Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A message to the "See why I faved you" people

On Twitter, there are some accounts which randomly fave Tweets. When you see the notification, the account name is simply "See why I faved you." There is a link in the profile to a website that is basically giving a gospel message. To the people who own these accounts, I want to say:

Please, please, please, please stop it.

Don't misunderstand that I am against evangelism. Look at my other blog posts and podcasts, and you'll see I'm all for winning the lost and speaking truth in love, even if someone is violently opposed to the truth. I'm all for being a witness, even if it's on social media. I'm not one of those "Let's pretend there's peace between God and those who oppose Him" people.

However, these things are just annoying. For one, there's nothing personal about them. It's just "Hey, look at this!" Some people criticize handing out tracts as impersonal, but at least with tracts you're engaging in a person one on one, and speaking with them. For another, I get the feeling there is no rhyme or reason with the faving, and some of these accounts may involve the use of bots or third party programs. Heck, my Twitter account has received them - I'm already a Christian, people! You don't need to win my soul, God has already done that for me. In the end, this trend is really just a Christian version of automated Twitter messages.

This isn't being a witness for God, it's just being annoying.

Granted, I understand this is the internet. You can't control what people do. I don't expect there to be a sudden drop in these things simply because I wrote this one blog post. Consider this post as nothing more than a rant and a call for reason. If you want to witness to people on social media, do it by presenting the Gospel as best is possible in whatever outlet you are using. However, do it in a way that doesn't make the other person feel like they are Bot Victim #241. Thank you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Response to a Supposed Calvinist Dilemma

This post is going to be in response to a supposed critique of Calvinism, using Acts 13:48 and a popular Calvinist interpretation of it. The source came from Twitter, where I saw this image shared:

The passage in question is this:
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. [Acts 13:48; NASB]
This passage takes place during Paul's first missionary journey, when he and Barnabas arrive in Antioch, and experience the first major group of conversions among the Gentiles. Obviously the contention of the image is towards any Calvinist use of this verse to say that those who believed had already been appointed unto salvation. Indeed, John MacArthur, in his commentary for this verse, states that it is "one of Scripture's clearest statements on the sovereignty of God in salvation" (pg. 1461).

Generally speaking, there tend to be two major objections to this reading:

1) The appointment was for the Gentiles to receive salvation, since the Jews, as a people, had rejected it. However, this passage is clearly talking about individuals. Not all Jews had rejected the message (as verses 42-43 demonstrate), and not all Gentiles had accepted it.

2) Verse 46 says that the Jews rejected the Gospel, and considered themselves unworthy to receive it, hence this is just speaking about the Gentiles' choice. The problem with this contention is that this verse makes it clear that the act of believing on the part of the Gentiles followed the appointment to eternal life. That is, those who were the ones appointed to eternal life were the ones who believed; if one was not appointed to eternal life, they did not believe. That Jews earlier objected to the Gospel does not contradict Calvinism: that is the natural state of man, which is to reject the Gospel and the message of salvation.

It is also helpful to note that, grammatically speaking, Acts 13:48 is an example of the pluperfect tense. Daniel Wallace lists this verse as one such example of the tense, and writes:
...the force of the pluperfect tense is that it describes an event that, completed in the past, has results that existed in the past as well (in relation to the time of speaking). [pg. 583; Wallace]
On the same page, Mr. Wallace explains further that the pluperfect does not make a comment "about the results existing up to the time of speaking". William D. Mounce likewise writes:
The pluperfect is used to describe an action that was completed and whose effects are felt at the time after the completion but before the time of the speaker. (The effects of the action described by the perfect is felt at the time of the speaker.) [pg. 237; Mounce]
In this context, the people were not active believers up to this point of hearing the gospel, but their being appointed to eternal life was something done in the past, and not only at that moment, when they accepted, nor did their accepting the Gospel lead into the being appointed to eternal life. Those who had been appointed to eternal life beforehand were the ones who then, at that moment, believed. We will cover this part a little more later on in this post.

Let us now go to the image, and deal with the supposed treatment of the Calvinist position.

The image states that "God arbitrarily appointed some to eternal life and there is no chance for others to be saved." Immediately, we have a problem with the use of "arbitrary"; as I stated in my podcasts on Matthew Gallatin's use of Romans 9 (he likewise uses the term "arbitary"), that word is misplaced in the Calvinist concept of God. In the Twitter thread where I saw this used, the OP explained: "Arbitrary means 'based on random choice or personal whim'. By definition, arbitrary works just fine." This, however, is problematic, for the simple fact that God does not do anything by "random choice," nor does he do anything by "personal whim." Everything God does is with purpose - even election. This is found throughout scripture, where God will say "for this purpose" and "for this reason" whenever discussion his actions.

The image continues by saying that this belief "makes God a liar," and proceeds to cite 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. These two verses are passages that have been addressed by Calvinists for perhaps hundreds of years, so simply throwing them out in the discussion is (to be frank) highly unproductive, and shows a lack of understanding of the side you are criticizing. For the sake of time, I will link to two discussions on the verses, explaining them from the Calvinist perspective: one on the verse from Paul, and one on the verse from Peter. In short: 1 Timothy 2:4 is speaking about different kinds of men, while 2 Peter 3:9 is addressing believers, not unbelievers (again, see the longer discussions linked to).

The image likewise argues this makes God a "respecter of persons," and cites against such a notion Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and 1 Peter 1:17. However, the author of this image seems to fail to recognize two things:

Firstly, Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11 are referring to ethnicity and race. Acts 10 tells the story of Peter, an ethnic Jew, visiting Cornelius' household, and seeing that the Spirit has been poured out upon the Gentiles; Romans 2:11 is preceded by verse 10, which states "glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." God is not a respecter of persons in regards to their ethnic or racial identity (ie., no one will be banned from salvation simply because they're black, or Latino); this is what those verses are attempting to get across.

Secondly, 1 Peter 1:17 is simply saying that God is one "who impartially judges according to each one’s work." This in no way refutes the idea of unconditional election - it only confirms that God will judge each one rightfully according to their deeds. Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike would agree on this.

The final part of this image's opposition to the (straw man) Calvinist position is that this makes it so God does not "appoint everyone to eternal life," and cites Matthew 7:13. This verse simply states: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it." This verse in no way states that God has appointed all to eternal life, nor suggests that such a thing is possible.

Let us now go to the right side of the image, and the response to the so-called Calvinist position.

The contention is that these Gentiles were "making an appointment for eternal life." A quick correction here: these were not unbelieving Gentiles, but Jews and God-fearing men (Gentile converts to Judaism who abstained from circumcision), as clarified in verse 43 (the word "Gentile" is not even used in verse 42, but rather simply the pronoun "they"). Let us also not forget that Paul and Barnabas were speaking in the synagogue (v. 14), and verse 42 happens after their long sermon in the synagogue.

However, let's put this aside for now and examine the contention that the the people were "making an appointment for eternal life," and let us remember what we established earlier: which comes first in this verse? The appointing, or the believing? The appointing does. Those who were appointed were those who believed. If there had been no appointing, there would be no believing. If we were to take the sentence, "As many as were drafted served in the army," and then argued that those who served in the army had drafted themselves, it would make no sense. However, this is how some synergists wish to interpret Acts 13:48.

Further confusion is added to the verse when the image states: "they make appointments to hear the truth of the gospel, and faith comes by hearing of the word of God (Rom 1:16; 10:17)." Two points in regards to this:

Firstly, let's again ask who is making the appointment, and what is being appointed. It is people being appointed (not making appointments - note the image's subtle transition from verb to noun), and this appointing is towards eternal life. There is nothing here about individuals "making appointments" to "hear the truth of the gospel" (in fact, they had already heard it in the text, therefore it seems illogical to hear it again in order to believe).

Secondly, the citations of Romans 1:16 and 10:17 are unrelated to this conversation. I know the image maker probably cited them to back up the statement that faith comes by hearing the word of God, but this in no way contradicts Calvinist doctrine. Calvinists believe that God elects people unto salvation, and then calls them unto that salvation through the preaching of His truth, just as Paul writes "and these whom He predestined, He also called" (Rom 8:30a). It is also worth noting that in the famous phrase "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt 22:14), the Greek word for "chosen" can literally be translated as "the called of the called."

