Tuesday, January 28, 2014

book review—A Godward Heart by John Piper

short writings, but substantial

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program.

Devotional writings have never been something I've ever really liked. Usually, they are too short to offer much of substance, which means they are often little better than a bit of fluff.

It may be going too far to say that this book is a devotional reader for those who don't like devotionals, but there would be some truth in that kind of statement. The chapters are not very long, and each covers a different topic. But though the chapters are brief, they have real substance to them, as the author offers real biblical teachings about the topics he writes about.

It has been a very thought-provoking read for me, and I would guess that would be true for others who would read it. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

book review--Is That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham

hearing unreliable voices and getting the Gospel wrong

As an autobiography of Cunningham's life and how he came to start Youth With A Mission, and how the organization grew, the book is all well and good. If that was all it was, I'd likely have little real problem with it.

But it's not. Worked through it is the notion that there are things we can do to somehow hear God's voice, and ways of determining if what we're hearing (to a loose definition of "hearing") is really God or not. It is these things that I simply cannot buy into, because they simply are not biblical.

One example would be what he calls the Wise Men Principle. "This really is amazing, I thought to myself. It was like the Three Wise Men. They each followed the star--their individual perceptions of God's direction--and in doing so came together to be led to Jesus." (Kindle Locations 1165-1167). "What a great idea! Maybe, in fact, it was God's idea! If so, perhaps I could see the Wise Men Principle I'd just learned in New Zealand work in the lives of young people, where two or more people see the same guiding star at the same time." (Kindle Locations 1301-1303). The account of the magi following the star to Jesus can be found in Matthew 2, and you'll find nothing there or in other parts of the Bible which teaches this Wise Men Principle. The account of the magi was not recorded to tell us to follow stars, literally or metaphorically, but to show us that Jesus is indeed the King.

"I had come as a speaker, but it turned out that I was the one who was learning new ideas on this isolated island. The first came from the New Zealand kids themselves. They had a guidance practice that intrigued me. In their minds they would be "given" a chapter and verse from the Bible without knowing what the reference said; then they would consider whether or not that reading was a special guidance for whatever they were facing. "You'd be surprised how often God uses that as a way to speak," they insisted." (Kindle Locations 1135-1138). Can one even imagine Paul or any real Apostle telling the churches that God would lead them in such a trite, haphazard way? Or that they should read the Scripture in such a way? That isn't hearing the voice of God, that's closer to fortune telling.

Then, there's what I've seen referred to as the Magic 8-Ball way of reading the Bible. "I was sitting quietly praying with my Bible open to Hebrews. Suddenly the words of chapter 12, verses 26 and 27, leaped off the page. "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven...that those things which cannot be shaken may remain" (NASB, italics added). A rock hit the bottom of my stomach. "Oh no! I hope that doesn't mean the ship!" (Kindle Locations 1767-1770). Umm...no, Hebrews 12 had nothing to do with that ship, sir. It was written well before that ship had been constructed, well before you ever planned to make use of it. A look at the context of the verses in question would show you that.

"Yes, God had told us to get a ship, and repeatedly He had confirmed His guidance, using all the ways we had learned for hearing His voice. He used the Wise Men Principle; He used scriptures that He seemed to lift off the pages for us; He used provision of money and people; and that inner conviction--but we had failed in the way we had carried out His guidance. We had subtly turned from the Giver to the gift." (Kindle Locations 1827-1830). There are two things to be learned from this. First, these supposed confirmations are hardly confirmations at all. God can give all these go-ahead signs, but then pull the rug out from under their feet? Is that really God, period?

But instead of wondering if maybe these ways of getting confirmations were really sound, he resorts to the second thing to be gotten from this, what I think of as the Cheap Guilt Trip. A bunch of people who have been trying hard to determine if what they are doing is really what God wants them to do suddenly get broadsided by a guilt-trip of them taking their focus off of God? Is the really God, period?

But this brings up perhaps the biggest error Cunningham makes, an error in regards to the Gospel itself. "My calling was clear: to preach the twin character of the Gospel. Through Jesus Christ it is possible to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves." (Kindle Locations 2099-2100). "Jesus told us there were two important things to do. One was to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength--teaching people to do that is evangelism. The other command was to love our neighbors as ourselves--to take care of people, as much as is in our power to do. These were two sides of the same Gospel: loving God and loving our neighbor." (Kindle Locations 1003-1005).

