So far, I’ve reviewed the preface, chapter 1, chapter 3 (more chapter 3), the first part of chapter 5 as well as the second part of chapter 5, chapter 7 and chapter 9. Fred has review chapter 2, chapter 4, chapter 6, chapter 8 and chapter 10.
Also, this is the final installment on our review and response of Authentic Fire. The other appendixes contain content than have been responded to, at length, in other places.
Let’s get going…but first:
Cute little lamb who was betrayed by George “Giblets” Rodriquez at thanksgiving?
Our lamb is dead, betrayed by that turkey!
We’ll have to find a replacement.
There we go!
Okay. Now that our chopped lamb was replaced by Lambchop, we’re ready to speak the truth in love!
Appendix 1 Summary (I’ll replace the Michael Brown picture with Craig Keener…nah. How about Craig Charles?)
Now that’s someone who would destroy me in a debate…he has a guitar and a leather jacket and he’s famous!
Okay! Let’s summarize Dr. Keener’s appendix. Dr. Keener’s appendix is broken into five sections:
1. Introducing the Discussion
Dr. Keener opens the appendix stating that the appendix is being written before the book or the conference (there is a single footnote linking to his review of the Strange Fire book). He therefore states his disagreement with the themes of the conference, though he admits to seeing how someone can see “hard cessationism” in the Bible. He admits that witnessing abuses of the Spirit could tempt one to embrace cessationism, but suggests that abuses are no reason to reject something.
That being said, Dr. Keener writes “The main reason that I could never embrace cessationism, however, is that I am convinced that the biblical evidence is uniformly against it. That is, it is experience that has sometimes tempted me toward cessationism, and biblical authority that has prevented me from accepting it” (Kindle Locations 4858-4860). He boldly suggests that “cessationism’s hermeneutic undercuts Scripture’s authority in practice” (Kindle Locations 4862-4863) since it keeps us from “the spiritual reality of God’s activity”. He references Acts 2:17-10 in saying that the Spirit has been “poured out…in the last days” and suggests that neither has the Spirit been taken back nor are the “last days” over. He references his upcoming commentary on Acts and suggests that Christians “can expect God to lead us in surprising ways as He led the church in Acts” (Kindle Locations 4871-4872).
Really, Dr. Keener isn’t writing because of his Acts commentaries though; he’s writing because of his two-volume work on miracles. He refers his readers to his biblical defense of the continuationism and then states “It is my impression that few scholars today would try to defend cessationism primarily from Scripture in any case” (Kindle Location 4876).
(Well, Dr. Keener has spoken..but I’m wondering: were all the fellows at Strange Fire either not cessationists or not scholars?)
Continuing on, Dr. Keener defines his terms. He defines “charismatic” to mean “practicing continuationist—someone who not only believes in principle that biblical spiritual gifts are meant for the body of Christ after the first century (i.e. a noncessationist), but who also seeks to depend on the Spirit by using the gifts I have been given. In my case, this includes tongues in private prayer, sometimes prophecy, and most conspicuously and often, the gift of teaching” (Kindle Locations 4879-4882). Dr. Keener comments then about how the term “charismatic” has been hijacked to include things like the prosperity gospel but claims to use the term “charismatic” in a more historic, broader sense.
Dr. Keener then defines the term “cessationist” as a wide ranging term: it apparently is used by those “hard cessationists” who reject “anything supernatural” (which includes miracles and demon possession), those moderate cessationists who accept miracles but reject the “supernatural gifts” (he dismisses the “natural” and “supernatural” distinction as unbiblical), and even those soft cessationists who suggest that God normally doesn’t act in miraculous ways outside of a rare occasion or places “where the gospel is breaking new ground” (Kindle Location 4894), which is undefined but appears to be a context like “frontier missions”.
Dr. Keener suggests that most evangelical scholars are theological continuationists “though most do not highlight most gifts or practice them in public worship” (Kindle Locations 4900-4901) and then suggests that those who do practice all the gifts are a “smaller proportion”. He states that most of his colleagues would eschew the label “charismatic”, but suggests that the charismatic biblical scholars (he names Gordon Fee, J.P. Moreland, Wayne Grudem and Ben Witherington) do make contributions to evangelicalism.
2. Signs of God’s Compassion
Dr. Keener spends this section discussing miracles in general. He references his own work on the subject and makes the interesting claim “Despite some press the book receives, its purpose is to challenge not cessationism but antisupernaturalism— not the belief that dramatic miracles ceased but the belief that they cannot have ever occurred” (Kindle Locations 4919-4921). He comments on Augustine’s experiences of miraculous healing in response to prayer, as well as the “miracle accounts” of the French Huguenots, Cotton Mather, the Moravians, Mercy Wheeler, John Moorhead, John Wesley and Francis Shaeffer.
Dr. Keener then moves on to discuss how an anonymous survey claims that 86.4% of Brazilian Pentecostals claim to have experienced divine healing, another survey reports that “many tens of millions reported witnessing divine healing” (Kindle Location 4948) and those numbers include both charismatics and non-charismatics. He shares stories of people from various places in the world (India, Congo, etc.) who prayed for, and received, healing…including one instance of what sounds like it may have been a resurrection. Dr. Keener recounts several miracle accounts of his own as well, just for good measure. Interestingly, they involve a woman in a wheelchair who regained her ability to walk (or hobble with help), and Dr. Keener also recounts a story about his ankle that was horribly sore after an accident: he writes “I twisted my ankle and probably broke it” [Kindle Location 4988]. He recalls how it was instantly healed after prayer…though both the prayer and the healing happened three years after the initial accident.
