The complete text of this exchange can be found here for download for off-line viewing.
Back on 17 Oct 2013, Frank Turk issued an open offer to any Continualist/Charismatic who … Well, I'm not good at talking about myself in the third person. Let me restate what I said then:
The pervasive complaint has been that there's all this talk “about” Charismatics, and not talking “to” Charismatics.
Let's change that.
I am willing to sponsor a conversation with any willing, serious and sober charismatic here at TeamPyro in spite of my alleged hiatus. I can record it as a podcast, or we can do it via e-mail as a written exchange. My only requirements are these three:
1. There must be a limit. If it's audio, it must have a time limit –60 or 90 minutes. If it's written, some sort of content limiter like 10 questions each and a max word limit for responses and questions.
2. There must be fairness. That is: I expect that you will ask me clear and direct questions, and I will answer them; but when I ask you clear and direct questions, you must answer them.
3. It must be completely and totally unedited after the sound check is complete via audio, or after the initial establishment of terms is complete via e-mail. And here's the massive bone I'm going to throw in:
I am willing to concede, for the sake of this discussion, D. A. Carson's interpretation of 1 Cor 12-14, so that we are not squabbling over the hermeneutics of the issue. That is: since you want that passage to say, “well, of course the gifts will continue,” you got it, and there's a sober and serious person who agrees with you. I concede on that point–now let's talk turkey.
As a consequence, I did receive 5 or 6 responses to the open invitation. The most notable was Dr. Michael Brown who has since had a public debate with Dr. Sam Waldron on this topic
, and gave PhilJohnson some time on his own radio show
for this topic. Dr. Brown and I traded some e-mails, but I demurred when I heard he was going to talk to Phil. I think his interactions on this subject, and his forthcoming book (NB: which will not have a chapter in it from a cessationist) will be more than sufficient to understand where he’s coming from. I’m looking forward especially to his reporting on the demographics of the Continualist/Charismatic (hereafter: C/C) camp from a viewpoint of sorting out whether most in the C/C camp are “cautious” or something more enthusiastic and like what was denounced at the StrangeFire conference.
There were others who asked to be included, and frankly I have not had time to follow up with all of them. My hope is that I will be able to follow up one at a time with each of them.
The first that I have found the time for is Dr. Adrian Warnock. You’re all familiar with Adrian as he is literally world-famous and a published author. He blogs here, and this discussion took place over e-mail due to my own inability to find time to get the technology worked out in a suitable manner. If I am totally honest, I believe that the written exchange will be far more useful in this case so that it’s obvious to the reader whether and to what extend the questions involved are actually answered. The format for the discussion was this: each person asked the other five questions and had a final opportunity to respond to the replies; we expanded that after the first round of answers to provide for some follow-up or explanation. If it looks like the person asking questions is trying to give you whiplash, it's because the discussion moved, by design, to the next question. Adrian has asked me to improve the format to show where the “next question” begins, and I have made an effort to do that.
Adrian asks, Frank replies
Why do you think that John MacArthur appears to not be willing to discuss the charismatic issue face to face with a charismatic scholar, and seems to minimize or even deny the great good being done for the gospel by many in the charismatic movement? I am not only talking about Driscoll's invitation, but for example Justin Brierley's offer to have MacArthur or a representative on Unbelievable, and the decision not to include someone like Grudem to put the case for the alternative view at StrangeFire.
Answering for Dr. MacArthur’s motives seems more than a little presumptuous – and more than a little adolescent for you to ask it this way. To show you how unflattering the approach is, let’s consider the question turned the other way: what is Wayne Grudem’s motive, do you think, in never offering anyone on the opposite side of his Continualist views 20 or 30 pages in a future edition in his formidable systematic theology to represent their view there? Why doesn’t he recognize the centuries of good and great faith represented by the Cessationists who date back before Augustine?
The question ignores a cornucopia of good will and any reasonable approach to framing one’s own case in one’s own words, doesn't it? In the very least, one has a right to be wrong on his own – and it’s a right you demand to make your case in every attempt you make to establish it. In such a view of things, your question is petulant at best, and allows for yourself what you will not provide to others.
As to taking or making other offers, let me say this: you were very gracious to take me up on the invitation to dialog on the matter at hand, but look at my invitation for a second. Mine was not a calling-out of anyone specifically who ought to be the subject of my grief. Mine was an open invitation to anyone who thinks they have something to add to the conversation to (in fact) make a conversation of it. Part of the dust cloud here is that it seems that the Cessationists are painted as somehow insular or intransigent – so my goal was to simply let whoever will, come (as it were). I wanted to be free from the accusation of stacking the deck.
