(October 2008 – Volume 14, Issue 11)
I often receive inquiries concerning supposed conversions, especially among Muslim people, as a result of visions, dreams and other direct revelations. Stories are abundant of such events and are quickly passed along by well-meaning Christians. But can these stories be verified? Are they true or just rumors? Where is the documentation? Pastor Richard Fisher has written an excellent article on this subject for the March 2008 issue of Personal Freedom Outreach Journal. With PFO’s and Pastor Fisher’s permission we are reprinting that article in this month’s issue of Think on These Things. – Gary E. Gilley
Things keep getting stranger. The “Father of Lies” seems to be operating in high gear and discernment appears to be at an all- time low. It is as if we are in the days of Judges again, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). We at PFO have always believed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Perhaps it is most apprfopriate that PFO’s headquarters is in Missouri, the “Show Me” state.
Christians in America are too gullible. Many will accept any claim as fact and give no thought to verification. Jesus, citing the Old Testament, said, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16).
Some will remember John Todd, who toured churches telling of his key role in the Illuminati organization, which he said wanted to take over the world. Others will recall Mel Tari’s fake Indonesian revival. Mike Warnke fooled the public for years with his story of being a satanic high priest. The story of Crying Wind, the poor Indian girl from a Kickapoo reservation, turned out to be all fiction. Moody Press was flummoxed as Crying Wind was revealed to be hot air. Rebecca Brown was exposed as a deluded drug addict who lost her medical license. Her bogus battles with Satan were all produced by her wild imagination and drug usage. Lauren Stratford claimed to have been a breeder for satanic baby sacrifices. She was exposed as a habitual liar and pathological attention-seeker. Later, she changed her image and claimed to be a Jewish survivor of the Nazi Holocaust.
All of these frauds raked in large amounts of money from book sales and donations. Some continue to do so even though their deception has been exposed.
A current case in point is Joel Rosenberg, author of Epicenter. Rosenberg asserts that Muslims are being converted to Christianity – without anyone sharing the Gospel with them – through visions, dreams, and other miraculous means (pp. 204-215). It should come as no surprise that a Muslim can dream of Jesus. Muslims are taught about Jesus – but that He is only a prophet. Many Middle Eastern countries have Christian communities and the day-to-day mingling is bound to result in some exposure to Christian beliefs and ideas.
Such conversions would be easily documented, but documentation isn’t forthcoming. The stories are no more than hearsay and Christian folklore that would appear to make the need for evangelism and missions obsolete. Such stories contradict Paul’s statement in Romans 10:14-18.
Stories of miraculous conversions of Muslims become a little easier to understand when one remembers the propensity in Arab culture for certain kinds of deception. Lying to maintain the subjective idea of honor is common. In fact, telling untruths under such circumstances is not considered lying. This is not to say that all Arabs are dishonest, but the pressure for a dramatic story accompanied by a material inducement or perks may inspire the storyteller to embellish events. Add to this a propensity for overstatement and a need for acceptance, and one has the recipe for a wild tale.
This is illustrated well by an incident some years ago when a Charismatic ministry in Israel headed by Gerald Derstine was hoodwinked by Muslim Arab villagers in Israel . The attention and perks were too much for the villagers to resist and so they fabricated tales of appearances by Jesus, complete with miracles. It all turned out to be nonsense. David Sisler reported in the Sept. 16, 1995, Augusta Chronicle:
“For seven years Derstine inspired his followers with sensational accounts of miracles, mass conversions and subsequent martyrdoms among Arab Muslims in Israel and the West Bank. Supporters contributed almost $3 million last year alone, including $500,000 for the ‘First Church of the Martyrs,’ a structure which would give shelter to the widows and children of some 35 new believers violently killed for leaving Islam. Derstine’s regional ministry leader now acknowledges that there were no martyrs and no sincere Muslim converts associated with the ministry. The reports were all fabricated. In one pamphlet published by Gospel Crusade, Mohammed Rawidan, the ministry’s first ‘convert’ claimed that the body of a martyred infant turned into dust in his hands, and then into a large white bird, which flew to heaven. A copy of the infant’s death certificate showed she had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and was buried. In the light of these and other revelations, Gospel Crusade suspended two top officials and withdrew from circulation literature, videotapes and the religious best-seller, ‘Fire Over Israel.’ Evangelical leaders in Israel repeatedly warned Derstine that the reports were false, but Derstine said he published the reports ‘without any inkling it was (all) a lie.’”
Snopes.com is a web site devoted to tracking internet claims and myths. Snopes looked into “Buried Treasures,” a story coming from Egypt where a Muslim man supposedly killed his wife and buried her. The report adds that he also buried alive his infant baby and 8-year-old daughter in the grave. Then, as the story goes, they were compacted under perhaps a ton of sand. Two weeks later another family member died. When they opened the family grave to bury him, they found the little girls under the sand alive. When the 8-year-old was asked how she survived for two weeks under the sand, she said, “A man wearing shiny white clothes, with bleeding wounds in his hands, came every day to feed us. He woke up my mom so she could nurse my sister.”