3. Miracles Associated With The Spreading Of The Gospel
Dr. Keener then shifts gears from general miracles to signs, which he claims God often uses to draw attention to the gospel. Dr. Keener takes an ever-so-brief look into history books to connect signs with the proclamation of the gospel, writing “The majority of conversions to Christianity in the third and fourth centuries were due to healings and exorcisms; the church fathers of the first few centuries regularly appealed to such healings as demonstrations of the truth of Christianity. In later history, such signs often accompanied the spreading of the gospel in new regions; missions histories often report, for example, stories about Columba in Scotland and Boniface in Germany” (Kindle Locations 4993-4996).
Dr. Keener then shifts gears to talk about the present. He references J.P. Moreland’s work Kingdom Triangle and comments on how Moreland reports that “up to 70 percent of that growth involves “signs and wonders”” (Kindle Locations 4998-4999). Dr. Keener points to the church in China as being overrun by experiences of healing, apparently present in “half or more of all new conversions” in the final two decades of the 20th century. He continues on and states that a three-decade-old study performed in Chennai, India reported that “a tenth of non-Christians in that city had experienced healing through prayer to Jesus” (Kindle Locations 5005-5006) and he states that not all who were healed were converted. He comments further, making short references to a conversions involving healing in Ecuador and the Philippines.
Dr. Keener follows that by telling a story of a large wave of conversions that occurred in Suriname in response to the healing of a paralyzed arm (in response to prayer). He tells another story about a church in Congo and two resurrections that had occurred there. He tells a third story about a prophesied four-day drought that came to pass in a Nigerian town and resulted in a whole village converting to Christ, and Dr. Keener tells a similar story from the life of Watchman Nee in China. Dr. Keener closes off this section with a story about a person with a sore knee that Dr. Keener prayed for. Her knee felt better, he told her to quit smoking (and she did), he shared the gospel with her, and she became a Christian.
4. Tongues And Prophecy Today
It was at this point that Dr. Keener got to the stuff that was actually relevant to cessationism and Strange Fire. Dr. Keener makes a bee-line for 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. He takes “the perfect” as “Christ’s return” and then tells a story about how he had an interaction with an elder at a Baptist church who said that “the perfect” was “the Bible” and Dr. Keener responds “Tongues and prophecy appear destined to pass away when present knowledge does…” (Kindle Location 5068), which obviously suggests that “the perfect” cannot be the Bible. He further attacks the idea that “the perfect” is “the Bible” and pulls out the standard arguments against that position (such as Rev. 22:18 isn’t referring to the whole Bible, there are other prophecies that aren’t scripture, 1 Thess. 5:20-21, etc.). It’s apparently quite clear that “the perfect” that is coming is not the Bible.
(Of course! This is the perfect that is to come! If we abandon the naturally literal reading of the text, how dare you suggest I’m wrong!?)
Dr. Keener then starts talking about prophecy and how God still “speaks” and writes:
I do not look for new doctrinal revelations; but I certainly look for God to speak at times. At the very least this communication is the Spirit reassuring our hearts that we are God’s children (Romans 8: 16; and what is this, if not “experiential”?), and the Spirit declaring God’s love to us through the cross (Romans 5: 5-9). (Kindle Locations 5083-5085)
Dr. Keener comments on the need for a “subjective, personal relationship with God” and comments that such was the experience of everyone in the Bible, from Abraham to Paul. He comments on how intellectuals don’t like to emphasize experience or love, but those are things that Christ modeled. He then comments on the reality of fallible prophecy in the New Testament by stating “…prophecies were not infallible even in the New Testament, where, even among believers, they had to be tested (1 Corinthians 14: 29; 1 Thessalonians 5: 20-21)” (Kindle Locations 5089-5090) and writes the following:
“Those who would rather throw out all prophecy than use discernment are usually inconsistent. They are also aware that false teaching exists, yet they do not for that reason reject all teaching or declare that the gift of teaching passed away. They use discernment. The same is necessary for prophecy, as in the Bible.” (Kindle Locations 5091-5094).
Dr. Keener appeals to the Church Fathers, suggesting that many were continuationists and gives examples from the Didache and those who refuted Montanism; neither of which denied the continuance of prophecy. Dr. Keener makes a passing reference to how cessationists skirt 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 14:39 and infers that cessationists exhibit lack of biblical fidelity in doing so.
Shifting to modern prophecy, Dr. Keener writes “Probably there are few prophetic people today like Samuel, who could be expected to tell people where their lost donkeys were (1 Samuel 9: 6, 20). Then again, it is not clear that most true prophets in the Bible functioned this way, either; that was not their primary purpose” (Kindle Locations 5103-5105).
Dr. Keener then goes on to give “examples” of contemporary prophecies. He tells a long story of when his wife received prophecies in Congo: (a) she would “marry a white man with a big ministry” (Kindle Locations 5108-5109), (b) Dr. Keener should not worry about the cultural differences between his wife and himself, and (c) Dr. Keener’s wife’s passport was in. Dr. Keener the tells a story about how a Christian from Ethiopia “prophesied to me about two big books I was writing, the second of which would be larger than the first” (Kindle Locations 5117-5118).
Then addressing the question of tongues, Dr. Keener talks about how Del Tarr, a Pentecostal academician and linguistics scholar, has personally witnessed people speaking in a foreign language in a Pentecostal worship service. Apparently one of Dr. Keeners’ students’ mother was converted by the gospel being preached in tongues. Dr. Keener closes off his talk about tongues with a story of how his own personal conversion involved ecstatic speech.