In the case of these other “invitations,” how many do you think contacted GTY first to check on Dr. MacArthur’s schedule or availability before making the public declaration of opportunity? If you can’t say since you don’t have first-hand knowledge of the matter, how about this: in what way would you invite someone – anyone – to your church or conference if you were serious and sober about having them – via Twitter and your Blog, or via private conversation first to make sure you were received in a serious an sober way?
These others should go and do the same.
I know that both Justin Brierley and Michael Brown contacted GTY seeking someone to officially represent MacArthur’s position in discussions or debates that could be arranged to fit the schedule of whoever was proposed. I think it is sad that GTY have not seen fit to make such arrangements. In case there is any doubt, I remain willing to meet with anyone GTY wants to formally suggest via Google hangouts for an informal discussion at a time of their convenience, and I know Michael Brown is open to the idea of a further more formal debate. I am grateful to you for this opportunity to discuss at least some of these matters but I am sure you would agree there is much more to discuss. So, for example we won’t have much opportunity to discuss the relevant Scriptures here, nor to talk about what I see as the divisive language used during Strange Fire. I just want us to be able to sit down, talk about this as brothers, and then agree that while these things are very important, genuine Christians who love God and respect the Bible have come to different conclusions. Do you think that this is an issue that means we cannot share fellowship?
Since you bring it up, it makes me sad that anyone wants to have this discussion and hang it on how it makes them feel. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it, Adrian, but what if the truth makes you sad? Shall we toss it out to make you happy? I know I offered the opportunity to issue a follow-up question to each of these answers, but it makes me sad that you couldn’t just ask one question to follow up my answer, above. Shall I now rescind the offer because I am sad?
Here are the answers to the things you have turned out, above, in order:
— Phil was on Dr. Brown’s radio show for an hour the Monday after the conference was over. If you think Phil needed more time, I think that was at Dr. Brown’s discretion, and he seemed to want to say more than Phil. You should time Phil’s contribution to that hour vs. Dr. Brown’s to find out what Dr. Brown intended to do in that time.
— You should contact Phil directly if you think your engagement with him will be more productive that Dr. Brown’s was. However, I think Phil has said everything necessary for GTY to say on this subject already.
— If you wanted to discuss Scripture further, you had 5 questions to me to do so, and Scripture cannot be referenced by you as a basis for any of these questions. Weeping about its absence now seems insincere at least.
— At last, your question: can we not share fellowship? Well, I guess that depends on you guys. Are the questions in-play here serious enough to be blasphemy or not? Does a cessationist commit the Unpardonable Sin or not? Are there miracles actually being performed today as in the NT, or not? It seems to me that you guys want to create your apologetic as if the dignity and deity of the Holy Spirit are at stake – until that’s actually the argument on the table, at which time we’re unloving to you for pointing out that if these are the stakes, you cats are in very serious trouble.
From my desk, I am willing to count you as a deeply-disturbed and deeply-confused person who has faith in Christ. Jesus can get you out of all the messes you guys get yourselves into. But you have to trust him and not your mistaken idolatry of things best called “providence” and “wisdom” rather than apostolic gifts.
I hope you will allow me the luxury of a brief follow up here. I have never called any cessationist a blasphemer, and I certainly do not believe they have committed the unpardonable sin. You know as well as I do think that some form of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” was actually an accusation against charismatics made repeatedly in publicity supporting the Strange Fire Conference. To be honest, your offer of fellowship with me while you think of me as a deeply disturbed person isn't massively appealing to me.
That’s a great rejoinder because it speaks to the kind of Gospel you think is in-play here. For you, thinking of someone else as “suitable for fellowship but deeply disturbed/damaged” is somehow problematic. Yet think about this carefully Adrian: that’s exactly the kind of Gospel we must have, if it is the Gospel at all. Christ must be the basis of fellowship – not my suitability. It’s funny because this is allegedly the basis for the call to “unity” your side makes all over the place. But here I spell it out explicitly and it’s “not massively appealing.”
For us to let Prostitutes and Publicans come to Christ, Adrian, we need to be willing to welcome those who are deeply damaged and deeply deceived in order that Christ will, as you say in your book, bring them to new life. In my view, your scheme to label things fallible and subjective as somehow divine and necessary is the same kind of thing as calling sex a hobby or a profession or becoming rich on the backs of the poor. It’s the same kind of damage – and the results are everywhere to prove it.
Do you accept that many charismatics today are as committed to the gospel, as diligent about following the Scriptures, as defensive of the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible as other evangelicals?
As a class of practitioners of Christianity? Nope.
Are there some? Yes. Are they the majority? No – not even close. However: for the sake of discussion I’m willing to invert what I would document to be the ratio of crazy-to-conservative and say that 30% are crazy and 70% are conservative – but the crazies get all the press. I would do so only to give you a chance to make some kind of argument or point regarding a movement that is 30% crazy and 70% cautious.
In that answer, I have given you all the room you need to answer the companion question I have in my list of questions, and I look forward to your candid, sober remarks.
