Thursday, February 6, 2014

Give me more fire, LORD!

This article is written in response to Lyndon Unger’s — Burning away misconceptions about “holy fire” — posted at The Cripplegate on January 24, 2014.




“Get on fire for God and men will come and see you burn.” — John Wesley

I don’t use the word fire regularly in my private worship, nor does my local church family. However, I’ve been around plenty of charismatics who do, and I think I get it. I think I know why they use the term and from whence they derive its usage from Scripture (the latter having failed to be properly identified by Lyndon). And while the usage of the word fire is hardly worth spending my time to defend, Lyndon has written a number of things that need to be addressed.

First, I think he makes a fine point about using right words rightly. Fire, like many evangelical catchall phrases, is used so broadly and carelessly in charismatic churches, that whatever its intended usage in any given situation may be, the intended meaning is often lost in the ambiguity of the other dozen or so possible applications of the word. So, I agree with Lyndon, “If you want more love for God, how about you just ask for more love for God? If you want more passion, how about you just ask for more passion? If you want more experiences of tongues, how about you just ask for tongues?” If you teach or pray publicly for something (passion, revival, power, or gifts), teach and pray more precisely, so to avoid miscommunication and/or confusion. Isn’t this the wise and loving thing to do?

Second, as much as I agree with Lyndon’s admonition to use right words rightly, I do not gather from his article that he actually tried to interact with charismatics to understand why they use the word fire in their worship — this, in spite of his prior experience in a charismatic church (people, across the board, do not often know why they say what they say, nor do they understand the etymology of every pop-evangelical buzzword that they may use).  



As I said, fire is not part of my religious jargon, but if I were to defend its usage, I would point to four passages:


 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

 — Acts 2:1—4
 

If you read this passage on the surface, without considering the historical and symbolic significance of what happens in Acts 2, you’ll merely note that cloven tongues of fire were present when the Spirit came upon the Church. However, if the passage is pressed through a Biblical Theological grid, the appearance of fire showing up here takes on a whole new significance.

More on that in a second.



Lyndon, in ‘point 2’ of his lexical analysis of the words אֵשׁ and πῦρ, provides his readers with a good head start on understanding why the word fire has attained such elevated use in charismatic parlance — though Lyndon, himself, failed to make the connection. I direct you back to his article because fire, being applied as symbolically representative of God’s presence is, I believe, at the heart of the word’s charismatic usage. I’ll highlight a few passages (including a few missed by Lyndon) that I believe are the most helpful in establishing this point. [It will be beneficial to also note the other manifestations associated with God’s presence in addition to fire (wind, earthquakes, God’s thunderings/voice, clouds/smoke) that are also found in these passages]:
  1. At Mount Sinai to Moses / Israel (Ex 3:2, 19:16—19, 24:17)
  2. In the wilderness to Israel (Ex 13:21, 40:38) 
  3. At Mount Sinai to Elijah (1 Kgs 19:11—13; cf. Acts 4:31)
  4. To Ezekiel (Ez 1:1, 4, 26—28)
  5. To the 120 priests at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chr 5:11—14; cf. Ex 19:18)
  6. To Peter, James, and John on the mount with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28—36, cf. Ex 19:18; 2 Chr 5:11—14)
  7. To the 120 kingdom priests in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1—11)1
When considering the theme that emerges from these passages, it would appear, that by the time we get to Luke/Acts, that Luke is building his case for Jesus‘ divinity and the divine indwelling of the Spirit’s presence in God’s people, in part, by directing his audience back to the manifestations of God’s appearing in the Old Testament.  

And that is the significance of fire appearing above the heads of the disciples on Pentecost.2

In the same way that the fire, which appeared above the wandering Hebrews' heads at Sinai designated the presence of God near his people on Pentecost, so too the fire which appeared above the heads of each member of the Church in Jerusalem designated the presence of God with his people on Pentecost.

With that in mind, I do believe that there exists a case for an appropriate use of fire in our prayer and our preaching — if, by its use, we are imploring God for his presence and power to be manifest in our gathering; for our corporate edification and/or for our boldness in gospel proclamation.

Do not quench the Spirit. — 1 Thessalonians 5:19

While fire does not show up here in this verse, the language does have burning in view. The root word, translated as quench in the ESV — σβέννυμι, may mean extinguish, or put out, or quench, or suppress, or stifle, depending upon the words surrounding context. If Paul intended σβέννυμι to be understood in the same way as it is translated in Mark 9:48, Eph 6:16, and Heb 11:34, then 1 Thes 5:19 may properly, though paraphrastically, translated as, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (ISV).

Therefore, if the Spirit’s power is associated with fire, and the referent of that fire is the manifestation of power in charismata (see 1 Thes 5:20, cf. Acts 2:3—4), then it is not inappropriate for charismatics to pray for the fire of the Spirit to come nor to increase.

Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? — Luke 24:32

The disciples who met Jesus on their trek to Emmaus had their hearts lit aflame when their Rabbi expounded the christotelic nature of the OT scriptures to them.

Is it an inappropriate request to ask that God would send the illuminating fire of his Spirit to burn in our hearts as we meditate upon his word?  


If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. — Jeremiah 20:9

No commentary required.

Third, Lyndon writes,
If you pray for God’s “fire” in your life and experience suffering, God’s giving you exactly what you asked for...If you think God’s not faithfully answering your prayers just because you don’t have an increase in passion or you don’t speak in tongues, you’re sadly mistaken.

Until now, you may have been misinformed and speaking out of an assumed tradition or ignorance, asking God for something you didn’t mean to ask for, and then responded in confusion when he didn’t give you what you meant to ask for (but didn’t actually request)...Don’t ask for more “holy fire” in your life; you might get cancer when God answers your prayers.
Poppycock!

Is God not able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart praying for fire?

If by uttering the word fire, a charismatic means to pray for fervor for courageous gospel proclamation; an increase in their religious affections toward God; or for greater power to manifest the charismata for the up-building of the local assembly, are we supposed to believe that God is going to afflict that person with Stage IV Lymphoma? Does Lyndon actually believe that God is so capricious that he might just make charismatics suffer for using the word fire wrongly — in spite of their proper motivation? Or, does he believe that God is confused by a charismatic’s improper use of the word fire, mistakenly giving them the fire of his judgment when, in fact, they are crying out for the fire of increased intimacy? 



Neither of these describe the nature of our God. 

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” — Luke 11:10—13


If your son asked you to pass him some Chicken of the Sea, when what he actually wanted was some tunafish, are you going to pass him a rattlesnake instead of the tuna for using a metaphor that’s never been used in your home?

In closing, while Lyndon’s observation that the Bible never uses the word fire as a metaphor “for the cultivation of spiritual renewal/fervor/conviction” stands, there does appear to be clear exegetical warrant for using the word fire in worship. And that is true whether or not the majority of charismatics using the word fire could articulate why they use it as carefully as I have outlined it here. Unfortunately, whatever benefit might have come from the article and Lyndon's admonition to use right words rightly, it was lost upon charismatics because of his lamentable argumentation and the stumbling block—rhetoric found throughout.

Frankly, I expected more from my brothers at Cripplegate.

1. Surrounding God’s throne [tongues of fire] (1 Enoch 14:8—25, 71:5) — 1 Enoch was extant in the NT age and quoted in Jude.
2. Consider also the significance of the sound of the rushing wind, the languages and dialects spoken, the translation of the message that was heard, the number of disciples who were gathered to pray, the feast days. Also the earthquake in Acts 4:31


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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pregnant?

Since it's the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I just wanna tell you guys that we thought Dana might be pregnant a few days back. 

Turns out she's not. 

Anyone who knows our situation knows that it would've been an incredibly inconvenient time to have another child (not to mention I'm in my 40s now). We don't have much, we live in a 2 bdrm 1 bath rental, we have a bit of debt we are still trying to lose, and I'm in the middle of transitioning careers. All that and Dana had very difficult pregnancies with both Noah and Eve.

But you know what? As hard as that process might have been for us, no matter how strapped we might've become, we'd not have killed our precious baby for the sake of convenience. 

If you've done that, if you've killed your unborn child, there is grace for you! If you want to know how much God hated the murder of your child, look at what the Father did to Jesus on the cross. But, praise be to God, if you want to know how far Jesus was willing to go to forgive and absolve you of your sin, look at what Jesus willingly did for you by going to the cross! Run to him. 

Love Life! 

The photograph above is of Noah. It was his very first picture, taken Dec 28, 2005


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wretched Cessationist Logic

The following is written in response to Todd Friel's comments on his Friday's broadcast of Wretched Radio — Wretched Clip of the Day

Five Observations and Responses

1. Regarding Luther's view of dreams and visions — If Luther can be wrong on baptism, he can be wrong on revelatory gifts. We love Luther, but he does not speak ex cathedra.

2. Regarding the '400 years of silence', between Malachi and Matthew — There were certainly no 'national prophets' speaking on behalf of the Lord to the nations of Judah or Israel, between Malachi's ministry and John the Baptizer's. There we agree. But that does not mean that no one was experiencing prophetic revelation during those 400 years. Simeon and Anna, for instance, both had prophetic ministries, for many years, before the birth of John (see, Luke 2). That alone should cause Todd to reconsider his position. But more importantly than Simeon and Anna is the Book of Daniel, which was written about 200 years after Malachi's ministry had concluded. How might've that been accomplished if God had silenced his speaking? So, based on this, I don't think Todd has rightly understood how those '400 years of silence' are said to be silent. Besides, what was normative for Israel's experience under the Old Covenant is not normative for the Spirit-filled Church under the New.