In short, this image does not present a conundrum for Calvinist doctrine. Like many anti-Calvinist arguments, it misrepresents the Calvinist position and attempts to reword the passages in question in order to make it fit with a more synergistic approach. As I've said elsewhere, both on the blog and my podcast, this is one of the reasons I'm a Calvinist: when I was a non-Calvinist and I was reviewing both sides of the argument, I saw that one side was being dishonest about the other's position, and not handling scripture rightly; that side was the synergistic side. When I was as honest with scriptural passages about salvation as I was with scriptural passages about the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, I had to come to Calvinistic conclusions.

However, I invite the reader to examine this passage themselves, and treat it with respect and honesty, and see for themselves what the word of God has to say. God bless.


Works Cited

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005. Print.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. Print.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Print.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Podcast: Mike Bickle and Psalm 2

In this episode, we review Mike Bickle's message from OneThing 2014, which went over the meaning of Psalm 2. Does he handle it rightly? What tactics does he employ to interpret the passage?

This link takes you to a post about IHOP-KC's involvement with the Bethany Deaton murder, but (more importantly) discusses the cult-like atmosphere and the way Mike Bickle is revered by the staff and members.

This link takes you to the podcast where we listened to a Misty Edwards message on Forerunners.

This link takes you to the podcast where we review whether or not IHOP-KC is a cult (and respond to the Ask Mike Bickle segment on it).

This link takes you to an interview I did with someone who formerly belonged to the house of prayer movement.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Podcast: Joyce Meyer and Word Power

Does scripture teach that we have god-like power through our words? Is this a historic Christian doctrine, or does it come from somewhere else? We ask these questions as we examine a message and Q&A session from Joyce Meyer.

Justin Peters' three part examination of the Word of Faith movement can be found here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Podcast: The $77 Blessing

A special 2014 blessing can be yours for just $77! (Or even $214.)

In this episode, we review an episode of Rod Parsley's Breakthrough TV show, where George Bloomer claims to have a direct revelation from God himself about the year 2014. Does it jive with scripture? Most of all, does it jive with the 2007 version of George Bloomer's message?

George Bloomer's original Seven Seven Seven message can be seen here.

The order form on Rod Parsley's website can be found here.

The information regarding George Bloomer's claim to have paid for his church with drug money can be found here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Common Charismatic Arguments Against Discernment

Recently I was notified of a book review for Heaven is for Real, written from a Charismatic perspective. Aptly named Heaven Is for Real – A Charismatic’s Perspective, it is written by an individual going by the name of "TheBitterPastor". I had previously written an extensive review on the book, and done an episode of my podcast where I reviewed Eastern Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green's defense of it. Reading this review, I felt inspired to write it, not only to give a response to it (since, as we shall soon see, it actually deals very little with the book and movie Heaven is for Real), but to address several of the arguments made in the chapter. My goal here is to try to attempt to respond to contentions that are made often from the Charismatic and Hyper-Charismatic side, and to attempt to call my Charismatic brothers to reason. It is not meant as a personal attack against anyone in particular, especially the author. Many of these arguments are those I have found in Charismatic and (especially) Hyper-Charismatic circles, whenever someone starts to question so-called signs and wonders and miracles.

To visually differentiate between the review's text and anything else (quoted sources, bible verses, etc.), all quoted text from the review will be in purple. Everything else will be normal colored. All Bible translations, unless otherwise noted, will be from the New American Standard. With all that established, let's begin our review:
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of reading different tweets and blog posts regarding Heaven Is for Real, the so-called account of Colton Burpo’s trip into heaven. Although the book has been out for a while now, the film has recaptured its popularity (or infamy) within certain church circles. Most of the commentary I have either heard or read has been relatively negative and predominately spouted from Baptist circles, those trained in Baptist seminaries and those who identify themselves as Cessationists. One influential critic of Heaven Is for Real who fits the bill in every one of these categories is John MacArthur.

One of the things I enjoy about being a part of The Anon Church is that we can interact with each other concerning differences, similarities and opinions of our like-minded faith. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I, being charismatic, would challenge people to be very careful before they rail accusations against those who have experienced supernatural things on the account of the Gospel. Many people who have criticized Colton Burpo’s heavenly account are those who have rarely if ever encountered any sort of supernatural activity in their own life—which is strange because the kingdom of God is all about the supernatural—not dead theology with only words and no substance to back it.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me in this opening section was the charge that "many people who have criticized Colton Burpo’s heavenly account are those who have rarely if ever encountered any sort of supernatural activity in their own life". The argument is therefore made that we must somehow first experience the supernatural before we criticize it. Logically speaking, before we criticize x, we must first experience x, and then we will be able to have a better grasp on x to comment on it.

This position is a popular one among some Charismatic circles...however it is an incredibly fallacious one, and for this simple reason: you do not need to make a truth statement based solely or heavily on experience. Do I need to take meth before saying that meth is bad for you? No. Do I need to get pregnant before I can say abortion is wrong? No. Do I need to be a black person before I say Jim Crow-style racism is wrong? No. Do I need to partake of the occult before I start to say the occult is wrong? No. To summarize, in order to make a truth statement regarding all of these questions and dilemmas, experience is not necessary, only the facts at hand.

So when someone shares their supernatural experience, is it absolutely necessary to partake in the supernatural before commenting on it, or having a valid opinion on it? Absolutely, positively no. We do not need to experience anything before commenting on whether or not it is right or wrong. What we can do is hold it up to a set standard, and discern from there. An example can be seen in the fact that I can say "Meth is bad" because all medical and scientific evidence demonstrates that meth is harmful to the body and produces terrible side effects, as well as leads into harsher social evils.

In regards to supernatural experiences, the one constant we have is the written word of God. By this, we are able to see what is and isn't an act of God, and by what standards we are to hold the teaching of an individual teaching from the word of God. It is precisely why the Reformers rejected so much of the nonsense coming from the Roman Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages: because, despite all the so-called signs and wonders that they performed, and all the supernatural experiences they had beheld...in the end, they contradicted God's word, and taught doctrines well beyond it.

Let me pause here a moment to clarify that I am not a "hyper-cessationist". The common continuationist straw man against cessationism is that cessationists believe God never acts supernaturally, or never does anything miraculous or out of the ordinary, which is simply untrue, and few cessationists I know think in such a way. I do not believe that is the norm for God to act, but it is not below God to act supernaturally, and it is not impossible for supernatural things to not occur. I myself have had supernatural experiences which I cannot fully explain; however, I do not hold those experiences to be the determining factor in how I perceive God to operate, or how I perceive He should operate, nor as what God desires me to base my life around. To quote Jonathan Edwards, "God has not given us his providence, but his word to be our governing rule."
The supernatural and a “living” testimony are important aspects of the Christian faith. If you recall, that is one reason the Pharisees and Jesus did not get along. The religious leaders were stuck in a rigid, dead theological perspective surrounded by tradition, rules and regulation that allowed for zero testimony and zero power. The ministry of Jesus shook things up because it challenged dead theologians and their legalistic views of Scripture.
It is a bit sad that, this far into the article, we have already had "The Pharisee Card" pulled upon the critics of Burpo's book (Todd Burpo himself accused his critics of being Pharisees). The Pharisee Card is really the Christian equivalent of Godwin's Law: in Godwin's Law, the longer a debate goes on, the greater the chance someone is going to be compared to the Nazis; with the Pharisee Card, the longer a Christian debate goes on, the greater the chance someone is going to be called a Pharisee.

However, let us put that aside and examine this charge about the Pharisees: it is said that "the religious leaders" were "stuck in a rigid, dead theological perspective surrounded by tradition, rules and regulation that allowed for zero testimony and zero power." The author likewise states that Christ's ministry "shook things up because it challenged dead theologians and their legalistic views of Scripture."

In truth, this is only half right. It is certainly attested to by history and scripture that the Pharisees were heavy on tradition, and were likewise legalistic in their view on scripture's commands. This is the testimony of most of the gospels. It is precisely why Christ promised rest for those who were "weary and heavy-laden", and asked them to take on his yoke (Matt 11:28-30). The Pharisees were those who tied up heavy burdens and laid them upon the shoulders of men, but were unwilling to "move them with so much as a finger" (Matt 23:4). They relied heavily upon the Law and their own Jewish lineage to save them (Matt 3:9), and hence emphasized the works of man over and against God's grace and mercy.

