Tag Archives: Charismatics

Gifts of the Spirit in Balance

Carl KinbarMany years ago — it seems as if it was another lifetime — I was a Jewish Christian attending a very large charismatic conference. In the midst of literally thousands of worshiping men and women, I stood that day enraptured with the presence of God. Then, bowed by his majesty, I prostrated myself on the floor as the singing continued. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not look up. After a few moments, a man spoke these words to me: “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” I waited for more, but that was it. “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” When I finally glanced over my shoulder, the man was already walking away.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“For the Common Good,” pg 19
Gifts of the Spirit

I really didn’t want to review this book chapter by chapter, but sometimes I have difficulty distancing myself far enough from a creative work to take it all in. Each chapter, such as this presentation by Rabbi Kinbar, packs in a great deal of information that is hard to ignore or dilute.

I remember Carl saying those words (the quote above) when I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was taking notes as fast as I could and probably got some things wrong in what he and the other presenters said, which is why I’m grateful for this book.

I’m also grateful for this book because it arrived after my multiple commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s own conference addressing “gifts of the spirit,” which he called Strange Fire (thanks to the liveblogging of Pastor Tim Challies I was able to sample each presentation without wading through days of audio recordings).

I’ll try not to review each chapter of the “Gifts” book, especially as it would fly in the face of my previously stated intent to blog less often, but we’ll see what happens.

Going back to the above-quoted comment of Rabbi Kinbar with which he opened his “For the Common Good” presentation, Carl had no idea what had happened after his unusual encounter so many years ago, or what “the inheritance of your father Jacob” meant. Carl supposed the unknown speaker knew he was Jewish and chose the phrase “father Jacob” from that knowledge.

Ultimately, Carl learned that “the inheritance of your father Jacob” references Isaiah 58 and the various fasts. It also has “something to do with the land of Israel, the vision of Jacob’s ladder, and what God had promised to Jacob and his descendants.” (Kinbar, pg 20)

A few sentences later, Carl referred to the words he heard from that mysterious gentleman as a “prophesy.” As it turns out, the usage of that word seems appropriate.

Since I’m filtering “Gifts of the Spirit” through “Strange Fire,” I suppose I should mention that referring to the experience as a “prophesy” would no doubt make the “Strange Fire” folks a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much of it at the time when I was listening to Carl at the conference, but I too must admit to always being at least a little skeptical about supernatural occurrences intruding on “real life”.

Nevertheless, Carl is one of the most theologically grounded and realistic people I know (and also a kind and gentle person). He’s the one who is likely to email me or comment on my blog when he thinks I’ve gone too far in making a connection between midrash and scripture. He’s never impressed me as someone who leads with his feelings at the expense of his intellect, and I consider him highly intelligent, very well-educated, and certainly well read. Hardly someone who experiences God on a purely visceral level.

I’m reminded of a rather interesting (though minor) experience of my own in church some months ago. I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for the socializing to die down and the actual teaching to begin. I was feeling gloomy and discouraged. My presence in church wasn’t what I thought it would be and I was pondering how long I would last before someone would suggest I leave for “heretical” beliefs (such as the idea that the Torah mitzvot continues to be in force for all believing and unbelieving Jewish people) or that I’d just stop going.

Then a woman who I had never seen before approached me, smiled, and said “Shalom Aleichem.” I was momentarily startled by this greeting in such a Christian context. I assumed she knew my wife was Jewish and chose her words accordingly. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I asked why she had greeted me that way. As it turns out, she had no idea my wife was Jewish and couldn’t really articulate why she said “Shalom Aleichem.”

I was grateful anyway, and it did brighten my mood. It seems God knows who and what to send into your life at certain necessary points. Not quite what Carl experienced, which ultimately led him into Messianic Jewish studies and practice, but it will do.

In going over this chapter, I was taken with how Carl, who had spent the better part of forty years as a Jewish Christian in a Charismatic church, characterized the experience. He said they emphasized “worship and teaching” and I didn’t get the idea that anyone checked their brains at the door as they entered.

Charismatic prayerCarl said later in his presentation, that he didn’t believe that the gifts of the spirit were the same now as in the days of Paul, due to the change in purpose and context. He even admitted that there were times when he felt that some “spiritual healings” were not really on the up and up. He did also say that he has witnessed at least one authentic spiritual healing. On that occasion, he so inspired by the event that he kept the crutches of the healed woman (as she no longer needed them) in his office.

I got to thinking about one of the criticisms of the Charismatic movement by MacArthur and company was that these “gifts” were not consistent, while in the Bible, they never seemed to fail or to work only intermittently.

Except that’s not quite true:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Matthew 17:14-20 (NASB)

It seems sufficient faith is required of the one attempting to exercise a spiritual gift and possibly the one who is the recipient. I don’t think such a thing can be reduced to a formula and in any event, the source of such gifts is God and if healing, casting out demons, or whatever, is not in His plan or for His glory, He will not empower the individuals involved with such gifts. I should say that while I can’t discount the existence and workings of the Holy Spirit as He empowers individual human beings on certain occasions, I consider them rare and I believe many of us can go though our entire lives and not demonstrate any such gifts.

For that matter, in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, demon-possessed people seemed to be extremely common, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. If demon possession continues to exist in our world, then it must be as rare as dramatic spiritual gifts.

In my previous commentary on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, I said that Boaz Michael described Torah and the Spirit as completely inseparable. Carl, in his presentation, linked Christ crucified, the Spirit, and the Torah together.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)

Paul was a well-educated man in the tradition of the Pharisees, so it’s unlike him to go into a situation armed with only the knowledge of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” yet, according to Carl, this is the crux of the matter for all of us. If we don’t fully apprehend why Jesus had to die as a sinless man, and then be resurrected, giving us all the promise of eternal life, then our faith is in vain (see my review of the FFOZ TV series episode Resurrection for details).

According to Carl, Spiritual gifts, particularly verbal gifts, are to impart wisdom. After all, we cannot understand the Word of God, the Bible, at all apart from the help of the Spirit of God. This was one of the reasons, perhaps one of the most important ones, why Messiah had to depart from us.

“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 16:5-14 (NASB)

We have the Spirit with us as a helper, speaking not on his own behest but only the words from God, and it seems that Messiah’s intent was that the Spirit would continue to help us until his return (or perhaps even beyond that).

