On World Stage, PM Netanyahu Delivers Bold Address to Congress

Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu today delivered a bold, stirring speech before Congress, using plain language to explain that the deal currently underway with Iran is a “very bad deal”. It was nonetheless a gracious speech, in which he thanked Congress and America in its tradition of helping and standing with Israel.  He acknowledged both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry for their efforts on behalf of Israel, despite the fact that these leaders were notably absent, having snubbed Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Invited to address Congress by Speaker of the House John Boehner, Netanyahu seized the chance, knowing the platform gave him opportunity to make his case before the watching world.   Accordingly he made an impassioned plea for the peace and survival of the Jewish nation of Israel, which he linked with the peace and survival of America and indeed, of the entire planet.

Netanyahu simply reminded listeners that Iran’s long history of aggression against other nations, its pattern of not abiding by its agreements, its repeated threats against America and against Israel, its support for and exportation of terrorism around the globe, makes it a nation not to be trusted in the current negotiations.  He explained that the deal in progress allows Iran to continue building up a massive centrifuge capacity, which would eventually enable Iran to develop a powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons. Though the deal imposes certain restrictions, such as ongoing inspections, he argued that inspections only document infractions, and do not prevent them, as shown historically.  Therefore, rather than stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, ultimately the deal “paves Iran’s path to the bomb”, which will in turn spark an arms race in the Middle East region as other nations arm themselves against a nuclear Iran.

With lifting of economic sanctions and its economy strengthened, Netanyahu argued Iran would only be emboldened to carry out further aggression.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?  Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?

Netanyahu’s speech exposed the naivety (ideologically-induced blindness?) of the current Administration’ negotiations with Iran.  He dismissed the idea that Iran’s already attained nuclear know-how and program is so advanced that it makes their attainment of nuclear weapons inevitable, saying that Iran won’t be able to make bombs in the future without a complete nuclear infrastructure of “thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities.”  Netanyahu insisted we can prevent Iran from attaining such an infrastructure, rolling back their nuclear program “well beyond the current proposal, by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.”

Netanyahu summed up the choice before us:

Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war.  The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.

Netanyahu boldly declared “even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand”, asserting that “the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”  Yet Netanyahu, reciting and recalling America’s long history of aiding Israel, remains hopefully confident America will indeed stand with Israel. “You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.”  Quoting in Hebrew the words of Moses, Netanyahu ended his speech urging America and Israel to stand together in the face of those who would by violence remove freedom from us all.  “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

Netanyahu’s refreshing speech was simply spoken, yet bold.  He sees the enemy the world faces (a regime bent on world denomination) with clear-eyed realism, and asks for help as his nation seeks to defend its peace and ensure its survival in the face of threats of annihilation.  How transformed might American foreign policy be, guided by the same rational assessment of the real dangers it faces in the world today.

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“Net Neutrality”- Orwell Couldn’t Have Said It Better

President Obama recently shared his view that ‘the Internet as we know it’ is in jeopardy, unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) swiftly adopts new regulations to ensure ‘Net neutrality‘.  He claims the new rules are needed so Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot be the ‘gatekeepers’ that get to decide which content consumers have access to, nor control access speed.  The principle behind the notion of Net neutrality is that “Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

First, let’s ask this question: what real problem(s) are these new regulations intended to solve? Is the Internet now broken and needing to be fixed?  Are most people unhappy with their Internet access?  The answer is no.  According to a recent Rasmussen poll, “Americans really like the online service they currently have and strongly oppose so-called “net neutrality” efforts that would allow the federal government to regulate the Internet.”

Net neutrality supporters argue that net neutrality will ensure that free and unfettered access continues, by making sure Internet access providers don’t control who gets to access certain websites.  President Obama implies that big Internet providers currently wield too much power over access to content, and that they are somehow stifling free access.  He claims principles of “net neutrality” have always been part of the Internet from its beginnings, but must be preserved by these new rules so that the Internet remains “free”. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of net neutrality.

Some say net neutrality, the idea that Internet access providers must treat all content equally, is

… similar to the engineering concept known as the “end-to-end principle,” which dates to the early days of the Internet. This concept holds that “intelligence” (i.e., processing of information) should be confined to the two ends of the network: the origination of content and receipt by the end user, or consumer. In between, the pipes connecting these pockets of intelligence should be “dumb,” i.e., confined to simply transporting content without modifying it.