However, that the Pharisees denied the existence of miracles or the works of the supernatural is blatantly false. We see this especially in the charge Christ lays at those Pharisees who said he cast out devils by the power of the devil, when he says to them: "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?" (Matt 12:27a; Luke 11:19a). The point of Christ's rebuke here was to ask the Pharisees just who their own sons (that is, followers and members) cast out demons, if he did it by the power of the devil. What this means is that even those among the Pharisees performed some kinds of signs and wonders, and yet the Pharisees did not condemn them. If the Pharisees really were hyper-cessationists who didn't believe in any kind of supernatural occurrence, then Christ's argument would make no sense, and the Pharisees could have easily refuted him with, "Uh, they don't cast out demons. What in the heck are you talking about?"

Some sources that discuss this (all speaking on the verse from Matthew):
The latter (people of your own school; see, in general, note on Matthew 8:12) are exorcists who have even pretended actually to cast out demons (Acts 19:13; Josephus, Antt. viii. 2. 5, Bell. vii. 6. 3; Justin, c. Tryph. p. 311), who have emanated from the schools of the Pharisees, not the disciples of Jesus, as the majority of the Fathers have supposed. [Heinrich Meyer's commentary; source]

The children are the disciples of the Pharisees, who either really possessed the power of casting out evil spirits, or pretended to have that power. In either case the argument of Jesus was unanswerable. [Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; source]

...[Christ] means, some among themselves, who pretended to have a power of exorcising and ejecting of devils, either in the name of Jesus, as some of them did, Mark 9:38 or in the name of their kings, righteous men, prophets and patriarchs, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and which practice, perhaps, they took up and made pretensions to, in imitation of Christ and his apostles; so as Christ healed men possessed of devils, they also affected to do the same. A story is reported, 'concerning Ben Talmion, that a miracle was wrought by R. Eleazar bar Jose, who healed a king's daughter at Rome, in whose body the devil entered, whose name was Ben Talmion...'" [John Gill's commentary; source]
It is also important to note how the Pharisees reacted to all of Christ's miracles. They never once contend against them with "miracles can't happen" - rather, they always argue about the circumstances around the miracles. Some examples:
  • When a man with a withered hand comes near Christ, the concern of the Pharisees is not whether or not the man can be healed supernaturally, but if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matt 12:10).
  • When Christ exorcises demons, the Pharisees do not contend whether or not exorcisms can take place, only that Christ was doing it by the power of the devil, not God (Matt 9:34).
  • When a paralytic comes to Christ for healing, the contention of the Pharisees is not "Healings don't take place", but rather that Christ, by saying the man's sins are forgiven, is blaspheming (Mark 2:6-7).
  • When the lame man is healed by Jesus, the Pharisees do not get upset at him with "What are you talking about? Healings can't take place!" Rather, their anger is directed at the fact that the man was carrying his bed on the Sabbath, and Christ was healing on the Sabbath (John 5:10, 16).
  • When the Pharisees interview the man born blind, their contention is not that such a miracle could never take place, but that Christ, being a supposed sinner, could not have been the one to make the miracle (John 9:24 - by the way, this point will be relevant later).
The point of all this is that the idea the Pharisees were somehow hyper-cessationists is simply untrue, and hence is a completely erroneous position to take.
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that it is right for contemporary Christians to change the Gospel. However, you need to recognize that the Bible does not mention everything concerning the supernatural, or our like-minded faith. There are going to be things that we encounter that aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, or are otherwise obscure in the text. This is why we always need to be ready to pour new wine into new wineskins, so to speak. We need to be able to adapt to what God wants to do today. If we’re being completely honest, this was the Achilles heel of the religious leaders in the days of Christ.
Of course there are certain things God will do today which may not be specifically mentioned in scripture, but once again how do we discern what is and isn't the work of God? How do we know God is behind something, or something that God "wants to do today"? In fact, if something goes beyond the word of God, it might be worth pausing and simply examining to see if it goes against or contrary to what scripture tells us. For example, anything in which a person loses control of their ability to move and causes them to act against the will of their body - which was always a sign of demonic possession in scripture (Matt 17:14-15; Mark 5:5; etc.) - is most likely not under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it can be put another way. In scientific experiments, you tend to have two groups: your constants, and your variables. Which is your standard for understanding how something operates? It is the constant. Constants are always the same, hence the name; variables change - again, hence the name. Scripture presents us with these constants, and the variables are judged by them.

The issue is that many in Charismatic circles desire other Christians to throw out those constants and experience and believe what goes well beyond the constants, and instead rely on the variables. Imagine a conversation like this:
Person A: "Hey man! I froze my water at 98°F!"
Person B: "Uh, that can't be - water typically freezes at 32°F. I think you got something else going on there, and that's why your water hardened."
Person A: "Look, you just live by cold, dead science! Get out of your facts and figures and just embrace this new science!"
This conversation wouldn't make any sense on a scientific level, of course. Most would recognize Person A is ignoring the constants of his field and is trying to dance around it by inventing new, undiscerning standards. Yet for many in Charismatic circles, it is precisely what they are desiring to happen within the church, only with the constants of God.
Jesus was big on supernatural acts and encounters. He was big on the demonstration of the power of God. This is something that is lacking in the church today–something that was not lacking at all in the early church. Jesus stated emphatically concerning the demonstration of the power of God:

"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." (John 10:37, 38 ESV)

Jesus made the declaration that works (meaning his supernatural works) were just as important as the teachings coming out of his mouth. It always amazes me when teachers like John MacArthur write books on subjects they have zero experience in. I’m curious: when was the last time a guy like John MacArthur cast a spirit out of someone, healed the sick, or demonstrated a miracle in his ministry?
The reason Christ performed many "supernatural acts" was because it was foretold the Messiah would perform such acts. This was precisely why Christ referred to the prophecies concerning the Messiah's miracles when John the Baptist's disciples asked if he was indeed the Messiah (Matt 11:2-6). Christ's signs and wonders were part of his mark as the Messiah, and confirmed just who he was.

The author's appeal to John 10:37-38 is also problematic. He concludes that Christ is saying supernatural works are just as important as the teachings coming from his mouth, and applies this to criticize Cessationists who have performed no miracles in their ministry. However, Christ is referring to his works as a proof of his Messianic status...as well as his divinity. In John's gospel, Christ's use of phrases such as "the Father is in me and I am in the Father" are in reference to the unity of the act of God the Father and God the Son in harmony within the Trinity. Remember that this is the same chapter in which Christ states: "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:29-30). For this, the Jews pick up stones to stone him, because he, being a man, was making himself out to be God (John 10:31, 33). Again, Christ's use of "supernatural works" here is not the same thing as so-called supernatural works in Charismatic theology - unless, of course, the author wishes to state that we are also divine like Christ is.

Note, also, the repetition of the fallacious presupposition of "You need experience in something to criticize it". Our author states: "It always amazes me when teachers like John MacArthur write books on subjects they have zero experience in". If John MacArthur were arguing "I have experience in this, therefore I can criticize it," that point might be legitimate - however, that is not what Mister MacArthur says. Again, if I wanted to write a book on how bad meth was on the human body, would I have to go and experience meth for an extended period of time before I even thought about opening up a Word document? Absolutely not.
Yes, the religious are so quick to point out that Christians aren’t the ones doing the miracles—”It’s Jesus who does them!” True, but that’s exactly what the Pharisees said when a blind man claimed Jesus healed him (John 9:25). They said, “Give glory to God.” They were so incensed that supernatural power was existent in Jesus’ life that they wanted to put him in his place. It’s called religiosity.
The citation from John 9 is a bit misplaced, since (as we established earlier) the Jewish leadership was only hesitant to give any glory to Christ because they believed him to be sinner rather than Messiah, and were opposed to his ministry. You see this in the part of the verse which was not quoted: "Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner" (John 9:24 - not verse 25). There is also a follow up comment they make to the formerly blind man, when they say: "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from." (John 9:29). Their contention with this healing was not merely that the healing occurred, but rather the healing occurred on the Sabbath (John 9:14), and hence, to the Pharisees, that made Christ a sinner. A sinner like Christ, they reasoned, could not perform such miracles (John 9:16). Therefore, it was not that the Pharisees denied miracles could exist - rather, it was whether or not Jesus could perform miracles.
I’m always leery of ministers who seem to know a lot about God and the supernatural, yet they’ve never encountered anything supernatural about God. These people think they know a lot about Scripture–holding conferences and seminars blasting those who are moving in God’s power–yet they greatly err in their theology because they don’t know the Bible or the power of God as well as they think (Matt. 22:29).
Once again, we have to ask: is experience necessary in a position or topic before stating whether or not the subject or topic is erroneous? Should I give birth to a few babies before I say abortion is murder? Should I be forced to endure 1950's Jim Crow laws before I go to a Martin Luther King Day parade?
In my life, I have encountered a great deal of supernatural incidents, both godly and demonic. I remember a couple of trips to Jamaica when our teams held revival meetings in which many people were healed of physical injuries and relieved from demonic influence. This kind of thing is very common in third-world nations where people practice higher levels of spirituality. Consequently, there are more supernatural encounters in these places.

