In my last review where I examined the third chapter of Authentic Fire, I made a rather harsh and inflammatory statement. I wrote:
Has the Charismatic movement, as a global movement, produced unending waves of horrible preaching, doctrine and biblical exegesis?
Without question, yes.
The examples here could be absolutely legion, and a thousand shining exceptions around the world don’t change the general theological atmosphere of a movement of half a billion. Without question, the general theological atmosphere of the Charismatic Movement is one of homiletical disorientation, doctrinal insouciance and exegetical puerility.
Can I back that up?
Sure…I was going to give a tiny reason why I might say something so brash, but that turned into a 1,500+ word post in and of itself, so I’ve just moved it over to it’s own post and I’ll post it in the next few days. For now, I’ll just leave that hanging. This current post is more than long enough as it is.
Never fear folks, the backup has arrived!
Now, many Charismatics complain about all the “fringe” examples that were brought up in the Strange Fire conference; examples like John Crowder and his tokin’ the ghost garbage (but this makes it all better – a legitimately documented miracle. Watch from 2:45-4:25…and note that only one of the miracles they claim to have happened ended up on video for some reason…). Now, it’s true that John Crowder isn’t a mainstream charismatic, and he’s likely one that a majority would dismiss as a crank…but on February 21st of this year, John Crowder is coming to my hometown and will be headlining a conference, for which he’s being brought in. Probably not a big conference, but his itinerary shows that he is traveling the world and fulfilling speaking invitations all over the place.
Why do I bring him up? Well, four reasons:
A. Charismatics call foul when cessationists point to the “Fringe Frauds” in their midst because there are “Fringe Frauds” everywhere.
(When I say “Fringe Frauds”, I’m talking about people who are frauds on the fringe of a movement; those who falsely claim to be an accurate representation of the mainstream of a movement.)
Michael Brown has written:
“while I am absolutely unashamed to be called a Pentecostal -Charismatic believer, I am terribly ashamed at many things that are done in the name of the Holy Spirit today, especially by leaders on “Christian” TV. Without a doubt, if this represented the true core of the Charismatic Movement, the heart and soul of who we are, I would never want to be called a charismatic again. It would be similar to how Baptists would feel if Fred Phelps, the notorious leader of Westboro Baptist Church, was the poster boy for the Baptist Church in America” (Authentic Fire, Kindle Locations 349-353).
Now Browns’ quote make the point and it’s true, in a sense…
…but I cannot help but notice that while the statement is true, it’s highly suspicious for some obvious reasons. One cannot help but notice that Fred Phelps & co. travel the country picketing everything under the sun at the expense of their “church”, Fred Phelps is not being brought in by other churches to headline a conference anywhere. Cessationists all condemn Fred Phelps as a crackpot and false teacher, with hypothetically possible exceptions (I’ve never ever heard of anyone who actually supports Phelps, but I’m sure they’re out there…though even the church where he started doesn’t publicly acknowledge that they ever had anything to do with him, even though they mention most of their previous pastoral staff). Phelps doesn’t have a ministry in any cessationist circles; he’s out there by his lonesome and we all openly condemn him (read point #20 here). He’s not in the midst of Baptist circles, whether cessationist or not, and there is no evidence online that he’s ever even addressed the subject of cessationism. Theological whack-jobs at the level of Fred Phelps might possibly be in cessationist churches though Phelps himself is not; he probably condemns even Steve Anderson and Faithful Word Baptist Church as heretics, let alone any of the “God-hating pansies” at the Strange Fire conference.
That leads us to our next point.
B. When it comes to the charismatic movement, the “Fringe Frauds” are generally welcomed.
Getting back to John Crowder, it takes a bunch of theological rubes for John Crowder to even have a ministry, let alone an international one. The sheer fact that Crowder has an active and international ministry is definitely a condemnation of a small part of the Charismatic movement. I mean, John Crowder goes to cities where he’s being invited (he’s not just randomly in Latvia). There are hundreds of videos of John Crowder online speaking in loads of churches that aren’t his own. He’s in a far different category than Fred Phelps. He may be a fraud, but he’s either flying under the radar (he has more than a little competition in Charismatic circles) or he’s disliked but not actually not opposed.
Then there’s all the big false teachers like Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, Cash Luna, Chris Oyakhilome, Joyce Meyer, Joel & Victoria Osteen, Claudio Freidzon, John & Carol Arnott, Jesse Duplantis, Benny Hinn, Paul & Jan Crouch, John, John Avanzini, Rodney Howard-Browne, Morris Cerullo, Marylin Hickey, Silas Malafaia, Robert Tilton, Brian & Bobbi Houston, Phil & Chris Pringle, Rick Joyner, Joseph Prince, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Jentezen Franklin, Eddie Long, Juanita Bynum, Rod Parsley, T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Richard Robers, Bill Johnson, Paul Cain, Marco Barrientos, C. Peter Wagner, Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Jack Deere, David Yonggi Cho, Kong Hee, Derek Prince, Steve Munsey, Mike Murdock, Edir Macedo, John Bevere, Todd Burpo, etc.
