Friday, August 9, 2013

Interacting with Steve’s Hays’s Defense of Pentecostalism

For the record, I come to this subject uniquely qualified to speak about it. I was converted in a Pentecostal Church some 34 years ago. I was a licensed minister in the Church of God, Cleveland TN. This is the oldest Pentecostal denomination in the world. I did my pastoral studies with Lee College, which is now Lee University, the flagship school of the Church of God. I have been to the healing crusades, miracles services, Holy Ghost revivals, and yes, even tried the snake handler’s service on one occasion just to see what they did in there. Why did I leave? Someone once asked me to consider the question, “what if I’m wrong?” Do I really want the truth or do I want the truth to be what I want it to be? As difficult as it was, I opened my mind to the possibility that my theology could be wrong. Over several months I studied other views and eventually realized I was wrong. The purpose of this blog is to interact with Steve Hays’s criticism of Dan Philips and Frank Turk on the question of Pentecostalism in the context of John MacArthur’s conference on Strange Fire. So, here goes!

Hays’s comments
i) There's a fundamental difference between attacking an individual representative, and attacking the belief-system he represents. If the Strange Fire conference wants to attack Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, et al., more power to them. However, that no more disproves charismatic theology or hermeneutics than the example of Paul Hill disproves Presbyterian theology.

RESPONSE: It disproves charismatic theology if it can be shown that the error of these men is directly related to core theological teachings of Pentecostal theology. Core to Pentecostal theology is that extra biblical revelation is legitimate and that causative faith produces great miracles, to include physical as well as financial ones. Even conservative Pentecostals are left without any cogent manner in which to criticize or hold these men accountable. They have no basis from which to judge their behavior. Once you open the door for extra biblical revelation, there is no way to close it. Once you accept the view that “x” amount of faith will get you what you ask for, there is no way to close it.

In this respect, Frank Turk and Dan Phillips are just as dishonest as Joseph Smith and Paula White. Dishonest in a different way. They are cutting corners on the truth by acting as if they can discredit charismatic theology by discrediting some Pentecostal charlatans. That tactic is glaringly fallacious.

RESPONSE: Pentecostal theology naturally produces charlatans by permitting extra biblical revelation and the prosperity doctrine in conjunction with each other. Moreover, Pentecostals don’t consider Benny Hinn a charlatan. The overwhelming majority of Pentecostals support men like Hinn. That is the whole point. To non-Pentecostals with non-Pentecostal theology, he is NOT a charlatan. To most Pentecostals, he is an amazing man of God, a prophet with the fire of the Holy Spirit in him. In fact, we could work through a list that we consider charlatans and the overwhelming majority of Pentecostals would be offended because what we consider a charlatan, most Pentecostals see as prophets and men and women of God. 

If you're going to make an honest case against charismatic theology, you need to critique the best representatives as well as the worst representatives. And you need to critique arguments. It's morally and intellectually incumbent on you to engage the best exegetical case for charismatic theology, viz.  Craig Keener, The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts: Divine Purity and Power, or Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Likewise, you need to engage important mediating positions, viz. D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14. Dan and Frank keep doing this bait-n-switch, as if attacking a charlatan is any substitute for engaging serious charismatic scholarship. 

RESPONSE: The linchpin of Pentecostal theology is its epistemology. Its view on extra biblical revelation denies the sufficiency of Scripture, placing more weight on mystical encounters and subjective feelings than on the objective revelation given to the Church in Scripture.

ii) What does Frank mean by "policing their own?" Has Gordon Fee been "silent" on the excesses of Pentecostalism? Is Frank even aware of Fee's classic exposé: The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels? Isn't that a good example of "serious and sober Charismatics" policing their own? 
Once again, it looks as if Frank and his cohorts suffer from self-reinforcing ignorance. They accuse the "serious and sober Charismatics" of failing to police their own, but seem to be willfully uninformed of what "serious and sober Charismatics" have actually done in that respect.
If so, then this is just another instance of how Frank and his cohorts are no more honest than the charlatans they deride. Hypocrites chiding other hypocrites. 
What makes hypocrisy an insidious sin is that hypocrites don't view themselves as hypocritical. That wasn't the self-image of the Pharisees. They were only hypocritical to outsiders. Hypocrisy can blind you to your own hypocrisy. 

RESPONSE: Hays points to a tiny portion of Pentecostals, a very tiny portion as if the presence of this infinitesimally small number is really a better representation of Pentecostal theology than Benny Hinn, Robert Tilton, Ken Hagan, Ken Copeland, Fred Price, etc. The critics of Pentecostal theology are concerned with those people who are silly enough to carry the consequences of that theology consistently into how they live, think, and preach. And this reflects most Pentecostals.

iii) "Policing" is a catchy metaphor, but it's not as if the "serious and sober Charismatics" can place a gag order or stop-work order on the antics of charlatans. 

RESPONSE: As if any effort has been made to that end. Just look around. We see the healing crusades, the health and wealth nonsense, the laughing revival, and on and on I could go.
Click here to see an example: Rodney Howard Brown 

iv) Finally, the church has always been a mess. The NT church is no exception. Just read 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John, Rev 2-3, &c. 
The church will always be a mess, both because Christians are sinners, and also because the visible church is, to some ineluctable degree, a mixed multitude of true and nominal believers. 
RESPONSE: Maybe someone should have told Paul this. The Church is a mess, she will always be a mess, so save your energy and stop this nonsense of trying to straighten the Church up. This position is absolutely preposterous.
Why should we criticize Pentecostal theology? I can think of a few reasons:

Thats the Holy Ghost

You may think that the examples that I have linked to are extreme and represent only a small fringe of Pentecostal Churches. While there may be some Pentecostal Churches that are more laid back that these, two facts remain: one, most Pentecostal Churches either behave this way or see this behavior as a powerful move of God's Spirit working in His people. Two, even the small number of Pentecostals that do not like this behavior know that they have no basis for judging it to be wrong because of their theology. Once you open the door to extra biblical revelation, and the mystical view of feelings, impressions, emotions, and proceed along those lines, you cannot judge what others experience. How could you?

Pentecostals are completely obsessed with dreams, visions, prophecies, God speaking to them, healings, miracles and such. This thinking occupies most of their focus. If Hays is unaware of this, then it means he doesn't know a lot of Pentecostals. Most is not all, I realize. But I have been around Pentecostals for years over a broad geographical range. To deny this is to display one's ignorance of the Pentecostal community.

The truth is that we have not even scratched the surface of the multiple errors within Pentecostal theology. The fact is that there are so many false teachings within Pentecostal theology that it is overwhelming. And remember, I speak as a former insider. I know what they believe, what they teach, and how they think. The differences between traditional Christianity and Pentecostal theology are wide-ranging and in many places, very fundamental. I might also add that Michael Brown, mentioned at the beginning of Hays's article was the foremost apologist for the laughing revival you see in a couple of these links. He defended this blasphemy as a genuine and miraculous move of the Holy Spirit when in fact, it was a great scourge and a mockery of Christ and all that He is. Let us make sure that a theological movement does not result in multiplying blasphemy against God before we go and give the appearance that we are defending it as possibly credible or just superficially different.

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