Frank, thinking about this question gave me an idea. I wonder, would you be prepared to spend some of your own time to visit a charismatic or Pentecostal church that we select for you within say an hour’s drive of your house? The idea would be for you to attend a service and meet with a few members of the congregation and the pastor, to help you see just how much they love the Bible and our Lord.
In fact, even if you don’t have time to take me up on this offer (and I do appreciate you are a busy man), I would love to make this same offer for all your readers. If any of them want to be introduced to a Bible-loving charismatic church in their area for them to make an honest and open visit to, I would be happy to try and get such recommendations between myself and my blog readers. I expect in most cases to be able to find a church that would challenge some of the cessationist assumptions that seem to be rampant at Team Pyro and in the comment section. What do you think Frank?
What I want to reader to do, as they read this exchange, is to watch Adrian’s interaction as the exchange unfolds. He asks a question, I give an answer, and his follow-up ignores the answer and changes the subject.
–Is John MacArthur a bad man on the inside? I say it’s adolescent to ask, and effective invitations to public people are usually done in an orderly way. Adrian’s response? Yes, but then what about Phil?
–Adrian asks if Charismatics are committed to the Gospel? I say no, but I am willing to say that only 30% of them are crazy for the sake of argument. Adrian’s response? Let’s not talk about facts: let’s create an experiential anecdote. Can I find one church that upends my assertion, and would I go there?
So to this end, I say this: no, I do not want an experience. I want the charismatic, who demands somebody talk to him, to talk to me. To participate in this conversation rather than in the one he seems to think he can have without me. I have met charismatics, and the more of them I meet the more I am certain they cannot possibly imagine what people think of them – not because they are so holy or Godly or on-fire for the Spirit, but because they are babblers who are so self-absorbed that they simply cannot even have a conversation with someone about what they believe.
Do you agree that the experiences charismatics describe as “gifts of the spirit” are often similar to what Spurgeon experienced, and related to some of the rich tapestry of experiential Christianity described by many from the past who were theologically cessationists? If so, do you think modern cessationism risks missing out on sharing in that rich experience?
Your question assumes Spurgeon gave up his “experiences” without any comment or reference to what we should make of Charismatic outbursts.
In fact, as I read the evidence on the internet, you are the person who invented the argument that Spurgeon was, in fact, some kind of cautious Charismatic – and for that, you should be hung out to dry. Only Sam Storms has had the temerity to say that even if we accept the reports with no comment, Spurgeon himself did not see them as “charismatic gifts,” but the army of people foisting this argument on the world cannot see this glaring problem. In the same way we should interpret Isaiah’s view of Isaiah as normative, we should see Spurgeon’s view of Spurgeon as normative and not make the man into some sort of imbecile who cannot detect the presence of God. We should interpret Spurgeon’s experiences the way Spurgeon did and not the way you (conveniently) frame them.
Spurgeon rejected the idea of ongoing Apostolic, miraculous gifts. Saying he didn’t because he had some experiences of intuition or wisdom is like saying that there are more prophets in the past we ought to be looking for because they had words from God –but because they denied they were actually God’s words, we may have lost them. That is: we can’t really trust people to know if God spoke to them or not. If I were looking to score points, I’d say, “but of course, that’s actually how you frame modern prophecy,” but I am not looking to score points. I’m trying to answer this question in spite of its lopsided and (it seems) self-ignorant biases.
Spurgeon rejects your argument here. I’ll let him speak for himself about his own life and experience.
I was a bit surprised to see that you are perpetuating the myth that I believe Spurgeon was a closet charismatic. That would be anachronistic, as like almost all Christians of his time, he was theologically cessationist. The point I was trying to highlight was that he had a rich experience of God, and that this might be analogous to some of the experiences of charismatics today. It is difficult to explain Spurgeon’s insights without using the word prophetic. When I was discussing these issues with Steve Camp, who previously worked with MacArthur, he also reminded us of Huss’s prophecy predicting Martin Luther’s ministry. I have asked often, but I still don’t really understand what stronger Cessationists make of such occurrences, or indeed if they feel that they can still happen today. A few links may help our readers assess the experiences of Spurgeon and others for themselves:Cripplegate
Charisma News (Also a Warnie)
I believe God still gives these gifts even where people call them something else. Frank, have you had any similar experiences yourself, or heard about any in people you know personally, that would fall into a similar category?
I would think that this is a good place to ask the Scriptural questions about the matter rather than try to get me to admit that I have had the experience of the Holy Spirit but just can’t bring myself to admit it, Adrian. However, no sense in trying to make your points for you.
To my personal experience, of course I have experienced the Holy Spirit. I am regenerate; I have experienced a lot of sanctification through my 20 years as a Christian and expect to experience more. Scripture has been illuminated to me. I see that I have gifts useful for the edification of my local church.
