(September 1995 – Volume 1, Issue 11)
In our last paper, we attempted to demonstrate that through the influence of neo-Gnosticism, in the form of the Charismatic Movement, even many in the conservative/fundamental ranks are subtly adjusting their view of the Scriptures. These individuals would defend to the death their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word, but have softened, as we will see, in the area of sufficiency. When we speak of the sufficiency of the Bible, we mean that it alone is adequate to train us in godliness. Only the Word reveals God’s truth for living. On the negative side, this naturally implies that nothing needs to be added to the Scriptures for us to know truth. Therefore, when anything, whether it is man’s wisdom, personal experience, pragmatism, tradition, or direct revelation is touted as a means of knowing God’s truth, then Biblical sufficiency has been denied. By this definition we find the conservative Christian landscape literally swamped with those who claim to believe in the authority of Scripture, yet in practice deny it by their extrabiblical sources of obtaining truth and guidance. Before going any further, maybe we should ask the question, “Is Biblical sufficiency Biblical? Does the Word claim to be sufficient?” In reply, we are reminded of II Pet 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him …” How is life and godliness obtained? It is accomplished through the true knowledge of Christ, which is found only in the Word. II Tim 3:16,17 reminds us that the Scriptures are inspired by God and are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Why? In order that we might be adequate, equipped for every good work. We have to wonder, if the Scriptures are adequate to equip us for EVERY good work, and if they are able to lead us to EVERYTHING pertaining to life and godliness, what else is needed? Why search beyond the Scriptures for the things that God says the Scriptures alone supply? In our support of the doctrine of Biblical sufficiency we can do more than proof-text. The whole thrust of Scripture implies that the Word alone is sufficient to teach us how to live life and find guidance. As a matter of fact, the burden of proof that that something beyond the Scriptures (visions, man’s wisdom, tradition, etc.) is needed, lies with those who doubt sufficiency. Note the view of God’s Word as found in Psalm 19. We are told that it is perfect and will restore the soul. It is sure, making wise the simple. It is right, rejoicing the heart. It is pure, enlightening the eyes. It is clean, enduring forever. It is true and righteous altogether. It is more desirable than gold, it is sweeter than honey. There is no hint here that the Word is inadequate to equip us for whatever life throws our way. As the Psalmist praises the Scriptures he implies that there is no need of help from any outside source. This is the picture that we get throughout the entire Bible. Human wisdom, observations and experience add nothing to the Scriptures.
Mysticism is one of the most subtle forces that undermines sufficiency in the evangelical church today. John MacArthur’s definition is helpful, “Mysticism looks to truth internally, weighing feeling, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable, external data. …Its source of truth is spontaneous feeling rather than objective fact, …or sound Biblical interpretation” (Our Sufficiency in Christ p32).
Mysticism found in places such as the Vineyard Movement (which we will examine next time) is very obvious, since they claim direct revelation from God. For example, in Power Evangelism John Wimber , the leader of the VM says that the very basis for power evangelism (a main thrust of the VM) is the belief that God directly reveals to us certain information. For example, on an airplane Wimber saw written clearly across a man’s face, “in distinct letters,” the words, “adultery.” As he witnessed to the man, the Spirit spoke directly to Wimber and said, “Tell him if he doesn’t turn from his adultery, I’m going to take Him” (pp75-82). Others in the VM are equally clear: John White assures us that “God desires to speak to us individually” (Some Said It Thundered pXIX). Paul Cain said that the Lord appeared beside him in the front seat of his car and said, “If you really want the kind of intimate walk with me you profess to want, you must remember that I walk alone” (Ibid p39). This is why Cain never married. Bob Jones (the VM prophet) was taken to heaven where he was brought before the very throne of God in a vision (Ibid p70).
Most of us dismiss such accounts because of the source. We realize that the Charismatics and Vineyard people have a faulty view of revelation and that is their primary problem. But how do we handle the very same type of mysticism from some in our camp? This is where some will get upset, but we encourage you to read what the following men are saying and ask yourself if their view of Scripture is fundamentally different from the Charismatic’s. We can only take the time to examine three individuals, yet they are three of the biggest names in Christianity. More importantly, they are men who represent mainline evangelicalism. To me, their view of revelation, as leading evangelicals whose ministries are followed by millions, is absolutely frightening.
Hybels is Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, probably the largest church in America. He is also the mastermind behind the “seeker-sensitive” church growth movement that has redefined how the church goes about its work. His influence is massive. In Hybels’ book, Honest to God, he tells that “journaling” is how he keeps “connected” to God. There is certainly nothing wrong with writing down your thoughts of God, or insights from Scripture. But it is when Hybel decides to listen to God that he runs into trouble. After he prays, Hybels asks God to speak to Him. He says, “Lord, you talked to your children all through history, and you said you’re an unchangeable God. Talk to me now. I’m listening. I’m open.” He then asks God four questions and often, “Gets impressions that are so strong and real I write them down.” His first question is, “What is the next step in my relationship with You?” If he senses nothing he interprets that to mean that everything is okay. At other times God specifically tells him of some move to take and he takes it. To his other questions concerning character development, family life and ministry, God always gives specific suggestions. God even will often tell him to write or call someone, or to give away a possession, or start a new ministry. Hybels assures us that these promptings don’t have to be understood, but they must be obeyed. He promises that these “moments of inspiration will become precious memories” (see pp 20-26).
