Friday, February 24, 2017

This Week in Review - 2/24/2017

I decided to start posting interesting links, or things I've found to be edifying, in a sort of hodgepodge post. I hope to make this a weekly thing. It was inspired by some other people who I have seen done this. It was also inspired by the very real problem of finding nuggets on social media, faving or liking them, and then forgetting all about them later, or thinking about them later only to realize it's hard to get back to them.

So without further ado, here are the highlights of this week.

Live Action, Snopes and Planned Parenthood's "Prenatal Care" from Truthbomb Apologetics - A review of the claim from Snopes that the words of Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, were taken out of context. It proves that any dignity Snopes used to have are now gone, and they're basically another piece of leftist propaganda.

Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards’ Salary Has Gone Up a Whopping 265% to Almost $1 Million from LifeNews - In addition to the last link, just a little reminder of how rich you can get running a supposedly non-profit, for-the-good-of-the-people organization.

The “Telephone Game” Myth: Has the New Testament Been Changed Over Time? from God from the Machine - A neat little response to the "telephone game" charge lodged by some internet atheists. Basically a summary of manuscript evidence and textual transmission, especially compared to other works of antiquity.

Did Humans Really Evolve from Apelike Creatures? from Answers in Genesis - A good read on the idea behind the evolution of man, and the so-called evidence used today in an attempt to prove the missing link. (There's a good reason it's still missing.)

Are there Non-Religious Skeptics of Darwinian Evolution and Proponents of Intelligent Design? from Christian Research Institute - As this article shows, there is a cult-like culture within the scientific community where, just as if you question global warming, you will be mocked and ostracized for holding contrary views to what is accepted as the norm.

Radio Free Geneva: A Nearly Three Hour Examination of “Traditional” Anthropology from Alpha and Omega Ministries - James White reviews a response from Leighton Flowers regarding Calvinism. As the title suggests, it's a long listen, but it goes in depth on common charges against Calvinism, as well as philosophical arguments against it.

Hall of Contemporary Reformers from Monergism - A collection of modern Reformed apologists and scholars.

Red Letter Jesus from Sheologians - An article written by Summer White (daughter of James White) on how feminist and leftist heretics who argue "Jesus didn't say that specifically!" are basically committing the Red Letterism error.

Predest1 from weecalvin1509 - The first part in a four part series on whether or not John Calvin taught double predestination, and for what purpose Calvin believed people were sent to hell.

Skeptic Challenge: God Condones Rape from A Clear Lens - A response to the (surprisingly commonly made) charge that God condones rape in Deuteronomy. It looks at the different Hebrew words used in the entire section of scripture, and comes to the same conclusion many commentators have throughout the centuries.

Leaving the NAR Church: Jared's Story from Pirate Christian - One man's sad story about the experiences of him and his wife with a "deliverance counselor" who attributed everything to demons, and never once gave them the Gospel.

Six Scary But Important Words Every Christian Parent Should Say to Their Kids About Faith from Natasha Crain - Spoiler alert: the words are "Don't believe just because I do." However, the reasons given for why you SHOULD say those words make this article worth the read. As a parent myself, I found this edifying.

3 Key Things Skeptics Will Say to Shame Your Kids for Being Christians from Natasha Crain - A guide on how to ready your children for the charges that will be thrown at them for simply being believers.

5 Signs You’re Forcing Your Religion (or Atheism) on Your Kids…and 5 Signs You’re Not from Natasha Crain - A good guide for believers - and non-believers - to use to make certain they're actually trying to raise their children to be true, confessing believers, rather than just so-called Christians mimicking their parents.

And in the humor corner...

Rob Bell Runs Out of Doctrines to Deny at Babylon Bee - A satirical article on a true "end of an era."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Suffering and Election

The following is from John Calvin's commentary on Isaiah 14.
It will be asked, Was there a period during which God had no compassion? Undoubtedly, he always had compassion; but while the people were distressed by heavy calamities, it was not perceived; for, having their minds previously occupied with a view of God's anger, and, judging from outward appearances, they could not perceive God's compassion. Yet the Lord was always like himself, and never laid aside his nature. Thus it is proper to distinguish between the knowledge which springs from faith and the knowledge which springs from experience; for when the tokens of God's anger are visible all around, and when the judgment of the flesh leads us to believe that he is angry, his favor is concealed from us; but faith raises our hearts above this darkness, to behold God in heaven as reconciled towards us. What follows is somewhat more startling.

And will yet choose Israel, or, will again choose Israel. God's election is eternal. He does not choose us as if this had never before come into his mind; and as we were chosen before the foundation of the world, (Ephesians 1:4,) so he never repents of his choice. (Romans 11:29.) But when the Lord chastises his people, this has the appearance of rejecting them; as we learn from the frequent complaints of the saints, Lord, why hast thou cast us off? (Psalm 74:1.) We look at God's rejection or election according to our weakness, and judge of his feelings toward us by the outward action. (I speak of the knowledge which is derived from experience, and which is corrected by the light of faith.) Accordingly, when the Lord calls us, that is, confirms his election, he is said to choose us; and when he gives evidence that he is displeased, he is said to reject us. The meaning, therefore, is, "Though the Lord has treated his people so severely, as if he had rejected them; yet by the actual event he will at length show and prove that he has adopted them, by giving abundant evidence of his election, and by having compassion on them for ever." [source]

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Complementarianism and the Gospel

An unpopular subject these days is the role of the two genders, not only in society at large but especially within the confines of marriage. It gets especially difficult because you often have two extremes in the discussion: those of an egalitarian, feminist stream, and those of the "gimme a beer" woman stream. Some in the latter camp have even go so far as to say a husband should be allowed to physically discipline their wife, as they would one of their own children. A lot of egalitarians or semi-complementarians (ie., those who might want to be complementarians but are nervous about the doctrine) may use that one extreme to mock the entire concept, or present it as the reason why the entire concept should be dismissed.

The thought occurred, in recent musings on the subject, that one problem with the presentation of complementarianism is that, insofar as marriage is concerned, it is presented in a simple dogmatic fashion rather than what it's supposed to be: a home presentation of the Gospel. This comes across most clearly in one of the Bible's most clearest passages teaching on the subject, which we will present, and analyze, in full below:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. [Ephesians 5:22-33]
Coming from a section on submission, the apostle Paul turns to the application of this at home. He tells wives to submit to their husbands, "as to the Lord." This does not mean the husband is God, but rather this is directly related to the understanding of Christ and the church: Paul explains that "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior."

Some might point out here that the word "submit" is not in the original Greek for verse 22; indeed, Paul's original wording is "wives, to your own husbands, as to the Lord." The word "submit" is added by most translations for two reasons:
  1. Paul is continuing his train of thought from verse 21: "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." (We will touch on this verse later on in this post.)
  2. Translators are attempting to tie this verse with the parallel passage in Colossians 3:18-19.
The original Greek word for "submit" in Colossians 3:18 is ὑποτάσσω. As many translation commentaries have noted (eg., AT Robertson's own wonderful work on the New Testament Greek), this word carries a very military feel to it; just as a private submits to his sergeant, so too does a wife submit to the husband. Other moments in scripture where the same word is used include:
  • Christ is told that demons are in subjection to the disciples in his name (Luke 10:17).
  • Christians are told to be in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
  • God is said to have placed everything in subjection to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27-28).
  • The church is said to be in subjection to Christ (Ephesians 5:24 - this very passage).
  • Believers are told to be in subjection to God (James 4:7).
We must also note here that, right at the beginning, Paul draws a connection between husband and wife, and Christ and the church. Those who want to do away with the idea that the roles of husband and wife in a marriage are somehow different, or (to be more fair) wish to do away with the idea that the wife submits to the husband, must therefore undo Paul's analogy. If wife does not submit to husband "in everything," then the church does not submit to Christ "in everything"; if the husband does not have a position of authority over the wife, then Christ has no position over the church. Indeed, in my discussions on this passage with egalitarians and feminists, a common tactic has been to commit a red herring and jump to an entirely different passage altogether, hence inadvertently pitting scripture against scripture. The reason they would do so is obvious: because you cannot defend an egalitarian or feminist view of marriage with this passage.

Yet immediately we must stop here and ask: what is the nature of the husband's authority over the wife? It won't be denied that many have abused this passage, even going so far as to cite passages elsewhere in scripture where God commands complete obedience, and hence interpret it as husbands having absolute authority like God Himself. While we shouldn't, like the feminist heretics, forsake the metaphor, we shouldn't likewise forget how Paul himself defines the metaphor. We see that Paul, after telling wives to submit to husbands as the church to Christ, now turns to husbands and explains what their role entails.

The apostle says that the husband's role centers around one single fact: love. From this love stems a great self-sacrifice on the part of the man, and for one single purpose: the sanctification and nurturing of the wife. Husbands are to love their wives "as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might preset to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless" (vv. 25-27).

Paul adds to this that "husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself" (v. 28). Likewise, "no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of his body" (vv. 29-30). Returning to the metaphor of Christ and the church, the apostle makes the connection that, just as the church is Christ's body, so too is the wife to be seen as the husband's own flesh - and rightfully so, given that, upon marriage, man and woman become one flesh (vv. 31-32). Yet even in this case, there is still some hierarchy, for the woman is said to be like the man's body, and the man is to love and nourish the woman as he would his own body. Nobody is controlled by their body, merely influenced by its condition. It is our duty to nourish and care for our body - hence the husband is commanded by Paul to love and cherish his wife as if she were his own body, because, within his Christ-Church metaphor, she is. Therefore, any man who abuses his wife for her sin is akin to the flagellants of the Middle Ages, who whipped their bodies because of their sin. This is especially plain in the parallel verse in Colossians 3:19, where the apostle Paul commands husbands to "not be embittered against" their wives.

It should be noted here that, while there is a call for wife's submission, it is not to be blind or sinful submission. When Paul told believers to be in submission to their governments in Romans 13:1, he obviously did not mean to be in submission to the point that the government commands you to sin (otherwise, there were thousands of Christian martyrs in the Roman Empire that misunderstood that verse). With marriage, this is especially clear in the parallel verse in Colossians 3:18, where wives are told to be in subjection to their husbands "as is fitting in the Lord." If a husband is in sin, or is wanting the wife to sin, then that is where she draws the line in submission.

