Friday, March 17, 2017

This Week in Review - 3/17/2017

Time for yet another roundup of highlights this week.

What Does The Shack Really Teach? “Lies We Believe About God” Tells Us from Tim Challies - An important read for any Christian tackling any debate that exists over The Shack. Tim Challies goes through William Paul Young's straight theological treatise Lies We Believe About God and presents excerpts and summaries of what Young truly believes, but might have kept vague in his fictional novel. Would you be surprised to learn Young isn't too fond of the topics of the crucifixion, sin, or God's absolute sovereignty?

Did Jesus Exist? All Scholars Agree He “Certainly” Existed from Reasons for Jesus - Do all scholars teach that Jesus never existed? Actually, that's far from the truth - even atheist or agnostic scholars widely believe he at the very least existed. This article provides relevant quotes to that very topic.

How Atheist Hate & Mockery Led a Richard Dawkins Fan, Richard Morgan, to Faith from James Bishop's Theological Rationalism - It wasn't a superficial reason like "Oh, these guys are mean, I'm going to stop being one." Rather, it was seeing how vitriolic they were towards all contrary thought, especially when a pastor joined the forum and started to present calm, reasonable, and kind answers to atheist objections, and only received more of the same. This article is a good read on that whole experience.

Darwin’s Problem: The Origin of Language from Reasons to Believe - A discussion on how language developed, and what makes a language to begin with. As the author points out, it's not just a bunch of grunts and barks.

Richard Dawkins’ Argument for Atheism in The God Delusion from Reasonable Faith - William Lane Craig responds to Richard Dawkins' six-part argument against the existence of God, and why it's philosophically unsound.

The Definition That Will Not Die! from Reasonable Faith - William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris discuss five common arguments in favor of atheism that even some atheists consider unsound. These include "You can't prove something doesn't exist," "Lack of belief isn't a belief," etc.

Answering the Galileo Myth from Stand to Reason - A small post dealing with the story of Galileo and the church, which is often cited to say that science and religion conflict with each other. I might add to this a post I shared quite a while ago, covering that same topic, and bringing up a few points rarely discussed in the Galileo story.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient from Michelle Lesley - A little guide on the sufficiency of scripture, especially in this day and age of the New Apostolic Reformation nonsense.

The Reliability of the Bible – 4 Quick Thoughts from Reasonable Theology - If you've read anything on manuscript evidence before, you'll probably already recognize these four "quick thoughts." Still, it pays to be reminded every now and then.

5 apologetics arguments Christians should avoid from Premier Christianity - Most of these are just silly claims (eg., the Blood Moons stuff), however, they're worth mentioning, just in case anyone takes any of these seriously.

And in the humor corner...

5 Reasons Why Christians Should Reject Santa Claus from A Clear Lens - Funny, short read. (It's not what you think.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

This Week in Review - 3/10/2017

And now another weekly roundup.

Heidelberg 80: We Don’t Need Any Footnotes from The Heidelblog - An interesting explanation of Question 80 from the Heidelberg catechism, and whether or not it truly misrepresents the position of Roman Catholicism regarding the Lord's Supper.

The Reformed Reject Lent In Basle In 1534 from The Heidelblog - Article XI from the First Confession of Basle, regarding the topic of fasting during Lent.

Why Did Arminianism "Win"? from The Heidelblog - An article discussing how we went from the teachings of Jacob Arminius (which was closer to Calvinism) to historical Arminianism, to today's Evangelical scene in western Christian.

Reformed Books Online - I discovered this recently. It's a treasure trove of resources on various subjects.

The Book of Revelation: How Difficult Was Its Journey into the Canon? from Canon Fodder - A good, short read on the history of Revelation's entry into the canon, who objected to it, when those objections were raised, etc.

The Poisonous Songs of Arius from Mystagogy Resource Center - With all the debate still going on about Jesus Culture, Bethel Church, IHOP-KC, Misty Edwards, etc., this article was a timely read. In essence, the Arians employed music and easy-to-memorize songs in order to spread their doctrine. As the article cites, even Athanasius had to comment on it.

What Led You To Become An Atheist? Some Surprising Answers from David Murray - An interesting summary of a study on what made a group of people atheists, and what we can do to improve this situation. Some of the reasons aren't all that surprising, honestly.

The Mailbag: Which Bible Do You Recommend? from Michelle Lesley - There are dozens upon dozens of "Which translation should I use?" posts out there, but this one summarizes things nicely.

A Day Without A Woman from Femina Girls - A response to the whole "day without a woman" nonsense that feminists had a while ago, as well as a warning to not pay the "danegeld" to feminists.

Sharing Heaven with Serial Killers from The Gospel Coalition - A reflection on the story of Jeffrey Dahmer's repentance, and what it means for all of us.

Cain’s Wife—Who Was She? from Answers in Genesis - An analysis of where Cain's wife came from, and what this means about interpreting scripture.

When Does Personhood Begin? Part I from Cross Examined - A good, thorough beginning discussion on the philosophical arguments behind personhood within the abortion debate.

Gay Rights Activists Bully Authors of LGBT Study from Answers in Genesis - The story is from November 29, 2016, but nonetheless it's an example of how there's an agenda being pushed that's not very concerned about truth and reality.

And in the humor section...

Some of the longer "carol" "conversations" with H/T to Frog Morton - How easy is it to troll internet atheists? A troll account (probably a Twitter bot) named Carol, aka "christianmom18," posts some short, simple statements and finds out. Most amusing is when she corrects people on the proper use of "your." Also amusing is just how some people continue to respond even when it's clear it's a troll. Warning: As might be expected, there's bad language, crude humor, blasphemous statements against God, etc. If you don't want to see these, don't click on the link. I'm sharing this simply because it demonstrates how people who claim to be rational against emotional opinion can betray their own emotional state when faced with nothing more than contrary thought.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Tale of a Feminist Christian

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Jory Micah. She considered herself a social justice warrior, and a feminist. She fought against the evil patriarchy that she believed had infiltrated the church, and fought for the rights of minorities all across America.

This Jory Micah received a lot of flack for things she said. In perfect honesty, it wasn't undeserved. Sometimes she would say things that would make you think, for just a few seconds, that you were looking at an SJW satire account.

No, really, she tweeted this - all caps and everything

She was also quite blatantly contradictory in her logic, to the point of self-satire. One big example is when she at one point said Ivanka Trump couldn't be a feminist because she was wealthy; some time later, Micah blew a gasket because Beyonce - a wealthy musician - didn't receive a Grammy award, and hence feminists should unite to defend her. After all, according to Micah, a "woman of color" had received great "injustice."

Pictured: a woman of color experiencing great injustice

Another big example came when she attacked orthodox Christians for using the word "heretic," then later called the Pre-Tribulation Rapture heresy; when confronted on this, she pulled the modern Roman Catholic apologists' approach to the anathemas of Trent and argued that she said a belief was "heresy," but she didn't call any individual a "heretic." (In fact, I saw this coming and predicted it.)

I had her on a Twitter watch list, along with Rachel Held Evans and some other feminist "Christians." However, I rarely paid attention to what she was saying, unless my wife brought it to my attention, or a Twitter follower shared something. It wasn't that I had anything personal against Miss Micah, it's just that...well...nothing she presented was new. As others have rightfully pointed out, everything she argues or pushes for has already been said by feminist heretics of the past. She came across like a young lady who looked at Evans and others in the religious wing of the SJW movement and cried out, "Me too! Me too!" There was really no need to write a response specifically to her, since it had already been said a dozen times towards other people. For the most part, I just left her be, to dwell in the echo chamber that is Social Justice Warrior life.

