Category Archives: Charismatic Issues

What is Context?

The other day I had a friendly disagreement with another believer over the interpretation of Romans 8:26 in which Paul said,

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).

Actually, our conversation began with reference to the gifts of the Spirit, particularly that of healing and then moved to speaking in tongues. I’ll spare you the details because neither is the point of this post. Romans 8:26 came into the discussion and my friend assured me that this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with us praying since it clearly says that the “Spirit himself” prays.

He claimed that this excludes us from being the ones who pray because it is an activity of the Spirit. I wanted to provide some context for why I disagree with this interpretation. I noted how in Galatians Paul speaks of the Spirit of God’s Son crying, “Abba! Father!” My friend said that he’d need to see this and that he didn’t think that’s what it said. Fair enough. Nobody has exhaustive knowledge of the entire Bible. So we looked at Galatians 4:4-7 and he was satisfied that it said what I claimed.

I then noted that when discussing the same thing (i.e., adoption) in Romans Paul has the believer, who has received the Spirit of adoption, crying, “Abba! Father!” We both agree that Paul is consistent and that he doesn’t contradict himself so my point was that the Spirit cries “Abba! Father” through the believer who has received adoption. Likewise, my contention is that the “groanings to deep for words” (or “inarticulate groanings”) is the Spirit praying through the believer.

He told me that it’s not what the text says and that I’m reading into it. He told me that the number one rule of hermeneutics was to deal with a text in its context and that when we have to leave the context then that means we can’t deal with it on its own. But that’s the point I want to discuss in this post. All of this was setup for me to say that context is much more than what my friend would have us think.

You see, he wanted to look at this singular verse. I wanted to look at this verse within the argument of the chapter and book but also within the context of Paul’s overall theology. I noted that Galatians was one of Paul’s earliest letters; Romans was one of his latest. I wasn’t leaving Romans to run to Galatians. I was reading Paul’s later theology in light of his earlier theology. My understanding of Galatians informs my understanding of Romans.

Context is more than the verse before and the verse after the particular verse we’re reading. Context is knowing the situation of the author and his audience. It’s following the flow of the argument being put forth before us. It’s having an overarching understanding of the author’s theology. As I said, my understanding of  Galatians informs my reading of Romans, no differently than my understanding of Deuteronomy informs my reading of 1 Corinthians 8:1–10:22 or my understanding of Leviticus informs my reading of Hebrews.

But the immediate context of Paul’s very argument in this section of his letter does, I believe, point to the Spirit groaning in our groans but I’ll write about that another time.

B”H

I Was Just Reminded that I’m a Prophet

I was looking through old blog posts for something or another and I came across my post “The Fruit of Impatience” dated August 31, 2010 in which I note how I printed Chris Tilling’s doctoral dissertation and had it bound for use when I was away from the computer.

In a comment to that post dated September 1, 2010 I said the following to Chris himself:

“Chris: I’ll be hugely honored when I receive my FREE autographed copy of the published edition! ;-) If you need a proofreader to take a look at your revisions you know where to send them. Also, which publishers do you have in mind? I think it’s a natural fit for WUNT for it would go good anywhere. You might even consider foregoing the prestige of an expensive monograph series and publish it with Eerdmans or someone else affordable so us common folk can get our hands on it. ;-)”

On March 31, 2012 Tilling announced that he was publishing with Mohr Siebeck. I shared the news of that announcement and mocked up what I thought the book would look like given the assumption (or prophetic premonition) that it would be a WUNT II volume.

Fast forward to July 14, 2012 when I shared the news that Mohr Siebeck had informed me that they’d be sending a copy of Tilling’s soon to be released monograph for review. Guess what series it was published in? WUNT II. Fulfillment numero uno.

Then on November 23, 2014 I shared a video of an interview that Rachel Bomberger conducted with Chris about his soon to be released book. Guess who Rachel worked for? Eerdmans. Guess what book was soon to be released? Paul’s Divine Christology. Fulfillment numero dos.

