07 May 2012

"What Is Written"

by Phil Johnson

o I was in Minneapolis Saturday for Todd Friel's Wretched Psalm 119 Conference, and David Wheaton broadcast his weekly radio program, "The Christian Worldview," live from the conference venue. David graciously featured an interview with me in one of the segments, and at one point he asked me to give a thumbnail sketch of what I would be speaking on later in the day. The theme of this year's Psalm 119 Conferences is the Holy Spirit, and one of my messages dealt with the question of how the Holy Spirit communicates truth to believers. Should we expect Him to reveal fresh prophecies through intuitive impulses, voices in our heads, and other means of private revelation?

I said no, nothing in Scripture instructs us to seek that kind of guidance. Instead, we are commanded to order our lives by the Scriptures (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:2-3; 1 John 2:5-6; etc.). The Holy Spirit's ministry is to enlighten our understanding of the Word (1 John 2:20, 27; Ephesians 1:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14; Psalm 119:18) and motivate our obedience (Ezekiel 36:27), so that the Word of God (not some mystical extrabiblical revelation) is "a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105).

That's more or less what I said in answer to David Wheaton's question about how the Holy Spirit guides us.

Less than 15 minutes later, my phone dinged, letting me know I had received a fresh e-mail. Here's what the message said:

I was just listening to an interview with you on local Christian radio. It seems you have elevated that which is written above the mystery of Christ hidden in us. Perhaps I have misunderstood. I hope so. There was nothing "written" for the common man until when? The 16th century? Maybe sooner...Even so, literacy was widespread. But, here we are, the seed has not been obliterated.

I submit that you could consider the inner work of the Spirit...that is a mystery, indeed. Just as surely as the union of sperm and egg produces life, so the Spirit produces new life, and that eternal. And we have no dispute there.

Lean not into your own understanding...let the Spirit have His work...by Faith. After all, God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth.


My reply:

God himself elevates "that which is written" to the position of highest authority, and He has expressly instructed us "not to go beyond what is written" (1 Corinthians 4:6). Scripture is the only truth we have that is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). And the truth of Scripture is sufficient for all our spiritual needs (v. 17).

So if someone heard my abbreviated answer to David Wheaton and thought I was saying the Scriptures are more authoritative and more reliable than any mysterious "inner work of the Spirit" that involves extra-biblical "truth" or inspired intuition, then emphatically: Yes, you heard me correctly.

Like many charismatics, my interlocutor seems to imagine that the principle of sola Scriptura is hostile to a robust understanding of the Holy Spirit's work in the daily lives of Christians today.

That idea is perhaps the single most deadly error in the vast menagerie of problems associated with the charismatic movement.

Phil's signature


bill said...

Mr. Johnson, well said. I Look forward to hearing the complete teaching from the conference.

Sandy M. said...

And the Catholic church and IHOP and it seems to be spreading all over through contemplative prayer and even thinking back to that conference (Passion 2012 I think) in January with Louie Giglio who had everyone listen to what God was saying specifically in that quiet moment. Standing on Scripture alone doesn't appear to be in vogue!

That is the biggest problem we have in so called Christendom today.

Love your blog!!!!

Steve Talas said...

Phil as always your clarity of thought is appreciated,

I have great concerns at to how doctrinaly soft in the head 40 years of 'Charismania' has made so many of us. Statements by Driscoll 'Don't elevate Doctrine above the Holy Spirit' are another example of how 'feelings and impressions' trump scripture for so many today.

Tom Chantry said...

There was nothing "written" for the common man until when? The 16th century? Maybe sooner...Even so, literacy was widespread.

An interesting historical diversion, although it isn't the clearest of statements. Let me try to clear it up for those who agree with your interlocutor:

Nothing was written for the common man during the Middle Ages, because the common man could not read. The Medieval church, which had little interest in the written Word, saw no problem with this. But when, at the Reformation, many began to take seriously the Spirit-imbued primacy of the Word, not only was the Word translated into common tongues, but a great impetus was found to educate the common man so that he could read the Word.

In other words, the very illiteracy which your interlocutor decries resulted from a system which elevated specious ongoing revelation above the established and completed Word of God, while literacy grew from an appreciation of the uniqueness of that Word.

