Friday, October 25, 2013

So the Charismatics are Missing the Points made at Strange Fire, even the "good guys."

Dr. Michael Brown, who wrote a widely circulated plea against the Strange Fire Conference before it began*, has been following up with specific answers to the Conference on his radio show, and one I just partly listened to was on October 24th titled "Thou Shalt or Thou Shalt Not Prosper" in which he either misunderstands or intentionally mangles the arguments against the Prosperity Gospel by characterizing them as being against prosperity itself.  

He goes on and on about how prosperity is a blessing from the Lord, quoting scripture, quoting a rabbi and so on, in what is such a blatant Straw Man argument you'd think he himself would have to see through it.  The first thing that popped into my mind as an objection was that far from embracing poverty the so-called Protestant Work Ethic made many wealthy through the practice of Biblical principles of frugality and hard work, and was arguably the reason for the unprecedented national prosperity of the United States. 

Brown tries to relegate the *true* offenses of the Prosperity Gospel to a fringe minority of preachers of what he calls a "carnal" doctrine (although he even calls these supposedly minority fleecers of the flock "brothers"), denying the statistic given in the Conference that some 90% of Charismatics around the world follow this health-and-wealth "gospel."  And of course he implicitly denies that every single one of those who preach this "gospel" is a charlatan and a denier of the true Christ, as was amply demonstrated at the Conference.

Later:  Need to clarify here that the statistic refers to rank and file BELIEVERS who FOLLOW the Prosperity Gospel, based on a specific report I've again failed to note down.  The percentage of preachers and even Word-Faith congregations is something else, but nevertheless there can't be a single one that is not guilty of promoting a false gospel as long as they hold up health and wealth as central expectations of living for Christ.

I want to emphasize that:  Michael Brown seems to think the problem with the prosperity teachers is mainly their "fund raising tactics," of which he gave an example on the program, but he doesn't so far seem to have objected at all to the doctrine itself that is taught by them, which IS that health and wealth are to be EXPECTED by a follower of Christ, as if they are promised as part of the gospel.  And he certainly hasn't noticed what Justin Peters pointed out in a "breakout" session at the Conference, that what they teach has nothing in common with Christianity at all, but has its roots in a nineteenth century metaphysical movement which has more in common with New Age doctrines.

Another recent radio show by Michael Brown was Dividing Over Truth or Just Divisive, the first hour being an interview with Phil Johnson of John MacArthur's ministry on some issues in the Strange Fire Conference, and the second hour an interview of two "Continuationist Calvinists." 

The main thing I want to say about this is that Johnson says the gospel is not evident in Charismatic presentations and Brown insists that the gospel is central, that people are being saved by Charismatics all over the world and so on.  The Brownsville "revival" was a case in point as Brown insisted that the true gospel was preached there, that people repented and so on, but as Johnson pointed out, there is no way for anyone to know that from the public presentations that are available to us.  The You Tube videos of the "revival," which I posted at this blog some time ago, clearly emphasize the odd manifestations, the jerking and falling down, as if they were the whole point of the revival.  And yet Charismatics will say that those things are considered to be lamentable excesses that may attend any true revival, which was Jonathan Edwards' argument about the Great Awakening.  The problem is that in practice they are not treated as fringe excesses but as the main point, they are not relegated to a dark corner of the auditorium but brought up on stage and put on display as some kind of proof of the moving of the Holy Spirit.  And a clear presentation of the gospel of salvation is not anywhere to be found, at least in any of the videos I've seen.

So Johnson said he'd like to see some proof that the gospel is preached by certain Charismatic leaders and Brown agreed to produce the evidence.  I look forward to it.

There is also a problem with the indignation about all the Charismatics working to further the gospel around the world being treated by the Strange Fire speakers as not even Christians, because the fact is that there is a lack of evidence for the claim that they ARE furthering the true gospel.  They may sacrifice themselves for their work, they may do much practical good and so on, but that doesn't prove that it is the true gospel they are preaching and serving, despite Brown's strenuous assertions that that is the case.  There is simply no evidence.  Exactly WHAT gospel ARE they preaching?  HOW are they preaching it?  IS it the true gospel and is it central to their work?  You can assert and assert that it is, and even believe it yourself, but since experience has often shown that in reality a diluted gospel or some other gospel altogether is being promoted through Charismatic work, evidence is needed.  I hope there IS evidence, I hope Brown will produce it.

Then there is this article Michael Brown wrote for a Charismatic publication, Let's Not Bite and Devour One Another, in which he tacitly accuses the Strange Fire Conference of an unloving attitude, which I for one found nowhere in the Conference, and doesn't address a single issue raised at the  Conference. 

Again a comment about the Prosperity Gospel catches my attention:
It’s the same with the prosperity gospel. Some people take it to mean “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8), which is obviously biblical and true. Others take it to mean that Jesus died to make us rich and that the test of our spirituality is the abundance of our possessions. This is a dangerous and deadly deception (Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:6-10).
 But this is a disingenuous argument here.  There is nothing called the "prosperity gospel" that is based on 2 Cor. 9:8 which simply teaches God's provision for giving, and clearly the Conference was not addressing anything of the sort.  How that passage is interpreted could be subject for discussion, but it's just misleading to try to associate the Prosperity Gospel with it at all.  Perhaps Brown simply didn't listen to enough of the Conference, I guess that's possible.  He should listen to both of Justin Peters' "Breakout" sessions.
I know rich Christian businessmen who are absolutely committed to Jesus, living godly lives and believing God has given them wealth to help spread the gospel worldwide. And I don’t see them as being attached to their money at all, although they pray for prosperity in accordance with many biblical texts. I know other people who are carnal and worldly minded as they pursue prosperity with the help of some manipulating preachers. (Click here for my 1990 chapter on “The Prosperity Trap.”)
The first category of wealthy givers are known to all Christians, they are not in any sense motivated by their specifically Charismatic beliefs as the second category are.  Again, the Prosperity Gospel is the teaching that ALL Christians should expect health and wealth as part of their gospel heritage.  THAT is what the Strange Fire Conference was addressing that is not getting addressed here.  My impression is that Brown probably agrees with that teaching.