They’re not flying under the radar and they don’t face a lot of actual opposition in Charismatic circles.
Same also goes for all the B-list false teachers (who still have national, if not international, ministries) like Kat Kerr, David Hogan, Choo Thomas, Bob Jones, Patricia King, Chuck Pierce, John P. Kelly, Judah Smith, Noel Jones, Tommy Tenney, Steve Hill, Don Piper, Bill Wiese, TL Osborn, Cindy Jacobs, Peter Popoff, Leroy Jenkins (that’s actually the name of a “real” televangelist, not just the guy from the WOW video), etc.
When you start looking into things, it’s simply amazing how many “fringe frauds” there are in the Charismatic movement who are really busy; putting out books, maintaining hectic speaking schedules and generally spreading theological cancer with little opposition.
That leads us to our next point.
C. When it comes to Cessationist churches, the “Fringe Frauds” are definitely not welcomed.
There are theological whack jobs and false teachers that pop up in cessationist circles, but they don’t stay there for long because it’s not a friendly environment (though they can always get jobs at Brewton Parker College). We don’t usually buy what they’re selling because we spot their errors rather quickly (most of the time). We tend to get to know them, see what they’re about, and either correct them or church discipline them (and they tend to not come back of their own accord). False teachers like Bill Gothard do penetrate our circles, but we tend to label false teachers as such and respond to them rather aggressively. Same goes for Harold Camping; he was no stranger to full throttle rebuttals and book length responses that include the label “false teacher”. One may also recognize that guys like Gothard and Camping didn’t work in any church for a majority of their ministries, since the churches they originally worked with expressed concerns with them and showed them the door (Gothard has never really been involved with a church and Harold Camping was ushered out of the CRC in 1988).
Also, there are even questionable movements (within the veil of orthodoxy) that infiltrate cessationist circles, but we tend to be vocal about our disagreement with them. Not all of us are fans of Family Integrated Ministry, the Way of the Master, the Quiverfull movement, Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue theology, etc. We don’t label those movements as damnable heresy or even necessarily heresy (a “heresy” is “a deviation from the truth”, but a “damnable heresy” is “a deviation from the truth that compromises the gospel and places one outside of Christendom” – see 2 Peter 2:1), but within cessationist ranks there is a passion and determination to protect the flock of God from both heretical and heterodox ideas.
People on the outside may look at us and think we’re heresy hunters, and that’s somewhat true. Cessationists tend to think of it as “being concerned for the flock of God” and take Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:26-31 as something serious. The problem, of course, is that there is often needless narrowing of the borders of orthodoxy in cessationist churches. The flip side of that continual vigilance is that cessationist churches also don’t look like this EVER:
That leads us to our next point.
D. The “Fringe Frauds” are not being discredited or run out of Charismatic circles because they cannot be consistently critiqued by almost anyone in the movement.
The only way to run John Crowder out of the movement is to establish that he’s teaching something/doing something that is biblically wrong and is teaching error. The only way to do that is with a sufficiently articulate and comprehensive theological vocabulary built on meticulous exegesis that attempts to uncover of single intended meaning of scripture. In other words, the Bible has to be understood with a consistent historical grammatical hermeneutic. If the Bible has an objective meaning (meaning the author mean to communicate something specific), and John Crowder claims that the scriptures mean/teach (x) when it actually teaches (y), then John Crowder is objectively wrong.
In Charismatic circles, consistently applied historical grammatical hermeneutics are simply not there.
Why are they not there?
I’d dare be so bold as to suggest that Point B is a majority of the reason: since the movement is infested with false teachers, the movement is infested with horrible preaching, doctrine and exegesis that results in there being little to no examples of consistent usage of scripture (which results in few having a consistent test for false teachers).
Beyond that, consistently applied historical grammatical hermeneutics aren’t exemplified by the “good guys” that are held up as exemplary; even the biggest “elder statesmen” in the movement have moments where they try to make biblical arguments that are simply laughable.
I mean, let’s look at a random example from one of the better folks from the list I gave and see how he stands up to a critical eye:
I grabbed a random article from Jack Hayford’s website.
1. Consider how he uses the scripture.
– Look up the verses he cites and ask yourself “Did this passage mean the same thing to it’s original audience as it apparently does to Jack Hayford?”. “If it means something totally unrelated to Hayford, is he reading it correctly?”
– How in the world is Psalm 119:165 connected to some sort of command to build an altar of truth?