The problem with your question, however, is that is stands on one faulty assertion: that if I have experienced any of the ordinary outworking of the Holy Spirit, I have to concede all on-going extraordinary outworkings of the Holy Spirit. I don’t have to do any such thing – especially when they are allegedly presented to me for my personal “amen,” what I find is a list of hunches, anecdotes, oceans of people who cannot be accounted for, and not anything that looks even like the moment in Acts 3 when Peter and John healed the Lame Beggar – let alone Lazarus or Eutychus.
This, by the way, is how you try to make Spurgeon out to be some sort of Pre-Azusa Street Holy Roller: when he speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit – and means thinks like salvation, redemption, illumination, sanctification, holiness, and oneness with the body of Christ – you take him to mean all manner of twitchy exuberance. You think Spurgeon would endorse the so-called Charismatic ministries today? Or that Lloyd-Jones was somehow commending the Pentecostals when he was condemning them?
Why do you think so few people today are willing to talk about their experience of God? Is it because they are afraid of being a chapter in MacArthur's next book, or at least of being perceived to be charismatics?
Personally, I think this question is utterly ignorant of the real world. You can’t hardly turn on TV or look at the best sellers lists for books without finding people on again about their experience of God – the problem is that you disqualify almost all of them because you disagree with some part of their experience (you say: because of the Bible; I say: because they make your views out to be what they really are).
The problem is not that people are reticent in talking about their “experience of God. ” The problem is that people are engrossed by the idea that God’s relationship with them is entirely for their personal benefit and entirely subjective. The idea that most of us are beloved to God but are somehow less than Abraham or Moses or Paul in God’s plan for all things is, frankly, offensive to them. The idea that there is an ordinary experience of God – or better still, an ordinary Christian life – strikes them as horrifyingly dull.
There is not any lack at all for people yammering on about their “Experience of God. ” There is a lack of God-ness in that conversation which is more than a little arrogant and shallow. I’d be much more impressed by all that conversation if any of those people found out that when they met God, they were somehow undone by the holiness of Him and also humiliated by the act of condescension He had to make to allow the meeting in the first place. Unfortunately, I am certain you can’t name three people in the last 100 years who, after their “Experience of God” – meaning what you mean by it — turned out that way.
I can assure you that there are many examples of people who’s experiences of God have led to good results in their lives and not pride. In the last 100 years the first names that spring to mind are, as follows, each with a link:
Frank, if I may ask you, are you familiar with the notion many Pastors have of a call to ministry? Do you agree that even for many who would not call themselves charismatic there is often a subjective sense of God compelling them to serve him? Doesn't that sound a bit like what the more moderate charismatics call prophecy?
I think any fair reader of John Piper’s essay you have linked to will see immediately that while Piper would never be someone who would deny that the voice of God can be heard apart from Scripture, that essay speaks to his conviction that the primary and normative way to hear God’s voice is in Scripture, not in intuition. That’s a far cry from what you want to say here in your view.
That said, you are tossing out an experience which, if we look at it with any kind of objectivity, has consequences which are startling and dark. According to FASICLD, 50% of pastors would leave the ministry if they thought they could find other work, and 89% of them have considered leaving the ministry. Barna says 80% of pastors think they are unqualified for their ministry; 70% fight depression. 1500 pastors leave the ministry every month.
If your position is that somehow a lot of people “feel called” into ministry, my response is that if this is the way pastors are self-selecting into the ministry, the results speak for themselves. And those results, it turns out, look exactly like the kind of charismatic chaos the StrangeFire conference was pointing to in horror.
If moderate charismatics and moderate cessationists are largely arguing over what to call experiences of God today, do you think we will ever get to the point where this issue is still passionately disagreed about, but with a broad acceptance that many on the other side are genuine believers who are simply following a different interpretation of the Bible to us. I am thinking about issues like baptism, church government, eschatology, etc where great fellowship and mutual respect often exists between people who think very differently.
I don’t think that’s the case at all. I have conceded for the sake of this exchange that Carson’s view of 1 Cor 12-14 is the unassailable view and we must accept it as the right understanding of whether or not the Gifts will continue. The problem, it turns out, is that you want to over-leverage that concession, pat the cessationist on the head, and expect him to accept a plastic tea service after you have promised him tea with the King.
My response is this: since I accept Carson’s reading of 1Cor 12-14, I demand the real thing. I want prophecies which God has actually said – not guesses that are wrong about 95% of the time (a ratio worse than most business forecasting) or intuitions which cannot be validated or interpreted more-usefully than a horoscope. I want healing so clear and real that it causes the public officials to flog the men doing it because they are disrupting the peace – not rumors from the unwired third world or fortunate timings for lower back pain. I want to meet the people who received the word of God in their native tongue when the evangelist came without any knowledge of their language – not gibberish murmured in private that calls itself the tongues of angels.
