Saturday, February 23, 2008

An open letter to Adrian Warnock

Dear Adrian,

I confess I find your blog stimulating and frustrating in about equal measures. Stimulating because of your high view of Scripture and God's Sovereignty, your commitment to substitutionary atonement and your awareness of what is going on in the Reformed world and the Charismatic world alike. Frustrating because of the ease with which you accept reported miracles and your failure, repeatedly, to address some hard questions that you would, as a Christian psychiatrist, be in a really good position to consider. And I keep reading, because perhaps one day...

Then today you throw out a challenge: you publish a provocative quote from Lloyd-Jones where he accuses those who identify Spirit-baptism with conversion of 'quenching the Spirit', and you ask us to tell you what we think. Okay, then - I'll try.

I share your admiration for 'the Doctor' - what a man he was! What a preacher! I trained for ministry at London Theological Seminary which, as you will know, was set up by Lloyd Jones and some of his associates. The Doctor was still alive when I began there, and I had opportunity to discuss his views on Spirit-baptism with some of his closest acolytes (I do not mean the term unkindly).

Firstly Adrian, I think it might help if you could accept - in your heart as well as in your blog! - that the Doctor was never a closet charismatic. He knew personally Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders from probably three generations or more. He respected many of them. But he was never, apparently, convinced by them. Though his views on Spirit-baptism were certainly closer to yours than to mine, bear in mind: he did not draw the same practical conclusions as you have done. Ask yourself why. And ask: is it fair to quote Lloyd-Jones regularly as if he were 'one of you'?

Second, it's worth pointing out that within the Principality of Wales today there are Christian leaders who knew and respected Lloyd-Jones enormously and who agree with his views on Spirit-baptism and claim to have known that baptism. There are also others who knew and respected him enormously but disagree with his views on this point. As far as I'm aware, there's no obvious difference at all in the fruit of these men's ministries. It does not look as if either group has grieved the Spirit more than the other.

Thirdly I think it is worth asking whether LJ is likely to be right on this point. I mean: is it at all likely that an evangelical man who is genuinely trying to follow what the Scriptures say (or: what he believes the Scriptures say) may, by doing that, be quenching the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures? And not just that: quenching the Spirit in a uniquely powerful way ('There is nothing, I am convinced, that so 'quenches' the Spirit...')? I am afraid the Doctor is using a technique here similar to the 'shout loud because the argument is weak' one so beloved in preaching stories! He attempts to use theological fear to stop us looking carefully at what he says the Scripture says.

Fourthly, you know how rarely the phrase 'baptism in the Spirit' (or anything like it) is used in the New Testament. Once in each of the gospels; once in Acts. Those five relate the same incident. Then, once in 1 Corinthians 12:13. That's it. Now, 1 Corinthians 12:13 plainly refers to conversion; LJ admits as much but argues that since this is 'baptism by the Spirit' not 'baptism with or in the Spirit' it is plainly something different. Baptism with the Spirit, he says, is something the Lord Jesus does; baptism by the Spirit is something the Spirit does. What he does not face up to, however, is that the Greek in each case is the same: en pneumati. There is simply no ground in the original for the distinction the Doctor makes. Which rather queers his case - for if the clearest reference of all is to conversion, we are surely justified in allowing that to help us answer what 'Spirit baptism' means in the other cases. It is a basic rule of hermeneutics that the clear texts illuminate the not-so-clear.

Over the years I've thought a great deal about this. I have no doubt that LJ had a powerful and fresh experience of God after arriving at Westminster, as his biography shows. His passion for God, and his yearning that others should know God as he knew God, seems to have influenced his exegesis here in unwarranted ways.

Finally, one more thought. As you know, Adrian, Lloyd-Jones used 'baptism of power' as a synonym for 'baptism with the Spirit.' But even a cursory look at his own life would suggest that his greatest power was at Aberafon, before the Westminster experience - not after.

More could be said; but I must run.