12 November 2013

Strange Fire Conference #7: Phil Johnson

by Dan Phillips

I'll combine my comments on Phil's sessions, Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater? and Providence Is Remarkable.

Phil Johnson's voice is, to my mind, one of the sanest and most helpful on a host of issues related to Charismaticism.

Before I knew there was such a thing as a Phil Johnson, I had been in the movement for the first years of my Christian life, and I'd given it a lot of study and thought. I'd even written a book (as-yet unpublished) on the person, work and gifts of the Holy Spirit, which countered such branches of Charismaticism as existed by the 90s. I'd read every book I could get my hands on. Yet what I encountered in Phil's posts at the original Pyromaniac site expressed the most insightful thinking and lucid, incisive commentary I'd ever read. Phil's absolute classic, You're probably a cessationist, too, is a perfect example.

So I wasn't in any suspense as to whether the time invested in hearing Phil would be well-spent.

In the first session Phil responded at great length to Dr. Michael "I-Denounce-All-Aberrations-Though-I-Can't-Put-My-Finger-On-Any-Specific-Ones-Just-Now-I'm-Really-Busy" Brown, as well as to the rationale for all Charismatic leaders' blithe neglect concerning the chicanery and shenanigans with which the movement is riddled. In response to Charismatic leaders' unintentionally telling plea that they just don't have enough time to denounce all the false teachers in the movement, Phil appositely pointed to texts such as Titus 1:9. Turns out that denunciation of error is definitional for elders. In the Bible, that is. Go figure.

Phil also responded to the squawks about MacArthur's earlier observation that some Charismatics are guilty of blaspheming the Spirit. Phil observed that attributing to the Spirit words He hasn't said and deeds He hasn't done — the heart and soul of Charismaticism as to its distinctives — is blasphemy, and it is a sin. It is not the blasphemy against the Spirit of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 12:31, but it is blasphemy, and it does injure the name and majesty of the Third Person of the Trinity. That Charismatic leaders not only merrily tolerate and turn a blind eye to the constant flow, but indeed run cover and develop rationales for it, lowers hopes for locating a healthy infant in the bilge.

Phil noted the Charismatics' instant impulse to circle the wagons at even the most obvious criticisms, and asked "If you bristle at every critique of your movement, what is your proposal to keep from constantly accumulating filth in your bathtub?"

As an example of the patently obvious, Phil dwelt on the so-called Lakeland Revival, and its ringleader Todd Bentley. He detailed Bentley's love for violence, braggadocio, and outrageousness, to the exclusion of anything remotely Christlike or Gospel-fragrant. Phil alluded to this post, which sketched out the Biblical framework with which any Christian should approach any claim to revival.

Contrast that post with this post, published less than two weeks later by Charismatic obsessive Adrian Warnock. Trumpet blast? or dithering, fence-straddling equivocation? Which stance was warranted — nay, demanded — by Scripture? You judge, and do not forget as you hear Adrian and others crying over and lamenting the Strange Fire conference. That is a classic example of how the movement polices itself. In the sense of "not."

Does such dithering suggest a commitment to Scripture as sufficient? or to an unhealthy need to defend virtually any form of charismatic antics at virtually any cost — so long as it's done in the name of the Spirit?

Phil noted that there is monstrous potential for evil when one imagines that his imaginations are the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He also observed that the claim that God "told" me something when He in fact did not is itself a monstrous evil which leads to disaster, and which in fact was a death-penalty offense in Moses' time. Yet disgraced "prophet" Paul Cain was endorsed for years by Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, and John Piper. In fact, John Piper still insists that Cain "really prophesied."

Then there's Mark Driscoll, who was broadly promoted by John Piper, and who attributes super-porn-o-vision powers to the Spirit of God in the most astonishingly irresponsible rant one can imagine from someone so prized by so many, and who ran cover for apparently unrepentant Charismatic modalist prosperity-gospel preacher T. D. Jakes. Indeed Charismatic leader Driscoll, who has frequently been spotlighted on high-traffic Reformed-type blogs, reportedly includes fellow-Charismatic Jakes among fundamentally-Christian tribal leaders.

Breathtaking. Not in a good way. It is as if Driscoll wanted to underscore the need for the alarm sounded by MacArthur, Johnson, and the others.

Phil's conclusion is that Charismaticism, as to its distinctives, has produced a century's worth of dreck and sludge, with nary a tot to be found.

In his talk on providence, Phil alluded to Driscoll's silly (and unintentionally revealing) linking of sufficientism with Deism, and the notion of some Charismatics that unless we posit God doing constant miracles, we see Him as distant from creation. Phil drew on the rich vein of revelation in Scripture about God's meticulous sovereignty and His daily control and oversight of absolutely all that happens (cf. Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3, etc.). He said that God directs our thoughts and our steps (cf. Prov. 16:1, 9; 20:24). There is (to say the least!) no need to imagine a non-Biblical category of semi-hemi-demi revelation to account for His doings.

Phil observed that Driscoll, despite an odd reputation for being some kind of Reformed pastor, betrays an appalling ignorance of the Reformed emphasis on the doctrine of providence and a failure to grasp what Scripture teaches about God's immanence. Phil used Matthew 10, with its assurance of God's control against the background of a perilous mission. He asked what comfort Romans 8:28 is, if we do not see God as actually working in all things.

Phil made the Biblical case that the miraculous is not central. The greatest prophet (according to Jesus) — John the Baptist — did no miracles. Biblical miracles were indubitable, overwhelming, defying any other honest explanation; they were outbursts of Divine power; and they attested God's prophetic messengers. They weren't finding a parking spot, or a normal pregnancy and delivery.

Can God put a thought into my head to get something done? Indeed; but when He does, it is a remarkable providence, not a prophecy. God uses everything providentially — including my sin! But a bad idea (or deed) isn't good nor fraught with divine authority just because God uses it for good.