Then, something happened.

Jory Micah criticized black Christian musician LeCrae for talking about white privilege while being a complementarian. Then she started to say that, while she supported same-sex marriage, she didn't find it well supported in scripture. That made her SJW and leftist "Christian" friends mad. How dare a white woman criticize anything a black person does! How dare she even suggest that scripture may not be quite so clear about the fact two men can marry! They began to pile on her, critiquing her. They increased in number. According to her own claims, twenty people were going at her at once.

In her mind, she was betrayed. After all, hadn't she been on the forefront of the social justice war? Hadn't she been fighting against those "mean conservatives" (her words) to promote progressive thought within the Christian church? Wasn't she part of the team? Sure, she had a few tiny reservations, but she was still one with the SJW pack, right? Why, then, had things suddenly turned so ugly?

Finally, she declared she was on an internet sabbatical.

H/T to Calvinist Coulson for the image

What Jory Micah learned, too little too late, is that the worldview she had chosen to embrace is not very kind to those who offer dissenting opinion. Like a rabid school of sharks, they will quickly turn against and devour one of their own when they sense a weakness. With feminism in particular and the Social Justice movement in general, you are either all in with the decline of civilization, or you are just as bad as those "mean conservatives." She had broken the cardinal rule of a society declining in moral standards: "and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Ro 1:31). Micah had dared to not give hearty approval to the standards of her people, and so by her people she had been rejected. She had attempted to give even an inkling of holiness to the God-haters, forgetting the warning of Christ: "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Mt 7:6).

Now, at the risk of sounding like a generic article at The Gospel Coalition, let's ask this important question: how should Christians react to this?

It might be easy to point and laugh, given the irony: Jory Micah, a staunch supporter of SJW ideology, was bullied off social media not by the "mean conservatives" she fought against, but by the very social justice warriors she thought had her back. Certainly there are times in scripture where the church of God lambastes her enemies after they fall (and if you don't agree with me, don't read Isaiah 14). However, we're dealing here with an individual, not a collective group. At the moment, she's probably feeling a lot of pain and betrayal. I know from personal experience how it can be when a group of people you thought was on your side suddenly turns against you. (I had a bit of that experience when I left Eastern Orthodoxy.)

We must also remember that this is an individual who will, at the end of her life, when she comes before her King, have to account for her sins just like you and me. She will be held accountable for what she did with God's word, how she treated God's church, and what she taught others as the teachings of God - just like you and me.

I've prayed that she repents. I really hope she does. I hope she takes this time with Jesus she claims to be having, and the Holy Spirit works in her heart to make her realize that she was permitting the influence of progressive heresy to prey on her personal emotions and teach error. I hope, if she resurfaces again, that she does so in a spirit of repentance, disassociating herself with what she used to be. Think what an amazing testimony it would be, that someone infamous for her Twitter rants about how great it is to be a precious snowflake now speaks against feminism, SJW thought, and left-wing heresy. It would be a great show of God's grace, and how he can turn a sinner's heart from stone into flesh.

We should be praying that Jory Micah receives regeneration and comes into the fold, after which we can gladly welcome her in. We can do this knowing that when the end comes, she will drop the knee to Christ, not because she had to be forced to since such an act would be perpetuating patriarchy, but because she loves her Lord and His word. Soli Deo Gloria.


UPDATE, SHORTLY AFTER I WROTE THIS POST - Well, that private time with Jesus didn't last long...

UPDATE, MARCH 16, 2017 - Jory is back, and is attempting to repent. Not before God or the church, of course. What I mean is she came back to repent before her fellow SJWs.

H/T to Frog Morton

When I first saw this, the first temptation was to laugh. I couldn't, however, because it just came across as so depressing. This was like a Jehovah's Witness who had been kicked out of the Kingdom Hall and was desperately trying to reunite with friends and family. Jory Micah really truly does not want to be separated from her feminism and "social justice." It clearly pains her to the point of confessing that she was in the wrong, when any sane person would be able to see that she hadn't done anything wrong. (Not that I agreed with her criticism of LeCrae, or her support of same-sex marriage, mind you, but her questioning someone's consistency or whether or not something is strongly taught in scripture shouldn't have been enough to ostracize her.)

It's clear from this that feminism is a cult, as is the mindset of a Social Justice Warrior. Sadly, this makes it clear that Jory Micah is far more worried about being kicked out of the feminist camp than she is the church of God. She still really, truly needs our prayers.

UPDATE, MARCH 20, 2017 - I want to include a link to the blog post entitled An Open Letter to Jory Micah, from the Reform Like a Woman blog. It puts things way more graciously than I could ever hope to do.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lou Engle and Esther

Recently I saw Lou Engle's Twitter account posting tidbits on Esther. Soon after, people began using the #IAmEsther hashtag. I went to Lou Engle's website, and found an article that explained this new movement coming from his group. The article is entitled For Such a Time as This; the title is taken from Esther 4:14b, in which Mordecai says to Esther, "And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" As I looked into it, I realized it was mishandling of scripture which may cause confusion, heartache, and exhaustion among its adherents, and so I felt compelled to write a response.

As I've done in the past, any direct quotations from the article will be colored purple for visual organization. I'll be quoting the article in full, albeit in chunks, but feel free to click on the link and read through the whole thing first.

The Story of Esther

Before we jump into the article, I think it's important to pause and discuss the story of Esther, and how it relates to believers.

The story of Esther takes place shortly after the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which was conquered by the Medes and Persians. The Jews are still in captivity. The king, Ahasuerus, after several days of drinking, sends for his wife Vashti to come before him to show off her beauty. Vashti refuses, causing the king to not only be angered, but his advisers to worry that this conduct will encourage other noblewomen in the empire to act similarly (Es 1:12-18). Therefore, the king calls for select virgins to be brought before him, and the one he likes best will become the new queen (Es 2:3-4). At the same time, there lives in the capital Mordecai, a Jew who is caring for his late uncle's daughter, Esther, a "young lady" who is "beautiful of form and face" (Es 2:7). Esther ends up being taken to the palace, where the king eventually falls in love with her, and appoints her queen (Es 2:17). Mordecai gains the king's favor after uncovering an assassination plot, and ends up increasing in rank as well (Es 2:21-23).