The problem you face with me is that I know and love comic books, but I would never mistake them or their claims for real virtue, real adventure or real triumph. And let me tell you frankly: you cats are selling something which, at the end of the day, compares unfavorably to comics.
The reason, if I may run a little long here, is simple: the question is not merely a secondary matter. Look: one reason we reject Catholicism is over the fact (or lack of fact) regarding a miracle – the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Body and Blood. In the Catholic mind, anyone who rejects this miracle – which is performed every day – is simply out of line. They are comparable to Muslims in God’s economy of salvation. They can’t really be Christian because they cannot receive God’s work in the Mass. For them, because it is actually a miracle, it’s blasphemy to reject it – and if they are right about the Mass, they are right about the blasphemy.
For you, though, the idea of the truly-miraculous is merely existential. That is, it’s your thing, do what you want to do. My world as a cessationist is less because I think there are no miracles today, but it’s not so far gone that I can’t follow Christ. There’s nothing necessary about any of these miracles for the normal Christian life –unless I reject them as fraudulent, in which case they just make it better in some yet-to-be-explained way and my view is therefore substandard, unorthodox (in spite of being the prevailing view since the Nicene Creed was written). And that you do have an “experience of God” only makes your Christian life slightly better – and it’s only as much better as the actual experience. You didn’t get a Prophecy this week? No loss. I get a prophecy not quite true next week? No loss. As long as one is committed to saying they can or could be available, one has the 64-color set of Crayons rather than the cheap 8-color set Frank Turk is using.
My greatest problem with the “other side” of this argument is very simple: it cheapens the truly-miraculous. It sets the expectation for God’s work and action so low that Criss Angel is more exciting to experience than Prophecy or Tongues. And as signs of the resurrection, they have to make you wonder what kind of resurrection Christ had if the best the Holy Spirit can do today is Pat Robertson.
In reply I would simply say that I don’t demand God act in a certain way, nor do I command that he cannot act in another. I am content to allow God to distribute his gifts to the Church graciously as he wills. These things are only a foretaste of what is to come in any case! Surely a taste is better than nothing at all, Frank?
You have promised a taste of Kobe beef, then offer me the Nike-leather sandwich from some vagrant’s pantry, and smile and say, “well, a taste is better than nothing.” That seems shifty at best.
That doesn't hardly sound like faith in the God who promised a Savior at the beginning of the world and delivered him to us at exactly the right time. And it makes that kind of faith – faith in a God who keeps His word, and who is Creator and Sustainer of all things – into less-meaningful than playing games at a casino.
Frank asks, Adrian replies
In my invitation, I have conceded for the sake of this discussion the interpretation of the NT that the sign gifts continue. Given that concession, isn't the more critical question whether or not they are necessary for the life of the church? Why or why not?
To answer your question, let’s look at how the Bible describes the function of one of what you call the sign gifts but what the Bible calls the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The purposes of prophecy are defined as “upbuilding, encouragement and consolation. ” (1 Corinthians 14:3), these purposes do not seem to overlap significantly with the purposes of Scripture which are “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It seems prophecy takes the general word of God to all the World and applies it specifically to specific people at a specific time in order to give us the strength and the specific restorative word that we need. In my dialogue with Steve Camp (http://www. patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/11/strange-fire-dialogue-with-steve-camp/), he described occasions he had observed when preaching MacArthur seemed to be operating in exactly this way.
In the Scriptures prophecy also seemed to be strongly involved in prompting further missionary efforts (see Acts 13). Also, in Acts 2 we see that the Spirit is to be poured out on all flesh, and on everyone who God calls to himself, and a clear part of this in context is a broad distribution of prophecy. It seems that this to indicate that the relationship breach between God and Man has been repaired.
We do not enjoy the full benefits of a relationship with God before we meet him face to face (1 Corinthians 13) but we are all given the opportunity to “know in part and prophecy in part,” and to enjoy the sealing work of the Spirit in the here and now, which is described in Ephesians 1 as the deposit which guarantees the much greater inheritance that is yet to come (see Ephesians 1).
Essentially, the gifts are purposed to in a limited way manifest God’s tangible presence on Earth, giving us a foretaste of the enjoyment we will have of God’s presence in heaven. As such, the primary purpose is surely to inspire us to worship God in spirit and truth.
If those gifts were withdrawn in their entirety the Church would be infinitely poorer. But I am thankful that they have never been withdrawn. I believe that every true Christian experiences at least something of the touch of the Holy Spirit, even if at times we may not recognize it as such, or like Spurgeon, we may choose to call what happens to us by a different name. After all, Paul tells us that we are “not lacking in any gift” as we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:7) Yet, he also commands us to earnestly desire more of these spiritual gifts, a command that the Bible never rescinds. (1 Corinthians 14:39)
I take your answer to be, then, that the “sign gifts” are necessary for the local church. Without them, the local church is “infinitely poorer,” as you put it – which may be an attempt to simply use nice words and not really reflect your view. If I take your statement seriously, I think about the things which would make my local church “infinitely poorer:” the absence of God’s word (which is inclusive of the Gospel); the absence of men gifted to lead and teach the church; the absence of fellowship with other believers.