Many have wondered whether the onset of spirited agnositicism is the harbinger of a coming loss of literacy in Western culture. It is certainly possible, and if so, the Protestant churches are likely to be the saviors of literacy. But we should also ask whether the growth of continuationism will be the final nail in the coffin of literacy? Why should the church care so much about the ability to read the Word when the really special revelations are all internal?

CCinTn said...

Don't throw a wet blanket on literacy in the West. As long as we have Oprah's Book of the Month, Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Joel Olsteen books, reading will be alive and well. As long as it's on a 6th grade reading level ;^)

Strong Tower said...



Tom Chantry said...

@ CCinTn


Dale Wilson said...

Unfortunately, these ideas keep becoming more mainstream every day. Here is one of Beth Moore's many teachings on personal revelation:

"Somehow in the midst of it God speaks to every single bit of it; even makes sure that He speaks in the hour of our needs straight to our need. And everything we’ll turn on: a Christian radio, programming, read in a book—if we will allow Him to, He is a God not only of time, but of perfect timing, speaking right into our here and now, carrying me through every single one of those difficulties, every single fear, every single celebration, there was Christ and there was His Word applying every single second. And I want you to know something. God will manipulate these lessons to speak straight into your present experience. So at no time are you to set that aside; pick up your problems later. You lay whatever your present problem, what your difficulty is, right out before you when you listen to the Word—at church when you’re listening to your pastor, your teachers, on the radio, wherever it may be. God is going to speak straight into your experience. Don’t disconnect it from real living. He will speak."

This was from a YouTube video "God's Purpose For You-Part 1 of 6". It is also in her books.

donsands said...

" 'Should we expect Him to reveal fresh prophecies through intuitive impulses, voices in our heads, and other means of private revelation?'

I said no, nothing in Scripture instructs us to seek that kind of guidance."

Amen. Too much mumbo jumbo going on in the Body of Christ.
And I will say God, through His Spirit, who is the Holy Spirit, does cause our hearts, souls, and minds to "experience" joy, peace, sorrow, happiness, and most of all love. Affection can be godly, or ungodly and selfish.
God helps us live a godly life through His truth, and His Word is truth. (John 17:17)

That quote from Beth is really the pits, even though it sounds sort of okay, and seeing her say words like that will cause Christians to embrace her teachings, for she is kind of exciting the way she teaches, but it's human wisdom to me. But God is very gracious, and we need to remember that for sure.

Anonymous said...

To start with I`m not charismatic though in my younger days i flirted with the devil :).

Well clearly the bible verses quoted to support the argument from the blog writer were not referencing the bible since it did not exist. I always find that humorous, use a verse written 4000 years ago to support a book assembled two thousand years ago. That never gets old though i do understand, you have to or your system crumbles. Know this, Christ does not crumble without the official bible as he did not in the days when there was no bible.Clearly there is more rancid heresy and division now with the bible then there was without it. Please try to argue that, PLEASE. God has existed long before the bible and has had no problem running the world without it. The bible clearly has caused more problems than it has helped with.

A few questions:
Seriously, how can you see the reformation as anything good? Its one of the biggest failures in history.
The reformation condensed:
Catholics=Bad and unsaved
Reformers=we are right
We are right=everyone is right and cant get along
Cant get along= 25,000 different christian sects
Results=I cant tell, but i have alot of different churches to go to who all read the bible differently.

Did God ever say there would be an official book put together by the Holy Spirit? (revelation anyone)

Did god bless the assembly of the scripture only to hide it until the reformers came along (please).
So God through revelation told the reformers this is it and they promptly split up into 25,000 different denominations?
Arguing, whining , fighting , murdering all in the name of starting their denominations?

So you trust entirely the church fathers in putting the bible together, hoping the Holy Spirit guided them, but don't trust anything else they did or said?

So God put a bible together in a language that people in history would not be able to understand?
And these people would have to spend lifetimes trying to figure out what words mean? Spending years preaching on a single verse because God hid so much from us in it?
And this is a book he wanted us to look at as sola scriptura?(asinine)

Ok,God says here is the great book but i will hide its understanding for 1600 years and when i do allow its truth to come out i will cause it to cause infighting and lunacy?

