Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pyromaniacs: Emotions? Sure We Got Em.

"I don't believe the charismata are functioning today in any way that looks remotely like the apostolic gifts described in the New Testament. " Phil Johnson 
Johnson outlines some of the reasons he is a cessationist in regard to the charismatic gifts. He looks at the difference between what the Bible teaches and what charismatics claim about spiritual gifts and how they fall short of the Biblical gifts. If they fall way short, it may be because they are not the same. D.

Emotions? Sure. We got 'em. . .

by Phil Johnson

y cessationist convictions are no secret, although I have tried hard to stay out of debates about that subject here. But to reiterate: I don't believe the charismata are functioning today in any way that looks remotely like the apostolic gifts described in the New Testament. Benny Hinn's "miracles" don't bear the slightest resemblance to apostolic signs and wonders.

I consider cessationism a secondary issue, however, and it's certainly not something I'm interested in arguing about ad infinitum. So it's not a matter we like to bring up deliberately here on the blog. Carefully check the archives of this blog and its predecessor,and you will discover that when the subject comes up, it's usually at the prompting of our charismatic antagonists.

Like yesterday.

Nevertheless, I've been accused at times of "charismatic-bating."Truthfully, I think all of us Pyros would really prefer to steer clear of the issue completely (including Dan, if the facts were known), but it seems we can't even post on tangentially related topicswithout having charismatics crawling out of the woodwork spoiling for a fight. Even then, we do try hard not to be "shrill" about this subject. We love our charismatic friends—especially those who share our love for Scripture and sound doctrine.

As a matter of fact, last week within hours after John Piper posted his essay "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God," I linked to it in my "Where I am Right Now" column with this notation: "John Piper heard God speak! And I know this is true, because I got the same message!"

Frank Turk likewise linked to Piper's article a few hours later, as an addendum to last Wednesday's post, with a "Must Read" notation.

Later that evening, the esteemed Brit-blogger Dr. Adrian Warnockwrote to challenge us to respond to Piper's article. I assumed he had not noticed our links, and I pointed out that we had already double-linked the article with positive notices. Not satisfied, Dr. Warnock wrote to urge us to undertake a fuller dissection of the article and reply to his thoughts about it.

I was about to decline politely when Frank said he would take the assignment. Two or three days ago, Frank posted his draft in a secret place where Dan and I could preview it, proofread it, and make suggestions. We all agreed on the perspective Frank's article expressed. I especially thought he had done a good job (certainly a better job than I would have) at not sounding "shrill."

So much for good intentions.

So, since we've already ruffled charismatic feathers again, I thought I'd make this one more post with a personal perspective on the "cessationist" issue, and then I'm through. I really don't want to have to deal with this issue again every other month. It's not a new issue for me. I've studied it very thoroughly, and my position hasn't changed for more than 30 years, even though I've heard all the arguments and read all the books on the issue (and even edited some of them).

I want to give a word of personal testimony about why my position is so firm.

But first, here's some background material for those coming to this debate fresh:

Other Key Posts Where I have Dealt (usually under duress) With the Cessationism Issue

Now, here's why (even though I liked that article last week) I disagree with John Piper regarding the "gift of prophecy":

Piper's view is that New Testament "prophecy" is "prompted and sustained by the Holy Spirit and yet is fallible." (See Frank Turk's discussion of this issue at his blog yesterday.) That is essentially the same view defended by Wayne Grudem in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.

Quite simply, the view contradicts Deuteronomy 18:21-22 "And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?'; when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

I don't see anywhere in the New Testament where that principle was ever rescinded. Rather, the faithfulness and truthfulness of God is everywhere stressed in the New Testament (e.g., John 3:32-33; 1 Corinthians 1:9; etc.). The novel view of Piper and Grudem on New Testament Prophecy encourages people to claim God has spoken when He has not, and that in turn, tempts people to trust in a lie (cf.Jeremiah 28:15; 29:31).