However, there are also those in third-world countries such as Jamaica, who practice the black arts including Voodooism and Obeah. Many of these people attend Christian meetings either because they’re intrigued by Christianity or they plan to disrupt the meetings. Strangely enough, when the Holy Spirit is manifested in such a powerful way, these demon-possessed people begin to act out. Consequently, we saw people slithering on the ground like snakes, barking like dogs and just plain acting like a bunch of idiots.

What did we do about it?

Well, we didn’t go back to America and report how “ungodly” and “demonic” the meetings were. We didn’t go and write some silly book called Strange Fire where we rip apart and insult the power of God because we were too ignorant to recognize what was going on. Instead, we exorcised the spirits out of these people and introduced them to our Lord who was actually responsible for setting them free. Amen?

We didn’t stand there like a bunch of saps in a theological discussion and mull over how barking like a dog and slithering like a snake was not “godly.” We didn’t close up shop and head home because our nice, quiet little church service was being disrupted by the forces of evil. We dealt with it just like Jesus would have and just like Paul would have.

You got all that?

Of course, some of you may wonder how we were so sure that the spirits were actually cast out of people…

Well, when 20 out of 20 people all vomit up the same white foam out of their mouths, suddenly stop acting like a bunch of idiots, and begin praising God–that’s generally a good indicator.
Remember, if you will, that this is listed as a "Book Review." At this point, one has to wonder if this is more of a thinly veiled attempt to strike at John MacArthur and the Strange Fire Conference, since little has been mentioned about Heaven is for Real up to this point (and the author himself will admit this in a moment). I have to also admit that it is a bit strange to ask one side to show grace towards those who have experienced the supernatural, and yet turn around and call them "a bunch of saps." In fact, it is very ungracious.

Now, I am not going to enter a game of "who's side is more meaner", because I'll freely admit there are cessationists out there who are very ungracious. However, from extended personal experience, I have found - whether it be a random guy on the internet, or the pastor of a large church, or someone high up in a major ministry - that the Charismatic and Hyper-Charismatic response to discernment and criticism will often quickly devolve into ad hominems, personal attacks, snide remarks, etc. The minute you start to say "I don't think this is biblical" or "So-and-so is abusing scripture based on his personal experiences", you get the Pharisee card, you get accused of not really listening to God, etc. Again, I am not saying there aren't kind of rational Charismatics out there, but (again, from extended personal experience) whenever I and others encounter this kind of vitriol from the opposite side, we can only say, "Well...here we go again..."

Putting this aside - it is certainly true that there seem to be "more supernatural encounters" in "third-world countries", but as I spoke with my friend Kofi of Fiery Logic on a podcast episode about the state of African Christianity today, the very reason there are more supernatural encounters, and why Charismatic churches catch on so quickly, is because the paganistic rituals and the so-called "supernatural encounters" found in many circles of Charismatic churches are one and the same, or at least very practically identical. The "higher levels of spirituality" are not productive. I would suggest listening to the podcast, as we go into more detail there on the subject than this blog post permits.
The church in America has seen a move of God a few times in recent years, and many ignorant Christians have seen these “strange” manifestations described above and automatically concluded that these meetings “must be of the devil” because they don’t understand the spiritual dynamics going on. Of course, it is also safe to say that some of the Christians in attendance at these meetings didn’t understand it either and ended up attributing some of these demonic manifestations to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Being a person of faith in Jesus means being able to discern both demonic influence and the power of God. Paul did this very well in his ministry when he and Silas encountered a slave girl who was actually praising them for being “servants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:16-18). Paul recognized that it was demonic activity influencing this girl and not some righteous zeal for the faith.
The issue is, once again, there is very little sign of this in mainstream Charismatic thinking, or in much of what calls itself Charismatic theology. That is not to say there are no discerning Charismatics (they do exist, and God bless 'em), but while it is one thing to say we should accurately define what is and isn't the work of God, we need to see if such a notion is carried out in application. For example, the International House of Prayer would probably say they discern spirits...so why do they think a girl shaking uncontrollably for two whole hours is a sign of the Holy Spirit?

On a side note, it is interesting that our author claims "being a person of faith in Jesus means being able to discern both demonic influence and the power of God"...but again, how do we go about this? It cannot be by a special gift of the Holy Spirit, for the "distinguishing of spirits" (1 Cor 12:10) is listed by Paul as one of the "variety" of gifts (1 Cor 12:4), which God sends out "to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor 12:11), and which Paul makes quite clear, throughout the rest of the chapter, not every single Christian has (this passage also refutes the notion that all Christians are supposed to be able to speak in tongues).

The answer, once again, is by the word of Almighty God. As the prophet Isaiah said concerning mediums and spiritists: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isa 8:20).
Yes, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned one thing regarding the film Heaven Is for Real. That’s because I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve read the book and saw nothing out-of-bounds with it. I’m of the strong opinion that if supernatural encounters point people to Christ and/or produce the power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, then I generally tread lightly. This does not mean that I completely agree with people’s recollections of their supernatural experiences. We’re human. We make mistakes. But I would rather err on the side of caution than on the side of bordering on blasphemy.
Frankly, I was utterly flabbergasted that our author says he "read the book and saw nothing out-of-bounds with it". I will refer once again to my review of it, where I believe I demonstrate there is quite a lot that is "out-of-bounds" within the book, particularly when it comes to the resurrection.

Our author states: "I’m of the strong opinion that if supernatural encounters point people to Christ and/or produce the power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, then I generally tread lightly." This is the classic logical fallacy of arguing from pragmatism; that is, if someone provides a benefit, then it's a good thing (or at the very least, it's a tolerable thing). In this specific scenario, we have two problems:

First, there is little emphasis on scripture and its authority in this book. Yes, it claims that Colton Burpo's encounters can be backed up with scripture. Yes, Todd Burpo goes on interviews and says his son's account back be backed up with scripture. However, I invite my readers to sit down and really examine what scripture says about a lot of the things Colton talks about - especially those passages quoted by the Burpos. You will find that, the vast majority of the time, scripture is twisted and turned so that Colton's experiences can fit in there; in one situation (Todd Burpo's citation of Acts 6:15), a specific translation was employed so that a specific reading would give Todd Burpo exactly the interpretation he needed. It becomes quite clear that Colton's experiences were placed over scripture, rather than seen in light of it.

Second, much of the emphasis here is not on what scripture teaches and what happens on scripture, but rather on therapeutic concerns and desires. What happens to your family members after they die? What happens to the unborn, or babies, when they die? Do animals go to heaven? These questions and others are the main focus in Heaven is for Real. When you look at scripture, there is very little concern about what happens in Heaven, or what will really happen after we die (that's not to say it's never talked about, but it's not the focus). Rather, the focal point of most of the Bible (especially those "theological" parts) is our sin, our need for redemption, and the coming resurrection and glory. Heaven is for Real, and most books like it, distract people from those things, and focus instead on factors that are meant to tug at our heart strings...and hence there is the real seduction.

Could God have saved some people through providential use of the book? Maybe. Perhaps. I won't deny that possibility. However, nothing and no one alone saves a person - rather, God alone saves someone. That God can "draw a straight line with a crooked stick" does not mean the crooked stick itself is somehow blessed, nor should it be considered profitable for a Christian. I know some believers who were saved reading the New World Translation; that does not make the NWT a translation blessed by God.