At this point enters Haman, a high-ranking Persian official. Haman gets into conflict with Mordecai, due to the latter's refusal to bow.
All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage. Then the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordecai, “Why are you transgressing the king’s command?” Now it was when they had spoken daily to him and he would not listen to them, that they told Haman to see whether Mordecai’s reason would stand; for he had told them that he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage to him, Haman was filled with rage. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him who the people of Mordecai were; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. [Esther 3:2-6]
Haman's hatred towards Mordecai was not only based on pride, but most likely on ethnic lines as well, since he was ethnically an Amalekite (this may also explain why Mordecai refused to bow). Haman attempts to use his influence on the king to get revenge on Mordecai and his people.
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain. If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king’s business, to put into the king’s treasuries.” Then the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. The king said to Haman, “The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with them as you please.” [Esther 3:8-11]
Haman plans a specific day by drawing a lot (or pur). News of the impending genocide reaches Mordecai's ears, and hence the Jewish population, and a general state of grieving begins (Es 4:1-3). Esther herself discovers the plot. She knows of a possibility to enter the king's inner court and plead their case, but also knows that anyone who enters unannounced will be executed for it, unless the king pardons them by extending his golden scepter - and, as the king has not summoned her for thirty days, there's a chance he doesn't like her as much, and may just have her killed off (Es 4:11). Mordecai rebukes her sharply:
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” [Esther 4:13-14]
Esther resolves to intercede on behalf of her people. Before doing so, she calls on Mordecai and the people to prepare for the day, so that all would go well.
“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” [Esther 4:17]
As it so happens, the king doesn't kill Esther, and lets her touch his golden scepter. Esther in turn plans a banquet, which both the king and Haman will attend (Es 5:6-8). Meanwhile, Haman, feeling indignant towards Mordecai continued refusal to bow, builds a giant gallows to hang Mordecai from (Es 5:14). On the day of the banquet, Esther intercedes before the king for her people, begging them to be spared, and identifying Haman as the culprit (Es 7:3-6). Haman discovers that the king has turned against him, and goes to Esther to plead for mercy. The king, finding Haman with Esther, misinterprets it as attempted rape and orders Haman hung from the very gallows he had built for Mordecai (Es 7:7-10). Mordecai ends up with Haman's job, and Esther asks the king to rescind Haman's order, which he does (Es 8:1-8). The Jewish population celebrates, and turns on those who had planned their genocide; most are put to the sword, while Haman's ten sons are hung (Es 9:2-16). Mordecai orders further celebration on the anniversary of this victory, which to this day is the Purim ("Lots") festival in Judaism (Es 9:20-22).

Since Esther is both the titular and main character of the book, Esther (along with Ruth) has become a role model for women in the "You go girl!" sections of modern Evangelicalism. However, it carries far greater spiritual implications:

1) It demonstrates God's providential love over His people, by organizing situations to preserve them from complete annihilation. This is especially amazing, given that, within the book of Esther, there are no astounding acts of God like the parting of the Red Sea, nor any great displays of prophecy as is so often seen in the other history books - in fact, God is not even directly mentioned, nor does He directly speak to characters. Regarding all this, Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary:
But, though the name of God be not in it, the finger of God is, directing many minute events for the bringing about of his people’s deliverance. The particulars are not only surprising and very entertaining, but edifying and very encouraging to the faith and hope of God’s people in the most difficult and dangerous times. We cannot now expect such miracles to be wrought for us as were for Israel when they were brought out of Egypt, but we may expect that in such ways as God here took to defeat Haman’s plot he will still protect his people. [source]
2) It is a story of selfless, believing womanhood. Esther is ready to die for her people, for if she goes to the king and she does not hold his favor, she will be executed. Her words to Mordecai, "If I perish, I perish," are the words of a woman who loves her fellow believers more than even her own life. Esther was a proper woman of God who, unlike many other women, did not permit her rise to wealth and power to corrupt her moral life.

3) One could, in many ways, see shadows of Christ and our own redemption within the story. Esther, like Christ, intercedes for the people, and saves them from certain death. Some have associated the three days of fasting, followed by Esther going to the king and obtaining her people's salvation, to Christ's three days in the tomb, after which He rose again and secured the redemption of His people. One might compare Esther's torment over her potential death, but eventual acceptance of the possibility, with Christ's struggles in Gethsemane. Haman, with his intent to kill the Jews, is a proper symbol of the eternal enemies of the church, and his eventual demise, coupled with the complete and utter victory of the Jews at the zero hour, is a fine compliment to the last few chapters of Revelation, foretelling the complete victory of Christ and His church on the earth.

Lou Engle's Use of Esther

With the book of Esther and the narrative within it better understood, let's examine how Lou Engle applies it.
Esther said, “I and my young women will also fast as you do. Afterward, though it is against the law, I will go to the king…and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16)

There are moments in history when a door for massive change opens. Great revolutions, either good or evil, spring up in the vacuum created by these openings. In such divine moments, key men, women and entire generations risk everything to become the hinge of history—the “pivot point” that determines which way the door will swing.
This is the exact same rhetoric Lou Engle employed with his Nazirite DNA presentation, and others he's done in the past: he precedes any call for action with revolutionary language, talking about how in dire moments throughout history, great men and women rise up to save the day. It's certainly a powerful image, and one that can easily rile up emotions, especially among the young or emotional. In this day and age when it looks like society as a whole is becoming more and more degenerate and hostile to the Christian worldview, this sort of language is seductive. It tells people who may be unguided, or may have untempered passions, to do something with their emotions. It takes a confused heart, battered about by the passions of the day, and tries to direct it down a clearer path. It presents a guiding hand to those who may otherwise feel blind.

The only problem is, in many situations, that guiding hand is owned by a false teacher, and hence it is literally the blind leading the blind (cf. Mt 15:14).
The Esther Hour

Esther is a prototype of history’s hinge—a courageous woman who humbly and artfully spoke truth to power. Facing witchcraft and dark conspiracies at the highest levels of Persia’s power base, Queen Esther found herself providentially positioned (right place, right time) to risk everything for the love of her people and their future. Armed with little more than her dignity and the secret arsenal of corporate prayer and fasting, her courageous actions spared an entire nation from annihilation.

Three years ago in a leaders summit in Fredericksburg Virginia our meeting was sovereignly hijacked as the Lord shifted our focus toward the hidden taproot of strength in the godly women of America. We began to envision something of a million women gathering on the mall in Washington DC, similar to the Promise Keepers gathering, that would be a last-stand breakthrough to hold back darkness in America. Those hours of corporate intercession were as strong and clear as any prophetic moment I have ever encountered in 30+ years of prayer, but at the time we could not see how it could be brought to pass. Habakkuk's statement seemed to be the counsel of the Lord to us, “Though the vision tarry wait for it, it will surely come.”
Note two things Lou Engle does here:

1) He introduces the notion of spiritual warfare: he says that Esther was "facing witchcraft and dark conspiracies at the highest levels of Persia’s power base." Read the book of Esther from beginning to end, and ask yourself this: is there any kind of "witchcraft" or spiritual "dark conspiracy" seen at the "highest levels" of Persia? There isn't. Where, then, is Engle getting this? We'll discover this answer later - for now, keep this fact in mind.

2) He takes an event in the Bible - namely, Esther's story, and specifically her fasting - and applies it to us and something we need to do right now. This is likewise something Lou Engle regularly does: he will take descriptive story, and turn it into a prescriptive call. Sadly, he will even do this for passages about Christ. For example, while teaching Dominionism, he took Isaiah 9:6, about the coming Messiah, and said that we have to raise sons to "bear the government upon their shoulder" (see my blog post here). In fact, in many of these New Apostolic Reformation movements, it's common to hear of a leader calling for a "[insert biblical character] fast," or a "[insert biblical character] anointing."

Is the story about Esther about an "Esther hour" or a special "Esther fast" that we need to do? Not at all. This was a particular fast, held during a particular time, and done by particular people. Does that mean we should never pray and fast? Not at all. I don't want the reader to misunderstand that I am saying prayer and fasting is foolhardy. I'm not saying Christians shouldn't pray and fast. The issue here is that Lou Engle is using a passage of scripture to spiritually compel people to do something, in return for a move from God. He's telling people (as we'll soon see) that there is "a cataclysmic battle for the soul of our nation," and this is our only answer.

