30 August 2013

Why Truth deserves place of prominence in worship

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in May 2011. Phil shows why Truth must be the primary component of worship.

As usual, the comments are closed.

God is spiritual in His very essence, and therefore He must be worshipped with spiritual worship—worship in the energy of spirit; worship that engages and employs our entire spirit, not just the motions of our hands and the words we form with our lips; not bare ritual; but a true expression of the heart and soul. "Worship in spirit."

"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Jesus is making a deliberate contrast between the worship God seeks and the typical kind of worship that is dominated by human tradition, obscured by empty ritual, and buried under meaningless layers of pomp and ceremony.

Listen to Christ's criticism of the Pharisees' religion (Matthew 15:3, 8): "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.'"

They had all the ceremonies down. Many of these were rituals prescribed by Moses' law, ordained by God, and therefore good things if used properly. They were fine if seen for what they really were: symbols of a greater reality, aids to worship; not the end-all and be-all of worship. But the Pharisees were more enamored with the rituals than they were with the truth the rituals signified. And so they added layers of their own man-made rituals on top of what the law prescribed: extra washings; more complicated ceremonies; more elaborate costumes—longer tassels on their robes and whatnot to exaggerate the liturgical impact of all the pageantry and spectacle.

The flesh loves that. And the ceremonies themselves became what they thought of when they thought of "worship." It was a flamboyant display for the benefit of the worshiper rather than an expression of praise and honor to God. They were worshiping Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They were indulging their flesh, not worshiping in spirit.

And let's be honest: we all have a sinful tendency to do that. We go through the motions without really engaging our spirit in worship. We seize the opportunity during the pastoral prayer to look at our watch, or send a text message during the congregational hymn, or whatever. Jesus said that's not authentic worship; It's not worship at all unless we "worship in spirit and truth."

This is a much abused and widely misunderstood principle today. Jesus is not calling for the kind of shallow passion that responds to the music and the atmosphere. He's not saying we should aim at working ourselves into a frenzy of feeling and passion devoid of any rational content.

Authentic worship is concerned with truth, not bare passion.

It's a common misconception today that worship in the spirit requires us to empty the mind of anything rational...We use music and atmosphere to build raw passion to a crescendo. And lots of people think that's the purest form of worship—when you are basically so overwhelmed with emotion that your mind is unattached and unengaged in any kind of rational thought. In fact, music is so important to the process that when you use the word "worship" today, most Christians assume you are talking about music.

But notice that Jesus gave truth, not music, the place of prominence in worship: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

29 August 2013

Alone, outgunned, and hopelessly outnumbered

by Dan Phillips

In other words, "A target-rich environment."

When Frank told me some time back of his thoughts of hiating from The Intarwebz, I first thought to do the same. Since entering fulltime pastoral ministry at CBC here, I found that my time was more taken up, and even more that my "itch" was more scratched. I didn't have the same driving need to use blogging to get out the Word, since I had done it via books and now was doing it in The Real Thing, a local church. And a very dear one, at that.

And then there was the need to get out two scheduled posts every Tuesday and Thursday, which isn't always easy to wedge in. However, there are still things I want to do. There are a number of books I want to review, and still topics I want to dive into and truths I want to uncage from this platform.

That said, then, here's The Fewchah as we're looking at it:
  1. We all know about Phil. Snif.
  2. Frank is hiational, but the door is always open, in case someone on the internet is so wrong that only Frank can fix it.
  3. Monday will be Spurgeon, and Friday will be Best-of, or Greatest Hits, now spanning amongst the three of us.
  4. I'll post as inspiration strikes or need arises on the remaining days.
There y'go.

Phil's departure was a big loss to the intrawebs, but at least there was Frank. But now for a time, you won't have Frank to kick [you] around. I thought and think that the both of them do what no one else is doing, and what badly needs to be done. But God is God, and those brothers have better things to put their hands to at present.

So in the meanwhile, I'll endeavor to persevere, and maybe even...

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28 August 2013

Maybe We Should Call it "Parole"

by Frank Turk

Back in 1997 or 1998, I got my first high-speed dial-up modem for my Giant-Sized Mac LC 500-series  -- a GlobalVillage Teleport Platinum modem with the blazing speed of 53200 BAUD, for which my wife paid something equal to a week's worth of groceries because she loves me.  My iPhone has better internet connectivity than that today, so don't let anyone say nothing has happened in the last 20 years -- but also, don't let them tell you that it was necessarily a good thing. Nevertheless, because of the Teleport Modem and the Big Mac, I learned that on the internet, someone was wrong.  At that time, it was at the MSNBC religion forums, and after a time I graduated from those forums to a place called CARM, and then I graduated to the ProsApologian chat channel where my native Southern Baptist intransigence met the battering ram of 21st century Calvinism, and then I opened up a blob blog at Blogger before its was ingested by Google and became a permanent part of the interwebs.

So in some sense, I am a permanent part of the interwebs.

That link is fantastic by the way -- like looking at an ancient episode of Doctor Who.  I pity you if you don't follow it.

I bring that up because over the course of the last 15 years (!?) of internet mayhem, I have, from time to time, taken a hiatus.  If this were respectable academia, it would have been called a sabbatical, but since we're not that kind of people, maybe we should call it parole -- for the internet and its clown car full of people who think we can't see that they are coming out of a sub-mini compact with red and white stripes, therefore we cannot see that they are clowns (word to the wise: if the red nose fits, wear it).

In the past, I have taken these breaks from my various perches in order to remind myself that, at the end of it, this is the internet and not, for example, my family or my local church.  It's the internet and not even the real world.  Not anything like the real world -- it really is a lot more like a comic book than anyone wants to openly admit.  It has side-effects that look like radioactive mutations and weird costumes which people invent for themselves to run around in and think of themselves as heroes -- when they are, instead, such a mix of comic and macabre that they make some adults laugh, but mostly they are scaring the children.


All that to say that it's time for my next hiatus, for the sake of getting the right things back in order in my life.  I'm not hardly quitting writing, or from Twitter (as Twitter - but I won't be microblogging from Twitter) but I am on a very disciplined vacation from this blog and my other "serious" (heh, as if) blogs from today until such a time that the side effects of blogging are again funny and useful to me rather than discouraging, frustrating and scary.

I have no idea how long it will last, but if you need to get in touch with me for any reason except blogging, please do get back in touch with me at frank@iturk.com.

Play well with others.  Be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day.  Remember that Jesus meant "you personally" when he said all those things.  Try to do something else once in a while, Like Ministry.

27 August 2013

The gift of Parbar

by Dan Phillips

At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.
(1 Chronicles 26:18 KJV)

Mm. Parbar. Deep stuff, eh? Oh yeah.

Back in the 70s and 80s, this was a chucklesome verse to many. Some claimed it as their life-verse. If I remember, it was the "motto" of the Christian satire magazine Wittenburg Door.

Why? Well, because nobody knew what "Parbar" meant. The translators of the KJV apparently didn't, so they just transliterated it. Same with the ASV, the NAS, and other versions.

So you could expect "Parbar" to come up in conversations among certain wags. After all, it was the ultimately wild-card. Nobody knew what it meant; so it could mean anything.

See where I'm going with this?

Remember when Mark Driscoll claimed the Holy Spirit was showing him pornographic footage? Note that he just tosses out, "This may be 'gift of discernment.'"