And on May 21, 2015 I noted ordering the Eerdmans edition and then on May 25, 2015 I noted its arrival.

Boom!

B”H

Not So Random Thought

I was just looking through one of my hard drives and found a folder of ebooks. iBooks allows you to upload the epub files so I added all that I had. One of the books was a MacArthur Study Bible. I went to 1 Corinthians 12-14 and perused some of the notes and it always amazes me how he seems to lose his exegetical marbles when anything remotely charismatic comes up. His comments are unconvincing to say the least. I just can’t wrap my head around how he can be such a faithful and consistent interpreter of the Scriptures elsewhere and then have this huge blindspot here. What happened to Johnny Mac to make him oppose the things of the Spirit so much? I guess only him and God know…

B”H

Home Library/Office Tour

I wanted to do this for a while. I had some time today. One day I’ll get a good camera and give this thing some real production value.

B”H

James Spinti on Divine Cursing

Please have a look at James Spinti’s recent post about divine cursing based on his reading of a new book called Cursed Are You!. His musings on the topic with regard to Word of Faith theology are thought provoking. I intend to keep reading the post and thinking on the points he raises because they shed new light on this harmful teaching and help to bring into focus things I’ve long sensed but have never been able to articulate.

B”H

Paul on Mutes

I just read an article in the May 2014 Focus on the Kingdom (Vol. 16, No. 8) newsletter (which is the newsletter of Unitarian teacher and author Anthony Buzzard) entitled “My Pentecostal Experience” by someone named Kris (the word Colorado follows his/her [?] name after a comma but I’m guess this is where Kris is from and not Kris’ last name).

In the article Kris recounts his/her (?) experience in Apostolic (= Oneness) Pentecostal churches. Kris was made to believe that if he/she did not speak in tongues then he/she was not saved. This is false, of course, but I don’t want to focus on that. I also don’t want to focus on the clearly cultic activities of the churches that Kris spent time in (read the article for yourself and you’ll see what I mean). I did want to ponder one particular statement.

Kris says, “This preacher was also claiming that ‘tongues’ were the initial evidence of receiving the ‘Holy Ghost.’ Despite whatever gibberish these people would utter, it would be taken for an authentic language. However, one cannot claim to have spoken in tongues without having someone verify that what they are speaking is an authentic language. Thus, whenever someone ‘speaks in tongues,’ they are not actually doing so if the language cannot ever be authenticated” (6).

Kris apparently believes that “tongues” are “languages” as in “known languages.” Kris isn’t alone in such a belief. Many people read the events of Acts 2 into Paul’s statements about glossolalia and argue that Paul is speaking of known languages that are likely unknown to the believer speaking them. But Kris goes on to make a statement that made me ponder something I’ve never considered; he/she said, “1 Corinthians 12:30 clearly explains that all do not speak in tongues [languages]” (6).

Paul certainly does say that not all speak in tongues in 1 Corinthians 12:30, or he at least asks, “μὴ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλοῦσιν;” expecting a negative answer. If known languages (even those unknown to the speaker) are in view then I don’t see how this jibes well with what he says elsewhere (e.g., in 1 Cor. 13:1 where he calls them “tongues of angels” or 14:10 where he contrasts them with the “many kinds of voices in the world”).

I think we’re left to conclude that if Paul isn’t talking about inarticulate speech (cf. Rom. 8:26) then he’s talking about mutes. 1 Corinthians 12:30, then, is about people who can’t speak (or I suppose use sign language either since it is a way of expressing thoughts or feelings). Or not. You know, there is a way for the particular Pentecostals Kris dealt with to be wrong and for other Pentecostals to be right. Either way, I think Kris has missed it.

B”H

What is the Baptism In/With the Holy Spirit?

This is how I address this question on my church’s FAQ page, which you’ll see is in line with classical Pentecostal belief on the subject:

We should begin by making a few distinctions. There is a difference between: 1) Receiving the Holy Spirit; 2) Being baptized by the Holy Spirit; and 3) Being baptized with/in the Holy Spirit.

