A Basic Guide to Defenses of the Charismatic Movement…

In the last 2 weeks I’ve received a fair amount of e-mails and messages asking for my take on various articles, comments and defenses mounted by spokespeople in the Charismatic Movement against, well, mostly John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.  I cannot respond to each request individually, but I thought I would write a short guide to some of the common defense tactics used by Charismatic defenders, I’ve glanced at a bunch of blogs, articles and I’ve even listened to a few podcasts.  Through all that, here’s some of the common defense strategies that I find repeated often:

1.  Denial 

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that they won’t admit to being part of their circle of activity/contact, they may take the whole Denial defense, otherwise known as the Patrick Star defense:

A common manifestation of this is when you point out evidence of some insane belief or practice, and then they claim to know nothing about it (or that you simply don’t know what you’re talking about).

2.  Disassociation

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact but they are unwilling to defend it, they may take the whole Disassociation defense, otherwise known as the Michael Jackson defense:

“I know it looks like it, but I’m not with these zombies…”

Thriller

A common manifestation of this is when people associate closely with a known heretic, but claim that they’re not guilty of his/her errors, even though they’ve openly and repeatedly invited said heretic into their church to teach said errors (or sell books containing said errors) and given them a broad endorsement as an apostle/prophet/godly individual.

If you’re dancing with zombies but wearing a different outfit, you’re still dancing with zombies.

3.  Distraction

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but they want to change the subject (most likely because they are incapable of an appropriate response), they may take the whole Distraction defense, otherwise known as the Flying Bear defense.

“Hey look!  A Flying Bear!”

Tranquilized Bear

It’s not as much a response as it is a smokescreen due to a lack of a response.  This came up recently in a comment somewhere about Martin Luther and Jews…I’m not quite sure where…maybe on this blog…

Also, the most popular manifestation of the “flying bear” defense is when people respond to theological criticism by pointing out how many people are “getting saved.”  This is the #1 argument used in favor of all things Charismatic.

4.  Division

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but they don’t really have a response, they may take the whole Division defense, otherwise known as the Finger Wag Defense.

Division

A common manifestation of this seems to always come up like this:

You disagree with me on an issue and challenge me.  I don’t like the suggestion that my close-to-the-heart teacher/doctrine/belief might possibly be incorrect, so I question your motives (i.e. your church is dead and you’re just jealous of said teacher/church/movement), insinuate that you’re a Pharisee (or outright call you one, with an accompanying vague insinuation due to loose scriptural parallels to this situation or your behavior), label you “divisive” and then declare a default victory.

Ironically, this is basically the Christian parallel to when the secular media can ever accuse someone of being intolerant or homophobic; the two worst crimes imaginable.

Delegates

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but they didn’t get the idea from their own study (but stole it from someone else), they may take the whole Delegates defense, otherwise known as the Buck Pass Defense.

passing-the-buck

The common manifestation of this comes from Charismatic intellectuals like this:

Cess: “Why do you believe/do X?”

Cont:  “Because of reason Y.”

Cess:  “That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for reasons (A), (B), and (C).”

Cont:  “Well, I don’t explain it well, but (Scholar X) does.  You should read (Scholar X) on it.”

Cess:  “I have read (Scholar X), and his article has problems (A), (B), (C) and (D) in it.  Do you have any response?”

Cont:  “Oh.  Well, you should read (Scholar Y) on it.  He says it better…”

And so on, and so on, and so on…

There’s actually precious little respectable exegetical work done by even the biggest Charismatic defenders; they tend to read the people who do the exegesis for them (and blindly trust the scholars).  They all tend to refer us Cessationists to their academic delegates: Grudem, Storms, Carson, Fee, Poythress, and a handful of others (while hoping we don’t realize that the three dozen academic delegates offered up as defenders aren’t representative of hundreds of millions of common Charismatics…by any stretch).  We’ve read them all, and that was years ago.

For a movement that can produce 10,000 new worship songs a week, we’ve been waiting for any new exegetical support for decades.

6.  Demonstratives

When someone is confronted with a exegetical challenge to some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is questionable if not clearly unbiblical, but they arrived at their conviction about the idea/action through one main argument, they may take the whole Demonstratives defense, otherwise known as the Blinders Defense.

blinders-on

A common manifestation of this is when people grab whatever it was that convinced them of the idea/action, and simply repeat it until you “get it”.  Often, people will grab a pronoun, or some other minor component of a passage/verse, and myopically focus on it as if there’s nothing else relevant to the subject matter or worth talking about in the passage.

I cannot help but give an example here.  In the Arminian/Calvinist debate, some on the Arminian side grab the word “whosoever” (usually from John 3:16) and simply yell it repeatedly louder, as if that’s some form of actual argument.

Never mind that the word doesn’t even appear in the Greek at all…

7. Definition

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but it’s an emotional conviction rather than an exegetical one, they may take the whole Definition defense, otherwise known as the Sandi Patty Defense.

