Coming to chapter 8 of Authentic Fire, Dr. Michael Brown explains how charismatics and non-charismatics have something to offer the body of Christ. Rather than fighting, both groups will serve everyone better if they would seek to understand and learn from each other. That way, both sides will glorify Jesus and touch a dying world [AF, 251].
While Brown acknowledges that he believes the Bible clearly affirms his position, charismatics and non-charismatics still have unique contributions to make. What may be one group’s strength, may be another’s weakness, and what may be one’s weakness will be the other’s strength. It is how God established the body of Christ to work together. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:4-5, there are many members, but not all members have the same function. So it is with charismatics and non-charismatics.
Take for instance how non-charismatics are heavily into studying the Word of God. They will know God’s Word inside and out in the original languages and all the theology that goes with that. However, they become so immersed into the “study” aspect of Scripture that they lose the vibrancy of fellowship and lack the empowering of the Holy Spirit. On the flip side, it is all too common for charismatic brethren to pursue the Spirit so heavily that they become sloppy with their Bible study and doctrinal foundations [AF, 257-258].
In order to remedy the differences between charismatics and non-charismatics, Brown suggests what he calls “cross-pollination” with charismatics learning to appreciate expository and doctrinal preaching and reformed congregations learning to include more congregational participation in worship and praise [AF, 260]. There has to be an emphasis upon both spirit and truth together so that all Christians are worshiping God “in Spirit and in truth,” John 4:24.
He then provides some practical examples of what he means.
He begins by noting how non-charismatics tend be more circumspect in their faith, or the “truth.” That makes them immune to carnal fund-raising that is the centerpiece of most TV evangelists. However, that strength can lead the non-charismatic into skepticism, which may cause him to stumble into an attitude of cynicism. The person is so wrapped up with pursuing “truth,” he doubts any impulse that may prompt him to witness or perhaps casts dispersion upon what really is a true move of the spirit in revival.
Next, Brown points out how charismatics, contrary to non-charismatics, tend to stress the importance of love which provides them a readiness to receive from a wide variety of teachers. But that overt openness can lead to carelessness and confusion and easily draw a charismatic into an “anything goes” mentality. Whereas the non-charismatics will be drawn to overly emphasizing the “spirit of truth,” so that they hunt heretics and engage in prideful, censorious “discernment” ministries, the charismatic will rarely discern at all and be ensnared by bad teaching.
While it is true that some “charismatic chaos” exists, there is also some “Baptist boredom,” and hence the reason both groups need each other. Wouldn’t it be great, concludes Brown, if we could listen to one another and produce fire and faithfulness, power and precision, energetic worship and exegetical wisdom [AF, 267].
I thought this chapter was bizarre. Specifically because Brown appears to contradict his entire complaint he has been outlining throughout his book against John MacArthur and the Strange Fire conference. In fact, he writes, “Again, I’m not debating here whose theology is right, be it cessationism or continuationism or some variation in between” [AF, 255].
Yet his entire book is one long railing accusation that charges MacArthur with not only falsely misrepresenting charismatics in general, but also promoting a spiritless Christianity that isn’t even based upon the “sola scriptura” he claims to uphold. So I beg to differ. Brown certainly is debating whose theology is right, which he confidently asserts is his charismaticism.
According to Brown, MacArthur and the participants of the Strange Fire conference are terribly wrong-headed about charismatics world-wide and they are out of step with the profound, life changing power of the Holy Spirit. So much so that they reinterpret the Bible to invent a bogus theology they call “cessationism.” In chapter 7, Brown writes, “In my view, cessationism is a false and unbiblical teaching, but I would never think of labeling the countless thousands of godly cessationist leaders “false teachers.” [AF, 242]. Why not? If he genuinely believes cessationism is false teaching as he has been arguing throughout his entire book, I do not understand why he believes cross-pollination between false teaching and spirit-filled charismatics is a good thing, even if he would never think to label them “false teachers.” Does he not see how utterly disjointed his words are here? They believe false teaching and teach unbiblical doctrine, but he wouldn’t think to call them “false” teachers?
Why would Brown want to subjugate charismatics to what he considers to be an aberrant theology of the Holy Spirit that is advocated by spiritually powerless people who are frozen in cold-hearted orthodoxy and who twist the Scriptures to “defend” their view? What could possibly be learned from them? He suggests their commitment to exegesis and sound-doctrine, but why can’t charismatics be discipled in those areas apart from cessationist influence? That’s like saying we need to hook up with Mormon families and learn a thing or two about raising our Christian kids right. Really? Moreover, how can he say cessationists pursue exegetical precision and sound doctrine when their exegesis and doctrine produces not only a wrong theology of God’s power, but also a powerless Christianity devoid of signs and wonders? See chapter 6.