All the same, the roles in marriage are quite clear: wives are to submit to their husbands, and husbands are to care and love their wives. Paul says as much in the concluding verse of this passage, stating "each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband" (v. 33). The word here in the NASB for "respects" is phobetai in the Greek, from which we get the word phobia. As might be discerned, the word means "fear" - but it is not meant here as a kind of horrifying fear. Paul is not saying a wife should be literally afraid of her husband! Rather, it means a kind of great respect, similar to when we speak of the "fear of the Lord." A woman who disrespects her husband, in any way, is just as bad as a husband who does not give proper love to his wife. It has been said by many that, in a relationship, a man expects respect, while a woman expects love; from here, we can see that this isn't just good marriage counseling, it's actually as God designed it.

When you recognize the proper roles within a marriage, you suddenly realize a spiritual truth: marriage is in and of itself a daily model for the Gospel. The husband sacrifices himself for the wife, as Christ for the church. The wife submits to the husband, as the church to Christ. The wife is sanctified and spiritually led, as Christ does the church. In cases of sin, the wife can come to the husband, who must love and nourish her, as Christ loves and nourishes those who repent before him. The husband likewise looks within himself, and, knowing he can never truly be "like Christ," turns to God for repentance. The husband reviews his spiritual leadership, and, if finding himself lacking anywhere, seeks to rectify the situation, again turning to God for repentance and guidance.

Marriage, it can be said, is always seen under the shadow of the cross.

It probably should not surprise us, then, that in many circles where traditional marriage roles are undone, there is likewise an undoing of the Gospel and Christ's relationship with man. The substitutionary atonement may be removed, and man may be seen as a "partner" with Christ, co-joined in an earthly work. There is no hierarchy on earth, and hence the idea of a hierarchy with God above all is seen as shallow and superficial at best. I'm not saying that one necessarily leads to the other - sometimes these happen at once, or reversed. My point is that we shouldn't be surprised that in circles where complementarianism is undone, other orthodox doctrines are likewise undone.

Some egalitarians attempt to refute the idea that wives are to submit to their husbands by honing in on the words of Paul from the same chapter: "and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph 5:21). Since we are to be subject to one another, they argue, it is nonsensical to say wives should submit to their husbands - in fact, husbands should submit to their wives in the exact same manner. In doing so, they make two mistakes:
  • They argue scripture against scripture. They do not deal with what Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-24, instead grabbing a verse, isolating it, and pretending that no other verses exist. They are like the child who covers his eyes and thinks that, because he can't see something, no one else can, forgetting that rational people with eyes to see will indeed see that they are being dishonest with the text.
  • Related to the previous problem, they forget that, after writing those words, Paul then clarifies what that subjection looks like. He explains what the subjection entails specifically: wife to husband (Eph 5:22-24), children to fathers (Eph 6:1-3), and slave to master (Eph 6:5-8). If an egalitarian wishes to argue there is no distinction between husband and wive because of verse 21, then they must likewise argue, to maintain Paul's consistency throughout his train of thought, that there is no distinction between children and parents, and slaves and masters.
Another tactic by some is to hone in on Paul's words "we are members of His body" (Eph 5:30). Some will use this and say that, since we are all members of Christ's body, no one is above another. Others will use this to take the idea of a husband being "the head" to say that the head is still part of the party. Both these arguments run into issues.

  • In the former case, it's forgetting the connection Paul is making in his analogy: just as Christ is the head, and the Church the body, and hence has authority over it, so too is the husband the head of the wife, and hence has authority over her. For this argument to maintain some level of consistency, one would have to say that Christ has no authority over the Church.
  • In the latter case, this is just completely missing the point of the argument. Paul is saying that the head has control over the body - the head is seen as the "center" of the body, in some way. Similarly, Christ is "head" over the Church, and the husband is "head" over the wife. Likewise, similar to the previous argument, one would have to logically deduce, in order to remain consistent with Paul's argument, that Christ has zero authority over the Church.

Still other egalitarians will jump from Ephesians entirely, running to Paul's words in Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). If we are all one in Christ, they argue, then you cannot say that men and women have special roles, or that one rules over the other. The problem with this is two-fold:
  • As before, they are arguing scripture against scripture. Those who follow the Feminist Christian heresy are unable to properly deal with passages in their proper context; they must always jump to some other verse and deal with that instead, revealing the incoherent nature of their thinking. Instead of dealing with verses giving the clearest teaching on a doctrine (the sedes doctrinae verses, as Lutherans say), they will jump to verses with a much more vague connection, and attempt to teach clarity from there. Similar tactics are employed by Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and others who follow a false teaching.
  • To appeal to this verse is appealing apples to oranges. In this section of Galatians, Paul is elucidating on the nature of the promise of the Gospel, and the unity of believers under that promise - not just the Jewish descendants of Abraham. Believers, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or social status, are "all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:26). Unlike certain Gnostic heresies, being a man does not make one saved alone, and belonging to a specific ethnic lineage does not make you saved. Hence, Paul is speaking of a salvific unity, not a kind of SJW-brand of egalitarianism. If he were, not only would he be contradicting himself in Ephesians 5, where he speaks of wives being in subjection to their husbands and slaves to their masters, but likewise in another epistle, where he speaks of sending a runaway slave back to his master (Phil 1:10-16).
The fact remains, there is a scriptural call for roles within marriage, within the relation of husband and wife. This hierarchy is tied with the hierarchy of Christ and the Church, in relation to the Church's loyalty and service to Christ, and Christ's love and care for the Church. For one to deny the one hierarchy is to deny the other. The shame is that, in denying this relationship and its respective roles, we in essence deny what is a wonderful, experiential representation of the Gospel and that relationship between Christ and believer.

Wives, are you in submission to your husbands? Does it reflect the submission that the church should have towards God? Husbands, do you love, sanctify, and nourish your wives? Does it reflect the kind of love and joy that Christ gives to the church? Are you the guardian of the spiritual well-being of your household? You two are one flesh, and if either fail in their role, then the entire body will be sick, and the marriage shall suffer. Take the commands of submission and love as a chance to work the Gospel into your marriage, and to continually give yourself and your spouse the Gospel every day.

As I said before, place your marriage under the shadow of the cross.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Anselm Myth

It is a common argument among modern Eastern Orthodox, laymen and apologists alike, to argue that there was no concept of an atonement (specifically the substitutionary atonement) for sins until the time of the Church Father Anselm, or (as some put it) at least by the tenth or eleventh century (around the time that Anselm lived). I covered this extensively in my podcast episode where I reviewed an audio of Eastern Orthodox apologist Frederica Mathewes-Green, who often repeats this contention in her writings and lectures.

However, the idea that the atonement was a foreign concept within Patristics is patently false. Below are some quotes from Church Fathers regarding this topic. I will most likely be adding to this list as research continues.
"Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us..." [Clement of Rome; First Epistle, Ch. 21]

"On account of the Love he bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls." [ibid; Ch. 49]

“He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!” [Methetes; Epistle to Diognetus, Ch. 9]

“But again, showing that Christ did suffer, and was Himself the Son of God, who died for us, and redeemed us with His blood at the time appointed beforehand, he says: ‘For how is it, that Christ, when we were yet without strength, in due time died for the ungodly? But God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.’” [Irenaeus; Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 16, Section 9]

“We were enemies of God by means of Sin; and God ordained that the sinner should die. Of two things, then, one must needs have happened; either that God should adhere to His word, and destroy all men, or that by giving scope to His benignity He should annul His sentence. But see the wisdom of God. He secured, at once, reality for His sentence, and active operation for His benignity. Christ 'took on Himself our sins in His body, on the Tree, that we, being dead to sins' through His death, 'should live unto righteousness.' He that died for our sakes was not of small account. He was not a literal sheep, He was not a mere man, He was not simply an Angel, but He was God Incarnate. The iniquity of the sinners was not so great as was the righteousness of Him that died for them. Our sins did not equal the amount of His righteousness, who laid down His life for us, who laid it down when He pleased, and when He pleased resumed it.” [Cyril of Jerusalem; Lecture 13, 53]

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Four Incorrect Views of Christianity

The following is from Authentic Christianity, by Martin Lloyd-Jones, regarding Acts 2:37–47.
Let me put it quite simply like this: What would your answer be if I gave you a sheet of paper and a pencil and told you to put down in as few words as possible your idea of what it means to be a Christian? [...]

There are some people who quite clearly think that Christianity operates solely in the realm of the intellect. These are serious and able men and women who are concerned about life and its problems. They know that here is a traditional teaching, and they believe it their bounden duty to consider it. So they read about the Christian faith and may become very interested in it, even accepting a good deal of it. But it is all in the mind. It is all theoretical. They may greatly enjoy their study of Christianity; it may become their hobby, but it is nothing beyond that. In addition, many people devote their lives to theological study. These scholars and academics spend their time in intellectual argument, taking up religious issues and writing their books one against another or in agreement with one another. That is their whole life. [...]

At the opposite extreme, there are those for whom Christianity is purely a matter for the feelings. They have had a wonderful experience of peace or love or happiness, and they say they need nothing else. The intellectuals, of course, condemn such people. “It’s pure emotionalism,” they say. “They cannot argue seriously with you. They haven’t read the books and cannot discuss them with you. They live on the wonderful feeling they say they’ve had and deliberately try to work it up again and again.” And, of course, there is a good deal of evidence that lends considerable weight to these objections.

Then there is a third group that puts the entire emphasis upon the will. According to this view, what makes a Christian is not what people think; and if they like to play with the emotions, let them do so. Rather, they say, whether or not you are a Christian hinges upon what you do. It is the way in which you live that is the deciding factor. Are you living for the good of humanity? Are you ready to make sacrifices? Are you ready to put desire for a great career on one side in order to do something heroic and wonderful and sacrificial? That is what makes people Christians. It is a question of making a deliberate decision to improve the lot of humanity and uplift the human race. This may take you into politics or into social work—the sphere is unimportant. As long as you are giving yourself in service, what does it matter what you believe? The intellect is comparatively unimportant. Indeed, you can be certain of very few things in a world like this. The important thing is your will and your desire and what you are actually doing.

A fourth view of Christianity, a view commonly held by many people who have been brought up as Christians — I myself held it for many a year — is the view that being a Christian is a task that you have to take up and that you take up more or less reluctantly and miserably in a spirit of fear. Christianity is mainly something that spoils life. You know other people who were not brought up as Christians, and you see that they do things freely without any hesitation at all, and you wish you could be doing the same things, but you are afraid. You have been brought up in a chapel or a church, brought up as a Christian, as it were, and though you want to do these things, you cannot. This Christianity stands between you and them. [...]