What's more, as we shall soon see with greater clarity, he is abusing scripture, and teaching false theology, in the process.
The Truly Empowered Woman

That moment arrived January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, as hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets with the purported aim of “empowering women.” In the vacuum created by 1) the election, 2) historic women’s injustices, and 3) sadly, President Trump’s past hurtful statements towards women, a pretender movement seized the American stage. Like a false heiress to history, this alternate narrative sought to forcibly reframe our daughters’ and granddaughters’ identity and future. Even so, the truth was immediately plain for all to see: this was about power, not empowerment. To the degree that the Women’s March railed against injustice while refusing to acknowledge God’s exalted view of women and her glorious purpose, it was a misleading, even dangerous attempt, to swing the hinge of history away from God. Hundreds of thousands of women watching the March simply could not identify with the vitriol and radical ideology being shouted from the stage, claiming the right to define womanhood apart from the Bible. Deep in their hearts, women across the country declared, "This is not my revolution!”

Now, like Esther, those same women are rising “for such a time as this.” An instinctive, corporate yearning has gripped the nation for true empowered women to demonstrate how the meek (i.e. strength-filled humility) possess the earth. It’s time for this corporate Esther to frame a better, more hopeful, God-centered future for our nation by taking her place in the public square like never before. We need an entire generation—a movement—of grandmothers, mothers and daughters to be boldly visible, persistent in persuasion, and to demonstrate the humility of our national appeal to Heaven in prayer.
Here we see the connection Lou Engle is trying to make: just as Esther entered "the public square" to "frame a better, more hopeful, God-centered future" for her nation, so too must "an entire generation" of today's women do likewise, demonstrating "the humility of our national appeal to Heaven in prayer." This has to be done by a "corporate Esther." Like Esther, the women who take part in this are here "for such a time as this."

It gets into more detail in the next section.
Fasting through Purim

Shockingly, the Women’s March was only a first shot across the bow. In reality, an alliance of spiritual anarchy is presently being unveiled in full defiance of a “We The People” electoral result and biblical truths that undergird our nation. With a disturbing brazenness (and the consent of the media), the dark underbelly of anarchy issued a global summons to employ witchcraft and curses against President Trump, his cabinet, and those aligned with a biblical worldview. Like a veil being torn so a deeper secret could be revealed, suddenly, the public controversy was elevated to a global spiritual dimension. This made plain what we have known from the beginning: Spiritual battles cannot be won on the playing field of protests and political arguments. Only the Church has the answer to such an unprecedented manifestation of witchcraft. If we do not employ spiritual strategy to overcome this steely-eyed challenge of the powers, the days ahead will be dark days indeed.

Esther gives us clues. According to Derek Prince, the Persian advisor, Haman (the adversary in the Book of Esther), practiced divination through the casting of lots, thus clearly aligning himself with demonic spiritual powers in his plot to destroy the whole Jewish population in the earth. Esther’s response, a 3-day, no-food-no-water fast, was the nuclear option of her day. It was an act of desperate dependence on God, the only thing capable of breaking the dark powers being channeled by Haman’s witchcraft. “Esther and her handmaidens” led the whole nation in an intense period of fasting and prayer for three days leading up to Purim. Amazingly, dark schemes at the highest levels of government were exposed. Esther’s fast effectively reversed the curse and shifted the whole public policy of the Persian Empire in favor of the Jewish people. I cannot stress this enough: we are in a similar day and a cataclysmic battle for the soul of our nation. We cannot live the same way we lived yesterday.
Earlier we asked where Engle got the notion that there was spiritual warfare going on in the book of Esther. Here, after referencing the news story about witches planning to enact curses against Trump, he talks about Esther having to face "divination" from Haman and his channeling of "dark powers" against Esther and the Jews. To justify the idea that Haman was using dark powers, he cites Derek Prince, the late Biblical scholar, as arguing Haman "practiced divination through the casting of lots, thus clearly aligning himself with demonic spiritual powers." Since Engle himself doesn't tell us where Derek Prince said it, I actually went and found the original source.
This story has given rise to the feast which the Jews call Purim. Purim means "lots." The feast is so called because Haman cast lots to determine the day that should be appointed for the destruction of the Jews. Casting lots was a form of divination. Haman was seeking guidance from occult powers. He relied on unseen spiritual forces to direct him in exterminating the Jews. This placed the whole conflict on a spiritual plane. It was not just flesh against flesh; it was spirit against spirit. Through Haman, Satan was actually challenging the power of God Himself. Had he succeeded in the destruction of the Jews, it would have been an everlasting reproach to the name of the Lord.

But when the decree for the destruction of the Jews went out, Esther and her maidens accepted the challenge. They understood that the conflict was on the spiritual plane, and their response was on the same plane. They agreed to fast three days, night and day, neither eating nor drinking. They arranged with Mordecai that he would gather together all the Jews in Shushan, the capital city, to unite with them in fasting for the same period. (Notice in Esther 2:19 that once again, in the hour of crisis, we find God's people were "gathered together," just as in the days of Jehoshaphat.) Thus, all the Jews in Shushan, together with Esther and her maidens, fasted and prayed three days - seventy-two hours - without eating or drinking.

The outcome of their collective fasting and prayer is described in the succeeding chapters of the Book of Esther. We may summarize it briefly by saying that the whole policy of the Persian empire was completely changed, in favor of the Jews. Haman and his sons perished. The enemies of the Jews throughout the Persian empire suffered total defeat. Mordecai and Esther became the two most influential personalities in Persian politics. The Jews in every area experienced a unique measure of favor, peace, and prosperity. All this can be directly attributed to one cause: the collective fasting and prayer of God's people. [Prince]
It might be interesting to note that the cover of the book advertises a "foreword by Lou Engle of The Call." We probably shouldn't be surprised Lou Engle is harping on this as a source, then. I find it even more interesting that Lou Engle cites Derek Prince for what he is promoting as a uniquely all-women event, when Prince himself says, on at least two occasions, that this involved "all the Jews in Shushan." Yes, on the page for this event, there is a note at the bottom that "men are welcome and encouraged to join," but again, Engle is harping on the fast held by Esther and her maidens, and does not mention at all that the other Jews, men included, fasted and prayed.

In fact, refer back to the quotation of Esther 4:16, at the beginning of the article. It's not actually a full quotation - the verse actually says, in full:
"Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish."
Even the verse that Lou Engle refers to at the beginning of an article attempting to portray Esther's fast as a "woman only" thing says that "all the Jews" participated in the fast. Esther adds "I and my maidens also will fast in the same way." Yes, Esther and her maidens were fasting, but in conjunction with the rest of God's church in the area. She wasn't "leading the nation" so much as "joining in."

Either way, the reference to the lot, and hence Haman's use of "dark powers," is found shortly after Haman's anger against Mordecai:
In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar. [Esther 3:17]
And again later on, in a recap:
For Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them. [Esther 9:24]
Most biblical commentators agree that this lot-casting, a common one in ancient eastern cultures, involved some form of pagan belief behind it. At the same time, it's worth noting there were lots used by the Jews as well (Num 26:55; Jos 7:14), and even by the apostles (Acts 1:26), albeit not with an appeal to pagan spirits. Scripture also teaches that every lot outcome proceeds from God's providence (cf. Pro 16:33), as often did happen in scripture, even with lots committed by the heathen (cf. Jon 1:7). No doubt here, God providentially used the lots to give enough time for Mordecai and Esther to discover the plot and unravel it.