If any of those things were absent, the problem of being “infinitely poorer” becomes self-evident. I don’t see that sort of self-evident problem in our church where we have never had a charismatic incident. What do you mean, then, by calling a church like the one I attend “infinitely poorer?”
You do have to remember that each time the gifts of the Spirit are mentioned in the NT included in the list are other activities not usually considered “supernatural.” In fact the dichotomy of “supernatural” vs. “natural” is unknown to the Bible. The Holy Spirit is actually powerfully at work in all kinds of ways in every Christian. In fact in your church He will be at work in each of the ways you mentioned and more. So I do not believe that any Christian is devoid of the work of the Spirit, just that many do not fully recognize his activity as such, and of course some do not eagerly desire his gifts as Paul urges us to.
You have to know that this is an equivocation. You have simply equivocated to say that all the Apostolic gifts (which were the subject of the StrangeFire Conference) are just like love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, self-control and so on when it is transparently obvious that there is a qualitative difference between sanctification and restoring sight to the blind. There are no Cessationists who would say that the ordinary Christian life has no effects of the Holy Spirit – but when you claim extraordinary gifts (healing, prophecy, tongues, etc.) the objections come.
Why muddy the water? Why intentionally make this discussion less-clear?
My point is simply this: the Spirit has not been withdrawn and works in all kinds of ways. Actually, I suspect that in most cessationist churches he is at work in what I would call prophecy. This is how I would describe what happens when a preacher finds himself saying something that wasn't in his notes and that is later found to have been especially relevant to a specific situation in one of the listeners' lives.I just want us to become more aware of such things and even seek them or as Paul puts it “earnestly desire” them. So a cessationist church without the gifts at all would be infinitely poorer, but one where the Spirit is quietly and unobtrusively working may be just a little bit poorer, though of course if the church where gifts are encouraged unfortunately aside their devotion to the Word, the cessationists will be better off. But in my view we should pursue all aspects of the Spirits work.
Assuming the sign gifts are necessary, what are the spiritual consequences for those who abuse them or are abused by them? Does the NT give any clue regarding what the consequences of misusing the sign gifts might be?
We see in the New Testament some very specific examples of abuse or misuse of the gifts, or operating in counterfeit gifts. The consequences seem to depend on how severely those gifts are being abused.
Most people would agree that the Corinthian church was misusing the gifts as much if not more than some wings of the charismatic movement today. Yet Paul graciously says that that Church is a mark of his apostleship, and gently instructs and corrects them so that they could return to using the gifts more appropriately. Aside from a comment about some of them being sick because of the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, it seems that the church did not experience negative consequences, or at least not severe ones.
On the other hand, we see in Acts 8 that Simon the Magician receives a much more severe word of punishment, which surely must apply to some others who similarly abuse the gifts, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” (Acts 8:20). This account is uncomfortable reading when you consider some of the most extreme examples today, but even more concerning is Jesus warning:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. ’” (Matthew 7:22-23)
In the last question, you claimed the church would be “infinitely poorer” without these gifts, yet here you say that if the gifts are abused there are almost no consequences for the body in general – “no severe ones,” anyway. As I think about that, when a pastor abuses the Word of God to his church, that church is always injured – not just eternally, but immediately. When leaders abuse leadership, people are always hurt in real-time. Do you really mean to say that the only consequence for those who abuse the spiritual gifts, which you say are of infinite value to the local church, is an eternal one which they cannot discern until the final judgment?
Once again you twist something I said. The point I made is that the consequences of abuse of gifts depends on the severity of that abuse and on the judgment of God. It is beyond dispute that the Corinthians seemed to get off a lot more lightly than Simon the Sorcerer! Of course there can be negative consequences in the life of a church when gifts are abused, but I responded to your question more in light of the possible eternal consequences. Obviously more serious abuses of gifts are very damaging to a church in the here and now, this is less so with more minor abuses or errors. A well taught church is usually very able to weigh gifts and simply discard erroneous ones as we are told to in the NT.
I like it that you have claimed I am twisting your words – I think rather I am exposing the places you are evading my questions. Would you care to take another stab at the question then? Does the NT give any clue regarding what the consequences of misusing the sign gifts in the local church
Yes it does. You have the chaos of Corinth which needed correction but was not mocked or condemned by Paul. But as I said you have some situations where the consequence was eternal judgment which was in some cases affected the here and now.