  1. Upon our conversion (i.e., our faithful confession of Jesus as the resurrected Lord and Savior, see Rom. 10:9-10) we receive the Holy Spirit. Anyone who has exercised faith in Christ’s person and work and has confessed him as Lord has without exception received the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
  2. Simultaneous to our confession of faith we are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13 cf. Eph. 4:4-5); this is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in that it’s the baptism that the Spirit himself performs.
  3. But there is a subsequent baptism with/in the Holy Spirit that Jesus himself performs (Mark 1:8Matt. 3:11Luke 3:16Acts 1:4-5) in which the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. We see this throughout the book of Acts (Acts 2:2-48:14-1710:44-46).
The baptism with/in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience that equips the believer for ministry and witness (Luke 24:49Acts 1:8) as well as equipping them to live in conformity with God’s will. That this particular baptism occurs after conversion can be seen from observing the Gospels and Acts. Prior to the day of Pentecost the disciples could rejoice that their names had been written in heaven (Luke 10:20), or rest assured that they had been made clean because of the word that Jesus had spoken to them (John 15:3). Jesus breathed on those disciples after his resurrection and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Yet after Jesus ascended to heaven these same disciples were baptized with/in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2-4).
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Other examples can be found in the book of Acts, e.g., Paul is converted first and filled with the Spirit second (Acts 9:1-17). Paul asked the Ephesians if they had received the Spirit when they believed and they replied that they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. They were then baptized and filled with the Spirit (Acts 19:1-6). So here again, conversion occurred prior to the baptism with/in the Holy Spirit.
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B”H

Why I’m Still a Pentecostal

In the early days of my adult Christian life (as opposed to the faith of my childhood, which was abandoned at age 13 if not earlier) I was taken aback by the sheer foreignness of Pentecostal worship and doctrine. I was raised in the Catholic Church where Mass never took more than an hour and a few minutes from the time we walked through the door and dipped our fingers in holy water to the time when exited and shook the parish priest’s hand and thanked him for the homily. I was used to order, structure, set Bible readings, and a weekly celebration of the Eucharist, which I was taught to believe was really the body and blood of Christ.

Then I ran away from God; as far and fast as I could. It would take some years before he’d call me back but when he did it wasn’t in the Catholic Church of my youth; it was in a small black independent Pentecostal church. Walking through those doors for the first time was the strangest thing I’d ever experienced up to that point in my life. I was greeted with hugs and ushered to the front of the church. I saw people dancing and shouting in a language that I couldn’t understand and had rarely heard beforehand (I knew a little about tongues from my now pastor; then barber & friend). There were women dressed in white outfits with doilies on their heads. People calling out during the sermon. In short; it was unlike anything I was used to, and trust me, it took some getting used to!

But once I began to embrace the strange it didn’t seem so strange. I was like the foreigner that Torah speaks of; the one living among the Israelites as an Israelite. I learned how to dance to black Pentecostal praise music; I learned to not expect select readings from the Bible or to be able to follow along in a missal, but rather to expect detailed sermons where I was expected to take notes and write directly in my Bible of all things (!); I learned when it was appropriate to call out during a sermon (always an “amen,” a “praise God,” or a “you can say that again”); I learned to deal with 4-5 hour services as opposed to the hour-long Mass of my youth. In short, I learned a lot of behavior. But more importantly than learning all the proper behavior and all the things to expect; I learned to hear the voice of God. 

I also learned to love and respect the Scriptures. Those early days saw me reading entire books of the Bible in a single sitting. There was a time when the whole of my library consisted of an NIV and a KJV. I used to fast, and pray, and read, and listen. I experienced God in real and tangible ways both inside and outside of congregational gatherings. I learned to love God, to trust God, and to depend on God for all of my needs. It wasn’t an easy process but no one ever promised me that life in Christ would be easy. But I also learned from reading and studying the Scriptures that some of the behavior I learned was more akin to things that Paul rebuked in certain churches than the things he extolled.