It may? On what exegetical grounds, pray? Mark doesn't share them. He just throws that out there, and then does what Charismatics must do: he tells select stories.

Now, lesser mortals such as you and I dursn't criticize this practice, because
  1. At one point there was something called "gift of discernment" (?);
  2. That was in the Bible (if he means 1 Cor. 12:10);
  3. Nobody's absolutely sure what that is; so...
  4. Maybe this is that!
  5. You don't want to criticize something in the Bible, right?
Driscoll knows he's had the experience, it's got to be valid, we should probably call it something... so let's spin the wheel and pick one of those gifts concerning which Chrysostom, writing just a few centuries after the (hel-lo?) close of the Canon said
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. [John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXIX]
Because, who knows? Could be!

But then again, really, since the whole point is that we've got this imperative (we must validate the Charismatic's experience and his special powers), then heck: why not call it the "gift of Parbar"? I mean, do you know it's not the gift of Parbar? Well, do you? Of course you don't.

So there you go!

See, that's where the modern inventors of Charismaticism/"continuationism" went wrong. Parham and his poor dupes were originally seeking the Biblical gift of tongues. That is, they expected to be able to speak in unlearned human languages supernaturally. And when they started babbling and gobbling, they were convinced it had to be that, that Biblical gift, that falsifiable gift with defined contours and edges. So they went off to mission fields, expecting to be understood by the Chinese... but, yeah, you know how that went. Natives shrugged and, in effect, made little circular gestures by their temples. Incomprehensible babble.

So here's where the first-gen errorists went afield. They were sure their experience was valid (Charismaticism 101), so then took some large hammers and saws to the Bible, and eventually changed the interpretation of what "tongues" meant from, well, what it meant, to what they were doing. They took a well-understood gift and invented something that gave cover to their experience.

Never should have done it.

Should have just just said they got the "gift of Parbar."


Same thing for all their other redefinitions. If they wanted some holy status for their errant feelings and hunches and "leadings," they should never have assaulted the well-known and well-defined Biblical phenomenon of prophecy, and embarrassed themselves by trying to redefine it to suit their experiences. If they were unwilling to call a hunch a hunch and take responsibility for it, just call it "the gift of Parbar."

Same with these bizarre little clairvoyant parlor-tricks, called (with zero exegetical support) "word of wisdom" and "word of knowledge" — they could be just subcategories of the multifaceted and glorious "gift of Parbar." Who knows? Who can disprove it?

I know some of you are seething, but if you've been here any time at all you know: we have this discussion every time we talk about Da Gifts. Every time we're trying to talk God's Word, someone is sure to ask, "So, what about when X happens? or when Y happened in 1843? How do you explain that, huh?" As if this is what really should consume the Christian, because we already have so well mastered all that actually-in-the-Bible stuff.

So look, here's my modest proposal: If we aren't going to start with sound exegesis of the Bible and be content with that... well then, I've got my answer:

Got to be the gift of Parbar.

Hey. It's as Biblical as all the other stuff. Every bit as Biblical.

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25 August 2013

A double knock at the door of the young

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Sword and the Trowel, December, 1874, "A double knock."
"You will not have another youth: soon it will not be in your power to offer to God your beauty and freshness."

One occasionally sees in certain places announcements such as this, “Smart young men wanted for the Guards.” Well, I am a recruiting sergeant. My colours are crimson, and I am eager to enlist both young men, and women. I would be glad if I could do a bit of business, and gather up recruits for Christ.

Some more aged reader inquires. “Will you not have us old people?” I would be glad enough, but I am not after you just now. The Lord have mercy upon you and save you, but I have just now a message for the young folks. We want them beyond all others to join the ranks of the covenanted warriors of the Lord.

Why? Because they bring fresh energy into the church. This is much to be desired. A young man, all aglow with youthful ardour and spiritual life, coming into a church sets us all aflame. Everybody wakes up when he begins to pray. Any church in which there is a large preponderance of persons who have passed middle age is likely to be very respectable and excellent, and to possess many of the virtues, perhaps all, but it is not very likely to be consumed with zeal.

I seldom hear of persons over sixty setting the Thames on fire. At that mature age people have not, as a rule, any strong proclivities for fervent excitement, and they are of opinion that the Thames had better be let alone. The elders seldom exhibit the enterprise of youth, their business is to take the Conservative side of questions. They are valuable to the church, and cannot be spared, but the church wants some of the fire of youth, sanctified by grace, and made into genuine zeal for the kingdom of Christ.

We want you, beloved youths, because the older soldiers are going off the field, and others of us will soon have to think of ourselves as in the same category. Nobody in our army ever retires on halfpay;
blessed be God they shall have their full joy, even when they can do but little, and they have the pledge of a full heaven hereafter. Still many have been taken away from us, and our ranks are thinned. Oh for recruits to fill up the vacancies!

Good women, earnest matrons who were serving in the schools, and in the classes; good men who were preaching in the streets, and doing good in all ways, are falling asleep. Young men and women, step forward and fill the places of your fathers and mothers! We cannot have a better stock; none could be more welcome than your fathers’ sons and daughters.

Young men are valuable when converted, for by God’s grace how much they may do while yet young. Do you know that John Calvin wrote his famous “Institutes”—a most wonderful production for thought if not for accuracy—before he was twenty-seven years of age? Though Martin Luther did a grand work after he was five-and-forty years old, it is something to say of Calvin, the clearer of the two, that he had commenced his work and wrought wonders when he was seven-and-twenty. Many a Christian man has won his hundreds and some even thousands for Christ before attaining that age. There is power in youth, let it then be consecrated to His Majesty's service.

23 August 2013

"Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power."

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This post (republished in its entirety) is from the blog back in February 2011. It's an excerpt of an article that appeared in the Jan-Feb 2011 edition of Bible Study Magazine. Phil offers his thoughts on the challenge of keeping love and truth in proper perspective.

As usual, the comments are closed.

It's not easy, especially nowadays, to keep love and truth together in a balanced way.

Our culture force-feeds us a postmodern notion of love. Tolerance, diversity, and broad-mindedness are its defining features.

Meanwhile, truth is generally held in high suspicion, if not treated with outright contempt. After all, if the very essence of love is to accept all points of view, how could it possibly be virtuous to believe that one idea is true to the exclusion of all others? Indeed, many in our culture regard emphatic truth-claims as inherently unloving. As a result, truth is regularly sacrificed in the name of love.

As Christians, we need to understand love from a biblical perspective. Authentic love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love and truth are perfectly symbiotic, and each virtue is essential to the other. Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power.

In fact, when radically separated from one another, both virtues cease to be anything more than mere pretense. Love deprived of truth quickly deteriorates into sinful self-love. Truth divorced from love always breeds sanctimonious self-righteousness.

Nowhere in Scripture is the essential connection between these two cardinal virtues more clearly highlighted than in 2 John. Love and truth are the key words in the salutation of that brief 13-verse epistle, and the central theme throughout is the unbreakable interdependence between these two essential qualities of Christlikeness.

John is the perfect apostle to write on this theme. Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James "Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17)—doubtless because of their fiery zeal for the truth. At first, their passion was not always tempered with love, and we see a glimpse of that in Luke 9:54, when they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village of Samaritans who had rebuffed Christ.

In later years, however, John distinguished himself as the Apostle of Love, specially highlighting the theme of love in his gospel and in all three of his epistles.