Yet in practice, this “neutrality” principle has always been enforced loosely, for several reasons.  One is the recognition that in fact there are often good reasons for prioritizing some content over other content.  “For instance, network operators have long actively managed their networks to filter out spam and to ensure network security. Network operators consider each of these functions on a case-by-case basis, rather than apply an unbreakable rule built into the fabric of this ever-changing technology.

Another factor that enters into this discussion is, of course, the free market.  In a free marketplace there are always consumers willing to pay more for premium access.  This is an essential aspect of a free market, not a threat to the Internet as we know it, as the President grandiosely and falsely claims.

Yet another factor involved in varying prioritization of data is technical.  Different types of data require higher or lower levels of bandwidth and speed. For example, the data transfers involved in reading a blog or a website are slower and smaller that that required for viewing a video or for conducting a phone or webcam conversation.  This kind of traffic requires regulation if the Internet is to run smoothly and effectively.

In a field that is one of the America’s best and brightest–, technology and communications– we must guard the freedoms that allowed the Internet to flourish and innovate.  Turning the Internet into a public utility subject to more government regulation does not seem a good prescription for encouraging a climate of innovation.  Does government regulation produce creativity and competition, or does it rather stifle them?  Besides, it is not as if the current Internet is not under laws that bring protections to the public.  In fact, “existing federal competition laws and consumer protection laws — and strict penalties — protect Americans from harmful ISP behavior.”

Finally, here’s what I view as the truly Orwellian aspect of this.  President Obama says unless we act now and impose these brand new, unprecedented rules, we will lose the Internet as we now know it– because the big bad ISPs are actively suppressing people’s access to the Internet and websites.  Where is the evidence for this?  In any case the rules he is proposing grant huge power to a Federal government agency (FCC) to oversee and regulate how the Internet works.  Introducing new levels of bureaucracy into a system that has been working well ( precisely due to light regulation and free market principles) is a sure path to higher costs and ultimately, less neutrality.  If the Internet becomes a “public utility”, it can be taxed.  And once the government controls costs, how soon is it until they will also be in a position to regulate content?  Judge Napolitano sums it up well in this video, arguing that the Internet was created by a free market, and that these new FCC rules introduce unnecessary bureaucracy into the system making it less free, more expensive, and in danger of government censorship and control.

As you may have heard, today the FCC narrowly passed the new rules, which are expected to face many legal challenges ahead.

 More resources:

Eight Myths About FCC Regulation of the Internet

Five Myths about Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality’s Technical Troubles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obama Administration and Benghazi: The Lies Continue

The Obama Administration promised that it would get to the bottom of what happened in the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept 11, 2012; that it would bring the perpetrators to justice.  Almost a year and a half later, the only times you hear about Benghazi in the media are when new revelations emerge showing what the administration has not told us.  We hear nothing from the Administration on progress it has made in its investigation. Below, in bold, are just some of the lies and misinformation the Administration has told about Benghazi.

We released all emails related to Benghazi
Then why are we seeing new emails now?

The attack in Benghazi originated in a spontaneous video protest by a mob outside the Benghazi diplomatic headquarters

As Guy Benson reports and the evidence has confirmed, the 9/11 attacks were not rooted in an “internet video” … the State Department’s second in command on the ground in Libya called it (the video) a “non event” vis-a-vis the Benghazi raid.  The US government, including Sec. Clinton and CIA Director Petraeus, knew the attack was a coordinated terrorist action almost immediately.

The State Department also knew that there was NO video protest at the Benghazi consulate.

 

Obama called this a terror attack in the Rose Garden speech given immediately after the event

In the Rose Garden speech on Sept 12, 2012 President Obama did use the phrase “act of terror,” however in the following days and weeks he and his Administration coordinated their message to keep connecting the attack to the “spontaneous” video, their narrative strongly implying that the video directly caused the attack, when in fact they DID NOT KNOW whether or not the video was in any way connected to the attack. At the time, Obama was saying that an investigation was under way and they didn’t yet know for sure if it’s terrorism. How then would they know the role that the video did or did not play? Why keep advancing and emphasizing the video narrative if the investigation hadn’t yet taken place to provide corroborating evidence that the attack was connected with the video?

Yet everywhere he appeared and spoke about Benghazi Obama did not say that this was a planned terrorist attack, but kept mentioning its connection with the video.

Obama on Letterman, Sept 18:
LETTERMAN: Now, I don’t understand, um, the ambassador to Libya killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Is this an act of war? Are we at war now? What happens here?
OBAMA: Here’s what happened. … You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who — who made an extremely offensive video directed at — at Mohammed and Islam —
LETTERMAN: Making fun of the Prophet Mohammed.
OBAMA: Making fun of the Prophet Mohammed. And so, this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world. But what also happened, extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the one, the consulate in Libya.