A common manifestation of this is found in dismissing someone as “unloving.” If “love” was synonymous with “considering your feelings above anything else (including the Glory of God), then love in any language would always pull us together.

Another common manifestation of this is in redefining a person’s position so that it’s worded in a way that nobody else uses…therefore they claim to not teach the same idea as their critics suggest.

“We don’t teach that

*person links to documents or sermons directly expounding and affirming idea in question*

“We teach this, which is totally different than that…” (goes on to explain a microscopic difference of nuance that is ultimately inconsequential)

8.  Declaration

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but they arrived at their conviction about the idea/action primarily through personal experience (because the idea/action doesn’t originate in scripture but rather some personal experience), they may take the whole Declaration defense, otherwise known as the Spirit-Filled Pizza Defense.

(Warning: if you’ve never heard the old Christian musician Carman, be warned.  This is charismatic theology from the 1980’s put to 1980’s music.  This is apparently a song about 2 people “getting saved”.  I don’t think Carman will be invited to T4G anytime soon…)

A common manifestation of this is personal testimony.  People like to declare stories about what happened to them, as if the stories are self-interpreting or evidence in and of themselves, let alone adequate responses to theological or exegetical challenges.

Declarations are otherwise known as “testimonial evidence”, and testimonial evidence isn’t evidence; it’s an interpretation of selective facts.  The fact that someone experienced a life change, or got really excited, or stopped an outwardly visible sinful behaviour, or even experienced a supernatural occurrence, is not proof of the biblical validity of anything.

Also, when a person is challenged with the fact that their church teaches heresy and they respond with a personal testimony, this is a manifestation of fear or willful ignorance.  People don’t want to know if someone they love is deceiving them, so they hide behind a spiritual form of pragmatism.  If it works, who cares if it’s right?

9.  Distant Myth – (With thanks for David Davis for the reminder)

When someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact, but they arrived at their conviction about the idea/action primarily through testimonies of others, they may take the whole Distant Myth defense, otherwise known as the Star Wars Defense.

A_long_time_ago

The common manifestation of this is in all the “miracle in Africa” stories, and they may as well start with “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”  They always involve an activity that happened on another continent, in another country, at some nondescript time, that nobody can actually verify at all.  There’s always some amazing story, but when you start pressing for details, you start getting disclaimer after disclaimer.
 .
– The person telling the story wasn’t *actually* there.
 .
–  The person who witnessed it *might not have* actually witnessed the event directly.
 .
–  The names of the people involved mysteriously cannot be found.
 .
–  And so on, and so on…
 .
Now, If I’ve done this even half decently, this should de-fang around 90% of arguments that are coming up all over the internet.
.

I hope this helps you so see through some of the rhetoric and rhetorical smokescreens as well, and may possibly give you some categories to think through the knee-jerk responses you find all over the place.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “Aren’t you all glad I didn’t use the ‘this generation’ example?  I don’t need more angry eyes, thank you!” Unger

 

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34 thoughts on “A Basic Guide to Defenses of the Charismatic Movement…

  1. All true, One thing I’ve always found with a lot of Charismatics, if you questions them as to why the gifts are not practiced according to the rules in the NT (e.g. tongues being real languages and translated,) I’ve always been told that they have heard of Churches that did that but you never find one in a Church that does that, Also do the defense methods you mention sound reminiscent of the whole Ergun Caner defense?

    • I was at a charismatic church that followed the “rules”. The pastor even said an uninterpreted word was not from God once.

      That doesn’t mean I believe in charismatic theology. Having left a few years ago because I don’t. But some charismatic churches are disciplined and I was in one.

      • Definitely agreed Richard. There are some thoughtful churches out there that attempt to take the scriptures seriously and don’t make cheap rhetorical tricks the main course in their thinking.

        I live in Canada though, and almost all those churches exist in a galaxy far, far away…

  2. Yep. This IS exactly the same experiences I’ve had “when someone is challenged with a critical examination of some outlandish or unbiblical idea/action that is undeniably part of their circle of activity/contact”.

    But I don’t count because I claim to have had subjective, though non verbal experiences with God. As recently as last Saturday.

    • Me too.

      I just don’t confuse specific and amazing encounters with God as his is working out his plans and providence in my life with me being a prophet…not saying that you do either!

      God is furiously busy in my life, and he orchestrates things with absolutely amazing timing and overt “slap in the face” evidence that what I’m seeing is his hand at work.

      • I’ve been contemplating a fast for a little while now. (usually a few times a year.) Last Saturday I was in the fruit and vegetable market buying my usual stuff. As I was putting the grapefruits in my basket I became acutely aware that God wanted me to call that fast.

        Just like I told you before. No words I could write down, no voices, no visions. FAR more definite and clear than any of those. It was time for that fast. It’s almost like God is thinking with MY mind.

        I don’t know everything, but I find it tough to envision a scenario wherein the devil would be telling me to put away food for three days, deny my flesh and seek the face of the God of Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Westminster, Turretin, Kuyper, Machen, Murray and Van Til in His word and prayer.