Yet Esther 3:17 and 9:24 are the only mentions of lots in the book of Esther, and hence the only possible reference to any influence from spiritual powers. Furthermore, the only purpose it served was to determine the dating of Haman's planned genocide. This one momentary mention is exaggerated by Mr. Prince to say that "the whole conflict" was now "on a spiritual plane"; it is exaggerated even more by Mr. Engle, who says that Haman was "channeling" witchcraft, and that Esther had uncovered "dark schemes at the highest levels of government." In fact, Haman wasn't even targeting the entire Persian government, just God's church in Persia; for Mr. Engle to transform this into a need to pray for the United States as a whole is confusing ecclesiology with nationalism.

Jewish histories and traditions also seem absent of any serious kind of "witchcraft" on Haman's part. Rabbinical traditions speak of his use of astrology, but more in regards to symbolism than spiritual power.
Haman was also an astrologer, and when he was about to fix the time for the massacre of the Jews he first cast lots to ascertain which was the most auspicious day of the week for that purpose. Each day, however, proved to be under some influence favorable to the Jews. He then sought to fix the month, but found that the same was true of each month; thus, Nisan was favorable to the Jews because of the Passover sacrifice; Iyyar, because of the small Passover. But when he arrived at Adar he found that its zodiacal sign was Pisces, and he said, "Now I shall be able to swallow them as fish which swallow one another" (Esth. R. vii.; Targ. Sheni iii.) [Jewish Encyclopedia; source]
In Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, when he speaks on the story of Esther (Book XI, 6), he doesn't mention the lots at all, let alone any sort of spiritual warfare.

What is especially amusing by Lou Engle's highlighting this is that he seems to forget that the King of Babylon was a pagan king, of a pagan nation, which probably regularly committed pagan acts of worship. If Esther's opine to the king had been, "Haman uses pagan rituals," the king probably would have shrugged and said, "So do I." That's not to say pagan rituals aren't false, or that Esther and Mordecai approved of them; only that Engle, Prince, and others are exaggerating the role that pagan rituals and practices held in this narrative. Haman briefly used one methodology to pick a date, and that was it; it's not like Haman was slaying virgins to summon demons to attack the Jews.

Given the truth on Haman's so-called "witchcraft," one might ask why Lou Engle is exaggerating the role pagan spirituality played in the story of Esther, and why is he emphasizing our need to combat it? Why does he need to rework the Esther story to say all this?

Here we enter into the stranger realm of Lou Engle's theology - namely, Lou Engle sincerely believes that non-Christian religions are able to release "spiritual power" into the atmosphere, and hence combat the church. If the church doesn't pray enough, they will "lose the heavens" and permit evil to gain more power. In case you think I'm exaggerating or unfairly representing his beliefs, here's a direct quote from him:
The Lord spoke to my heart out of this, that the church must become not just a prayer meeting - it must become a prayer culture if it's going to contend with the prayer culture of Islam. How can a prayer meeting that very few come to in the church can contend with a Muslim prayer meeting that's praying five times a day then fasts forty days in Ramadan that releases spiritual power into the atmosphere. [...] The will of God is being resisted by principalities and powers. Friends, there is only one people that can remove that kind of resistance. It's not politics, it's not education, it's the praying church. It is our responsibility that we lost the heavens because of our lack of prayer... [Transcribed from "Highlights to the Nationwide Call to Prayer Conference Call"; TheCall Official Podcast; emphases mine]
Those who are curious about this can likewise listen to my podcast on IHOP-KC and prayer power; I play a clip of Lou Engle talking about a dream he had where a Buddhist house of prayer was overcome by a Christian house of prayer because the Christian house of prayer prayed more. When he speaks of "spiritual warfare," he's not only speaking about the general idea of God versus Satan, except where God is sovereign over all conflict (as most orthodox Christians would understand it); Lou Engle literally means "warfare" in the sense that the forces of God and Satan are combating on equal terms. Therefore, when Lou Engle hears that witches are casting spells against Trump and the church, he sincerely believes that witches have the complete power to do that.

Lou Engle claims that God spoke to him about this, and hence we have to presume this notion of prayer power comes from God. Scripture testifies differently. In fact, scripture testifies that foreign religions, while being under the influence of demons, have no power. Those who worship idols and false gods do so without releasing "spiritual power" into the air.

Consider, for example, the long satire and mockery of pagan faiths by the prophet Isaiah:
Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” [Isaiah 44:9-17]
Consider likewise the words of the apostle Paul:
Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. [1 Corinthians 10:18-20]
There is no scriptural evidence for the idea that when Muslims pray during Ramadan (which isn't forty days, by the way), or when Hindus pray, or when Buddhists pray, they are "releasing spiritual power" that will swallow up the church if we don't pray enough.

In fact, is such a notion found within Esther itself? On the contrary. Let's look again at what Mordecai tells Esther:
"Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" [Esther 4:13b-14]
Mordecai actually had faith that, even if he and the Jews of Susa perish, God's people within Persia would not perish in toto. Mordecai knew that God would keep His promise and preserve a remnant, even during the worst of struggles. His warning and advice to Esther was basically: "Your being the queen won't save you. God will preserve His people somewhere, somehow, but you're right there where the enemies of the Jews have the most power and influence, so you're the most likely to get killed, even if you don't intercede. Maybe God put you in this most precarious position precisely because you could intercede for your people?"

The point here is that Mordecai didn't hear about the problem and think, "Oh man, if we don't combat this spiritual power from Haman, we're all gonna die! We better pray and fast!" He knew God's people would persevere, even if in scattered parts of the empire, or from a source other than Esther. That didn't lessen the danger all the Jews were facing, of course - but Mordecai didn't think this was something that required fasting and praying or else.
Recently, two women contacted me and asked me to use my influence to call for a 3-day Esther Fast to answer this challenge. Immediately after, I experienced a life-changing dream where I saw a nation-wide Esther movement arising that alone could break a major spiritual power of death. I knew then that I was to take my place as a Mordecai and call for Esther and her handmaidens, even the entire nation, to boldly become the hinge which this hour of history requires. The Jewish holiday Purim celebrates God’s deliverance of the Jews through Esther’s fasting, sacrifice and courage. This year, Purim begins on Saturday evening, March 11th. Therefore, we are seizing this sudden moment for 3-day Esther Fast from sundown on Wednesday, March 8th through the evening of Saturday, March 11th to counter this witchcraft, pray for the President, and contend for this uprising of an Esther movement in America that will, among many things, reverse the decree of ‘73, Roe V. Wade, just as Haman’s decree was reversed and hold back the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

Let the women arise as Esthers for such a time as this and take their place in the courts of heaven and in the public courts of man to shape history in this hour. If your heart burns, mobilize this fast to all your connections. Blow the trumpet in Zion! Call a fast!

Lou Engle

Founder, TheCall, Inc.
I must say it's rather astounding that Lou Engle sees himself as a modern Mordecai, especially since he says that makes it his duty to "call for Esther and her handmaidens" - is he aware that it's actually Esther who calls for the fast, not Mordecai? Mordecai's only call for Esther was "to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people" (Es 4:8b). Therefore, shouldn't Lou Engle be calling "Esther and her handmaidens" not to fast and pray, but rather to "go in to the king to implore his favor"?