Obama on Univision, Sept. 20:
OBAMA: Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests —
SALINAS: Al-Qaeda?
OBAMA: Well, we don’t know yet. And so we’re going to continue to investigate this. We’ve insisted on and have received so far full cooperation from countries like Egypt and Libya and Tunisia in not only protecting our diplomatic posts, but also to make sure that we discover who, in fact, is trying to take advantage of this.

Tony Bevan writes in his article What the President Said About Benghazi, “Although it’s not clear how strongly he stressed this point within the administration, former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on November 16 that his agency knew early on that an al-Qaeda-affiliated group was behind the attack in Benghazi.”

 

Obama on The View, Sept 25:
BEHAR: OK, I want to talk about Libya for a second because on 9/11 of this past year our embassy was attacked there and we lost four people, including the ambassador, and it was reported that people just went crazy and wild because of this anti-Muslim movie, or anti-Mohammed, I guess, movie. But then I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?
OBAMA: Well, we’re still doing an investigation. There’s no doubt the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet, and so we’re still gathering it. But what’s clear is that around the world, there are still a lot of threats out there.

Obama at the UN, Sept 25:
And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

Read more: Obama Claims He Called Benghazi an Act of Terrorism

The Big Lie: Obama Did Not Call Libya Attacks Terrorism on Sept 12

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, on behalf of the Administration, went on five different Sunday nationally televised talk shows to promulgate the narrative about the “spontaneous” nature of the attacks being due to a video. She claimed the attack on the Benghazi consulate evolved from a spontaneous demonstration and was not premeditated.

The quotes above demonstrate that President Obama and his administration most certainly did not categorize Benghazi as terrorism, which by definition is a planned attack, but rather, emphasized the video narrative of a spontaneous protest somehow evolving into a full blown attack. Whatever impact the video had or did not have on those coordinating the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi is still not known. We continue to hear nothing from this Administration regarding the results of their ongoing investigation. What is very clear is that there was NO VIDEO protest at all going on outside the Benghazi consulate; therefore the narrative that a video protest escalated into the full attack on the compound was deliberately misleading. Why would the Administration do this? Political expedience. A spontaneous video protest escalating into a full blown attack plays much better politically than the facts of the real situation in Benghazi: that our government was caught unprepared for this terrorist attack, having ignored repeated warnings about the insecure, volatile, extremely dangerous situation the consulate was under and not providing security adequate to the situation. After the disaster of Benghazi, the Administration went into full clean up mode, not wanting to admit this was a planned terrorist attack that happened on the anniversary of 9/11. With the re-election campaign in full swing it was critical to keep on pretending that “al Qaeda is on the run.”

The more evidence that emerges, the clearer the conclusion seems to be that four Americans died in Benghazi because of the monumental blunders of President Obama and many in his Administration, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Our great military resources were not made available while the Benghazi consulate was under siege.  Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee heard its first testimony from a member of the military who was at Africa Command during the time of the Benghazi attack on the U.S consulate. Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell said the military should have and could have done more to help Americans who were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 (see video above).

In the meantime, while the wait for justice stretches on, our most “transparent” Administration continues to not give straight answers; witness Jay Carney’s latest spin where he provides more non-answers to such questions as why we are seeing new emails on Benghazi now when it was previously claimed that all such emails were provided, and why the Benghazi talking points for Susan Rice were actually not altered not just by one phrase as he claimed, but radically redacted.

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New “Cessationism” tab Added to “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian”

Dear friends and followers:

A number of years ago I stumbled across the Netvibes platform, a web-based site that allows one to collect “RSS feeds” (e.g.,  podcasts and other syndicated content) and organize them in tabs to create a pleasingly visual, convenient way to access content.  Utilizing this platform, I created the “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian” Netvibes universe– a collection of fantastic online resources on Reformed theology that I regularly update.