So we are considering these eleven verses from Acts, and we see what an utter travesty this last view is of Christianity. This is what Luke wrote: “They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people” (vv. 46–47). Could anything be a greater contrast? This is Christianity.[pg. 64-66]

Thursday, October 8, 2015

An email I wrote about Rick Warren

Oh my, a blog post after so long! Yes, I am still alive.

The following is an email I sent to a woman, who had discovered my reservations with Rick Warren, and was curious for the reason. I decided to share it here, since it covers a lot of material. Nothing personal about the individual I was writing this to is in the email itself.
Herein are my thoughts regarding Rick Warren. For the sake of organization, I've actually divided this email up into sections. I know this might seem too formal, but you know I'm a stickler for organization, and it helped me put my thoughts together.

Introduction

Before I begin, I'd like to establish two things.

First, while I know you've told me a thousand times over you want me to be honest with you about this, I've still had too many experiences with people in the past to do this too openly and honestly. So please understand these are simply my findings (from Biblical study and my time doing discernment research) in regards to Rick Warren, his ministry, and his peers. This is not a personal attack against you, or your family, or even your home worship. As I've told you on Twitter, I have the utmost respect for you, you've been a major influence on my authorship, and I consider you a friend. I'm doing this because you've asked me to do it, but I believe in speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15). If at times I get passionate, it's because of my passion for God and His word.

Second, let me make it clear that, obviously, God is sovereign over salvation (as attested to by John 6, Ephesians 1-2, etc.). I don't deny that God can make a flower grow out of dirt, or draw a line with a crooked stick, or whatever metaphor we can use for turning something bad into something good. I knew someone who was saved reading the Jehovah's Witness translation of the Bible (which is one of the most corrupt translations out there). However, let's likewise recognize that God's use of a crooked stick doesn't redeem the crooked stick itself. That God can save people by using the Jehovah's Witness translation doesn't make it a good translation, or one Christians should use. God used the murder of innocent children in Bethlehem (Mt 2:16-18) to give legitimacy to Christ's position as Messiah - that doesn't excuse what Herod did.

With all that established...

Use of Scripture

I'm going to open up this part of the email bluntly. Rick Warren is, perhaps, one of the worst expositors of God's word I've ever come across. Maybe he's not the worst, to be fair, but he definitely ranks among all those I've read or listened to. I actually own a copy of The Purpose Driven Life, and have tried to get through it, but I've been unable to finish it so far. Some reasons for this:

1) He placed all his scripture references at the end of the book. To be fair, he's not the only one to have ever done this (Josh McDowell does this too), but it's annoying as heck for those of us that want to be good Bereans and examine our scriptures to see if the teachings are correct (Acts 17:11). I eventually scanned the reference pages and used them to bookmark the book, so that way I could go back and reference it.

2) Every single time he uses a passage of scripture, I have to pause and review the context. I generally do this for everybody, but I have to do it with him especially...because virtually every single passage of scripture he cites or quotes is mishandled.

Obviously, the charge of misusing God's word is a serious one, so I have provided some examples from the book itself (I could use examples from sermons/speeches he's given, but I use the book as a grounding). Below are three examples.

Ephesians 3:20: On page 31, while promising that "wonderful changes are going to happen in your life as long as you begin to live it on purpose," Warren later adds "you may feel you are facing an impossible situation, but the Bible says"...and then proceeds to cite Ephesians 3:20 from the Living Bible, which reads: "God...is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of - infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts and hopes." His obvious connection is that, despite what life throws at us, God is going to bring us anything we so desire to make us happy again.

The first problem is that the Living Bible is a paraphrase, not a translation, and the original wording (and full sentence) is: "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Eph 3:20-21; NASB). Paul is praying, not giving a statement. In fact, Paul is giving a prayer to God at the tail end of a long Gospel message to the Ephesian believers. He has just gone into detail about how God's plan of salvation was carried out from eternity (Ephesians 1), and how it was done sovereign act of God upon Jews and Gentiles, not on the basis of works but by the basis of faith gifted by Him (Ephesians 2), and is how summing up he hopes the Ephesians understand the glory and majesty of their salvation (Ephesians 3). Verse 20 is not about how chipper God can make us after a bad day - Verse 20 is part of a praise by the apostle Paul towards God for this wonderful salvation gifted to us. Paul is talking about salvation, not a therapeutic fortune cookie message, which is what Warren transformed it into.

Philippians 3:13: In one of the most amazing uses of scripture in the book (and one which made me literally scream "WHAT?!"), Warren writes: "...the apostle Paul almost single-handedly spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. His secret was a focused life. He said, 'I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.' [Php 3:13; NLT]" To understand just how badly Warren mishandled this passage, we need to review the full context of the chapter.

Paul is taking a moment to attack the Judaizers (the "false circumcision," as per verse 2) who believed that in order to be saved, you had to become Jewish and follow the Jewish ritualistic and ceremonial laws. Paul says that if anyone has confidence in the flesh, he should, because he meets all the criteria of that time for what amounted to a "perfect Jew" (verses 4-6). However, all those things Paul mentions, which the Judaizers would have greatly envied, he considers nothing - in fact, he literally considers them, as per the original Greek, "crap" (the NASB says "rubbish"), if losing them means knowing Christ, his salvation, and the resurrection promised through faith in him (verses 7-11). To Paul, it's not how great your lineage or standing before the Jewish Law was - it was knowing Christ and the eternal promise the Good Shepherd had for his sheep.

Not we get to verse 12, where Paul says: "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus." Meaning that Paul hasn't already obtained the resurrection of the dead or anything like that, but he's striving forward so that he may one day see Christ in all his glory. Now we get to verses 13-14, which show an even fuller context for what Warren quoted: "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

So immediately, let's talk about what Paul is saying here. Is he speaking about how he made Christianity so big in the Roman Empire? No, not at all; he's talking about focusing on faith in Christ. Warren's application of Php 3:13 in this scenario is therefore irrelevant. Furthermore, is Paul talking about how much "focus" he has in his day to day life? No. Paul is saying that he puts all his faith in Christ, and he looks forward to the day when there shall be a resurrection of the dead, and the saints shall be glorified with their king. As you can see, Rick Warren completely mangled this verse to try to teach people to stop living crazy lives. He blatantly used it out of context.

Jeremiah 29:11: He quotes this on pages 31 and 78 of the book, but he's actually used this verse a couple of times in other sermons. In fact, a lot of people use this verse, and always in the same way: as if God has some wonderful, super duper plan for their current life, like he's going to make our earthly time better. AND THEY'RE ALL DEAD WRONG. Every time I hear this verse misquoted, it's like nails on a chalkboard for me. If you go to the beginning of Jeremiah 29, you see that it's addressed to the Jews living in the Babylonian captivity. If you look at chapter 10, you see that God is promising to fulfill His word that the exiles will be restored back to the holy land after the seventy years of captivity are up. It has nothing to do with us. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, I find the misuse of this verse insulting to Christian men and women of the past. What were the "plans for welfare and not for calamity" that God had for the apostle Paul, who was beheaded under house arrest? What was the wonderful plan God had in store for the early Christian martyrs who were torn apart by lions? What was that wonderful plan which God had for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran theologian who was hung naked in a Nazi concentration camp? See, Jeremiah 29:11, ripped from it's original context, may look great on a bumper sticker you can buy at Lifeway, but it loses all meaning when you look at the original context, or you try to apply it to Christians throughout history.

One of the most common problems I see with Warren's use of scripture is he interprets it therapeutically. He's even openly said that when you read a passage of scripture, your first motive should be to think on how to apply it to people's daily lives. Um, no. That's not how I would want someone reading my books, so why would I read God's book that way? A passage of scripture teaches what it teaches. Yes, it could be made applicable, but within the context of which it speaks, not in a spiritualized understanding that removes the original context. We saw this already in the passages I examined before.

Another major problem with Warren's use of scripture in the book, and one which has often been lodged against him by critics, is his erratic use of multiple translations. In Chapter 9 alone, for example, he uses excerpts from the NLT, the Message (which is a paraphrase), the Living Bible (again, paraphrase), the NIV, TEV, CEV, the KJV, and the GWT. That's eight translations used in just one chapter

Now, I'm fully aware that his excuse is, "It's good to review different translations in regards to nuance of language." The problem is, I never see him doing that in the book. I've done that before, where I might use the NASB, but I'll say, "The Hebrew word means this, which is better rendered in the NET," etc. Warren, however, doesn't do that. It's quite obvious that the reason he uses so many translations is he's trying to get a certain wording out of them in order to prove his point - in fact, if you look at the original language or a better translation, his point suddenly runs into problems. 

One example I can give of Rick Warren's picking-and-choosing of translations (another one, even worse, will come later) is on page 48, when, speaking of us living here temporarily, he quotes the GWT rendition of 1 Peter 1:17 with: "If you call God your Father, live your time as temporary residents on earth." However, any Greek equivalent to "temporary residents" is nowhere to be found in the text. A better translation of the verse is: "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth" [NASB; "on earth" is in italics because it's not in the original Greek, but is put there for translation clarity]. Peter's point was that, if we are true Christians, we should live our lives as holy before the Lord. Peter was in no way trying to emphasize, "We're only here temporarily, so make it worth it!"

Theology

Also concerning for me is Warren's general theology. He comes across as Semi-Pelagian, in that we must either work for our salvation somehow, cooperate with God for our salvation, or (speaking generally, not soteriologically) we must do something in order to get God to do something. In fact, a lot of his teachings (like a lot of megachurch sermons) are just pure Law. Even if he doesn't come out and say it's Law, it's still a matter of "God wants to do this, but first we must do this." Any time we create our relationship with God into a tit-for-tat, we bring in works, and we place ourselves under the Law. Warren, and those who follow his teaching style, continually fall into this trap. "If you do this, then this will happen." "If you do this, God will start doing this for you." Everything is works. Nothing is Gospel. In fact, sometimes the Gospel gets muddled in there.

One example of this is when Warren says in his book, "Every time you pass a test, God notices and makes plans to reward you in eternity" (pg. 44). That is blatant works; you do something, God gives you a reward. Worst still, Warren follows this up with a quote from the GWT version of James 1:12, which reads: "Blessed are those who endure when they are tested. When they pass the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." 