3. Regarding Todd's question, "Why do we think it would be normative for today?" — Well, because unlike the prophets of the OT, who were very few and anointed by the Spirit to hold their office, every person who's born again into Jesus' Church and baptized with his Spirit has been anointed with power. Everyone, not just a few! "...in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy... For [this] promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:17—18, 39 ESV)

4. Regarding the Church having "a more sure word" — see http://joshuaelsom.blogspot.com/2013/09/confronting-common-arguments-and_28.html

5. Regarding the imperspicuity of dreams — If imperspicuous dreams and visions are a problem for us today, then they were also a problem for the people in the New and Old Testaments. In Numbers 12:6—8 the Lord says to Miriam and Aaron "If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord." Punchline, the dreams and visions that God gave to the prophets, who were lesser prophets than Moses, were imperspicuous dreams and visions. Not only were the messages of their revelations unclear, they were compared to riddles. Do you suppose those dreams and visions required interpretation? Do you suppose that any of those dreams or visions were ever interpreted and/or delivered wrongly? 


On the other hand, if Todd doesn't believe that imperspicuous dreams and visions were a problem for the people living during the time when the Old and New Testaments were being written, then he has no legitimate reason to believe that they exist as a problem for the Spirit-filled Church today.
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Community of Light

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

What does it mean to be the light of the world and to shine the light of our works before an unbelieving world?

Find out by listening to this message that I delivered to the Mission Church this Sunday past.

Listen here — http://livethemission.org/sermons/a-community-of-light/84/
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 5

If continuationism were true, there would be no argument about it among Christians.
 
The suggestion here is that God, if he were truly continuing to distribute miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts throughout the Body of Christ, as Rom 12:3—8 teaches he does, then cessationism would be abandoned because of the obvious work of the Spirit’s grace in every church. In other words, if tongues and prophecy were occurring today, they’d be just as likely to manifest in cessationist churches as they allegedly do in charismatic churches; and on that basis, cessationism would be universally rejected by all. While continuationists may just as easily offer a similar objection regarding cessationism,1 cessationists will be better served if the objection is answered directly.

“If continuationism were true...”

For the sake of this exercise it will be necessary for cessationists to lay aside their presuppositions and consider the objection from a continuationist’s perspective.

“...there would be no argument about it among Christians.”

If God continues to distribute miraculous and revelatory gifts today, as he did in the first years of the Church, according to his will and across the entire Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches in the same way as they are experienced in charismatic and Pentecostal churches?

These gifts are less likely to occur in cessationist churches for the following reasons:

1) Churches will submit and conform to the teaching and example of their pastors.

Paul teaches, in Eph 4:4—11, that evangelists are empowered by the Spirit and given to the Body of Christ for its equipping and upbuilding. Nevertheless, if a church has a hyper-Calvinist for a pastor, who constantly beats the drum of that aberrancy, then it is unlikely that such a church will have any members doing evangelism or holding an evangelist’s office. In this case, the wrong but authoritative instruction of the pastor will subvert the proper teaching of Scripture and stifle the work of the Spirit in that church.

Similarly, if a pastor teaches cessationism, it is just as unlikely that his church will desire or experience charismatic gifts as the hyper-Calvinist’s church is to experience evangelism. If Paul instructed the Corinthians to “...earnestly desire to prophesy”2 but cessationist teachers tell their disciples that prophecy is a blasphemy against the Doctrine of Sufficiency, no one who submits to that teacher is going to earnestly desire that gift. They will despise it.3 And if Paul wrote, “...do not forbid speaking in tongues,”4 but cessationist pastors teach their churches that tongues are the manifestation of delusions or of demons and they prohibit the exercise of that gift in the church, it should not come as a surprise that no one sitting under that pastor’s preaching speaks in tongues.

Reformed evangelical cessationists would never accept the absence of evangelists in hyper-Calvinist churches as evidence for the cessation of the evangelistic office, yet they use the same argument to present their evidence for the cessation of miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts. The only thing that this objection proves is that wrong teaching begets wrong practice.

2) Charismatic gifts are practiced according to one’s faith.5

If cessationists have no faith that God still gives certain charismatic gifts, then the faith which is necessary to enable the operation of those gifts will also be absent. Correspondingly, Mark says that Jesus “...could do no miracle there [in Nazareth] except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5—6a NAS) and, if cessationists are prejudiced against the Spirit6 in the same way the Nazarenes were prejudiced against Jesus, then the Spirit will also do no miracles among them.7

3) Cessationists may exercise a charismatic gift without recognizing or acknowledging that they have done so.

