I can now add to my resume that I've been disagreed with, not only by name but by picture as well, and that on an international basis. My parents would be so proud!
Actually, it isn't at all the first time; but our friend Adrian Warnock "got all het up" over my post on the tongues of angels. My roughly 630 words provoked something like 2700 words of response from Adrian. I tremble at the thought of what these larger posts will bring down on my poor old head.
In doing me the honor of raking me over the coals in Christian love, Adrian, God love him (and I mean that), wanders pretty much all over creation. He brings in Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Piper, African missionaries, the Toronto "Blessing," a dozen texts or so, and a crate-full of howler monkeys. Okay, I'm joking about the howler monkeys, but my point is I don't feel at liberty to interact with absolutely everything our brother said. However, since Adrian has done me the honor of coming at my position hammer and tongs, I mean to honor him with a return serve as to some of the statements he made. I only hope that my passion will be as clearly mixed with Christian grace and love as his was, while at the same time speaking as plainly, emphatically, and pointedly as he has done.
I propose three posts in response. In the second, I mean to give semi-rapid-fire responses to at least most of Adrian's text-based questions. In the third, I hope to present some concluding areas of agreement and disagreement.
In this the first response, I'll target what to me is not only the heart of Adrian's post, but of much of the Charismatic bypath. It is found among his final words in the post. It's long, but I want to quote it in toto:
Why do so many cessationists actually argue for the exact opposite of what Jesus Himself says in Luke 11 (see the whole context). Jesus ends the parable by saying, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" The cessationist has to deal with the fact that millions of people today have asked God for an experience of the Holy Spirit, and that in direct contrast to what Jesus Himself said, by definition, if cessationism is true, they have not received the Spirit, but rather something else. Where they have asked for the bread of tongues, they have been given the stone of foolish gibberish. Where they have asked for the fish of prophecy, they have been given the serpent of hallucinatory delusions worthy of a madman. This cannot be right, in my humble opinion, as it makes Jesus Himself into a trickster. At the very least, God should have given us clearer directions in the Bible to manage our expectations and help us ALL to realise that cessationism is the biblical teaching. This issue has clear implications for the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. If Jesus Himself appears to tantalise these people with an offer to give the Spirit to those who ask and really means something very different to the gift of the Spirit we see in Acts, then surely He would have told us!I see two critical problems in Adrian's reasoning here.
First, brother Adrian reads a great deal into the text. Our Lord simply asks, if rendered over-literally, "If therefore you, though actually being wicked, know to give good gifts to your children, how much rather will the Father who is from Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:13, emphases added). Adrian immediately leaps hither: "The cessationist has to deal with the fact that millions of people today have asked God for an experience of the Holy Spirit, and that in direct contrast to what Jesus Himself said, by definition, if cessationism is true, they have not received the Spirit, but rather something else." Then Adrian immediately goes to prophecy and tongues.
But what has Jesus said in this verse about tongues, or about prophecy? What did He say about any specific and particular manifestation or "experience"? Is there any chance that even one of Jesus hearers would have made the associations Adrian makes? Surely not.
Indeed, here as in other texts (as I'll show, DV), Adrian's proof proves too much.
If Adrian is going to read this passage as an iron-clad guarantee... well, the mind fairly reels with the consequences. This would have to mean that God, on Adrian's stated understanding, will always and ever give whatever specific spiritual manifestation everyone and anyone asks, on any occasion. Nor can we condition it on God's will, nor on our faith -- again, on Adrian's reading -- for our Lord mentions neither. Anything that happens after such a prayer can be charged to God. To fail to do so calls the perspicuity of Scripture (not our handling of it) into serious question.
If it's an ironclad and unconditional guarantee as presented above, then one request by any believer should ever and always result in any spiritual gift he names. God has to do as I ask, for His glory's sake.
Is God really at my command, to that degree? This seems to me to be one of several junctures at which the first word in the phrase "reformed charismatic" is the weaker of the two.
Now, we know that this has never happened thus in church history. Anywhere. Ever. Has anyone ever even taught this? Surely Adrian will deny that this is what he believes. Yet this is where his line of thinking necessarily leads from his way of handling the text, if followed out relentlessly.
Further, this way of dealing with the text plucks it right out of its place in the history of redemption. Did anything change in God's dealings with men, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and Pentecost? Ezekiel thought something would change someday (Ezekiel 36:25-27). John the Baptist surely thought something would change (Mark 1:8). John certainly thought something would change (John 7:39). John certainly presented Jesus as thinking something would change (John 14:17). Peter thought something did change (Acts 11:15). Does Adrian? When was that change? What was that change? Does the change at all inform how we handle texts placed before and after it? Does context have any meaning whatever?
This is a common mistake in charismatic thought. The Bible is read as if the great moments of redemptive history -- the descent of the Spirit, the closing of the Canon -- have no real implications. It is as if the Bible should be read as a mural, a large photo, instead of as an unfolding story with movements, climaxes, and openings and closings of acts (Hebrews 1:1-2).
What if we took Adrian at his word, though? His way of dealing with the text means that Jesus has made an unconditional guarantee to give any manifestation of the Spirit to anyone who asks. Jesus is responsible for everything that happens after I ask. If it isn't legit, then He (according to Adrian) is a trickster.