MysteryAnd the Spirit is supposed to impart wisdom about the Word for the purpose of drawing us nearer to God, not just as individuals (for Carl’s own experience was personal) but for the common good of the body of Messiah.

That’s why I can’t see the “gifts of the spirit” being authentic if they in any way distract us from God and who He is as well as Messiah, and him crucified. If spiritual gifts lead in a different direction, then they can’t be from the Spirit of God, which may account for some of the abuses attributed to the Charismatic movement.

Carl cited Isaiah 53:4-6 as a strong description of the knowledge of a crucified Messiah, which the Spirit points to, as well as this:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NASB)

Let’s look at part of that again:

…for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

Trying to visualize the Spirit of God searching the depths of God borders on the mystic. What does it mean except that the Spirit of God acts as a portal to all knowledge of God, not that human beings could access even the tiniest fraction of that infinite storehouse. The Spirit of God is the gateway into spiritual thought for people. Without that gateway, we would be locked outside in the secular world, with no way to know God or to even believe He exists.

Paul’s reason for emphasizing the verbal gifts was not that he thought healing and miracles are unimportant…

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, “wisdom” words appear nine times and “knowledge” words five times…

-Kinbar, pp 27 and 28

Paul was a scholar and a teacher. For him, spiritual gifts were God’s means to illuminate people with the knowledge of God and the crucified Christ, not to put on some sort of “magic show” or to elevate the possessors of said-gifts to some exalted status. If the manifestation of the Spirit does not reveal God, the Messiah, and the Word of God, then it is not from God, for that is the purpose (in my own opinion) of the Spirit in our world today.

Carl quoted the following to show the connection between Messiah and the Spirit, substituting “HaShem” for “the Lord”:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of [HaShem] will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of [HaShem].
And He will delight in the fear of the [HaShem].

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NASB)

The connection between the Torah and wisdom can be found in these verses:

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you should do them in the land which you are entering to possess it. So guard them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (Kinbar’s translation)

Carl goes on to say that the “relationship between the Spirit of God and the Torah is seen even more vividly in Ezekiel 36, in which God promises to bring back the exiles of Israel to their land:”

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

That one threw me a little, since Ezekiel is describing a situation that has yet to occur, but it does serve to remind us that we cannot bifurcate the Spirit of God from anything else about God, such as Himself, His Word, and the Messiah.

While the Torah, Messiah, and the Spirit can be spoken about separately at times, they cannot be separated in reality. When Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, he did not mention the Torah because of the specific circumstances in Corinth, but neither did he nor God ever intend for Torah to be left out of the picture permanently.

-Kinbar, pg 36

It’s difficult for me to compress Carl’s points in this blog post and still trace the path of logic adequately so if you think something’s been left out, I encourage you to get a copy of Gifts of the Spirit and read the entire article.

Carl did say one more thing I want to point out.

But the traditional charismatic framework is not adequate for a fully Messianic Jewish expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

-ibid

Carl, and the other presenters at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, by necessity, must refactor the charismatic movement and that understanding of the “gifts of the spirit” into a form that is more appropriate for a Jewish and Messianic Jewish context.

A Promise of What is to ComeI’ve mentioned before, citing the FFOZ TV series A Promise of What is to Come, that by viewing scripture including the New Testament writings through a Messianic Jewish lens, we can capture a perspective that has been lost to the Church since the days of the apostles. This includes an understanding of the process of the Holy Spirit, how He worked in the past and how He is working today.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m something of a skeptic. Except for a few minor, transitory experiences, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, and certainly not “spiritual gifts” in or around my own personal world of faith. Like I said, if they exist, they must be pretty rare or poorly advertised. I also think that enough charlatans have exploited the fertile spiritual soil so as to make the rest of us feel that anyone who claims “miraculous gifts” must be a rip-off artist.

It makes it difficult for me and people like me to listen objectively when someone talks about what they experience as an authentic spiritual occurrence.

Does the Holy Spirit work in our world today? Absolutely, otherwise, no one would come to faith and the Bible would seem like foolishness to all of us. Who was that man who touched Carl Kinbar on the shoulder so many years ago, and spoke of Carl’s feeding “on the inheritance of your father Jacob”? A prophet? An angel? I have no idea.

I do know, and I’ve said this before, that the FFOZ Book “Gifts of the Spirit” offers us an opportunity to read a counterpoint to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and to see for ourselves the differing perspectives of dedicated and devout men and women, all of whom, in all their different religious “camps,” are seeking to know God and to balance our understanding of Creator, Spirit, Torah, and Messiah.

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The Challies Chronicles: Summing It All Up, Part 2

strange-pyreIf you haven’t done so already, please read the first part of “Summing It All Up” before continuing here.

Part 2 of the interview between Tim Challies and John MacArthur was published a few days after the first installment, and Challies says that several weeks have passed since the end of the conference. When Challies wrote his blog post, MacArthur’s Strange Fire book was to be released the following day, so from a marketing standpoint, the Challies blog was quite timely.

Kicking off the interview, Challies asked:

There are many areas of doctrine in which well-respected, godly theologians hold opposing views, and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are just one of them. Again, we are thinking here of the best and most gospel-centered of the continuationists. Why focus on this area now when it threatens to inhibit unity and further divide true believers? Why not focus on baptism or eschatology or another issue?

That’s a good question. There are probably thousands of different expressions or variations of Christianity worldwide, and they all disagree with each other about something. MacArthur comes across as completely sure of himself about everything, and completely sure he understands 100% of the content of the Bible (at least that’s the impression I get from what he says), in spite of the fact that there are numerous New Testament scholars in educational and research facilities across the globe who continuously are exploring new understandings about the apostolic era and what it means to Christians today. How can MacArthur believe he knows everything there is to know about a subject in the Bible and why does he choose to take this specific issue head on?

All true believers are unified at the core on those distinctives in the Spirit; but it takes time and study to experience that unity in our relationships. That’s why love must energize our quest for practical unity (Phil. 1:27)—love for God and His truth and love for one another. Even in 1 Corinthians 13:6, in the heart of Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts, the apostle reminded his readers that “love rejoices in the truth.” So, drawing attention to serious error—error that’s being tolerated even in some of the otherwise-healthiest of churches—in order to recover and uphold the truth is a loving thing to do.