Brown is right that there is a major communication disconnect here but it's a different disconnect than he has in mind.

One last radio show for now:  Authentic Fire and Strange Fire, in which a couple of Charismatic missionaries are supposed to disprove the view that the Charismatic Movement does not produce social benefits;  in which it becomes only too clear that the biblical word "power" has one and only one meaning to Charismatics, that is, the gifts of the Spirit and similar phenomena;  in which a caller who is a Continuationist but claims to have been through MacArthur's Masters Seminary obviously didn't hear how Cessationism was defended from the Bible at the Conference;  in which a Cessationist caller is unfortunately thrown off his point by a strange analogy Brown seems to think makes sense.  Among other things.  There's a lot to respond to in this one, not sure I'll try to do that.

At least a word about the missionaries.   They were at the Brownsville revival and became missionaries as a result.  They are establishing an orphanage, rescuing babies, providing refuge for women who would abort, and many similar things.  Would John MacArthur take back his opinion that the Charismatic Movement produces "essentially zero social benefit" on hearing these things, or would he simply want to find out whether their motivation was specifically Charismatic or Christian, which was a distinction he raised more than once.  If a person goes into the Charismatic Movement as a Christian already, or just to a Charismatic "revival" as a Christian, with an already established  Christian mindset, then is any fruit they may produce Charismatic or Christian? 

Brown keeps telling us that Brownsville was characterized by the gospel of Christ;  the problem is that the publicly available evidence of the "revival" shows absolutely nothing characteristically Christian at all.  What was it about that "revival" that inspired these women to be missionaries?  When asked about the effect of the revival they affirm its importance in their decision but their description is so vague as to leave us without an answer:  one was "blown away by the power of the Holy Spirit."  To anyone who has seen the videos of the revival that most likely has to refer to the physical manifestations, the jerking and falling down and so on.  The Strange Fire Conference shows that these are not of the Holy Spirit but are the same kind of manifestations that occur in Hindu contexts, which can be seen in the videos I've linked at the top right of this blog.

It sounds like they are doing much practical good as missionaries, and although the impetus may have come from the revival the actual motivation to do good may simply be from their Christian background, to which they've tacked on their Charismatic experience.  At least this is still a question.  And another question is:  are they representing the true gospel in their work?  That's a major question, and after hearing this show there is simply no way to know.  Again, over and over it is asserted that the true Biblical gospel is preached, is intrinsic to Charismatic doctrine and experience, but again, there is no clear evidence that this is so.  If there is Michael Brown needs to produce it.

I may or may not comment on more of this show later, but I do want to note that Brown again misconstrues the statistic that was given at the Conference, that some 90% of the five hundred million Charismatics worldwide are Word-of-Faith followers.  Brown gave the misleading answer to that statistic that  "TV preachers don't represent most of charismatics worldwide."  But that is not what was claimed.  It's not about what "TV preachers" represent, but what 90% of ordinary Charismatic believers DO, and what they do is believe and follow the Prosperity Gospel teachings.

* (November 3 addition)
In his pre-Conference plea to John MacArthur, Michael Brown wrote this:

As I write these words, the Holy Spirit is moving mightily around the earth, saving lost sinners, bringing rebels to repentance, healing sick bodies, setting captives free and, above all, glorifying the name of Jesus. According to pastor John MacArthur, however, this is actually “a farce and a scam.”

In his new book Strange Fire, he claims that this work of the Spirit actually represents “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity,” and he calls for a “collective war” against these alleged “pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God.”
One thing I've discovered from reading some objections to the Strange Fire Conference by various "Continuationists" or Charismatics, is that they take their own theology so for granted that it doesn't occur to them that they need to explain it to those who see things differently.    So, for instance, I find the word "power" as in the power of the Holy Spirit, or even the "power of the gospel" is always taken as referring to miraculous powers, as if it just doesn't occur to them that the Holy Spirit's powers are expressed in many hidden ways, even in salvation and changed hearts.

In this statement by Michael Brown he doesn't see any need to try to prove that through the work of Charismatics "the Holy Spirit is moving mightily around the earth, saving lost sinners, bringing rebels to repentance, healing sick bodies, setting captives free, and, above all, glorifying the name of Jesus."

But of course this is precisely what is brought into question by the Strange Fire Conference.  Exactly HOW is the Holy Spirit "moving around the earth" if in fact 90% of Christians world-wide are followers of the Word-Faith teaching?   ARE sinners being saved?  Where is the evidence?  What does Brown have in mind?  Where's the evidence for the repentance?  Can he quote anyone preaching repentance or credible testimonies to the same?  Perhaps he can here or there, but why doesn't it occur to him that he needs to do this?   And of course physical healings are notoriously unevidenced in Charismatic circles, to the point that fraud is often the only explanation.  And how could the Name of Jesus be glorified if these things are what Brown has in mind?  It couldn't.