Now that God has exposed to you the true meaning of scripture (reformed folk) what do the other 25,000 denominations who have a different interpretation of said scripture do?

I could go on and on and on. Of all the christian sects yours is the easiest to poke holes through and you think your the most serious hard core of sects.

I read the scripture to my children every night....
I don't worship the bible though, it is not God!!!!

Tom Tom Tom, protestant churches the saviors of what? Not sure you live in the same world as i do. You guys aren't saving anything buddy. You argue and debate and blog quite well (this blog as proof text anyone). But beyond that i don't think so, all you cause is division.

Keep it real players!!

Tom Chantry said...

Thank you, Loser, for demonstrating what literacy looks like in the 21st Century.

Phil Johnson said...


That may be the most breathtakingly clueless comment anyone has ever posted at our blog.

And trust me: the competition for that title is imposing.

I'm curious, since you think historic evangelical principles "cause . . . division": where is the great throng of unified congregants who hold YOUR worldview? What have been the actual fruits of the perspective you are peddling?

See, I think one of the reasons there is so much division in the visible church today is precisely because the average pew-sitter in the typical quasi-evangelical tolerantly-charismatic congregation is pretty much like you: untaught and delusional, insisting that whatever pops into his addled cerebral vortex has a higher authority than the God-breathed Word of truth.

FX Turk said...

You also elevated that which is written above my current feelings about whatever it is that is happening to me, and I resent that as well.

Yikes indeed.

donsands said...


"This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. ......
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."-Peter the Apostle
2nd Epistle 3:1-3; 15-18

FX Turk said...

Phil: where are the band of bloggers when you need them? I think they ought to call Loser privately to make sure the public discourse doesn't damage any possibility of reforming him. And I'm saying that publicly so that you'll have to do something about it, without calling you first to see if we can work out something edifying and helpful.

I'm done now. Thanks.

CCinTn said...

2 Corinthians 4:4 in action

Sir Brass said...

Who invited the Called To Confusion Sola-Scriptura haters?

The only thing missing was a final statement telling us to return to Mother Rome.

Robert said...


What exactly does the Spirit reveal? I'll answer because I am guessing you don't understand that He reveals the truth of Scripture to believers. Why do you think that Ezra brought out the Word of God in order to lead the worship of God when the Israelites returned from exile? It certainly wasn't a felt need to wait for some special feeling or movement...it is because God reveals Himself in Scripture and we can'e worship Him without speaking from His truth. Where else can we start? How else do we really know Him? You might know of Him without Scripture, but you can not know Him without the Scriptures.

CCinTn said...

I noticed that the burn marks on my waffle this morning looked suspicously like our Lord and below this image was something that I was barely able to make out. It was something like:
solum Romam Tantum multa errores

I don't know anything more than 6th grade English so I'm not sure what that means. Can anyone help?

Tommy said...

Nothing quite beats seeing those rascally Protestants from different denominations speaking vilely to each other, and having Mother Rome come in with a gentle hand of grace to direct us back. How dare we be so divisive.

Nonna said...

Fireworks as usual here at the Pyromaniacs blog. Me thinks the name for this site is apropos.

Chris H said...

Phil wrote:
"That may be the most breathtakingly clueless comment anyone has ever posted at our blog.

And trust me: the competition for that title is imposing."

My little heart sang for joy at this comment; first because it is hilarious, second because it is true.

ad nauseum said...

I wonder what you would have us do, and how may one join your club of people who dont join clubs? May I also ask inane questions on par with your own?
Why did Jack die in the finale of LOST? Why arent scientists working harder at developing rocket boots? Why did Peter Gabriel leave Genesis?

Tom Chantry said...

Because he was finished and ready to move on to Exodus?

Tommy said...

Thanks Ad Nauseum. Just got on the bandwagon and started season 1 of Lost.

This is grounds for a church split.

Tom Chantry said...

I just want to say that I read this post before the thread began, and Phil already had the dizzy polar bear graphic up, which qualifies him as a prophet, and which thus ironically invalidates his post.

Andy Morrison said...

