Saturday, August 05, 2006

Commentary from a wet cat part I

This week's post is based on an exerpt of a debate between Adrian Warnock, a charismatic and Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs, a cessationist. This is an exerpt of Dan's post on August 2, 2006 entitled Tongues on the water: response to Adrian part fourth AND LAST which is a response to Adrian's post on July 25, 2006 entitled Sufficient Grace and Efficient Grace - Spurgeon, Tongues and the Toronto Blessing. The part Dan's post that I am featuring is the part that comes just after Dan has outlined his area of agreement with Adrian, that Christians should have a vibrant emotional aspect to their faith. The exerpt that I am featuring and commenting on is Dan outlining his disagreement as to what is the correct approach to Scripture and to one's relationship with God to arrive at these emotions.

In another of Dan's postings in this debate series with Adrian, he refered to those who may be offended by his ideas as being "madder than wet cats". Well, I don't know if "mad" is the word that describes me, but I do feel compelled to vigorously respond to Dan, so I guess I do consider myself in the "wet cat" category. Here, Dan's commentary is in red, Adrians comentary is in blue, and my commentary is black.

Areas of Disagreement

Did you note what Adrian says we need to do?
Here is the good doctor's prescription once again, edited, emphases added:

I would love to challenge the TeamPyro guys...and the rest of us (including myself)--When was the last time you experienced such an impact of the Word of God brought to life by the Spirit of God?

Have you ever experienced the weight, and at the same time the lightness, of the presence of God what a truth comes to life that you feel might (or indeed you actually do!) fall down laughing?

This experience of being overwhelmed by the vastness of the grace and love of God is one I believe is right to seek and to cry out to God for. Do you agree with that? Is it unfair of me to make the accusation that far too many of us--including those of us who claim to be charismatics--fail to seek experiences with God with sufficient passion? Could the weakness of our passions explain the weakness of our Christianity?

We should "seek" and "cry out to God for" experiences. It is not a caricature to say that Dr. Warnock sees experience and feelings as the goal to be sought, the testing-point for spiritual reality.

There's the rub. And there is a major point of divide. Charismatics tend to be very feelings-oriented, very experience-oriented, to the point where reasoning and debating can be very frustrating. "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man theory," an Assembly of God elder once said to me.

And so a Charismatic approaches this problem that Adrian and I basically agree on by focussing directly on stimulating the emotions, and causing experiences. Do we feel joyless, far from God, dry, cold? Then do things that make you feel joyful and warm.

Dan is twisting Adrian's words here. Adrian is not calling us to directly stimulate the emotions of an experience with God as an act of human effort. Adrian is calling us to seek God in a way that the impact of his truth yeilds the force of such encounters. The work of directly stimulating emotions as an act of human effort is very different from the act of properly seeking God. Here, there are two errors that can occur:

A) seeking the joyful feeling as a thing to be grasped, trying to drum up feelings on one's own strength

B) being stimulated to joy by the word, based on an understanding of the Word that after the canon was established in the fourth century via the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit was not to be heard from or experienced again

What avoids both of these errors is to invite the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness to know what to confess, what to do, and where to go in the present time. The fruit of that prayer will be the guidance of His conviction in our hearts. The fruit of following through on that conviction will be the joy of faith in action and obedience.

How many Charismatic services feature words like, "Reach out your hands, and receive that blessing that God has for you"? Or, "I believe God has a special blessing for you right now. Just reach our, now, accept it...I feel the Spirit moving, don't you? Just feel Him now, open yourself up and feel Him moving in our midst." Smacking of the "purest" Finneyism -- as if bodily postures cause spiritual reality.

Emotions are a guage to our spiritual health and relationship with God. Emotions are a very important guage that we to be mindful of as we seek God in the manner that I have outlined above. That was Finney's point. Those who miss it slander Finney.

If you've been to many Charismatic services, you don't need me to go on. You could fill in gaps yourself--how the music is geared and chanted to excite the emotions directly, the preaching aimed at working directly on the emotions, the bodily choreography devised to create a mood and a feeling. It's sheer psychological manipulation, though in many cases no doubt with the best of intentions.

I was at a very famous "moderate" charismatic church service in the seventies, with unbelieving coworkers, to watch a friend get baptized. What was their reaction to the genial chaos and tongues and prophecy? One unbelieving young lady said, "I can sort of understand it, since I'm into chanting, too."