And yet, as we see in all his epistles, he never lost his zeal for the truth. He did, however, learn to keep it wedded to a proper, Christlike love. And in his short second epistle, where he has some hard things to say in defense of the truth, he is careful to give first place to love. Before getting into the main issue (how to deal with supposed Christian teachers who deny essential truth) he accents once more the supreme importance of obedience to Jesus' command "that we love one another" (v. 5; cf. John 13:34-35).

Christians today desperately need to learn how to ground love properly in the truth. We must not succumb to pressure from our culture to spurn or bury the truth of Scripture under a false and foggy notion of love.

22 August 2013

How we got into this mess, and how to get out

by Dan Phillips

This is a conceptual followup to Frank's post.

Here is how we got into this mess, simplified:
  1. Inventors of Charismaticism/"Continuationism," ca. 1900, made huge promises and claims.
  2. They had zero credibility, completely failed to deliver, and were largely dismissed by Biblically-faithful Christians. They gained no traction among them.
  3. Commitment to genuine Christian discipleship, with the necessary corollaries of commitment to (and utter confidence in) God's word and truth on both sides of the pulpit, waned over the following decades.
  4. Respected Christian leaders worked hard to enshrine a way to exempt Charismatics/"Continuationists" from all necessarily-disastrous objective examination of their distinctive claims.
  5. Unshackled from the (Biblical) burden of proof, errorists and their false teaching increasingly found the faux credibility and purchase they'd been denied previously, thanks to the cover provided by big names.
How can we get out of this swamp?

By genuine revival, breathed by the genuine Holy Spirit, of course.

Specifically, it will take the reversal of steps 3 and 4, above. To wit:
  1. Christians, on both sides of the pulpit, must be recaptured by genuine Christian discipleship, with all it entails.
  2. Christians who are leaders must repent — either of their errant teaching, or of their timid refusal to speak out boldly, plainly, and decisively — and must systematically strip away the false cover they've provided to the Charismatic/"Continuationist" errorists.
There y'go. You're welcome. It's what we do.

Dan Phillips's signature

21 August 2013

Showing the Spirit by D.A. Carson

by Frank Turk

1996 was a very pretty good year for the Charismatic, since that is the year Wayne Grudem came out with his book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?  However: I have been recently told that this book is actually far inferior to D.A. Carson's book, and refuting it is rather a pedestrian effort.  The real academic cherry is to prove that Carson may be toppled from his as yet unassailable position because let's face it: D.A. Carson.

So in 1996 1987, Carson also published a lengthy treatise on 1 Cor 12-14, entitled Showing the Spirit. Over the last 3 weeks, it has found new life among those who demand the necessity of the apostolic spiritual gifts, and the word on the street is that this book has never properly been reviewed or refuted by anyone of a Cessationist disposition, therefore Check and Mate: start speaking in tongues.  Roll into that the fact that the book is still in print (in Kindle format no less), and that Carson has never offered a revision, and perhaps the rest of us -- the ones who think that miraculous signs and wonders are not pedestrian but exceptional, and that God is not a blatherer who predates Twitter with his affinity for daily murmurings but in fact speaks first through the Prophets and then through His Son -- ought to simply apologize for our impertinence for raising an eyebrow, and the occasional meat chub.

Well, we do take requests here at TeamPyro -- and because my personal reputation among the people I am talking about here is already unquestionable (that is: I am unquestionably a "bomb-throwing waste of time"), this one seems also as good to me as doing another interview on this subject.  However, I think what follows is going to cause more mayhem than if I came out and panned this book for being virtually illiterate and unbiblical -- because I think what Carson does for/to charismaticism in this book is far worse for them than the people waving this book around would admit (methinks: if they had read it themselves).

Pack a lunch: this is a one-time event as I have a self-imposed deadline at the end of this month which I am not going to violate.

Usually, when I bring a book to this blog, I don't write a book report on it -- because usually  I'm recommending it, not trying to prove to you I have read it, and certainly not to give you everything you need to know about that book so you don't have to read it.  In this case, however, because this book weighs in at 230 pages of contemplation and exposition of the barely 4 pages of Scripture it is based on, it deserves more than a wave of the hand.

Carson, of course, does his homework for this book, and if I can be so bold as to recommend at least one thing for a revised edition, he could probably cut 30% of this book as it is not about the passage directly.  Sure: it's published by Baker Academic, and therefore it's got to tie and untie all the academic Gordian knots here.  Can we say why Paul wrote this passage in the larger historical context? Can we determine where, if at all, Paul is quoting a previous letter from Corinth in order that he may answer specific questions or statements from these people? Is the phrase "spiritual [things]" a highly-technical term or a broad term Paul applies to certain practices and ideas in this letter?  Some of these have some relevance in answering the question of how to "show the Spirit," and some of them, as Carson admits in his preface, are sort of meant for a more limited audience.  I think that maybe it would have been worthwhile to publish some of the more esoteric notions separately as individual papers and to boil this book down to something which, let's face it, would be a good service to the church at large, given its subject.

One thing Carson refuses to do is to settle the question of continuation vs. cessation.  Some people will deny that as Carson, in his reflections on the Charismatic movement, says specifically, "At the exegetical level, the charismatic movement is surely right to argue that the χαρσµατα (charismata), including the more spectacular of them, have not been permanently withdrawn."  But this statement is buried between mountains of warnings and pastoral advice against the fantastic and expansive errors and mistakes of those seeking spectacular outpourings of all manner of things.  What Carson does instead of seeking to settle the question -- and this is his trademark move, of course, because he's nobody to settle anything but simply to point at Scripture -- is to sort of work out the form of Paul's argument regarding the situation in Corinth and then offer those (in his view) wide boundaries to the situation today.