5. Hard Cessationist Criticisms of African Christianity
Dr. Keener finally moves on to address the Strange Fire statements about Africa and addresses Conrad Mbewe. Dr. Keener suggests that Conrad Mbewe’s generalizations about the wide acceptance of the prosperity gospel “leave a false impression of African Christians” and “Such an approach allows hard cessationists to dismiss the value of miracle claims from Africa and much of the Majority World” (Kindle Locations 5138-5139). Dr. Keener has spent much time in Africa, including living there for many months, but his real expertise comes from his Congolese wife who “holds a PhD in history and is conversant with a wide range of African cultures and history” (Kindle Location 5143). She’s not from a Pentecostal denomination but the Congolese people in her theological circles see the Pentecostals as excessive and yet still welcomed the gifts of the Spirit and recognized the criticisms made by Mbewe but saw them as obvious deviations from the norm.
Dr. Keener comments on how many westerners are likely not too comfortable with African culture or religious expression, but that doesn’t mean that the accusations of syncretism are as widespread as Mbewe (and others) might suggest. Non-western people don’t have the western aversion to miracles and also are more “charismatic” in other ways (like experiencing God in dreams) and few Africans are cessationists. Dr. Keener points to the Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria as responsible charismatic churches that teach the scriptures and still experience the gifts. Dr. Keener refers to a survey (that he neither names nor provides bibliographic information for) that suggests that 85% of non-Pentecostals in Jos, Nigeria think that Pentecostals are genuine Christians. 75% of those same people think that Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible in Pentecostal churches and 63% think that Pentecostals make the Bible relevant.
Dr. Keener comments that many of the Pentecostals that he has taught in Africa were “hungry for Bible teaching.” Dr. Keener also comments that most African churches don’t receive western funding (except the prosperity preaching churches) and also that a majority of the African Christians have little to no theological training. He closes off this section by agreeing that there are widespread abuses and counterfeit miracles, but contests that there is also widespread faithfulness and authentic miracles.
6. Charges Of Charismatic Syncretism
Dr. Keener moves on from speaking about tongues, prophecy and Africa in order to discuss the charges of syncretism. Dr. Keener quotes MacArthur as saying that a majority of Pentecostals are not Christians and suggests that this, in combination with the comments made about African pastors functioning like witch doctors, leads Dr. Keener to believe that MacArthur is charging the movement with widespread syncretism. Dr. Keener responds:
“Although false claims do abound, they are hardly limited to some Pentecostals. Indeed, the caricature of the vast majority of African Pentecostals as not being Christian is also a false claim. In some places, in fact, Pentecostals and charismatics are the least syncretistic, and in at least some places they are the only people preaching the Christian message of salvation” (Kindle Locations 5253-5255).
Dr. Keener continues and protests that even if error is widespread, it’s not due to silence on the behalf of Pentecostals and charismatics since “many of us have spoken explicitly on these points” (Kindle Location 5258) but those critiques are only read by those who agree with them. He comments that there’s no police over doctrine or beliefs in charismatic circles, but he still maintains that there have been people speaking out against the abuses and problems for decades. He refers to critiques by Gordon Fee (his book The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels, Julie Ma (a Korean missiologist at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies), his professors at the AOG college and seminary that he attended, and himself.
Dr. Keener recalls how a decade ago he almost wrote a book on prosperity teaching but the publisher turned it down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore” (Kindle Location 5275). Dr. Keener comments that he goes “further against prosperity teaching than most people” (Kindle Location 5277) since when he was single he lived as cheaply as possible so he could give away as much as possible. He then states how many who believe the prosperity gospel are genuine believers for the following reasons:
In some locations where I ministered, my primary colleagues in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel assumed prosperity teachings because they had been taught them. At the same time, these teachings were incidental to their faith that was also nourished by regular study of Scripture. More than their commitment to prosperity teachings, they firmly believed the saving gospel, lived sacrificially, and were leading people to Christ. Some in time did recognize errors on various points and left them behind. (Kindle Locations 5281-5284).
He suggests that the proper response to the prosperity gospel is a loving dialogue rather than pronouncing them to be missing out on the kingdom, which would actually be a false gospel in itself since it would be adding doctrinal considerations to Christ’s saving work in order to be saved. Dr. Keener cites an unnamed survey that says that a majority of Africans believe that “God can provide prosperity through faith” and suggests that many Africans simply trust God to provide their basic needs, which Matt. 6:25-32 instructs them to do and admits that people in the third world emulate American consumerism, which is the real problem behind the prosperity gospel (which only gives a theological justification to consumerism).
Dr. Keener suggests that African Pentecostals have often been at the forefront of attacking syncretism in their midst. Dr. Keener writes how zealous outsiders sometimes accuse Pentecostals of witchcraft without sufficient reason. He admits that some people do practice pagan religion with a “Christian veneer,” but “nevertheless, occasions of false charges of witchcraft are widespread and should be denounced rather than encouraged” (Kindle Location 5319).