True Spirit and Truth
Brown appeals to John 4:24 where Jesus tells the woman at the well that true worshipers worship “in spirit and in truth.” He believes the passage is a formula of sorts that charismatics and non-charismatics must utilize so as to seek common-ground and strike a spiritual balance between their two opposing viewpoints. But it is a ridiculous stretch to suggest Jesus is providing a word about synthesizing two opposing theological positions.
Throughout this chapter Brown defines the “spirit” portion of the equation as charismatic worship that is in tune with God’s voice and experiences empowerment to do ministry. Citing from a book called “Empowered Evangelicals,” he identifies “spirit” worship as high energy, exciting music and singing, hand raising, emotional, heartfelt praise, and of course, prayer for healing that regularly sees sick people healed. He then writes that if cessationists would only embrace the “spirit and power” experienced by charismatics, they would greatly improve not only their worship services, but also their impact for the Gospel.
But is Jesus even talking about loud, emotionally driven hour long praise services that are accompanied by tongue speaking and healing when He speaks of worshiping in the spirit?
The “spirit” of John 4:24 is not the “Holy Spirit” as Brown suggests. It is the human spirit that has been changed by the Gospel. The point Jesus is making about worshiping in spirit and in truth is that true worship is not defined or confined by a location. In other words, people will no longer worship according to external rituals and at a particular religious place (Mt. Gerizim vs. temple mount in Jerusalem according to the context of John 4). Rather, they will have a heart changed by God and worship will be inwardly from that changed heart. It has nothing to do with “spirit” as in lively and animated praise full of excitement and so called “supernatural manifestations.”
Additionally, worshiping in the spirit requires the worship to be informed by truth. In the context of John 4, a worship that is informed by God’s revealed Scriptures and that is centered upon Jesus Christ.
Brown, on the other hand, seems to define “truth” along the lines of non-charismatics doing academic exegesis of the biblical languages and studying sound doctrine. The benefit of that level of commitment to studying God’s Word, he notes, is that it protects the non-charismatic from being taken in by manipulative televangelists and their fund raising tactics. It insulates them against gullibility. However, while that love of exegesis and the pursuit of sound doctrine is to be commended, it can become the cessationists’ weakness when it causes them to neglect the prompting of the Spirit and become skeptical and censorious discernment Christians.
I find it a bit troubling that Brown believes Christians can become so obsessed with exegetical clarity and the pursuit of sound doctrine that they become skeptical, mean-spirited heresy hunters. It’s as if he believes Christians risk the danger of becoming “too discerning.” Considering the theme of Authentic Fire, non-charismatics like MacArthur who raise alarms against the outrageous claims of charismatics regarding supernatural happenings like healings, speaking in tongues, and personal prophecies, are the ones who are “too discerning.” Their “discernment” really amounts to nothing more than a prideful spirit and divisiveness, and charismatics only perceive them as judgmental haters and not defenders of the faith.
Oddly, after Brown blasts the heresy hunting mentality of cessationist discernment ministries, he has a footnote that states,
“That being said, it’s important to note that some of the top apologetic and cult-watching ministries like Stand to Reason (Greg Koukl), CARM (Matt Slick), and the Christian Research Institute (Hank Hanegraaff) all believe in the continuation of the New Testament charismatic gifts.” [AF, 268, f.n.10]
Of these three ministries, I am personally acquainted with two of them, STR and CRI. Knowing that Koukl comes from the Foursquare denominational background and Hanegraaff was once associated with Walter Martin and the Calvary Chapel movement, I would not doubt that they would be open to the continuation of spiritual gifts. But are these individuals friendly to Brown’s view of the charismatic gifts and “cross-pollination”?
While it is true that STR affirms the continuation of charismatic gifts, they are much more cautious about them than what Brown would be. For instance, Koukl has written a brief blog post that argues against the view of fallible prophecy that Sam Storms advocates for in the second appendix of Authentic Fire, as well as a longer article issuing strong warning against the idea of prophets and prophecy in the Church.
Another blog post, written by a STR staffer, dismisses David Wilkerson’s frantic doomsday prophecies out-of-hand. (Readers may recall that Wilkerson is named by Brown in the second chapter as one of the well-known critics of so-called charismatic excesses). Moreover, anyone familiar with STR knows that Koukl has some of the better material addressing the bad teaching of “hearing the voice of God,” receiving impressions, and other inner promptings leading Christians to determining God’s will. In other words, what is typically understood by charismatics to be the continuing prophecy of God talking to you.
Overall, Koukl, though he may be friendly to the notion of charismatic gifts, is a critic of much of what takes place in charismatic churches that is attributed to the Holy Spirit. At the least, he certainly would be inconsistent, if we can call it that, with what continuationists consider personal, on-going prophecies.
Hank Hanegraaff, ironically, has been one of the leading watchdogs against charismania, especially the stuff that happens in Word of Faith ministries. His book, Christianity in Crisis, is a classic review and rebuttal to the heretical Word of Faith ministries of such men as Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland, along with other charismatic doctrines. Pretty much the same errant teaching and out of control shenanigans that Strange Fire was aimed against and which Brown complains is misrepresenting charismatics.