While it might be hard for some to understand, it was love that drove me to write this book and have this conference: love for God and His honor, love for His truth, love for His church and her purity, and, in the cases of the prosperity gospel that pervades the global movement, a love for the millions of souls who are trapped by some of the most deceitful false teaching that history has ever seen. It is my earnest desire and prayer to see the church unified. But a unity that knowingly tolerates error is not the unity that Scripture promotes. So, if we want to be truly unified, we have to be willing to confront error for the sake of the truth. And that might mean that superficial unity is disrupted.

MacArthur also said that he has taken on other issues in the past but, as you can read, both above, and by clicking the links to the interviews, he considers this particular problem vital in the world of Christian faith. I’ll take him at his word and believe he really does love the people he’s discussing, although from some of the responses I’ve read, his critics don’t feel loved. I’m no fan of the prosperity gospel, but again, that’s just one manifestation of the Charismatic movement, and I still think it could have been addressed in a more focused and measured way.

Challies asked:

We often hear today that many believers from a Muslim background—especially those from closed countries who do not have easy access to God’s Word—are claiming they had a vision of Christ and that in this vision he directed them to a place or person where they could hear the gospel. This proclamation of the gospel led to their conversion. Do you believe these stories? Do you consider such visions a valid means that God may work in our world today?

heavenly-manOh, that. Of course, MacArthur believes such events are completely bogus and not even a single supernatural event revealed Christ to a Muslim (or anyone else) apart from the Bible.

But that also contradicts much of what a Chinese evangelist named Brother Yun wrote in his book The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. I reviewed this book nearly ten months ago (it was given to me by a friend), and Yun describes situations that occurred after China’s Communist Revolution, where Christ was supernaturally revealed to people who had absolutely no access to Bibles or Christian Missionaries. If you lock down a nation so tightly that no foreign Missionaries are allowed in and it’s nearly impossible to smuggle in even portions of a Bible, is God not going to act?

I can’t testify to the validity of any of these supernatural acts. I haven’t witnessed any of them. In reading Yun’s book, even I thought certain portions seemed exaggerated or fabricated. But then again, I can’t completely discount the possibility of God directly intervening in our universe, performing acts that defy the natural laws we are accustomed to in order accomplish His purposes.

According to what I’ve been told, MacArthur believes he was physically attacked, in front of witnesses, by a demon possessed woman but he doesn’t believe that even one person could have had a revelation of Jesus in a vision. Go figure.

Regarding the visions in question, it is important to recognize that those who have investigated such claims have found the evidence to be sorely lacking. For example, this article directly addresses the issue.

I suppose that brings us to the crux of the matter. Do I believe that people in the Muslim world are actually seeing Jesus Christ? No, I do not. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that he was “the last of all” to see the risen Christ. So, I believe that precludes anyone outside of those listed in 1 Corinthians 15 of being able to claim legitimate visions of the resurrected Savior. (The apostle John, of course, was one of those included in 1 Corinthians 15. Accordingly, I don’t believe the book of Revelation sets a precedent for believers to expect genuine visions of Jesus to occur throughout church history.)

Furthermore, it is important to note that these individuals are still unbelievers when they reportedly have these experiences. Consequently, these experiences (whatever they are reported to be) cannot constitute examples of the charismatic gifts having continued, since spiritual gifts are only given to believers (1 Cor. 12:7)—and these people do not come to saving faith until later.

Finally, the New Testament clearly states that the way in which the gospel is spread in this age is through preaching.

Receiving the SpiritIf performing a supernatural act were the only way for God to communicate to a non-believer in order to further His plan, would God be inhibited because the person He was trying to reach was a non-believer? Good grief, God even revealed Himself to Laban in a dream (Genesis 31:24) and he spoke directly with the evil magician Baalam (see Numbers 22:9-12 for an example) when Balak, King of Moab, wanted the sorcerer to curse Israel.

It seems you don’t have to be a believer to hear from God.

No one comes to God as part of a rational process, it’s a leap of faith, and I believe God does make Himself known in some manner, in order to bring people to Him. No, I never had a dream, saw a vision, or heard a voice from Heaven, but a long series of extremely unlikely events happened in my life in a period of six months to a year which ultimately brought me to faith. The process wasn’t entirely intellectual. I didn’t read and study the Bible with the result that I believed and came to faith in Christ. God did something inside to bring me to Him. I can’t articulate it. I just know it happened.

And preaching was really only a very minor part in my finally professing faith.

I suppose John MacArthur would think I’m some kind of fruit loop.

Challies asked a number of other important questions, but the last one really got my attention:

The Strange Fire conference focused primarily on the worst examples of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. While the charlatans rightfully need to be exposed and rebuked, there are also many godly Christians who feel like they have been unjustly tarnished with an overly broad generalization.

Exactly! I think a lot of people feel unjustly targeted, insulted, and maligned by the multiple presentations at the “Strange Fire” conference.

MacArthur responded in part by saying:

First, I want to clearly state that I take no joy in being perceived as unloving or in hurting the feelings of fellow believers. My heart is deeply burdened by the errors and excesses that I have spoken out against in Strange Fire. I do not issue these criticisms flippantly. I would also direct readers to the first part of this interview, where I interact with the idea that I have made an overly broad generalization.

But for those who want to get angry at me, I would humbly suggest that such anger is misplaced.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur went on to say that after the conference, he read a blog post written by a Pentecostal named Josiah Batten called A Pentecostal in (General) Support of the Strange Fire Conference (Challies didn’t provide a link on his blog post but I’m inserting it here so you can read Batten’s content). In a nutshell, MacArthur was thrilled with this response because he had achieved his goal with the individual involved: MacArthur had gotten him to think, to consider MacArthur’s position without defensiveness.

Oh, MacArthur and Batten didn’t end up agreeing, but Batten did point out some of the obvious issues with the Pentecostal movement while also acknowledging that he thought MacArthur had made some mistakes in his theology.

The interview dribbled out and ended without much flourish. There were lots and lots of comments in response on both of the Challies blog posts (comments are now closed) which may add some dimension, but I don’t really want to read hundreds of these statements and then try to say something about them.

In trying to sum all this up in my head, it seems like the conference offered one general impression and these interviews presented a somewhat related or parallel process. I think the conference really did paint with an overly broad brush and depicted all or the vast majority of Charismatics everywhere are dangerous or potentially dangerous, rather than just “wrong.”

Given the opportunity, MacArthur (with a MacArthur-friendly interviewer) was able to add more details to his views and, in certain instances, soften them up a bit. He remains hard-line in the end that he’s right and that the people who disagree with him should change and join him. He bases this stance on the perception that his interpretation of the Bible must, because of his scholarship, be correct in an absolute or near-absolute sense, and that he cannot be wrong.