Two problems with this:

1) James is not speaking about those who "pass a test," but rather the one who "perseveres under trial" (NASB). He's talking about enduring temptations (as verses 13-15 go on to show). Notice another example where Warren grabbed a translation that said what he wanted it to say.

2) The "crown of life" is not a reward we earn. Rather, it is a symbol of our eternal salvation, hence it's similar use in 1 Pet 5:4 and Rev 2:10. This is given to us by Christ, who earned it for us on the cross.

Hence, Rick Warren took a passage about our salvation being realized after enduring temptations, and turned it into a special rewards program with God, as if God is a divine credit card company. I could cite other examples from his book and lectures/sermons he's given, but that is one such example of how he transforms the message of the Bible into a quid quo pro thing that people have to do.

This is where it's important to understand where our deeds come into place. When I do good, I do good out of honor to the Savior who bought me with his blood - not because I believe I will get anything out of it. I have already received what I need from Christ. The only thing I contributed to my salvation is the sin that sent God the Son to the cross. When we are regenerated by God's grace, we are made new creations (2 Co 5:17), and that new creation will perform as a new creation should. That doesn't mean we're perfect and sinless, but the heart set to God does not look at the flesh the way the old heart used to (Rom 8:5), and hence acts accordingly.

A good example of our works flowing from Christ's work (rather than our works seeking to obtain benefits of Christ's work) is seen in the Epistle to the Colossians: because we have been raised up, we should seek the things above (Col 3:1); because we are the chosen of God, we should put on a heart of compassion, kindness, etc. (Col 3:12); because Christ has forgiven us, so should we forgive (Col 3:13). In our salvation, we always have the indicative before the imperative - not the other way around.

In short, we do not say "baa" because we want to be sheep; we say "baa" because we are sheep. A person born of God will behave like a person born of God, just as a person born of sheep will behave like a sheep. If we do things, it is from that nature God has granted us in our heart. In fact, this was the nature of the new covenant under Christ:

“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” [Heb 8:8-12; quoting from Jer 31:31-34]

Ecumenicism

Another problem with Warren is his soft-handed approach towards dealing with other groups. He has a bad habit of attempting to appeal to everyone he wants to speak to, and acting as if he's one of them. While it's alright to talk to people as social equals, it's another to act as if you are theologically similar, or you're exactly what they would expect someone to be. Salesmen call this "mirroring" - you sense what the other person wants to hear, or what they think like, and you attempt to mirror it back to them in conversation. Critics of Warren have pointed out instances in conversations and interviews (for example, his softball interview with John Piper) where Warren is clearly demonstrating this kind of tactic.

The result of this is plain. In some instances, Warren completely avoids bringing up the Gospel (for example, his TED Talk speech, which even Billy Graham used to give the Gospel). In other instances (such as when he spoke to Muslims), he completely minimizes doctrine so that he gives a very inclusivist presentation. You can likewise see this in how he's often unable to properly pronounce or use words; for example, when he was speaking to John Piper, and tried to come across as Reformed by using the word "monergist," but mispronounced it as mah-ner-gist rather than the correct way of mah-ner-jest. Now, no one's going to hell for mispronouncing word, but my point is that someone who is a passionate member of something would at least be able to pronounce their words right - I wouldn't expect a die-hard Communist to mispronounce Vladimir Lenin's name wrong. Warren mispronouncing "monergist" shows he's not familiar enough with the word to know how it's pronounced; which shows he's not a real monergist, he's just trying to pass himself off as one to please the monergists.

I once got in a discussion with a brother in Christ about who was more dangerous: Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen. We agreed that Warren was the worst of the two. The reason behind this was that Osteen is fairly blatant about what he is - he's a Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospel heretic. Warren, on the other hand, tries to be everybody. He's chameleonic. You can't say what he is because he doesn't want to use labels or set in stone what he is, and hence straddles both sides of every fence. He reminds me of an old fable about a bat and the war between birds and beasts: when the birds went to him, the bat said, "I'm a beast!" and when the beasts came to him, the bat said "I'm a bird!"; when the war was over, no one wanted him on their side because no one trusted him.

Part of this you can even see in Warren's book, where he can be incredibly vague with his language. Warren will talk about how Jesus, in the garden, surrendered to "God's plan," but he never really elaborates what that plan was. He talks about friendship with God, but sometimes seems to confuse it with both sanctification and justification. He talks about problems and issues facing us, but never refers to sin or elaborates on how sin affects our relationship with God. He writes just enough of something so that an undiscerning or innocent Christian might read his work and think, "Okay, orthodox enough," but a lot of what he says can be taken in a secular way as well. A lot of it is just theological fluff, and is dangerously vague.

Conclusion

After reading and listening to Rick Warren over the years, I have no doubt that he is a dangerous false teacher. I wouldn't want my wife listening to him unless I was there to help her discern, and I certainly wouldn't want my daughter listening to him.

I don't necessarily believe that a lot of what he says or does comes from malicious intent. I don't think he's up in a castle on a hill, cackling away while lightning strikes. I've heard that in his early days, he was actually pretty orthodox, and pretty learned in his bible study. I'm sure, in his mind, he thinks he's helping people, or teaching what people want. The problem is, most heresies start out with good intentions. Warren probably has a lot in common with the late-fourth century heretic Pelagius, who initially just wanted to encourage people to follow God's commands of holiness but went too far. What we must remember is that the saying is "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," not "the road to heaven."

Of course, all this can be a lot to take in. What I always tell people when I write or speak on this is to simply be good Bereans, and examine the scriptures. Hold everything up to the light of scripture. Don't just take my word for it - see who is honestly handling the word of God. A pet peeve of mine is when I exegete something, and I'm promptly told, "Well, that's YOUR opinion!" or "Well, that's just YOUR interpretation." My response is, "Alright, then please show me how I'm wrong." 99% of the time, I never receive a response back, because the person is making bluster, not substance. But again, I always tell people simply this: I've gone to the original languages, I've looked at the context, and I've looked to see if Warren has taught scripture faithfully. I've found, nearly every time, that he hasn't. If he has, then that should be proven from the verses he's citing.

I've mentioned authorship and misquoting before. We're both authors. It's possible to be misquoted. It's possible for people to misinterpret words. However, these aren't the words of fallible man - these are the holy words of God. They should be treated with much more reverence and honor than any other printed word. Someday we will all stand before God, and we will be judged rightly for what was in our hearts. If what came forth from our hearts was therapeutic nonsense, or words we claimed belong to God that weren't, then God is going to judge us rightly. The Old Testament is riddled with examples of those who spoke falsely in God's name, or taught falsely in God's name, and were judged harshly. Christ himself warned of those who would claim to know him and claim to do miracles in his name, and yet be cast into judgment at the end (Matt 7:22-23).

The fact is, we must be discerning sheep. We must listen for the voice of our shepherd. If we do not hear our voice, or we hear someone trying to imitate his voice, then we must flee from him. Believe me when I say Warren is someone to flee from.

I hope this email has been informative and gracious.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A message to the "See why I faved you" people

On Twitter, there are some accounts which randomly fave Tweets. When you see the notification, the account name is simply "See why I faved you." There is a link in the profile to a website that is basically giving a gospel message. To the people who own these accounts, I want to say:

Please, please, please, please stop it.

Don't misunderstand that I am against evangelism. Look at my other blog posts and podcasts, and you'll see I'm all for winning the lost and speaking truth in love, even if someone is violently opposed to the truth. I'm all for being a witness, even if it's on social media. I'm not one of those "Let's pretend there's peace between God and those who oppose Him" people.

However, these things are just annoying. For one, there's nothing personal about them. It's just "Hey, look at this!" Some people criticize handing out tracts as impersonal, but at least with tracts you're engaging in a person one on one, and speaking with them. For another, I get the feeling there is no rhyme or reason with the faving, and some of these accounts may involve the use of bots or third party programs. Heck, my Twitter account has received them - I'm already a Christian, people! You don't need to win my soul, God has already done that for me. In the end, this trend is really just a Christian version of automated Twitter messages.

This isn't being a witness for God, it's just being annoying.

Granted, I understand this is the internet. You can't control what people do. I don't expect there to be a sudden drop in these things simply because I wrote this one blog post. Consider this post as nothing more than a rant and a call for reason. If you want to witness to people on social media, do it by presenting the Gospel as best is possible in whatever outlet you are using. However, do it in a way that doesn't make the other person feel like they are Bot Victim #241. Thank you.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Response to a Supposed Calvinist Dilemma

This post is going to be in response to a supposed critique of Calvinism, using Acts 13:48 and a popular Calvinist interpretation of it. The source came from Twitter, where I saw this image shared:


The passage in question is this:
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. [Acts 13:48; NASB]
This passage takes place during Paul's first missionary journey, when he and Barnabas arrive in Antioch, and experience the first major group of conversions among the Gentiles. Obviously the contention of the image is towards any Calvinist use of this verse to say that those who believed had already been appointed unto salvation. Indeed, John MacArthur, in his commentary for this verse, states that it is "one of Scripture's clearest statements on the sovereignty of God in salvation" (pg. 1461).

Generally speaking, there tend to be two major objections to this reading:

1) The appointment was for the Gentiles to receive salvation, since the Jews, as a people, had rejected it. However, this passage is clearly talking about individuals. Not all Jews had rejected the message (as verses 42-43 demonstrate), and not all Gentiles had accepted it.

2) Verse 46 says that the Jews rejected the Gospel, and considered themselves unworthy to receive it, hence this is just speaking about the Gentiles' choice. The problem with this contention is that this verse makes it clear that the act of believing on the part of the Gentiles followed the appointment to eternal life. That is, those who were the ones appointed to eternal life were the ones who believed; if one was not appointed to eternal life, they did not believe. That Jews earlier objected to the Gospel does not contradict Calvinism: that is the natural state of man, which is to reject the Gospel and the message of salvation.