Those commands, as important as they are, are not the Gospel. Those are commands, laws, things we must do, things we fail to do every day, every hour, every minute, every second. The Gospel is not a command, but the message of God's gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ. One of the important aspects of the services of the Anglican church I attend is the confession of sins, where we confess "We have not loved you with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves". It's not an excuse, it's a confession, a reality. For a good look at the division between Law and Gospel, please read The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (ESV).

And this is not just a matter of semantics. Of course, they let their focus get off of God, and they continued to do that even after their Cheap Guilt Trip, every day and often. When your gospel is a gospel of law, know going in that you're going to fail at it.

But the happy news is, the Gospel is for saved sinners as well as unsaved ones. As Paul said in I Timothy 1:15, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost"

In the end, I cannot recommend this book as a guide to teachings about hearing the voice of God. It's principles and techniques are without sound biblical support. Though they may tack a verse or two on to what they say about the principle or technique, when one looks at the passage they refer to, one sees that they simply don't teach what the principle or technique says. For example, the account of the magi coming to the Christ child does not teach the Wise Men Principle, Isaiah 30:21 says nothing about a "quiet inner voice". And, even more important, the Gospel is made into something we do (law), not something God has done for us (gift).

Monday, January 20, 2014

wackiness, thy name is Benny Hinn


You'll have to go to the page itself to see the video, but it's well worth it. It seems like, no matter how often this man's bizarre teachings and false prophecies are brought to light, there will still be people who defend him. Well, maybe a little more light needs to be put on them.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

book review—Spiritual Anorexia by Doug Erlandson

a lot of good things to ponder on
There's a lot in this book to consider, even when I'm not completely convinced about some of his points.

Among the good things are a lot of what he says about how the preaching and song lyrics in too many churches today are simply missing the point, and not providing much that they should be. The songs are too often shallow and do little to teach us much of anything about God, while the sermons tend to be more like inspirational speeches than proclamations of the Gospel of Christ. In so many words, these churches have lost their main focus, which is to worship God and teach the Gospel, and what is important for them is to be entertaining, have lots of people in attendance, and not be so “churchy” (my word, I don't think the author used it) as to supposedly drive off the unchurched.

As someone who in the last few years started attending a liturgical type of church, an Anglican one, I have some appreciation for the ways that prayers, Scripture readings, and the Lord's Supper are regularly done in the services at this church. And having listened to a lot of poorlydone sermons while listening to Fighting For The Faith podcasts, it's easy to see how shallow and unimportant things have taken the place of these important things, and the results.

There are some points this author makes that I'm less sure about. He puts some importance on things like vestments and pulpits and the church calendar, things that I'm fine with but I would say are of at best secondary importance, and secondary even as areas of disagreement. They don't take away from the many excellent points he makes.

This book is one that is well worth reading, well worth pondering on, and well worth considering how to put into practice, even where one may not be sure of each point or practice the author endorses.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

different qualities of revelatory words?

This is a response to an article in Authentic Fire, which can also be found online here. The article is an attempt to defend the notion that modern-day prophets do not need to live up to the Old Testament standard of perfection in what they say in prophesy, that they can prophecy incorrectly, that prophecy today is fallible.

It's a long article, and I'll not deal with all of it here. Parts of what he says, such as his attempt to see fallible prophecy in the account of Agabus in Acts, have been dealt with in this book.

To try to explain, Storms is responding to statements made that, if there are true prophets today, then why do we not view their prophecies as being as inspired as Scripture, why do we not add those prophecies on to the end of the Bible.

One things that Storms tries to posit is that there are various levels of revelatory words. One, possible the highest, is what he calls “Scripture-quality”, and then posits that there is at least one level of revelatory words that is of lesser quality, and that modern prophecy is at these one or more lower levels. His position is this—there were many prophets and prophecies given in the early church, the Bible even mentions specific people who were prophets, yet with only a few exceptions we do not have the prophetic revelatory words these prophets spoke. Ergo, these unrecorded prophetic words were of a lesser quality than those recorded in the Bible. Or to use Storms' own words...

My question is this: If such words, each and every one of them, were the very “Word of God” and thus equal to Scripture in authority, what happened to them? Why were the NT authors so lacking in concern for whether or not other Christians heard them and obeyed them? Why were they not preserved for subsequent generations of the church? I’m not suggesting this proves that these “revelatory gifts” operated at a lower level of authority, but it certainly strikes me as odd that the NT would portray the operation of the gift of prophecy in this manner if in fact all such “words” were Scripture quality and essential to building the foundation for the universal body of Christ.

