I just finished re-reading an article, Should Type-R Charismatics Get a Free Pass? that Phil Johnson posted a few years ago at Pyromaniacs, a stylish blog that consistently (and sometimes with sarcasm and great humor) offers sharp biblical critique of charismaticism. A few days ago, I posted here at Reforming Christianity my own brief reflection on charismaticism, titled The Subjectivity of Charismaticism. Responding to a commenter on that article, I asked:
Could it not be that the underlying principle that God speaks today via unverifiable personal revelations is faulty and leads into many errors?
Mr. Johnson’s excellent article ably tackles this question, asserting that:
The belief that extrabiblical revelation is normative does indeed “regularly and systematically breed willful gullibility, not discernment.“
He demonstrates this by pointing out that even the most theologically, biblically sound charismatics (“Type R”, i.e., Reformed charismatics, such as Wayne Grudem or blogger Adrian Warnock), seem unwilling to connect the excesses and errors of the movement with its underlying principles. Jack Deere’s book, “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit” extolled Paul Cain, a man once regarded by many as a highly gifted prophet and miracle-worker. The book features an enthusiastic endorsement by Wayne Grudem, and in the book Deere credits Paul Cain as having changed the course of his life. But as Phil Johnson’s article points out, Paul Cain’s track record of accuracy in prophetic announcements was abysmal, and Cain’s ministry would later be discredited, as he confessed long-standing alcoholism and homosexuality. Johnson even tells about the time he, Lance Quinn and John MacArthur met with Jack Deere and Paul Cain (at Deere’s request). Cain appeared to be drunk! Even with this knowledge about Paul Cain coming to light, brought to the attention of Mr. Grudem by Phil Johnson, Grudem stood by his endorsement of Jack Deere’s book.
I have observed among charismatics precisely this lack of discernment that Phil Johnson is talking about. Despite the fact that charismatics like Paul Cain or Todd Bentley are demonstrably ridiculous and utterly unbiblical in their practices, the more responsible, biblically oriented in the movement typically are loath to acknowledge or admit the errors. Instead they rationalize them, arguing that we ought not to “throw out the baby with the bath water”. In other words, don’t dismiss all charismatic gifts because of the excesses and mishandling by the few. This principle is true enough, but as Johnson points out, saner, more biblical charismatics actually represent a “fairly small minority of the worldwide charismatic community.” Most of the movement is characterized by the excessive and the unbiblical!
A few years ago I wrote quite a bit about Todd Bentley on my previous blog, Jordan’s View, in an article titled Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 1(Dangerous Deceptions). For a brief period in 2008 Bentley was a rising star in charismatic circles, the central figure in the so-called Lakeland, Florida “revival” that was being broadcast internationally, night after night, on the network GodTV. Bentley was described as highly anointed, personally holy, a man deeply gifted in miracles and the prophetic. It turns out that during the time of the revival meetings Bentley had been dealing with serious marital problems; these would eventually lead to his suddenly dropping out of the revival. A short time therafter all of the marital issues surfaced; Bentley divorced his first wife, and married someone from his ministry team. Bentley’s marital problems were known to many who were endorsing him, yet Bentley was allowed to carry on. Even after his divorce and a brief period of being marginalized, it seems many in the charismatic community have welcomed him back with open arms, and he has been rushed back into public ministry. So what am I saying here? It’s not that one can’t be in ministry and have sin in one’s life. In that case, no one would qualify for ministry. But Bentley was one for whom it was claimed that his closeness with God and his personal holiness was the source of the supernatural powers flowing through him and his ministry. So it does tremendous damage to the credibility of Christianity and to the honor of Christ when someone is claiming to heal and speak in the power of God, yet is carrying on in this way.
Today I looked up Adrian Warnock’s coverage of Todd Bentley, recalling that at the time he’d posted many articles on his blog on Bentley. Despite the fact that Warnock thoroughly covered the Todd Bentley story from beginning to inglorious end, I couldn’t find any posts in which Mr. Warnock himself took Bentley to task for his failure to live up to biblical standards in ministry, or in private. Unfortunately, this lack of calling out such shenanigans and condemning them is all too typical.
Now I really do sympathize with the charismatic desire to see great miracles happening in our day. Who would’nt like to see healings, and revival sparked by the Spirit? Yet we must not allow the desire for such things to cloud our judgment and remove our discernment. If the sinful, unbiblical antics of a Paul Cain or Todd Bentley can escape the severe disapprobation and condemnation they deserve, it demonstrates that biblical discernment has entirely gone out the window among most charismatics, even among those who ought to know and do better.