Friday, March 11, 2011

My Favourite Charismatic

Expository Faithfulness from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

CJ is one of the most faithful preachers I've heard.  This is great stuff - but listen, will you, to the way he introduces the Bible reading?  Do we super-reformed types regard the public reading of Scripture with such seriousness?  

Then, take a listen to the extended section when he gets to 'complete patience'.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm still not charismatic, Steve

An old friend – Steve Utley – commented on my re-posted ‘Why I am not a charismatic’.  Here’s my open response to him

Hi, Steve. Glad to hear from you.  Actually, I suspected you’d responded last time I posted this, but anonymously – was I right?

Thanks for taking my post seriously.  I’m always glad for any evidence that someone is actually reading them!  I’ll take opportunity here to respond.  Let me begin by saying that a) we’re in agreement about a lot, as you say; b) the gospel is bigger than this, and I quite understand that your church feels closer to some non-Charismatic churches than to some Charismatic churches who’re soft on the gospel, and c) you only took up one point in my post! 

You write:
Unlike you, I am not convinced by the argument Stuart Olyott makes for 1 Corinthians 13:10. Much as I appreciate his work, I think that his exegesis of verse 10 does not stand comfortably within the passage.

My main objections to this exegesis would be that:
1. The context of the passage is 'the supremacy of love'
2. V.12 seems to qualify V.10 by stating that it will be when we see 'Face to face' we will know in full, until then we continue in part.
3. Immediately following this passage and upholding love as supreme, Paul then enters into a very explicit discourse on the use and administration of gifts without the slightest hint that they will disappear.

OK: one at a time.

1. Yes, the context is ‘the supremacy of love’ but that doesn’t mean that what he says about the gifts is not to be taken seriously.  Love is supreme precisely because it continues when most other gifts have ended.  There will be a time, says Paul, when only ‘faith, hope and love’ remain (verse 13).  That ‘time’ cannot be a reference to heaven: for ‘faith’ is ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1) and is explicitly contrasted with sight – the sight of heaven – in 2 Cor 5:7.  And hope – ‘hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?’ (Romans 8:24).  Remarkable as it seems at first hearing, if we define faith and hope as the New Testament does there is neither faith nor hope in heaven.  But if that ‘time’ is not heaven, when is it?  How can the sign gifts remain right until the end of the age?

2. Indeed, the phrase ‘face to face’ is very important.  But it’s important to remember Paul’s Biblical background – he has not just plucked this phrase out of the air.  He is alluding to Numbers 12:8 where Moses uses both the concept of ‘face to face’ and ‘dark speech’ (it’s translated ‘riddles’ in the NIV, not very helpfully).  ‘Darkly’ or ‘dimly’ is also omitted from the NIV (what a nuisance that translation is at times!) but check in other translations.  The close use of both concepts makes it very clear that Paul is alluding to Numbers: so what does the passage in Numbers speak of?  It speaks of two different earthly revelations, and of the superiority of Moses’ revelation to that of other prophets.  In other words, it not only fits with the idea that 1 Corinthians 13 is comparing the incomplete revelation of the prophets with the complete and clearer revelation of Scripture: it requires it.  Nothing else makes sense of the allusion.  And if you object ‘but he says we will know fully, even as we are known, and that can only refer to heaven’ think about it.  We will never – not even in heaven after an eternity of eternities – know God as fully as he knows us; we don’t have the capacity for that.  He is using the phrase though to contrast the lesser with the greater – NT prophecy (the lesser) with full Scriptural revelation (the greater).

3. As for him entering into an explicit discourse in chapter 14 without the slightest hint that they’ll disappear – he’s just told them that!  What do you want him to do – end every paragraph with ‘and don’t forget – shortly after you’re dead, these gifts will disappear anyway; I just need to keep saying it in case somebody in two millennia misses it’!?

‘The New Testament has much to say on gifts, signs and wonders…’ you say.  Well, no actually.  Not that much.  It has a fair bit to say on circumcision, too.  My position doesn’t negate the passages that are there – it just understands them in the whole NT context.   There’s no authority beyond the New Testament – we’re agreed on that.  And I don’t appeal to any authority other than that – do I?  You may not agree with my understanding of 1 Corinthians 13, but at least we both accept that it’s part of the New Testament!