Although I'm presently at a solid presbyterian church, my childhood included many years in pentecostal / charismatic churches. It has left me with a mixed theological background, which periodically leads to confusion.
Acknowledging that this is off the immediate topic of the post, but tangentially related to charismatic shennanigans: what's a reasonable reformed position re spiritual warfare / casting out demons and all that stuff?
I've heard that while christians can't be possessed by demons as they are indwelt by God, they can be persecuted by them.
what does prayer look like in getting rid of the persecuting spirits? are we meant to ask the holy spirit to deal with them, or do we command them to go ourselves? I'm not referring to the behaviour of Driscoll where he has reported having conversations with the spirits, but just how to deal with getting rid of them.

Please excuse me if I've not expressed myself concisely / correctly enough.

ad nauseum said...

Tom: wikipedia tells me otherwise, it looks like not many members of Exodus wanted to be apart of it either.
Tommy: its not 2004 anymore man, get with the times, besides im sure your couldnt go 2 years without hearing how it ended.

Also regarding the original post, the e-mailer wrapped up with a charge to worship God in spirit and truth. The trend these days is to worship in spirit at the cost of truth. Subjective experiences are given more weight than the sure Word. Instead of going where God promises to meet us, and in Fatherly love instructs us to stay (1 Cor 4:6) people with itching ears look elsewhere, opening up the flood gates to all manner of heresy. Great Post Phil.

donsands said...

"...what's a reasonable reformed position re spiritual warfare / casting out demons and all that stuff?"-Andy

I was thinking how the devils in this world shall cause us to be hindered in ways that we may not understand.
I actually think I have been battling with spiritual wickednesses lately.
I have been praying to our Lord that He would help me fight the good spiritual fight, and I read the Word, and proclaim it.
And most of all, I believe, and know, that God is sovereign in my life.
He is a loving Father, and I His child, and so He will watch over me. Jesus is my Lord and Friend, and he will also intervene as I cast my cares upon Him. And I also can ask the Holy Spirit to help me, and keep the faith, so that I bring glory and honor to Christ, the Son of God.
And so, as I am sifted, and the Church is sifted by Satan and his evil host, we can "fight the good fight of faith" in the truth of God, which is His Word:-His promises to us.

Hope that may help. Lord bless and keep you brother. In Jesus' name and because of His precious blood I pray. Amen.

CCinTn said...

Since the comments are turned off on the post for "A Bridge Too Far" I'll comment here and just say that was such a powerful message. It was just spetacular. Everyone should take the time to listen to it.

Aaron Snell said...

The LOST comment was totally on-topic, due to the polar bear pic.

Robert Warren said...

"...what's a reasonable reformed position re spiritual warfare / casting out demons and all that stuff?"

Ephesians 6:10-20

Anonymous said...

Phil, I would humbly beg you to poke JMac to address the "voice of God" issue in a book length treatment. That is the #1 problem I run into in churches up here in Canada; confusion on divine guidance specifically manifesting in "God told me" language. The biggest and most influential churches up her have all completely swallowed this stuff wholesale; churches where JMac has preached in recent years (and churches that would pay attention if information came from him).

The concept of "listening prayer" is rampant in Western Canada, which is much more of the Piper & Beth Moore stream than the Kenneth Hagin stream (and constantly yells "We're not prophets! John 10:30! We're Christ's sheep and hear his voice!").

And don't you have friends like James White so that you don't have to deal with Catholic trolls?

Jeremiah Greenwell said...

Yikes indeed.

I was caught up in that movement once. You know what one of the greatest evidences was to me that I had never really been saved when God finally saved me? I always hated the bible; I could run on feeling all day long and claim it was the Holy Spirit, but as soon as anyone brought up anything about the true God of the bible I was infuriated, even though I was leading worship on a worship team and doing everything outwardly right. And now the greatest evidence in my life that I have been saved and am kept by the power of God is that I delight in the law of the Lord.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that; more often than not this idea of fresh revelation is a result of false conversion from a false gospel than it is a mere error in biblical interpretation.

e5150 said...

I was at this conference Phil (the long haired guy in the middle of the room taking all those annoying pictures) and I was very thankful for what you preached about that day, especially the second message. I’ve had lots of run-ins with this ‘inner voice’ and contemplative prayer garbajo which seems to be everywhere in the church today and it’s a theological train wreck waiting to happen, if not already. I’m glad that despite trends, there are still men standing up for authority of scripture alone.

e5150 said...

