Spiritual Experiences – I Was Just Working This Sudoku Puzzle When…
Okay, so this big conference named “Strange Fire” had John MacArthur firing salvos and broadsides against everything Pentecostal/Charismatic. Basically, John’s position, called “cessationist”, claims that any and all gifts of a miraculous nature (tongues, dreams, visions, etc.) expired with the completion of the books now making up the canon of the New Testament. This is largely based on one narrow interpretation of I Corinthians 13:10. When any point of theology hangs on one particular interpretation of one verse or one particular translation, we are on exceedingly thin ice. Any and all belief must submit to all of Scripture and still hold water regardless of the translation of the Bible we use.
MacArthur once held a place of respect among students now reserved for John Piper and others. John has been beating this drum for years and now beats it even more loudly with a new book. While many of his claims of excess and danger are valid, I fear they will go unheeded because, for one, John MacArthur is outside the camp of those who need to hear this. I can kick my dog but you can’t come in my house from outside and do it. Second, so much of John’s position runs on poor handling of Scripture and factual ignorance of not only the playing out of the 20th century history of the church but the history of spiritual awakening and revival that this book is actually an embarrassment and I’m saddened to say that of someone I respect so much. Third, the antagonistic spirit and tone of his argument hardly sends out engraved invitations to sit down and talk about this. Theologians, bloggers and pundits immediately got a pumpkin up their right nostril over this. I leave the theological settling of the issue (It won’t be settled; it’s been around for a long time.) to them.
A little about me. For all thirty-four years of full-time ministry, I’ve lived in the extreme outer meteorite bands of something called the Southern Baptist Convention. Not in deep Dixie but in places like Iowa and Michigan where you can freeze your grits. If SBC’ers have visions, we usually figure the salsa in the fridge is past the expiration date and we didn’t catch it. We’re generally not a “signs and wonders” crowd. But that’s not all I am. I cut my spiritual teeth in something back in the ’60’s and ’70’s called the “Jesus Movement”. It was the last large-scale spiritual awakening in this country that swept the campuses and counterculture reaping a harvest of leadership flourishing to this day.
I am not a cessationist; I saw and experienced things that burned into my mind and heart. I can read Jonathan Edwards and, apart from the cultural trappings of time, I can say,”Yep, I saw that.” Without those days, those beginnings which included a strong intertwining of Christian thinking with Christian experience, I seriously doubt I would be in the faith today. Not much on the panorama of the American faith today would have drawn me. Those days define me. The fire in the belly, lit in those days, still burns. As the belly is somewhat bigger, I believe the fire is too. But I am not a Pentecostal. Is the gift of tongues real? Yes, in some cases. Should everyone have the gift and is it the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit? No. Does God still heal? Yes, that’s why we lay hands on people and anoint them with oil if they request. Is it God’s will to heal everyone? Absolutely not. I do not intend to elaborate on these things; they are part of the wallpaper around what will go here. I also have huge respect for Scripture – all of it, used in context. The Holy Spirit wrote it so I want to handle it well. I also have a freckle in the shape of John Wesley eating a burrito…but enough about me.
The completion of the Bible did not stop occurrences we might describe as miraculous or supernatural. Both testaments bristle with them. And so does history. While I disagree with some of his conclusions, Jack Deere has combed extensively to show that people have encountered God in powerful ways all through history and that, in many cases, these accounts have been bleached out of the narratives. But the kicker that brings me to these next few blogs isn’t the Strange Fire conference, MacArthur’s book or nostalgia for some flash of lightning from my Christian roots. A sharp guy named Leslie Newbigin said, “Theologians today are frightened of the word ‘experience’. I do not think it is possible to survey the New Testament evidence…without recognising that the New Testament writers are free from this fear.”
People all around us are having spiritual encounters – a lot of them with God, some from psychological deception of emotions, bad teaching as well as other things, and some rooted in evil. I could go to the Kmart in your town and find people who have been miraculously healed, spoke in tongues, and seen visions if they would be honest. I would bet more than a chocolate chip scone that I could find them in MacArthur’s church. People having these things happen often don’t talk about them. They hide it like people with UFO kidnapping stories. But when they find someone they think they can trust, they come up and say, “Can I come in and talk to you?” Then they spill it and always say, “Do you think I’m crazy? Because this was real.” They’re not crazy; they haven’t ridden flying saucers going to the Zarkon galaxy where Elvis sings every night in a club owned by Jimmy Hoffa. They’re the most respected Christians we know. Others of them have drifted so far from Jesus Christ, they wouldn’t know Him if He danced in front of them wearing a hoop skirt. Some live locked up as spiritual cripples in perpetual adolescence, never growing either up or deep, addicted to the memory of something real in their past. But know one thing; these things happen. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained in either the airtight antiseptic containers of our theologies or held captive to the addictions of our emotions.
Here’s the breakdown of how things will go. Spiritual Experiences – Why People Have Them. Spiritual Experiences – Do They Necessarily Make People Deeper and Stronger Christians? Spiritual Experiences – Should I Seek Them? Spiritual Experiences – Should I Talk About Them? This may change shape as we go and probably will. Along with Scripture, I may share stories by way of example, with details appropriately screened. No stories involving evil. I do not have all the answers and draw on the wisdom that says that no one has the operator’s manual on how the Holy Spirit works in detail. The more someone howls into the wind about these things, the more likely that person will be exposed by the Spirit Himself as a fraud. But the Holy Spirit’s book, the Bible, records that God can reach through the veil into space and time when His purposes suit Him and these records have a lot to teach us.
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Please return your seat to the upright position and hand your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.