Our author follows up his previous statement with: "I would rather err on the side of caution than on the side of bordering on blasphemy." Our author is apparently of the mindset that, if one critiques the book or just flatly ignores it, might be erring towards blasphemy. Many, in fact, make these kinds of arguments in regards to supposed messages or revelations from God. However, we are forgetting that those who would readily accept what might be a fabrication are likewise erring towards blasphemy, and in fact would be breaking one of the ten commandments: using the Lord's name in vain, and "the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exo 20:7). If you want to know how seriously God takes using his name in vain, here are two other passages as examples:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." [Deuteronomy 18:20]

“So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord God.” [Ezekiel 13:9:]

"Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end!" [Jeremiah 14:15]
The idea of "using God's name in vain" does not merely mean stubbing your toe and shouting "G' d' it!" It's likewise saying, "The Lord has told us this..." when really, the Lord never spoke, or you are twisting what the word of God says. Therefore, anyone who wants to support someone claiming to have witnessed or been told things by God - and it is actually absolutely false - are, in fact, erring on the side of judgment.

At this point, our author seems to have placed us, logically, between a rock and a hard place: do we err on the side leading into blasphemy, or err on the side leading into judgment? Let me present a quote from Diadochos of Photiki, a fifth century bishop:
We have now explained the distinction between good and bad dreams, as we ourselves heard it from those with experience. In our quest for purity, however, the safest rule is never to trust to anything that appears to us in our dreams. For dreams are generally nothing more than images reflecting our wandering thoughts, or else they are the mockery of demons. And if ever God in His goodness were to send us some vision and we were to refuse it, our beloved Lord Jesus would not be angry with us, for He would know we were acting in this way because of the tricks of the demons. [On Spiritual Knowledge, 38; The Philokalia, Volume I]
Diadochos of Photiki was not concerned with "erring on the side of blasphemy", because he fully realized that demonic deception was a very real thing. We are warned in scripture that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), and if one studies the tales of monastics in the desert, many of the demonic temptations they speak of (whether you want to give credability to them or not) involved devils appearing as angels, and presenting messages that would appear, on the surface, to be mostly harmless. One has to also consider the countless Roman Catholic mystics who had visions and apparitions of Christ and the Virgin Mary that told them things which were simply heretical, or taught things that clearly did not come from God. There was good reason that the Reformers rejected these visions.

Therefore, if we ever encounter a situation in which we are unsure if Christ is truly involved - especially when it involves contradictions in scripture, or adding to the word of God - then it would be far safer to avoid it, and flee from it.
I’ve also listened to David Platt’s teaching on the Heaven Is for Real debate and thought he brought up some important points. However, I think he is mistaken on his interpretation of John 3:13 which reads, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” It is strange to assume that Jesus is referring to heavenly encounters seeing that Enoch was taken from his earthly existence to be with God (Gen. 5:24), and both Moses and Elijah appeared to some of the disciples in glorified bodies, which indicates that they came from heaven (Matt. 17:1-5). Most likely, what Jesus was referring to was his actual physical ascension into heaven after his physical death and physical resurrection because no one has ever physically risen again and ascended into heaven. However, that interpretation is debatable.
I am not going to argue for or against David Platt's teaching on Heaven is for Real, since, at the time of this writing, I am not familiar with it
Many people have criticized some of the things Burpo claimed to have seen such as the Holy Spirit, who is apparently “blue” in color. This seems rather odd and deserves some questioning. However, you cannot disregard some of the other things that he witnessed that cannot be explained away, or even criticized such as seeing certain relatives in heaven whom he had never physically seen before, etc.
With all due respect, this is like a state prosecutor telling the jury, "I know some of the evidence suggests this man isn't guilty...but you can't disregard the evidence that says he is!" If there is evidence Colton Burpo did not hear from the true God, chances are he did not.

It is likewise problematic trying to bring up examples of relatives he saw in heaven that he formerly did not know about; mainly because it is similar to the argument made by those who support the doctrine of reincarnation. What I mean is, there are those who refer to the phenomenon of young children who suddenly begin making references to names, places, locations, etc., which they have no way of knowing...and yet can be found through research and documentation. Those who support the idea of reincarnation point to these examples and say, "See? You can't explain these things away. They're too fantastic. This must be evidence that reincarnation is true!" If we were consistent with how we are arguing in favor of Colton Burpo, we would have to argue that those who support reincarnation are likewise bringing up a good point.

However, whether it be children who supposedly know a random, insignificant person who died in the 1940's, or it's a four-year old boy claiming to have visited heaven, it is wrong to say that such things "cannot be explained away," since there is a very real and very real possibility, and one we mentioned before: demonic deception. The sad truth is that it is very possible for someone to have what they believe to be a legitimate spiritual experience...and yet which is an absolute forgery. Scripture gives such examples of such things happening:
Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. [Lamentations 2:14]

"Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The Lord declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?" [Ezekiel 13:7:]
Note very carefully: these prophets saw and experienced something. They weren't just making things up on the fly, nor going into the occult and asking advice from other gods; they thought they had experienced legitimate prophecies and visions from the Lord. If you want to see an application of this in the Bible's narrative, go to 2 Chronicles 18, where the prophet Micaiah speaks of seeing the throne room of God, and hearing God's plan to intentionally put lying spirits into the prophets, so that they will prophesy incorrectly and lead Ahab and his armies astray. Again, most of Ahab's prophets truly believed they had visions, or something prophetic to offer the war council, but they had all been deceived spiritually.

If I may be frank, this is something I notice lacking very much in many Charismatic circles: a sincere interest in looking out for demonic deception. If our attitude is one in which we think it is better to believe than be concerned, then we are naive about the workings in the spiritual world.
We need to be careful about what kinds of accusations we lay at God’s door because one day we will answer for it. If God wants to show a 4-year-old boy the glory of heaven and use his experience to confound the wise theologians of the world—then that’s his prerogative and there isn’t anything you can do to change that. Besides, how do you know that Jesus didn’t specifically choose a 4-year-old on purpose so that even the most stubborn person would recognize the fact that the youngster had no motive, no agenda and nothing to gain from peddling a “near death experience?” And don’t go accusing Colton Burpo of making millions off of his “vision” because he had no idea that a book deal and a film would come out of it being 4-years-old. I’ve even read tweets from people who mock the idea that Christians should even be entertaining what a “little boy” has to say about heaven.

Oh, the irony…
We are told: "If God wants to show a 4-year-old boy the glory of heaven and use his experience to confound the wise theologians of the world—then that’s his prerogative and there isn’t anything you can do to change that." I am not aware of any "wise theologians" being "confounded" by Colton Burpo's testimony (most have provided biblical arguments for why it's wrong, and have merely been met with "You're a Pharisee!"). Likewise, while it is true that God could want to do that, the question is did he. I'm sorry to say, Colton Burpo's testimony either adds to God's word (at which point, we have to accept it as extra-scriptural revelation), or it contradicts it (at which point, we have to consider it false). When we see this happening, we have to go with the conclusion that Colton Burpo did not have a legitimate spiritual experience.

Also, it has never been my personal position that Colton or Todd Burpo have done anything merely for profit. It could be the case on Todd's part, or it could be both father and son think they are doing good. However, even if both have honorable desires, it is best to remember that the saying goes "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," not "the road to heaven." When Muhammad began to preach against the idolatry and social corruption he saw in Mecca, he and his followers thought they were doing good - that didn't make it automatically right. Noble intentions do not equal right intentions.
Some of you would do well to read John 9 over and over again until it sinks in. You’ll notice how Jesus played a little game with the Pharisees—almost to the point of mocking them through his supernatural power. This chapter provides clear evidence that sometimes God bends our strict rigid traditions and rules in order to make a point. The message in this chapter is simple: Those who are blind will see the truth and those who think they see, will become blind.
The point of John 9 is that Christ has power over spiritual blindness and sight. That is why Christ called the Pharisees blind at the end: not to mock their opinion on supernatural signs and wonders (which we've already established is an erroneous argument), but rather to mock their view of themselves as saved and secured of God. Consider the last part of John 9:
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. [John 9:35-41]
Even after he had endured, the blind man had only one desire regarding the man who healed him: to believe in him. When Christ reveals who he is, the blind man falls down and worships him at once, showing his faith. Christ's statement that he came into this world for judgment, so that "those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind," he is referring to spiritual sight, and spiritual blindness. The Pharisees, who had called the blind man "born entirely in sins" (John 9:34), had believed themselves to be righteous above others. It is similar to Christ's words regarding why those who opposed him did not understand the parables: "to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted...therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt 13:11, 13).