Dr. Keener then relates how some people made ignorant comments about Congo on Amazon.com in reviews of his book on miracles, and comments that the commenter had the wrong Congo (there’s two), the wrong group of people, and “criticizing an entire people based on the deeds of some” is “essentially the sin of racism” (Kindle Location 5327). He then moves on to talk about how “guilt by association” is committed by “hypercesstionists”, giving the example of Rolland and Heidi Baker and plays the “at least they’re doing it” card against their critics. Dr. Keener writes that someone commented on how Heidi Baker “was prayed for by someone who was prayed for by someone else who believed in prosperity teaching” (Kindle Location 5339) and comments:
“the fear of spiritual contamination passed on by the prayers of one advocate of that teaching raises a serious theological question. Aside from the question of whether holding that teaching entails being demonized (and charismatics see demons everywhere?), is it possible that the critics have greater fear of spiritual contamination than they have trust in the gospel to purify? When Jesus touched the unclean, did He become impure, as people expected, or did He purify the unclean? If Rolland and Heidi effectively preach the saving gospel, are they really contaminated?” (Kindle Locations 5340-5344).
(It was at this point in the review that I almost smashed my laptop. I’ll explain why in my response…)
Dr. Keener goes on to suggest that the real problem might be a “western log” in our eye. He comments that when he was converted, he struggled to overcome his naturalistic way of thinking. He suggests that this is the substructure behind belief in hard cessationism. He makes a connection between cessationism and deism and and he writes:
Antisupernaturalism first advanced its case based on earlier forms of cessationism, which was an overreaction against false medieval claims, just as cessationists today often react against “hypercharismatics.” But that is a different story. (Kindle Locations 5358-5360).
He continues on and says:
“Hard cessationism allowed people to accept biblical miracles without having to fight the wider skepticism of the culture. At the same time, it also subverted part of the message of biblical miracles— trust that God can do anything and that he might well continue to do such things among us today. Again, that biblical message is something I have expounded elsewhere (especially in Gift & Giver), so I will not rehearse it here. Yet I am convinced enough that Scripture is clear on this point that I would view hard cessationism as a form of syncretism— with antisupernaturalism or deism” (Kindle Locations 5360-5364).
He closes off this section admitting that “most hard cessationists are my brothers and sisters in Christ” and writes “I would , however, urge them to lay aside the cultural and experiential prejudice they have against God’s activity and hear Scripture more clearly” (Kindle Locations 5366-5367).
Dr. Keener closes off ironically saying “Sometimes people with gifts for teaching and people with gifts for evangelism (or other gifts) oppose one another, perhaps because we have spiritual pride” (Kindle Locations 5368-5369) and continues on writing “Claims that have been widely circulated by some in MacArthur’s circle— such as that most charismatics are not Christians or that the vast majority of African evangelicals are heretical— are not merely overstated. They are slander and they divide God’s people” (Kindle Locations 5369-5371).
He urges his readers to seek for unity, cites John 17:21, and closes off with “For our Lord’s honor, may we find in him the unity that transcends our differences” (Kindle Location 5373).
Okay. Catch your breath.
Now for the response.
Appendix 1 Comments (continuing my theme of “British Heartthrobs”, I’ll be Chris Barrie: the Duke of Dork!)
Before we get going, I’d like to take a moment and make some general observations:
a. He’s writing in a book that’s a response to a book/conference spearheaded by John MacArthur and shows an amazing lack of familiarity with every position John MacArthur holds on all the relevant subjects:
– John MacArthur believes in miracles (and addresses it here) and both Phil Johnson and John MacArthur have openly discussed this at Strange Fire (they’re open to the possibility but recognize that 99.99% or more of claimed modern miracles don’t fit the biblical definition, and miracles are incredibly infrequent, even in the scripture).
– John MacArthur believes in divine healing and has openly preached on it (search “medical prognosis” on this page to find the relevant text there and below). John MacArthur also has repeatedly told the stories about how his son Mark had a brain tumor that was possibly fatal or how his wife broke her neck and was given a 5% chance for survival, but they were both healed by the Lord (providentially using medical treatment) in response to prayer (those might not sound like miracle healing stories, but they’re certainly closer than Dr. Keener’s “sore ankle” story).
– John MacArthur has, in every sermon he’s ever preached on the issue and everything he’s ever put in print, attacked the idea that “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13:8-12 is “the Bible.” John MacArthur openly agrees with most people that “the perfect” is the second coming (a claim that I document in meticulous detail here).
– John MacArthur is a supernaturalist in practice and is open about it (what with being a Christian and believing in Biblical Creationism, the power of prayer, the Holy Spirit, etc.)…he just doesn’t manifest his supernaturalism in the public manifestation of patently sub-biblical “sign gifts” qualified as authentic by suspicious and irrelevant personal testimony.
Dr. Keener seemingly didn’t care much about interacting with the Strange Fire conference or book since he didn’t really address any of the specific beliefs or statements made in either the book or the conference…not quite a home run.
Hmm. This also generates a question as to why he wrote the appendix.
There seems to be a reason, which I’d suggest is “attacking a version of cessationism unrelated to Strange Fire.”
Well, consider the following:
b. Dr. Keener wasn’t actually attacking the cessationism presented by anyone at Strange Fire.