I'm also interested in how the "Esther movement" is supposed to "reverse" and "hold back" Roe vs. Wade, anti-Semitism, etc., when I was fairly certain that the Nazirite DNA and other "movements" Lou Engle has become involved in were likewise supposed to do that. It's not that I'm knocking Christian movements in general, even impassioned Christian movements; it's simply that it's rather interesting how all of these "do-or-die" spiritual movements seem to keep repeating their goals over and over again, with new names. How many times has Engle spoken of a "life-changing dream" where he was called by God to raise up a movement "that alone could break a major spiritual power of death"?

Concluding Thoughts

Let's try to remember a few key things about the fast called by Esther:
  • Who was fasting? All the Jews in the city of Susa (Es 4:16).
  • What brought about the fasting? Esther was preparing to confront the king, and there was a possibility she might die for her troubles (Es 4:11, 14).
  • Why was Esther confronting the king? Because Haman was planning to kill all of God's people (Es 4:7-8).
  • Why was Haman planning to kill off the Jews? Because of Mordecai's refusal to bow to him, and Haman's personal hatred of the Jews (Es 3:6).
This is what the text says regarding the fast. Engle avoids all of this by not addressing the context of what is being said. Instead, he hones in on the fact Esther and her handmaidens fasted prayed, avoids any real exegesis, instead falling back on what one commentator said regarding Haman. From all this, he presents to us a situation in which witchcraft and dark forces are taking over the Persian government, and this is only averted by the women praying and fasting. He makes it seem as if, because Esther and the women prayed, the "spiritual power" was pushed back and undone, and everything changed.

As we saw from our earlier review of the book, the narrative is a little more involved with that. The fasting was not to bring about the change directly, but rather to call upon God to make certain Esther's confrontation with the king would go well. It was her dealings with the king, and God's providence therein, that saved the Jewish people. Esther is a noble woman in the history of the church, yes. Esther has many traits Christian women could seek to emulate, yes. However, there is no command to fast and pray like Esther, and there is no evidence from scripture that Esther was locked in a giant spiritual struggle which was only defeated by fasting and prayer. No honest reading of the text could ever come to such a conclusion.

What's even more alarming is that Lou Engle uses, just as he has so many times in the past, strong spiritual language to add weighty authority to an abuse of scripture based on his heretical ideas on prayer. Some might contend here that he's never said, "You're not saved if you don't take part in this movement," or, "If you're a Christian, you need to get involved." Nonetheless, the wording he uses is quite clear: it is this movement "alone" which can "break a major spiritual power"; we literally "need" an "entire generation" of women to take part; if we don't "employ spiritual strategy" against this, then "the days ahead will be dark days indeed"; women must "take their place in the courts of heaven and in the public courts of man to shape history in this hour." This is spiritual manipulative language that is, in essence, placing a yoke upon others under the disguise of pious activity.

I've been told that Lou Engle's a nice guy in person, and I'm sure, deep down, he sincerely believes he's doing some good. The problem is he's constantly abusing the word of God, centering it around his personal dreams and visions. He uses these misrepresentations of God's word to command other Christians to commit acts in the hope that God will return the favor. This is especially sad given that, as stated earlier, the story of Esther is a beautiful one that can point to the church's preservation and even the cross. Instead, it's being pointed to in order to command, "Do." It takes a passage that should point us to God and His glory, and instead points it to us and places upon us a command and work.

With his reliance on dreams and his mishandling of scripture, Lou Engle is like those false prophets God warned of when He said:
"The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the Lord. [Jeremiah 23:28]
Things like an "Esther hour" or "Esther fast" are nothing more than spiritual straw. Let every Christian seek their answers from the word of God, and do their best to avoid it, or warn others about it. If we wish to fast and pray, even as a body, then let us fast and pray - but let's not mishandle scripture to compel others to do it, and let's not claim divinely inspired authority to make such claims.

God bless.


Work Cited

Prince, Derek. Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2002. Print.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

IHOP-KC Supports "The Shack"

Recently, on the International House of Prayer's website, an article was posted about the new movie The Shack, based on the book of the same name. It was written by Jono Hall, COO of IHOP-KC, and is entitled Is the Film, The Shack Heresy? I'll be quoting the article in full, albeit in chunks, but feel free to click on the link provided and read it in one go before continuing here. For the sake of visual organization, any part quoted from the article will be typed in purple.

Before we begin the article proper, I want to, in the immortal words of Prince Humperdinck, "skip to the end," and address a section added at the end of the article:
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the International House of Prayer.
Whoa, wait a minute, IHOP-KC! This isn't a guest-post you permitted someone from another organization to put up; this was posted on your website, shared by your Twitter account, and was written not only by one of your staff members, but your Chief-Operations-Officer - in other words, someone in high-ranking leadership. That's not to mention that, according to his biography, he is "an instructor at IHOPU in subjects such as church history, basic christian beliefs, and media production," and his wife is "Director of Forerunner Media Institute at IHOPU." My point is, don't post something by one of your top and most influential leaders, go out and advertise it, then try, at the same time, to distance yourself from it, or leave some wiggle room to escape if this backfires. This is your baby, IHOP-KC - own it.

As we dig deeper into the article, the discerning reader will see just why IHOP-KC might want some wiggle room.
Across the country this week, church pastors and teachers will stand before congregations, open their Bible, and talk about God. They will try, as they are able, to convey something about who God is, His divine nature, His attributes, His ways, and His emotions. My guess is that few will get it exactly right, unless all they do is read the Bible. Some will seriously misrepresent God. Teaching about God is a heavy responsibility and that is why James said, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). My question is, how wrong do these people have to be to be considered “heretics” by other brothers?

The reason I bring this up is because of the hubbub around a movie that will be released today (March 3) called The Shack. I’m sure you have heard of the book; it has, after all, sold over 22 million copies. It has ministered healing to the many millions who have read it, but, on the other side of the coin, has provoked a firestorm of criticism from those who call it heresy and false teaching and say it should be avoided in the same way as pornography.
Immediately we have a classic ploy used by many to soften the blow of heresy by in essence appealing to divergent viewpoints. Mr. Hall basically tells us, "Thousands will preach the Bible on Sunday, but only few will get it exactly right, will they not?" This leads into the question, "how wrong do these people have to be to be considered 'heretics' by other brothers?"

One would think from this that we were discussing topics like who you think wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, or whether you're a Postmillennial that believes the thousand years are literal or a Postmillennial that holds it's figurative. I wish this were the case, since one could rightfully say that we should be gracious about divergent views; unfortunately, this isn't at all what we are talking about. We're talking about a story which portrays God the Father bearing crucifixion scars, which talks about theological issues but never once quotes the Bible, and which portrays judgment in light of personal reconciliation sans any justice of God.

What Mr. Hall is doing here is equivocating lighter differences with larger ones, as if we should treat one like the other. While that may not seem terribly obvious here, it will become more clear as we continue.
Before I examine some of the controversy, I do want to say that we were visited last week by Brad Cummings who is both co-writer of the novel and co-producer of the film. As Brad served as a pastor at the Malibu Vineyard Fellowship during the 1990’s, we found we had mutual friends and we shared some stories before I listened to some of Brad’s personal, and at times painful, journey in the making of The Shack. We spent an enjoyable time together talking about some of the challenges that people have had with the novel before we saw a preview of the movie.

To give a little background to the storyline of The Shack, it follows a man named Mack who, after the murder of one of his children, is invited to spend time in a mountain shack with three individuals who turn out to be the three persons of the Trinity. The ensuing conversations and interactions with “God” lead to much healing in Mack’s life.

