregnable layers, which us lesser mortals cannot penetrate. So, when blessings are not flowing our way despite our prayers, we make a beeline to his quarters or his church for help.”
Again, it sounds like both Kolenda and Mbewe are talking about health and wealth. The unregenerate people coming to revivals in Africa aren’t interested in salvation from God’s wrath against their sin…they’re interested in stuff. I see this sort of pagan materialism everywhere that I live, and I live within spitting distance of the largest Sikh community outside of India (300,000+ Sikhs), a large Hindu community, and the largest Chinese community in North America. I see unvarnished paganism everywhere, and it’s all unashamedly materialistic. Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists do a lot of talking, but at the end of the day they all do whatever it takes to drive a BMW and have larger homes than their neighbors and siblings. That is the mark of God’s blessing to them.
What Kolenda sees as a good thing is seen as a horrible thing by Mbewe. There’s the difference.
5. Dr. Brown then apparently agreed with Mbewe that traditional African spirituality has penetrated the church when he wrote “Pastor Mbewe is absolutely right that many traditional, worldly practices and mindsets have been incorporated into African charismatic Christianity. What he fails to mention, however, is that some of these same errors are found in African evangelical churches as well”, but he appeared to try to defend himself by saying that “the vast majority of evangelical churches in Africa practice the spiritual gifts as well” and that Daniel Kolenda said “Many of those who are speaking the loudest against these heresies are the Pentecostals and charismatics!”
So Mbewe is right? The health and wealth false gospel is basically synonymous with African tribal spirituality and the spread of the Charismatic movement (in the form of the prosperity gospel) is the reason why the Charismatic movement is spreading like a brush fire?
Beyond that, how is “you guys are doing it too” any sort of justification? All that means is that there’s now two camps to clean up instead of one.
As for the Koloenda quote, I’d simply ask what are ‘these heresies’ that he’s referring to? Is the quote from Kolenda even addressing the same issue? Reference please? The Kolenda quote is thrown out with no context and no explanation as to what it’s in reference to. Again, Dr. Brown must have written the article in a hurry.
6. Dr. Brown then addresses some of the issues brought up by Mbewe. Dr. Brown wrote “What, then, are some of the most serious abuses? Pastor Mbewe claims that in ‘the African Charismatic circles, the “man of God” has replaced the witchdoctor,’ endued with special powers and breaking through the barriers of the demonic world and ancestral spirits, which ‘is also why the heresy of generation curses has become so popular.’ Although somewhat overstated, this is a real problem, and so when the people are not experiencing divine blessing, they run to the ‘man of God’ to pray for them, giving these leaders a stranglehold over the people.”
So overstated somewhat, but true? Okay. Brown agrees with Mbewe again.
7. Brown then wrote “Another charismatic minister involved in Bible school training in several African nations pointed out to me that ‘the preachers started to live like kings while the people that attend the churches live in abject poverty. Being a preacher became an occupation, not a divine calling. And now some even have private jets whilst their people are burying their dead because they couldn’t afford a doctor.’ But to repeat yet again, these abuses are being addressed by many charismatic leaders as well, and they are the loud, ugly, glaring exceptions rather than the general rule.”
So the issues are legitimate, but Charismatics are addressing the issues and they’re exceptions rather than the rule, so….what? Mbewe isn’t allowed to address them? I don’t get the thrust of Dr. Brown’s argument here.
Also, if some preachers live like kings and have private jets, they’re not necessarily the exception to the rule. It might be that they’re just the most successful ones. The guys who preach the same message and don’t have private jets might not be able to have private jets because, well, in Africa there’s not nearly as much money to go around as there is in North America. Why is that not a realistic option?
Also, is having a private jet an “abuse” or something far worse? Why the soft language?
Finally, are those people with private jets prosperity gospel preachers? Sure sounds like it! Could Dr. Brown ever bring himself to call them “false teachers”?
8. Then in a shocking turn, Dr. Brown wrote “As for the so-called ‘heresy of generation curses,’ this teaching can obviously be exaggerated and exploited, but the Scriptures do teach that generational curses exist (see, for example, 1 Samuel 2:27-33), and in a country like Africa, which is full of ancestor worship, it is not farfetched to think that certain demonic, generational curses need to be broken off of people’s lives. Is it right to brand this a heresy?”