It is also helpful to note that, grammatically speaking, Acts 13:48 is an example of the pluperfect tense. Daniel Wallace lists this verse as one such example of the tense, and writes:
...the force of the pluperfect tense is that it describes an event that, completed in the past, has results that existed in the past as well (in relation to the time of speaking). [pg. 583; Wallace]
On the same page, Mr. Wallace explains further that the pluperfect does not make a comment "about the results existing up to the time of speaking". William D. Mounce likewise writes:
The pluperfect is used to describe an action that was completed and whose effects are felt at the time after the completion but before the time of the speaker. (The effects of the action described by the perfect is felt at the time of the speaker.) [pg. 237; Mounce]
In this context, the people were not active believers up to this point of hearing the gospel, but their being appointed to eternal life was something done in the past, and not only at that moment, when they accepted, nor did their accepting the Gospel lead into the being appointed to eternal life. Those who had been appointed to eternal life beforehand were the ones who then, at that moment, believed. We will cover this part a little more later on in this post.

Let us now go to the image, and deal with the supposed treatment of the Calvinist position.

The image states that "God arbitrarily appointed some to eternal life and there is no chance for others to be saved." Immediately, we have a problem with the use of "arbitrary"; as I stated in my podcasts on Matthew Gallatin's use of Romans 9 (he likewise uses the term "arbitary"), that word is misplaced in the Calvinist concept of God. In the Twitter thread where I saw this used, the OP explained: "Arbitrary means 'based on random choice or personal whim'. By definition, arbitrary works just fine." This, however, is problematic, for the simple fact that God does not do anything by "random choice," nor does he do anything by "personal whim." Everything God does is with purpose - even election. This is found throughout scripture, where God will say "for this purpose" and "for this reason" whenever discussion his actions.

The image continues by saying that this belief "makes God a liar," and proceeds to cite 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9. These two verses are passages that have been addressed by Calvinists for perhaps hundreds of years, so simply throwing them out in the discussion is (to be frank) highly unproductive, and shows a lack of understanding of the side you are criticizing. For the sake of time, I will link to two discussions on the verses, explaining them from the Calvinist perspective: one on the verse from Paul, and one on the verse from Peter. In short: 1 Timothy 2:4 is speaking about different kinds of men, while 2 Peter 3:9 is addressing believers, not unbelievers (again, see the longer discussions linked to).

The image likewise argues this makes God a "respecter of persons," and cites against such a notion Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and 1 Peter 1:17. However, the author of this image seems to fail to recognize two things:

Firstly, Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11 are referring to ethnicity and race. Acts 10 tells the story of Peter, an ethnic Jew, visiting Cornelius' household, and seeing that the Spirit has been poured out upon the Gentiles; Romans 2:11 is preceded by verse 10, which states "glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." God is not a respecter of persons in regards to their ethnic or racial identity (ie., no one will be banned from salvation simply because they're black, or Latino); this is what those verses are attempting to get across.

Secondly, 1 Peter 1:17 is simply saying that God is one "who impartially judges according to each one’s work." This in no way refutes the idea of unconditional election - it only confirms that God will judge each one rightfully according to their deeds. Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike would agree on this.

The final part of this image's opposition to the (straw man) Calvinist position is that this makes it so God does not "appoint everyone to eternal life," and cites Matthew 7:13. This verse simply states: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it." This verse in no way states that God has appointed all to eternal life, nor suggests that such a thing is possible.

Let us now go to the right side of the image, and the response to the so-called Calvinist position.

The contention is that these Gentiles were "making an appointment for eternal life." A quick correction here: these were not unbelieving Gentiles, but Jews and God-fearing men (Gentile converts to Judaism who abstained from circumcision), as clarified in verse 43 (the word "Gentile" is not even used in verse 42, but rather simply the pronoun "they"). Let us also not forget that Paul and Barnabas were speaking in the synagogue (v. 14), and verse 42 happens after their long sermon in the synagogue.

However, let's put this aside for now and examine the contention that the the people were "making an appointment for eternal life," and let us remember what we established earlier: which comes first in this verse? The appointing, or the believing? The appointing does. Those who were appointed were those who believed. If there had been no appointing, there would be no believing. If we were to take the sentence, "As many as were drafted served in the army," and then argued that those who served in the army had drafted themselves, it would make no sense. However, this is how some synergists wish to interpret Acts 13:48.

Further confusion is added to the verse when the image states: "they make appointments to hear the truth of the gospel, and faith comes by hearing of the word of God (Rom 1:16; 10:17)." Two points in regards to this:

Firstly, let's again ask who is making the appointment, and what is being appointed. It is people being appointed (not making appointments - note the image's subtle transition from verb to noun), and this appointing is towards eternal life. There is nothing here about individuals "making appointments" to "hear the truth of the gospel" (in fact, they had already heard it in the text, therefore it seems illogical to hear it again in order to believe).

Secondly, the citations of Romans 1:16 and 10:17 are unrelated to this conversation. I know the image maker probably cited them to back up the statement that faith comes by hearing the word of God, but this in no way contradicts Calvinist doctrine. Calvinists believe that God elects people unto salvation, and then calls them unto that salvation through the preaching of His truth, just as Paul writes "and these whom He predestined, He also called" (Rom 8:30a). It is also worth noting that in the famous phrase "many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt 22:14), the Greek word for "chosen" can literally be translated as "the called of the called."

In short, this image does not present a conundrum for Calvinist doctrine. Like many anti-Calvinist arguments, it misrepresents the Calvinist position and attempts to reword the passages in question in order to make it fit with a more synergistic approach. As I've said elsewhere, both on the blog and my podcast, this is one of the reasons I'm a Calvinist: when I was a non-Calvinist and I was reviewing both sides of the argument, I saw that one side was being dishonest about the other's position, and not handling scripture rightly; that side was the synergistic side. When I was as honest with scriptural passages about salvation as I was with scriptural passages about the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, I had to come to Calvinistic conclusions.

However, I invite the reader to examine this passage themselves, and treat it with respect and honesty, and see for themselves what the word of God has to say. God bless.

***

Works Cited

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005. Print.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. Print.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. Print.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Podcast: Mike Bickle and Psalm 2

In this episode, we review Mike Bickle's message from OneThing 2014, which went over the meaning of Psalm 2. Does he handle it rightly? What tactics does he employ to interpret the passage?



This link takes you to a post about IHOP-KC's involvement with the Bethany Deaton murder, but (more importantly) discusses the cult-like atmosphere and the way Mike Bickle is revered by the staff and members.

This link takes you to the podcast where we listened to a Misty Edwards message on Forerunners.

This link takes you to the podcast where we review whether or not IHOP-KC is a cult (and respond to the Ask Mike Bickle segment on it).

This link takes you to an interview I did with someone who formerly belonged to the house of prayer movement.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Podcast: Joyce Meyer and Word Power

Does scripture teach that we have god-like power through our words? Is this a historic Christian doctrine, or does it come from somewhere else? We ask these questions as we examine a message and Q&A session from Joyce Meyer.



Justin Peters' three part examination of the Word of Faith movement can be found here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Podcast: The $77 Blessing

A special 2014 blessing can be yours for just $77! (Or even $214.)

In this episode, we review an episode of Rod Parsley's Breakthrough TV show, where George Bloomer claims to have a direct revelation from God himself about the year 2014. Does it jive with scripture? Most of all, does it jive with the 2007 version of George Bloomer's message?



George Bloomer's original Seven Seven Seven message can be seen here.

The order form on Rod Parsley's website can be found here.

The information regarding George Bloomer's claim to have paid for his church with drug money can be found here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Common Charismatic Arguments Against Discernment

Recently I was notified of a book review for Heaven is for Real, written from a Charismatic perspective. Aptly named Heaven Is for Real – A Charismatic’s Perspective, it is written by an individual going by the name of "TheBitterPastor". I had previously written an extensive review on the book, and done an episode of my podcast where I reviewed Eastern Orthodox writer Frederica Mathewes-Green's defense of it. Reading this review, I felt inspired to write it, not only to give a response to it (since, as we shall soon see, it actually deals very little with the book and movie Heaven is for Real), but to address several of the arguments made in the chapter. My goal here is to try to attempt to respond to contentions that are made often from the Charismatic and Hyper-Charismatic side, and to attempt to call my Charismatic brothers to reason. It is not meant as a personal attack against anyone in particular, especially the author. Many of these arguments are those I have found in Charismatic and (especially) Hyper-Charismatic circles, whenever someone starts to question so-called signs and wonders and miracles.

To visually differentiate between the review's text and anything else (quoted sources, bible verses, etc.), all quoted text from the review will be in purple. Everything else will be normal colored. All Bible translations, unless otherwise noted, will be from the New American Standard. With all that established, let's begin our review:
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of reading different tweets and blog posts regarding Heaven Is for Real, the so-called account of Colton Burpo’s trip into heaven. Although the book has been out for a while now, the film has recaptured its popularity (or infamy) within certain church circles. Most of the commentary I have either heard or read has been relatively negative and predominately spouted from Baptist circles, those trained in Baptist seminaries and those who identify themselves as Cessationists. One influential critic of Heaven Is for Real who fits the bill in every one of these categories is John MacArthur.

One of the things I enjoy about being a part of The Anon Church is that we can interact with each other concerning differences, similarities and opinions of our like-minded faith. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I, being charismatic, would challenge people to be very careful before they rail accusations against those who have experienced supernatural things on the account of the Gospel. Many people who have criticized Colton Burpo’s heavenly account are those who have rarely if ever encountered any sort of supernatural activity in their own life—which is strange because the kingdom of God is all about the supernatural—not dead theology with only words and no substance to back it.
The biggest thing that stuck out to me in this opening section was the charge that "many people who have criticized Colton Burpo’s heavenly account are those who have rarely if ever encountered any sort of supernatural activity in their own life". The argument is therefore made that we must somehow first experience the supernatural before we criticize it. Logically speaking, before we criticize x, we must first experience x, and then we will be able to have a better grasp on x to comment on it.

This position is a popular one among some Charismatic circles...however it is an incredibly fallacious one, and for this simple reason: you do not need to make a truth statement based solely or heavily on experience. Do I need to take meth before saying that meth is bad for you? No. Do I need to get pregnant before I can say abortion is wrong? No. Do I need to be a black person before I say Jim Crow-style racism is wrong? No. Do I need to partake of the occult before I start to say the occult is wrong? No. To summarize, in order to make a truth statement regarding all of these questions and dilemmas, experience is not necessary, only the facts at hand.

So when someone shares their supernatural experience, is it absolutely necessary to partake in the supernatural before commenting on it, or having a valid opinion on it? Absolutely, positively no. We do not need to experience anything before commenting on whether or not it is right or wrong. What we can do is hold it up to a set standard, and discern from there. An example can be seen in the fact that I can say "Meth is bad" because all medical and scientific evidence demonstrates that meth is harmful to the body and produces terrible side effects, as well as leads into harsher social evils.