If it is possible to abuse the sign gifts, using a broad brush, how would we size up the global adherents of the sign gifts? Asked another way, if you and I agree that some people today abuse this doctrine and others are faithful to it, what's the ratio of orthodox to unorthodox practitioners in the world today? How would we measure that?
This is impossible for me to be sure of. In the circles I move in I would say that the proportion of people who abuse this doctrine is vanishingly small, to the point of it being almost invisible. But, there is a clear reason why I deliberately don’t watch Christian TV. There is so much material on there that would make me want to throw a brick at the screen, and I like my television!
But it is also too easy to quickly reject people, as we have precedent where some people who were condemned as being just another prosperity teacher, became much more committed to the gospel than it at first appears. Jesus warned us that the real wheat and the fake weeds will grow together. (Matthew 13:24-29). It is only the final judgment day that will reveal the answer to your question.
Well, that answer worries me for a reason I didn’t expect when I asked this question. When I asked this, I figured you had some way of knowing what the mix is in your movement regarding some kind of cautious use vs. something which puts people in danger – and you had some sense of confidence that the movement was in good health.
You know: as a Calvinist, I take a lot of grief from people who say that I am part of a faction which, globally, is off the rails. But I can push back on that because let’s face it: the heroes of the faith are overwhelmingly of a Calvinist stripe, and most Calvinists are not like the stereotype.
I don’t have to worry about being in the minority of a problematic group because I can know from facts that I am in the overwhelming (orthodox) majority. How can you defend your movement when you have no idea whether, for example, Conrad Mbewe is right about the statistics or not?
I don't really think of myself as being in some monolithic movement called the Charismatic Movement. There are many mini-movements who are charismatic. I can speak with most authority about the one I am in, and a few others I have had close contact with. There are many charismatic leaders who I have not really heard of, so for example I only got to hear of Michael Brown because of the online debate over Strange Fire. That meeting, by the way, is something I am very grateful to Dr MacArthur for kindly arranging. I suspect that the diverse groupings who are Charismatic may actually have more to do with each other as a result of all this.
If the ratio of unorthodox to orthodox is significantly out of balance –say unorthodox are 40% or more of the adherents –what is the responsibility of those with the orthodox position?
I think that every pastor/elder in a local church has a responsibility to maintain the purity of that local church to the best of his ability and to protect the flock from wolves. But rather than trying to go outside the gate and hunt the wolves, the shepherd must make sure the walls are strong, and that he is among the sheep teaching them a compelling picture of the truth of Christ that will make the flock much less likely to be drawn away after false teachers.
At times, there will need to be a rebuke specific false teachers, especially if they are part of a denomination or family of churches of which you are a part. Sometimes it may also be appropriate to warn the flock, particularly if it becomes known to you that a group of your people are being drawn after a certain heretical teacher.
But the most important responsibility is to build the local church that God has called us into, and make it a model of how church ought to be, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.
I think this answer should check in with your first question to me – because they are not coming to the same conclusion. That first question to me demands that someone is a bad person if they will not “settle up” across denominational or theological lines in the broader church. Here, you think that as long as the people inside the four walls of your local assembly pass the doctrinal litmus test, all is well – and there’s no sense checking on others if they are well or if they are unwell and making others unwell.
Why should Dr. MacArthur or Phil or myself settle up with anyone over any issue if, as you say here, that the only responsibility people have is to their own local church? Put another way, why are you so bothered by the activity at Grace Community Church if in fact your answer here is really how you feel about your relationship with the greater body of Christ?
I didn't say we have no responsibility for what goes on outside, just that our primary responsibility is about what goes on inside our churches. I have been so concerned about the recent conference and book because it has branded me and many people I love as probably not saved. I feel this divisiveness has the potential for causing more damage to the global Church of Christ than almost any other recent controversy.
That doesn't really answer the question. The question is that somehow you have a double standard about the apologetic encounter with Charismaticism – you will defend it even though you admit it is impossible to know whether it’s doing good or harm on-net, and you will reproach criticizers of the movement even though you say it is impossible to know whether it is doing harm or good.
How do you make sense of that?
I don't mean to sound pretentious but I defend charismatic doctrine like the reformers defended the gospel because “here I stand I can do no other!” I don't forge my doctrine from experience, so couldn't change my thinking even if the world was full of people abusing the gifts, and I knew nobody who used them appropriately. I would still have to acknowledge that passages like 1 Cor 1:7 and 1 Cor 13 directly teach that the gifts continue till Jesus return.But the truth is I am in a group of churches that numbers tens of thousands of people who for the most part use these gifts to glorify Jesus and edify the Church. And I am aware of many other similar gospel loving groups. Whether they are in the majority or not makes as little difference to me as the fact that evangelical Christians in then UK are in a tiny majority compared to the secular majority. Numbers prove nothing.
What should be done by the larger body of Christ if the orthodox inside Charismatic circles aren't doing what is called for in your answers to the last question?