Well, Dr. Brown has the simple task of establishing a biblical case for generational curses where everyone else (that I’ve ever read) has utterly failed…and failed miserably.
I’ll say it clearly: the scriptures categorically do not teach that generational curses exist. I’d love to see Dr. Brown provide a solid biblical argument for generational curses, (I’d no longer have to address it as a heresy and I could get along a lot better with many Charismatic friends) but for his sake I hope he holds his tongue and doesn’t dig himself into a hole that he cannot escape.
I Samuel 2:27-33 does not teach that generational curses exist. Children dying due to the sin of their parents isn’t the same as people personally committing acts of sin (against their will) because there’s some sort of ancestrally inherited demon that is transmitted down through the generations…not even close.
The whole concept of generational curses is utterly, horribly, pagan.
I am honestly saddened that Dr. Brown has defended the idea. My respect for him as a gentleman is intact, but my respect for him as a biblical scholar is crumbling.
He’s wandering ever closer to the outer fringes of evangelicalism the more he writes about this stuff. I’m still chalking this up to some sort of miscommunication/misunderstanding because I want to be as gracious as possible with Dr. Brown, but this issue is making it really hard for me to defend him.
Generational curses? Really?
9 Dr. Brown continued making shocking statements when he wrote “There’s something else we need to consider, and that is the extent to which we have baptized Christianity into our own American culture, equating size and prestige with spiritual success and running the church like a business. (Another distinctly American Christian error is mistaking patriotism for the kingdom of God.) And just as some African charismatics have morphed the witchdoctor into the “man of God,” we have morphed the megachurch pastor into the CEO and superstar, the almost infallible guide whose every word is to be followed and who does most of our scriptural thinking for us.”
Again, it appears that he’s not disagreeing with Mbewe but rather suggesting that the Africans aren’t the only ones bringing sinful aspects of culture into the church…except with one problem. Bringing a secular business model into the church isn’t the same as turning Christianity into a pagan religion. Surely Dr. Brown can see the difference?
There’s a categorical difference between incorporating secular principles of organizational administration into the church and incorporating secular theology into the church. Sure, the two are related, but one is worshiping God in a wrong way and the other is worshiping the wrong God.
Isn’t fairly clear that a CEO and a witchdoctor are in significantly different categories? There are many CEO’s and superstars that are Christians, but a witchdoctor (by definition) cannot possibly be.
This argumentation is simply flailing desperately. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m certainly wondering…
10. In response to Mbewe’s suggestion that the Charismatic “prayer warrior” idea plays up to traditional African spirituality that sees holy men as literally engaging in battle against demons and dead ancestors, Brown then surprisingly wrote “Again, it is certainly a serious error to focus on Satan as much as (or more than!) God or to be more demon conscious than Jesus conscious (even remotely so), but it is also true that there is a time for intimate fellowship with God as well as a time for fervent, even warring prayer, in keeping with verses that speak of spiritual warfare and of striving in prayer (see, for example, Ephesians 6:10-19; Romans 15:30; Luke 22:44; and 2 Corinthians 10:3-4). And what’s wrong with the concept of “prayer warriors”?”
Question: Where is prayer spoken of in offensive “warfare” language in the Bible? Ephesians 6:10-19 is the only place where prayer is mentioned explicitly in any sort of “warfare” metaphor, and every single piece of the armor of God is defensive in nature (I know what you’re thinking…what about the sword of the Spirit? Read this before attacking me in the comments to learn that the sword is also a defensive weapon). Romans 15:30 says nothing about prayer in any sort of “warfare” metaphor, and neither does Luke 22:44 or 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. Sure, it mentions spiritual warfare, but prayer isn’t mentioned in the passage. Dr. Brown is stretching, if not misrepresenting, the scripture to make his point.
Secondly, what are we really talking about in practice? What do “prayer warriors” actually think they’re doing? The whole problem with “prayer warriors” is that they usually claim to be engaged in offensive battle against the forces of darkness/sin/Satan/whatever. They claim to tear down strongholds, as well as various other claims, but none of those claims can stand up to even 10 minutes of biblical scrutiny. In Africa, as in North America, we have tons of well meaning but horribly deceived people who think that their part of God’s “special forces” and drive around, using tools like spiritual maps, to attack territorial spirits and demonic forces that are bound to certain geographic locales. With prayer warriors, the difference between biblical prayer and unbibical prayer is the difference between offense and defense. That might seem like a small difference, but sometimes small differences are highly significant.