Granted, if he’s trying to convince people to change, he can’t actually admit that he could be capable of error in his interpretations and assumptions, so confidence (to the point of arrogance sometimes) is expected. On the other hand, John MacArthur is indeed human and as such, he is just as capable of being wrong as the next man, even a highly educated and well-read next man. A certain tradition drives MacArthur’s perception as much as a learned interpretation of scripture, although that tradition, by necessity, drives MacArthur to deny that tradition has anything to do with how he perceives the Bible.

I agree that the study and the quest for correctly understanding scripture is the first and best means of understanding the intent and will of God for our lives. I’m also aware that exactly how we go about it, what system we employ, and the set of traditions (whether we’re conscious of them or not) that filter our interpretations are going to result in different believers coming to different conclusions about what the Bible is saying to us.

Beyond all that, once we believe we have discovered “truth,” what we do about it is critical. We can choose to demonize those we disagree with or we can find another way to get our point across. Frankly, demonizing people is a better way to get attention. Holding a controversial conference will definitely draw a much bigger crowd than a less dramatic and perhaps more user-friendly approach.

And MacArthur wants to draw a big crowd. In fact, he wants to attract the estimated 500 million Charismatics in the world. Yes, he got his message across to a lot of people. The book, at least in the short run (once marketing runs out of steam, the popularity of the book will likely dwindle), will reach even more folks than the “buzz” about the conference.

MacArthurBad press is still press, so everyone who criticizes MacArthur, including little ol’ me, still makes sure that he’s not ignored. Being ignored is the worst possible outcome that could happen to MacArthur and the “Strange Fire” conference and book. If people just paid no attention to him or them (like they should have to the recent comments of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame), then MacArthur and his views would have nowhere to go.

But MacArthur knows enough about human nature to make sure that he and “Strange Fire” would never be ignored and in fact, would grab lots and lots of attention and press in the Christian media space.

But as I said before, his entire goal wasn’t just to get attention, but to get Charismatics to think and even to change. Has he accomplished this? Making 500 million people feel insulted, abused, and harassed usually doesn’t get them to agree with you. I’m sure A&E’s banning Phil Robertson from being part of filming Duck Dynasty or GLAAD getting in Robertson’s face (figuratively) over their perceptions of his motives won’t elicit an apology and change of theological opinion from the Duck Dynasty patriarch anytime soon.

If MacArthur wants to transform even a non-trival number of Pentecostals into sola scriptura Fundamentalists, I don’t really know what he could have done differently to accomplish his task. I just don’t see what he actually did working, at least not for very many people. I think the audience that listened to him the most was the one that was already convinced. I think he was “preaching to the choir.”

The Challies Chronicles: Summing It All Up, Part 1

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference has come and gone and the book will be shipping next week. Whatever you felt about the conference, there is little doubt that a lot of work and a lot of discussion remain as we, the church, consider the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the aftermath of the event, and with the book on its way, I think we all have questions we’d like to ask Dr. MacArthur. A week ago I asked for your questions and sent them through to him. Here are his answers to the first batch of questions. I anticipate adding a second part to this interview within the week.

What was the purpose of such a controversial conference like Strange Fire? Why did you choose not to invite one of the best of the reformed continuationists to speak at your event and to defend his position? Wouldn’t that have strengthened the cessationist arguments while also showing an earnest desire for unity?

-from an interview of John MacArthur by Tim Challies:
“John MacArthur Answers His Critics,” November 4, 2013
Challies.com

This, and the second part of the dialog between MacArthur and Challies is a forum for Pastor MacArthur to respond to the criticism he received as a result of his Strange Fire conference. I’m going to put my impressions into two blog posts as well (a single blog post would be over 4,000 words) and afterward, there are no more Tim Challies articles for me to read about Strange Fire. It probably won’t be the end of what I have to say about the conflict between sola scriptura Christianity and spiritual Christianity, though.

You can follow the links I’ve provided to read the full content of both parts of the interview. I just want to draw attention to some of the highlights, so to speak.

In response to a question of Challies’ in the first part of the interview, MacArthur states:

On the one hand, I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a continuationist or a cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches.

Here, MacArthur states that although he believes the continuationists are in serious error, they are still his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Except that directly contradicts something MacArthur said in his closing statement at the conference in response to seven points of criticism. In response to point 6, “They are attacking brothers,” MacArthur said:

MacArthur wishes he could affirm this. From his vantage point, this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians that lacks accountability. No one polices this movement. Every faithfully reformed elder, pastor, scholar and teacher of the word should bear the responsibility of policing this movement. People accuse MacArthur of being fixated on this issue, yet in 45 years of ministry he has only held one 3-day conference on this matter. Rather he has devoted his time to preaching the New Testament verse by verse and exalting Christ.

Tim ChalliesEither MacArthur is separating the continuationists he speaks of in part one of the interview from whoever he was discussing on the last day of the conference, or he contradicted himself. You can’t have it both ways. Either the continuationists / Pentecostals / Evangelicals are considered faithful Christians by MacArthur or not.

The only other response he could make would be to say that he believes some of the people in these categories are not believers while others are, but then he would have to describe his criteria for telling the difference. MacArthur goes on to say:

On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperity gospel. Moreover, the global charismatic movement happily shelters other heretical movements—such as Catholic Charismatics and Oneness Pentecostals. Taken together, the number of charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of health and wealth or a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global charismatic movement. That is why we took such a strong stand both at the conference and in the book.

So apparently there is, as far as MacArthur believes, a line to be crossed within the Charismatic movement. On one side of the line, you are a believer, and on the other, having gone too far, you’re not.

Challies asked:

You acknowledge, of course, that many godly, respected theologians are continuationists. How would you explain the continuationist theology of faithful men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem if the cessationist position is so clearly taught in the Bible?

In part, MacArthur responded:

As I noted at the conference, I believe their openness to modern charismatic gifts is an anomaly. Obviously, I cannot read minds nor do I desire to judge motives. But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture.

Wayne Grudem, as I mentioned earlier, openly acknowledges that there are no apostles in the church today. John Piper says that he does not speak in tongues. And I’m fairly confident that D. A. Carson does not personally practice any of the charismatic gifts. In that sense, then, I think they may be more cessationist (in terms of their personal practice) than their published positions would suggest.