I think that the response of the wider body of Christ should be similar to what I outlined in the last reply. What is not appreciated by some is that many charismatics do reject false teachers they just prefer to highlight the positive to their people. For example, with some exceptions, I have tended over the years to look for ministries that I can highlight and recommend where the vast majority of what is taught and practiced is commendable. I have tended to largely ignore those ministries I am aware of that I am less happy with, and I have certainly not made it my responsibility to spend a lot of time assessing ministries and criticizing them publicly. If I was to attempt to do that job properly, there are so many crooks, crazies, and con-men that I would have no time for anything else!
I do also believe that pastors who are more qualified than me should be reaching out in private to some over-enthusiastic preachers who are clearly gifted and influential, but lack wisdom, or indeed may be in significant error. Like a modern day Apollos there are many in need of a Priscilla and Aquilla to gently instruct them in the way of the Lord, so that far from being damaging to the Church, some of such people can become beneficial.
I have no idea whether this saying translates from American to British culture, but we have a saying over here that goes like this: There’s no such thing as “everybody’s cat,” because unless the cat belongs to somebody, he will certainly starve to death.
Your response, “If I was to attempt to do that job properly, there are so many crooks, crazies, and con-men that I would have no time for anything else!” is an example of why, at some point, somebody has to own the cat. You know: in the States, we have Denominations, and Conventions, and Conferences (TGC, T4G, etc.). In some sense, all of those have decided to be what D.A. Carson called “center bound,” which is his way of describing how to maintain orthodoxy without being a fundamentalist. So while in some sense it’s nobody’s job to make sure that Mark Driscoll didn’t endorse a heretic when he met with T.D. Jakes, when he did endorse a heretic he was removed from TGC and (though it’s not told this way) Acts29.
I admit what happened to Driscoll was a pitiful and toothless act, but somehow Crossway isn’t publishing his new books anymore. He’s not getting another shot at T4G or TGC or Piper’s pastors’ conference. Everyone knows what this means.
UPDATED: Off-line, someone has appealed to my conscience about the above statement now highlighted in YELLOW. This person says that my account is rumor and not the facts, and that he has first-hand knowledge that Driscoll is in fact welcome to return any time to the roles he has vacated in these organizations. If you review only the publicly-published documents about this matter, there's no question: my account differs from the one made by others who have merely wished Mark Driscoll well at a moment when his actions were under fire from many corners.
I would amend the statement, therefore, in this way:
I was never in the room when any of these people discussed these issues. There is no written termination of anybody over anything regarding Mark Driscoll except this statement from Carson & Keller about Driscoll's departure from TGC. In that respect, publicly there's no question that Mark Driscoll might return to TGC and T4G and Piper's pastors' conference any day now. I look forward to that day to vindicate him and to incriminate me — and also to incriminate those who gave me the information, above, in order to convince me that TGC had more starch in private than they did publicly when Mark Driscoll embraced a heretic in favor of the men who help him to have a stage in the first place.
Why is it that even D.A. Carson can find ways to stigmatize people who are out of center-bound orbit with him doctrinally, but you fellows in this situation in Charismania hide behind the idea that it’s nobody’s fault that Sub-Saharan Africa is a spiritual wasteland while at the same time demanding that all those heads be counted when you tally up your growth rates? Do you guys own the cat, or not?
I don't think you can write off a whole continent like that! There are many godly Christians in Africa. I do feel you are too swift to judge.
As far as calling out certain ministries is concerned, I think that many of us simply do not want to become watchbloggers. But if you look at our conferences (see for example http://300leaders.org) I think you will agree that we tend to promote and partner with people who love the gospel rather than the extremists.
Adrian's concluding comments
Thank you for this opportunity, Frank. I am very convinced that charismatics and cessationists need to talk more, in order for us to at least understand each other, even if it is too much to expect us to agree! That’s why I wish that MacArthur or perhaps Phil would agree to a debate or a less formal discussion with a charismatic.
I do also accept that there are many godly Christians who do not accept charismatic doctrine but diligently pursue a relationship with Jesus. Actually I even believe that many of such people are actually experiencing some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit but calling them something else. All I really ask at this stage is that we recognize that each other really are brothers in Christ, and that as with issues like water baptism, we accept that many on the other side love God and his Word just as much as we do.
Frank’s Concluding Comments
What I enjoy about this exchange is that Adrian is such a blithe spirit – such a credulous fellow toward his fellow man, and especially his fellow charismatics. Live and let live, he says – well, unless we ask him whether or not the Apostolic Gifts are necessary. At point he makes it clear that “the Church would be infinitely poorer” if they were ever withdrawn, utterly negating his chummy wave to “Christians who do not accept charismatic doctrine. ”
I’ve said what I have to say here clearly. The rest is left to the comments.