Did you know I was present when Wendy was healed of epilepsy?  I remember that Sunday morning so very clearly.  I wouldn’t want to doubt that it was a most remarkable answer to prayer.  Was it a miracle?  I don’t know; I remember too that she had at least one further attack after that morning before they disappeared completely.  And I know too that some forms of epilepsy do pass eventually.  So I’m hesitant to use the word ‘miracle’ (which I think has a very narrow definition); but not remotely hesitant to say that it is one of the most remarkable answers to prayer I’ve ever seen.  And yes, I’ve seen other, similar, answers.  My position on healing is, I think, roughly the same as Lloyd-Jones’: God still heals, but there are no healers.  (And I remember that Lloyd-Jones always insisted that he had never seen a genuine miracle).  As for ‘real, tangible healings at Citygate’ I’ve no reason to deny it – my theology doesn’t require it!  BUT I would caution you: be sure the people who seem to have been healed were actually sick with an organic – rather than psycho-somatic - illness, and had been properly and reliably diagnosed as such.  Then be sure that they’re actually healed, and healed without medical intervention.  Only then can you even begin to think of using the word ‘miracle’; the Roman Catholic Church, to its credit, examines all of Lourdes’ ‘healings’ in this scrupulous way.  Such caution IS necessary; twenty years or so ago a well-known Christian woman hit the secular press with accounts of her miraculous healing and, sure enough, all tests revealed no trace of the disease she said she had had.  It was only when a sceptical evangelical doctor eventually gained access to her medical records that it was shown she never had had the disease; she had self-diagnosed, and been mistaken.

Finally (for now!) you say
  • I find that most rejection comes down to a personal experience (as did I) which we just know in our bones is not authentic. But is that the right thing to do?

Well, no it’s not.  But my reply would be that it’s the other way round: most people come to the Bible convinced that they’ve seen healings/tongues/prophecies etc and are therefore insistent that the Bible can’t mean what it says – and what Bible believers have believed it to say for most of the last two millennia.

Where, Steve, are the tongues that are not ‘angelish’?  Where are the organic healings that make the medical profession and the world sit up and take notice?  Why did no-one respond to the Pyromaniacs’ challenge for a well-attested, significant and accurate prophecy?  Why did John Wimber – the most remarkable and famous charismatic of his day – promise David Watson (the most remarkable, famous British charismatic of his day) that his cancer would be healed (just before he died of it!)  Why did people all over the world write to Watson with the same prophecy?  Why was there not a single voice saying ‘I have heard from the Lord, and this sickness is to death’?  Is it possible that the supreme and sovereign Lord allowed this so that we could face the facts – there are no true prophets today?

Well, blessings to you.  We’ll have to meet up some time and have a coffee, instead of bumping into one another by accident.  Give my love to your Mum and Dad.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Back with a Bang!

Thanks to Adrian Warnock for pointing me to this very rare (and all too brief) interview with the good Doctor.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?

Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?It seems incredible that the question should be asked, given the amount of literature available on Spurgeon and the clear and repeated statements the man himself made. But last year, two of my friends – both able evangelists, neither of them with much time for Calvinism or Calvinists (and neither of them, I think, really understanding either) – both expressed their admiration for Spurgeon and ended by saying 'But of course he wasn't really a Calvinist.' It isn't a new charge, of course – many of Spurgeon's contemporary Calvinists said the same thing. What is different about my two friends is that it's non-Calvinists who are saying it; and it set me wondering why; why two men should think that about Spurgeon today. What I want to do in this brief article is look at the two different reasons these friends gave and for each one examine whether there is a misunderstanding of Calvinism involved. Then, in conclusion, I want to suggest some lessons that contemporary Calvinists may need to learn.