First, cessationists may not recognize that they have experienced revelatory gifts because they have either, a) unwittingly accepted how the worst of the worst charismatics define these gifts — i.e. prophecy = “God told me that he would kill me if you do not send me 8 million dollars within 3 months.” — and they know that they’ve never uttered such ridiculous predictions. Or, b) they have failed to understand that the gift of prophecy, given to prophets in the Church, differs from that which was spoken through the prophets who were sent to the nations of Israel and Judah, in the Old Testament. In either case, a cessationist would fail to recognize that a spontaneous but timely word of encouragement, exhortation, or consolation for the church, is the gift of prophecy. Similarly, if a cessationist prays for healing over the sick and a sick person is restored, the cessationist will rightly defer the glory of the miracle to the Holy Spirit, but they will wrongly dismiss the possibility that it was the Spirit working his power through them as a gift of healings.

Second, when a cessationist does acknowledge that something exceptional or supernatural has happened, through something they have said or something they have done, they will redefine the phenomena to resolve the contradiction between their experience and their theology; preferring to call prophecy an extraordinary providence, or the gifts of healings, merely, an answer to prayer.

In conclusion, Paul exhorted his disciple, Timothy, to fan into flame, the gift that was given to him.8
While cessationist pastors, as well intended as they may be, charge their disciples to put out the Spirit’s fire. And if charismatic and Pentecostal pastors teach their congregations to practice the gifts, while cessationist pastors teach their congregations that the gifts no longer exist, then this should explain why the gifts are absent in cessationist churches but remain active in continuationist churches.

So to my cessationist friends, before making this objection, it is important that you remember, that just because you’ve not experienced it, does not mean it does not exist. The absence of evidence does not prove the evidence of absence.


Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts

<< Objection 4                                                                                                               Objection 6 >>

 

Endnotes:

1 “If cessationism were true then there would be no debate in charismatic and Pentecostal churches.” In other words, if the Spirit had ceased giving tongues and prophecy, then continuationism would be abandoned because of the obvious absence of those gifts in these churches. 

1) The cessationist is certain to respond to this counter-objection by arguing that tongues and prophecy, since they may be counterfeited, offer evidence that is far less persuasive than the verifiable non-experience evidenced in cessationist church practice (charismatic experience can be faked, cessationist non-experience cannot). Therefore, according to the cessationist, the counter-objection cannot invalidate the original objection. Furthermore, 2) they may continue to press, that since the counter-objection fails to answer the question which the original objection implies — namely, “If God still distributes miraculous gifts, indiscriminately throughout the Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches as well?” — then no actual response to the objection is being offered.

In response: 1) While counterfeit gifts may be rife within the charismatic movement and Pentecostal churches, these abuses cannot prove that the genuine gifts have ceased. They can only prove that sin still infects the hearts of men.  And, 2) the question implied by the original objection is answered in the body of the article.

2 1 Cor 14:39a

3 Contra. 1 Thes 5:20 ESV

4 1 Cor 14:39b ESV

5 Rom 12:6

6 The Spirit who still gives all the gifts to the Church.

7 Whether Jesus’ power was limited because of the Nazarenes’ unbelief, or he simply had no occasion to demonstrate his power because they refused to approach him for help, has no effect on the argument.  The Spirit’s power may be limited among cessationists because of their unbelief, or he simply may have no occasion to work his power through them because they refuse to petition him for help.  The net effect remains the same.


8 2 Tim 1:6 NIV

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 4

Tongues were given by the Spirit for the proclamation of the gospel, in actual languages.  Therefore, those who purport to exercise tongues as a private prayer language demonstrate both their ignorance of Paul’s teaching and the invalidity of their experience.

Are tongues only given for proclaiming the gospel in an unknown language?

No, tongues are not given for evangelism at all.1 They are given to extol the mighty works of God,2 for giving thanks, for singing, for prayer,3 for the edification of the Church,4 and for a sign for unbelieving Israel.5 They were only derivatively evangelistic at Pentecost because they, along with the sound of the mighty rushing wind, were the miracle that drew the attention of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the festival. When the Jews began to wonder after and/or mock the manifestation of this gift, it provided the opportunity for Peter to explain what the sign of this miracle meant. So, tongues were not given at Pentecost with evangelistic purpose, they simply provided the occasion for the gospel to be preached. If this were not the case, one would expect to find other examples of tongues in Scripture, where they were used to proclaim the good news of Jesus among those who spoke a language other than that which was spoken by spoken by the evangelist. 

Are tongues actual languages? 

They certainly were at Pentecost. Luke informs his readers, that the tongues were not only known languages, but they were particular dialects of languages.  In other words, the miracle not only allowed the 120 disciples to speak foreign languages, but they were able to speak those languages with the precision of a proper accent. However, this does not demand that tongues were always known human languages. In the oft disputed verse of 1 Cor 13:1 Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (NIV) While cessationists are quick to call these “tongues of angles” hyperbolic language — which certainly fits the context of vv. 2 and 3 — this does not exclude the possibility that such a heavenly language exists. At least no more than the hyperbolic language of verse 3 would exclude the giving of all of one’s goods away to the poor, or giving one’s body up to martyrdom by fire. Given that such an angelic language is not verifiable, and since 1 Cor 13:1 is ambiguous at this point, the question of whether Christians can speak in this language is impossible to answer this side of heaven. However, one is left wondering what the language of heaven may be?

