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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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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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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Theological Debates on Facebook- Are They Profitable?

I’d like to ask a question—can profitable discussion on a theological issue actually happen on Facebook?

I had an experience recently where someone took offense because they felt I was commenting too much on their theologically oriented wall post.  But the determination of “too much” was based on his purely subjective notion of how much commenting on his post was appropriate.  Now I’ll admit — after he posted a critique of a theological “meme” (i.e., statement) I was quite dogged in asking him to provide the reasoning behind his several assertions about it.   He declined to do so, which of course, is his prerogative.  On the other hand, it was also my prerogative to continue to comment and engage with others in the discussion, which is what I did.  But this seemed to disturb him.

I chose to comment on this particular post because it touched on God’s sovereignty, a theological issue I think extremely important and practical for believers. In declining to respond to my request for explanation of his argument, one reason he gave is that Facebook is not a conducive forum (for intelligent debate).

Well,  in one sense he may be right.  The Facebook feed comes at you with many random streams of data.  Perhaps for many of us the experience of being in FB is like watching TV while flipping through channels– one is just looking for passive, mindless entertainment.  Yet we can choose to focus our attention, can’t we, even while in Facebook?

Now it’s true Facebook discussions can be utterly worthless and a waste of time when the participants simply talk past one another.  We see this all the time.  But, especially among Christians talking theology, I don’t see why civil, gracious, intelligent, even fruitful discussion may not occur, if we actually take time to hear one another out and respectfully present our arguments.   Of course, because Christians are sinful human beings, discussion may devolve from noble passion to fleshly, ignoble heat.  Yet as long as folks refrain from personal attacks, imputation of bad motives, and maintain focus on the issues at hand,  giving each other some grace, I think discussions can stay on track.  We may even learn from them.

I have been involved in debates both good and bad.  In bad ones (and for me these seem to occur more often on Facebook) folks seem impatient with the process of discussion/argument itself– thus they neglect thoughtful responses and are very reactive (I’ve been guilty of this myself, as I’m sure many of us have).   Also it seems some want to state their opinion just as a soundbite (perhaps related to the ephemeral nature of Facebook?), but are not  prepared (nor seemingly interested) to defend their view/opinion against possible objections.

I’ve also participated in more interesting and productive online theological “debates” (over at the Theologica forum, for example).  I believe the difference between good and bad theological discussions relates in part to whether participants are confident enough in their own position to open the floor to debate and allow various sides to present their respective cases.  Sure, maybe 9 times out of 10, such debates end with folks remaining firmly convinced of the truth of their own original position, but at least those participating and/or “listening in” can examine the reasoning and arguments of all the positions and form their own conclusions.  In this way, I think such dialogue may be beneficial. Also, when one has to defend one’s position, it challenges you to think more deeply on it, if only to be able to articulate the reasons for one’s stand and to answer objections.  This can surely sharpen one’s thinking.  Debate isn’t necessarily bad (as some tend to think); if handled well, it can be educational, even edifying.  Though not necessarily easy, I think fruitful theological debate is do-able.  It’s a shame we don’t often achieve it.

Going back to my recent experience, again I own up to the fact that I was very insistent on continuing the discussion even after the originator of the post said he did not want to engage further with me.  I was so eager to make a persuasive case that Gods’ sovereignty is a crucial, foundational and practical truth in the believer’s life, one that can help us even as we try to make sense of all the bad and evil things that happen in a fallen world.   So I pressed on in the discussion, with the thought I would interact with others who were also commenting.  Was continuing like this a breach of commenting etiquette?  I don’t know.  But I would also ask, if one is not interested in the give and take required for a theological dialogue to be productive and/or educational, then why initiate a discussion in a public forum?

Thoughts?

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Bible Reading Plans: ReformingChristianity.com Resources

At the beginning of the a new year,  many Christians will want to challenge themselves to read through the Bible.  Why?  Because we understand that regular intake of God’s word is critical to developing our relationship with God, and to our daily vitality as believers.  Through the Bible, God speaks His truth to us by His Spirit.  We come to know who God (Jesus) is more and more, and this strengthens our faith in Him, which helps us believe and act upon the truth that living for Him brings us into an abundant life full of purpose, meaning and blessing.  The Bible imparts supernatural wisdom, its truths challenging and correcting us, convicting and conforming our hearts and minds to His will, teaching us to think and act in accordance with God’s ways. Yet, it is a spiritual battle to read the Word and to stay in it– our natural selves resist spiritual food, and the world’s distractions and spiritual forces of darkness also conspire to keep one from reading the Word.

But we are truly blessed these days to have so many free resources and tools we can use to help us in our goal of Bible reading.  At my ReformingChristianity resources site I’ve collected many different Bible reading plans, all designed to help one read through the Bible, in part or in whole, according to some kind of schedule.  Using one of these plans, you might choose to read and/or listen to the Bible everyday online; or you could download and print out a plan to guide you in your daily “offline” reading.  You could have the reading plan sent to you by email.  Many plans may be done via your mobile phone.

Classic reading plans (e.g., “M’cheyne“) have been used successfully by many for years to read through the entire Bible, and are typically designed to have one read from different sections of Scripture each day, a few chapters a day.  There are also “partial Bible” reading plans (e.g., just New Testament, or Proverbs and Psalms).  There are plans to take you through the Bible in historical order, or in just 6 months, or according to different topics.  There is even a site that lets you design your own customized reading plan.  You’ll find all these variations and more, at my resources site.

If you’re like me, so many choices may actually be too much of a good thing– you may get paralyzed just trying to decide which plan to use!  But I would suggest you not overthink the decision; simply choose a plan that is easy and practical and suits your style.   If you like to read from your print Bible, print out a plan and mark readings completed as you go.   If you like to read and listen on the go, download an app like YouVersion or BibleGateway for your cell phone or tablet.

Whichever plan you choose, do try to pick a plan that will help you read all of Scripture, not just your favorite parts, for we know all Scripture is inspired. All of the Bible therefore contains something of importance God wants to communicate to us.  Also, I think plans which allow one to read through entire books of the Bible may be better than those which have you reading from different parts each day, because you may be able to better grasp the thought of the book you’re reading if not distracted with reading from many other books simultaneously.  On the other hand, some may find it more interesting (and therefore be better able to stick with it) if they read from different books.

If you lapse in your reading and miss a day or two (or more), don’t fret too much– simply pick up where you left off.  Don’t be overly perfectionistic (as I tend to be) and feel if you’ve missed a few days you have to start all over, or that you’ve failed totally.  The important thing is, we’re reading so we may connect with God through His Word on a regular basis and thus deepen in love and devotion to Him. He in turn blesses us with His fellowship, His peace, His joy and His power, as we walk with Him and obey the truths we learning.

Another factor that may be helpful for consistency is accountability– tell a friend you’re reading through the Bible and ask them to pray for you, and check up on you.  Many of the web-based and mobile apps include this helpful “social” component.

What Bible reading plan do you currently use?  Is it online, offline, mobile?  Do you have someone helping you with it?  How’s it going?

May the Lord bless all those who seek to meet with Him faithfully through reading His Word.

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