The story goes on to say that the little girl was interviewed on Egyptian television, and the Muslim woman news anchor acknowledged that this truly was Jesus and that He was indeed crucified – a fact that most Muslims deny. We are left to believe that she made this statement and suffered no repercussions. The broadcast supposedly aired in 2004, but no one reports seeing it. The story has surfaced as “Murder Miracle in Egypt,” “News from Egypt,” and “Miracle in Egypt” during the past three years.
Rich Buhler operates a Christian web site on which he monitors e-hoaxes and validates any that can be authenticated. On his web site (truthorfiction.com), Buhler labels the “Miracle in Egypt?” story an “eRumor.” He says that some versions say the story was reported in an Egyptian newspaper. However, no one can produce the paper. Buhler adds, “There is no substantiation for this story. We have not found any evidence of a Muslim man who killed his wife and buried his children alive with her. It has all the evidence of being a fabricated story.” There is a pattern here, and it’s that every time a Muslim miracle story is checked out, it turns out to be a hoax.
Before believing all the miracle reports on the internet, it is beneficial to read The Cost of Deception by John Williams and take the time to learn about urban legends. Also worthwhile is Selling Fear by Greg Camp, Too Good To Be True – The Colossal Book of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand, and Everything is Under Control – Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-ups by Robert Anton Wilson.
Let’s ask how the Egypt story really originated and ask whether it simply was fable and myth. Second Timothy 4:4 warns about those who turn to fables. The Snopes investigation turned up the origin of the story. They discovered that a woman married to a pastor who runs a Muslim outreach program in the U.S. first launched the story. The pastor is only identified as Victor. There is no claim whatsoever by Victor or his wife of a visit to Egypt .
According to e-mails written by his wife, Victor talked with a family in Egypt who gave him the details. Thus the wife’s report was at least third-hand and there apparently was no checking on primary documentation. Victor got it from an unnamed source. Even that source might have had a source or sources far removed.
What is interesting is the bias that is brought to these miracle stories, depending on who is doing the telling. Usually within the extremist Charismatic camp, the stories carry the idea of conversions by visions and dreams apart from Gospel preaching. A man in a white robe and nail prints shows up and conversions happen. With those who are more Evangelical, the stories circulate with the general theme of the vision directing the Muslim to a missionary or a Gospel presentation.
Evangelicals commit to the stories not because they have hard evidence, but because they sound more plausible compared to the more Charismatic way of telling them. So now it becomes who tells the story best.
Gordon Franz has written an insightful piece called Tabloid Archaeology. Franz, an archaeologist, wanted to check out the fantastic claim that the skull of Goliath had been discovered along with his oversized skeleton. fThe first clue that something was amiss was the assertion that the skull (with a big rock in it) was uncovered in the Valley of Elah, miles west of Jerusalem. However, 1 Samuel 17:54 states that David brought the skull up to Jerusalem. Make no bones about it, something sounded wrong.
Franz first sought documentation in a peer review publication because the claim was made that the skull and bones were tested and found to be 3,000 years old. When there was no review to be found he concluded rightly, “There is not a shred of evidence for any of these bogus claims.” After much searching, it turned out that the information came from the Weekly World News. Even the publication’s nameplate sounded impressive, but when Franz finally was able to get his hands on the Weekly World News, he found it to be a crazy spoof tabloid also reporting Elvis sightings and Hillary Clinton adopting an alien baby. It claimed also that the Garden of Eden was discovered in Colorado.
Franz’s conclusions are extremely helpful as he asks, “What can we learn from this story?,” and then answers, “First, we should do a thorough search, check out the facts, and find out what the original source of a story was … One should look for material that has been published in a scientific peer review publication.” In other words, get the facts, get the documentation, and get the proof. Most are too lazy.
There is a wonderful fact that is often missed in the tenth and eleventh chapters of Acts. Most know the story of Peter and his sharing the Gospel with the Gentile Cornelius. For the Jews, to even imagine Gentile acceptance by God was unthinkable. Peter had to be forced by God to make the journey from Joppa to Caesarea. What is missed by most is that Peter took six other men with him. Why? Was this contingent of seven (Peter and six) arbitrary? Why does Peter so emphatically say, “Moreover these six brethren accompanifed me, and we entered the man’s house” (Acts 11:12)?
Dramatic claims (convincing Jews that Gentiles could be accepted by God) require dramatic evidence. Archaeologist and author Jim Fleming, who instructs Israeli guides and resided in Jerusalem for many years, reminds us that ancient courts required seven witnesses to judge serious cases. So Peter goes well beyond establishment by two or three witnesses and puts forth seven.
Jesus’ resurrection may have had no ring of truth at all to His enemies. But Paul emphasizes that 500 witnesses established the claim of the resurrection beside others (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). Heavy verification is God’s idea.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Ask for it – demand it – accept no less. Doing this is not being faithless or skeptical, rather it is being biblical. Don’t believe it without examining the evidence. Anything less is less than biblical and less than Christian.