For those of you who are my long time readers, you may have noticed that my internet activity has picked up a tad. I’ve been writing here for years, and I’ve been invited to share some of my writing at other places on the internet. My articles are being recycled on The CrippleGate as well as WorldView Weekend. I don’t know which posts people will find beneficial, but I just take a guess and hope that something will be a blessing or helpful in some way. I posted this article on The Cripplegate and it got a little notice, but I only had one major response (that I’m aware of). Today I was alerted to the fact that the article has received far more notice that I thought as I was recently featured on a segment of Wretched Radio:
Now I’m definitely thankful for the exposure and glad for the discussions that this is stimulating, but I’ve got a fair amount of pushback and wanted to clear some things up for some people:
1. It wasn’t a scholarly piece of lexicographical writing.
I went through all 430 occurrences of the noun “fire” in the ESV. It wasn’t a Greek/Hebrew word study, but an English one. I catalogued every usage of the word “fire”, but not related words (“fiery”, “burning”, etc.). I did look up every reference, but I didn’t spend a month on it.
2. I recognize that English contains plenty of expressions using “fire”.
The issue arises in that “Holy Fire”, or “being on fire for God” (among others) are English expressions that are used to suggest something specific in specific church contexts. I’ve never once heard someone talk about “Holy Fire” in the context of someone experiencing suffering, and I’ve never heard about “being on fire for God” in the context of someone being made a negative example by God (like Nadab and Abihu).
3. I know it looks pedantic.
I honestly get that. It looks like I’m picking a phrase, dragging it out and basically scolding people for punctuation (or something equally trivial). I understand that to some people, all I’m saying is that “that phrase isn’t in the Bible” and everyone gives me a golf clap since the list of “phrases not in the Bible” is far longer than two. I don’t believe I’m being pedantic since…
4. Understanding the Scripture properly actually affects your life.
An actual problem arises in when we (as Christians) utilize biblical language in ways that are explicitly contrary to Scripture. When we talk about God using language that is misleading, we mislead ourselves (and others) about God, and that has consequences. When someone misunderstands the Scripture, they often have ideas that are contrary to scripture (and do things like “trust” God to keep promises he has never made) and are objectively wrong about God in some way (which means they think God has a characteristic that in reality he does not). I’ve spent over a decade in charismatic circles, and around half that time was in some sort of leadership. I’ve prayed, hundreds of times, for people to “get the fire” or for God to “rekindle the fire” in their lives. The vocabulary isn’t the problem as much as the false understanding of God leading to wrongful expectations of God, for almost every person I talked with understood an increase of “fire” as something:
A. A person passively receives from God (i.e. God does it to you, but you cannot really make it happen)
B. Received through specific means that didn’t include the Scripture (i.e. people thought they needed to attend a worship service, or go on a mission trip, or go volunteer at a Christian camp, etc.).
C. Not necessarily involving suffering.
Basically, the unspoken idea was that God was going to show up somewhere and “zap” people, and you needed to be part of it (or you were missing out from the full power of the Spirit in your life/center of God’s will).
I’m from western Canada and I remember innumerable times where friends were feeling spiritually “dry” (or struggling with sin, or needing a job, etc.), heard that there was “fire” somewhere, and then literally drove to another city to “acquire the fire”. I’ve done that myself several times (what else do you do in Bible College?). I’ve had people show up in my town and need to sleep on my couch because they heard that there was some “fire” in my town and they needed to get it. I can think of example after example of people driving here and there, wanting to acquire the “fire” that others had and when God lovingly and gracious answered their prayers by using his normative mechanism for growth and maturity (namely suffering), a majority of those examples ended in people either falling away from the Lord altogether (due to a sense that God had betrayed them; they asked for “fire” and someone died…) or abandoning the Charismatic movement for something that offered actual answers to their questions and solutions to their problems (i.e. myself and a few other friends). I could run down this trail for a few hundred pages, so I’ll leave clarifications for specific questions in the comment thread.
What you think about God matters.
What you believe about his work in your life matters.
If you misunderstand Luke 3:16; Matt. 3:11, Zech. 13:9; Acts 2:3; Psalm 10:4; Luke 24:32; Jer. 20:9 or any other verses as instructing you that God will give you an increased zeal for him/evangelism/the lost/etc. outside of his normative mode of doing so, you are in highly dangerous ground and possibly trusting God to keep a promise he’s never made. That may not sound like a huge deal, but betting on God to keep a promise he may not have made is a gamble you don’t ever want to lose.
That may have just muddied the waters more for some, but as always I welcome interaction and critique.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “aiming at clarity and hopefully hitting somewhere close” Unger