Is that what the Bible says? The goals are right: worship, joy, rejoicing, gladness, awe.

But are those things commonly held out and sought in themselves?

For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus did pursue joy as a goal, directly. What he did not do was treat it as a thing to be grasped on his own. Rather, he A) sought the clarity of conviction in the garden of gethsemene, asking directly for the Father's specific direction and B) followed through with that conviction in action that resulted, ultimately, in his joy. As Jesus calls us to pick up our cross daily, it is this pattern that he laid down for us to follow, as he is the author and perfector of our faith both in creed and in daily practice.

I often read exhortations by plea or example to "Seek Yahweh" (Deuteronomy 4:29;1 Chronicals 16:10, 11, 22:19; Psalm 105:4; Isaiah 55:6 Amos 5:6 etc...). I can't think of any to seek an experience of the Lord, or feelings about the Lord.

The Shamah says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength (and mind as Jesus added to the Shamah later). The "heart behavior" that the Shamah calls us to involves having emotions of affection towards God. It is toward this end that David invites the Lord to search him and test his heart and know his anxious thoughts so that the Holy Spirit can lead him (Psalm 139:23).

It is God who replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:9.) Here, "flesh" is a metaphor for the emotional experience of affection towards God, which is the pleasing "heart behavior" that the Shamah calls us to.

And seeking the Lord is hard work.

The word suggests study, concentrating, effort, devotion, sacrifice, focus. You don't giggle, vibrate or emote your way into it. It may flow from enthusiasm, but the act itself is hard work.

Seeking the Lord is hard work. But the success of our seeking depends on how we understand seeking. To seek properly, we need to get help in our seeking directly from the Holy Spirit, since we, in our weakness, do not know what to pray for. That is why we must submit our hearts daily so that the Holy Spirit can reveal His leading to our hearts.

There is an aspect of hard work involved in seeking God in this way. There is also an aspect of God helping us. While seeking, there will be times when we work incredibly hard and there will be times when it feels easy -- when we do "emote" into it as we feel the Holy Spirit's power directly. To use surfing as a crude analogy, it takes effort to get on the wave and stay on the wave, even as the force of the wave that pushes you forward is not your own force.

But many Charismatics "hard work" means "grim, joyless, dispassionate toil." It needn't be that at all. I have a favorite lake in the Sierra that is off the trail, and that literally can't be seen until you're within a hundred yards or so of it. Getting there is hard work -- but it's joyous, it's exhilarating, it's a blast, it's more than rewarding. (And the fishing is always great!)

This brings us, I think, to the heart of it all. We're wrong if we divorce emotions from faith.

But we're just as wrong if we substitute emotions for faith, or seek them instead of faith.

"Faith," I read, "comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Further, "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you can see it-experience it, feel it, touch it--we're not talking about faith.

What is the peace that passes understanding that keeps you in the knowledge and love of Christ? Paul did not equate that experience and other experiences of the Spirit's leading in our hearts with sight in the concrete sense of seeing with our eyes. Paul is contrasting faith with the concrete need to with one's eyes, as the world does.

Because faith is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). It is if we believe that we "see the glory of God" (John 11:40) -- not the reverse.

Dan is mixing together two arguments A) that belief is the pre-requisite for feelings and experience -- i.e. the experience of "seeing the glory of God" and B) that if one experiences God, the experience cannot be faith, since experience is a form of sight and faith cannot be sight.

In regard to argument A), assurance and conviction are rooted in some emotional aspect of God's leading. When I say "rooted", I do not mean that these convictions are wholly emotional. Rather, they are "trans-emotional", wherein the emotions are connected to the thoughts and vice-versa. The question is whether that leading of God is the direct act of the Holy Spirit here and now or whether the written Scripture, established in the fourth century, is acting as a proxy for the Holy Spirit in the present time.

In regard to argument B), Steven saw Jesus at the right hand of the Father while he was being stoned. It would be ridiculous to say that he did not have faith in that moment. It is these moments of sensing clarity that are part of our faith. They are fore-tastes of God's glory that we enjoy on our journeys of faith as we see "through a glass darkly". While we cannot seek these experiences as things to be grasped, it is only proper to cherish them on our journeys of faith as part of the confirmation of God's presence and leading in our lives.