Look at the three definitions of “cessationist” that Dr. Keener put forth. The first was the “hard cessationist”:
The term “cessationist” is also used in very different ways. The hardest form of cessationism, much more common in earlier eras than today, rejects anything supernatural, not only postbiblical miracles but even demon possession. (Kindle Locations 4887-4888)
Dr. Keener dismissed that group as more or less irrelevant/unregenerate:
(Of course, no true Christian completely rejects everything supernatural, such as the new birth . In fact, the entire Christian life should be lived in the power of the Spirit, walking by the Spirit and bearing the Spirit’s fruit.) (Kindle Locations 4888-4890)
He then gave a second definition of “cessationist” that was far more moderate:
More often cessationists believe that God may continue to perform miracles but that distinctively supernatural gifts have ceased. The distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” gifts is, however, a postbiblical distinction— it certainly does not appear in Paul’s own lists of gifts. (Kindle Locations 4890-4892)
He then gave a third definition of “soft cessationist,” which was a camp in which Dr. Keener placed himself:
The softest form of cessationism simply says that God does not always act in the miraculous ways we see in the Gospels and Acts. It allows, however, that he sometimes does so, especially where the gospel is breaking new ground. Such cessationism repudiates claims such as someone being able, for example, to always heal on command— a claim very few charismatics themselves would offer. Personally, I would not choose to call such an approach cessationism. Indeed, a large proportion of practicing charismatics and Pentecostals hold this position, including myself! (Kindle Locations 4892-4896)
Dr. Keener identified the first group as irrelevant/unregenerate and the third group included Dr. Keener, so one would think that Dr. Keener would place John MacArthur and the rest of the Strange Fire folks in the second (moderate) camp, right?
The only time he directly went after anything remotely associated with the Strange Fire conference was when he was attacking “hard cessationism” and the criticisms laid against the African charismatic movement by Conrad Mbewe. That whole section is called Hard Cessationist Criticisms of African Christianity, and remember that, according to Dr. Keener’s previously mentioned definition, John MacArthur and Conrad Mbewe don’t hold to “hard cessationism” at all (since that would mean that they’re hard naturalists who disallow the possibility of the miraculous, demonic possession, are likely unbelievers, etc.).
But contrary to how things appear, Dr. Keener didn’t toss all “hard cessationists” under the bus as unbelievers. He wrote:
Hard cessationism allowed people to accept biblical miracles without having to fight the wider skepticism of the culture. At the same time, it also subverted part of the message of biblical miracles— trust that God can do anything and that he might well continue to do such things among us today. Again, that biblical message is something I have expounded elsewhere (especially in Gift & Giver), so I will not rehearse it here. Yet I am convinced enough that Scripture is clear on this point that I would view hard cessationism as a form of syncretism— with antisupernaturalism or deism. At the very least it sifts the biblical message unfairly through the grid of its postbiblical tradition. I would not for that reason deny that most hard cessationists are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I would, however, urge them to lay aside the cultural and experiential prejudice they have against God’s activity and hear Scripture more clearly. (Kindle Locations 5360-5367)
Still, he doesn’t take back the statement that “hard cessationists” don’t believe in the possibility of the supernatural or things like demons possession, neither of which would be a position of John MacArthur (as I’ve documented) or any speaker at the Strange Fire conference.
I don’t know if Dr. Keener thought that declaring war on the “themes from Dr. MacArthur’s conference” (Kindle Location 4852) would get him off the radar for criticism, but there’s no excuse for defining “hard cessationism” in a way that clearly doesn’t apply to his intended targets (John MacArthur or Conrad Mbewe) and then spending a good portion of the appendix addressing “hard cessationists.”
Dr. Keener was attacking something, but it wasn’t the cessationism that was present in the Strange Fire book or conference.
c. Dr. Keener spends around a third of his chapter talking about opponents of miracles in general…which wouldn’t be so bad except that he admits that cessationists generally accept the possibility of miracles…and we do (in fact, I don’t know of anyone in the cessationist camp that doesn’t). Christians are, by nature, supernaturalists…it’s just that some of us aren’t suckers. We look for a little more than the “like, for reals!” level of evidence often provided.
d. Not a single reference. He quotes a whole bunch of stuff (Moreland, studies, etc.) but we don’t get any way to track down and verify anything he has said…so I’m suspicious of all his claims. I seriously doubt Dr. Keener is a liar and I’m not suggesting that he is, but he’s hardly an unbiased observer. I will suggest that I don’t believe any of what he’s said, not because of a personal or moral flaw with him but because he hasn’t given me any reason to (like an actual citation). I don’t take his word for it because, in matters of truth, no man is a trustworthy and unbiased authority.
e. No serious interaction with scripture. He opens up the chapter with “The main reason that I could never embrace cessationism, however, is that I am convinced that the biblical evidence is uniformly against it” (Kindle Locations 4858-4859), glosses over 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, and then proceeds to tell stories for the rest of the appendix. The entire chapter has a shining 27 references to the scripture at all, and 18 of those references (that’s 66%) are in the 9 paragraph section where he discusses when the gifts will pass (namely 1 Cor. 13:8-12), but he doesn’t actually spend any time in any passage at all. The appendix is essentially all testimonial evidence.
Dr. Keener may claim to be convinced by the scripture, but he sure doesn’t write like a man who came to his conclusions based upon the scripture.
Now that I’ve got that tossed out, I can return to interacting with his specifics.
1. Introducing the Discussion
I’m kinda surprised that Dr. Keener is contributing to a response to a specific book and openly admits that he hasn’t even read the book. I am glad that Dr. Keener throws us idiotic cessationists a bone though…at least he doesn’t suggest that we’re not Christians. No, we’re just probably not real scholars. That being said, I would pay serious money to watch Dr. Keener attempt to convince “real” scholars, like Bart Ehrman or James Dunn (or any number of others), that this is even remotely related to what was happening in the book of Acts:
I found it interesting how Dr. Keener doesn’t define “cessationism’s hermeneutic” but suggests that it “undercuts Scripture’s authority in practice” (Kindle Locations 4863). Well, I guess I’ll just have to take his word for it! I also loved it how he defined “charismatic” in the absolute broadest terms possible (he included the “gift of teaching”…?!?) and openly admitted to using the term outside of its contemporary meaning (just to increase confusion), but he defined “cessationist” in a way that no cessationist would consider fair (what cessationist denies the possibility of the supernatural?). It was hilarious to me how he pronounced that most scholars are “continuationists” and then turned around and said “though most do not highlight most gifts or practice them in public worship” (Kindle Locations 4900-4901). In other words, according to the usage of “charismatic” that most people would understand, most scholars aren’t charismatic. When he named the scholars who would be “charismatic” in the sense that most people would understand, he only named four fellows beyond himself.