But Hanegraaff is the one well-known apologetic minister to have written a book length treatment titled, Counterfeit Revival, that was critical of what was happening at the Brownsville revival in Pensacola, Florida, during the 1990s. Brown was a key leader, even spearheading a school of ministry started by the church. In chapter 2 of Authentic Fire, in an extensive footnote, he attempts to provide an explanation as to why the present-day Assembly of God church where the revival took place is on the verge of catastrophic financial ruin, even to the point having to sell off some of their property to the county.
After the publication of his book, Hanegraaff issued a second edition. It was updated and expanded to provide his interactions with the push back he received to his first edition from Brownsville leaders, including Brown. That second edition contains a brief appendix that is a rebuttal to his insistence that Hanegraaff lacked any serious scholarship in his book, especially his discussions of Jonathan Edwards.
Seeing that Hanegraaff has published two major books critical of the charismatic movement, particularly similar criticisms expressed by the Strange Fire conference, Brown’s implying that CRI and Hanegraaff think similarly as he does regarding the continuation of the spiritual gifts is unusual.
In this chapter, Brown leaves us with the impression that charismatics and non-charismatics are not that different after all and that both camps have much to offer the church at large if they would just lay aside their differences and cooperate with each other. But that is an extremely naive and foolhardy opinion.
He suggests that the greatest weakness among charismatics is their gullibility when it comes to manipulative, fund-raising TV preachers. Hence, charismatics can learn a thing or two from cessationists who are inoculated from such tactics because they pursue sound Bible study principles and Christian doctrine.
But are the only real weaknesses with charismatics their susceptibility to con-artist, money-grubbing TV evangelists? Is he saying that if charismatics would merely turn to expositional preaching and reading systematic theologies and church history, TBN would go off the air because no one would be left to give them money? I believe there are deeper theological problems at the heart of charismaticism than just simple-minded gullibility arising from a heart of love that merely wants to help out what they mistakenly perceive are good ministries.
TV preachers make money because they promote a particular view about God and the Christian life. That being, God wants your life to be nothing but full of health and lots of wealth. Just watch a few minutes of Benny Hinn standing in Jerusalem, slapping the Bible in his hand, proclaiming that the “words of the living God” is that if YOU, the viewer, would sow seed (meaning give him money), God will bless and increase your storehouses with riches and prosperity. Keep in mind Brown sat with Hinn for a week of TV show interviews. Honestly, if your view of God is that He only exists to be your personal genie, who is obligated to fulfill your selfish desires, then there is more than just kind-hearted gullibility at play here.
Consider also the other numerous examples of bad teaching and outright heretical theology that both Lyndon and myself have been documenting with our reviews of Brown’s book. As a non-charismatic, or “cessationist,” I do not believe it is wise to cross-pollinate with individuals who,
– Value emotionalism over sober-mindedness, believing that loud, cacophonous worship services led by praise bands singing songs with repetitive and vacuous lyrics is the move of the Spirit.
– Make pitiful excuses for the myriads of “faith healers” who promise healing, but never deliver. Thus leaving countless broken lives who were misled to believe God would heal them, but are heartlessly told that they needed to work up more faith.
– Redefine biblical terminology like “tongues” and “prophecy” so as to make the Bible teach Christians should seek ecstatic pagan experiences and interpret their dreams to be the “voice of God.”
– Believe sin problems among Christians are caused by demonic possession and Christians need to seek “deliverance” from such entities through a series of program courses designed to identify demonic influence within a believer. (Just do a search on “deliverance ministries” to see what I mean).
– Provides opportunity for such bizarre things like grave sucking, preachers claiming to have been supernaturally teleported from a church service to China, pastors teaching youth to raise the dead, and the kind of wacked out stuff you see in this video.
Contrary to what Brown wants his readers to believe about charismatics and non-charismatics, the two groups are not just opposite hemispheres sharing the same brain, but are two entirely different brains.
Now let me clarify so that my words are not misconstrued. I am not necessarily saying they are two different religious faiths, and that charismatics in general are not Christians. Apart from notable exceptions like those associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, and prosperity gospel charismatics, which I will grant represent a large, majority portion of the charismatic spectrum, I believe charismatics by and large affirm and believe the doctrines of the historic Christian faith.
With that said, however, non-charismatics approach their understanding of the Christian faith, the study of God’s Word, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the daily working out of Christian sanctification so radically different than charismatics that any meaningful cooperation could not possibly be accomplished without one or both totally reinventing their practice of Christianity altogether. Thus, Brown’s hope of “cross-pollination” between non-charismatics and charismatics in order to develop some middle of the road hybrid is theologically Pollyannish. It is a blind optimism that is doomed to fail.