1. The reasons they gave

Evangelist number one told me that Spurgeon wasn't really a Calvinist because he was willing to say to a mixed congregation – believers and unbelievers – 'Christ died for you.' In context, this followed the statement 'Calvinists are not seeing people converted today because they are unwilling to say to their congregation "Christ died for you."' With this latter statement there are a number of problems; is it true that Calvinists are not seeing people converted today – or, at least, are seeing fewer people converted than non-Calvinists? It may be – but are there any statistics? (Let us leave aside the admittedly vital question, 'How do we judge true conversion?') And if it is true, how do we establish that it is because Calvinists are not saying 'Christ died for you' to unbelievers? Much more importantly, if the statement 'Christ died for you' is so vital to gospel preaching, how do we account for the plain fact that not one of the evangelists in the Acts of the Apostles ever used the phrase – or anything implying it – in any of their recorded sermons? My evangelist friend – one of the most gifted and able men I know – went quiet at this point; it had never occurred to him (such is the power of presuppositions – ours too, of course, not just 'theirs'!). 'Don't they?' he asked. And then 'What about Isaiah? "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."' What indeed? Isaiah of course is not a New Testament evangelist and an Old Testament sermon to a rebellious but covenant community cannot be applied willy-nilly in preaching to pagans. But, just in case any should doubt Isaiah's doctrine of the atonement, the prophet tells us 'He bore the sin of many,' and no Calvinist doubts that.
But what of Spurgeon? Without doubt, he did believe in the doctrine of limited atonement which, properly speaking, does make it impossible to say to a mixed crowd or to a particular unconverted sinner 'Christ died for you.' Then too, he did sometimes – in his closing appeals – seem to invite people to Christ on the basis that Christ had died for them. But, let it be said, not very often. It is equally true that he sometimes invited people to Christ in terms that made him sound like a hyper-Calvinist (A hyper-Calvinist, in the sense in which I am using the word here, believes that the warrant of faith is within the sinner himself; that is, an unconverted person may believe that the gospel promises are for him or her if and only if he or she finds certain qualifications in his or her own self.) It is certainly true that, much more often, Spurgeon invited folks to Christ in terms that did not compromise his Calvinism in either direction.

What then shall we say of the 'lapses'? It is possible, of course, that they are editorial additions, since we know that his secretary Joseph Harrold often edited the sermons and was solely responsible for their editing after Spurgeon died. It is possible, then – but not, I think, likely. In fact, it is much more likely to be quite the reverse: because Spurgeon edited most of his own sermons, we cannot say these phrases were uttered incautiously in the heat of the moment, or taken down wrongly by stenographers. When Spurgeon himself reviewed the manuscript, he let the phrases stand. Why? Surely it is because the preacher was too concerned that sinners be commanded, invited and encouraged to come to Christ in terms that they could understand to worry about possible misunderstandings that people might read into his words? In this, he followed the apostle John – John 3:16, 1 John 2:2 for example.

When evangelist number two expressed his convictions about Spurgeon, I asked him to justify it, and he attempted to do so by referring to a sermon of Spurgeon's on Matthew 23:37 (Volume 45.2630). In the introduction to this sermon Spurgeon – obviously aware that his interpretation will be regarded by some as non-Calvinist, says 'I have long been content to take God’s Word just as I find it.' That, thinks my friend, proves that Spurgeon is not a Calvinist, or at least not a proper one, for he has not come to this scripture with his theology as a mould into which it must fit! Indeed, Spurgeon goes on '…and when, at any time, I have been accused of contradicting myself through keeping to my text, I have always felt perfectly safe about that matter. The last thing I care about is being consistent with myself. Why should I be anxious about that? I would rather be consistent with Christ fifty times over, or be consistent with the Word of God; but as to being for ever consistent with oneself, it might turn out that one was consistently wrong, consistently narrow-minded, and consistently unwilling to believe what God would teach. So we will just take the text as we find it; and it seems to say to me that, if Jerusalem was not saved,— if her children were not gathered together in safety as a brood of chickens is gathered beneath the hen,— if Christ did not gather them, and protect them, it was not because there was any unwillingness on his part. There was always a willingness in his heart to bless Jerusalem, and, therefore he could truly say, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings!” From this utterance of our Lord, I learn that, if any man be not saved, the cause of his non-salvation does not lie in any want of graciousness or want of willingness on the part of God. They who dare to say that it does, venture very far, and are very audacious in their assertions. This text says the very opposite; and so far as it is applicable to the sons of men in general, it declares that God wills not the death of any, but desires that they should turn unto him and live.'