Those following the recent Strange Fire Conference of John MacArthur and friends– that takes on the widespread aberrations of theology present theology of general in the charismatic movement–may be interested in a new tab I have added to this site, titled “Cessationism”, in which I have included excellent resources on cessationism (a major theme of the conference) as well as links to the audio and video from Strange Fire. Cessationism, as most readers of this blog probably know, is a reformed theological position that believes miraculous “sign” gifts such as miracles, tongues and prophecy were given by God to the apostolic community as the Christianity was being established so as to attest that the early leaders and followers of Jesus Christ were indeed authentic messengers of God, with a true message from God.  That message– the gospel of Christ, with all its implications for life, would later come to be written down in the collected teachings of the New Testament, via a process guided and overseen by the Holy Spirit. Cessationists believe that with the revelation of God now completely captured in the New Testament writings, there is no need for further revelatory gifts such as prophecy and tongues to be given at this time.  Cessationism does not deny that miracles and revelation may be sovereignly given at any point the Lord may so choose, but believe that in these days the Lord has chosen not to give such gifts as a normative pattern, and that the Church finds all it needs for life and godliness available to it in Holy Scripture.

Note:  In response to a reader’s comment, I edited the paragraph above to be more precise.  I do believe, unfortunately, that the Strange Fire conference was correct to point out that theological aberrations characterize the popular charismatic movement worldwide, whereas as reformed continuationists such as Piper, Grudem , Storms and Carson, who in their respective writings and ministries have made immensely valuable contributions to the Church, are in the minority.  MacArthur appealed to these continuationists, whom he considers friends in ministry, to consider whether their openness to the continuation of charismatic gifts has “provided cover” or has lent false legitimacy to those in the popular movement whose theology and practice is at odds with Scripture.  

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John MacArthur Defends Strange Fire Conference & Cessationism

In this first installment of an interview with blogger Tim Challies, John MacArthur articulates the case for cessationism concisely and convincingly (in my view), while also defending the Strange Fire conference. Even if one is convinced that Scripture teaches all the spiritual gifts continue, I think one would be hard pressed to make a case that the sub-par prophecy and tongues and so-called miracles we see happening today in the movement are even close to matching the New Testament descriptions of these phenomena.  See also my previous post, The Main Point of Strange Fire was Correct and Needed.

Further resources on Strange Fire & Cessationism:

The Cessation of the Sign Gifts by Thomas R. Edgar

What Cessationism is Not by Nathan Busenitz

Where Have All the Spiritual Gifts Gone? A Defense of Cessationism by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Cessationists View @ monergism.com

Cessationism by Willem Berends

Cessationism.com

The Cessation of the Charismata by B.B. Warfield

All Audio Messages from the Strange Fire Conference

A Case for Cessationism (Tom Pennington) (audio)

The Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism (Tom Pennington)

Strange Fire Conference #1: personal by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #2: Session 1, John MacArthur by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #3: Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #4: Steve Lawson on Calvin and the Charismatics by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #5: Conrad Mbewe by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Lessons Learned at Strange Fire by Tim Challies

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The Main Point of Strange Fire Was Correct and Needed

strange fire

Because I have been busy with coursework I haven’t had opportunity to listen to or watch all of the Strange Fire conference. I’ve read a number of commentaries on it, both pro and con. Again, the chief negative complaint seems to be the idea that a “broad brush” was used by  John MacArthur and the conference in its argument against charismaticism and that its broad generalizations were too dismissive of the movement in its entirety, thus throwing some good charismatics under the bus, and not acknowledging any positive contributions from the movement. These critiques do seem to have some truth to them, based on that which I have read and seen. As I have said I think the SF argument would have been that much stronger if the conference toned down some of its generalized statements or qualified them more consistently (though indeed some qualifications were made).

Still, the main point of the conference I believe was to point to abuses in the charismatic segment of the church that are rampant, extremely harmful and continuing to spread, and therefore must be challenged by responsible Christian leaders. Also an inference was being drawn– that these strange and hurtful practices stem from a flawed, unbiblical theology, one that needs to be corrected or replaced. Accordingly, cessationistic arguments were presented as the more biblical alternative.

The problem I have observed is that even with the proliferation of nonsense and abuses in the movement, it appears that the urgency among the more sound charismatics is on defending the good aspects of their theology, rather than crying out loudly against the abuses. And I suggest that there should be more time given to analyzing why is it that these aberrant practices flow so much within the charismatic camp. Does not the open door to subjective revelations, visions etc. result in many of the wacky leaders claiming God’s stamp of approval on their doctrines and practices?

I do sympathize with charismatics who want a deeper experience with God, more power and vitality in their ministry. Every Christian should desire this. I also applaud the charismatic’s expectation that God is ready to take action in our midst. What I object to however, is a re-packaging of gifts such as tongues and prophecy to become less than what the Bible declares them to be in terms of authority and accuracy, and the gullibility that causes people to accept claims of miracles happening without evidence.