In regards to supernatural experiences, the one constant we have is the written word of God. By this, we are able to see what is and isn't an act of God, and by what standards we are to hold the teaching of an individual teaching from the word of God. It is precisely why the Reformers rejected so much of the nonsense coming from the Roman Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages: because, despite all the so-called signs and wonders that they performed, and all the supernatural experiences they had beheld...in the end, they contradicted God's word, and taught doctrines well beyond it.

Let me pause here a moment to clarify that I am not a "hyper-cessationist". The common continuationist straw man against cessationism is that cessationists believe God never acts supernaturally, or never does anything miraculous or out of the ordinary, which is simply untrue, and few cessationists I know think in such a way. I do not believe that is the norm for God to act, but it is not below God to act supernaturally, and it is not impossible for supernatural things to not occur. I myself have had supernatural experiences which I cannot fully explain; however, I do not hold those experiences to be the determining factor in how I perceive God to operate, or how I perceive He should operate, nor as what God desires me to base my life around. To quote Jonathan Edwards, "God has not given us his providence, but his word to be our governing rule."
The supernatural and a “living” testimony are important aspects of the Christian faith. If you recall, that is one reason the Pharisees and Jesus did not get along. The religious leaders were stuck in a rigid, dead theological perspective surrounded by tradition, rules and regulation that allowed for zero testimony and zero power. The ministry of Jesus shook things up because it challenged dead theologians and their legalistic views of Scripture.
It is a bit sad that, this far into the article, we have already had "The Pharisee Card" pulled upon the critics of Burpo's book (Todd Burpo himself accused his critics of being Pharisees). The Pharisee Card is really the Christian equivalent of Godwin's Law: in Godwin's Law, the longer a debate goes on, the greater the chance someone is going to be compared to the Nazis; with the Pharisee Card, the longer a Christian debate goes on, the greater the chance someone is going to be called a Pharisee.

However, let us put that aside and examine this charge about the Pharisees: it is said that "the religious leaders" were "stuck in a rigid, dead theological perspective surrounded by tradition, rules and regulation that allowed for zero testimony and zero power." The author likewise states that Christ's ministry "shook things up because it challenged dead theologians and their legalistic views of Scripture."

In truth, this is only half right. It is certainly attested to by history and scripture that the Pharisees were heavy on tradition, and were likewise legalistic in their view on scripture's commands. This is the testimony of most of the gospels. It is precisely why Christ promised rest for those who were "weary and heavy-laden", and asked them to take on his yoke (Matt 11:28-30). The Pharisees were those who tied up heavy burdens and laid them upon the shoulders of men, but were unwilling to "move them with so much as a finger" (Matt 23:4). They relied heavily upon the Law and their own Jewish lineage to save them (Matt 3:9), and hence emphasized the works of man over and against God's grace and mercy.

However, that the Pharisees denied the existence of miracles or the works of the supernatural is blatantly false. We see this especially in the charge Christ lays at those Pharisees who said he cast out devils by the power of the devil, when he says to them: "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?" (Matt 12:27a; Luke 11:19a). The point of Christ's rebuke here was to ask the Pharisees just who their own sons (that is, followers and members) cast out demons, if he did it by the power of the devil. What this means is that even those among the Pharisees performed some kinds of signs and wonders, and yet the Pharisees did not condemn them. If the Pharisees really were hyper-cessationists who didn't believe in any kind of supernatural occurrence, then Christ's argument would make no sense, and the Pharisees could have easily refuted him with, "Uh, they don't cast out demons. What in the heck are you talking about?"

Some sources that discuss this (all speaking on the verse from Matthew):
The latter (people of your own school; see, in general, note on Matthew 8:12) are exorcists who have even pretended actually to cast out demons (Acts 19:13; Josephus, Antt. viii. 2. 5, Bell. vii. 6. 3; Justin, c. Tryph. p. 311), who have emanated from the schools of the Pharisees, not the disciples of Jesus, as the majority of the Fathers have supposed. [Heinrich Meyer's commentary; source]

The children are the disciples of the Pharisees, who either really possessed the power of casting out evil spirits, or pretended to have that power. In either case the argument of Jesus was unanswerable. [Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; source]

...[Christ] means, some among themselves, who pretended to have a power of exorcising and ejecting of devils, either in the name of Jesus, as some of them did, Mark 9:38 or in the name of their kings, righteous men, prophets and patriarchs, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and which practice, perhaps, they took up and made pretensions to, in imitation of Christ and his apostles; so as Christ healed men possessed of devils, they also affected to do the same. A story is reported, 'concerning Ben Talmion, that a miracle was wrought by R. Eleazar bar Jose, who healed a king's daughter at Rome, in whose body the devil entered, whose name was Ben Talmion...'" [John Gill's commentary; source]
It is also important to note how the Pharisees reacted to all of Christ's miracles. They never once contend against them with "miracles can't happen" - rather, they always argue about the circumstances around the miracles. Some examples:
  • When a man with a withered hand comes near Christ, the concern of the Pharisees is not whether or not the man can be healed supernaturally, but if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matt 12:10).
  • When Christ exorcises demons, the Pharisees do not contend whether or not exorcisms can take place, only that Christ was doing it by the power of the devil, not God (Matt 9:34).
  • When a paralytic comes to Christ for healing, the contention of the Pharisees is not "Healings don't take place", but rather that Christ, by saying the man's sins are forgiven, is blaspheming (Mark 2:6-7).
  • When the lame man is healed by Jesus, the Pharisees do not get upset at him with "What are you talking about? Healings can't take place!" Rather, their anger is directed at the fact that the man was carrying his bed on the Sabbath, and Christ was healing on the Sabbath (John 5:10, 16).
  • When the Pharisees interview the man born blind, their contention is not that such a miracle could never take place, but that Christ, being a supposed sinner, could not have been the one to make the miracle (John 9:24 - by the way, this point will be relevant later).
The point of all this is that the idea the Pharisees were somehow hyper-cessationists is simply untrue, and hence is a completely erroneous position to take.
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that it is right for contemporary Christians to change the Gospel. However, you need to recognize that the Bible does not mention everything concerning the supernatural, or our like-minded faith. There are going to be things that we encounter that aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture, or are otherwise obscure in the text. This is why we always need to be ready to pour new wine into new wineskins, so to speak. We need to be able to adapt to what God wants to do today. If we’re being completely honest, this was the Achilles heel of the religious leaders in the days of Christ.
Of course there are certain things God will do today which may not be specifically mentioned in scripture, but once again how do we discern what is and isn't the work of God? How do we know God is behind something, or something that God "wants to do today"? In fact, if something goes beyond the word of God, it might be worth pausing and simply examining to see if it goes against or contrary to what scripture tells us. For example, anything in which a person loses control of their ability to move and causes them to act against the will of their body - which was always a sign of demonic possession in scripture (Matt 17:14-15; Mark 5:5; etc.) - is most likely not under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps it can be put another way. In scientific experiments, you tend to have two groups: your constants, and your variables. Which is your standard for understanding how something operates? It is the constant. Constants are always the same, hence the name; variables change - again, hence the name. Scripture presents us with these constants, and the variables are judged by them.

The issue is that many in Charismatic circles desire other Christians to throw out those constants and experience and believe what goes well beyond the constants, and instead rely on the variables. Imagine a conversation like this:
Person A: "Hey man! I froze my water at 98°F!"
Person B: "Uh, that can't be - water typically freezes at 32°F. I think you got something else going on there, and that's why your water hardened."
Person A: "Look, you just live by cold, dead science! Get out of your facts and figures and just embrace this new science!"
This conversation wouldn't make any sense on a scientific level, of course. Most would recognize Person A is ignoring the constants of his field and is trying to dance around it by inventing new, undiscerning standards. Yet for many in Charismatic circles, it is precisely what they are desiring to happen within the church, only with the constants of God.
Jesus was big on supernatural acts and encounters. He was big on the demonstration of the power of God. This is something that is lacking in the church today–something that was not lacking at all in the early church. Jesus stated emphatically concerning the demonstration of the power of God:

"If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father." (John 10:37, 38 ESV)

Jesus made the declaration that works (meaning his supernatural works) were just as important as the teachings coming out of his mouth. It always amazes me when teachers like John MacArthur write books on subjects they have zero experience in. I’m curious: when was the last time a guy like John MacArthur cast a spirit out of someone, healed the sick, or demonstrated a miracle in his ministry?
The reason Christ performed many "supernatural acts" was because it was foretold the Messiah would perform such acts. This was precisely why Christ referred to the prophecies concerning the Messiah's miracles when John the Baptist's disciples asked if he was indeed the Messiah (Matt 11:2-6). Christ's signs and wonders were part of his mark as the Messiah, and confirmed just who he was.

The author's appeal to John 10:37-38 is also problematic. He concludes that Christ is saying supernatural works are just as important as the teachings coming from his mouth, and applies this to criticize Cessationists who have performed no miracles in their ministry. However, Christ is referring to his works as a proof of his Messianic status...as well as his divinity. In John's gospel, Christ's use of phrases such as "the Father is in me and I am in the Father" are in reference to the unity of the act of God the Father and God the Son in harmony within the Trinity. Remember that this is the same chapter in which Christ states: "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:29-30). For this, the Jews pick up stones to stone him, because he, being a man, was making himself out to be God (John 10:31, 33). Again, Christ's use of "supernatural works" here is not the same thing as so-called supernatural works in Charismatic theology - unless, of course, the author wishes to state that we are also divine like Christ is.