And so I began an internal critique of Pentecostalism as I knew it. I discerned what was wrong and why it was wrong. There’s plenty that needs fixing, and it would be easy to just jump ship and worship in another context, but then nothing gets fixed. I don’t have any delusions of grandeur–it’s not like I think that I’ll be some great Pentecostal reformer–but I know what’s happened in my church through much prayer, study, and discussion with the pastors. I know that my present church doesn’t have all the problems today that it did when we first started out. Sure, we still have our share of problems, but everything in time. Even with Paul’s harsh rebuke to the Corinthians, he still begins his letter by calling them sanctified. For all that was wrong with them they were still set apart. So I take solace in that. I’m hopeful because of that.

For all I find frustrating about Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Movement more broadly, I find that every time I consider doing something else, God will show up in a real, tangible, and unmistakable way. I find that for me there’s really no worship like Pentecostal/Charismatic worship. I love the order and reverence I experience in the liturgy of “high” church worship, but there’s something that just can’t substitute for that experience that non-Charismatics love to denigrate so much. Does it govern everything I believe and do? No. But I’d be lying to say that it doesn’t factor in; and so would anyone else who claimed that there experiences had no influence on what they say, believe, and do.

So the reason why I’m still a Pentecostal (after toying with the idea of not being one more than a time or two) is that it is here, in my present context, that God meets me. It’s here that I’ve been called and if ever God calls me somewhere else then it is there that I shall go. But for every one thing I find to loathe about Pentecostalism, I find two or three to love. That’s why I’m still a Pentecostal… in case you were wondering.

B”H

What Charismatics Need to Do Better

I’m listening to Michael Brown’s radio show where he spoke to John MacArthur’s associate Phil Johnson and I’m struck by how Brown keeps bringing up examples of Charismatic ministers and ministries that disprove the broad brush indictments of MacArthur & co. and yet Johnson keeps pointing to Charismatic televangelists as examples of all the atrocities being attributed to the Charismatic Movement as a whole. So all of this has me thinking about what Charismatics need to do better.

To start, we need to do a better job with discernment and denouncement. There are plenty of us who have no affinity with the Word of Faith movement and yet the Word of Faith Movement seems to be the public face of Pentecostalism/Charismaticism. We need to publicly denounce the many heretical doctrines that have come from Word of Faith theology and we need to call Word of Faith preachers (especially the prominent ones!) to repentance.

But there’s something that has to happen before we’re even able accomplish this task, namely, we have to take the task of Biblical interpretation seriously. Paul told Timothy to make every effort to present himself as an approved worker before God who needn’t be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). We, just as much as Timothy, are called to such a task. We have to be able to appeal to something with more authority than our personal experiences with God, as strong as they may be, and that something is Scripture.

Piggybacking off of the last point; Pentecostals and Charismatics will do well to stop deriding scholarship as if scholars are somehow less spiritual and possess a mere “head knowledge.” We need to learn from those who have invested time into understanding the Scriptures (whether they be Charismatic or not) and allow them to aid us in the task of building a positive theology.

Concerning building a positive theology we need to be able to open the Bible and explain that this is why we believe and act as we do. Put another way, we shouldn’t always (or even primarily) espouse our faith in a reactionary manner. Or put even another way, we shouldn’t feel the need to explain our beliefs and practices only when they are challenged or disagreed with. We shouldn’t allow our detractors to frame the debate so that all we end up doing is defending tongues, or prophecy, or healing or the continuation of prophetic and apostolic ministry.

This is to say that we need a full-orbed Pentecostal/Charismatic theology. Our beliefs about the gifts of the Spirit are fundamentally connected to our beliefs about the Spirit as well as the Father and the Son. And we can’t lose this point or compromise it (I have in mind here the sweeping under the rug of heretical Oneness Pentecostal theology, which is excused by some because OPs allegedly operate in the gifts of the Spirit). How we exist in this world is linked to how the Blessed Trinity has acted for us and our salvation.