Are tongues given as a private prayer language? 

Tongues were not given exclusively for the sake of praying in private, but this is one of the legitimate manifestations of the gift. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor 14:18—19 NAS) 

In response to this text one may inquire, if Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than the they, yet he would rather speak five words in an understandable language rather than ten thousand in an unknown tongue, where did Paul speak in tongues more than the Corinthians?  If he was limiting his tongue speaking in the assembly, where, how, and to whom was Paul speaking?


Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts

<< Objection 3                                                                                                         Objection 5 >> 


Endnotes:

1 This does not exclude the possibility that tongues may be given for this purpose, however, a case for evangelism cannot be made from Scripture.

2 Acts 2:11

3 1 Cor 14:16—17

4 Provided that the language is interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5), otherwise, the gift only edifies the one speaking (14:13—17).

 
5 1 Cor 14:22

 
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Monday, October 21, 2013

Providence is Remarkable: providence does not answer the question

I was the guy the Strange Fire Conference was targeting.  Maybe targeting isn’t the best word choice given the confrontational posture of the conference, and the epic controversy that followed in its wake.  What I mean, is that I fit one of the demographic profiles of one of the groups the speakers hoped to reach.  I am not a charismatic — at least not in the way most people have historically understand the word — but I do believe the grace of the Spirit’s gifts that was present in the first century church is still available and operative today.  I don’t go to a charismatic church; I’ve only ever watched TBN out of morbid curiosity; I’ve never been slain in the Spirit; and the only healing crusade I’ve ever attended was Todd Bentley’s, and that was to voice my dissent and preach the gospel.  Nevertheless, I am a continuationist and that makes me one of the guys that the speakers had in mind.

Now, because I am not a charismatic, my concerns going in and coming out of the conference are going to be different from those who are in Pentecostal and charismatic churches.  I have no relational ties to either of those groups, so I don’t feel constrained to defend their behavior, theology, or leadership — other than the common bond of faith, no actual allegiance exists.  And apart from my disagreement with the cessationist theology of the speakers, I largely identify with their concerns.  So, my interest in the conference was not primarily about the abuses and excesses of the charismatic movement (as important as those are to address).  My attention was rather set upon the theological arguments against continuationism.  That’s why three weeks ago, I began publishing a series of articles where I endeavored to respond to the most common arguments and objections that are made against continuationism (that project is not yet complete).  I wasn’t preemptively throwing a stick into the spokes of the conference by releasing these, I genuinely hoped that they would be useful.  I knew that the largest obstacle that the speakers would have to negotiate was to fairly represent the theology of charismatics, and to meet them on the field of their theological presuppositions.  I had no illusions that my insignificant theological presence or opinion would have any real affect on the conference, but I did hope that I could demonstrate to those sitting next to me in the bleachers, that the players on the field weren’t always playing fair.

One of the articles that I published got a bit more traction and received a lot more attention than the others.  It was not a response to an argument or an objection, but was instead a question for my cessationist friends.  In that article, I offered a number of credible witness who purport to have experienced supernatural revelation.  I reasoned, that if we are to believe these reports, then we are either dealing with the gift of prophecy, or the gift of knowledge, or some other revelatory gift not listed in the gift lists found in the NT.  Whatever the case, I concluded, that if these were indeed evidences of post-Apostolic revelation, then cessationism must be abandoned (I’ve reconsidered this conclusion, below).

In an effort to have my question considered and addressed by the conference, I sent the article to two of the speakers — One, whom I count as a personal friend, and to Phil Johnson.  I know that both of these gentlemen received the articles because they both responded to it (one via email, and Phil on Facebook).  Again, I don’t pretend to have any weight in this conversation, nor do I think I am so important that I can demand that they answer my personal questions.  However, this conference was targeted at me.  It was designed and crafted to persuade people like me of something; to convince me that I’ve wrongly espoused errant theology.  That’s no small thing to consider.  And, I believe that means they need to answer the most difficult questions.  