Note, also, the repetition of the fallacious presupposition of "You need experience in something to criticize it". Our author states: "It always amazes me when teachers like John MacArthur write books on subjects they have zero experience in". If John MacArthur were arguing "I have experience in this, therefore I can criticize it," that point might be legitimate - however, that is not what Mister MacArthur says. Again, if I wanted to write a book on how bad meth was on the human body, would I have to go and experience meth for an extended period of time before I even thought about opening up a Word document? Absolutely not.
Yes, the religious are so quick to point out that Christians aren’t the ones doing the miracles—”It’s Jesus who does them!” True, but that’s exactly what the Pharisees said when a blind man claimed Jesus healed him (John 9:25). They said, “Give glory to God.” They were so incensed that supernatural power was existent in Jesus’ life that they wanted to put him in his place. It’s called religiosity.
The citation from John 9 is a bit misplaced, since (as we established earlier) the Jewish leadership was only hesitant to give any glory to Christ because they believed him to be sinner rather than Messiah, and were opposed to his ministry. You see this in the part of the verse which was not quoted: "Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner" (John 9:24 - not verse 25). There is also a follow up comment they make to the formerly blind man, when they say: "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from." (John 9:29). Their contention with this healing was not merely that the healing occurred, but rather the healing occurred on the Sabbath (John 9:14), and hence, to the Pharisees, that made Christ a sinner. A sinner like Christ, they reasoned, could not perform such miracles (John 9:16). Therefore, it was not that the Pharisees denied miracles could exist - rather, it was whether or not Jesus could perform miracles.
I’m always leery of ministers who seem to know a lot about God and the supernatural, yet they’ve never encountered anything supernatural about God. These people think they know a lot about Scripture–holding conferences and seminars blasting those who are moving in God’s power–yet they greatly err in their theology because they don’t know the Bible or the power of God as well as they think (Matt. 22:29).
Once again, we have to ask: is experience necessary in a position or topic before stating whether or not the subject or topic is erroneous? Should I give birth to a few babies before I say abortion is murder? Should I be forced to endure 1950's Jim Crow laws before I go to a Martin Luther King Day parade?
In my life, I have encountered a great deal of supernatural incidents, both godly and demonic. I remember a couple of trips to Jamaica when our teams held revival meetings in which many people were healed of physical injuries and relieved from demonic influence. This kind of thing is very common in third-world nations where people practice higher levels of spirituality. Consequently, there are more supernatural encounters in these places.

However, there are also those in third-world countries such as Jamaica, who practice the black arts including Voodooism and Obeah. Many of these people attend Christian meetings either because they’re intrigued by Christianity or they plan to disrupt the meetings. Strangely enough, when the Holy Spirit is manifested in such a powerful way, these demon-possessed people begin to act out. Consequently, we saw people slithering on the ground like snakes, barking like dogs and just plain acting like a bunch of idiots.

What did we do about it?

Well, we didn’t go back to America and report how “ungodly” and “demonic” the meetings were. We didn’t go and write some silly book called Strange Fire where we rip apart and insult the power of God because we were too ignorant to recognize what was going on. Instead, we exorcised the spirits out of these people and introduced them to our Lord who was actually responsible for setting them free. Amen?

We didn’t stand there like a bunch of saps in a theological discussion and mull over how barking like a dog and slithering like a snake was not “godly.” We didn’t close up shop and head home because our nice, quiet little church service was being disrupted by the forces of evil. We dealt with it just like Jesus would have and just like Paul would have.

You got all that?

Of course, some of you may wonder how we were so sure that the spirits were actually cast out of people…

Well, when 20 out of 20 people all vomit up the same white foam out of their mouths, suddenly stop acting like a bunch of idiots, and begin praising God–that’s generally a good indicator.
Remember, if you will, that this is listed as a "Book Review." At this point, one has to wonder if this is more of a thinly veiled attempt to strike at John MacArthur and the Strange Fire Conference, since little has been mentioned about Heaven is for Real up to this point (and the author himself will admit this in a moment). I have to also admit that it is a bit strange to ask one side to show grace towards those who have experienced the supernatural, and yet turn around and call them "a bunch of saps." In fact, it is very ungracious.

Now, I am not going to enter a game of "who's side is more meaner", because I'll freely admit there are cessationists out there who are very ungracious. However, from extended personal experience, I have found - whether it be a random guy on the internet, or the pastor of a large church, or someone high up in a major ministry - that the Charismatic and Hyper-Charismatic response to discernment and criticism will often quickly devolve into ad hominems, personal attacks, snide remarks, etc. The minute you start to say "I don't think this is biblical" or "So-and-so is abusing scripture based on his personal experiences", you get the Pharisee card, you get accused of not really listening to God, etc. Again, I am not saying there aren't kind of rational Charismatics out there, but (again, from extended personal experience) whenever I and others encounter this kind of vitriol from the opposite side, we can only say, "Well...here we go again..."

Putting this aside - it is certainly true that there seem to be "more supernatural encounters" in "third-world countries", but as I spoke with my friend Kofi of Fiery Logic on a podcast episode about the state of African Christianity today, the very reason there are more supernatural encounters, and why Charismatic churches catch on so quickly, is because the paganistic rituals and the so-called "supernatural encounters" found in many circles of Charismatic churches are one and the same, or at least very practically identical. The "higher levels of spirituality" are not productive. I would suggest listening to the podcast, as we go into more detail there on the subject than this blog post permits.
The church in America has seen a move of God a few times in recent years, and many ignorant Christians have seen these “strange” manifestations described above and automatically concluded that these meetings “must be of the devil” because they don’t understand the spiritual dynamics going on. Of course, it is also safe to say that some of the Christians in attendance at these meetings didn’t understand it either and ended up attributing some of these demonic manifestations to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Being a person of faith in Jesus means being able to discern both demonic influence and the power of God. Paul did this very well in his ministry when he and Silas encountered a slave girl who was actually praising them for being “servants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:16-18). Paul recognized that it was demonic activity influencing this girl and not some righteous zeal for the faith.
The issue is, once again, there is very little sign of this in mainstream Charismatic thinking, or in much of what calls itself Charismatic theology. That is not to say there are no discerning Charismatics (they do exist, and God bless 'em), but while it is one thing to say we should accurately define what is and isn't the work of God, we need to see if such a notion is carried out in application. For example, the International House of Prayer would probably say they discern spirits...so why do they think a girl shaking uncontrollably for two whole hours is a sign of the Holy Spirit?

On a side note, it is interesting that our author claims "being a person of faith in Jesus means being able to discern both demonic influence and the power of God"...but again, how do we go about this? It cannot be by a special gift of the Holy Spirit, for the "distinguishing of spirits" (1 Cor 12:10) is listed by Paul as one of the "variety" of gifts (1 Cor 12:4), which God sends out "to each one individually just as He wills" (1 Cor 12:11), and which Paul makes quite clear, throughout the rest of the chapter, not every single Christian has (this passage also refutes the notion that all Christians are supposed to be able to speak in tongues).

The answer, once again, is by the word of Almighty God. As the prophet Isaiah said concerning mediums and spiritists: "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isa 8:20).
Yes, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned one thing regarding the film Heaven Is for Real. That’s because I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve read the book and saw nothing out-of-bounds with it. I’m of the strong opinion that if supernatural encounters point people to Christ and/or produce the power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, then I generally tread lightly. This does not mean that I completely agree with people’s recollections of their supernatural experiences. We’re human. We make mistakes. But I would rather err on the side of caution than on the side of bordering on blasphemy.
Frankly, I was utterly flabbergasted that our author says he "read the book and saw nothing out-of-bounds with it". I will refer once again to my review of it, where I believe I demonstrate there is quite a lot that is "out-of-bounds" within the book, particularly when it comes to the resurrection.

Our author states: "I’m of the strong opinion that if supernatural encounters point people to Christ and/or produce the power and manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, then I generally tread lightly." This is the classic logical fallacy of arguing from pragmatism; that is, if someone provides a benefit, then it's a good thing (or at the very least, it's a tolerable thing). In this specific scenario, we have two problems:

First, there is little emphasis on scripture and its authority in this book. Yes, it claims that Colton Burpo's encounters can be backed up with scripture. Yes, Todd Burpo goes on interviews and says his son's account back be backed up with scripture. However, I invite my readers to sit down and really examine what scripture says about a lot of the things Colton talks about - especially those passages quoted by the Burpos. You will find that, the vast majority of the time, scripture is twisted and turned so that Colton's experiences can fit in there; in one situation (Todd Burpo's citation of Acts 6:15), a specific translation was employed so that a specific reading would give Todd Burpo exactly the interpretation he needed. It becomes quite clear that Colton's experiences were placed over scripture, rather than seen in light of it.

Second, much of the emphasis here is not on what scripture teaches and what happens on scripture, but rather on therapeutic concerns and desires. What happens to your family members after they die? What happens to the unborn, or babies, when they die? Do animals go to heaven? These questions and others are the main focus in Heaven is for Real. When you look at scripture, there is very little concern about what happens in Heaven, or what will really happen after we die (that's not to say it's never talked about, but it's not the focus). Rather, the focal point of most of the Bible (especially those "theological" parts) is our sin, our need for redemption, and the coming resurrection and glory. Heaven is for Real, and most books like it, distract people from those things, and focus instead on factors that are meant to tug at our heart strings...and hence there is the real seduction.

Could God have saved some people through providential use of the book? Maybe. Perhaps. I won't deny that possibility. However, nothing and no one alone saves a person - rather, God alone saves someone. That God can "draw a straight line with a crooked stick" does not mean the crooked stick itself is somehow blessed, nor should it be considered profitable for a Christian. I know some believers who were saved reading the New World Translation; that does not make the NWT a translation blessed by God.

Our author follows up his previous statement with: "I would rather err on the side of caution than on the side of bordering on blasphemy." Our author is apparently of the mindset that, if one critiques the book or just flatly ignores it, might be erring towards blasphemy. Many, in fact, make these kinds of arguments in regards to supposed messages or revelations from God. However, we are forgetting that those who would readily accept what might be a fabrication are likewise erring towards blasphemy, and in fact would be breaking one of the ten commandments: using the Lord's name in vain, and "the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exo 20:7). If you want to know how seriously God takes using his name in vain, here are two other passages as examples:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die." [Deuteronomy 18:20]

“So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord God.” [Ezekiel 13:9:]

"Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying, ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end!" [Jeremiah 14:15]
The idea of "using God's name in vain" does not merely mean stubbing your toe and shouting "G' d' it!" It's likewise saying, "The Lord has told us this..." when really, the Lord never spoke, or you are twisting what the word of God says. Therefore, anyone who wants to support someone claiming to have witnessed or been told things by God - and it is actually absolutely false - are, in fact, erring on the side of judgment.