John 9, in short, has nothing to do with "bending our strict rigid traditions and rules in order to make a point."
No, you don’t have to believe the testimony in Heaven Is for Real in order to keep your salvation (even as ironic as that sounds), but what I would like you to do is to be more careful before making a critical judgment regarding testimonies that have to do with our like-minded salvation–especially when it involves something that God may be doing. Don’t get me wrong, there have been supernatural encounters that I have heard about, which I have questioned. However, I do not have a blanket policy of willfully rejecting any and all supernatural encounters just because I feel like it.

If I did, that would make me no better than a Pharisee.
And the "review" ends as it began: with the Pharisee Card. This is based upon, as we established earlier, the utterly incorrect notion that the historical Pharisees had "a blanket policy of willfully rejecting any and all supernatural encounters," and they opposed Christ simply because he enacted supernatural feats and wonders. As we established before, the Pharisees were not hyper-cessationists, and therefore to in essence argue that you should be gracious towards spiritual revelations and experiences or you're a Pharisee is simply contrary to the Biblical and historical facts.

We are told that we won't lose our salvation if we don't believe in the testimony, although earlier we were told: "we need to be careful about what kinds of accusations we lay at God’s door because one day we will answer for it" (emphasis mine); and those who might criticize the book "err on the side...of bordering on blasphemy". We are even told (after the salvation comment) that we need to "be more careful before making a critical judgment...when it involves something that God may be doing." This is not new to our author - it is often how Hyper-Charismatics and some Charismatics argue in regards to revelations given to individuals. On the one hand, it's OK to disagree; on the other hand, it is ungracious, un-Christian, etc., to oppose these individuals and their teachings. In some cases, your very salvation may be questioned.

To my Charismatic brothers, I must be honest: this kind of thinking is an example of compartmentalization. The fact is, if Colton Burpo really did hear from God (and he's never claimed "this might be true"), and, as Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, says in the recommendations page for the book, "God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven", then Colton Burpo speaks with God's authority. As we saw in the passages we reviewed, there is no middle ground with "thus sayeth the Lord." Either Colton Burpo really did hear from God, and those who oppose him will, one day, answer for their sins; or Colton Burpo did not hear from God, and he and his family need to repent for speaking in the Lord's name when the Lord has not sent them.

As I said before, this was not meant to be merely an examination of a single post, but to address common arguments made against those who discern so-called revelations and supernatural acts. When this discerning happens, it is done out of love for God's word. I have had experiences in the past where people online pretended to be family members, trying to get financial "help" - just as I was eager to discern this to check for deception, so too do I want to discern to avoid spiritual deception. If anything, we should be far more concerned with spiritual deception than we should be with earthly identity theft.

No matter what our emotions may desire, and no matter what we think may pragmatically be beneficial, we must hold to the word of God. Let us say, with the Psalmist, "I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word" (Psa 119:16).


UPDATE - JANUARY 22, 2015: It has come to my attention that the article was taken down at the original website. I have not found it on the author's Medium page either (where it was formerly listed as well). I have not received any real explanation for this dual disappearance, though I do find it interesting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Podcast: Quantum Faith Part 2

In this episode, we continue examining the "Quantum Faith" teaching from Charles and Annette Capps. We also review much of the language found in the Word of Faith heresy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Podcast: Quantum Faith Part 1

In this episode, we review a teaching from Charles and Annette Capps where they compare our faith to microscopic particles...I am not making this up. We review some of the more honest language about the Word of Faith heresy found in this teaching.

This link takes you to the podcast reviewing Len and Cathy Mink's own take on the Word of Faith heresy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Podcast: Steve Kelly on the 700 Club

I meant to upload this episode earlier, but Spreaker was giving me problems. So...don't trust me when I say it was last week that this interview happened, ha ha.

In this episode, we review the 700 Club's interview of Steve Kelly, pastor of Wave Church in Virginia Beach. He talks about his book The Accent of Leadership. We explain what did and didn't get said regarding the doctrines taught by Steve Kelly and Wave Church, especially in regards to leadership.

This link takes you to the episode where we examined the cultic teachings by Steve Kelly regarding leadership.

This link takes you to the episode where we examined the 2014 Easter message at Wave Church.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Rains of Mars Hill Church

The following is based off "The Rains of Castamere", from the Song of Ice and Fire book series (and more popularly known to some through the Game of Thrones TV adaptation). It is based on the recent events with Mark Driscoll.
And who are you, the pastor said,
That you would speak so bold?
Only a ewe who should heed, not lead;
Just do what you are told.
And don't question me, or critique my words,
Yes, don't dare make a fuss.
For bodies stacked up high and tall
Are found behind my bus.

And so he spoke, and so he spoke,
The Pope of Mars Hill Church;
But now his rants frighten no one
For no one longer fears.
And now the saints pray for his soul
With hopes that God will hear.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Sons of Issachar Anointing

Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, their chiefs were two hundred; and all their kinsmen were at their command. [1 Chronicles 12:32; NASB]
I've seen a lot of talk on social media and in Hyper-Charismatic circles about the "Sons of Issachar Anointing," based off this single verse. The idea is that, just as the sons of Issachar "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do," so to should we "understand the times" (that is, the approaching end times), with knowledge of what the church should do (that is, what the church is to do before Christ returns). It's been brought forward by Rick Joyner's Morning Star Ministries, as well as Mike Bickle's International House of Prayer.

Let's quickly examine the context, by first discussing what is unfolding in 1 Chronicles 12...

In this chapter, men from all across Israel are gathering together to support David in his struggle against King Saul, in order to overthrow him and give the kingdom to David (v. 23). These forces include: the sons of Judah (v. 24); the sons of Simeon (v. 25); the sons of Levi (v. 26); the house of Aaron (v. 27); Zadok with his father's house (v. 28); the sons of Benjamin (v. 29); sons of Ephraim (v. 30); the half-tribe of Manasseh (v. 31); sons of Issachar (v. 32); those of Zebulun (v. 33); those of the Naphtali (v. 34); those of the Danites (v. 35); those of Asher (v. 36); and the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh from the other side of the Jordan (v. 37). All of these men are gathering with David at Hebron, with the intent to make him king (v. 38).

One thing you notice about these various groups is that various kinds of talents and attributes are said about them: the sons of Judah brought shield and spear (v. 24); the sons of Simeon were "mighty men of valor" (v. 25); the sons of Benjamin are said to belong to Saul's own house (as he was a Benjaminite), and had supported Saul until now (v. 29); the sons of Ephraim are, like the sons of Simeon, said to be "mighty men of valor" (v. 30); the sons of Issachar are said to have "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do" (v. 32); those of Zebulun came with various kinds of weaponry for war (v. 33); the Naphtali, like the sons of Judah, are said to have come with shield and spear (v. 34); those across the Jordan are said, like those of Zebulun, to have come with various kinds of weapons (v. 37); later on, those of Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali are said to have brought food and provisions for the army (v. 40).