On Wednesday, Phil let me know that he would be addressing my views in his Friday afternoon breakout session, Providence is Remarkable.  He said,
Josh Elsom, you [sic.] describing a caricature, not the reality, of Warfield's cessationism, and you're also working with an imprecise definition of _revelation_. I'll be dealing with this whole subject Friday in a breakout session at the conference. The title they assigned me: “Providence IS remarkable.”
At this point, I am still not certain whether Phil meant to communicate that he was intent on addressing my question in particular, or the question of modern prophecy in general.  In any case, I responded to Phil on Facebook and later via email,
My specific question for you would be this, does your cessationism have a category for extraordinary providence that incorporates Spirit-disclosed information; information that is otherwise unknowable to the person to whom it is disclosed? And if that is not revelation, I'd like to know what you call it and how you justify calling it something other than revelation.

http://joshuaelsom.blogspot.com/2013/10/if-its-not-spirit-who-gets-credit.html

In my estimation, you have a very difficult case to prove if you want to call the transmission of this information something other than revelation, i.e., extraordinary providence. The examples I've provided are not occasions where God aligns events and circumstance, such that his hand is palpably obvious to the people who recognize the events. This is the transmission of information (words, facts, circumstance) from “something” or “someone,” to the minds of these men. And the result of that information, when it is communicated by the revelator to the receiver, is the edification of the church and the salvation of souls. And guess what? We have a NT analogue for that type of manifestation.

I've said it elsewhere, but let me say it again. The fact that these men received revelation from the Spirit does not prove continuationism true, it only proves that cessationism is false. I am open to the possibility of a third way; that these men are experiencing something other than the gift of prophecy; some other type of unlisted revelatory gift that only happens once in a while. I'd have to be convinced of that, but I'm open to it.
Friday came and so did Phil’s breakout session.  Needless to say, I was looking forward to that afternoon with a bit of anticipation.  Phil gave a good presentation, and I agreed with much of what he had to share.  I believe he defended the compatibility of a relational pneumatology and cessationism very well, and I think he issued some very wise corrections and warnings about following our fallible intuitions and untrustworthy emotions.  However, when it came time for him to address prophecy, he avoided answering the hard questions.

Phil propped up a caricature of what he thinks purported prophetic experiences are, and then he knocked it down.  He described experiences, that give the appearance of supposed moments of revelation as, “intuitive hunches, or spontaneous notions, or subliminal logic, or unconscious thoughts...” He goes on to say that our intuition is sometimes used by God, in his providence, to accomplish “...something wonderful.”  And if we’re not careful, we can wrongly presume that things worked out according to our intuition, because they were thoughts that were spontaneously revealed by the Spirit.  If we make that mistake, then we can easily stumble into a habit of trying to order our lives according to our intuition.  He then warns, “...people who think that moments of intuition are God speaking, with a private message...invariably become superstitious.  They foolishly order their lives by their feelings.  They commit the sin of trusting to much in their own hearts.” And in response to Phil, I say, “AMEN.” 


Unfortunately, Phil restricts his critical evaluation of prophecies to the retroactive attribution of uncanny human intuition to divine revelation.  That certainly does happen.  However, there is more data to consider than Phil is willing to discuss.  If by intuition, Phil means what the dictionary says — the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning, or a thing that one knows or considers from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning — then he still needs to address the testimonies of the witnesses that I’ve provided.  If, by intuition, he means the acquisition of information that is outside a person’s ability to know, then I’m afraid he is being dishonest with himself and those he intends to instruct.  Intuition simply cannot account for the information that these men possessed. 

Again, I offer Spurgeon’s experiences for your consideration.



How did Spurgeon know about the shoemaker’s dishonest profit margin, or the gloves in that boy’s coat pocket?  Where did that information come from? 1

Again, Matt Chandler’s experience.



How did Matt randomly come up with the exact information needed, at the right exact time, to put him in Thomas’s path, to say just the right thing?

Again, R.C. Sproul’s experience.



How did Eddie MacIlvane know to tell R.C. to take that job in Boston? What are the odds that this man would have the impulse, much less the gall, to call at 3 AM with that type of information; on the very morning R.C. had concluded his petition for an answer on that very thing?

Intuition, really?  Where did the information come from?



Why It Matters to Me

Monica’s pregnancy

I heard God’s voice audibly for the first time while sitting in a hotel room in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was there on business and had a week to study the curriculum of a church I’d started attending.  It was a charismatic church (the first I'd ever attended) and while I had quickly grown to love the vigor of the community, their impassioned worship gatherings, and their uncommon evangelistic zeal, I had lingering reservations about their claims of charismatic experience (prophecies, visions, exorcisms, et. al.).  It was certainly far beyond anything I’d ever considered entertaining.  So, there I was, I had their material in one hand, my John MacArthur Study Bible in the other, and I went to work.  I read and I prayed, and I read and I prayed, and I read and I prayed for days.  And in the end, I was convinced that Dr. MacArthur was right, and this church’s teaching was wrong. 