If I’m reading MacArthur correctly, his understanding of Charismatics may be more “nuanced” than the conference made it seem. He may recognize more variability of belief and variability of practice among individuals and groups of individuals to identify with the Charismatic movement than he previously presented. It’s easy to say for most of us, given how MacArthur speaks and presents himself, that he’s a really “black and white” type of guy, that there are no colors in his universe, especially when quoting Thabiti Anyabwile, he states:

He wrote, “First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong… . Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t… . Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well.”

I agree with all of that. This is an issue of critical importance because it affects our view of God as well as our understanding of how to live out the Christian life, both individually and corporately.

But hopefully, no one is quite as rigid and uncompromising as we make them out to be during a disagreement.

Finally, I think those who accuse me of using too broad of a brush are being naïve about the actual composition of the global charismatic movement.

I’m among those who have accused MacArthur and other presenters at the conference of painting with too broad a brush. That’s certainly how I read them on Challies’ blog posts. Of course, these presenters are speaking to a large audience and this is a one-on-one interview, so MacArthur has the opportunity to answer specific questions, when, at the conference, he and the others were “preaching” not discussing.

Our decision not to host a debate at the Strange Fire Conference was intentional. Debates are rarely effective in truly helping people think carefully through the issues, since they can easily be reduced to sound bites and talking points.

There’s both good and bad in what MacArthur said. It’s true that debates, if not properly moderated, degrade into name calling sessions and nothing gets resolved. On the other hand, during Presidential elections, the opponents present multiple public debates for the purpose of clearly offering American voters a (hopefully) clear understanding of the different platforms of each candidate.

Strange FireMacArthur did not escape these debates entirely. The rebuttals were simply managed in the blogosphere, in social media, and other venues rather than personally at the conference.

MacArthur ended the first part of the interview this way:

So, coming back to your question, I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad. But I think the problem is a whole lot bigger than anyone realizes. And it breaks my heart to think that hundreds of millions of souls are being caught up into a movement where they are being seduced by false forms of the gospel.

That is why I wanted to sound such a strong warning. And I’m willing to be accused of broad-brushing in order to get that message out.

I don’t doubt that he’s sincere in his belief and desire that he’s doing the right thing and that he’s doing it the right way, and I’m not commenting today to come out as pro-cessationists or pro-continuist. I’m stepping outside the narrow corridor of that argument and trying to understand how MacArthur sees himself and if what he did will have the response he desires. Only MacArthur can explain himself (well, God can explain him too, and probably better than MacArthur can), and I want to hear what he has to say.

For the sake of length, I’ll conclude my summation of the Challies Chronicles in Part 2.

The Challies Chronicles: How the Strange Fire Finally Burned

Woman in fireThe Strange Fire conference closed with a final address from John MacArthur. In this address he responds to seven accusations brought against the conference, follows with eight appeals to his continuationist friends, and concludes by walking through 1 and 2 Timothy, highlighting the need to stand firm in guarding divine revelation against false doctrine.

Before addressing the accusations against the conference, MacArthur charged attendees to carefully read their copy of Strange Fire and to measure it against the Word of God. He is convinced that this book, with its well-documented research and extensive footnotes, will withstand careful scrutiny. He reminds us that this book and conference is intended for the Church. He has no expectation for either one to be helpful to non-believers, which he suspects makes up much of the charismatic movement.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: MacArthur’s Appeal to His Continuationist Friends”
Challies.com

I decided to use this blog post to review not only John MacArthur’s summary of the conference but Tim Challies’ wrap up as well. Essentially, this is how each individual saw what came out of the conference, at least the day it ended and a few days after that.

I think I realized this before, but it was brought home to me that the reason I have “issues” with John MacArthur as a Christian is that he defines himself and his faith by what he’s against, not what he’s for. Sure, he makes a big deal out of “Biblical sufficiency” and “sola scriptura,” but in doing some wider reading about the man and what he’s done, he demonstrates a pattern of someone who has built his reputation on attacking others, whether other individuals or other belief systems.

I know this has been a problem in both the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements and it’s taken me quite a while to reduce this practice in my speech, writing, and thoughts (I suppose I still haven’t quite extinguished it within me). People or institutions that define themselves by what they are against must, because of that self-definition, always be on the attack. If your identity is based on being against something, then you are only “real” when you attack that something (or someone).

This is hardly the first time MacArthur has come out against Pentecostals and Charismatics. In 1993, his book Charismatic Chaos was published and I believe he wrote or made statements critical of Pentecostals/Charismatics before then. Sure, MacArthur has positive qualities attached to him. I commend his dedication to the Word of God and how he continually pushes others to read and study the Bible, but the skewed path he takes to understand the Bible, Jesus, and God is so rigid and occasionally (or more often) hostile to anyone outside of that path, that if I were an unbeliever and had to depend on MacArthur as my only model of what being a Christian was like, I’d never come to faith.

In fact, people like Jimmy Swiggart, Jim Bakker,and James Dobson (I know, an eclectic mix) kept me from even mildly considering Christianity as a path for decades. Outspoken “firebrands” who come across as highly opinionated and confident to the point of appearing arrogant do not represent my understanding of Messiah, Son of David.

MacArthur proved my point in his final appeal by including seven criticisms he and his conference had received:

  1. Accused of being unloving
  2. Accused of being divisive
  3. This is not a clear issue in the Bible
  4. This issue is only true of the extreme lunatic fringe side of the movement
  5. They are attacking a movement that has given us rich music
  6. They are attacking brothers
  7. MacArthur doesn’t care about offending people

macarthur-strangefire-confChallies said that “MacArthur then shared from his heart responses to seven accusations against the conference,” which told me that Challies probably wasn’t entirely objective about his assessment of MacArthur (but then again, neither am I).

You can go to the Challies blog post to read MacArthur’s responses as well as the points he wanted to make to continuists, but his response to the last point caught my attention:

He admits that he holds the truth with kindness and love. He does care about peoples’ feelings. He does care about offending them. Just not nearly as much as he cares about not offending God.

Especially on the Internet, but also in other venues, I can’t count the number of times supposedly good-meaning Christians have “told the truth in love” while simultaneously ripping other people to emotional and spiritual shreds. As long as you use words like “truth” and “love,” you can make any insult and rend anyone’s heart with total impunity.

