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Welcome to my brand new show Lunchtime with Micael where you can watch me eat lunch and hear me talk about God. In this first episode I’m reviewing one of the best books I’ve ever read: Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. Jack is the ex-cessationist who became totally surprised when he realized that the Holy Spirit is still bestowing miraculous gifts, and who then became an influential theologian in the charismatic third wave movement.
In this book he’s talking about the gift of prophecy, and he combines Bible study, smart theology and amazing testimonies. Deere has enormous knowledge about the Bible (he’s a professor of the Old Testament) and he’s also experienced some really amazing miracles, not the least through his friendship with prophet Paul Cain.
At the end of the Lunchtime with Micael clip I read one of the testimonies: how another prophetic friend of Jack’s could tell a girl what she did last Tuesday and let her know that God loves her. It’s a really powerful testimony, and you can hear Jack himself talk about it in this clip:
I give the book 10/10, I recommend it with all of my heart. You can listen to some of the stuff that Deere talks about in the book for free here.
One of my favourite authors is Jack Deere, a charismatic evangelical, pastor and teacher, who has written an excellent refutal of cessationism called Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. In the book, he shares how he encountered Paul Cain for the first time and discovered how prophetic this man of God is in a dramatic way, at a meeting they were holding in Texas, 1988:
Paul had just finished giving a wonderful message and was beginning to pray for the people in the audience. There were about 250 people there that morning. He asked the diabetics to stand. As he started to pray for the diabetics, he looked at a gray-haired lady on his right. He stared at her for a moment, having never met her (or anyone else in the audience for that matter), and then he said,
“You do not have diabetes; you have low blood sugar. The Lord heals you of that low blood sugar, now. I see a vision of you sitting in a yellow chair. You are saying, ’If I could just make it until the morning. If I could just make it until the morning.’ Your allergies torment you so badly that sometimes they keep you awake all night. The Lord heals those allergies, now. That problem with the valve on your heart—it goes now in the name of Jesus. And so does that growth on your pancreas.”
By this time there was a strong sense of the fear of the Lord in the room. People had begun to weep openly as they saw the power of the Lord being displayed and the concern of the Lord for one of his children. Paul continued looking at the woman and then he said, “The Devil has scheduled you for a nervous break- down.” When he said this the man sitting beside her, who turned out to be her husband, began to weep. He knew that his wife was very close to a nervous breakdown. Paul said, “The Lord interrupts that plan now. You will not have the breakdown.”
And then, just as suddenly as Paul had begun to speak to the woman, he stopped and said, “I think that is all the wants me to do now.” Then he sat down on the front row.
The strange Strange Fire conference has put me into debate with some cessationists, especially when making this video. One common cessationist argument is that if the gift of prophecy still exists, the Bible isn’t our only source for doctrine about God, and thus the door to heresy stands wide open. Tom Pennington also uses this argument in his (bad) case for cessationism.
What I try to explain then is that firstly, prophecy has multiple purposes. 1 Samuel 9 contains a fascinating story about how Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys, and walks to prophet Samuel to see if he can use his prophetic gift to find out where they are. Before he even says something, Samuel invites him to dinner and adds “As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found.” Then he reveals that the Lord has showed him that Saul is the new king of Israel, and anoints him.
Now, neither the revelation about the donkeys nor that Saul was to be king was doctrinal revelation; rather, they revealed a practical circumstance and God’s plan for an individual. These prophetic aspects should of course always be tested (1 Th 5:19-22), but there is not much need to worry about false doctrines here.
Furthermore, God can also confirm what He has previously said in the Bible. For example, God can, if He wants to, send an angel to me to tell me that He loves me. I told this to a cessationist, whereby he asked “Why would God send an angel to tell me that He loves me if that information has already been revealed to me in the bible?”
While the strange Strange Fire conference mostly was dedicated to accuse the majority of charismatics for being weird, heretic non-Christians (yes, John MacArthur did say that most of us are non-Christians), at least one session was about the root cause of these people’s uncomfortability with the charismatic movement: their cessationist belief. I gave a short summary of why I think cessationism is unbiblical in my previous post, but I felt that the cessationist arguments given at Strange Fire were so bad that I cannot let them pass unanswered. The session was held by Tom Pennington and here are a short summary and a longer transcription of his lecture.
Before Pennington even starts to give his seven “biblical” arguments for cessationism, he admits that “the New Testament nowhere directly states that the miraculous gifts will cease during the church age.” Amen to that. But then he simply states that this is irrelevant “because the New Testament doesn’t directly say they’ll continue either.”