Focusing on the sons of Issachar, what does it mean when it is said they "understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do"? In old Jewish commentaries, the phrase "understood the times" was actually believed to reference a study of astrology. To quote from Charles John Ellicott's commentary:
The old Jewish expositors concluded, from the former part of this verse that the tribe of Issachar had skill in astrology, so that they could read in the heavens what seasons were auspicious for action, as the ancient Babylonians professed to do. [source]
Given the context, however, this is probably not the case. It is said that they understood the times "with knowledge of what Israel should do," and this is being said in the context of various tribes and Jewish sects coming over to David, against Saul. Therefore, they "understood the times" in the sense that all Israel must turn over to David, the Lord's anointed, against the corrupt and fallacious king Saul. Mr. Ellicott summarizes as much:
But all that the text really asserts is that those men of Issachar who went over to David thereby showed political sagacity. No similar phrase occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament. [ibid]
Ellicott is not alone here. Albert Barnes states that this passage "is best interpreted politically" (source). John Gill suggests that this passage may refer to the fact that these "were men of prudence and wisdom, and knew that this was the proper time for making David king" (source). John Wesley says that "they understood public affairs, the temper of the nation, and the tendencies of the present events" (source). Matthew Guzik, while mentioning the astrology argument, says that "we should simply see that these sons of Issachar were men who supported King Saul up until the right time, and at the right time gave their support to David" (source). Finally, Matthew Henry likewise writes:
Those of that tribe were greatly intent on public affairs, had good intelligence from abroad and made a good use of it. They knew what Israel ought to do: from their observation and experience they learned both their own and others’ duty and interest. In this critical juncture they knew Israel ought to make David king. It was not only expedient, but necessary; the present posture of affairs called for it. The men of Issachar dealt mostly in country business, and did not much intermeddle in public affairs, which gave them an opportunity of observing others and conversing with themselves. [source]
Therefore, given the testimony of learned Christian men through history, and (more importantly) the plain meaning of scripture, what is 1 Chronicles 12:32 teaching us? That the gift of the sons of the Issachar, among all the tribes and sects among the Jewish people, was that they recognized the events happening in Israel, and they understood that it was time to give support for David against Saul.

With this established, let us now review how the Sons of Issachar Anointing applies the passage, by asking a few questions.

First, is there anything about an anointing here? No. Absolutely not. This is describing one of the groups which came to David and supported him in his struggle against Saul, and states their most strongest trait. The sons of Issachar were not under a special anointing any more than the other tribes were.

Second, is there anything commanding us or telling us to seek or obtain something? No. Absolutely not. This is a descriptive passage, not a prescriptive passage. Many in Hyper-Charismatic circles, trying to get around that this passage is not a command, will argue that it is simply an image of what we are to do - nonetheless, they are using it in a prescriptive manner for something believers are supposed to seek or obtain. This is not how such a passage is to be treated.

Those who support the Sons of Issachar Anointing will sometimes admit that the verse is speaking of supporting David's claim to kingship, but will add that there are "End Times Sons of Issachar" who are prophetic and understand the signs of the end times. The problem with this is that nowhere in scripture is such a connection made, nor is 1 Chronicles 12:32 thought of as a verse for a prophetic group of people - in fact, no one in the history of the church, until the last decade or so, has ever interpreted the passage in this manner. Such an interpretation, therefore, can only be considered extra-scriptural revelation, absent from the teaching and understanding of the plain meaning of Holy Writ. It certainly does not come from any method in accordance with the doctrine of sola scriptura.

Even more dangerous is that this Sons of Issachar Anointing, like Mike Bickle's Forerunners or Lou Engle's Nazirites, presents a kind of anointing which creates a branch of "super Christians," who have special knowledge and insight into God's will which other Christians do not have. To quote from one website speaking on the anointing:
I believe there is an Issachar anointing which brings an understanding of the times and seasons we are in and the knowledge of what to do. This anointing brings with it vision and counsel. In these difficult days in which we are living, we need to have an Issachar anointing to understand the times prophetically so that we will have discernment of how to move with God. We need this for our personal lives, for the body of Christ as a whole, and for our nation. We must learn how to draw on God's prophetic word to guide us through this prophetic season. God wants us to understand the times and what needs to be done in midst of each situation and season. The Issachar anointing brings with it that understanding of what time and season we are in and also the knowledge of what to do. This anointing also brings with it vision and counsel. The Issachar anointing puts in proper timing the plans of God. This anointing understands time and has an anointing for timing. How well do we perceive God’s seasons and timing for His purposes? [source]
Therefore, if one wishes to have "vision and counsel" about these end times, we must "draw on God's prophetic word to guide us through the prophetic season," which the Issachar anointing can bring us. In fact, we need this, and we must learn how to do this - otherwise, how will we "perceive God's seasons and timing for His purposes"? Just as with Mike Bickle's concept of forerunners (which is unbiblical) and Lou Engle's concept of New Testament Nazirites (which comes from a dream his son had one night), such a teaching borders on Gnosticism, an ancient heresy which, in some forms, taught that there was a special knowledge Christ had for those willing to discover or learn about. No such promise is made in scripture, however: the only "anointing" in regards to believers is that which is given to all believers (1 John 2:27), and it is by holy scripture that a person can become better equipped to understand the will of God (2 Tim 3:16-17). Putting all this aside, the passage itself here does not teach of any kind of promised "special knowledge" for Christians to pursue...that is complete and utter eisegesis.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a Sons of Issachar Anointing. The Bible is silent about it, and no one in the past 2000 years of the New Testament church (save for recently) has taught on the subject. It is an unbiblical doctrine which some teachers are attempting to seduce people into following and seeking. Such doctrines and practices have a name in scripture: burdens. This addition to the Christian lifestyle and beliefs comes from unbiblical doctrines, and utilizes an abuse of God's text to attempt to prove it. Any doctrine or teaching sourced to a wild misuse of holy writ should be avoided at all costs. I would plead with any involved in this "Sons of Issachar Anointing," if you believe yourself to be honoring God's word, to really consider what scripture says on this subject. God bless.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Matthew 17 - An Example of Bad Allegorization

How one reads and interpret scripture is a vitally important part of the Christian life. Just as we would want to understand the point behind every secular work created by fallible man, so should we strive to understand and comprehend what God's word is attempting to say. One of the greatest dangers in misunderstanding a passage of scripture is turning a descriptive passage of scripture into an allegory, and by extension turning it into a prescriptive passage.

Recently I saw a link on Twitter for the International House of Prayer's Marketplace Conference. In the video on the page, there was a use of Matthew 17:1 that I thought was worth using as an example to examine and discuss a more proper view of scripture, and an improper use of allegory.

Near the beginning of the video, Linda Fields and Daniel Lim (CEO of IHOP-KC) have this conversation:
Linda Fields: "Our theme is 'come up higher' from Matthew 17, and as you know we were talking about that a moment ago - I loved what you had to say about what Jesus was actually inviting Peter, James and John to. What was that?"

Daniel Lim: "Well Matthew 17, all of us quite familiar with that verse because it's a verse where Jesus in a very rare occasion revealed his glory to his disciples in a way that would shock them. We call that the Mountain of Transfiguration. But the context of Matthew 17 is actually a context where Jesus invited Peter, James and John to a prayer meeting. They were on their way to a prayer meeting, to a high mountain to pray. So I believe that this is a very beautiful word picture about us engaging in discipling different spheres of society, but from a prayer-based culture. Jesus always invited us to go higher; going higher actually means get nearer; getting nearer to him is a sign of going higher." [Transcribed from the audio]
The passage is further interpreted later on, after some of the speakers are mentioned.
Linda Fields: "I just love the idea of a whole family coming around the table, Daniel, all spheres of society coming together saying we want to impact the world for Jesus Christ. And we are coming here together to come up higher with the Lord and receive revelation, refreshing, there'll be teaching..." [Transcribed]
From these teachings, we get a few things from Daniel Lim and Linda Fields regarding what Matthew 17 has to teach for us:
  1. Christ revealed himself to the disciples "in a way that would shock them."
  2. Peter, James, and John were invited by Christ to a "prayer meeting."
  3. This story is a "word picture" about "discipling different spheres of society" from the context of a "prayer-based culture."
  4. In the passage, Jesus is inviting us "go higher," and hence "get nearer" to God, in order to "receive revelation" and "refreshing."
When we encounter a teaching by someone from the word of God, the first thing we need to do is examine what they are teaching, and hold it to the light of scripture. If what they are teaching is plain in scripture, then they are speaking in accordance with what scripture has written; if what they are teaching is not plain in scripture, then they are inserting doctrines and beliefs into the passage. We will examine these four statements one at a time, and see how they line up with what is written.

1) Christ revealed himself to the disciples "in a way that would shock them."

Some might be wondering why I highlighted this phrase, since, at first glance, it doesn't seem like too big of a statement. The truth is, such language is common in Hyper-Charismatic camps to attempt to make their unorthodox and often shocking interpretations of what is and isn't the Holy Spirit seem much more biblical. This is where you get phrases like "God will mess up your theology," or "God will appear in ways you never expected." While I do not deny God can give His providence and grace through ways not explicitly mentioned in the Bible (for example, finding good health insurance for your family), there are many things which are quite clearly not the Holy Spirit. For example, what is called "holy vomiting," as well as uncontrollable shaking like someone with Parkinson's Disease, are not outlined in scripture as traits the Holy Spirit instills in a person...in fact, they are usually associated with demonic influence. While I am not advocating judging the fruits of the Spirit by subjectivity, if someone that people are attempting to pass off as "the Holy Spirit" appears shocking to us, then that should be a red flag that we should be extra discerning.