I base the Comments Policy of this blog on the Jewish concept of Lashon Hara or wronging another in speech, which is based on Leviticus 25:17. It says, in part, that if you say something, even if it is truthful and factual, that you know will harm another or cause them embarrassment, you are guilty of wronging them. Based on that standard, John MacArthur would have to revise his presentation considerably.

But then, and I’ve asked this before, what if you have to tell the truth to prevent harm to others and yet, end up harming brothers? I don’t know the absolute answer to that, but I suspect MacArthur might have gotten more mileage if he had given “Strange Fire” another name, and emphasized the positives of what he believed in, rather than the negatives of what he was against (but then again, people are almost always more attracted to a good car crash than an encouraging and uplifting message).

In his blog post Lessons Learned at Strange Fire, Pastor Tim Challies seemed to generally approve of how the conference was offered. Challies called the issues presented at the conference:

This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.

The conference and its aftermath also revealed to Challies how intensely polarizing this issue is and sees the critical dichotomy as between feeling and believing through reason. He also defended MacArthur and the other presenters as being confident, not arrogant, and as I mentioned above, there is an exceedingly fine line between the two.

I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.

many peopleBut a person can be confident and still be wrong. How many people were confident that the Earth was flat, once upon a time? There are untold millions of children worldwide who are confident that Santa Claus exists and will indeed be coming into their homes sometime after they go to bed on December 24th to deliver gift wrapped toys under their Christmas trees. Even Chemists, Astronomers, and Geologists are confident that certain scientific principles and facts related to their fields are true until new evidence convinces them otherwise.

While I can’t defend the abuses attributed to the Pentecostals, I can’t defend MacArthur’s overly generalized attack on them, either. Even when the facts aren’t in question, how they are presented can make a tremendous difference, not only in delivering the desired message, but in communicating where your heart is during and after the delivery.

If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.”

My form of criticism is to step outside the polarity of the issue, to go “meta” on continualists vs. cessationists, and to invoke, as I have above, the principle of Lashon Hara. Biblical evidence, the desire for truth, and “doing it in love” aside, the ends never justify the means. If they did, then it would be perfectly acceptable to blow up abortion clinics and to shoot abortion doctors in order to save babies (I know, that’s an extreme example, but it brings the point home). “Going after” a people or a movement just because you can is wrong, not necessarily because your research is flawed, but because you can only get your message across by being against something, and not by being for something.

The last thing Challies said was:

Only time will tell of the long-term impact of Strange Fire, but as I think back to the past few days, I find myself grateful for it. I suppose that may be easier to say as a cessationist than a charismatic, but I believe the event and its aftermath will prove beneficial. I continue to pray that God would use it to strengthen His church and to glorify His name.

Conferences come and conferences go, and if “Strange Fire” only existed as a series of events occurring over several days last October, I’m sure it would swiftly fade away. But there’s MacArthur’s book to consider, and I don’t doubt that there will be other “marketing” activities in which MacArthur will be participating to keep the issue alive.

I’m keeping it alive (although only in a very minor way) by writing about it myself. I’m also planning on looking at MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” through the lens of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit (which I previously mentioned).

spiritual-journeyMost of what I know about John MacArthur has been through Tim Challis and his liveblogging of the “Strange Fire” conference, so I’m several steps removed from knowing much about him (MacArthur) at all. In the end though, it’s not just what you do for God that matters, but how and why.

I’ll address John MacArthur’s detailed responses to his critics in a subsequent blog post and then start talking about my “Gifts of the Spirit” “re-experience”. Then hopefully, I’ll be done with this stuff.

 

 

The Challies Chronicles: Tom Pennington and the Cessationist Argument

Tom Pennington at Strange FireToday Tom Pennington spoke at the Strange Fire conference and provided a case for cessationism. He offered seven biblical arguments for the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here is a summary of his session.

The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism,” October 17, 2013
Challies.com

That’s something of a relief, but sometimes I think “Cessationists” have only themselves to blame for being “easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work.” This is especially true when that category or branch of the Church places specific limits on the work of the Spirit but apparently acknowledges that evil spirits have full reign to do as they please.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but not by much.

So Cessationism teaches that the Holy Spirit has ceased only “one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.” Of course, I haven’t been in a church where prayers for healing haven’t been requested, so I wonder why we’re praying for our friends and loved ones who are ill or injured if the Cessationist viewpoint is correct?

To be fair though, and remember, I’m trying to be fair, Pastor Pennington doesn’t say God doesn’t do miracles anymore, just that the Spirit no longer conveys upon believers any miraculous spiritual abilities or gifts as were given to the apostles. According to Pennington and the Cessationist perspective, “The primary purpose of miracles has always been to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.”

So the only purpose for miracles was to establish the validity of the prophet or apostle and the words he was speaking that were from God. Now that we have no apostles and prophets, I guess the point of miracles is moot…well, specific miracles such as prophecy, supernatural healing, and speaking in “angelic” languages.

Charismatic prayerI have to admit that I think there’s something to this. A friend of mine came to Christ many years ago at a local church that believed when someone professed faith during an altar call, they would speak in strange languages. Everyone around my friend had their own tutor or helper, a volunteer at the church, who would guide them in this, and my friend heard the others around him making noises that to him, sounded like gibberish. But no matter how hard my friend tried to open himself up to the Spirit, this spontaneous event didn’t happen to him. His helper urged him to try harder, especially as it was getting late and the helper’s wife was waiting for him out in the parking lot.

Now my friend happens to be multi-lingual, so in an act of desperation, he started speaking in the various languages he already knows. Apparently, that’s what this person from the church wanted to hear and the requirement was satisfied…

…except it wasn’t a miracle, my friend just happens to be gifted in this area and he had already learned those human languages (romance languages for the most part) through studying and travel.

I’ve never been to a church where I’ve heard anyone speaking in a non-human language, so if there’s any validity to this practice, it must not be widespread. Also, I’m highly dubious of anyone calling themselves a prophet, since the world is replete with men and women who claim to have made prophesies about the return of Jesus and absolutely none of them were correct (all of the predicted dates have long since passed, and yet Messiah has not returned).

But I can’t say that miracles absolutely don’t occur. True, I think practices such as holy vomiting (I kid you not) and holy laughter seem pretty ridiculous and in the former case, really disgusting, and of course, you don’t see examples of either in the Bible. On the other hand, I do have a copy of Gifts of the Spirit, which was produced by First Fruits of Zion and is a compilation of the presentations made at their Shavuot Conference last spring, which I attended and blogged about extensively (click the “gifts of the spirit” tag to see all related blog posts).

