Dr. Steve Lawson:
Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists
Dr. Steve Lawson:
Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists
Text: Ephesians 5:18 – “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit…”
What does it (really) mean to be filled with the Spirit? In a day when charismatic error, excess and extremes permeate much of the professing Church, the cure, as always, is a proper understanding of the Bible.
Dan Phillips wrote this today on his facebook page: “Delighted to hear that brother John Samson no longer IDs himself as a charismatic. It’s a path we both walked, with at least some similarity: I was a charismatic Calvinist, and eventually rethought and renounced my charismatic beliefs.
So I’m wondering: if you have the time, John, what particularly moved you to rethink?
For me it was chiefly a combination of my own realization of what Sam Waldron now calls the “cascade” argument (http://tinyurl.com/z2a3vtq), plus seeing that modern putative revelatory/attesting gifts simply did not measure up to the Biblical data.”
Here’s my brief reply:
Dan, though I would not have used the term at the time, I was thoroughly Arminian (a synergist), and not only charismatic, but a pastor in the word of faith movement. I was a local host for TBN, regularly hosting a live 2 hour program and… actually asked people to call the number on the screen. Yes, it doesn’t get much lower than that. 🙂 The Lord rescued me, breaking through with His truth concerning His Sovereignty back around 2000-2001, and like a huge rock being thrown into my theological lake, the ripple effects continued to shape and change my thinking in a whole lot of areas, especially ecclesiology. It greatly bothered me that although I had been around charismatic Churches and Christians for 3 decades, I had never witnessed someone speaking in an unknown tongue (unknown to the speaker) something that was known to the listener – which is what we see in Acts 2. I heard stories of this kind of thing happening elsewhere, but it was always just that, stories. It was never something I had personally observed. This led me to question whether what I was seeing in our time was what we read about in the New Testament. Dr. Sam Waldron’s cascade argument did have an impact on me also, but I think the final nail in the coffin to my charismatic tendencies was the “Strange Fire” Conference John MacArthur had, with Phil Johnson’s sessions being especially helpful – “Is there a baby in the Charismatic bathwater?” “Providence is Remarkable” and another teaching he did, “Is That Voice in my Head Really the Holy Spirit?”
A quote I read by John Owen also was like a punch to the stomach (theologically speaking) as its truth hit home to me, “If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree they are false.” I have experienced so much mercy from the Lord in all this, especially when I realize that, very sadly, I don’t personally know of any fellow pastors in the circles I was in, making this kind of transition. Deceived people, deceive people, and my prayer is that God will continue to root out of my thinking, anything that is not in full accord with His word. And may He do this for many of those still entrapped in deception, as I was.
Dan responded: “Praise the Lord. That’s wonderful to hear. Thanks. It is disheartening: one sees so many either deepening in error, or drifting in the wrong direction. A testimony like yours is heartening. It must mean a lot to Phil as well.”
My reply: Yes, it is indeed disheartening when so many will not even stop for a moment to examine their traditions. The fact that I did is a testimony to the Sovereign mercy of the Lord towards me. I wrote a book outlining Sovereign mercy in election, especially seeking to answer objections (called “Twelve What Abouts: Answering Common Objections Concerning God’s Sovereignty in Election”) and am now working on my second book which has a working title of “Run for Your Life” aimed at helping those in the word of faith come to sound theology. I would value your prayers very much.
P.S. Dan Phillips wrote this article about Benny Hinn yesterday that is well worth reading.
“If private revelations agree with Scripture, and if they disagree they are false.” – John Owen
“The Bible is the sceptre by which the heavenly King rules his church.” – John Calvin
“It has always been the great minds exercising their powers apart from the Word of God who have produced the great heresies. Some think they can discover God by listening to a so-called ‘inner voice.’ But the voice is often nothing more than an expression of their own inner desires. Quite a few think that spiritual truths can be verified by supernatural events or miracles. But the Bible everywhere teaches that even miracles will not lead men and women to understand and receive God’s truth unless they themselves are illuminated by the Bible (see Luke 16:31).” – James Montgomery Boice
“God speaks through the Scriptures. He speaks with the Word, through the Word, and never against the Word.” – R. C. Sproul
“All Scripture must be received as if God, appearing in person, visibly and full of majesty, were himself speaking.” – John Calvin
“In too many churches, Bible exposition has been replaced with entertainment, theology with theatrics, and the drama of redemption with just drama.” – Steve Lawson
Phil Johnson: Have the Apostolic Gifts Ceased? A Biblical Appraisal
Phil Johnson: Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater?
Phil Johnson: Providence Is Remarkable
There was a mix of Christians on campus. CRU was there. Some pretty wild Pentecostals were there. God brought dispensational Calvinists into my life. I got hooked on prophetic charts, Spurgeon, and later on John Piper. I also drank often from the more Reformed well. The authors that drew me had a sense of a great God, the evil of sin, the complete work of Christ, and the call to holiness. I could not get enough of their theology.
