Sunday, October 20, 2013

Judging by Behavior: A Response to Steve Hays’ Judging by Appearances

Steve Hays is at it again. One of the tactics employed at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference was the use of several You Tube clips from Pentecostal-Charismatic (PC) worship services. These clips were used to illustrate the bizarre behavior that goes on in the PC churches and events. Steve Hays has taken exception to the clips and titled his response “Judging by Appearances.” Now, first of all, Hays employs his standard debate technique. This technique seeks, from the start, to poison the well. We all know that we are not to judge by appearances and it is easy to understand that such behavior must be avoided. But when Hays describes Strange Fire leadership as Judging by Appearances, he immediately sets a very negative and unfair tone. These tactics are not only unethical, they represent some of the most fallacious arguments on the Web. The shocking thing is that Hays claims to be a conservative reformed kind of guy. Over the last year or so, I am not so sure what kind of guy Hays is. I know that his arguments seem to lack pastor concern, genuine love, and humility, and are quite totally lacking in gentleness and respect for others. I have prompted Hays several times to change his tone to no avail.

Hays Point One
i) One problem is the fallacious extrapolation from examples like that to charismatics in general, much less charismatic theology in general. When MacArthurites use these YouTube clips to discredit charismatic theology in principle, they are encouraging others to draw a blatantly fallacious inference. They need to demonstrate that this behavior is representative of charismatics. They also need to demonstrate that this behavior is a logical outcome of charismatic theology. 

First of all, Hays assumes that these behaviors are not fair representatives of the PC movement in general. I spent years in the movement and was a licensed minister in the Church of God, the movement’s oldest Pentecostal denomination. I can say that while not everyone in the PC movement behaves in this manner during worship, a high percentage do, and, that percentage has grown over the years, and the ones that do not are afraid to criticize it because they are afraid of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The fact is there are very, very few in the PC movement who actually see these behaviors as a problem.
Secondly, if you are open to dreams, visions, and open revelation in general, by what standard could you ever criticize this behavior? If your entire theological system is built off a radically subjective view of open revelation and you believe that you can feel God and the Holy Spirit, how can you criticize the behavior? Have you ever had someone use the argument that we can’t put God in a box? Take a guess who made that foolish argument so incredibly popular today: that is correct, it was the PC movement telling us that God can do whatever He wants because we can’t put God in a box. If Hays cannot understand how PC theology leads logically to this kind of behavior: it is not the fault of poor argumentation on the part of cessationism.

Hays Point Two
ii) It's spiritually hazardous to treat these YouTube clips as an implicit standard of comparison. I'm reminded of obese people who complain that they are one of the few remaining groups it's socially acceptable to make fun of. 

This is one of the silliest analogies I have seen from Hays. It is a perfect exemplar for non-sequiturs if ever there was one. Hays’ tactic is easy to spot even if he thinks it is not. He takes one behavior that is obviously in poor taste and then says the other behavior is the same. The purpose of the PC video clips was not to make fun of anyone. The purpose was to let others see what is really going on in PC worship services and events. Most people who are not PC have no idea that this is the kind of stuff going on in the movement. Moreover, the objective was to show that these behaviors are not out there on the fringe. They are in the mainstream of the movement. Ken Hagin, Ken Copeland and other prominent leaders have led the way. Michael Brown was a tenacious defender of the laughing revival which is still going on. To my knowledge, he has never recanted.

Hays then uses another analogy as if it clarifies his point, but it only serves to introduce more confusion. Hays says, “For instance, I never attended a Mormon service, but I imagine that Mormon services are very staid and respectable. Nothing sensational or embarrassing usually happens. Everyone behaves themselves.” Does Hays really think that PC worship run amok is a mere appearance? If Steve Hays does not understand that these behaviors do not occur in a vacuum, he really should excuse himself from the discussion.

Why do PC people engage in and tolerate these behaviors on the You Tube clips? The answer is very simple: they believe God moves in his church and in His people in precisely this way. They think that their duty as Christians is to focus on God and “enter into His presence, or enter into His Spirit” in order to have the premium worship experience they are supposed to have. They are taught that when they open up and let go and just enter God’s presence that God does things in them that He does not do at other times. They think He heals their marriages, gives them what they need to grow spiritually, and that it will even result in career advancement and material success. This “entering into God’s presence” is common among all those in the PC movement. The enemy of PC worship is often portrayed as rational thought. PC adherents are constantly encouraged not to try and understand God’s moving with your mind. Do not think about what is happening, they are told. Just let go and jump in. Do you feel that urge or tingle? That’s the presence of God. That is the Holy Spirit trying to work on you! Let Him in. Do not quench the Spirit!

Michael Brown states it this way, “What is revival? It is God “stepping down from heaven” and baring His holy arm. He comes and acts and speaks. There is a holy presence and a word on fire. God is in the midst of His people. The Lord is shaking the world. That is revival! It is a time of visitation.” Leaders in the PC movement would say that these clips are people “responding” to the presence of God as He “moves” among His people. If Hays cannot see the theology behind it, that is no fault of the Strange Fire Conference. It is the fault of his own unwillingness to give the conversation the kind of respect and appreciation it deserves. After all, we are talking about the very character and reputation of the Christian religion and even more than that, we are talking about the God of all that is and how He is being represented to an unbelieving world. Finally, we are talking about millions of people who think this is Christianity when it clearly is not!

Hays concludes his criticism saying, “Don't be so quick to judge by appearances. Jesus reminds us that some of the worst sins are sins of the heart.” Thinking he has made his point, he issues a final indictment. The Strange Fire conference is guilty of judging by appearances. Does Hays really think that men of the caliber of Phil Johnson, Steve Lawson, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur would not set out to understand both the theology and practices of the PC movement before putting on a conference like this? Does Hays not realize that John MacArthur is a pastor in the middle of where this movement actually started just over 100 years ago? Is Hays oblivious to the fact that Pastor MacArthur is likely to have encountered more PC people than he himself ever will and that these encounters have resulted in a depth of experience with the movement and its people that uniquely qualifies him to address the errors? Apparently all these facts seem to be missed by Hays as he puts on display his morbid interest in abstract, perpetual debates about one subject after another without the slightest display of genuine concern for the Church or for those who are being harmed by a movement whose theology ranges from small error to heresy to overt blasphemy.

Having spent years in the movement and having served as a licensed minister and pastor in the PC movement, I can speak with authority and credibility on the Strange Fire conference. The conference is exactly correct in its assessments. My journey out of the PC movement was due to my willingness to consider that I was wrong about tongues, about “feeling God,” about how God moves, about open revelation, about prosperity and success being tied to faith in Christ. I admit that I rejected certain aspects earlier on, but my shift out of the movement took several years. I can honestly say that from my perspective, Hays’ comments come from what appears to be a serious lack of experience with the movement and a significant lack of interaction with PC theology at any degree of depth. I hope Hays will reconsider his apparent propensity for intellectual pugilism and his desire for what appears to be a life defined by one debate after another. I am all for standing for truth. But there is a difference between seeking to allow the Word of God to perform its work in us and seeking to win an argument. When we become so obsessed with winning the argument that we forget about the edification of the people involved, and we forget that we must seek to represent our Father well before a dark world, then we become the very darkness against which we fight, blinded by our own insatiable lust for intellectual dominance instead of humbled by the life-transforming truths that we proclaim and defend.

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