11. Dr. Brown then wandered away from the “shocking” to the “well-worn arguments” when he dealt with Mbewe’s suggestion that the faith healers should be “rejected with the contempt they deserve” and says “Really, it is blanket statements like this that are so dangerous and inaccurate, leading readers to make their own, equally erroneous statements”. Dr. Brown gives 2 examples and then says “In reality, as noted in a Pew Research report, ‘The share of the population that is Christian in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 9 percent in 1910 to 63 percent in 2010.’ This is absolutely extraordinary and represents one of the greatest advances of the gospel in history, and almost all of this growth is charismatic in nature. Yet because of some abuses, many of which reflect the immaturity of the movement, this glorious work of God that has resulted in tens of millions of Africans coming to faith in Jesus is being rejected and scorned.”
This argument from pragmatism is getting really old. I’m having a hard time taking this seriously any more because it’s, well, so obviously fallacious.
Statistics show that 99% of statistics are unreliable, and when it comes to statistics about people “coming to faith”, the statistics are twice as unreliable. (I’d recommend The Art of Deception for anyone wanting to know just how easy it is to argue anything with statistics, and how most people argue with statistics in ways that are transparently bad.)
If Mbewe is right, then the numbers are meaningless. The surveys are meaningless. The truth is that if Mbewe is right, and it appears that Brown has already somewhat conceded that he is, then Africans (and nobody knows whether it’s 8% or 88%) are going from one false religion to another.
Dr. Brown seems impervious to all refutations of the argument from pragmatism. Beyond the obvious fact that pragmatism isn’t proof for anything whatsoever, Dr. Brown is from North Carolina. He doesn’t really know what’s going on in Africa, except for what little he sees and what his friends tell him (from what little they see…I mean, we’re talking about a continent, right?). He has no clue how many people are getting saved, and dropping any number is simply lying (whether intentional or not). He has no clue how many people who “got saved” 10 years ago and are still even attending church in Ghana, let alone any other country. He has no clue whether or not millions of people are making proclamations of faith that last for a few weeks or months. There’s no way anyone can know, outside of about a billion dollars of research that has not been done, and probably could not be done (if the world health organization has a hard time accurately figuring out who has Aids on the continent of Africa, how are we going to figure out who’s getting saved and discipled?).
It sure looks like Dr. Brown is simply swallowing the stats and propaganda and moving on as if the case is settled.
12. Dr. Brown then spent a few paragraphs arguing that there are fantastic and authentic believers in Africa, and quoted a friend who is involved in African ministry who said that it would have been so much better for Mbewe to say “If we have the gift of teaching, we should lovingly serve those who need it, instead of alienating them when they are giving God the best they know, and they have some real strengths too.”
I do not doubt that there are millions of people in Africa, starving for the gospel and the word of God. I have met some incredible believers, with unfathomable testimonies, who came from Africa. I met a man while I was in high school who came to Canada from Rwanda because he watched his entire family (wife and 6+ children) get executed, and since he had nothing to live for, he followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to end up in the logging town of Prince George, B.C., Canada. We’ll just say that he had one amazing story, and he encouraged my entire church to no end.
BUT, why is Mbewe alienating the African people? Aren’t they on the web? Cannot he reach those not in his immediate area by posting (on the web) a warning of the false teaching in their midst? How is warning brothers about the wolves in their midst not recognizing their strengths? Mbewe is a pastor in Africa. He knows that there are some amazing Christians in Africa (I mean, in the least, he probably thinks that he’s a Christian and that there are a few Christians in his church!), and calling people’s attention to something that is negative isn’t to ignore whatever else is positive.
The whole line of argument isn’t even an argument. It’s more a quick change of topic masquerading as an argument.
13. Dr. Brown then followed that plea with another plea. He wrote “Again, there is no denying that this rapid spread of the gospel throughout much of the continent of Africa bears all the marks of a new, often immature movement, but rather than rejecting it as un-Christian, God is pleased when we recognize His work and help bring it to maturity.”