Providential answers to prayer for healing, even in ways that might be regarded as miraculous– does not necessarily indicate that we are still seeing New Testament level miracles all around us, as is so often claimed by various charismatics. It is fitting and proper that many write on these issues in an attempt to make biblical arguments in support of their charismatic practice, but I have found their arguments wanting, especially in light of the continued proliferation of bad fruit in the movement. An earnest even well-meaning desire for more of God and His power should not be allowed to overtake good judgment informed and guided by wisdom from Scripture.

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“But they used such a broad brush!” A few more thoughts on Strange Fire

Interesting how many charismatics, in response to the recent Strange Fire conference are doubling down on defending charismatic theology with cries like, “mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!” or “but they used such a broad brush… we’re not all like that, you know!”  Thus they direct their energies towards critiquing those who point out the obvious excesses in the movement– excesses they themselves acknowledge are happening all the time!  It seems they place greater priority on critiquing those warning others about the blatant errors, than on joining with them in denouncing these harmful practices. They downplay the harm that is taking place by arguing that such excesses are representative of only a minority. But even if that were true– and it is certainly highly debatable, given that the biggest names at the forefront of the movement seem to be leading the way in the excesses– the abuses are so harmful on a spiritual, emotional and material level that those who acknowledge excesses but are not urgently trying to stop them– at the very least joining in their denunciation– are in effect abetting them.

Yet it is argued by such folks that what must take highest priority is the promotion and protection of the pure, sound theology at the heart of charismaticism that is being overlooked in all this– both by those guilty of corrupting excesses, and by those outside the movement who remain studiously ignorant of these important life-changing truths.  Their urgency then is not towards denouncing the excesses to help protect those being exploited by false teachings, but rather, to restore  and proclaim the underlying classic charismatic doctrine, which they claim is sound and only needs to be purified that it may bear its good fruit.  Thus their strategy seems to be —  go on the offensive against those pointing out and trying to stop the abuses, because such folks are actually getting in the way of all the good that will result when people live in accord with charismatic doctrine it is purest, most correct form!  Moreover, there are often unfortunate accusations made against cessationists like MacArthur  -that they are not motivated by love, but rather by their fear of not being in control, pride in their right doctrines, lack of supernatural experiences.  This then is what produces their sinful, willful unbelief in the power of God to do miracles and healing in peoples’ lives today.

But critics of the charismatic movement and its excesses do in fact acknowledge that there is a more sound doctrine among some charismatics.  Conferences like the recent Strange Fire conference even point to those charismatics they consider friends and colleagues in ministry, whose overall theology is sound and does bear good fruit.  However they also point out the obvious– that abuses within this movement are so rampant and widespread, showing no signs of slowing down, that something must be done.  And they also point out that the more responsible, sound charismatics are not at the forefront of condemning these excessive practices, though they ought to be.  So in effect the scholarly defenses of continuationism presented by better charismatics, combined with their lack of denouncing the excesses, provides cover for such harmful practices to continue to spread.

For further reflection, see also:

The Broad Brush Phil Johnson

Two Quick Thoughts About Strange Fire Tom Chantry

The Right and Wrong Way to Engage John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference Trevin Wax

Lessons Learned at Strange Fire Tim Challies

 

And from the other side:

Strange Fire: can’t we just get along? Adrian Warnock

Strange Fire – A Charismatic Response to John MacArthur Adrian Warnock

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It’s Time to Get the Gospel Right (Pt 2- What is the Gospel?)

This is a follow-up to my last post.  Thanks to those who commented.   I agree with the comment by “savedbygrace” on that post– the gospel we preach defines us.  This is precisely why I think it is so important we get it right.  Of course as imperfect beings, we do not and will not have perfect theology this side of heaven.  Nevertheless we must strive to improve our understanding, and moreover, I think God expects us to preach and teach an accurate gospel in the essentials.

So, is the gospel an invitation to a “charismatic” life characterized by the super-spiritual– constantly receiving direct revelations from God on what we are to do, say and pursue; being able to “see in the Spirit”; the ability to do all the same miracles Jesus did that we may convince people to believe; prophesying that which we claim is from God (but may not be 100% accurate)?  I don’t think so.

Granted, Christianity is indeed a supernatural life and the Holy Spirit indwells us, and we are called to be filled with the Spirit today (see John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Eph 5:8).  But this does not require that we have all of the above sorts of manifestations.  God is free to give such things if He chooses, but I don’t think in this day He is normally giving such gifts. Rather, we have been equipped by God’s Word and by His Spirit to live the Christian life we are called to live (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Cor 12:4-31).  Thus I think the chief mistakes in the larger charismatic movement are: 1) to pretend that miracles are happening all the time when in fact they are not; 2) to downgrade the gift of prophecy to hit-or-miss pronouncements characterized by inaccuracy; and 3) to promise healing based on a supposed provision of the atonement that guarantees it (see my article, Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 2 (Biblical Analysis).)