In that, here's a synopsis of where Carson goes:
  • In Carson's view, Paul is trying to settle a dispute between people we might call "charismatic" and people we might call "cessationist" -- though Carson himself thinks those categories are not really helpful.  The dispute, he says, is between those who seem to place a great deal on the acts of signs and wonders and those who don't have the time of day for them.  In that, Carson sees the dispute Paul is trying to settle as one between those who think the miraculous are a necessary part of every Christian's life and those who think, frankly, that those things are humbug.
  • In seeking to settle the dispute, it's clear (to Carson) that the miraculous camp are the ones in Corinth who are overplaying their hand.  That's what Carson means when he starts talking about how, in Paul's view, healing and prophecy are the same kind of things as joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and so on.  That is: if we're going to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we should talk about all of them, and not merely the ones which are the most spectacular.  That's the point, in Carson's view, of making the case that the whole body works together: to point out that if the miraculous stuff is a gift, surely the more mundane stuff are also gifts.
  • Carson's own words to sum up 1 Cor 12 point us in the direction he is headed:
    • "It would be premature to try to draw together many theological and practical strands; moreover, I have not yet attempted to identify the admirable features in the charismatic movement. But I must offer at least one suggestion. If the charismatic movement would firmly renounce, on biblical grounds, not the gift of tongues but the idea that tongues constitute a special sign of a second blessing, a very substantial part of the wall between charismatics and noncharismatics would come crashing down. Does 1 Corinthians 12 demand any less? Thank God that, beyond all the χαíσµατα (charismata), there remains a more excellent way."  (Kindle Locations 770-774)
  • Carson doesn't give is a lot of help understanding the transition from 12:31 to 13:1.  He surveys what was at the time all the sides of the arguments ranging from versions of the indicative to versions of the imperative, but in spite of saying, "The one question regarding the setting that we cannot avoid discussing in detail, however, is the meaning of 12: 31," Carson doesn't settle the meaning of this phrase at all. He merely shows it has a range of meanings which may or may not cause the reader to take sides in the discussion Paul is having -- even if he seems to have more sympathy for the idea that it is an imperative to earnestly desire the spiritual things. That's a huge disappointment.
  • Carson gets not only the meaning of 13:1-13 (mostly) right, he also gets the reason for Paul's excursis on Love exactly right -- which is, it's function as a validator of the spiritual gifts.  Paul's view is that without love the rest is trash -- but equally, that in the context of the problems in Corinth, love is actually the part they all lack.  Love is the solution to the problems they are facing -- not more miracles or signs.  Carson says it this way:
    • "By now you may be wondering if I have forgotten what this volume is about. I might be better occupied wrestling with the nature of prophecy and tongues, rather than chasing themes through the Scriptures, however interesting such themes may be. In fact, the point is immediately relevant. If this is the character of the love described in this chapter, we immediately understand not only how love can serve as the “more excellent way,” but also how the presence of such love is an infallible test of the Spirit’s presence. The various spiritual gifts, as important as they are and as highly as Paul values them, can all be duplicated by pagans. This quality of love cannot be. That is why Jesus himself declares it to be the distinguishing characteristic of his followers; for it is this quality of love he presupposes when he declares, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13: 35). Whatever theological and exegetical chasms divide charismatic from noncharismatic, none of us can afford to ignore what is central, characteristic, and irreplaceable in biblical Christianity." (Kindle Locations 1029-1037)
  • The last hope for the modern Charismatic is Carson's treatment of what Paul means by the relationship between "perfection" and the "imperfect."  Carson concludes that Paul must mean that all things will be made perfect at the parousia -- that is, the return of Christ.  Therefore, Carson is saying, the sign gifts will not cease until the return of Christ.  He says it this way:
    • "Two conclusions follow from this exposition. The first is obvious: there does not appear to be biblical warrant, at least from this chapter, for banning contemporary tongues and prophecies on the grounds that Scripture anticipates their early demise. This does not mean, of course, that everything that passes for prophecy or the gift of tongues is genuine. I shall say more about the nature of these gifts in the next chapter.
      "Second, there is a more startling implication. In the words of one commentator, “Now ... love and the charismata are set in antithesis to each other, and we have the eschatological argument that the latter will cease. They are accordingly, unlike love, not the appearance of the eternal in time, but the manifesting of the Spirit in a provisional way. Thus these very gifts hold us fast in the ‘not yet.’ ”(Kindle Locations 1207-1213)
    • Having said it that way, I have still a quibble with his reasoning there -- which I may get to on another day.
  • The extent to which Carson labors to justify the modern practice of tongues when he is open to admit it has no resemblance to either what happened at Pentecost nor to what was happening in Corinth is, frankly, painful to read.  His generalizations about it are all ipse dixit, based on a plausibility argument regarding whether or not these tongues -- in spite of (footnoted) linguistic analysis demonstrating they have no meaning or pattern -- might be somehow secretly loaded with information.  This is itself incredibly glib given the amount of documentation and academic cross-talk he devotes to items less central to the objectives of this book.
    • This is also true, btw, of his extensive review of what it means to have these gifts today which occurs in his final chapter.
  • Carson wraps up his analysis of 1 Cor 14 with this tale:
    • "Some time ago, a pastor in England discussed some of these matters with a well-known charismatic clergyman. The charismatic, doubtless thinking of Paul’s words, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues,” asked my friend what he would do if someone began to speak in tongues at one of the meetings of the church he served.The pastor replied, “I’d allow the tongues-speaker to finish, and if there were an interpretation immediately forthcoming, and no proselytizing in the ensuing weeks, I’d have no objection.” Then he paused, and asked in return, “But what would you do if there were no public tongues-speaking in your church for six months or so?”
      “Ah,” replied the charismatic, “I’d be devastated.”
      “There is the difference between us,” the pastor replied; “for you think tongues-speaking is indispensable. I see it as dispensable, but not forbidden.” And that, surely, is Paul’s distinction.(Kindle Locations 2201-2208)
    • He says further: "It is enough to remark that Paul’s chief aim in these verses is not to lay out an exhaustive list of necessary ingredients in corporate worship, but to insist that the unleashed power of the Holy Spirit characteristic of this new age must be exercised in a framework of order, intelligibility, appropriateness, seemliness, dignity, peace. For that is the nature of the God whom we worship. (Kindle Locations 2241-2244)
    • My concern here is whether or not these two warnings have their full effect on those who use this book as some sort of cover for modern charismatic practices.
  • After all his justifications of so-called spirit gifts today, Carson lays out quite a devastating historical critique of such a thing:
    • "What can be safely concluded from the historical evidence? First, there is enough evidence that some form of “charismatic” gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration. Second, from the death of Montanism until the turn of the present century, such phenomena were never part of a major movement. In each instance, the group involved was small and generally on the fringe of Christianity. Third, the great movements of piety and reformation that have in God’s mercy occasionally refreshed and renewed the church were not demonstrably crippled because their leaders did not, say, speak in tongues. Those who have thoughtfully read the devotional and theological literature of the English Puritans will not be easily convinced that their spirituality was less deep, holy, powerful, Spirit-prompted than what obtains in the contemporary charismatic movement. The transformation of society under the Spirit-anointed preaching of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and others finds no parallel in the contemporary charismatic movement.  It would be a strange calculus which concluded that a modern charismatic lives on a higher spiritual plane than did, say, Augustine, Balthasar Hubmaier, Jonathan Edwards, Count von Zinzendorf, or Charles Spurgeon, since none of these spoke in tongues. Fourth, very often the groups that did emphasize what today would be called charismatic gifts were either heretical or quickly pushed their “gifts” to such extremes that their praxis proved dangerous to the church. For instance, with varying degrees of rapidity, the leaders of the Evangelical Awakening came to warn people against the dangers of the so-called French Prophets. Even those leaders who at first hoped that they displayed the Spirit’s presence eventually concluded that at very least they were so unbalanced in their views, so desperately fixated on their cherished experiences, so profoundly unteachable, that young believers had to be diverted from them." (Kindle Locations 2780-2795)
  • Last, as I will review what this book says, Carson's "pastoral reflections" on this matter are also muddled.  On the one hand, he will have no part in saying that those today seeking so-called spiritual gifts are somehow misguided or self-deceived; on the other, his account of walking a local church through a crisis where the gifts were about to split the church is telling in the accounts he attributes to others regarding what real spiritual maturity looks like.
Now, look: that's it.  This is the book everyone wants us to review and refute (if possible) regarding the so-called Charismatic gifts.

Here's my rebuttal: if this is the best you can do -- that is, a book that agrees with any tenable natural reading of 1 Cor 12-14, leaves open the door to the possibility that daGifts still exist, but somehow downplays the entire operation for the sake of good order, maturity, and the defining virtue of Love -- then you had better reassess what you think you're trying to convince the rest of us to agree with.

If this is your go-to book, explain to me how it justifies any of the things Dan and I have been objecting to for the last 8 weeks.

And: keep it civil.  Those who simply want to cast me off as a bomb-throwing waste of time should simply go do something else rather than waste their time, and mine.  