I must say I really enjoyed the movie. It was a well-told story of forgiveness and healing. I always have grace for movie directors who are trying to reduce a cherished book into a much-shortened movie format. Meddling with people’s imaginations is always going to be a challenge. However, I think that the storm of criticism surrounding The Shack is found in another area entirely!
That the story is about a man meeting God representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inside a shack should have immediately sent up red flags for Mr. Hall. As I pointed out in my own review of the book, this is in essence a really bad metaphor of the Trinity put into novel form, now film. It's on par with comparing the Trinity to water being liquid, ice, or steam (which is Modalism), or comparing the Trinity to a man who's a grandfather, a father, and an uncle (again, Modalism).

At this point in the article, Mr. Hall begins writing on the representation of God in the movie.
The fact that, for most of the story, the three persons of the Trinity are conveyed as Papa, a black female played by Octavia Spencer; the Spirit, called Sarayu, and played by Sumire Matsubara; and Jesus, played by Aviv Alush, the first Israeli Jew to play Jesus, has been a big challenge for many. While I’m not blogging here to defend The Shack, this fictional representation is understandable in the context of the story—a black female from Mack’s childhood represented healing, safety, and wisdom to Mack.
Note what Mr. Hall says at the end there: this "fictional representation" is "understandable" because "a black female" personally represents "healing, safety, and wisdom" to the main character. In other words, because a black female is something that the main character responds to personally, it is justifiable. This is similar to some liberals who argue that women who suffered abuse from their birth fathers should be permitted to call God "mother."

I hope the discerning reader will not have to hear an explanation on why this is such a fallacious rationale. I have heard some white supremacists say that they reject Christianity because they could never worship a dark-skinned Jew on a cross - would Mr. Hall suggest that, in such a situation, presenting a blue-eyed, blond-haired Jesus before them would be far better? What if someone wrote such a story, in which a white supremacist encounters Jesus, who appears to him as someone who could pass for a Swedish bodybuilder? Would Mr. Hall be alright with this, since it's "understandable in the context of the story"?

What this mindset does is filter our orthodox understanding of God through our personal emotions and needs. The fact is, there are certain realities about God that we cannot deny based upon our personal feelings and emotions. What we know from scripture is that Christ Himself refers to God the Father as "father" (Lk 23:46) and encourages believers to do likewise (Mt 6:9). The Holy Spirit is referred to by masculine pronouns in the original Greek of the New Testament (cf. Jn 14:26). The reality of God and His existence simply is - and it's not too concerned with someone's personal feelings or needs.
The Shack is a work of fiction, and therefore what the authors have done is to present something of who God is in much the same way that C.S. Lewis tried to present Aslan the Lion as a type of Christ. I think we can always have the conversation of whether this is covered by the prohibition on making graven images in Exodus 20, but I would submit if we are going to apply this consistently, we must then be careful about illustrations for God in children’s Bibles and also how we describe God in the pulpit. I think what is clear is that these are not graven idols that people are physically worshipping. If we are shocked because Papa is portrayed as a black female and not a Caucasian male, then we might have some other issues!
The appeal to Aslan is problematic for a reason found within Mr. Hall's own wording; that is, he himself admits that Aslan is "a type of Christ." Aslan was meant to represent Christ in metaphor, not in reality. Throughout the history of literature and film, there have been many characters who were meant to represent a Christ-like figure, but we're not talking about that here - the Jesus of The Shack is supposed to be literally Christ Himself. To compare the two is completely erroneous. This confusion was seen even earlier in the article, when Mr. Hall wrote on Mack's "ensuing conversations and interactions with 'God,'" with "God" in quotations as if it's not really God in the Shack. The fact is, William Paul Young's book is about the literal God, and the three characters in the Shack are supposed to be the actual Trinitarian God of the Bible.

The appeal to "children's Bibles" and other artistic portrayals of God is a common one being made by some supporters of The Shack, but is likewise problematic. For one, it's an ad hominem tu quoque fallacy: that there exist other poor visual representations of God, even socially acceptable ones, does not deny that the visual representations in The Shack are unacceptable. For another, there are plenty of criticisms, and discussions, out there regarding portrayals of God (especially God the Father) in art and film. Regardless, whatever erroneous portrayals of God the Father or God the Holy Spirit as men may exist, portraying them as females only adds error upon error. As pointed out before, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are referred to in scripture, even by Christ, with masculine pronouns. In fact, one has to wonder why there even needs to be any discussion on gender and the Trinity in the first place.

As for the notion that people aren't worshiping these characters as graven idols, I would contend there are other ways to worship idols which we may not be aware of. Many who have read The Shack, or will see the movie, see the portrayal of God as who God really is, and what God really believes, when all of it is simply untrue. They will think what Jesus teaches and espouses in The Shack is what Christ really intends people to believe about him. In this sense, even if they realize God is not a black woman named Papa, they will be worshiping an idol of William Young's creation.
Perhaps of greater concern to us, however, is the subject of universal reconciliation, the belief that in the end everyone will be saved. It was unclear in the novel what the belief of the author was. Brad was very clear, as co-author, that he did not believe universal reconciliation was a teaching found in the Bible and did not want the movie to be as open-ended as the book in relation to this subject. (He did say that the lead author, Wm Paul Young, had a different theological background.) The movie, however, did not open this door. The movie did provide some initial thoughts around the subject of the wrath of God with which I would respectfully have to disagree, but here I think is the ultimate challenge of portraying both the kindness and severity of God (Romans 11:22)—both His Father heart and His Holy transcendence. I thought they did the former well, but perhaps not the latter.
It's amazing that Mr. Hall presents so much vagueness around the original novel's interpretation of judgment: he says that it's "unclear" and "open-ended" what William Paul Young's beliefs are, only knowing that Young has "a different theological background." I think anyone who read the original book would see that, while it might have been vague enough to give wiggle room for denying "universal reconciliation," it certainly wasn't orthodox or biblical. Young's portrayal of "judgment" is far closer to the ancient heresy of apocatastasis, which was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. Gregory of Nyssa, talking about the belief, is quoted as saying:
The punishment by fire is not, therefore, an end in itself, but is ameliorative; the very reason of its infliction is to separate the good from the evil in the soul. The process, moreover, is a painful one; the sharpness and duration of the pain are in proportion to the evil of which each soul is guilty; the flame lasts so long as there is any evil left to destroy. A time, then, will come, when all evil shall cease to be since it has no existence of its own apart from the free will, in which it inheres; when every free will shall be turned to God, shall be in God, and evil shall have no more wherein to exist. [source]
Compare this with the notion of "judgment" found in the original Shack novel. Mack finds his father, who had abused him, struggling and suffering with the guilt of his past, and it is only after Mack forgives his father that they both find some reconciliation. Mack is then told by Sophia (the personification of Wisdom from Proverbs) that "judgment is not about destruction, but about setting things right." While it would be wrong to say these two beliefs are identical, my point in bringing this up is to illustrate how William Paul Young's view of judgment fits far closer to historical heresies than it does anything that can be considered orthodox. It makes judgment a more personal, horizontal action within human society, rather than a crime against the almighty God. It makes senseless entire sections of the prophetic books and Revelation, and renders pointless the words of scripture that "it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (He 10:31).