A reformed, and I think biblical response to the charismatic portrait of the Christian life demonstrates practical differences in the two approaches:

  1. We pray to God for all our needs (Phil 3:6) and may even ask Him to do miracles, which He may or may not do as He wills. We rejoice if and when God does miracles in our midst, but of course, do not and cannot demand them. We define miracles as that which is extra-ordinary (as in the healing a of a man born blind, for example). God’s providential care for us as He answers prayer doesn’t necessarily constitute a miracle, which by definition is a special and rare occurrence.  Moreover we argue that the miracles of Jesus’ day were signs authenticating the message of Jesus and His apostles (Matt 12:28, 2 Cor 12:12) and that that season of miracles apparently has passed.
  2. We preach and teach the Word of God as accurately as possible (2 Peter 4:1-2), knowing it alone is God’s inspired revelation to us (unlike charismatic prophecy, we don’t need to guess what percentage of the prophecy comes from God and what part is human error).  We trust therefore that God’s Word is sufficient to provide the guidance and instruction we need to properly live a Christian life and to teach and make disciples (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Tim 3:16-17). We define prophecy as Scripture does– the very words of God spoken through the mouth of people (2 Peter 1:21).  So we hold all prophecy to the high standard of Scripture in terms of its accuracy– if it does not come to pass– it’s false prophecy and the person who has spoken it is falsely speaking for God (Deut 13:1-5; Deut 18:20-22).
  3. As we obey God and live for Him we ask that He would heal the sick, and we can lay hands on the sick, as the Word prescribes (James 5: 14-18).  But we leave the answer to these prayers to God– if He heals, we rejoice in that, and if He does not heal, we trust that God knows best (2 Cor 12:8-10). We don’t claim God has healed if in fact He has not healed, and we don’t charge folks with not having enough faith if their prayer for healing is answered in the negative.  We  don’t claim to know that all sickness is caused by sin or by the devil, but trust that ultimately God in His sovereignty rules over this and all areas of our lives.

Thus far we have been addressing what the gospel is not. I have claimed it is not an invitation to a supercharged, mystical life full of continuous miraculous manifestations.  So then, what is the gospel and what is the normal Christian life?

The gospel is that Jesus Christ– Son of God and God in the flesh– came to Earth, lived among us, was crucified on a cross for sins and was raised again by the authority and power of God after three days in the grave (1 Cor 3:3-5; John 1:9-18, 34; 1 John 5:11-12, John 10:18) .  The person who puts their faith in Christ is forgiven all their sins, because God poured out His full wrath and anger at sin upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, and by raising Him from the dead, God validated Jesus’ claims to be God, in fulfillment of the many ancient prophecies that predicted a Messiah would come that would do all the things Jesus did (Romans 4:23; Romans 5:9).  The life Jesus lived– a perfect, selfless life– satisfies God’s requirement of holiness– and Jesus’ record of sinless obedience is transferred to the one who has faith in Him (2 Cor 5:21). So our sins of commission and of omission are both fully taken care of and removed by the cross and the obedience of Christ, and we are thus reconciled to God, adopted as His children, and called to a new life of fellowship with Him and with brothers and sisters who have likewise been called (Romans 5:10; Col 1:22; John 1:12; 1 John 1:3).  Much more could be said, but these are the essentials.

So what does this Christian life look like?  Well, outwardly it is a very normal life, in many respects.  The Christian doesn’t necessarily look any different than before, but inwardly, a miracle of new life has been wrought in his/her heart, one which plants a desire to love God and to be obedient to Him (Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Cor 5:17).  We are drawn to the Bible (1 Peter 2:2), which by the Spirit we recognize as the true Word of God to His children (1 Cor 2:12-13).  This new life implanted within has a supernatural quality, in that we have new desires that prod us and help us to transcend our old selfish tendencies.  But the Christian need not manifest anything outwardly spectacular.  I think that biblically the Bible doesn’t teach that Christians need special experiences like being “slain in the Spirit”, speaking in tongues, the so-called “baptism in the Spirit” that is subsequent to salvation, in order to be fruitful.  Yes, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) but this seems to be an ongoing process that involves many non-flashy activities– reading and meditating on God’s Word, obeying God’s Word, etc.  Ultimately, people will know we are Christians, not because of our exciting supernatural manifestations, but rather, by the fruit we bear in love towards God and others (see John 13:33-35; 1 Cor 13).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24, ESV)

