CHARISMATIC DEBATE – Responding to Dan Phillips

CHARISMATIC DEBATE – Responding to Dan Phillips September 4, 2006

Well, finally I have managed to find time to begin to respond to Dan Phillips reply to my smattering of charismatic questions for cessationists. In his last post, Dan states so well the main drive behind my commitment to all of this, and it is with this that I intend to start. My second post will begin to address some of the specific arguments Dan raises.

“First, I’m struck by how fair and even-handed Adrian clearly strives to be, and I think he succeeds. It’d be a harsh read to hear him as blaming us “have-nots,” or meaning to talk down to us. Adrian believes there’s a wonderful experience out there for all of us, one that all of us should be seeking. He clearly and sincerely feels that we not only rob and impoverish ourselves by not seeking it, but we weaken our ministry, and the impact we might have for Christ. This should concern us all.”

He is exactly right. That is precisely what I believe. I am eager to point out that I am not the only person to think this way. Why? It is not that I want to wheel out heavy-hitters to support my position, but rather out of recognition that they have a much better grasp of the Scriptures than I do. I am eager to learn from others, so I will quote from a few of them here as we go through this post. To begin with, let’s hear from Tim Challies’ notes of a Bob Kauflin session.

“Too often we approach God like the subject of a biography. We read about Him, but do not expect to actually encounter Him. We pray, but don’t think He’ll talk back. We read His Word, but see it as lifeless facts and information, not a living Word. But the Bible is not the biography of a dead God! Jesus Christ is alive! God’s presence and power is not only in Scripture, for He can be personally encountered. Our worship is not only to or for God, but is where we encounter and experience God. The One who allows us to encounter God is God Himself in the Holy Spirit.”

For me, what I am most eager to contend for in all of this is an authentic, experiential, and relational Christianity.

But, coming back to Dan, it seems, at least in part, that while some might accuse him of wanting to rob us of our experiential relationship with God, Dan does recognize the dangers that modern western people uniquely face in our sophisticated society:

“It is, beyond argument, all too possible for us to preach and live a hollow, cerebral, naturalistic Christianity.”

I have not only seen such a Christianity practiced elsewhere, I am constantly aware of the pull towards it in my own life. The desperate need of the hour is a vibrant, living Christianity which worships a God who is not dead, but acts today!

Dan would probably agree with all of this up to this point. Where he parts company is over my call for us to eagerly seek for experiences of God. He repeats a frequent misunderstanding that cessationists often have of charismatics when he removes the last two words of that sentence and claims we are merely seeking emotional experiences. For most of the charismatics I know at least, it is NOT mere emotion that we seek; rather we seek an appropriate emotional response to the presence of God, and we seek His activity in our lives and churches to be manifestly present.

There is all the difference in the world between trying to work up an emotional frenzy (which, of course, we have all seen) and using legitimate God-given means of putting ourselves in an appropriate place where God can meet us.

God has given us bodies, and it is important for us to at times adopt an open posture that signals to God we are ready and willing to receive a touch from His Spirit. One of the key ways in which we do this, both biblically and in my experience, is by using our hands. Dan criticizes the approach of ‘reaching out your hands’ seen in meetings. Yet, let’s just take a quick look at what the book of Psalms teaches us about the use of the hands and appropriate passionate longing for God:

  • “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Ps 47:1)
  • “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps 63:4)
  • “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying” (Ps 77:2
  • “Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you” (Ps 88:9)
  • “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!” (Ps 134:2)
  • “I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” (Ps 143:6)
The New Testament is clear in its expectation that we will have an experience of the Spirit – “. . . hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

Of course, we must seek God, not mere emotional highs – after all, illicit drugs will give you a “high,” but they won’t help your spiritual walk! It is, however, quite correct that we are to seek God in the Bible.

But, the Bible is clear about our need to draw near to God in worship, and puts the onus on us to “be filled” with the Spirit (Ephesians 5). This is not something that happens automatically every time we study the Bible. We must approach the Bible prayerfully, with an open heart, and cry out to the God of the Bible to make Himself plain to us as we read. I seek my experience of God within the context of His revealed Word to us – not outside it.

I long that my reading and prayer life will lead me to love God more – and yes, love IS a feeling, whatever else it is! It is love that we need, not mere intellectual knowledge, for “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
(1 Corinthians 8:1)

Who else holds a similar view, and how do they express it? John Piper puts it this way:

“When the eyes of our hearts are opened to the greatness of God’s love, the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Seek this. Seek this in its fullness with all your might.”