No doubt some will find that judgment "shrill." I'm sorry for those who feel that way, but the issues are serious and in real life those very kinds of lies often deceive, disappoint, and even destroy people.

Why debating this issue is not a game to me

I grew up in Tulsa, practically within walking distance of Oral Roberts University, close to the headquarters of Kenneth Hagin—and surrounded by pentecostal and charismatic churches on almost every corner. My best friend from grade seven through high school was Bil, whose father was an old-line pentecostal faith-healing evangelist. Bil's dad was very well known in Pentecostal circles. He held massive healing meetings in places across Asia. I saw photographs of the meetings, and Bil's father's healing crusades drew people in the tens of thousands.

Of course, Bil himself was a committed devotee of the charismata.From the time I met him (when I was 12 years old) through my first year in college, he tried repeatedly to get me to speak in tongues. Unfortunately, he neglected to confront me with the claims of the gospel first, but I did ultimately discover enough truth in Scripture to be converted (at age 17).

When I finally did come to a saving knowledge of Christ, Bil cornered me and told me he was sure I was now finally ready to speak in tongues. He explained that I needed to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit and attempt to speak in tongues, and he solemnly cautioned me I that would never truly be liberated from sin or spiritually empowered to serve the Lord until I received the true sign of the Spirit's fullness: tongues.

That's how, after my conversion, Bil tackled the task of turning me into a charismatic with new enthusiasm. He regularly urged me to seek the gift of tongues (I did); he walked me through all the Bible verses that referred to the gift of tongues (I studied them carefully); he took me to his church (where I witnessed glossolalia for the first time). I trusted him completely and didn't really resist anything he was telling me.

We were close friends, and all the years I knew him, he was generally a good influence on me. He seemed to believe the Bible implicitly, and he knew enough truth to avoid all the worst sins of youth. Having a close friend like him had preserved me from much of the peer pressure that caused many young people my age to flirt with all the sins that were in vogue in the late sixties and early seventies. So I was completely open to his spiritual advice as a new Christian.

But then sometime after my first year in college, I heard Bil's father was seriously ill. Bil's dad was still a relatively young man (younger than I am now) but he contracted a kind of cancer that led to a lingering, painful death. His suffering was ghastly, and the final months of his life were agonizing for the whole family. They were unable to grieve and unwilling even to say their goodbyes, believing they could not acknowledge in any way that he was really dying. They had to make a "positive confession," insisting to one another that he was being healed, and claiming every conceivable hint of improvement as a sign of total healing.

But Bil's father's pain never really abated until the cancer finally took his life.

Bil was devastated, and in the months and years that followed, he lost his faith completely. My last conversation with Bil occurred a few years ago, one day when I was about to board an overseas flight. I was traveling to a part of Asia where Bil had lived in the years when his father was ministering there, and I wanted to let him know I had not forgotten him and was still praying for him. At the mention of prayer, his voice almost went cold. He told me he had virtually given up every vestige of his earlier faith.

A couple of years ago I received a newspaper clipping with an obituary saying that Bil himself had died of heart failure. Whether he ever came to authentic faith in Christ and confidence in the truth of Scripture, I don't know.

I'm convinced Bil's faith failed in the first place because it was never true faith at all. It was sheer gullibility, cultivated in a religious culture where people are systematically and relentlessly exhorted to claim "healings" that contradict all medical evidence; to fake or imagine "miracles" that are no such thing; and to regard mental impressions and carnal intuition as "prophecy" from God. All of that is based on serious misunderstandings of Scripture, ignorance of the real purpose of God in sanctification, and unpardonable neglect of the lessons of church history.

The "modern prophecy" doctrine justifies what in my view is the most dangerous aspect of the whole charismatic belief system. It dignifies amateur prognostication with the title of "prophecy" and teaches people that imaginary messages in their heads might actually be revelation from the Holy Spiritand yet fallible at the same time.

That kind of doctrine I utterly and emphatically deplore.

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