2. Signs of God’s Compassion
This entire section is entirely irrelevant to the issues around Strange Fire. Nobody is opposed to miracles in general. I’m open to the miraculous. As a cessationist, I have no problem whatsoever with God acting in whatever way he decides to act but I equally don’t expect him to act in contradiction to his revelation of himself in scripture. For example: God has the power to flood the earth again, but he has said explicitly that he won’t therefore he can’t. God has the right to limit the manifestations of his power to the purpose of fulfilling his will, and he does so daily.
As for all the testimonials and statistics, I simply don’t doubt that people experienced what they claim, but I question their interpretation of their experience. Someone may have prayed and God may have miraculously healed in response to prayer, but that doesn’t mean that the person who did the praying has the gift of healing (or even that a “biblical quality” healing actually occurred). It’s far more biblically reasonable that God simply answered their prayers.
Then there’s the whole “sore ankle” story or the women in the wheelchair who *sorta* could walk after someone prayed for her. Why is it that every story I hear that’s tossed out as some sort of “evidence” for people having the gift of healing looks nothing like the examples set forth by Jesus and the Apostles?
Why does nobody seem to be able to answer why I don’t see or hear about events like Acts 3:6-10 or John 9:1-34 happening anywhere? I’m not talking about people praying and the sick getting healed; as a cessationist I expect that. I’m talking about people who claim to have the gift of healing in the same sense that Jesus and the apostles did. I’m talking about divinely selected people being given the gift of healing and using that gift to instantaneously heal objectively verifiable physical infirmity (i.e. wounds or paralysis)…and not with mysterious strangers that nobody can ever track down. I’m talking about cripples that everyone knows and dozens can vouch for. I’m talking about instantaneous, complete, public, irrefutable and documented (or documentable) healing that doesn’t involve prayer (if you look in the New Testament, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever prayed before healing people – and I’m aware of Acts 9:40 and 28:8…). I’m talking about God healing through an individual at the discretion of that individual. I’m talking about someone yelling “rise up and walk” and a cripple hopping to their feet and doing the moonwalk. Jesus did it all the time and so did the apostles.
People cry “foul” when cessationists ask for an example of someone, anywhere, going and cleaning out a cancer ward. Jesus and his apostles did that regularly (Matt. 4:24, 8:16, 12:15; Mark 3:10; Luke 4:40, 6:19; Acts 5:16, 8:7). Jesus healed people of blindness, paralysis, open wounds that were years old, leprosy, etc. and every wheelchair that goes into a healing crusade comes out the other side. When I’m referred to stories of some sort of “out of the wheelchair” healing that is performed by a person who claims to have the gift of healing, it either doesn’t look anything like biblical healings (i.e. Dr. Keeners example where the woman slowly regained the ability to hobble) or it doesn’t even stand up to a surface-level examination.
Why is that exactly?
3. Miracles Associated With The Spreading Of The Gospel
Dr. Keener’s point about signs pointing people to the gospel was subtly wrong. God has never used signs to point people to the gospel but rather to verify his spokesmen (namely prophets and apostles) as authentic. As for his claims about “a majority of conversions” in the third and fourth centuries, he’s simply making unsubstantiated claims that I’m ignoring as nonsense…and it’s interesting how he needs to pull out Catholic saints like St. Boniface (whose most famous miracle was cutting down a tree). That seems really desperate.
As for his citation of J.P. Moreland and how “up to 70 percent of that growth involves ‘signs and wonders'” (Kindle Locations 4998-4999), I simply say “so what?” The Chinese think they’re experiencing miracles en masse. So what? That doesn’t mean that what they think is happening is actually happening. Their interpretation of their experience is possibly wrong.
(And if you haven’t seen the Dynamo video, you may want to check this craziness out)
Let me be clear on this: I don’t care if Dr. Keener himself teleports to the Republic of Nauru, preaches a sermon in their native tongue, heals a whole cancer ward and the whole nation proclaims faith in Jesus. That’s not proof that God has always done miracles in the past or that his miracle is itself an act of God. Only the scriptures interpret our wild and crazy experiences, including what appear to be astounding miracles, and a surface-level proclamation of faith is not divine verification of what seems to be divine miracles (just saying “I’m a Christian” doesn’t make anyone a Christian). If he preaches a false gospel (not assuming he would but only hypothetically speaking), his astounding miracles would be an astounding work of Satan.
4. Tongues And Prophecy Today
In 1 Cor. 13:8-12, “the perfect” isn’t the Bible. I agree that it’s the second coming, but I’m still a cessationist.