Well, then, let's say I think the Bible could use another book or two. For instance, it could use one that settles this whole Charismatic issue forever.
So what if I ask the Lord to give me the gift of prophetic, inscripturating revelation? What if I ask Him to write those books through me? What if I ask Him to send the Spirit to make me the author of the sixty-seventh book of the Bible?
Isn't Adrian bound by his own thinking either to accept my book, or conclude that the Lord is a trickster?
And what if the book I write after praying for revelation says that Charismaticism is a delusion? What a bind that would put Adrian in!
Or what if I asked for a tongue and an interpretation, said "Wobbedy bop," and interpreted it to mean "Tongues have ceased"? Wouldn't that, on Adrian's reasoning, be chargeable to Jesus' account?
"Oh, no, that's just stupid," someone will reply. "You'd be tempting the Lord. He isn't responsible for every lamebrained thing you do, just because you prayed before you did it!"
Which brings me to my second point.
The Lord is not responsible for every lamebrained thing we do, just because we prayed first.
You see, Adrian's handling of this text really leaves us with only one choice. I was going to write "two choices," but on reflection, Adrian leaves us only one. Everything that happens after we pray has to be of God, or Jesus is a "trickster."
This premise, a faulty one in my estimation, binds good folk like Adrian. It chains them to defend the indefensible, as surely as the Roman Catholic must defend every ruling and appalling error of his sect. Since manifestly nothing that the Charismatic movement has uniquely produced in the last 100 years has ever measured up to the Biblical phenomenon, we have to re-interpret the Bible to fit what is happening today. Because if it's all a fraud and a distraction, then Jesus is a "trickster." And since Jesus cannot be a trickster, we have to come up with some explanation that makes wanna-be manifestations legit. We have to define the Biblical phenomena down, to prop the modern phenomena up.
This is a big reason why Charismaticism is where it is today, the "twenty million people can't be wrong" argument. Can't they? Can ten out of twelve spies be wrong? Can the majority of the nation of Israel be wrong? Is truth settled by majority vote alone? Is that how we do exegesis -- people prayed A, and Z happened, therefore the Bible must mean theta?
I've done lots of stupid things, after praying. Can I bill them all to God? Wouldn't that be cool?
Well, no, if we force ourselves to think it through, it really wouldn't be cool. Sure, there would be the short-term gain of me being able to shrug off responsibility for all the stupid, foolish, and sinful things I've done after praying. But the long-term loss would be inestimable. In short, I'd lose the Biblical portrayal of God. God would be the author of my stupid and sinful behavior. He'd become a fickle imp, and prayer would become a good-luck charm at best, or a get-out-of-responsibility-free card at worst.
Of course, there is an alternative.
We can cleave to the Word above all and through all, and judge our experiences by it -- not the reverse. Is it not a judge of the thoughts and emotions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)? Is it not forever settled in the heavens, far above the shifting vagaries of our experience, and the passing trends and fads of our culture (Psalm 119:89)? Is it not the means of my fellowship with the Father and His Son (John 14:21-23; 1 John 1:1-3)? Is it not my cleaving to the Word that proves the reality, or unreality, of my claim to be a disciple (John 8:31-32)?
So here's what I am seeing. In direct contrast to all Scripture precedent and command, millions of people have indeed (as Adrian said) asked for revelatory gifts. And not one of them has received anything like what is described in the Bible.
Is God to blame for that? Is God to blame, and the fact of the perspecuity of Scripture suspect, because of their persistence in something very different from what He Himself sets out in His Word?
I knew a pastor once, a man with very strong training in the Biblical languages and sciences. But he had a doctrine of the guidance of the Holy Spirit that led him to believe that he should pray for that guidance, and then whatever followed had to be of the Spirit. His sermons were bizarre, meandering, idiosyncratic affairs. A friend of his (!) likened the way he handled texts to a drunk staggering through a church. His people stopped bringing Bibles. They didn't really need them.
Once, a fellow-believer and I approached him, and shared our concern. We spoke out of genuine love, respect, and care.
"Gentlemen," he said, "before I preach, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me. If I believed that He was not doing so, I would leave the ministry!"
This trump-card spiritual browbeating worked wonderfully for him at the time. Both of us were young Christians, and we were properly rebuked and appalled. We didn't want him to leave the ministry! We retreated, horrified and abashed.
Of course, the problem wasn't the Holy Spirit. The problem was this man, and his faulty doctrine of the guidance of the Spirit. But like the reasoning Adrian sets out, he had prayed, and so he had to conclude that whatever followed was of the Spirit -- or his whole structure would collapse.
The Charismatic movement is, in large measure, the result of applying that same procedure on a massive scale.
Let me put it more personally and individually still. I can, you know; for I write as one who once thought he was speaking in tongues.
Shall I reinterpret the Bible, to legitimatize my experience?
Or shall I stick with the Bible, and let it judge my experience?
I opted for the second choice. That is why I am an ex-charismatic.
[This series is continued in part two and part three, and concluded in part four.]