Wow, now I feel tempted to produce my own gospel. I don’t like to pray very much, so I’ll just preach that we don’t have to pray in the post-apostolic age. And if someone would say to me “The Bible actually never says that we should cease to pray” I will simply answer “it doesn’t directly say we should continue praying either.”
For a Bible-believing Christian who thinks that we should base our lives on the life and teaching of Christ, the burden of proof lies on the cessationist, not on the continuationist. Jesus commanded his disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons (Mt 10:6-8), and then he ordered them after His miraculous resurrection to teach their disciples everything He had commanded them (Mt 28:20). It’s Tom Pennington’s job to prove that we should not do the stuff that Jesus and His disciples did, the burden of proof does not lie on the charismatics.
All right, here are Pennington’s arguments:
1) “There were only 3 primary periods in which God worked miracles through unique men. The first was with Moses; the second was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha; the third was with Christ and his apostles. The primary purpose of miracles were to establish the credibility of one who speaks the word of God—not just any teacher, but those who had been given direct words by God.”
I thought people didn’t believe in the “three miraculous periods” stuff anymore. The book of Judges is filled with miracles and prophecies. The book of Daniel as well. Genesis, Isaiah, Jonah – they all account for amazing miracles. And the whole Bible is per definition filled with the gift of prophecy!
John MacArthur is one of the leading cessationist theologians of today (cessationist meaning someone who thinks the miraculous gifts of the Spirit have ceased), and you may remember his name from my post What if Jesus Preached what Modern Preachers are Preaching where I tried to show how stupid it would look if Jesus had said what MacArthur is saying. MacArthur’s teaching has been widely criticized by many, and one of the best rebutals is in my opinion Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, where he explains how he went from being a cessationist to a charismatic evangelical and where he basically brings up all cessationist arguments used by MacArthur and crushes them to little tiny pieces.
It seems like MacArthur has changed tactics since then. Right now he is organizing a conference called Strange Fire which isn’t arguing for cessationism so much as it is accusing the majority of the charismatic movement to be heretic, demonic and a dangerous cult. Nothing new, already G. Campbell Morgan said that Pentecostalism is “the last vomit of Satan”, so MacArthur is basically continuing an embarassing evangelical tradition of demonizing Christians who don’t agree with him.
MacArthur’s argument is of course ridiculous and its main accusation, that most charismatics offer false worship, is non-valid since even if you disagree with charismatics you have to admit that their worship to Jesus is extremely passionate compared to many other churches. But I’m not going to waste ink on arguing for the sanity of the charismatic movement but bring the discussion back to its original issue: the cessation or continuity of the gifts. In my opinion, it is cessationism that is truly “strange”, it’s an unbiblical, irrational and, quite frankly, very boring theology.
Cessationists do not argue that all gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the apostles, simply because knowledge, compassion and faith (Rom 12:8, 1 Cor 12:8-9) clearly are still around. Instead, they argue that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit have ceased while non-supernatural (like the ones I just mentioned) are still here. Problem is: this distinction is totally unbiblical. When Paul talks about Spiritual gifts he never categorised them in supernatural and non-supernatural, and he doesn’t label some cessational and others continual.
In my pursuit for combining signs and wonders with peace and justice, I often get to see parallells between the Charismatic and activist streams of Christianity. One is that both want to get back to the original church; Pentecostals, as you probably know, want to resurrect the charismatic explosion of Acts 2, and radical Christian activists want to see the community of goods and the overflowing love and unity of Acts 2.
But then there’s a problem both parties face. Some Christians don’t want to return to Acts, basically because they argue that Acts was temporary – we’re not supposed to live like that any longer. You will find this among cessationists, who argue that the miracles in the book of Acts died with the apostles, and among most other Christians as well who argue that the community of goods and radical economic equality of the early church was just a temporary experiment. The church of Acts may have been good for that time but is not very relevant for our churches today. Guess we’re smarter now, or something.
This view has always surprised me since the very reason we value the New Testament as the Word of God is that it’s written by the apostles, or their direct disciples. The apostles had authority (Acts 2:42) since they were elected by Jesus and were the first church leaders. How come that we value their words more than their lives? If they were healing the sick and practicing community of goods, how could that possible be abnormal Christian living?