God doesn’t still speak through contemporary prophets, and Dr. Keener isn’t describing divine speech in that sense; Dr. Keener is actually a cessationist (and probably doesn’t realize it). The Spirit giving believers assurance of salvation in their hearts isn’t the same as “thus saith the Lord.” When charismatics talk about God still speaking, they are talking about personally receiving direct and propositional revelation from God (and not through reading the scripture, thinking about the scripture, hearing the scripture, etc.). People who receive propositional revelation from God are called “prophets.” There might be prophets around today (since “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13:8-12 is most likely the second coming), but the biblical definition of “prophet” still stands and so do the biblical tests…
…which brings me to this quote: “…prophecies were not infallible even in the New Testament, where, even among believers, they had to be tested (1 Corinthians 14: 29; 1 Thessalonians 5: 20-21)” (Kindle Locations 5089-5090). Dr. Keener just astounds me here. Prophecies had to be tested in the Old Testament too (Deut. 13 & 18 anyone?) since there were false prophets. The reason you test prophecies in the Old and New Testaments isn’t because there’s such a thing as fallible prophecy and you have to discern the mixed prophecies made by a legitimate prophet; the reason you test prophecies is to discern who is a legitimate prophet in the first place!
Give me the Biblical standard for prophets, and then show me a real prophet! Dr. Keener has never met one (i.e. a prophet with 100% accuracy who speaks God’s words in the place of God) and his fortune cookie examples show it clearly.
With regard to his comments on tongues, it’s strange how he seems to hold to multiple definitions of tongues. He quoted Del Tarr and discussed how Mr. Tarr has witnessed people speaking unknown earthly languages, but then Dr. Keener talked about his own experience with ecstatic speech and even mentioned prayer languages. I don’t know if he thinks that there are two or three different types of tongues, but I’ve written two posts (number one and number two) on the definition of “tongues” in the apostolic period and would suggest that Dr. Keener is confused as to the definition of tongues.
5. Hard Cessationist Criticisms of African Christianity
Oh boy. Dr. Keener’s argument here boils down to “I know more about African Christianity than Conrad Mbewe because I married an African and lived there for a while…” Just the very thought that he’s more widely exposed to African culture or can somehow speak from a position of greater authority on Africa than Conrad Mbewe, an African pastor who has traveled the continent preaching and ministering for decades, is laughably arrogant.
His attacks on Westerners and western thinking don’t really apply to Conrad Mbewe; Conrad’s from Zambia! Conrad Mbewe is the one talking about syncretism, and he’s a firsthand witness of it for decades. It’s also worth noting that like Dr. Brown, Dr. Keener seems to only get his information from Pentecostals in Africa. If the prosperity gospel has run amuck and people have all bought into it, they don’t tend to see themselves as heretics. I have dozens of friends (pastors, bible college professors, laypeople) who are currently in (or come from) all over Africa and the consistent story I get is that the church all over Africa is overrun by the prosperity gospel, word faith teaching and a dozen other obscene heresies. Ever since I wrote my charismatic primer series and looked at the biggest African churches (as well as taken a second look under the first point of interaction in this post), I’ve also been contacted by dozens of Africans who have confirmed my suspicions and expressed horrible lament for the spiritual state of their countries, thanks to all the false teachers that Dr. Keener is defending (more on this below).
One last knee-slapper. I couldn’t stop laughing when Dr. Keener cite the statistics about 75% of Nigerian Christians think that Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible in Pentecostal churches…and then followed it up with comments on the “urgent need” for theological and biblical training in Africa. So, the people who haven’t had biblical training think that the Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible?
Cue the Lizard!
6. Charges Of Charismatic Syncretism
In this section, Dr. Keener just uses irrelevant argumentation. His response to the charge of syncretism in the Africa charismatic movement was along the lines of “well, Pentecostals aren’t the only ones doing it…and at least they’re preaching the gospel!” Talk about unconvincing.
His claims about how the widespread error is being rebutted by Pentecostals and charismatics were also bizarre. He spoke of responses by himself, Gordon Fee, Julie Ma, and AoG seminary professors: all career ivory tower academics from the west…in other words, people that nobody in Africa would even know exist. Kenneth Copeland is in a theological tank, blasting away with the heresy cannon all over Africa and someone is tossing stones at him from the United States or Britain? Pardon me for being underwhelmed.
And his story about his efforts to write a book addressing the prosperity gospel that was turned down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore” (Kindle Location 5275)? He says it was around a decade ago, which would mean post Y2K. What planet does Dr. Keener live on again?
(You may want to read my answer to the question “Is the Charismatic Movement more dangerous than a cult?” on my review of chapter 1 of Authentic Fire.)
Speaking of living on a different planet, there was this quote:
In some locations where I ministered, my primary colleagues in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel assumed prosperity teachings because they had been taught them. At the same time, these teachings were incidental to their faith that was also nourished by regular study of Scripture. More than their commitment to prosperity teachings, they firmly believed the saving gospel, lived sacrificially, and were leading people to Christ. (Kindle Locations 5281-5284).
So he worked with people who he admits believed the prosperity gospel but he somehow thinks that the prosperity gospel was “incidental to their faith?” It appears that either Dr. Keener doesn’t have the same definition of “prosperity gospel” as the rest of us or he’s talking about something entirely different. I’d recommend that Dr. Keener and anyone else who is confused take a gander at Kenneth Copeland’s book The Laws of Prosperity: it’s a free book that spells it out in detail. Also, that book is from 1974 and that is what all the modern prosperity preachers have been taught (and what is currently being taught: just take a glance at the two resources for sale under the “Bible Study/Reference” section at LifeStore – the CBD of South Africa. Then look at all the highlighted resources on the main page. See if you can find Drs. Keener, Grudem, or any other remotely level-headed charismatic on that entire website. That is the theological sewage that is being sent to South Africa).
The prosperity gospel is a false gospel that cannot save.