Now, anyone who thinks this does not represent true Calvinism has, I believe, made two vital errors. Those errors, I suspect, are our fault as much as theirs; but I will come to that. First, what are those errors?

The primary one is that Calvinists 'get their system' from somewhere other than Scripture and impose it on the sacred text. I guess we have to admit straight away that some have done and do do that! Many of us have winced at those who want to assure us that when Christ said 'God so loved the world' he meant 'God only loves the elect,' – as if the Saviour did not have the vocabulary to express his meaning properly. But we also have to say that this is not true Biblical, evangelical Calvinism; however well-meaning, and however great its pedigree, it is a perversion. And it's a perversion that is at least as dangerous as Arminianism. By contrast, we would want to insist that the Scriptures alone are our authority; that our Calvinism is clearly taught in the Scriptures; that responsible and careful exegesis of all the Biblical data drives us to our theology – and then to turn the tables on our friends by showing how they impose their own presuppositions and theology on the Scriptures. (For example, what else can we make of Mark 10:45 – the Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many – other than that the Saviour did not mean 'for all' or he would have said 'for all'?) The Scripture drives and controls our theology, not the reverse. If we are not faithful to the Scriptures – and to all the Scriptures – then let it be shown and we will recant. But (we need to warn our friends) take care; just as we do not abandon our belief in the deity of Christ when heretics point us to 1 Timothy 2:5 ('the man Christ Jesus') so we will not abandon our particular atonement when Christian friends show us (as if we have never seen it!) 1 John 2:2 ('he is the propitiation… for the sins of the whole world'). The cases are exactly parallel; in neither case are we surprised by the text, in neither case do we impose our theology on the text and in neither case is our theology challenged by a proper understanding of the text.

The second error is to think that Calvinists believe that God does not desire the salvation of all. Perhaps there are some (undoubtedly there are some) who call themselves Calvinists who believe this; once again, however, that is not the essence of Calvinism. Calvinists well know that God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather than he should turn and live (Ezekiel 33:11); we know it, and rejoice in it. But faced with all the Scriptural data we see the need to make a distinction between the desire of God and the purpose of God. Plainly, not everyone is saved. Either then God does not have the power to save everyone (which makes God less than God and controverts plain Scriptures ) OR it is not God's purpose that everyone be saved. It is his will, but not his purpose. WHY should God's will be different from his purpose? Who knows? As Bunyan said on another issue, 'Where Scripture has no tongue I have no ears.' We are not told why and it is pointless to speculate; so we maintain both truths – not in tension, but in joy. The tension is only in the minds of those who lament our inconsistency!

2. Contemporary Calvinism is not like Spurgeon's.
But I said earlier that, if our non-Calvinist friends hold these errors it is probably our fault as well as theirs. We may want to say 'Hodge and Warfield and a thousand other Reformed theologians will put you straight if you but read them!' But it is not enough; they are reading us, and see not nearly enough to attract them. May I suggest two major errors of which we need to repent?

Firstly, we do not have the passion for the lost that we should have. That's been said often enough, and it's true. No-one looking at Spurgeon or at Whitefield could deduce that their theology made them cold, or ineffective evangelists. But our Calvinism is not like theirs in at least one important respect: many of us are more in love with our theology than we ever have been with souls. Many of us are more concerned with how other Calvinists see us, or with what Spurgeon called 'a foolish consistency' than we are with reaching the lost. Both Spurgeon and Whitefield preached in ways and did things which caused other Calvinists to question their theology; but we are too careful for that. Perhaps we value our welcome at the Leicester Conference far too much to do anything which might raise eyebrows, still less save souls! Both Spurgeon and Whitefield were different; they were innovative, adventurous and careless about their own reputations. When we are the same, others will have far fewer grounds for hating Calvinism.