I was at this conference Phil (the long haired guy in the middle of the room taking all those annoying pictures) and I was very thankful for what you preached about that day, especially the second message. I’ve had lots of run-ins with this ‘inner voice’ and contemplative prayer garbajo which seems to be everywhere in the church today and it’s a theological train wreck waiting to happen, if not already. I’m glad that despite trends, there are still men standing up for authority of scripture alone.

Aaron said...

Ignoring the diversion and going back to Chantry's original post:

The reformers were not only adamant that education was critical in the lives of men so that they could read the Word of God and use it in spiritual warfare; they also believed people should study Greek and Hebrew to read Scripture in its original languages. The Puritans were believers in mandatory education...to educate people in the Word of God.

Barbara said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again: three little words that set me free from all that straining to hear that still small voice and wondering how to discern what is God's voice vs. the devil's vs. my own....

God doesn't mumble.

His voice shakes the earth and leads man to fall down in worship. There is no straining to hear that.

He has spoken plainly and revealed Himself through His Word, and in that same Word He calls me to seek His face; He is present, He is risen, He is real, and He will illuminate that Word and bring it to application as I meditate on it and ask Him to teach me these things. Those three little words, when they sunk in, set me free from close to 40 years of confusion. What a great joy!

Sir Brass said...

"And don't you have friends like James White so that you don't have to deal with Catholic trolls?"

Only by drawing their fire. And people like James Swan and TurretinFan are even better at that than DrO is these days... these days, DrO is good at drawing the fire of those you might eventually have to clobber with a frozen slab of pork :P.

Tom Chantry said...

Just when I thought last Wednesday's thread was a classic example of Pyro-randomness, you had to bring up the frozen meat chub. I'll sleep happy now.

Unknown said...

Barbara said "God doesn't mumble. "

Wow - excellent statement. Let me go meditate on that and chew on it for a while.

Jon Swerens said...

Suddenly, the odd lyrics in Gungor's music about idolizing the Bible make sense. At least, I see where they're coming from. It doesn't make sense, of course. You know what I mean.

Should've know to place Gungor in the same stream as pentecostalism, being a former AoG guy myself.

trogdor said...

I can never get enough of that classic Catholic argument. "Hey, it looks like your toast may be a little burnt. What you need to do is eat this giant bowl of rat poison instead."

Wait, maybe that's over the top. I really should apologize. So, rat poison, I'm sorry for comparing you to something truly vile and deadly like the Roman cult.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

There are some Charismatic Roman Catholics.

Jeri Tanner said...

"That idea is perhaps the single most deadly error in the vast menagerie of problems associated with the charismatic movement." I agree, with great sadness. I have a friend who has recently escaped from this terrible view and is over-joyed at the freedom the truth of Christ brings. I long to see more women set free from the terrible bondage of this terribly wrong idea.

Aaron Snell said...

Jeremiah Greenwell:

Great comment. Thanks.

P.S. Is anyone else grateful when the verification words are pronounceable?

Sir Brass said...

"P.S. Is anyone else grateful when the verification words are pronounceable?"

And all pyro-regulars said...


James S said...

Excellent post and lots of great follow up comments too. Concur with Donsannds about how we go about the warfare ofa christian's daily life. I feel the stings of the enemy often and without my continued studying of the Word and daily exhortation, along with daily communion by prayer with The Father through the finished work of Christ, life would be unlivable for me.

And way to go Jeremiah Greenwell, realizing that true worship is holding the Word of God in the proper esteem that He would have us do.

Every time I read or hear phrases like 'worship team', 'worship leader', or 'worship music', I cringe a little, wondering if the writer or speaker knows what real worship really is. It means first, loving the Lord with all our heart and then loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, and keeping His Words and commands. Singing and music and teams and the like is not what the bible speaks of when it talks of 'worship'.

jozzyboy116 said...

Yes, way to go Jeremiah Greenwell, whoever you are ;)

Loser smelled of Roman, Popish, anti-protestantism, who has no clue of church history.

"25,000 denominations" Either Loser is a willful liar or a glittering jewel of colossal ignorance.

Sir Brass said...

jozzyboy, or just uninformed...

It's now up to 33,000 now, last I heard from Rome's defenders.