There is nobody who “got saved” through hearing the prosperity gospel. There is nobody who leads others to the Lord through the prosperity gospel. A person who believes that they have some sort of divine right to financial blessings on the basis of the death of Christ is not a Christian, regardless of what other beliefs they might have that apparently balance out that damnable heresy.
Also, the charismatic line regarding how when Africans say “prosperity gospel” they actually mean “daily provisions” is simply a lie. I’ve documented at length (here and here) how there are thousands of churches on the continent of Africa who boldly proclaim the prosperity gospel, bring in people like Kenneth Copeland to do it, and only make the absolute worst prosperity gospel literature available to their congregations.
In responding to Strange Fire, Dr. Keener probably shouldn’t take comments on an Amazon.com review as any sort of official position from those associated with Strange Fire. Not only that, but comments about spiritual contamination were absolutely silly and his defense of Rolland and Heidi Baker shows a level of naivete that parallels Dr. Brown’s claimed naivete regarding the activities and teaching of Benny Hinn. I cannot speak for others who have spoken out against the Bakers, but I don’t think they have “spiritual cooties.” Roland and Heidi Baker are leaders in the New Apostolic Reformation; and the New Apostolic Reformation is almost entirely a movement of proponents of the prosperity gospel and astounding false teachers. Now I am playing a guilty by association card with the Bakers, but neither foolishly nor exclusively. The only people they associate with are blistering false teachers; there is no gospel present in those relationships to sanctify anything. But for the sake of my readers, here’s a little information about Rolland and Heidi Baker:
Roland and Heidi Baker are in Mozambique and are essentially the charismatic equivalents of Mother Theresa & Benny Hinn combined (read this article stub from Christianity Today for some interesting claims). Their story, in their own words, is here (along with various tales about trips to heaven, people raising the dead, claims that they plant a church almost every day, etc.). Their history is here (which details that their US base is in Redding, California [they’re openly associated with Bethel Church here, which I’ve thoroughly documented as a prosperity gospel church here], stories of Jesus directly speaking with Heidi Baker and commissioning her, the planting of “thousands” of churches, etc.). They’re one couple out of six couples that are part of the Revival Alliance, which is essentially the real life Illuminati: It’s a New Apostolic Reformation organization/denomination that formed as a fulfillment of a prophecy (spoken of in the Jan. 2012 letter here) made by (now-deceased) sexual predator/prophet Bob Jones and consists of:
(from right to left) Bill and Beni Johnson – Bethel Church, Global Legacy, and Apostolic Network of Global Awakening, Heidi and Rolland Baker – Iris Ministries, Georgian and Winnie Banov – Global Celebration, Che and Sue Ahn – Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries, Randy and DeeAnne Clark – Global Awakening. John and Carol Arnott – Catch the Fire (formerly Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) and Partners in Harvest. John and Carol Arnott are the pastors of the “barking revival” that Dr. Brown claims to know nothing about (but occurred at the same time as his revival, instructed the leaders of the Brownsville revival, and whose leaders showed up [during the Dr. Brown era] and spoke at Brownsville…and vice versa here and here…none of which is shocking since some Brownsville leaders kept frightening company), and Roland and Heidi Baker run the Partners in Harvest network of churches. I would say that they’re sitting in the midst of some pretty horrible company and are neck-deep in a movement marked by a false gospel. If that’s not enough for you, they’re the ones who gave Todd Bentley his introduction to the limelight back in 2003. That’s right. Todd Bentley. What’s worse is that I have good reason to believe that Heidi Baker is where Todd Bentley picked up his “heal people by kicking them in the face” schtick:
What exactly does that tell you about Rolland and Heidi Baker?
What exactly does that tell you about the amount of discernment possessed by Dr. Craig Keener?
I’m really getting tired of trying to be understanding to Bible scholars who have earned theological doctorates yet apparently fail basic tests of spotting orthodoxy on the level of “name that shape.”
Dr. Keener then goes back to talking about naturalism, which apparently is the source underlying anything beyond milquetoast cessationism. Also, his whole suggestion that cessationists choose the position out of some sort of fear of fighting the wider skepticism of the culture would have a shred of credibility if not for all the cessationists fighting liberalism (i.e. the culturally popular form of religion) in all its various manifestations for the past 200 years. If we were so intimidated by culture, we probably wouldn’t be the loud voices defending things like biblical creationism and attacking things like the emergent church. Neither one of those fights has made cessationists look terribly hip.
It’s funny to me how Dr. Keener doesn’t address the specific claims made by John MacArthur and Conrad Mbewe, but he just condemns them as slander. John MacArthur’s famous quote about Christianity and how “these people aren’t part of it” was in reference to folks in the New Apostolic Reformation and I doubt that Dr. Keener is willing to openly defend the folks who are going out soaking up the anointing on graves or pretending that glitter falling from the air vents is the shekinah glory, so it’s more than likely that the only reason Dr. Keener is offended by the quote is because he hasn’t taken time to check out the context of the quote. Then again, Dr. Keener might actually defend the Bethel Church crowd; this whole Strange Fire fiasco has taught me to assume nothing about the continuationist camp.
I celebrate his call for unity and would welcome some unity around the gospel proclaimed by the Christ of scripture. Let’s come together and and call all the divisive false teachers to repentance instead of rushing to their defense, okay?
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “My wife will be so delighted this project is done!” Unger
P.S. – There’s one other reason why this is the final installment of the Authentic Fire review and response: I’ve got some big speaking engagements coming up the first weekend of May and I’ve got a lot of prep to do! We’ve been at this long enough and it’s time to move on.