Jack Deere has written about this. He’s an ex-cessationist who became one of the main leaders in the Charismatic Vineyard movement after the Vineyard pastor John White went to his church and healed som people and drove out some demons. He really nails the problems with the theology of the abnormal Acts in his book Surprised by the Voice of God (Kingston 1996, ss. 61-63), which I qoute below: (more…)
I wrote the other day about how thousands of Muslims become Christians because they claim to have seen Jesus in a dream. As I was googling “Muslims Jesus dream” to find testimonies about this to link to, I also came across criticism of this phenomena by reformed pastor John Piper. Piper says that he is “very suspicious” to these claims because the Biblical model of evangelism is not hearing the Gospel through dreams but through a preacher:
“Jesus coming to them in their head, preaching the Gospel to them that they have never heard of before, and believing and being saved… that I am suspicious of… big time,”
“The Gospel needs to be heard. How shall they believe unless they hear and how shall they hear without a preacher and how shall they preach unless they be sent. That’s a pretty significant argument in Romans 10… It says, how shall they preach unless they be sent? It doesn’t say, oh they can preach in a dream when they are not even there.”
I think there are several problems with this argument. First of all, dreams and visions are a very common way for God to communicate to people in the Bible. As Jack Deere write in his awesome book Surprised by the Voice of God:
According to the Bible, dreams and visions are the normal language of the Holy Spirit when God speaks to hos prophets. Numbers 12:6 says, “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.” Joel promised that one day drams and visions would be common among the people of God, saying, “And afterward, I will pour our my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29). The apostle Peter claimed that the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost began the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2:16ff.).
One of the best books I’ve ever read is Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. Through a combination of great Bible studies and awesome testimonies, Deere explores what Paul said was the gift we especially should desire: prophecy. Here is an excerpt from pages 137-139, concerning how God can give prophetic messages through angels:
Angels function not only as servants and guardians, they also function as agents of supernatural divine revelation. In the early church, angels were famous for engineering jail breaks (Acts 5:19; 12:7ff.). They also brought supernatural guidance and revelation to God’s servants. Philip was directed by an angel to bring the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26). Cornelius, the first gentile convert, was visited by an angel prior to his conversion with instructions for what he should do (Acts 10:3ff.). When Paul and all of his sailing companions were in danger of lsing their lives at sea, God send an angel who brought prophetic revelation to save them (Acts 27:23-26). And the greatest prophetic book, the book of Revelation, was communicated to John through an angel (Rev. 1:1).
Many people do not report encounters with angel for fear of what others might think. Early in my ministry a lady in my church told me the following story. Neither the lady nor my church were charismatic. Actually, our church had definite prejudices against the gifts of the Spirit. The woman had never wold anyone this story for fear of being thought crazy.
Yesterday I was visiting the Pancake Church of Kungsbacka in western Sweden. Unlike us in Uppsala who go out on the streets, these people actually had a church to serve pancakes in. Since Kungsbacka isn’t a megacity, a lot of youths knew that the church hands out free pancakes on Fridays, and since the Swedish weather isn’t tropical, many of them came yesterday to eat some pancakes, chat with us and warm themselves.
After a couple of hours, we had some worship together. All the kids joined us, either because they were curious or because they had nothing else to do. This was the scoring opportunity for every evangelist. Two girls from Gothenburg, Charlotte and Jennie, came to the front to preach. Their message was called “Five popular myths about God”. Myth 1: God is unreachable and far away. Myth 2: Only weak and unintelligent people choose to live with God. Myth 3: It is boring to live with God. Myth 4: God doesn’t speak today. Myth 5: I’ll be better off if I choose God the minute before I die.
It was seriously the best evangelistic sermon I’ve ever heard. Charlotte and Jennie poured out their love for Jesus and shared how exciting and wonderful it was to follow Him. They combined biblical teaching with amazing testimonies. One testimony especially astounded me: when Jennie told us how she has heard the audible voice of God.
In the clip above, John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, shares how he led a couple to Christ on an airplane thanks to the gift of prophecy. God told John that the man was cheating on his wife, John said to the man that he has to repent because of this, the man realized that John only could know this if God had spoken to him, and thus he got saved and led his wife to the Lord as well – after telling her the painful truth about his sinful behaviour.
These sorts of events happened from time to time in John’s life. Jack Deere shares in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit another event when John’s prophetic gift manifested quite dramatically (at a time when Jack himself was very sceptical towards the Charismatic movement):
[Wimber asked] the Holy Spirit to come, and then he was silent. So was the audience.
About a full minute later, he looked up and said, “O.K. I think I know what the Lord wants to do tonight. He has given me some words of knowledge for healing.”
Presumably that meant that God was communicating to Wimber that he would heal certain people in the audience that night. I had never been in a service like that, and I didn’t know what to make of it.
Wimber said that God wanted to heal people with back pain. Quite a few people came down to the front of the church to be prayed for by teams of church members rather than by Wimber himself. After a few minutes he said, “There is a woman here who has severe back pain, but you haven’t come forward yet. Come forward; I think the Lord will heal you right now.”