On one of those days, toward the end of that trip, my study was going late into the night, and I began to fall asleep.  That’s when it happened.  Out of nowhere, completely unsolicited, I heard, “Monica’s pregnant.” I was immediately roused and began to wonder after what I’d just heard.  For the next two days, I shook it off and reasoned it away, thinking it must have been a dream.  But, given the context of my study, I finally spoke to my wife about what had happened.  I asked her, “Can you do me a favor? Can you call Monica and see if she’s pregnant?”  We were living in Tacoma, Washington at the time, and the only person I knew named Monica, was my wife’s high school girlfriend back in Dallas.  She made the call and this was Monica’s response. “Yes. Yes I am pregnant. Brion and I just found out 3 weeks ago and we haven’t told anyone yet? How did you know that?”   



Some time later, I asked Monica about that phone call, and what it meant to her.  She explained that when she’d discovered she was pregnant she was troubled about the timing of it all.  She and her husband both were in the throes of new careers, and she questioned whether the time was right to have another baby.  She said that that phone call gave her overwhelming confidence that God had purposed her pregnancy and her worries about the timing of another child dissipated.


As you might imagine, the experience had a significant impact upon me, as well.







Barbara’s redemption

Another occasion when I heard an audible voice was after I’d moved down from Tacoma to Dallas, to attend seminary.  In the two years before that move, I’d been serving as a team leader for the Ambassadors’ Academy.  The Ambassadors’ Academy was a 3 day immersive evangelism training course, hosted by Living Waters ministry, in Southern California.  I was one of a score of leaders that would fly in and take teams out to various locations around LA to do tracting, one-on-one witnessing, and open air preaching.  It was an honor to serve the participants, and to preach alongside some of the most precious people in the world.  I loved it.  So much so, that I was sorely disappointed when I learned that I was not selected as a lead for the final Academy of the 2010 season. 

Three weeks had past since Tony Miano, the director of the Academy, had sent out his list of leaders for that August class.  I had completely written off the possibility of getting a call to make that trip.  I went on with my life, settling my family into our new digs and getting ready for school. 

After a day of organizing our storage in the hot Texas sun, I went to my in-laws for a shower.  My wife, Dana, my dad, and my friend Scott were there waiting for me.  I jumped in the shower and that’s when it happened.  I heard, “Pray that you will go to the Ambassadors’ Academy.”  So, of course, that’s exactly what I did.  A few minutes later, I’m out of the shower and I walk into the living room.  That’s when Scott tells me, “You missed a call.  I answered it for you, hope that's okay. It was a guy named Tony Mia...Ma...Macaroni, or something.”  Blown away, I told everyone in the room what had just happened moments before.  I then told them exactly what Tony would say when I called him up.  I called Tony and said these words, “Tony, before you say what you are about to say, let me tell you what you are about to ask me, and how I know it.”  After I had concluded, Tony said, “Well, Josh, do you wanna come?”  That experience gave me the confidence that something unusual was in store for me on that trip.

As anyone who’s worked evangelism on the streets knows, few relationships are born out of those you encounter.  And even fewer than they, are those relationships you get to disciple to the point of repentant faith in Jesus.  I met someone special on that trip to southern California. 

As it turned out an old friend that I’d been talking to over Facebook for several months was living in the area.  I’d been sharing the faith with him and thought I’d coordinate with him to see if we could grab lunch together while I was ministering in Huntington Beach.  He agreed and we got together to talk.  But he wasn’t alone.  In tow with him, was his girlfriend, Barbara.


While hanging out at the pier, Barbara ended up getting pulled in to the excitement of Stuart Scott’s preaching and ended up on the heckler’s box.  Scotty took her through the Law and gave her the gospel.  After she got down I asked her what had happened and she told me she had no idea what he was going on about, but it was interesting.  It wasn’t on account of a poorly delivered message that she didn’t understand, she just so lacked any context for Christianity and religious language that the message was completely lost on her.  She didn’t bail on me, thankfully.  She was not satisfied with how life had turned out, so she was happy to find out more about what Jesus had to offer.  We exchanged contact information and we began dialoging over email and the telephone.  I was having trouble getting through to her over the phone so I asked her if I could send her a gift.  She agreed, I got on Amazon and ordered her the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Once she’d received it, I called to make sure she was not offended that I’d sent her a children’s bible and explained why I’d sent it to her.  She devoured it — and it’s got some heft for a children’s bible at 348 pages.  In a matter of days we were back on the phone and she couldn’t stop talking about how much sense it all now made.  I had to fill in a few blanks for her, but once I had, the seed that Scotty had planted took root in her heart.  She was converted on the spot.

It was not until she confessed faith in Christ her Lord that I told her how it was that I ended up making my way to Huntington Beach that afternoon.  I told her about what I heard in the shower, about Tony’s call, what I anticipated would happen on my trip, and how it all had led to the very call we were on at that moment.  I explained to her the truth of Ephesians 1, that in eternity past, before the foundations of the world were set, God had set his affection upon her, that he had claimed her as his very own daughter.  And more than that, he saw fit to tell a man in Texas, someone whom she’d never met before, that he needed to pray that he’d go to California — so he could keep an appointment with her, to tell her about the love of her Father.  She didn’t make it to Ephesians 1 before I heard whimpering over the line.  And by the time I’d finished explaining that, she was beside herself, sobbing on the phone and giving glory to God.