One thing that a little thought made me realize was that even in the time before Christ's death and resurrection, there are examples of prophets about whom we have no prophesies.

For example, here is a few verses from I Samuel 19

18 Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. 19 And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” 20 Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. 21 When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” 23 And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. 24 And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

So, here we have an account of a company of prophets who were prophesying, and when King Saul himself came to them, he prophesied. Were these people true prophets of God? Considering that Samuel was in some sense their head, I think we can say that they were. Yet we have no record of what they prophesied.

Another interesting example would be from the Gospels. Luke 2 gives the account of the parents of Jesus taking their newborn child to the Temple, and there they encounter a woman named Anna, who is called a prophetess. Yet the passage in Luke gives no prophetic statement of hers.

So, are we to assume that, simply because these prophets' revelatory words are not recorded in the Bible, then they were of a lesser quality? That they were even fallible, even though they were still subject the Old Testament standard of having to be completely correct in their prophetic statements?

I would say, no. And I would go further and say that Storms' position simply doesn't hold up. There is no hint in the New Testament that prophetic words today can be of a lesser quality than those in the Old Testament.

Even the concept of varying qualities of revelatory words seems to be very questionable. Where is such a concept in the Bible? Where does God ever say that He speaks less clearly to some people than to others? Where does God plainly speak to one prophet, but another prophet has to make do with trying to interpret vague feelings? What happened to God's communication abilities, such that in the Old Testament He always spoke clearly to the prophets, but since Christ's death and resurrection He tends to speak in an unclear, garbled way, leaving the prophets to rely on revelatory words that they may get wrong.

Understand, I'm talking about the words themselves, not necessarily interpretations. Even the Old Testament prophets did not completely understand the things God was saying to them prophetically, you can read the last chapter of Daniel to see that Daniel did not understand everything being said to him. But even in that, Daniel plainly heard the words being said to him, and recorded them accurately.

So, I find Storms' idea of lesser qualities of revelatory words to not be supported by the Bible. It seems more like a supposition he has formed to support his notion of fallible prophecy, then something that is plainly taught or ever strongly hinted at in the Bible.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

i don't believe in revival

This post is similar to the one where I say that I don't believe in social justice, and in many ways, it's very similar, though in much the same way a photo negative is similar to the photograph.

In the religious section of the liberal and conservative divide, revival serves much the same function among conservatives as social justice does for liberals. It is the goad that makes people get out and do whatever the people in charge want them to do. It is the carrot that is hung before the crowds to make them respond.

Revival is a nebulous concept, and perhaps all the more useful because of it's lack of clarity. What is revival? Hard to say. A church, particular of an older mindset, might have a week of “revival meetings”, which might mean that the church has invited a guest speaker to preach every night that week. But that doesn't seem to be what some today mean by revival.

One might think that the seemingly endless stream of conferences, gatherings, and events that fill stadiums and large mega-churches might qualify as revival, or at least an indication of it. But while such things may be considered good things, they aren't themselves really revival.

Like social justice, revival isn't really something one arrives at so much as something one is constantly trying to arrive at. Just as things are never just enough in the social justice mindset, things are never revived enough in the revival mindset. If you surrendered yourself completely last month, well, that was last month, have you done it today? Are you at this moment completely surrendered now? If not, well, you'd best do it!

And like social justice, revival is tied in to the political and social ambitions of the leaders. In other words, revival is closely tied with Dominianism. Just as a liberal dominionists might dream about a society which embodies their notions of social justice, conservative dominianists dream of a society which embodies what they mean by revival.

Revival isn't just conversion. It's always something more. One must always do more, surrender more, give more, pray more, pray longer, pray more extremely, take a bigger risk, live larger, want more, have bigger experiences, want more and more to change the world, and so on.

I do not believe in revival, just as I do not believe in social justice. I do not believe that revival is the answer, I do not think that if the church prays enough, surrenders enough, gives enough, whatevers enough, then all of a sudden the world will start to like us more, and will finally do what the church wants it to do. I do not believe that if somehow the people in charge of the various aspects of society were to become Christians (in it's loosest definition), then suddenly the country will become a much better place, and might even be well on its way to becoming christianized.