Secondly – less importantly but not to be forgotten – we need to be more obviously people of the book. Until we know our Calvinism well and can defend it from Scripture alone; until we know what the most likely objections are and can answer them from the Scriptures alone let us not presume to teach others. Many of us can remember those heady days when first we glimpsed those doctrines of grace, and yearned that others should know them too. And that is right, surely. But immature zeal can do great damage – and anyway, reaching the lost is always more important.

Why I am not a charismatic

Why I am not a charismatic

Because I read my Bible...

You see, it happened like this. I was saved in August 1973. In September that year, I went off to University - one of the oldest and most elite academic insitutions in the country (Bradford). There I met lots of other Christians and began to go to an Elim Pentecostal church. Everybody - but everybody - seemed to be speaking in tongues. It seemed like a good idea... so I began to pray for it. I got lots of guidance (apparently you can be taught this supernatural gift) and, eventually, I began to speak in gibber... er, the tongues of angels.

Straight away I knew that I was now spiritually superior to those of my friends who didn't gibb - er, speak in tongues. And deep down, that bothered me; if a gift was genuinely of God, I thought, it shouldn't make me feel superior. So I began to wonder. I don't think it took more than ten days for me to decide my own experience was spurious, and I gave up g - er, you know.

Now I'm not daft enough (and wasn't daft enough even then) to think that my false experience meant that everyone else's experience was false, too. But it did open the possibility up in my mind. I read one or two books - Signs of the apostles, for example. But mostly, I read my Bible. And the gifts in the Bible just didn't look like the gifts in the Elim church.

I really wasn't impressed by the 'prophecies'. I mean, there are prophecies in the Bible, right? And they're pretty dramatic. And they're accurate. The prophecies I heard weren't even interesting.

But it was really 'tongues' that got me. Why was the most prolific gift the one gift that couldn't be tested, I wondered? I mean, my friends told me that some gifts of tongues were human languages, and some were the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). But I only heard the ones that - well, weren't human. Why? Could it be that all these people were fooling themselves?

And anyway, I understand English. I'm pretty good at it. I know a figure of speech when I see one. 'Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels' didn't read like a prescription to me, or even a description; it read like a sarcastic comment: 'I don't care if you speak Latin, French, English and Klingon - or even Angelish - if you don't have love I don't want to know.' But my friends were ever so, ever so excited about speaking Angelish, and I couldn't understand it.

And then, of course, the 'tongues' in the New Testament were never Angelish. They were always human languages - someone even pointed out to me, eventually, that the languages (tongues) spoken in Acts 2 were all named. Angelish wasn't any of them. Hmmm.

And so I kept reading my Bible, and kept watching. I realised that though the 'gifts' being used in the church were given the same namesas the gifts in the New Testament, that was all they had in common. I realised that I could call myself Elvis Presley, but it wouldn't make my voice the real thing. The only problem left: where were the gifts today, then?

It may have been as late as 1977 that I discovered the answer; Stuart Olyott explained to me what 1 Corinthians 13:10 meant, and it made sense. I know this is a controversial passage. Hey, those who are in the wrong find any Scripture passage that proves they're wrong controversial! If you already believe that 'the gifts' are being exercised in the church, perhaps 1 Corinthians 13:10 might not persuade you otherwise. But when you've already realised the truth - well, that's different.

Nearly 30 years later, I'm still persuaded. There were sign gifts - foundations for the whole church. Once the foundations were laid, those gifts were no longer necessary. I've never - not even once - seen anything 'enough like' a New Testament sign gift to make me wonder if I might have got it wrong. And I watched with fascinated interest while the Pyromaniac asked for one well-attested prophecy that the Charismatics had got right. The rude people slandered him; the polite people challenged his exegesis. (You can read about it starting hereand here) None of them gave the answer he'd asked for. QED, as they never actually said in my geometry lessons.

(This post originally appeared way back, and is reposted as a) still reflecting my opinions and b) part of the re-post program for February)