2) Peter, James, and John were invited by Christ to a "prayer meeting."

No such invitation is directly given by Christ in the passage, let alone in any of the other versions found in the Synoptic Gospels. The accounts by Matthew and Mark do not make mention of the purpose for which they went up the mountain, aside from the purpose we outlined earlier. Luke's account states that Christ "took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray" (Luke 9:28). The verb "went up" is in the third person singular, referring to Christ alone, and is continued into the verb "to pray." This suggests that Christ had gone up to pray, and had merely brought the disciples along. We see this especially in verse 29: there, we find that Christ is praying alone, while the disciples are said later to have fallen asleep (v. 32). If this was a prayer meeting, it was perhaps the worst prayer meeting in history, since only one person was praying while the others were sleeping through it.

The purpose of the disciples being brought up the mountains, as interpreted by commentators and theologians throughout history, is directly related to the appearance of Moses and Elijah alongside Christ, as well as the voice from God the Father. Moses and Elijah each represented an aspect of the Jewish holy text: Moses represented the Law; Elijah represented the prophets. The words of God the Father regarding Christ were a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15, in which the Lord says, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him." The apostles themselves later confirmed that this statement was a Messianic prophecy regarding Christ (Acts 3:22; 7:37). With the three disciples themselves witnessing this, they in essence fulfilled the command by the Law regarding the number of witnesses, and hence could confirm the event took place (Deu 17:6; 2 Cor 13:1).

From all this, we can gather that the point of the disciples being brought up the mountain was to witness a visual confirmation of Christ's words regarding his being the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Mt 11:13), and a confirmation of Christ's Messianic status. The point is, Christ did not invite the disciples up to have a "prayer meeting"; Daniel Lim is completely reading that into the passage to attempt to give Mike Bickle's "prayer culture" theology biblical credit, when there really is none.

3) This story is a "word picture" about "discipling different spheres of society" from the context of a "prayer-based culture."

We must be very careful whenever he hear someone call something a "word picture," or an "image" of something; this is basically admitting that they are creating an allegory, or spiritualizing a passage. There are many allegories in the Bible. There are generally accepted shadows of Christ (cf. Gen 3:15), and there are times where Biblical authors themselves will make reference to certain actions or personalities being shadows (cf., 1 Cor 10:1-4). The danger, however, is looking for "word pictures" and "images" where there a none.

There are two easy ways to tell if someone is overstepping their bounds when it comes to allegories:

a) Is the passage confirmed elsewhere in scripture as an allegory or shadow? For example, the previously cited passage in 1 Corinthians confirms that the Old Testament account of the rock and the water was a foreshadow of Christ.

b) Is the passage being spoken of as an allegory of Christ and salvation, or us?

This last part is especially important, as many times people will transform Biblical passages into commands for us to do something, or turn it into something about us. Even if the intent is to glorify God, it is still a very man-centered view of scripture, because it is transforming the focus onto something about us and what we have to do.

In this particular example we are examining, do we see the focus of the supposed allegory being one centered around Christ and our salvation? On the contrary, it is about us and what we have to do - in this case, "discipling different spheres of society" through a "prayer-based culture" (ie., the 24-7 prayer and intercession modeled at IHOP-KC). There is, however, not a single sign that such a command is present in this passage; again, that has been completely read into it by Daniel Lim and Linda Fields. As we saw before, the passage is about Christ and the messianic status which Christ confirmed before his top three disciples - it has nothing to do about us, even in the context of worship.

Certainly no one throughout all of church history has interpreted this passage to mean that we are to "disciple different spheres of society" within the context of a "prayer-based culture." No one had any such notion until IHOP-KC and the personal revelations supposedly given to Mike Bickle and his peers by God. What Daniel Lim and Linda Fields are bringing forward is, historically speaking, coming out of a exegetical vacuum. Even the apostle Peter, when writing on the incident that he himself witnessed (2 Pet 1:16-21), makes absolutely no mention of the moment being about discipling different spheres of society through prayer-based cultures. Again, the leadership of IHOP-KC is alone in their interpretation of this passage, both from history and biblical authorship.

4) In the passage, Jesus is inviting us "go higher," and hence "get nearer" to God, in order to "receive revelation" and "refreshing."

Let us ask this very important question, related to our previous point: is there anything in this account in which we are told to do something? As we said before, the answer is no. Not a single part of this passage is about us, or something we must do in our spiritual state. This episode was a specific moment in Christ's earthly ministry, and was meant to point towards his divinity and glory, and his status as Messiah. Peter, James, and John were there as witnesses, not as allegories for what we are supposed to do today within the prayer/prophetic movement.

We must be very careful when someone takes a passage of scripture that is descriptive in nature, and then turns it into a prescriptive passage. Just because something is done in scripture does not necessarily mean it must be done by us. Furthermore, when a teacher or leader begins to call things "word images" for us to follow, and interprets it as something we have to do, we must recognize that they are warping the text to fit it into some doctrine or prescription which they themselves are desiring the people of God to do. The unfortunate thing is that this is what is being done at IHOP-KC...in fact, this is a common thing at IHOP-KC. The scriptural text is being warped to suit the needs of the IHOP-KC teachers, and to try to tell their followers that what they are doing has biblical significance, when really it has absolutely no biblical precedent whatsoever.

From this example, we unfortunately see yet another moment where passages of scripture are warped and misconstrued by IHOP-KC leadership to confirm their doctrines. They believe that they are glorifying God, but in actuality they are, through their mishandling of God's word, placing burdens upon the shoulders of their followers. Those at IHOP-KC truly need our prayers to see through the eisegesis brought about by Daniel Lim, Linda Fields, and others, and to come to a true knowledge of who Christ is, and what God's word says. They do not need a greater revelation to understand the Bible - God has placed it all right there.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just a little note on my blog and podcast

As some of you have noticed, I haven't updated in a while. It's not because I have nothing to talk about, or I've lost interest in doing this. It's simply that I've been busy in my real life, with the approaching birth of my firstborn child, as well as being busier than normal at my day job.

However, things will pick up again once things are back in order, and I still tweet every now and then. In the meantime, prayers for my daughter would be appreciated.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Podcast: Variety Episode 3

In this episode, we review Frederica Mathewes-Green recommending Heaven is for Real (and saying some AMAZING things in defense of it), Rick Joyner speaking about the need for unity (and an "Issachar Anointing"), and then we play a brief custom-made clip about Mark Driscoll.

This link takes you to my review of Heaven is for Real.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Podcast: Eastern Orthodoxy and the Atonement

In this episode, we review a message by Frederica Mathewes-Green from her podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. She speaks on the Eastern Orthodox view of Christ's sacrifice, why the western view of substitutionary atonement is wrong, and all in response to an email...from me!

This link takes you to a copy of the email conversation between Mrs. Mathewes-Green and myself.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

First Book Published!

I have self published a historical fiction book which is now available in print and Kindle at Amazon. It's entitled More Precious than Jewels, and is a story which takes place in fifteenth century Italy. I intended it to be a story of biblical womanhood, inspired largely by my wife, who wanted such a story and was the model I used for the main character. From the description:
Fifteenth century Italy, and the entire peninsula finds itself in one of the largest wars it has seen since the Roman Empire. For a young mountain girl named Francesca, the war is far away and has no meaning for her...until her estranged husband departs to join the mercenaries. She is left alone, struggling to find her place in their relationship.

Then, she discovers a clue that her husband may truly love her. She leaves her small, isolated village and journeys northward in the hopes of finding her husband and rekindling her marriage.

Her journey will take her from convents to cathedrals, hamlets to cities. She will encounter pilgrims and cardinals, peasants and knights. She will come to know the kind and the cruel - and some who are the sheer embodiment of evil. There will be times when she will have nothing left to give her strength, save her faith in God.
Here are the links to the two forms of media:

To the print edition.

To the kindle edition.