20 August 2013

The anthropolater's dodge (NEXT! #34)

by Dan Phillips

Biblical Christian: The Bible says XYZ {begins to offer Biblical proof}.

Dodge: But {Revered Big Name Du Jour #247} says...

Biblical Christian Response A: Oh... sorry, do you not have a Bible? Can I get you one?

Biblical Christian Response B: Oops. My mistake. You want to compare biographiesI thought we were talking about Bible and truth. Perhaps you could look up a church historian? Maybe he could help you.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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18 August 2013

Bone marrow religion

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 9, sermon number 521, "The power of Aaron's rod."
"Those who love the world have a religion they had better get rid of."

There are other persons who profess to be Christians, but who spend all the week round without ever brushing against their religion. They expect it to call upon them as the postman does, at regular hours; it may knock them up on Sunday morning, but it must mind it does not intrude upon the Monday.

What are the books they read? Those yellow volumes of one shilling or two shilling trash, which abound at the railway book-stalls? What is their talk about? Well, anything you like, except what it should be. What do they do during the week? Oh, they do twenty things. But what do they attempt for Christ?

Do for Christ, sir! With what surprise they look at you, when you put the question. What did they do all the week? Well, let us see; beginning with Monday and going on to Saturday—hear it all—
and what is its sum total? As far as the Church or the world is concerned, these people might just as well have been in bed and asleep all the time; they do nothing whatever; they have a name to live, and practically they are dead.

If a young man joins a rifle corps, there he is; he stands in the rank; he learns his practice and drill; and tries to get a prize by hitting the target. But when a man joins the Christian Church, where is he? I do not know where he is. You may find his name seven hundred and something in the attendance book. He is there, but what is he?

You find him at chapel on Sunday, but where is he, and what is he doing for the cause of Christ during the week? The smallest scrap of paper would be too large to record his deeds of faith. He thinks he adorns his profession; but what kind of adornment it is, or who ever sees that adornment, I cannot tell.

I believe that the man who does not make his religion his first and last thought, who does not subject all his actions, his eating and drinking too, to the cause of Christ, has not the work of God in his soul. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

The man who has not consecrated the lapstone—who has not dedicated the counter to God—who has not made the desk and the pen holiness unto the Lord, has yet to learn what the Christian religion is. It is not a uniform to be worn one day and cast away the next; it ought to be a part of the woof and warp of your being; it ought to run in your blood, penetrate the marrow of your bones, work in the arms, gaze from the eyes, and speak from the tongue.

O to be baptized, saturated, immersed in the Spirit of God, and so, wherever we go, to say to men who put our Lord at the bottom of the scale, “For us to live is Christ;” only such, I say, will ever be able to add, “For me to die is gain.”

16 August 2013

Hopeless pessimism is the necessary foundation of true happiness

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in October 2009. Phil shows how a slavish attachment to this life and material things leads to greed and worry, while rejecting that temptation is the path to true peace and hope.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Life is harsh. Ponder our existence from a purely rationalistic, human perspective, and it's hard to see how anyone could ever be optimistic. Our lives on this cursed planet are headed toward no good end. Everyone has an appointment with death, and the journey to that engagement is impeded by unavoidable potholes of tragedy, misery, heartache, and pain.

Scripture acknowledges the futility and brevity of earthly life. Job 14:1: "Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil." "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off" (1 Peter 1:24).

Think that sounds bleak? From a strictly human perspective, that is not even the worst of it: "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).

Those verses all sound a note that is prominent in Scripture. In stark contrast to the message that dominates some of the religious channels on television, the Bible never promises anyone health, material prosperity, freedom from strife, comfort, ease, or luxury in this life. On the contrary, those who are faithful are promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

Sounds like a recipe for utter, hopeless pessimism, doesn't it? In reality, that is the necessary foundation of true peace and authentic hope. The innate despair of this present evil world ought to drive us to Christ, the only One who can deliver us from the bondage of sin's curse (Galatians 1:4). And those who do lay hold of Christ gain (through Him) a peace that "surpasses all comprehension" (Philippians 4:7). He grants freedom from the worries and cares of this dreary life—a real and palpable peace that is both incomprehensible and unattainable for those who are seeking fulfillment in earthly things.

It's a simple principle, really: if you set your heart on material goods and earthly pleasures, you are coveting things that are already set aside for destruction. You will therefore gain nothing but disappointment and everlasting misery. But "set your mind on the things above" (Colossians 3:2)—fix your heart on Christ; embrace the spiritual, eternal values of heaven—and you will have peace even in this life.

Therefore, right alongside Scripture's dismal assessment of the sheer hopelessness of this earthly life, we find Christ's simple command to His faithful followers: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on" (Matthew 6:25). After all, "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (v. 27).

That, of course, is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the immediate context (starting with verse 19) Christ is attacking the twin sins of greed and worry. Those are no misdemeanors, Jesus says; they are serious, soul-destroying sins that annihilate our peace and undermine righteousness at the most fundamental level. They are hostile to hope and antithetical to genuine faith, and they breed every other imaginable kind of wickedness.


Get your priorities straight, and you will have true peace. Heaven is also the storehouse where your best resources should be invested. You can have true peace if that is where you are keeping your treasure. And if it is not—if you are more concerned about preparing for your retirement or for next year's vacation than you are with preparing for heaven—then your heart is in the wrong place. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (v. 21).

If your heart is in the right place, you will certainly have peace, because "The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).

15 August 2013

The true identity of Lady Wisdom is...?

by Dan Phillips

Anyone who deals seriously with Proverbs confronts the issue of the identification of the figure of Lady Wisdom, who confronts us most vividly and extensively in chapters 1, 8 and 9.

Who is she? Person, or personification? Church Fathers who wrote on the subject were united in seeing her as Jesus Christ. Due to the LXX translation of 8:22 as κύριος ἔκτισέν με ("the Lord created me"), this gave Arius a powerful weapon in arguing against the truth of the deity of Christ. Translational quibbles then absorbed those worthies, most of whom were not adept in Hebrew.

They weren't the last to identify her as Christ. In his marvelous text The Theology of the Older Testament, the late great J. Barton Payne argued extensively for the identification of this figure with Christ.  More recently, Lutheran scholar Andrew Steinmann argues for that position in his marvelous commentary on Proverbs.

Others demur. While Longmann develops the truth of Christ as the Wisdom of God at length, he concludes that the figure in Proverbs is a personification representing wisdom as Yahweh Himself. Waltke's lengthy discussion is very helpful; he draws a number of parallels between Wisdom and Christ, shows many aspects of Christ's superiority over Solomon and his wisdom, and concludes that Wisdom is a personification of the teachings of Proverbs.

And on it goes.

This is not a topic I treated at length in my book, but as I have been preaching through Proverbs, we meet Lady Wisdom in the second discourse (1:20-33). So the question looms, unavoidable, requiring final resolution.

How to approach her, sermonically? Just preach the whole section? Present the question? Allude to it? Skip it altogether? And of course, above all, how to understand (and preach about) Lady Wisdom?

If you like, you can see my answer for yourself.

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14 August 2013

Thanks for Technology

by Frank Turk

If you could have seen what it took to make this happen, you'd be more impressed than if we actually spoke in tongues.

Here's roughly 30 minutes in which Dan and I discuss the high points of the last 3 weeks regarding DaGifts.  Choose your file format wisely.