Who, or what, told me to pray that I'd go to the Ambassadors' Academy?

These are just two stories among many like them.  And if I've had them, I have no reason to doubt that others are experiencing similar manifestations of the Spirit and glorying in the fruit that they produce.  You’ll not convince me that I did not hear, what I heard.  And you’ll not tell me that the fruit that was born out of those encounters could have happened in any other way.  So if these were not occasions of revelation from the Spirit, where did the information come from?  It's not innate knowledge, it's not instinctive, it's not intuition.  Something happened to me that I cannot explain.  Can you?

I love you, Phil.  You are a good man. But, brother, I don't think you are answering these questions directly. And I don't think you are answering them because you know that you are not able to do it.  Not without undermining your position. If there is an explanation I am missing, I am open to your correction.

I am listening with an open heart.  And I'm betting I'm not the only one.



Addendum: Revelation and Cessationism

In my email to Phil (above), I wrote, "The fact that these men received revelation from the Spirit does not prove continuationism true, it only proves that cessationism is false." After further reflection, I'm not too certain that this is true. It would be true of Warfield's cessationism, but not of historic cessationism.2  Consider two articles on this subject, Kevin de Young's, The Puritans, Strange Fire, Cessationism, and the Westminster Confession, and my response to Objection 1 of my series, Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts (see endnote 1).  Given this information, I dare say that a number of the Westminster divines, if they were alive today, would've had their names called out at the Strange Fire Conference.


Endnotes:

1 Both Phil Johnson
http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html and Nathan Busenitz  have attempted to address Spurgeon's alleged prophecies from the flanks, to no continuationist's satisfaction (http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html & http://thecripplegate.com/spurgeon-impressions-and-prophecy/, respectively).  The only answers they provide are 1) Spurgeon was a cessationist, and 2) he warned against ordering one's life around subjective "impressions." (It ought to be noted, that the latter point is one belabored in Grudem's at Storm's work.) While those points are duly noted, both Phil and Nathan appear to be importing their absolute cessationism back into Spurgeon's theology.

Consider the following:


1) Immediately after recounting the story of the shoemaker, Spurgeon writes, "I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, 'Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.' And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, 'The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.'" — Emphasis mine, Charles Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled From His Diary, Letters, and Records (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1903), 227. 

Notice that Spurgeon, in the quote, references John 4:16—19. It is no leap of logic to deduce from this reference and the context that Spurgeon supplies, that he believed that he was acting as a prophet in these cases. 


2) Another great work of the Holy Spirit, which is not accomplished, is the bringing on of the latter-day glory. In a few more years—I know not when, I know not how—the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a far different style from the present. There are diversities of operations; and during the last few years it has been the case that the diversified operations have consisted in very little pouring out of the Spirit. Ministers have gone on in dull routine, continually preaching—preaching—preaching, and little good has been done.

I do hope that perhaps a fresh era has dawned upon us, and that there is a better pouring out of the Spirit even now. For the hour is coming, and it may be even now is, when the Holy Ghost shall be poured out again in such a wonderful manner, that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased—the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the surface of the great deep; when his kingdom shall come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven.

We are not going to be dragging on forever like Pharoah, with the wheels off his chariot. My heart exults, and my eyes flash with the thought that very likely I shall live to see the outpouring of the Spirit; when "the sons and the daughters of God again shall prophesy, and the young men shall see visions and the old men shall dream dreams."

Perhaps there shall be no miraculous gifts—for they will not be required; but yet there shall be such a miraculous amount of holiness, such an extraordinary fervor of prayer, such a real communion with God, and so much vital religion, and such a spread of the doctrines of the cross, that every one will see that verily the Spirit is poured out like water, and the rains are descending from above. For that let us pray; let us continually labor for it, and seek it of God." — Charles Spurgeon, "The Power of the Holy Ghost" Spurgeon.org, n.p. [cited 21 Oct. 2013]. Online: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0030.htm

I conclude, therefore, that Spurgeon was not a cessationist in the same way that Phil Johnson and Nathan Busenitz are cessationists.
 

Besides all that, whatever Spurgeon's understanding of the gifts was, his theology is completely immaterial to the question being asked.  The question is not, "How did Spurgeon's theology inform his understanding of what he experienced?"  Rather, it is, "What was it that Spurgeon experienced?" and "How did he come to know about the shoemaker's sin?" 

2 There is yet another alternative which is worth your consideration.  I find I have a growing sympathy for the view articulated by R.W. Glenn — http://youtu.be/w5HMNvTsduA. I suspect this is very close to the cessationism of the divines addressed in de Young's article —
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