Uh, yes there is. If the “gospel” is producing African paganism dressed up with Christian terminology, then the gospel isn’t spreading. Again, it seems like Brown has already conceded that point, so there’s most certainly the possibility of denying that the gospel is rapidly spreading throughout much of the continent of Africa.
The problem isn’t that the Charismatic Christianity (namely the “Christianity” that proclaims a prosperity gospel and practices an offensive spiritual warfare) is immature. The problem is that the Africans are taking the terminology and incorporating it into their existing spirituality, ending up with a concoction that is a false Christianity, mostly because the prosperity/offensive warfare “Christianity” that they’re encountering isn’t Christianity in the first place.
If that’s the problem, then we don’t need maturity. We need conversion and a declaration of open season on the wolves.
14. Dr. Brown started his wrapping up by quoting Daniel Kolenda saying “‘If we are going to point out the negatives of the charismatic church in Africa, let’s be fair and also point out the many, many positives. Without the ‘charismatic’ church in Africa, Islam would have taken the continent over and there would be very little gospel influence at present. Waves of salvation have swept across entire nations,’ and millions have responded to a clear gospel message of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus alone.”
There are positives. I don’t think Mbewe was saying that the Charismatic movement, as a whole, has been utterly fruitless.
Islam would have done nothing. That’s assuming that there’s some alternate world where God isn’t glorifying himself to a maximum extent, so that possibility is actually impossible because that alternate world could not possibly exist. That’s a shallow theological idea (and scare tactic) from someone who, as far as I’ve read, seems to be a shallow theologian (Kolenda, not Dr. Brown).
Millions have responded to a clear gospel message of salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus alone…which if Mbewe is correct, also came with the added phrase “…in order to get all the material things you want!”
It seems like the Charismatic defenders have a play book that has a page in it which says “when employing a fallacious argument that doesn’t actually work and has been repeatedly refuted, repetition is the key to victory.”
15. Dr. Brown then came to the end of his article and wrote “And so, while it is likely that those attending the Strange Fire conference who hear Pastor Mbewe speak will come away with an entirely negative view of African charismatic Christianity…”
Well, it’s in writing. We’ll see if Dr. Michael Brown is a false prophet or not.
Okay, I jest…kinda. He’s smart enough to use the word “likely”.
Still, it will be interesting to see whether Mbewe recognizes the good in the African Charismatic movement. I’m pretty sure he isn’t some mindless fool tho simply says “Charismatic? WHAT? Those people cannot be Christians!” I don’t toss all my charismatic friends under the bus. I speak out against the leaders that deceive them and take advantage of their trust and good faith.
16. Dr. Brown closed off with another quote from Kolenda who said “Many of these African Christians are the first generation of their tribe in history to become Christians. They will have to work through many traditional, tribal and cultural issues (just as our ancestors did in the West when the gospel first came to them), but we should not underestimate the power of the gospel and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. We should thank God for the unprecedented harvest that is taking place and continue to contend for the integrity of the gospel.”
Yup. We all have various theological ideas to repent of and shed when we come to the Lord.
Yup, the gospel is powerful and God regularly saves people in horrible churches. I have a friend who became a Christian while faithfully attending a Mormon church. She started reading the Bible she was used to ignoring and one thing led to another…
Unprecedented harvest? The playbook comes up again: “when employing a fallacious argument that doesn’t actually work and has been repeatedly refuted, repetition is the key to victory.”
Are people getting saved in Africa? Without a doubt. I go to church with several Africans who all got saved in Africa.
Are people getting saved despite all the theological trash that the west is shipping over there? Without a doubt.
Should we make some efforts to burn the trash and stop shipping it over there? Without a doubt.
Well, that was a lot longer than I planned, but I tend to be thorough (if not rambling). Believe it or not, I trimmed this article down several times…which says more about my runaway verbosity than anything else. Also, I honestly mean absolutely no disrespect to Dr. Michael Brown. I’ve done my best to keep the rhetoric level low, refer to him by his well deserved honorific, and refrain from any form of undue accusation or insult.
I hope this has been both encouraging and a blessing to those with the cranial fortitude and necessary caffeine supply to make it through.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Mlinzi wa Mbewe” Unger