13 August 2013

...but what about Grudem / Piper / Carson?

by Dan Phillips

A couple of poor souls have unintentionally given us golden examples of why it is valid to fault the best for giving cover to the worst.

A number of dainty souls didn't like, and fretted anxiously about, this Twitter hashtag. Our focus isn't the hashtag itself, or all the broken tea-cups it's caused. It's these two Tweets:

With those in mind, scan the rest of my Tweets under the hashtag. You know, if you want to.

Leave aside whether you think this is wise, loving, winsome, effective, ambassadorial, ecumenical, or eco-friendly or likely to produce global warming. I only have one question: given the limitations of 140 characters, and given that I have dozens of long-form essays on record and internationally-accessible, are my criticisms accurate and vitally important criticisms of the distinctives of Charismaticism/"continuationism"?

"Dan who? Sure, you bet: him too!"
With the candor you expect, whether you love it or hate it, I'll tell you straight up: in responding to that questions, there will be only three kinds of people:
  1. Those who love and know God's word and know Charismaticism, and therefore basically agree with the observations.
  2. Those who don't know one, the other, or both.
  3. Those in serious denial about Charismaticism/"continuationism."
This still isn't my point; this is still premise-building.

So, with that established, what do my Tweets target in Charismaticism and "continuationism"?
  1. Prizing experience over truth.
  2. Unbiblical redefinition of prophecy to validate and legitimatize their experience.
  3. Unbiblical redefinition of tongues to validate and legitimatize their experience.
  4. Mistaking feelings for reality.
  5. Mistaking self-image for reality.
  6. Complete absence of Acts 4:16-level "gifts"-activity since the first century, endlessly rationalized.
  7. Playing host to (and providing cover fire for) the very worst false teachers.
  8. Avoiding Biblical assessment at all costs, and shaming any who attempt Biblical assessment.
  9. Effectively sidelining the Word of God.
  10. Promising the moon, delivering nothing but excuses, dodges, and blame-shifting — at best.
  11. Effectively relocating the center of authority from God's Word to internal feelings and experiences.
And to this, what is one negative response I get? Well, besides unwitting validation of every criticism?

"But... Wayne Grudem! But... John Piper! But... D. A. Carson!"

So here, finally, is the point: every central, vitally important, and devastating Biblical critique of Charismaticism/"continuationism"'s horrendous doctrinal and practical errors is swept under the cover provided by respected names.

Because every one of us — me included — would regard Grudem, Piper, and Carson (some would add Sam Storms) as men we hold in high regard and from whom we've received great benefit, the mere mention of their names as validating this or that Charismatic position is thought to be sufficient to end the discussion. Charismaticism is basically okay and not a wholesale disaster because... Wayne Grudem has done good work on complementarianism and wrote a pretty terrific Systematic Theology (except for the gift-parts). Because... John Piper has written wonderful things about God (when not providing cover for "continuationism"). Because... D. A. Carson is D. A. Carson.

And so don't you see, this whole "Now now now, you mustn't lump them all together" argument just doesn't work. The worst practices are rationalized by adducing some (otherwise) really good names. I point out that Charismaticism/"continuationism" is not marked by much concern with Hebrew, Greek, exegesis... and "Wayne Grudem! Your argument is invalid!"

Well no, it isn't. One man who's done a lot of terrific work except for his terrible work on "prophecy," etc. does not change the movement's characteristic hue.

I think we all agree we don't want to worship men, and that would include the three I've named. But I for one have no problem admiring them, looking up to them with respect, recommending them and their work... and, at the same time, being able to say when I think they're dead-wrong.

Does having one really-good guy make a movement good? Or three? Or twenty-three? Is that how we evaluate things Biblically now? Stack up the names on each side?

(Aside: boy oh boy, should Charismatics/"continuationists" ever not want to play that game!)

In that case, we all had better start spattering water on our unsuspecting little babies, and calling the Pope the antichrist, and forgetting about most of the unfulfilled prophecies of the OT ever coming true in any sense authors or readers would ever recognize.

And in that case, perhaps instead of names like "Acts 29" and such, we should creating ministries called "John 7:48 Ministries," or "1 Corinthians 1:12 Ministries."

Grudem has done some great work, as I said. John Piper helped me out of depression. D. A. Carson is a lighthouse in the academic world. I recommend many of their books.

But if they've propped up modern charismaticism/"continuationism," in that particular, they're just wrong. Maybe it's .000013% of their total output, maybe more; but that part is a mistake. Though it may be relatively small, it may do a lot of damage. Grudem hasn't been shy about his redefinition of prophecy; think of how much damage that error alone has caused.

But to discuss that meaningfully — unless you want to take a few hours while I counter by naming off every notable non-Charismatic, non-"continuationist" Christian over the last 1900+ years — I guess we'll just have to get to Scripture and facts and logic.

You know, like we've done here since the very start, and like I've done in both blogs and other public venues, for about the last three decades.

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11 August 2013

Ticket bought, luggage checked

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Sword and the Trowel, 1878, Pilgrim Publications.
"We are liable to death at any moment, and ought always to be ready for it: I mean not only ready because we are washed in the blood of the Lamb, but because we have set our house in order and are prepared to depart." 

Could we now, dear friends, at this moment resign our breath, and without further preparation enter upon the eternal world? Breathing out the prayer, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” could we now ascend from earth, made meet for the inheritance above? It should be so.

Everything about us should be in such order that if our Lord should come while we are in the field we should not wish to go into the house, but could depart at once. I agree with the great scholar Bengel that death should not become a spiritual parade, but should be regarded as the natural close of our ordinary life; the final note of the psalm of which each day has been a stanza.

We ought so to live that to die would be no more remarkable than for a man in the middle of business to hear a knock at the street door, and quietly to step away from his engagements. There should be no hurrying for a clergyman to administer sacraments, or for a lawyer to write a hasty will, or for an estranged relative to make peace; but all should be arranged and ordered as if we kept our accounts closely balanced, expecting an immediate audit.

This would make noble living, and do more for God’s glory than the most triumphant death scene. A friend remarked to George Whitefield that should he survive him he would wish to witness his death-bed, and hear his noble testimony for Christ. The good man replied, “I do not think it at all likely that I shall bear any remarkable witness in death, for I have borne so many testimonies to my Lord and Master during my life.”

This is far better than looking forward to the chill evening or actual sunset of life as the time of bearing witness. Let us set about that holy work immediately, lest swift death arrest us on the spot and seal our lips in silence. Be faithful every day that you may be faithful to the end.

Let not your life be like a tangled mass of yarn, but keep it ever in due order on the distaff, so that whenever the fatal knife shall cut the thread it may end just where an enlightened judgment would have wished. Practice the excellent habit of Mr. Whitefield to whom I before referred, for he could not bear to go to bed and leave even a pair of gloves out of place. He felt that his Master might come at any moment, and he wished to be ready even to the minutest details.

10 August 2013

"How Skepticism Masquerading as Christianity Almost Cost Me My Soul"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in July 2011. Phil gives his personal testimony about how God saved him out of theological liberalism.

As usual, the comments are closed.

I came to Christ after being steeped for several years in the rankest brand of liberal Methodism. In the church I attended as an adolescent, the pastor and nearly all of my Sunday school teachers treated the Bible as a collection of legends, concocted by fallible human authors. They taught me that the Bible is scientifically and historically unreliable—but, they said, it contains moral principles that are good and helpful. Moreover, they said, it is great literature.