I’ll have to revisit those experiences through my previous blog posts and that book because, as I recall, there’s another side to living a spiritual life besides performing miraculous deeds, and gifts from God can take on many forms, including the ability to write, teach, pray, comfort, and express extraordinary kindness and compassion to others.

I’ve heard Christians, people I respect, say that one of the reasons we don’t experience gifts is because we are not open to the Spirit. I don’t want to reduce God to a formula because I think there are plenty of people who are open to God who do not overtly hear from Him, at least not “on command.” However, Cessationists tend to put God in a box, too. They have made up all of these rules that say what God is and isn’t doing. There is no room for exceptions. Who’s to say that God doesn’t heal miraculously according to His will?

heavenly-manAnd there are reports, presumably credible reports, that God does do miracles in places and through people when it is necessary to further his work of spreading the Good News. True, I haven’t witnessed any of this myself, but then again, I haven’t witnessed demon possession either, and yet people like John MacArthur say that’s absolutely real.

Cessationists say that certain miracles are done away with, such as healing, and they prove their points by quoting scripture. They say (or some of them do) that demons are real and continue to have influence in our world, and they prove their points by quoting scripture.

We live in a real, physical world, but it intersects with some pretty strange places, places I’m not qualified to discuss in any detail, places that, for the most part, are out of my lived experience. But I can’t put God in a box, either. Sometimes I think He does things, including supernatural things in our world, because He’s a Sovereign God. He doesn’t have to have a reason that we understand. All that said, none of those supernatural events in any way can contradict what we read in the Bible. The problem is, from a human standpoint,  correctly understanding what God is saying in scripture. We don’t always get it right.

I think that refuting or bringing to light some of the more outrageous claims of those who say the Spirit of God made them spontaneously vomit is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean God’s hands are tied if He wants to heal someone of cancer. It doesn’t mean He has to heal, but we don’t always understand God and we absolutely don’t get to tell Him what His limits are just because we’ve inferred things from the Bible (and inference of the scriptures is what the Cessationist argument primarily relies upon).

He [the God-fearing person] will not fear evil tidings, his heart being firm in his trust in God.

Psalms 112:7

If we seek an encounter with God, it may not manifest in a dramatic, public event. It may be in the small stillness of the night when your spirit is troubled and you need to be comforted. We don’t get to tell God what to do or how to do it, so neither side of this debate is in full control of God’s truth and His activities. But if we trust in God, then we know that when we need Him, He’ll be with us.

The Challies Chronicles: John MacArthur Tests the Spirits

john-macarthurThe second day of the Strange Fire conference began with John MacArthur preaching a message titled “Testing the Spirits.” It was based on 1 John 4: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God…”

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: John MacArthur Tests the Spirits,” October 17, 2013
Challies.com

This is a continuation of my Challies Chronicles series, reviewing the live blogging of Pastor Tim Challies on John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. Based on a conversation I had last week with my Pastor and what I wrote in a previous blog post, I’ll try to exercise more restraint or at least be a little more even-handed in my responses to this topic.

As far as the above-quoted statement goes, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen more than few people in church (not necessarily the one I go to now) attribute their emotional states to an influence of the Holy Spirit. Typically, if a person is facing a tough decision and they pray about it, and then, when they consider one of their options and they experience “a peace” about it, they say that was confirmation from the Spirit that it’s the right decision.

Well, maybe.

And maybe the person just feels at peace with the decision they’d prefer to make, not whether or not it is in the will of God. After all, who says God is in the business of always making us feel good or giving us our heart’s desire constantly. From my experience, God tends to guide people into areas of challenge and difficulty, not on board the gravy train to Heaven.

But let’s see what else Pastor Challies has to say about this presentation by MacArthur.

There are many places in the New Testament where we are told to test all things and this is critical because Satan and his demons exist and because they operate a kingdom of lies that dominates the world. Satan has been allowed to run loose in this world and he and his agents are disguised as angels of light. We should not be surprised that Satan operates 99% of the time in false religion, in lies and deception. He is not the one behind the corruption in sinful society—the flesh takes care of that. He is behind the false systems of belief that pervade this world.

MacArthur said that many Christians get spiritual warfare all wrong and turned briefly to 2 Corinthians 10:3ff where we see that the weapons of our warfare are not human and that we cannot rely on anything concocted by man. Our weapons must be divinely powerful. Why? Because we must be engaged in the destruction of fortresses. The picture here is that human weapons are no match for a huge and impregnable fortress. We are assaulting formidable edifices and cannot use pea-shooters. These fortresses are speculations, ideas, psychologies, and religions. Spiritual warfare is not about running off demons, but battling for the mind.

I have to admit that I am confused about to what extent MacArthur believes the Spirit of God intervenes in our world? How much of what goes on around us can we attribute to God vs. other influences, most of all being human influences, including our personal, internal states?

Calvin and Hobbes discuss evil

MacArthur seems to imbue evil spirits with a great deal of power on the surface, but then he says, “These fortresses are speculations, ideas, psychologies, and religions. Spiritual warfare is not about running off demons, but battling for the mind.”

So really then, “spiritual warfare” isn’t actually battling in a supernatural realm, but dealing with our own thoughts and feelings as well as the stuff that goes on around us in the world every day like cults, new age philosophies, and other institutions. OK, I get that you can’t trust politicians or Scientology. Of course, since he mentioned it, MacArthur’s track record dealing with psychology is pretty sketchy from my point of view.

He is also an advocate of Nouthetic Counseling, which stresses the Bible as a sufficient tool for counseling people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. MacArthur does not reject all forms of psychological theories and techniques, though he considers some psychology and psychiatry as contrary to the Bible.

MacArthur has argued that “True psychology (i.e. “the study of the soul”) can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have the resources for understanding and transforming the soul. The secular discipline of psychology is based on godless assumptions and evolutionary foundations and is capable of dealing with people only superficially and only on the temporal level… Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, Christian psychology is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency….

Wikipedia on MacArthur

By the way, that point of view of mine comes from a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, and fifteen years of post-graduate practice, so it’s not like I don’t have a basis for my opinion. I don’t think counseling psychological disorders absolutely requires that the therapist be a Christian or that the counseling techniques be strictly based on the Bible.

