I’m almost done the Charismatic Primer series right now, and I’ve received a fair amount of positive feedback. I’ve also received some negative feedback, and a whole lot of questions. I cannot address all the questions (though I will provide a post with links to a whole wheelbarrow of answers at some point), but I can deal with 3 questions:
Question #1 – WHO CARES?
I mean really, who cares? Is this that important? Is this worth fighting about?
I have two points in response to this question;
1a. If it’s important enough that God thought it was worth telling us about, it’s probably important enough to pay attention to. I mean, an overwhelming majority of the issues in question are issues directly addressed in scripture. This isn’t stuff in the white spaces of the Bible (like infant baptism) and this isn’t something drawn from the logical implications of scripture (like the ordo solutis). The Bible talks directly about tongues, apostolic healing, and prophecy a lot. The Bible talks about the atonement (and the effects of the atonement) a lot. The Bible talks about other related issues (i.e. spiritual warfare, prosperity, the nature of faith, etc.) directly and openly too.
If God thought it was worth revealing to us, we should most likely take note and make efforts to figure out what God has revealed.
1b. Truth affects lives. When we misunderstand or misrepresent the scripture, that affect lives because sincere people are deceived about what God has revealed about an issue and live according to that deception. Contrary to the generally apathetic consensus among evangelicalism, correctly understanding the scripture actually matters.
For example, when a thousand people go to a church that teaches them a sermon series like this one and they’re taught that they should (wrongly) expect direct divine & propositional guidance (i.e. not generic impressions in the heart, but actual propositions delivered in coherent sentences) as part of their normative Christian experience, and they are taught that their imaginations/circumstances are that divine guidance (and it’s simply up to them to “see it”), they’re being set up for a life of frustration. They’re being told to expect something from God that he’s never promised (on the basis of their pastor’s alarming exegetical ineptitude/laziness), and they’re taught to waste their lives ignoring the place where God has actually spoken (the scriptures) while seeking to hear God speak in a place that he never will.
To use a rather simple metaphor, if you go to the grocery store looking for fresh onions in the chips & snacks isle, you’ll never find them. But, what’s even worse is if some imposter who looks like he works at the store tells you that the sour cream and onion chips are onions and you believe him! You may look at the bag and say “well, it says onions on the bag” and buy some, trusting the person who told you. But, when you take them home, chop them up and glaze them, and serve them on top of a steak, you’ll have one of 2 experiences:
1. If you’ve never had onions before, you’ll arrive at the conclusion that “onions are disgusting” and will never try them again.
2. If you’ve ever had onions before, you’ll know that whatever it is that you had definitely were not onions and suspect that something is up (the person who you spoke with didn’t work at the story, the person you spoke with was an imbecile, those chips aren’t actually onions, the bag is mislabeled, etc.)
This is akin to a majority of what’s happening with the Charismatic movement; people (who aren’t necessarily pastors in the first place) wrongly define the Spiritual Gifts (or simply lie about them), tell well-intentioned and trusting believers “these are the Spiritual Gifts you’ve looking for”, and then leave an endless horde of discouraged people in their wake who, over time, figure out that something was up and the goods they were sold were wildly mislabeled. It’s no surprise that a good number of the “ex-most-Christian-guy-ever-turned-atheist-posterboy” crowd are ex-charismatics who dismiss Christianity on the whole because they were part of the lunatic fringe (i.e. Dan Barker – ex-pianist for Kathryn Kuhlman, or Hector Avalos – ex-pentecostal faith healer/child evangelist).
Do people disagree with me on this one?
Sure. A majority of Christendom disagrees with me. If we’re determining truth by statistics, then a majority of Christendom needs to convert to Islam.
That leads to the second question:
Question #2 – WHO ARE YOU TO SAY YOU’RE RIGHT?
I mean really, there are godly men who are on both sides of the charismatic issue.
I’m just some middle-aged layman and I’m basically saying that on this issue, a majority of Christendom (and a large quantity of evangelical scholarship) is wrong. I’m saying that John Piper (with his PhD in New Testament) is wrong. Who in the world am I? Do I think I’m smarter than John Piper, or Wayne Grudem, or D.A. Carson, or Sam Storms, of Joyce Meyer, or Benny Hinn, or any other number of people with doctorates (whether mail order or otherwise) in bible-related areas when I only have an MDiv?
Of course not. It has nothing to do with “who’s smarter”.
I also have two points in response to this question:
2a. If the scriptures are inspired, there aren’t multiple equally legitimate positions on the issue. I’ve already mentioned it somewhere else, but the whole “you have your verses and I have mine” line (and both positions are *actually* found in the scripture) is a subtle attack on inspiration. Consider the following:
Q1. Is God the ultimate author of scripture?
A1. Yes. 2 Peter 1:20-21, as well as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 suggest that God is the ultimate author and source of all scripture.
Q2. Does God speak in contradiction of himself?
A2. No. Numbers 23:19 and Hebrews 6:18 both suggest that God cannot lie; he cannot say that “A is X” and “A is non-X” at the same time, in the same way. This necessitates that the scripture has one position on every issue; God’s revealed position (whether specific or general). It’s up to us to study the scriptures to find out what that revealed position is.
Q3. Does the fact that someone is a believer mean that they have a grasp of the scriptures equal to that of other believers?