At this point, our author seems to have placed us, logically, between a rock and a hard place: do we err on the side leading into blasphemy, or err on the side leading into judgment? Let me present a quote from Diadochos of Photiki, a fifth century bishop:
We have now explained the distinction between good and bad dreams, as we ourselves heard it from those with experience. In our quest for purity, however, the safest rule is never to trust to anything that appears to us in our dreams. For dreams are generally nothing more than images reflecting our wandering thoughts, or else they are the mockery of demons. And if ever God in His goodness were to send us some vision and we were to refuse it, our beloved Lord Jesus would not be angry with us, for He would know we were acting in this way because of the tricks of the demons. [On Spiritual Knowledge, 38; The Philokalia, Volume I]
Diadochos of Photiki was not concerned with "erring on the side of blasphemy", because he fully realized that demonic deception was a very real thing. We are warned in scripture that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14), and if one studies the tales of monastics in the desert, many of the demonic temptations they speak of (whether you want to give credability to them or not) involved devils appearing as angels, and presenting messages that would appear, on the surface, to be mostly harmless. One has to also consider the countless Roman Catholic mystics who had visions and apparitions of Christ and the Virgin Mary that told them things which were simply heretical, or taught things that clearly did not come from God. There was good reason that the Reformers rejected these visions.

Therefore, if we ever encounter a situation in which we are unsure if Christ is truly involved - especially when it involves contradictions in scripture, or adding to the word of God - then it would be far safer to avoid it, and flee from it.
I’ve also listened to David Platt’s teaching on the Heaven Is for Real debate and thought he brought up some important points. However, I think he is mistaken on his interpretation of John 3:13 which reads, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” It is strange to assume that Jesus is referring to heavenly encounters seeing that Enoch was taken from his earthly existence to be with God (Gen. 5:24), and both Moses and Elijah appeared to some of the disciples in glorified bodies, which indicates that they came from heaven (Matt. 17:1-5). Most likely, what Jesus was referring to was his actual physical ascension into heaven after his physical death and physical resurrection because no one has ever physically risen again and ascended into heaven. However, that interpretation is debatable.
I am not going to argue for or against David Platt's teaching on Heaven is for Real, since, at the time of this writing, I am not familiar with it
Many people have criticized some of the things Burpo claimed to have seen such as the Holy Spirit, who is apparently “blue” in color. This seems rather odd and deserves some questioning. However, you cannot disregard some of the other things that he witnessed that cannot be explained away, or even criticized such as seeing certain relatives in heaven whom he had never physically seen before, etc.
With all due respect, this is like a state prosecutor telling the jury, "I know some of the evidence suggests this man isn't guilty...but you can't disregard the evidence that says he is!" If there is evidence Colton Burpo did not hear from the true God, chances are he did not.

It is likewise problematic trying to bring up examples of relatives he saw in heaven that he formerly did not know about; mainly because it is similar to the argument made by those who support the doctrine of reincarnation. What I mean is, there are those who refer to the phenomenon of young children who suddenly begin making references to names, places, locations, etc., which they have no way of knowing...and yet can be found through research and documentation. Those who support the idea of reincarnation point to these examples and say, "See? You can't explain these things away. They're too fantastic. This must be evidence that reincarnation is true!" If we were consistent with how we are arguing in favor of Colton Burpo, we would have to argue that those who support reincarnation are likewise bringing up a good point.

However, whether it be children who supposedly know a random, insignificant person who died in the 1940's, or it's a four-year old boy claiming to have visited heaven, it is wrong to say that such things "cannot be explained away," since there is a very real and very real possibility, and one we mentioned before: demonic deception. The sad truth is that it is very possible for someone to have what they believe to be a legitimate spiritual experience...and yet which is an absolute forgery. Scripture gives such examples of such things happening:
Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; And they have not exposed your iniquity so as to restore you from captivity, but they have seen for you false and misleading oracles. [Lamentations 2:14]

"Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The Lord declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?" [Ezekiel 13:7:]
Note very carefully: these prophets saw and experienced something. They weren't just making things up on the fly, nor going into the occult and asking advice from other gods; they thought they had experienced legitimate prophecies and visions from the Lord. If you want to see an application of this in the Bible's narrative, go to 2 Chronicles 18, where the prophet Micaiah speaks of seeing the throne room of God, and hearing God's plan to intentionally put lying spirits into the prophets, so that they will prophesy incorrectly and lead Ahab and his armies astray. Again, most of Ahab's prophets truly believed they had visions, or something prophetic to offer the war council, but they had all been deceived spiritually.

If I may be frank, this is something I notice lacking very much in many Charismatic circles: a sincere interest in looking out for demonic deception. If our attitude is one in which we think it is better to believe than be concerned, then we are naive about the workings in the spiritual world.
We need to be careful about what kinds of accusations we lay at God’s door because one day we will answer for it. If God wants to show a 4-year-old boy the glory of heaven and use his experience to confound the wise theologians of the world—then that’s his prerogative and there isn’t anything you can do to change that. Besides, how do you know that Jesus didn’t specifically choose a 4-year-old on purpose so that even the most stubborn person would recognize the fact that the youngster had no motive, no agenda and nothing to gain from peddling a “near death experience?” And don’t go accusing Colton Burpo of making millions off of his “vision” because he had no idea that a book deal and a film would come out of it being 4-years-old. I’ve even read tweets from people who mock the idea that Christians should even be entertaining what a “little boy” has to say about heaven.

Oh, the irony…
We are told: "If God wants to show a 4-year-old boy the glory of heaven and use his experience to confound the wise theologians of the world—then that’s his prerogative and there isn’t anything you can do to change that." I am not aware of any "wise theologians" being "confounded" by Colton Burpo's testimony (most have provided biblical arguments for why it's wrong, and have merely been met with "You're a Pharisee!"). Likewise, while it is true that God could want to do that, the question is did he. I'm sorry to say, Colton Burpo's testimony either adds to God's word (at which point, we have to accept it as extra-scriptural revelation), or it contradicts it (at which point, we have to consider it false). When we see this happening, we have to go with the conclusion that Colton Burpo did not have a legitimate spiritual experience.

Also, it has never been my personal position that Colton or Todd Burpo have done anything merely for profit. It could be the case on Todd's part, or it could be both father and son think they are doing good. However, even if both have honorable desires, it is best to remember that the saying goes "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," not "the road to heaven." When Muhammad began to preach against the idolatry and social corruption he saw in Mecca, he and his followers thought they were doing good - that didn't make it automatically right. Noble intentions do not equal right intentions.
Some of you would do well to read John 9 over and over again until it sinks in. You’ll notice how Jesus played a little game with the Pharisees—almost to the point of mocking them through his supernatural power. This chapter provides clear evidence that sometimes God bends our strict rigid traditions and rules in order to make a point. The message in this chapter is simple: Those who are blind will see the truth and those who think they see, will become blind.
The point of John 9 is that Christ has power over spiritual blindness and sight. That is why Christ called the Pharisees blind at the end: not to mock their opinion on supernatural signs and wonders (which we've already established is an erroneous argument), but rather to mock their view of themselves as saved and secured of God. Consider the last part of John 9:
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. [John 9:35-41]
Even after he had endured, the blind man had only one desire regarding the man who healed him: to believe in him. When Christ reveals who he is, the blind man falls down and worships him at once, showing his faith. Christ's statement that he came into this world for judgment, so that "those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind," he is referring to spiritual sight, and spiritual blindness. The Pharisees, who had called the blind man "born entirely in sins" (John 9:34), had believed themselves to be righteous above others. It is similar to Christ's words regarding why those who opposed him did not understand the parables: "to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted...therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt 13:11, 13).

John 9, in short, has nothing to do with "bending our strict rigid traditions and rules in order to make a point."
No, you don’t have to believe the testimony in Heaven Is for Real in order to keep your salvation (even as ironic as that sounds), but what I would like you to do is to be more careful before making a critical judgment regarding testimonies that have to do with our like-minded salvation–especially when it involves something that God may be doing. Don’t get me wrong, there have been supernatural encounters that I have heard about, which I have questioned. However, I do not have a blanket policy of willfully rejecting any and all supernatural encounters just because I feel like it.

If I did, that would make me no better than a Pharisee.
And the "review" ends as it began: with the Pharisee Card. This is based upon, as we established earlier, the utterly incorrect notion that the historical Pharisees had "a blanket policy of willfully rejecting any and all supernatural encounters," and they opposed Christ simply because he enacted supernatural feats and wonders. As we established before, the Pharisees were not hyper-cessationists, and therefore to in essence argue that you should be gracious towards spiritual revelations and experiences or you're a Pharisee is simply contrary to the Biblical and historical facts.

We are told that we won't lose our salvation if we don't believe in the testimony, although earlier we were told: "we need to be careful about what kinds of accusations we lay at God’s door because one day we will answer for it" (emphasis mine); and those who might criticize the book "err on the side...of bordering on blasphemy". We are even told (after the salvation comment) that we need to "be more careful before making a critical judgment...when it involves something that God may be doing." This is not new to our author - it is often how Hyper-Charismatics and some Charismatics argue in regards to revelations given to individuals. On the one hand, it's OK to disagree; on the other hand, it is ungracious, un-Christian, etc., to oppose these individuals and their teachings. In some cases, your very salvation may be questioned.

To my Charismatic brothers, I must be honest: this kind of thinking is an example of compartmentalization. The fact is, if Colton Burpo really did hear from God (and he's never claimed "this might be true"), and, as Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, says in the recommendations page for the book, "God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of a child, revealing some of the mysteries of heaven", then Colton Burpo speaks with God's authority. As we saw in the passages we reviewed, there is no middle ground with "thus sayeth the Lord." Either Colton Burpo really did hear from God, and those who oppose him will, one day, answer for their sins; or Colton Burpo did not hear from God, and he and his family need to repent for speaking in the Lord's name when the Lord has not sent them.

As I said before, this was not meant to be merely an examination of a single post, but to address common arguments made against those who discern so-called revelations and supernatural acts. When this discerning happens, it is done out of love for God's word. I have had experiences in the past where people online pretended to be family members, trying to get financial "help" - just as I was eager to discern this to check for deception, so too do I want to discern to avoid spiritual deception. If anything, we should be far more concerned with spiritual deception than we should be with earthly identity theft.

No matter what our emotions may desire, and no matter what we think may pragmatically be beneficial, we must hold to the word of God. Let us say, with the Psalmist, "I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word" (Psa 119:16).

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UPDATE - JANUARY 22, 2015: It has come to my attention that the article was taken down at the original website. I have not found it on the author's Medium page either (where it was formerly listed as well). I have not received any real explanation for this dual disappearance, though I do find it interesting.