But the Charismatic wants to feel so that he can believe. He wants to see, to touch, to experience, so that he can believe. And so, while talking a great deal about walking by faith, he puts himself out of the realm of faith, Biblically defined.

Cessationistically defined. We do not feel so that we can believe, in the idea that our feelings are always the horse that pulls the cart. But it is important to recognize that feelings and thoughts are connected. Our feelings are the fertile ground of our thoughts, along with our memories and subconscious. What we feel is a part of what we think. As Jesus said, it is from a man's heart that his words and his actions spring from (Matthew 12:34). If one does not feel love toward God, somewhere in there, one has a thought problem and not merely a feeling problem. The question is, what is the relationship with God that resolves this problem.

If Adrian believes in God enough to ask God for his heart to behave according to how God has commanded His heart to behave according to the Shamah, Adrian is asking God the way that the man with the possessed son asked Jesus, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief".

But fellow cessationist friend, before you nod too smugly, consider this. If we have this faith the Bible talks about, what is the result? Does it bear fruit? None answers this better than Peter:

(you) who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been greived by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:5-9)

Notice that Peter talks about being guarded by God's power. God is working actively in the hearts of those who have faith in Him. It is God's active power guiding us to know the truth that is contained in His written Word. It is not the written Word acting sans the direct involvement of God's power. This is the big, big divide that separates the relationship with God that I am describing and the relationship with God that Dan is describing.

The Holy Spirit working on our minds and emotions is the power of God that is guarding us to have the faith.

Feelings are significant symptoms. I say "significant" -- not "reliable" nor "unambiguous." One may be depressed due to unconfessed sin (Psalm 32:3-4), exhaustion (1 Kings 19:4), a host of other reasons, or no apparent reason at all. But if there is no godly love, joy, peace, or hope in one's life--that can't be good. Where does one go?

The answer-- we use our feelings as a guage. In using them as a guage, we ask God to reveal to us what the matter is so that the Holy Spirit can help us in our weakness. The Holy Spirit then communicates to our hearts what it is that we should confess, pray for, think about, lay on the altar, etc... As we seek God and follow through on His specific leading, our hearts are transformed.

The Charismatic goes in search of the feelings themselves, the experiences. He does what he must to whip them up. If he has them, it means he is near to God. The cessationist by contrast may grimly purpose to do without those fruits of the Spirit, to do without joy and hope.

Both are wrong. All those feelings and experiences are what we would be enjoying if we really believed the Word. So their feebleness should not move us to grit our teeth and soldier joylessly. Nor should they move us to fly off in frantic pursuit of the latest and greatest emotional jolt, with its inevitable thralldom to the law of diminishing effects.

Again there is another way besides A) trying to whip up feelings as things to be grasped and B) the cessationist idea of the Spirit having stopped moving when the canon was established in the fourth century.

It is to seek the Spirit who is still making Himself known to us via directly working on our hearts. We need the Holy Spirit for us to know, here and now, which aspect of the written Word is most relevant for us to meditate on in any given moment. We also need the Holy Spirit to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh so that we can live love the Lord with all our heart, sould, mind, and strength. Here, the Holy Spirit and the Scripture operate together in the present moment to make this happen. The cessationist believes that the written Scripture alone is the key to this transformative process.

(cf. 1 Samuel 3:21). The Spirit gave the Word, by which God begins and nourishes (1 Peter 2:2) our spiritual life of faith.

The Holy Spirit continues to nourish our hearts directly to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. That is what the written Word is for-- to point to the "heart behavior" that we should have and to point to the Holy Spirit who will transform it. Here, the heart is the "heart" in the Hebrew idea of being the seat of emotion, will and intellect -- each buttressing the other. That is why God's ministry to our hearts via the peace that passes understanding is not an irrational experience. Rather, it is a "trans-rational" experience that we know in that part of our pre-articulate knowing, is God's supernatural ministry in and to our hearts.

The charismatic, equating feelings and experiences with the presence of God, is reluctant to subject those experiences to Biblical criticism. The stakes are high to him. That is why he is likely to be unmoved by any Biblical consideration brought in this entire series.