Outside of my reading, my Christian life was not remarkable. After the first wave of conversion change, I settled into the routine of battling the flesh. My particular sins were those of a young adult – self-indulgence, laziness, being opinionated, not honoring my parents, and sexual sin. My sins grieved me. I looked for help for this inner war. I wanted to be free from sin. Once again, it was the Reformed tradition that gave me hope and sanity. Continue reading
An assessment of Bill Johnson’s ministry by Bob Hunter in an article entitled “Off the Map: Bill Johnson and the Pursuit of Extrabiblical Authentication.”
“If private revelations agree with Scripture, they are needless, and if they disagree they are false.” – John Owen
Charlotte, NC. He wrote the following article “Is the Existence of the NT Canon Incompatible with Claims of New Revelation?” (original source here)
“God has spoken to me.”
There are few statements that will shut down debate more quickly than this one. If Christians disagree over a doctrine, a practice, or an idea, then the trump card is always “God has spoken to me” about that. End of discussion.
But, the history of the church (not to mention the Scriptures themselves) demonstrates that such claims of private, direct revelation are highly problematic. Of course, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak to people. The Scripture is packed with examples of this. But, these were typically individuals with a unique calling (e.g., prophet or apostle), or who functioned at unique times in redemptive history (e.g., the early church in Acts).
After the first century was over, and the apostles had died, the church largely rejected the idea that any ol’ person could step forward and claim to have direct revelation from God. This reality is probably best exemplified in the early Christian debate over Montanism.
Montanism was a second-century movement whose leader Montanus claimed to receive direct revelation from God. In addition, two of his “prophetesses,” Priscilla and Maximilla also claimed to receive such revelation. Such revelations were often accompanied by strange behavior. When Montanus had these revelations, “[He] became obsessed, and suddenly fell into frenzy and convulsions. He began to be ecstatic and to speak and to talk strangely” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.7).
Needless to say, this sort of activity caused great concern for the orthodox leaders of the second century. Part of their concern was the manner in which this prophetic activity was taking place. They condemned it on the grounds that it was “contrary to the custom which belongs to the tradition and succession of the church from the beginning” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.7).
But, the other concern (and perhaps the larger one) was that this new revelation was inconsistent with the church’s beliefs about the apostles. The second-century leaders understood the apostles to be a unique mouthpiece for God; so much so that they would accept no revelation that wasn’t understood to be apostolic.
As an example of this commitment, the early church rejected the Shepherd of Hermas–a book supposedly containing revelations from heaven–on the grounds that it was written “very recently, in our own times” (Muratorian fragment). In other words, it was rejected because it wasn’t apostolic.
This issue reached a head when the Montanists began to write down their new prophecies, forming their own collection of sacred books. The orthodox leaders viewed such an activity as illegitimate because, on their understanding, God had already spoken in his apostles, and the words of the apostles were recorded in the New Testament writings.
A few examples of how the orthodox leaders rejected these books of “new revelation”:
1. Gaius of Rome, in his dialogue with the Montanist Proclus, rebuked “the recklessness and audacity of his opponents in composing new Scriptures” (Hist. eccl. 6.20.3).
2. Apollonius objected on the grounds that Montanist prophets were putting their “empty sounding words” on the same level as Christ and the apostles (Hist. eccl. 5.18.5).
3. Hippolytus complained that the Montanists “allege that they have learned something more through these [Montanist writings], than from law, and prophets, and the Gospels” (Haer. 8.12).
4. The anonymous critic of Montanism recorded by Eusebius registers his hesitancy to write a response to the Montantists lest he be seen as making the same mistake as them and “seem to some to be adding to the writings or injunctions of the word of the new covenant of the Gospel” (Hist. eccl. 5.16.3)
When you look at these responses, a couple of key facts become clear. First, and this is critical, it is clear that these authors already knew and had received a number of New Testament writings as authoritative Scripture. Thus, they already had a NT canon of sorts (even if some books were still under discussion). Indeed, it is the existence of these books that forms the basis for their major complaint against the Montanists.
Second, and equally critical, the response of these writers shows that they did not accept new revelation in their time period. For them, the kind of revelation that could be considered “God’s word,” and thus written down in books, had ceased with the apostolic time period.
In terms of the modern church, there are great lessons to be learned here. For one, we ought to be equally cautious about extravagant claims that people have received new revelation from heaven. And, even more than this, the Montanist debate is a great reminder to always go back to Scripture as the ultimate standard and guide for truth. It is on the written word of God that the church should stand.
“Pastor John, can you recommend any teachers, about it books, websites, blogs or such that you consider theologically sound in the area of the gifts/leading of the Holy Spirit from a Continuationist perspective? And the earnest pursuit thereof?”
My short answer would be “no.” I no longer consider the continuationist perspective a sound one theologically and so cannot recommend a teacher who would promote it. Of course, all of us have our blind spots theologically (me being no exception) and I am happy to affirm many teachers and ministries in the areas I believe them to be sound.
If I was asked a different question such as “John, what material would you recommend to those who have been influenced by continuationist or charismatic theology?” I would point them to the following three teachings by Phil Johnson as a starting point, and would be praying that the Lord would open their eyes to His truth:
2. Providence is Remarkable (audio)
3. Is that Voice in my Head Really the Holy Spirit? (audio)
There’s more that could and should be said, but these three teachings would be a good starting point, as I say.