        I assure you if you knew me in real life you would not think I was some emotionally driven goofball who simply convinces himself that stuff like this is happening. I am not even looking for it when it does and in fact I gave up actually looking for it because He never answers like that when I ask. He DOES however SOMETIMES answer things I’ve asked later when I need it. Sometimes a LOT later.

        I hope this is isn’t affecting my credibility in the other conversation we’re having, but if it is I simply can’t help that. We agree right down the line Lyndon. On a WHOLE lot so far. I respect you and I do still hope to hear from you. However briefly. Yes SlimJim and TUAD. Same thing I sent you guys.

        I do not however believe with MacArthur that charismatic heresy is nearly as dangerous as the carnality and compromise finding it’s way into even the most conservative reformed circles.

        • I believe that you’re describing the Holy Spirit guiding through the conscience. I don’t challenge that, nor have a problem there, at all.

          You’re not a prophet of God, at least by your own descriptions of what’s happening. If there’s a disconnect, it’s only in semantics.

          I believe I’ve responded to you as well? Is there something I missed?

          I agree that carnality and compromise infects the church on various levels. I’d suggest that MacArthur would say that much of the carnality and compromise have entered the church via the gateway of the Charismatic movement. I don’t speak for him, of course, but that’s an educated guess.

  3. “I would write a short guide to some of the common defense tactics used by Charismatic defenders, I’ve glanced at a bunch of blogs, articles and I’ve even listened to a few podcasts. Through all that, here’s some of the common defense strategies that I find repeated often:”

    I’ve noticed that you’ve engaged Steve Hays previously. What would you say are some of his common defense strategies?

    • Yikes. Steve Hays. I have had a passing slapping war with him, but I don’t bother engaging him on this topic as he’s not a charismatic spokesman (by any stretch) and doesn’t really understand cessationism.

      He’s not on my radar AT ALL on charismatic issues. Fred Butler has enough fun with him…

  4. For the Record. I went to a Carmen concert once. All I remember about it was after one of his high energy performances, maybe the Lazarus come forth song this mannish looking woman next to me blurted out loudly for everyone sitting around us to hear, “I’d marry him tonight if he’d asked me!” That was odd.

    • No kidding that would have been odd. Do people normally contemplate their responses to your hypothetical proposals (out loud) while sitting next to you?

      Mrs. Butler must have a taser on standby at all times to protect you from your admirerers!

  5. Thank you for your brilliance, laced with joyful whimsy Lyndon Unger. If only the charismatics possessed such a gifted attribute when challenged by critical examination of their bizarre behaviors. Although I suppose, possessing such an attribute could make their empty, exhausting, empty, draining, deluded, (did I mention empty?) defenses bearable. Oops, check that. I forgot about the Patrick Star defense.

  6. I keep waiting for one of the above performers to come out with her autobiography song. Several titles have been suggested:
    Adultery in Any Language
    I Left My Husband Because Jesus Told Me To
    God Wants Me to be Happy!
    I Can Always Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Later And They’ll Still Buy My CDs

    To avoid being properly accused of initiating an ad hominem argument, allow me to disclaim that my point was not in reference to the current discussion, but only to the fact that she still makes millions selling CDs to Christians despite never repenting of her adultery (she’s still married to the man with whom she had the affair).

  7. Now that most Western people carry a video camera / recorder in their pockets (smart phone), cessationists can now use the same argument as the UFO debunkers: If you saw it, show me the video. If it was someone else, show me their video. No video? Sorry – no evidence.

  8. Oh, my gosh! I’m going to have to reread this. I was thinking so much about how it parallels some of today’s politics that I raced to see what the end of the blog said.
    Very clever. And thanks for clearing up the “whosoever” matter. I totally agree.
    Jim McClarty over at salvationbygrace.org gives a really good explanation on John3:16. Maybe you’re familiar with him.
    Thanks for the dose of hmore

    • Thanks for the kind words Pam! Don’t worry about needing an excuse for mis-spelling a word. If you watch my posts, I probably edit them for spelling 6 or 7 times in a week…*sigh*

  9. Here are a few Strange Fire-related comments I got in one conversation. It manages to hit most of Lyndon’s points in one chat:

    he’s saying that the holy spirit doesn’t exist

    granted dudes like benny hinn are stupid but those are very extreme cases

    IHOP is solid; rock solid I have been to local IHOP’s

    what is man to judge the things of God

    Scripture says all things are possible with God right?

    Go read about king David dancing in the streets naked

    God is God and he can make people do whatever whenever wherever

    who are we to question God or try to understand all of Him it’s prideful to think otherwise

    yeah i dont agree with all of Bethel’s theology I just LOVE how they worship

    i know misty edwards and the worship leaders there are so crazy awesome I have met some of them!

    • I saw one comment where a person claimed that MacArthur’s wife got healed by a faith healer and the book/conference all occurred out of jealousy because the faith healer had more Holy Spirit than MacArthur.

      I believe that’s the “Dunce Cap” Defense; just blurt out idiotic lies and hope ANYONE believes you.

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