I do not pursue revival. I do not attend all-night meetings where people over and over and over ask God to send revival. I do not go to various places where people say “the Spirit is moving there!”. I sure don't go to church to fall down, bark like a dog, act like a drunk, or any of the inane and bothersome signs of what people have called revival in the all-too-recent past.

I believe in conversion. I believe in the Gospel of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ. I believe that Christians have good works God has given them to do, and that a lot of those works are very mundane things—doing honest work well, looking after your families, loving and serving the people around you.

I also believe that the world hates God, and thus will hate those who are God's. I believe what Jesus said about the same world that hated Him will also hate those who follow Him. I believe what Jesus said about how in this world we will have trouble, but we should be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. I believe that we are more than conquerors while in the midst of lots of terrible stuff like tribulations, persecution, trials, and all kinds of bad situations.

The emotional appeals of revival have grown stale to me. The constant stress on wanting God more does not do much for someone who knows that God is with him. The straining to hear some kind of hard-to-hear voice that may or may not be God has become very suspect, since seeing that such a thing is not taught in the Bible.

If our hope is in revival, our hope is in the wrong place.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

disturbing look at the prosperity gospel in Ghana

First, HT to Delight in Truth, which is where I first found this video.

This is a pretty disturbing look at how the prosperity gospel in being used and spread in the nation of Ghana.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

book review--Authentic Fire by Michael Brown

not the worst book i've read, but maybe the most disappointing

This book is a response to Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur.There is some meat in this book. A lot of the goofiness that fills so many books from those on the charismatic side of things is absent here. Brown's defense of continuationism in chapter 6 is at least plausible, though I've seen some cessationist arguments that are equally so, too.

But there are simply times when Brown's arguments are far from convincing, and seem, at best, forced.

For example, when he goes on about what he refers to as the genetic fallacy, it reminded me how often I've heard or read of charismatic churches or organization go on about their spiritual genetics or spiritual DNA, holding up those in the past as examples to followed. For example, in Jesus Culture: Living a Life That Transforms the World, the author, while not completely denying their faults, holds up several very questionable people as example of those he considers to be revivalists.

If that is considered a legitimate practice, then MacArthur's referring to the at best questionable aspect to Azusa Street and those who lead it is no less legitimate.

To my mind, one of the most questionable things Brown does is an attempt to spin some stats about how popular the prosperity gospel has become across the world. "What the Strange Fire camp did not emphasize strongly enough (or, at times, at all) was that: 1) A majority of the population in some of the countries surveyed is extremely poor, which means that "material prosperity" for many of these believers simply meant, "Having enough food for my family so we won't starve," or, "Having a roof over my head that doesn't leak." Is it so heretical to believe that God will grant that to His children? 20 (Note that, according to some estimates, 70% of the world's population lives on less than $ 3 per day.)" (Kindle Locations 2195-2199).

I'm not sure how Brown concludes that because a majority of people are in extreme poverty, than that means they are not open to believing the prosperity gospel. Do not prosperity gospel preachers prey on the very poor as well as the more well-off? To show the truth behind the stat without Brown's attempt at spin, I'd like to recommend this book Where Are We Heading To? by Thuso Kewana, an African minister who has seen the damage done by the prosperity gospel. It's a short book, well worth reading. He mentions, for example, pastors who boast about how much their suits cost, or one who taught that those who do not tithe should be cast out from the church.

An article by Sam Storms favorably reprinted in this book sums up the main problem with the current charismatic movement, no matter if Brown's arguments concerning continuationism are valid or not. Storms tries to defend the idea the modern-day prophets do not have to live up to the plainly stated OT standard of being completely correct in the prophetic words they give, but can made mistakes, and he even tries to read between the lines of certain NT passages to find this idea of his, though it is not plainly taught in the NT. A good response to this kind of teaching is this book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of "Fallible Prophecy" by Michael Beasley, and I recommend it pretty highly.

If this book left me with one overriding impression, it's that, with the best will in the world, Brown is insuring that nothing in the charismatic churches is going to change. False prophets will continue to prophecy falsely, and charismatics will not do much about it because they are too afraid of "quenching the Spirit" (as if God was not the one who set up the standard of perfection in prophecy). The prosperity gospel will continue to spread, especially as it is currently morphing in the pursuit of one's dreams and living a fulfilled life, and there will be little or no accountability concerning it. The craziness will continue, and will continue to get worse and worse, and Brown will continue to get more worked up over those who try to expose and refute it than anyone actually spreading it.