On a practical level we need to stop being weird. We need to stop calling everything we disagree with a demon and stop defending every strange thing we see as a work of the Spirit. We need to focus more on the fruit of the Spirit than the gifts of the Spirit, which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t focus on the gifts, but not to the point where we elevate them above everything else. Speaking in an unknown tongue doesn’t necessarily make one a Spirit-filled believer and claiming to speak a word from the Lord doesn’t necessarily make one a prophet. And this goes back to where I started, which is the need for discernment. We have to be less impressed with this type of stuff than we are. We have to be more self-critical. The more we judge ourselves, the less we leave room for others to do it.

And speaking of judgment, we need to be less judgmental of non-Charismatic Christians. We have to stop pretending that we have a leg up on them. We have to stop pretending that we operate in power and they occupy dead spiritless churches. We have to take 1 Corinthians 12 seriously, which is about diversity in unity, and realize that every Christian isn’t going to look and act like us. This doesn’t mean God isn’t acting in and through them. It simply means that there are many members in the body of Christ and everyone can’t be a liver or a spleen; some folks have to be ears, noses, and throats.

And finally—although I’m sure there’s much more I could say—we need to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Instead of the public face of Pentecostals and Charismatics being Word of Faith televangelist heretics who fleece the people of God; let’s do a better job of highlighting the ministries of faithful Bible teachers; missionaries; chaplains; etc. We have them in abundance and yet you wouldn’t know it!

B”H

I Don’t Care; I Still Like John MacArthur

Plenty has been written about Johnny Mac’s Strange Fire Conference from every angle imaginable. I don’t have much to say about it that others haven’t said. Do I agree with MacArthur’s stance on the Charismatic Movement? Clearly not! I’m a Pentecostal and I’m not afraid to admit it. I spoke in tongues this morning, last night, and just about every day that came before in the past 11 years. As I type this I’m observing a coworker who has an injured neck/shoulder and I’m waiting for him to give me the okay to pray for divine healing (he’s tried everything else and none of it’s working).

So now that my card carrying charismatic status has been established, I have to say that I’m not all that bothered by the conference. The fact is that MacArthur has believed this stuff for as long as I can remember. He’s preached about it at length and some of those sermons were turned into a book called Charismatic Chaos. So the fact that he’s having a conference to talk about the things he’s been talking about for years isn’t really comment worthy. Also, the amped up rhetoric, while unfortunate and demonstrably wrong, isn’t all that different from what he’s been saying for years.

So why all the outrage over it now? Because it’s gotten more press than ever; that’s why. But I’m used to it; I’m neither shocked nor dismayed. And in spite of MacArthur’s feelings and belief about those of my ilk, I still appreciate MacArthur’s ministry. I still appreciate his preaching style. I still appreciate his reverence for the word of God. Now I clearly disagree with his interpretation of certain portions of scripture but I have no doubt that he believes his exegesis is sound. But the reason I still like MacArthur is that he really believes that the folks he’s talking about (and I honestly think that he has the TBN variety Word of Faithers in mind more than the run of the mill charismatics or classical Pentecostals and I believe he could do better to clear this up) are harmful to the faith. And based on this belief he’s doing what he can to arm his people to combat the enemy. I’m sorry, but that’s an admirable intention even if the presupposition on which it’s founded is ultimately misguided.

Now there’s plenty I don’t like as well. I wish that MacArthur was more willing to sit down with those who disagree with him (like Michael Brown). I wish that he didn’t lump all charismatics together and paint with such broad brushes (the Word of Faith is a relatively small faction within the Charismatic Movement). I wish that he’d spend a little more time interacting with Charismatic exegesis and less time focusing on their alleged experience driven lifestyles, but there’s room for everyone to improve. And to be honest, I haven’t lost hope. There was a time when MacArthur didn’t believe in the eternal generation of the Son and he revised that belief because he was convinced of it through his study of the Scripture. If he could see his error and change once then he can do it again, so let’s keep Johnny Mac in prayer.

B”H