Piper back in 1984 argued forcefully for an experiential reality of receiving the Holy Spirit and said,

“We could talk for hours about what that experience is. In fact, most of my messages are just that – descriptions of the experience of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer.”

So, to Piper, all his talk about seeing and savouring God and delighting in Him really boils down to this – an experience of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. There is much more in Piper’s writings about these issues, and I have collected some quotes together on my blog on this and other matters.

Piper’s position is remarkably similar to his hero, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from whom, if you follow the link, I have also provided a set of quotes. There is so much material from the Doctor that I could quote here that I will leave you to go and read most of it, except to say the following:

Piper rightly describes the Doctor as follows:

From the beginning to the end, the life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a cry for depth in two areas – depth in Biblical doctrine and depth in vital spiritual experience. Light and heat. Logic and fire. Word and Spirit. Again and again he would be fighting on two fronts: on the one hand against dead, formal, institutional intellectualism, and on the other hand against superficial, glib, entertainment-oriented, man-centered emotionalism.”

Lloyd-Jones said some striking things about cessationism:

“What is being taught in Christendom today is this; that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad. We are meant to be in a superior position to every Old Testament saint because of what has happened in our blessed Lord and Saviour! But this teaching would have us believe that we do not need this direct contact with God now, and that all that has come to an end since the formation of the New Testament canon . . . remember that the great point of the whole teaching of the Bible, of all you can deduce from it, is to tell you that God is a God who acts. And our only hope this afternoon is that this is still true. He has not finished acting. He is going on . . . There is only one hope. That is that He is still the living and the acting God. Christ is at His right hand, and He is seated and waiting until His enemies should be made His footstool . . . .”

I have been defending the faith – and people have praised me for doing it. Rubbish! What a miserable failure it has all been! From now on I am determined to do one thing only, and that is to give God no rest nor peace until He does prove Himself and show Himself. I have expended so much energy in reasoning with the people about this faith. We have got to do that, it is part of preaching. But if we stop at that, it will avail us nothing. But what I now am concerned about and I am concentrating on is this: asking God to show Himself, to do something, to give this touch, this manifestation of power. Nothing else will even make people listen to us . . . . Nothing is going to call the attention of the masses of the people to the truth of this faith save a great phenomenon, such as the phenomenon of the day of Pentecost, the phenomenon of any one of the great revivals, the phenomenon of a single changed life. This is something that always arrests attention, maybe curiosity – what does it matter? The people come and listen . . . .

We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible. Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act, and will act – in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times – the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah – I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God – well, He can still do it.”

Spurgeon puts it better than anybody else I have read:

“. . . Does any man know what the Spirit of God can make of him? I believe the greatest, ablest, most faithful, most holy man of God might have been greater, and abler, and more faithful, and more holy, if he had put himself more completely at the Spirit’s disposal. Wherever God has done great things by a man He has had power to do more had the man been fit for it. We are straitened in ourselves, not in God. O brothers, the church is weak today because the Holy Spirit is not upon her members as we could desire Him to be. You and I are tottering along like feeble babes, whereas, had we more of the Spirit, we might walk without fainting, run without weariness, and even mount up with wings as eagles. Oh, for more of the anointing of the Holy Ghost whom Christ is prepared to give immeasurably unto us if we will but receive Him!”

So my appeal to the cessationist is – don’t give up studying the Bible; rather also seek to know the God of the Bible. My appeal to the charismatic is – remember the God you worship gave you the Bible so that, as Dan puts it so w
ell, you can “carefully and diligently put your feelings and experiences to the test of the bright white light of the Word”.

But, unlike Dan, I do believe that we should seek those experiences of God and take every appropriate step to actively pursue them. The Bible says the Spirit is ‘received,’ and my sense of that is it is not a passive event, but rather a laying hold of by faith.

There is no real conflict between Word and Spirit. We need both. Somehow I think that the charismatics and cessationists have a lot to usefully learn from each other.

Can we all agree that the two errors of lifeless intellectualism and brainless emotionalism are to be avoided, and that instead there is a way for us to seek to know God and not only learn about Him?

Such knowledge is, of course, only perfected when we see Him face to face, but in the meantime, here on earth, I do believe we can expect moments when heaven seems almost to break in and we respond with joy and wonder at the manifest presence of our coming king.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

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