God is nearer and more involved in our lives than most Charismatics believe and teach.

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post
Fifth post
Sixth post

Dan Phillips's signature


Daniel said...

"God is nearer and more involved in our lives than most Charismatics believe and teach."

An excellent summary of both the content and the tone of this post.

Michael Coughlin said...

Coughlin here commenting for Frank who is on hiatus.

"Those who need to read this, won't."

The Squirrel said...

Dr. Michael "I-Denounce-All-Aberrations-Though-I-Can't-Put-My-Finger-On-Any-Specific-Ones-Just-Now-I'm-Really-Busy" Brown

10 ring! I'll be chuckling over this one all day!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I can't thank you enough for this and the previous articles you've written on Strange Fire. Keep it up dude.

Kerry James Allen said...

For those of us who couldn't be there and don't even have enough time to listen to all the sessions, these summaries have been stellar.

Thanks for all your work and attention to detail, Dan. It is much appreciated.

And if the Cog thinking he is channeling Frank doesn't bring Frank out of hibernation, I'm not sure what will.

Mizz Harpy said...

I get this message,"Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist" when I click on the link for Phil's article on the Lakeland revival. Did you put the wrong link in?

DJP said...

Link fixed, Mizz H. Isn't Phil's article, though.

Mizz Harpy said...

I noticed it wasn't Phil's after I posted then I followed the link from Warnock's article. I'm still listening to the Strange Fire sessions. I appreciate the Bible based arguments and explanations presented all of the sessions. Thanks for posting the summaries.

Anonymous said...

"God is nearer and more involved in our lives than most Charismatics believe and teach."

This is so true. (and would make a brilliant tweet).

Some of the worst and strangest things that happen at Charismatic churches aren't even on video or discussed. I'll just give you one example from my sister-in-law's church. I attended her church during the 4th of July weekend 4 years back as part of a family reunion, and still haven't forgotten it. I believe the pastor was actually drunk when he arrived, but the service started off otherwise relatively normal. By the end of the service, he had taken a bed sheet, cut two holes in it for eyes, placed it over himself, and was running around the congregation making moaning sounds and shouting, "I'm the Holy Ghost!". After you see something like that, the talking in tongues doesn't seem that strange.

APM said...

That Phil Johnson guy should start a blog or something.

Hey, maybe Dan, Phil, and that "I'm-on hiatus-but-can't-stop-posting" guy could team up.

Tom Chantry said...

Wait, are you saying this "Phillips" guy isn't Phil Johnson?

John said...


Have you ever actually debated a Charismatic in a public forum, a moderated one?as

DJP said...

Unless you count 100 metas and Twitter, nope.

Phil Johnson said...

Excellent summary. Gracias.

donsands said...

"Phil appositely pointed to texts such as Titus 1:9."

I just finished reading 2nd Tim, and started Titus.

In Timothy Paul says:

"Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message."

I thank our Lord for this conference, and for our pastor-teachers who have that humble-boldness to name names, and to proclaim the truth, and show the error that is in the Body of Christ at this time. Lord bless them all, and bless their families, and may many in the Body of Christ be edified for the good fight of faith we have ahead of us in this world.

I was reading John MacArthur's interview with Tim C. and he says:

"It seems that in the postmodern climate of our time, the church has adopted the idea that if disagreement over doctrine exists within the church, it is the one who sounds the alarm that is being divisive."-John Mac

Seems there's no way around it sometimes when you speak the truth in love. Our master sure had a hard way to go, and so we the servants . . .

Thanks for the great post. Thank you Phil for the hard work in the Word.

Andrea said...

The last line of this summary made me think of a minor peeve of mine which maybe isn't even as minor as I thought it was.

I have had some friends in my Christian circles who, when some strange coincidence occurred that had some good end would say "It's a God thing!" or "It was a God thing."

As if the number of hairs on my head, the fall of a sparrow, and my waking up this morning because the Lord sustains me weren't just as much matters for God's concern and providence.

I never commented thus, because while I found it annoying, I did not want to engage in "wordy battles" over minor semantics. But now I wonder if there might be a humble way to probe the underlying thinking and encourage a more scriptural view of how God operates.

DJP said...

Absolutely, Andrea. In the name of guarding us all from becoming Deists, Charismatics unintentionally turn us all into pagans, looking for odd portents and weird occurrences.

Novel thought: be Biblical Christians, affirming that God works ALL things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), and looking to His word alone to know how to know and serve Him (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Yeah, I know. That's crazy talk. Today it is, in the ICU ward that is evangelicalism, anyway.

Tom Chantry said...


I remember as a kid hearing a pastor who worked in an inner city surrounded by charismatic churches. He was relaying an often-repeated conversation he had. Someone would say to him, "Praise God! He healed me of (cancer/diabetes/heart trouble/the snuffles)! It was a miracle!" To which the pastor would reply, "That's wonderful, but you'll never believe what God did for me! I never got sick!!!"

trogdor said...

Or we could go a step further, and say with Paul, Joni, and countless other saints, "Praise God! He has not healed me, that I may not become conceited, that I might learn the all-surpassing grace of Christ."

I've seen numerous spiritual gift assessments, but can't recall ever seeing one listing "weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities". They generally seem to be less about the work of the Spirit than about what makes you more special than everyone else.

Unknown said...

Didn't Benny Hinn threat John MacArthur with a Holy Ghost machine gun after writing "Charismatic Chaos" way back in the early 1990s.

Must have had a bad burrito and watched "Ghostbusters" the night before! Then had a profound dream!

Thankfully in the Providence of God these goofball clowns are exposed!

Great job Dan on the synopis and background links!!

Unknown said...

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