For further thought:

Providence by J. I. Packer

God’s Providence over all (PDF) by B.B. Warfield

The Sufficiency of Scripture Part 1 and Part 2 by Gary Gilley

The Gifts of Miracles & Healings Today?  by Fred Zaspel

Divine Providence, or What About Miracles? by S. Lewis Johnson

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Filed under Charismaticism, Controversy, Theology

It’s Time to Get the Gospel Right

The recent conference by John MacArthur, “Strange Fire” has generated a lot of controversy.  It stirs up an ongoing and often heated debate among evangelical Christians on “cessationism vs continuationism”: did miraculous gifts such as tongues, miracles and prophecy “cease” some time after the establishment of the early church and with the canonization of Scripture?  Or are those gifts continuing in operation, and to be sought after and put into practice today?  Unfortunately lack of clarity about terms such as cessationism, continuationism and charismaticism creates confusion as people debate these issues.  Online debates I have been part of often suffer from the lack of clarity.  Since there are varied positions within cessationism and charismaticism, to call oneself a “cessationist” or “continuationist” or a “charismatic” isn’t enough and usually requires further clarification.  Exactly what kind of “cessationist” or “charismatic” are you?   Lisa Robinson has a post right now that addresses this topic, “What is a Cessationist?…or Why I think We Need Another Term“, and I think her post is a helpful conversation opener on this.

Yet I think that what underlies the need for clarity of these terms is something even more fundamental and urgent to our mission as Christians: what is the gospel?  In other words, it seems the believer needs to figure out if charismatics are right or cessationists correct, because these very different positions have such a great impact on our mission of making disciples, and also lead to very practical differences in following Christ.  I encountered a Facebook post about continuationist Mark Driscoll showing up at the John MacArthur conference.  I noticed that several people sympathetic to the continuationist position in their comments on the post were bashing cessationism and Reformed theology with statements I felt were very derogatory as well as inaccurate characterizations of it.  Now perhaps many in the charismatic community who know of the Strange Fire conference feel the same way– that the conference unfairly caricatures the charismatic position.  One of the commenters on the post made this statement:

I am just learning about all of this and still reading. but it sounds to me like two “camps” with different ideas of how the holy spirit should look. they spend all their energy and time on defending “their” way instead of using that time and energy on preaching the gospel to a dying world. seems like they are missing the whole point.

I think the commenter makes a salient point, one that I can sympathize with.  It’s true that believers can be too focused on internal squabbles and get distracted from their main task, which as we know is to preach the gospel and make disciples.  But while we must not pick a fight on every little matter, there are matters too important to our mission to not get right.  In my mind there is no more important issue than getting the gospel right.  What exactly did Christ accomplish for us on the cross?  What should the Christian life look like? Is the believer still a sinner, or a saint who sins?  Must we have all these answers precisely correct before we go out and make disciples? I am not going to attempt in the brief post to answer all of these questions (but perhaps I’ll address them in future posts).

Yet I do believe it is part of the task of preaching the gospel message to be able to give accurate and Scriptural answers to these basic, critically important questions.  How can we preach a saving message if the gospel we preach is not real or true or accurate?  The Church is even charged with correcting false teachers/teaching.  How can we do so if we don’t know what the true gospel is?  We’re in the midst of a raging spiritual battle in which the forces of darkness are quite happy if the message we preach is a distortion that leads people away from the true and living God, all the while deceiving them into thinking that Christ is being truly preached.  We have been warned by Christ Himself that false Christs will come (Matt 24:24), and that in the last day many who thought they were working in the name of Jesus will find that Jesus rejects not only their works but them as well (Matt 7:21-23).  This is a very sobering warning.  Time is short, and there are eternal stakes involved if we allow ourselves to be deceived.