– Does John 8:32 have anything to do with the veil over the scriptures being removed? (read v. 30-58 for a clue)
– What is the general subject matter of Ezekiel 37 and Zechariah 12? Is it somehow connected to some sort of command to build an altar of life?
– Is Zechariah 14 talking about some sort of token for invoking further grace or is it somehow connected to some sort of command to build an altar of worship?
Is Psalm 113 somehow connected to some sort of command to build an altar of praise?
2. Consider what he says.
– Read what he says slowly and carefully, and ask yourself “what exactly does that mean?”
– What in the world does “invoking through prayer the rule of God Almighty” mean? Is God’s rule over the universe somehow increased by prayer? (Think about that for a second…)
– What in the world is “prophetic prayer” and where does one learn about it in the New Testament? (If he’s using the Old Testament for instruction on prophetic action, he’s using the Old Testament definition of prophet, right? Does that mean he’s an Old Testament prophet? Hmmm?)
– Why in the world did these people need to build altars to pray for Israel?
– What does “praying praise to drive back the darkness” mean? Is praise some sort of offensive weapon in spiritual warfare? If so, where does the Bible teach that?
– Is the “spirit of prophecy” different than the “Spirit of life” or the “Spirit of harvest”? Are they all the Holy Spirit? Where does he get those terms? He wouldn’t be doing something so naive as grabbing the phrase “Spirit of prophecy” from Revelation 19:10 or the phrase “Spirit of life” from Romans 8:2 and building an entire doctrines on those singular verses, would he? (Kinda looks like it, right?)
– If the Holy Spirit gives discernment, and the usage of that discernment will then bring the “spirit of prophecy”, does that mean that the person gets more Holy Spirit, more Spiritual Gifts, or some sort of different outpouring of the same Holy Spirit?
– Why in the world does God need “prayer warriors who will resist the Adversary and contend for God’s boundaries of intended blessing”? Are God’s hands somehow tied and unable to deliver blessings if he intends to deliver them?
– He closes off saying “let us march forward in full confidence that He has called us to action in prayer that will result in the securing and expansion of boundaries of intended blessing in our world and in each of our lives.” What in the world does that mean? Is there blessing that is intended by God for us that we can somehow miss if we don’t take the right course of action? Dos God not get what he wants if we screw it up?
Before you think I’m being too hard on him, here’s another account of the same trip by an Australian pastor of a rather large Foursquare church (and one of the Australian Foursquare directors over the 63 Foursquare churches in Australia, and the president of the Australian Foursquare Bible College) who went with Hayford and thinks rather highly of him. Here’s Rudy Tan’s description of what he thought they were doing, and I dare suggest that those ideas aren’t all original to him. Does that fellow make their journey sound more or less biblically reasonable?
Let’s get real here.
Remember what Jack Hayford was doing on this trip:
Hayford was marching all over Israel with a group of people, apparently commanded by none other than God almighty himself, surrounding “altars” (I still don’t know if they’re physical mounds or not) and praying offensive warfare prayers based on various passage from the Old Testament that were haphazardly strung together without any real concern for context or authorial intent.
If that article is coming from a seasoned and widely recognized leader in the movement who is somewhat of an “elder statesman” in the movement (he was the guy who officiated Benny Hinn’s wedding, and I’d dare suggest that Benny Hinn could have chosen anyone he wanted), and Jack Hayford has trained and influenced thousands of pastors, and if he’s that mediocre on doctrine and exegesis, it’s incredibly unlikely that all those he influenced have far surpassed him in those regards. I’d suggest Jack Hayford has had a rather deleterious effect on the movement as a whole.
How in the world does a fellow like that somehow stand against John Crowder? On what basis? Biblical exegesis? How does he say “John, ‘smoking the ghost’ is simply too far” if he’s claiming that God told him too actually drive to the four corners of the map of Israel and pray four specific prayers in order that Genesis 13:14-17 might occur and Israel might all get converted (which isn’t even the promise in Genesis 13)?
Think about that for a second.
That’s a guy who’s lacks the theology or exegetical ground from which to say anything to Crowder.
Is it any surprise that John Crowder is running around, making a full time living out of teaching false doctrine on six out of seven continents?
Until the big Charismatic leaders start moving towards biblical fidelity, cleaning up their own doctrine, tossing a torch on their own heresies and far surpassing guys like Jack Hayford in the doctrinal and exegetical realms, the movement will be infested with false teachers and evangelocks.
I pray that such will one day be the case.
I honestly have my doubts.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Here’s hoping for a legitimate miracle” Unger
P.S. – Evangelocks = Evangelical Warlocks. People running around in evangelical circles practicing ChristCraft; witchcraft practiced in the name of Jesus (i.e. positive confession theology). I just made that up…hope you like it.