He is unmoved by the cessationist attempt to wipe clean the emotional aspect of knowing God from the act of having faith. Jesus says in John 15:11, "...and my joy will be in you...". This joy is not Jesus' joy by proxy of the written Word 2000 years later, operating in us after Jesus said it. Rather, it is Jesus' joy, who is alive here and now, operating here and now in us and through us. It is his here-and-now-joy manifested in our joy here and now.

You see, if he loses those experiences, he feels he will lose God, and intimacy with God. Walking by faith (not by sight/experience/feeling) is repugnant to him. So he may become a feelings- junky.

Not if he has a mature understanding of feelings as part of the spiritual experience of God. St. John of the Cross wrote about this in regard to the dark night of the soul. C.S. Lewis wrote about the cyclical nature of feelings in the life of a believer.

But the cessationist may just as surely make the false equation between being fact-filled and being Spirit-filled. His cool personal distance and detachment is no more fragrant to God than the charistmatic's strange wildfire.

The fault of both is defective faith. The answer for both is robust faith, glorifying faith. The remedy for both is in the Word of God, which creates, sustains, and directs our faith.

At least Dan and I have the same goal-- a robust Spirit-filled faith. The difference lies in what is means to be "Spirit-filled". To Dan, it means being joyful on account of what the written Word says with the understanding that the Holy Spirit provided the written Word and then was silent after the 4th century.

It is my argument that being Spirit-filled means being filled with the truth of the written Word operating in conjuction with the Holy Spirit working in one's heart in the here and now. Which raises a gnarly question-- What is the Word?

Is it:
A) the chapter/verse of Scripture alone
B) the truth of Scripture made specific to me as the Father is speaking to the Spirit to speak to me (JOHN 16:13)

To do justice to this question would require another full essay at least. For now, I will say Jesus is the Word, according to John, and Jesus gave no indication that his promises in the Gospel of John would end in the 4th century with the adoption of the canon. If such a momentous thing as the cessation of Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit's direct guidance of us were going to occur with the adoption of the canon, Jesus would have said so. The Word, As Jesus intended it for us is B). It is the Pharisees who treated the Scripture as A), and were not guided by the Spirit in their attempts to understand and apply it.


So to answer brother Adrian directly: Yes, the word of God has resonated with me emotionally, intimately, personally--many times. And no, this hasn't happened nearly as much as it should, as it would, were my believing grasp of the Word more fulsome, hearty, bold, robust, and lively.

What exactly was happening when the Word of God resonated in Dan? Was that resonating the direct act of the Spirit in the here and now? Or was Dan's spirit responding to the Spirit who had stopped acting in the 4th century after the canon was established?

But I cannot accept the invitation to address the manifest lask in my Christian life by casting aside the Word for the pursuit of experiences. Freedom will not lead me to truth, and thence to genuine discipleship and the Word. It is by continuance in Christ's Word that I prove to be a genuine disciple (student), learn the truth, and am set free (John 8:31-32)

It is by the power of God helping you to apply the written Word in the very behavior of your heart that makes you a genuine disciple. The written Word calls us to use our feelings as a guage. If I am not feeling a certain way, the answer is not to seek a feeling high as a thing to be grasped. The answer is to call upon God for God's specific direction for me, which He will communicate to me through a thought that has a feeling dimension to it in the form of a conviction-- a conviction that I now have courtesy of His power working in me. This is the truth of the written Word in action in my present life. The Holy Spirit has enabled the canon of Scripture to exist so that it can be a general guide whereby the Holy Spirit guides us in the specific "go here, there" that is our direct relationship with God that will transform us. To read the written Word at the expense of understanding this is to, sadly, miss the point.

So in turn I appeal to my brother Adrian. Carefully and diligently put your feelings and experiences to the test of the bright white light of the Word. Already a couple of faulty experientially-born areas have been suggested. What won't pass muster, won't help either of us towards God.

Leave off seeking after experiences of God, and seek God by His Spirit-breathed Word.

Let us not leave off seeking to have our hearts transformed by the Spirit whom His Spirit-breathed written Word points to and promises to us.

Our experiences divide us. His Word can unite us.

If you do not get the role of experience of God's transformation and the role of the Holy Spirit, you won't be operating on the same view of what and who the Word is.

The End.



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