In my opinion the popular charismatic message has got things very wrong. It declares that all the miraculous gifts that were part of the early church continue today in the same exact manner as in the early church and are even crucial to the life and mission of the church.  Every believer should be a miracle worker, a prophet, a tongues speaker and a healer, or at least be ardently seeking these available gifts.  The Strange Fire conference looks at the phenomena happening in much of the charismatic world under the lens of Scripture, and finds it unbiblical.  The miracles they claim are happening cannot be verified, the prophecies proclaimed are usually wrong, the tongues are not practiced in accordance with Scriptural guidelines and don’t appear to be real languages, but only gibberish.  Accordingly Phil Johnson charges, it commits “the sin of attributing to the Holy Spirit words He has not spoken and things He has not done.”  Now John MacArthur and Phil Johnson are well aware that there are charismatics who are well-studied, who teach an orthodox view of Scripture, who are not at all guilty of the excesses often found in the movement.  In fact there are even well-known “Reformed Continuationists” like John Piper, Wayne Grudem and others that they esteem very highly for their ministries of the Word.  Nevertheless, these reformed continuationist leaders who are aware of the “strange” phenomena seem very reluctant and reticent about criticizing these aberrant practices.  Over at the Cripplegate blog, Mike Ricardi has posted Phil Johnson’s outstanding message, Strange Fire – Is There a Baby in the Bathwater? and I think Phil really hits the nail on the head when he writes:

But there’s this carefully cultivated, non-committal spirit of indecision that permeates most of the Reformed charismatic and “open-but-cautious” segments of the evangelical community. It is a deliberate agnosticism with regard to discerning spirits.

So the extremists and the charlatans can make any claim or pull any stunt they like with near impunity. The handful of Charismatics who have the most influence in conservative evangelical circles have basically settled into a comfortable indifference. (Remember the line I quoted from Michael Brown earlier? “Why [should] Pentecostal and charismatic pastors renounce extremes in their movement?”) Supposedly “cautious” continuationists watch the procession of charismatic horseplay. They are curious, intrigued, generally nonplussed, but they refuse to make any judgment until after the wheels come totally off the latest bandwagon.

It someone looks into the turbid swamp of charismatic sludge, and thinks that attitude of non-judgmental passivity is the baby, forget it. That kind of smug, deliberate indecision has more in common with double-mindedness than with faith. There are times when staking out a middle position is simply the wrong thing to do. And it is never more wrong than when thousands of people are going around claiming to speak for God but prophesying falsely.

It is time to get the gospel right.  We have been blessed and equipped to complete our mission with the authority and power of the Word of God, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).”  Why then do we need to seek after sensational experiences, prophecies, miracles, tongues, especially if, when we stop kidding ourselves and admit the truth, we can see that the things we are seeking after are not authentic?  How does inaccurate, hit-or-miss prophecy help anyone?  How does if further the cause of Christ to claim that healing and miracles are happening when in fact they are not happening?

Does what I am saying deny the power of God?  No, because I am not saying that God will not answer prayer for healing, even in miraculous fashion, nor am I saying that God may not visit us with extraordinary things whenever He wants.  But my charge is not to seek after the extraordinary but to humbly live for Christ.  I seek His power not that I may have ecstatic experiences or by miracle doing prove to an unbelieving world that the God I worship is real, but that I may live faithfully and honor Him in the way I speak and act and live.  The gospel itself is the power of God, and it accomplishes the miracle of raising the dead to life, and we have the privilege of being part of that.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16)

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Filed under Charismaticism, Controversy, The Gospel, Theology

The Rational Irrationalist

This following is an attempt to flesh out my thoughts on what I’ve been learning about rationalism and irrationalism, via my “Christian Apologetics” course at Reformed Theological Seminary, taught by Professor John Frame. Comments? Thoughts?

Some non-believers practice what might be called “rationalistic irrationalism”. Many embrace rationalism, as it purports to allow human beings to figure out life and forge a worldview through the power of human reason, yet without necessarily referencing God. But deep down the non-believer cannot escape knowledge of God through creation (Romans 1:19-20) and thus all recognize His claim upon them. But in disobedience, and to avoid this claim, the unbeliever becomes irrational– though he/she knows God is there, he/she refuses to acknowledge reality and instead lives as if God is not there. This produces huge inconsistency in their worldview and approach to life. The non-believer, made in the image of a rational God who created an orderly, complex, beautiful, meaningful universe, is by design compelled to seek after meaning, order, purpose, beauty, ethics & morality. But in suppressing knowledge of the truth about God, they remove the One by whom all these things they seek after are even possible. Thus they are forced to borrow from the Christian framework even as they attempt– apart from the true God– to build worldviews that give meaning to life and provide routes to happiness. But this will not work, because the truths derived from the Christian framework only are viable with God at its center, and not in a system in which the true God has been replaced by false gods taken from creation.  This approach leads ultimately not to real happiness, meaning or fruitfulness, but rather to all sorts of evil practices that are but masquerades of true life.

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Filed under Reformed Apologetics