They clearly did not believe the Bible is true or trustworthy. In fact, they were convinced the Bible could be dangerous if you took it at face value, wihout demythologizing it. In effect, they denied that the Bible was either reliable or authoritative—and yet they claimed to hold it in high esteem.

Once while I was in high school, I pressed one of my Sunday-school teachers with questions when she said that the stories about Jesus' miracles were merely fables with moral lessons—not to be taken as literal truth. I asked how she could be so sure of that, when she seemed skeptical of what the Bible actually said about itself. I petulantly suggested that if all the tales in the Bible about Jesus were fictional, perhaps we were wasting our time talking about them in Sunday-school. I wondered out loud whether it might be a better use of my time to stay home and watch the NFL pregame shows on TV.

So the pastor summoned me to his office and cautioned me that it sounded like I was flirting with fundamentalism. I had never heard that word before. But I could tell by the way he said it that it wasn't a good thing. He spent about an hour explaining to me why the Bible is important even though it isn't true. Yet he flatly denied that there is anything supernatural about the Bible. Its stories aren't to be believed, and its teachings are not to be applied without carefully sifting the good principles it teaches from the "supernatural nonsense." He said things to me I knew he would never admit in a sermon, and by the time he had finished, he had persuaded me that the Bible was not to be taken seriously. (I was never able to take that pastor's preaching seriously again, either.)

That was about 1967 or 1968. By 1970, I had quit going to church altogether. I did, in fact, spend my Sunday mornings watching television. I would have become a convinced and devoted pagan if God had not reached out and sovereignly drawn me to Christ.

There was a meaninglessness to my life that I could not endure. I tried getting involved in politics and music and other things to feed my mind and keep me interested in life. I figured that whatever the truth was about God, He would accept me if I strove to be wise and good. But my heart was empty.

Then one night, almost on a whim, I picked up my Bible and began reading it. It was the first time I ever remember seriously reading more than a verse or two of Scripture to see what the Bible taught. And on that night, the Lord opened my eyes to the truth of Christ.


From that night to this day, I have never entertained one moment's doubt or uncertainty about the power and authority of God's Word. The whole course of my life was radically changed by the Word of God alone, and there is only one explanation for it: Because "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

09 August 2013

An interview with Frank Turk

As told to Frank Turk

First: Best of Phil will come up tomorrow.  It has been pre-empted today by this.

A few years ago I made a few people angry over at FirstThings.com by posting an interview with myself to discuss a few things which, frankly, nobody wanted to discuss.  That is: they wanted to accused me of a few things, demand I respond with an apology for those things, fail to engage when I pointed out that I hadn't done them, and then talk about my character because I wouldn't apologize for things I had not done.  I thought that if I could roll up all their complaints into one clearing house, answer them sanely and civilly, and point out that I was actually not a bad guy, it would change the discussion significantly.

Phil loved that post, and so did I.

Well, it looks to me like the same sort of thing is happening as we close in on Grace Community Church's Strange Fire Conference (no sense linking to it: it's sold out) as Dan and I have been poking at the various enthusiasts who find that the very question of whether or not there are sign gifts today an insult to God.  Almost the same, anyway: we are poking fun at them, and they are taking offense, so in some sense you can mark us up as a little rough with them.

That said, I decided to sit down with myself and talk about the sort of hub-bub which always bubbles up when this topic is approached and ask myself a few questions which, frankly, the other side will refuse to do because it is too busy making sure it is offended, wronged, and also guilt-free.


TeamPyro Sock Puppet (TPSP): Well, Frank, nice work again.

Frank Turk (FT):  Yes, thanks much.  It always seems to get easier as I get older.  Maybe I'm actually just coming into a stride.  I have to admit: DJP has to take some of the credit here.  The hashtag #CharismaticismInFiveWords was a fantastic way to simply riff on the phenomenon.

TPSP: Well, so you say.  Did you really think your contribution "Hello Darkness My Old Friend" was at all kind or helpful?

FT:  Since you ask, yes.  Yes I did.

TPSP: Well, what did you mean by that exactly?  Don't you think it deserves more than a little explanation?

FT:  What I thought was that I had said plenty in the last two weeks about the whole mess -- linking to my central complaint about these people who think the Holy Spirit's primary work in the world is to entertain us.  That complaint, for those too lazy to use the internet, is this: they can't demonstrate that these activities are necessary for the life of the church.  They can assert and imply it.  They can act as if anyone who denies such a thing has blasphemed God for doubting that snake handlers and double-talkers are of the same ilk as the apostle Paul who was beaten and jailed for silencing a demon (Acts 16 for those without the gift of having read the NT), or of the same kind as Peter who had no earthly possessions but proved his mercy to the lame man by telling him to get up and walk (Acts 3 for those without the gift of Children's VBS songs).

But: they can't demonstrate that these things (which causes a burning in their bosom when they are questioned) is necessary for the life of the church.

TPSP: What do you mean by that?  Why should they bother?

FT: What I mean is this -- when the church in Crete was in trouble, Paul sent Titus to them to set things right.  In sending him, he gives Titus a laundry list of things to do to set things right: establish elders who are godly men, faithful to the message of the Gospel; silence the wicked and evil beasts, rebuke the story-telling, and teach people how to teach each other how to adorn the Gospel.  He gives the same message to Timothy -- preach the word, in season and out of season.  He gives the same message to the Corinthians who are, to some extent, ignoring him in spite of having believed the Gospel he brought them: when in doubt, go back to the thing of first importance, which is the Gospel.  In order to overcome strife, divisions, chaotic worship, idolatry, sin present in the body, and so on:  the Gospel is the solution.

What is startlingly absent in the NT is any reliance on using the apostolic sign gifts to straighten people out.  You know: Peter struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying about their offering.  That looks to me to be a fairly-straightforward method of church discipline -- if that's the norm.  If the elders in my church could strike people dead for lying about that sort of stuff -- and be infallibly accurate since it was actually the grief of the Holy Spirit doing the work and not some guy in an effects booth in the loft conducting a spot-check -- I'll bet things like rumors and spitefulness would receive a sober dose of repentance   Yet Paul doesn't prescribe church discipline that way to anyone.  Peter doesn't either.  In fact, the mode of church discipline is rather lacking in supernatural firepower and rather robust in things less fantastic and other-worldly like talking to people, exhorting people, forbearing with people, and in the end either reconciling with them or turning them out due to unrepentance in spite of having less-than-perfect prophetic visions of their soul state.

In my view of it, these special effects that these people are so enamored with are utterly unnecessary for the life of the church due to the lack of Scriptural accountability and direction for them.  In the one place Paul does talk about them extensively, he says plainly that people who are longing for ecstatic events will likely scare off unbelievers and are in fact immature, missing the better way which is Love.

But: I remain open to the question.  If they can demonstrate how Scripture tells us that these gifts are not merely a happy side-effect but in fact a central and necessary thing for the life of the church, I'm all ears.  Please bring it -- please explain it to me, and I'll roll over tomorrow, barking like a dog or whatever the next move of the Spirit requires.

TSPS: Don't you think that raises the bar quite high?  Aren't you doing what Jesus condemns the Pharisees for -- demanding that God shows you a sign?

FT:  No.  In fact, not at all ever.