I would certainly agree with Mr. Hall that those speaking on the judgment of God face "the ultimate challenge of portraying both the kindness and severity of God"; it is a dangerous trap to fall into where a person might emphasize one without minimizing the other. However, to shrug off error found in The Shack with, "Well, William Paul Young is kinda vague about it, and he's from a different theological background," is to play fast and loose with what the reader is presented. William Young did not simply portray the severity of God's judgment poorly - he didn't portray it at all.
As we watched the movie, while I personally might have done things differently, I found it very enjoyable, certainly very emotional and healing in character, much as the novel before had been. As I watched, I kept looking over at a security guard to my left—she had tears in her eyes. The next morning, Brad posted on social media, “So the security guard from last night’s screening in Kansas City pulls me aside while we are finishing up—a wonderful black lady—and she says: ‘I see an awful lot of movies, and hands down this is the best one I have seen—EVER!’—and gives me a huge hug and holds on. I just squeezed back, having no real idea the depth of what was transacting in her, but loving whatever it was. When we let go and stepped back, her eyes were beaming but with tears full to the brim.”
Once again, there is an appeal to personal emotion. The argument presented here is basically, "Someone who watched The Shack was moved to tears and said it was the best movie ever - surely it has to be good!" By such logic, those who wept when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election must be justified in their reaction, and Hillary Clinton - a woman most hostile to the Christian worldview - should have become president.

Sadly, that such a mindset is coming from IHOP-KC does not surprise me. When speaking to members in the past, and attempting to show the errors of Mike Bickle's teachings, the most common response I get is, "I feel personally fulfilled, that's how I know it's right." When you listen to the testimonies of those who have joined IHOP-KC, one common theme is that they were personally moved by what was going on, and that was why they joined. This is simply the logical conclusion of the Charismatic doctrine of solus adfectus, or "emotions alone," over and against sola scriptura. If someone is moved to tears, and it involves God, then it doesn't matter what else we know about it - it has to be real. When we adopt such a mindset, we shouldn't be shocked if unbiblical portrayals of God seem alright to us, based mostly on the notion that someone is emotionally "healed" by it.

Indeed, the continual mantra that The Shack has "ministered healing" to its readers or viewers shows just why William Young's work is so seductive in its nature: because it attacks a person's soul at its worst. Many people I've encountered who liked the book read it when they were struggling with depression or some deep sadness in their life, and felt that the book assisted them. However, just as one might be tempted to harm their physical bodies by turning to alcohol or drugs to combat depression, so too can the devil tempt one with spiritual harm by leading a suffering person into false doctrine. Being personally satisfied is not a mark of being healed, but rather complete, perfect healing found in the comfort of the true God, and the true Gospel - and one will find neither in The Shack.

The final part of the article:
I am sure this movie will bring healing to many and, no, I don’t believe it is heresy!

Thank you, Brad.
Recall that earlier Mr. Hall stated, "I’m not blogging here to defend The Shack." In the process of "not defending" The Shack, Mr. Hall has...
  • Claimed the book "ministered healing to the many millions who have read it."
  • Defended the intentions of the novel's co-writer and the film's co-producer.
  • Said he considered the movie a "well-told story of forgiveness and healing."
  • Defended the visual representations of God the Father, calling them "understandable," and even comparing it to Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Played apologist for the film's depiction of judgment.
  • Said he found the film "very enjoyable, certainly very emotional and healing in character, much as the novel before had been," adding that he is "sure this movie will bring healing to many."
  • Cited a person being moved to tears and called it the best film they had ever seen.
  • Thanked the co-writer and co-producer for his work involved with The Shack.
  • Deemed that The Shack wasn't heresy.
I can only wish more people would not-defend me in this way!

Let me remind the reader that Jono Hall is an instructor at IHOPU for church history and "basic christian beliefs," and yet he seems unable, during the course of his examination of The Shack, to identify historical heresies and fundamental problems found within. Gross doctrinal errors found in William Paul Young's writing, noticeable to discernment ministries and laymen alike, were gleaned over or minimized. At best, Mr. Hall said in this article that there were some points or teachings which he would "respectfully have to disagree" with, while on Twitter he said he had "far fewer" issues with the movie than the book. (A book which, if you remember, he said "ministered healing to the many millions.")

IHOP-KC can add all the disclaimers they want, and Mr. Hall can swear up and down he's not defending anything, but that won't change things. The fact remains that someone at the leadership of IHOP-KC, on IHOP-KC's website, just gave what is considered the poster boy for heretical fiction a passing grade. The COO of IHOP-KC has come out and said that he believes The Shack is not heresy.

You can't get around that.

More surprising to me is that the language used in the article is similar to that found in Emergent and progressive circles: the objections people make to The Shack are not criticisms of unbiblical doctrines, but are merely "challenges" they have with the story; erroneous portrayals of God are perfectly fine so long as someone gets some personal fulfillment from the story. I wonder if any supposed contradictions between scripture and The Shack would be shrugged off as "tensions" that we can permit to exist?

In the past, I've extensively covered the strange doctrines coming out of IHOP-KC, not only in regards to the end time prophecies, but their teachings on prayer, God's power, and Christ's humanity. In all those moments, they had maintained some level of an orthodox facade, certainly in regards to topics such as the judgment of God or the importance of gleaning from the Bible. Here, on the other hand, we have someone from IHOP-KC's leadership calling heresy orthodoxy and defending it with someone crying at a movie. Is this a sign of where IHOP-KC is going? Are they becoming more Emergent in their theology? Or are they simply growing more liberal in some areas? Is this part of the trend that many have noticed, which is that IHOP-KC is attempting to mainstream itself more?

If this is the case, I honestly would not be surprised if Doug Pagitt or Jory Micah spoke at a future OneThing conference - and I don't write that in jest. Either way, I may very well have to continue monitoring what is coming out of Kansas City.

Friday, March 3, 2017

This Week in Review - 3/3/2017

Here's another roundup of highlights I found throughout the week.

What Did the Jewish Historian Josephus Really Say About Jesus? from Jonathan Morrow - Good article on the sections of Josephus regarding Christ that scholars dispute. As it turns out, when you remove the questionable parts, it still says a lot about the historicity of Jesus.

Eschatology Comparison from Five Solas - This isn't a cool piece of artwork like a lot of eschatology comparisons are, but it goes into detail about what various groups believe, how they differ, and what variants exist within the individual camps.

Leaving the NAR Church: Sean's story from Pirate Christian - A testimony from South Africa, where the Word of Faith, Prosperity Gospel, New Apostolic Reformation heresies are all thriving. I was reminded of the podcast I did with Kofi over that very subject.

The Cure for a Lack of Fruit in Our Christian Lives from Ligonier Ministries - A simple article discussing salvation, and how we can have an assurance of...well...assurance.

Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not? from Answers in Genesis - A good article that not only refutes the commonly held myth that Jesus said we shouldn't judge anyone ever, but also talks on our own personal need for self-reflection and personal repentance.

Why Christian Kids Leave the Faith by Tim Challies - Obviously from a purely theological standpoint, it would be easy to throw 1 John 2:19 at the problem and call it a day. In a more practical, applicable standpoint, Tim Challies presents four prominent reasons, found in a study, as to why people left the faith, and what we can focus on to prevent, by God's grace and blessings, that such a thing happens to our children. It is definitely something on the minds of Christian parents (including myself).

5 Ways to Help Keep Your Kids From Becoming Secularized Worshipers from Natasha Crain - Guest author Alisa Childers gives some solid advice on how to help integrate your kids into your worship life. This includes living a God-centered worship life in front of them and teaching them to be discerning in what worship songs are actually saying.

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]