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The Theological Pillow Fight from the Nosebleed Section


In short, his response in writing, as well as on the radio, seemed to contain none of the harsh, critical, judgmental, negative, demonizing that I heard in the Strange Fire talks, and even practiced myself when I was part of that camp. I got done reading the first couple of chapters and thought to myself, “Wow! This guy’s writing emanates the gracious speech Paul was talking about in Colossians 4:6!” Authentic Fire is a book I would have wanted to write. Sometimes I find myself deeply desirous of being an apologist of sorts for a biblical-charismatic theology toward my TMS and reformed friends. Michael could not have expressed my feelings better than when he stated, in chapter five,

[M]any have faulted the Strange Fire camp for what appears to be a conspicuous lack of love in their circles towards those they criticize and reject, to the point that it is all to common to find related posts and blogs mocking and vilifying charismatics in the strongest of terms. Yet somehow, this is considered acceptable and even godly…

Some sections of Strange Fire read like the National Enquirer more than they read like a book written by a seasoned Christian leader, especially when detailing the failings and fallings of other leaders (p. 148).

My praise for the book aside, let me sum up the gist of Michael’s book before I go much further. There are several particularly troubling facets of John’s book and conference that left Michael, as well as thousands of other charismatics all dazed: the facts, the feelings of others, separationism, biblical love, and Jesus’ teaching on handling offenses in Matthew 18. The rest of my semi-review will focus on these elements which were significant to me personally.


Facts are Important

I penned this thought in the margin of these pages: “John cherry-picks details that strengthen his case.” It is clear from reading Charismatic Chaos[4] and Strange Fire that John has spent an unfortunate amount of time watching charismaniacs on television. It is entertaining, I’ll admit. There is some crazy stuff I’ve seen on television before that I’ve never personally experienced in the variety of churches I’ve been in over the years. Perhaps it’s on television for a reason. However, the obvious problem with watching too much TBN is that one can begin to think that this is all there is to charismatics. That’s the terrible conclusion John came to. According to John,

I don’t watch much television, and when I do I generally avoid the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). For many years TBN has been dominated by faith-healers, full-time fund-raisers, and self-proclaimed prophets spewing heresy. I wrote about the false gospel they proclaim and the phony miracles they pretend to do almost two decades ago in Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. See especially chapter 12). I had my fill of charismatic televangelism while researching that book, and I can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Recently, however, while recovering from knee-replacement surgery, I decided to sample some of the current fare on TBN. From a therapeutic point of view it seemed a good choice: something more excruciating than the pain in my leg might distract me from the physical suffering of post-surgical trauma. And I suppose on that basis the strategy was effective.

But it left me outraged and frustrated—and eager to challenge the misperceptions in the minds of millions of unbelievers who see these false teachers masquerading as ministers of Christ on TBN.[5]

His entire blog post, from which that clip came, is about the evils of TBN. John’s hospital stay definitely led him to think about TBN, but to the wrong conclusion. His conclusion didn’t include all the facts. But that’s not how we were taught to study things at The Master’s Seminary. We were taught to discover both sides thoroughly, even trying to walk in the shoes of the other person to see things from their perspective. We were taught never to begin a study of Scriptures with emotional hang ups, like frustration. It was emphasized over and again that our approach to Scripture must be objective. Facts are important. They are everything. Problem is, a person’s ability to see facts are influenced by their own presuppositions and preconceptions.


Fundamentalism Can Introduce a Fog into the Facts

Michael probably didn’t know this, but John is a successor in the theological tradition known as fundamentalism.[6] From its infancy onward it seems to have always been a theology of fear and reaction, first and foremost. It operates in degrees like anything else, from peaceful (seen in churches who simply mind their own business and do their ministry to the glory of God to best of their ability) to militant (seen in churches who publish books, host conferences, and advance movements, including the ridiculous and downright anti-christian Westboro Baptist Church.). The spirit or attitude of fundamentalism seems to always be reacting to something in the culture (social, intellectual, or political) or in Christianity, and often reacts to elements and ideas which form at the intersection of the two. It reacts to whatever it perceives as a violation of orthodoxy, particularly as it arises in mainline denominations,[7] though not exclusively focused there today, to be sure.

Theological fundamentalists seem to be watchdogs, and seem to have operated in that capacity with some degree of consistency. Watchdogs and their “watch-blogs” are always on the lookout to chase and devour trends and concepts and ideas that violate what the fundamentalist perceives to be unbiblical.[8] A preacher, scholar, theologian, or pastor in the stream of fundamentalism will often demonstrate an impaired ability to see all the facts as it relates to something they are watch-dogging. This turns to fact-fogging. If they even think it may be unbiblical, their ire has already been raised and they are ready to attack. Soon, everything they begin to see is bad, evil, unbiblical, and possibly even demonic. They become a hammer and everything they see is a nail. Select facts are chosen to support the case for the warning call, all the other facts are often ignored or rejected using a schema that leaves one in confusion. While this mentality is present in the stream of fundamentalism, and while John has roots in fundamentalism of one version or another, this watchdog mentality is clearly present in John, while other pitfalls of fundamentalism are not.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2014

About the Author: Rob Wilkerson, M.Div. (The Master's Seminary, 2000), B.S. (Luther Seminary, 1994), is a follower of Jesus in Woodstock, GA, where he works in the tech industry as an analyst and consultant. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 21 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, love one another, and make disciples. Google+ Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

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