CounselingSure, MacArthur isn’t specifically referencing Nouthetic counseling but since he brought the topic up, I think the it becomes relevant to the current discussion.

But I do believe that people more often than not, create their own problems. They don’t need to look to a supernatural cause right away. When any of us have some sort of difficulty in our lives, the first person we should consider is the one we see in the bathroom mirror every morning.

The architect of it all is Satan, the arch-deceiver.

On the other hand, MacArthur is saying that all of these human caused problems have a supernatural source.

And his solution?

What is our responsibility as Christians? It is to smash these ideologies, to crush these fortifications, and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Once again, we need to remember that we are engaged in a battle for how people think. (emph. mine)

Sorry. Got caught up in the martial language there for a minute.

I’m OK with “obedience to Christ,” but I’m a little worried about “a battle for how people think.” Who is supposed to control my thinking, the Jesus of the Bible, or a particular movement in Christianity? I would prefer the former and turn myself over to God than to man, but that may not mean I’ll always agree with MacArthur or others like him on everything. If I don’t, would he think I was being influenced by Satan? I don’t know. I’ve recently called myself a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism, so I imagine he’d have an opinion on that.

When the Great Awakening broke out, there was much debate about what was and what was not a true work of the Spirit. Jonathan Edwards went to 1 John 4 and MacArthur closely followed Edwards’ The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God…

We are all responsible to assess anything and everything that is claimed to be a work of the Holy Spirit. These are timeless tests for all movements, all preaching, and all preachers. What is truly of the Holy Spirit will conform to these marks.

MacArthur lost me at the Great Awakening. My primary orientation when trying to understand God is the Bible. I’ve recently been chastised by a good friend for not knowing Christian history, but how much authority should I insert into particular events in the history of Christianity vs. the Bible in trying to understand the work of the Holy Spirit?

This is one of those times when my not being a “typical Christian” doesn’t work out so well.

The context for this passage is the work of the Spirit (see 3:24). While the working of the Holy Spirit is invisible, the manifestations of his work are visible. We know Christ abides in us because the Spirit he has given is manifested in us. What is the Spirit doing in us? MacArthur provided a long list. The Spirit creates a desire for repentance, a hatred of sin, a belief in the gospel, a love for Christ, a desire to be a slave of Christ, a delight in Scripture, a longing for obedience, joy in trials, love of other believers, desire for fellowship, illumination of Scripture, a heart of praise, worship as a way of life, increasing Christ-likeness and much more besides.

I’m reassured a bit since MacArthur does believe that the Holy Spirit does have an influence and a tangible impact on our day-to-day lives, prompting us to repentance, inspiring love of Messiah, supporting us in our trials, and so forth.

His major critique of the charismatic movement is that it focuses undue attention on the Holy Spirit and does so at the expense of Christ. Any true preacher will be Christ-dominated and present him in an accurate and exalting way. It is a matter of sound theology and also a matter of preeminence. Where you see any deficiency in the nature and preeminence of Christ, this is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is always to point you to Jesus Christ. Anyone who pollutes the gospel or distracts from the Son to the Spirit is not operating in the Spirit.

The devil would never want men to have more honorable thoughts of Christ and for that reason loves to draw attention away from Christ to a false image of the Holy Spirit. And all the while he pretends to draw attention to Jesus. A true work of the Spirit exalts the true Christ. If the charismatic movement was a movement of the Spirit, it would be Christ-dominated and everyone in the movement would be bowing the knee to the true Christ in belief of the true gospel.

According to leading charismatics, a distinctiveness of the charismatic movement is the preeminence of the Holy Spirit. They have a passion to experience the Spirit’s presence and power. But if the Spirit is the person sought, his work has been rejected. In this movement Christ is obscured, Scripture is depreciated, and a preoccupation with experience is elevated.

Off balanceSorry for the numerous and lengthy quotes, but there’s a lot going on here. I know time and again, I’ve been told to focus on Jesus, only Jesus. I can see that if, as a believer, I want the Holy Spirit to do this dramatic thing or that dramatic thing, or some other dramatic thing, that I’m probably caught up in a religion of sensation and that I’m way off-balance. I get that.

But when told to only, only, only focus on Jesus, I wonder where did God the Father run off to? I mean, MacArthur and a lot of other Christians talk about the Holy Spirit, and they talk lots and lots about Jesus, but where is God? I know. In a trinitarian view, all of them are God, but if that’s true, doesn’t focusing on any one aspect of the trinity make us unbalanced? If it’s possible to focus too much on the Spirit, is it also possible to focus too much on the Son?

I almost never, ever hear anything spoken among Christians about God the Father or, as He would be expressed in the Tanakh (older Jewish scriptures known in Christianity as the “Old Testament”), Hashem. But Jesus talked about Him all the time.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

John 5:19 (NASB)

In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

John 16:23 (NASB)

Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You…”

John 17:1 (NASB)

I’m saying all this not to be a theological pain in the neck, but to point out that Jesus always re-directed the attention of his disciples to the Father.

The charismatic movement fails this test of exalting Christ above all. MacArthur said, Show me a person obsessed with the Holy Spirit and I’ll show you a person not filled by the Spirit. Show me a person obsessed with Jesus Christ and I’ll show you a Spirit-filled person.

I learned in the Bible to always pray to God in the name of the Messiah. Am I wrong? Am I supposed to pray to Jesus? Am I supposed to be “obsessed” with Jesus so I can “prove” that I’m filled with the Spirit? MacArthur said to “exalt Jesus above all.” I can’t believe he means to exalt the Son over the Father, does he?

Coffee and BibleI agree we need to be mindful of anything we consider a supernatural experience or a “movement of the Spirit.” I’m not much of a spiritualist and I’m certainly not a mystic (although the writings of the mystics make wonderful metaphors). I like reading and I like studying. I think I’m “wired” to go in that direction. But I’m also wired to pay attention to what I read, which most certainly includes the Bible.

I know MacArthur is trying to make a point and the scope of his presentation, his conference, and his book probably don’t allow for answering more broad-based questions, but inadvertently, he brought this subject up so now I think he should have to deal with it.

The Bible doesn’t elevate Jesus above God the Father just as it doesn’t elevate the Spirit above the Father. MacArthur says that overindulging in the Spirit of God to the detriment of everything else God is leads to error, and I completely believe it. But how does MacArthur avoid the same problem when he demands that we should obsess on Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father?