Follow me here: while I have a gigantic sympathy for DJP's request that somebody show us one person who has actually been healed on-command, or one prophecy of any meaningful scope which came to pass for the glory of God after the apostolic age, I'm ready today to stipulate every angelic syllable of tongues spoken and every ingrown hair expressed out by the power of God. You can have all your experiences at face value because God forbid you be wrong about how you feel about the way you act.

My objection is simply that every bit of it is utterly irrelevant.

See: a biblical survey of miracles shows them to be God's way of making a point about His plan in history as it crosses a necessary milestone.  He ordains a miracle when the path forward to the cross is further enlightened in the OT, and then again in the NT, culmination not merely in the Death of Christ, but in (as Paul values so much) the Resurrection of Christ.  Then: the Apostles are personally sent (Paul last of all) to take the message from Israel to all the world, and commit the final word from God on the subject (cf. Heb 1:1-4) into Scripture and deliver the faith once for all time to the saints.

But: miracles and wonders and sign gifts are not are the normative way the church needs to operate.  You know, when Paul writes to Timothy he doesn't say, "the aim of my charge is fire and power and an anointing of seven McGuffins."  He doesn't send the church down a path where it's waiting for the next fantastic flame of fire to set down in their midst.  He sends them after joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control -- and love.

He sends them into the real world where the Holy Spirit does something more important than melting the faces off the Nazis who open the Lost Ark.  He sends them out to be ambassadors of God, preaching repentance.

TPSP: So you do believe in the Holy Spirit?  You think he's necessary for the church, yes?

FT:  Yes, of Course.  I have to believe John 13-15.  I believe in the Holy Spirit -- Dan does, too.

TPSP: but not a Holy Spirit who does Miracles?

FT: yeah, now you're making me angry.  It's been a few years since I posted the standard affirmations and denials of the run-of-the-mill cessationist, so here they are for reference:

I affirm that Reformation theology requires the personal action of God the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church.

I deny that this work necessarily includes speaking in tongues (as in Acts 2 as well as in so-called "private prayer langauges"), healing the sick or raising the dead by explicit command, prophecy in the sense that Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophets, or any other "sign-and-wonder"-like exhibition. That is: I deny that these actions are necessary for the post-apostolic church to function as God intended.


I affirm that miracles happen today. No sense in prayer and believing in a sovereign God if he's not going to ever be sovereign, right?

I deny that there is any man alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.


I affirm that God is utterly capable of, and completely willing, to demonstrate "signs and wonders" at any time, in any place, according to his good pleasure and for his great purpose.

I deny that this activity is common, normative, necessary, nor is it in the best interest of God's people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT.


I affirm the real presence of the Holy Spirit in the church of Jesus Christ as Jesus said He would be present in John 13-15.

I deny that this means that all believers or even all local churches will be equipped with apostles called and equipped as the 12 and Paul were called and equipped. A telling example is the role of apostles in delivering Scripture to the church.


I affirm that the normative working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church begins with conviction of sin and regeneration, and continues through sanctification, and through the outworking of personal gifts (e.g. - Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 13:4-7) for the edification of the (local) church.

I deny that explicitly-supernatural outworkings, or events the Bible calls "signs and wonders" (e.g. - Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.) are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.


I affirm the uniqueness of the office of apostle in the founding of the church.

I deny the necessity of apostles for the on-going life of the church.


I affirm that leadership in the church is a task wholly-empowered by the Holy Spirit to men meeting the scriptural qualifications, and that the objectives of this leadership are wholly-defined by the Holy Spirit explicitly through Scripture and implicitly as the gifts of leaders are applied to a real people in a local church.

I deny that church leadership is like business leadership -- that is, a system of techniques that have outcomes measurable by secular metrics of success -- and further deny that merely-competant management processes yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit

If in that you can find me somehow relegating the Holy Spirit to something other than what the Bible says He does to us and through us and for us, then you can lay on with the side-eye regarding whether or not I think God the Spirit is necessary for the church.

TPSP: So to sort of close the loop on something you said above, how do you them justify saying that Charismaticism in 5 words can be summed up as, "Hello Darkness My Old Friend?"

FT: That's a good catch.  Thanks for following that up.

When I said that, I meant this: I think people following their emotions around to the next big anointing are benighted in at least one significant way.  I think they are stuck on the internal rush of things which are utterly peripheral to seeing Jesus as the Light of the World, and are therefore stuck in a bizarre kind of darkness of the soul.  They aren't grumpy and fussy like us Calvinists -- unless, of course, you point out that Todd Bentley was a  fraud, and Paula White is a fraud, and Joseph Prince is a fraud, and Benny Hinn runs a finishing school for frauds, and Paul Cain was a fraud, and Annie Semple McPherson was a fraud, and on and on. They are stuck in a darkness which, as long as it is warm and wet, they don't mind sitting in it.  There's a phrase in Danish about that which I won't translate, but as soon as what they are sitting in gets cold and clammy, they are looking for the next big warm and wet -- not the actual progress of the soul to sanctification.

So: Hello darkness my old friend.

TPSP: So you think the hashtag was a good approach? Overall?

FT: Well, it's Twitter.  You have to gauge the method by the medium.  Should DJP have rather posted a series of TwitLonger pieces on the faults of Charismatics and their theology so he was fully nuanced and well-measured?  Should that have been the trend?

What I think is this: when the so-called serious and sober Charismatics start policing their own and teaching their followers that one of the real gifts of the Spirit is discernment, and we don't charm the Holy Spirit by being gullible any more than we grieve Him by being critical of people using His name to get rich, I'll be more worried about being nuanced toward them.  I don't think it's unkind in the least to tell someone, however sincere, that they are at best being undiscerning and sloppy -- and at worst, they are actually harming other people with gullibility and spiritual chaos.

TPSP: how about we clean up a few items quickly to close here as a sort of speed round.  I'll give a topic or concern, and you give me the 50-word response.

FT: So, like Twitter?

TPSP: {glowers}

FT: I'm not bothered.

TPSP: There are a lot of credible men who are committed Charismatics.

FT: I'd say that their commitment to Charismaticism -- especially their silence and acceptance of the rampant hooliganisms in the movement -- calls into question the rest of their track record.  Their otherwise-orthodox views don't make their approach to this stuff somehow rubber-stamped for acceptance.

TPSP: Just because there are abuses of Charismaticism doesn't mean that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don't abandon marriage because some marriages are bad, do we?

FT: That goes back to the question of necessity, doesn't it?  We don't abandon marriage because, it turns out, it is necessary for the church and for society.  We do what God commands for marriage because it is necessary.  At some point, you have to compare apple to apples -- and to make this the same sort of apples, you have to prove it's necessary.  Scripture does not develop or expound on daGifts the way it does marriage.

TPSP: Nobody is willing to sit down and talk to us Charismatics like we are adults with a legitimate theological viewpoint.

FT: When you start acting like you're serious and deal with the rampant abuses in your camp -- not incidental stuff but the stuff in every city in the US where your views are deeply wrapped up in Prosperity preaching and Word of Faith, not to mention the shysters who grow rich telling these lies about their spiritual powers -- we'll be glad to take it to the next level.

TPSP: I know this is true because it happens to me.

FT: That's a backwards existential hermeneutic -- backwards as determined by how Scripture tells us to interpret the world and what happens to us.

TPSP: And at 10 pages in WORD, I think that's a wrap.

FT: Yeah, nice work.  Thanks for taking the time.