A3. No. In Acts 9:20-22, Saul/Paul shows up in Damascus and proves to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ…something that some of the other believers were not as competent to do as Saul, the student of Gamaliel. In Acts 18:24-28, Apollos likewise was an educated man who was “competent in the scriptures” and he defeated the Jews in debate as well (something that the other Christians were apparently less competent at doing), and in Acts 18:25-26 Apollos himself was taught something that he didn’t know by Priscilla and Aquilla.
Q4. Do smart, Spirit-filled and bible believing Christians simply get certain things wrong?
A4. Of Course. Consider Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14. Consider every epistle that Paul wrote in the New Testament; they all had some corrective elements to them. The Corinthians got corrected on tons of stuff (including spiritual gifts), as did the Galatians, Thessalonians, etc. Christians can mean well, be smart, and know their Bibles and yet still get things wrong.
2b. Godliness, academic degrees, or ministry success don’t guarantee that you’re always right. Truth is not decided by majority rule (or we’d all be muslims/hindus). Truth isn’t decided by character, as character can be faked (and the long list of evangelical scandals is proof that a smart false teacher, like Ted Haggard who was pastoring a church of 14,000 and was surrounded by dozens of staff, can actually fleece everyone). Truth is not decided by education; education gives you tools to help you interpret the scripture (i.e. learning the original languages) but those tools are no guarantee since people can:
a. Resist/ignore the Spirit in using those tools like the liberals…many of them certainly know their biblical languages, but they don’t want to submit to the teaching of the scripture that their biblical languages uncover. There are many liberals who believe that Moses was trying to teach a 6-day view of creation, but they simply dismiss Moses as wrong because he was a Mesopotamian shepherd/idiot.
b. Be wrongly instructed in the application of those tools like the whole infiltration of allegorical hermeneutics into the Catholic church throughout the Byzantine period, the dark and the middle ages; a “tradition” that is still with us everywhere today where people approach any passage of scripture as a metaphor or counts the letters in a passage of scripture, using either as an effort to actually unpack the meaning of any passage.
c. Use those tools unto an end other than the right understanding of scripture. like the whole Calvary Church movement and their vitriolic attacking of Calvinism. They’ve been refuted on every point by dozens of people, and yet they still blindly hold to their 4-decade-old “tradition”. I kind of understand since if I was a pastor of a church of 10,000+, there would be a lot of pressure to not jeopardize that position and simply tow the party line on the issue of Calvinism. (I know of one fellow in the whole Calvary Chapel movement that actually took a stand for the truth of the scripture on the issue of Calvinism, and he was lambasted and kicked out of the movement – look up www.calvarysantafe.org and see what the new church name is. The pastor there is Paul Scozzafava; a guy worthy of some serious respect. The church doctrinal statement shows the vast changes they underwent as they studied the scripture and actually had the cajones to believe and apply it. Also worth checking out is their apologetics conferences. There is TONS of great stuff on there. Paul Scozzafava is a little known pastor that you should know about).
Question #3 – HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR POSITION ON AN ISSUE MATCHES GOD’S POSITION?
You know because you can do two things:
a. You can exegetically support your position from the actual text of scripture, interpreted according to the normative rules of language and grammar and set within the various circles of biblical/historical context. This rules out the pragmatic test. The whole “if it works, it must be right” doesn’t work with issues of revelation/biblical truth since our own hearts and minds are sinfully corrupted and work against us.
b. You can answer the objections from your objectors and overcome their “counter texts” with hermeneutical consistency. If you can lay show that the supporting biblical texts used by your opponent don’t actually teach what your opponent claims but your supporting texts do, you’re in a strong position to believe that you’re thinking God’s thoughts after him. If the same exegesis that establishes your position by your supporting texts also undermines the position claimed to be taught by your opponents’ supporting texts, you’re in the strongest position to believe that you’re thinking God’s thoughts after him. Even arriving here doesn’t necessitate that you’re settled once-and-for-all on an issue (as new objections may come your way and true learners are always learning), but it gives you a position of informed conviction from which to act.
If we’re being honest, this is where people will think I’ve gone all postmodern and am verbosely saying “you can’t ever know what the Bible says”.
Well, it is true that none of us ever arrive at God’s total position on any issue, but we should arrive at God’s general position, and we should eventually even arrive at God’s articulate position. For example, we can arrive at a point of settled conviction that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead; we can *know* that he rose from the dead. The *knowing* is ultimately a conviction of belief as the Holy Spirit is the one who grants and empowers that belief, but that claim of knowledge is also rationally defensible and a point where Christians should have settled conviction. As Christians, we can overcome any and all objections to the challenges against the resurrection and though we won’t necessarily *know* all the miniscule details (i.e. what was Jesus wearing if his grave clothes were left behind? Who gave him those clothes? Did his glorified body still get morning breath?), we can arrive at a settled and informed conviction of belief, a position of *knowledge*, on the factual truth and historical reality of the whole biblical testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The same goes for he questions of whether tongues is/was an angelic language, or whether or not physical healing is promised in the atonement, or whether or not prophecy was ever fallible.
These questions are important because the answers are revealed by God for a reason, and these questions are actually answerable.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “anticipating more questions than answers after this whole bag of epistemological snakes has been opened” Unger