It should be noted that Hybels’ methodology is used by various cults (e.g. the Oxford Movement) and even spiritism. This is not to say that Hybels is a cultist or spiritist but that he uses their methods. The idea in these false religions is to open the mind for direct communication from God (or gods). What has always made Christianity unique is that we have God’s communication already, we don’t need more. Instead, we are to study and obey what God has already revealed.
I realize that in many circles Dobson is virtually an untouchable. He has done much good for families, and he certainly stands for strong morals and high virtues. We would be in agreement with him on many issues, but not with his view of the Bible.
Dobson is careful to avoid theological issues whenever possible. He believes that his organization, Focus on the Family, is a ministry to families and as such, has little need for doctrine. Of course, this is a mistake. How can a Christian organization hope to instruct believers on family issues without drawing their principles from the Bible. Ah, but that is the point. While Dobson certainly makes limited use of the Scriptures, his primary sources are psychology (his key teaching concerns the need for good self-esteem, an unbiblical and anti-biblical concept, straight out of humanistic psychology), experience, common sense, and especially pertinent for our discussion today, direct revelation from God.
This is most obvious in his book, Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives. In the second chapter of that book, Dobson discusses the source of much of his ministry. It does not come from the Scriptures, but from the Lord’s direct revelations to Dobson.
The Lord first spoke to Dobson’s father informing him of a joint project between he and his son that would be of utmost importance. What that project would be was not revealed, however.Then years later, as Dobson was rushing to his dying father’s hospital bed, the Lord spoke to him. Although the voice was not audible, somehow the Lord said, “You are going to write a book for husbands and fathers, based on the life of your dad. The inspiration will be derived from his values, his dedications, his walk with Me. This is the joint venture of which I spoke two years ago.” Later Dobson asked the Lord for more specifics. He said to the Lord, “Why should I depend on my own puny insight and wisdom, when I can tap the resources of the Creator of families. Give me the concepts that you want me to communicate.” It is obvious at that point that Dr. Dobson did not believe that the Scriptures were sufficient to communicate God’s will concerning families. Something more was needed, and that something was a direct word from the Lord to Dobson. Dobson writes again, “I experienced one of those quiet moments of awareness when I knew the Lord had spoken.” Here were God’s instructions: “If America is going to survive the incredible stresses and dangers it now faces, it will be because husbands and fathers again place their families at the highest level of their system of priorities, reserving a portion of their time and energy for leadership within their home!” The emphasis of Dobson’s ministry since that time has been based upon this extrabiblical revelation, not upon the Word of God.
Again we can sympathize with Dobson’s basic ministry. We stand with him in the battle for the family. But are we to ignore his view of the Scriptures? His concepts do not emerge from the Bible, but from his mystical experiences, clinical training and so forth. Are we to place Dobson’s revelation in the canon? Of course not. Even Dobson would agree here. But, did he hear from God or not? If he did, then that revelation should carry divine authority. If he did not, then he has added to the Scriptures, something John warns us not to do (Rev 22:18,19). What concerns us even more, is that there is little outcry from God’s people concerning such things. Why is Dobson not held to account for such views? Is it possible that the evangelical community has so fallen asleep that we no longer are alarmed when our leaders are claiming direct revelation?
Stanley’s ministry and influence is immense. He has a large television and radio ministry, he is the author of numerous books, and is pastor of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the world. He is well respected in evangelical circles and has had a positive impact on thousands of lives. However, I believe that Stanley is on the cutting edge of noncharismatic mysticism. He is easily the most consistently mystical of the three leaders we are discussing.
In His book, How to Listen to God, Stanley, using the same rational as Hybels, states that he believes that since God never changes, and since He spoke in the past, then He has promised to speak to us today (p133). A clear statement of how God does this is found on p 128: “Many people do not fully believe that God speaks today. If we think we get direction only through Scripture, then we miss out on much of what God has to share, because He will speak so often through His Spirit, circumstances,and other people. We must make absolutely certain that we are fully convinced and persuaded that God does speak to us personally…”
Just how far does Stanley push this idea that God speaks to us today? As an example, on one occasion he was involved in a financial deal. When he was asked how much he would pay for the property, “The Spirit of God immediately spoke to him and said, ‘Don’t answer that.'” Stanley said that “God’s Spirit spoke to me very clearly and distinctly, giving me the proper direction I needed. …When I say the Holy Spirit ‘speaks,’ I do not mean audibly. Rather, He impresses His will in my spirit or mind, and I hear Him in my inner being. Though not audible, the communication is precise nevertheless” (pp16,17). On another occasion a friend, “Informed me that God had spoken to him that morning in prayer and had given him a particular message for me. I was to spend the next day fasting and praying before I made my decision” (p34).
Not only do Stanley and his friends receive “precise” communication from God in their minds, at least on one from God in their minds, at least on one occasion God was even more direct. “I had been rather restless in my spirit and knew God was up to something, but didn’t know exactly what. Then one night, out of desperation I cried out to God, asking Him to reveal His purpose. God replied quickly and bluntly, ‘I am going to move you.’ I said, ‘When?’ In a split second the word September flashed across my mind, and immediately my burden was lifted.” That September he moved to Atlanta. He says, “God revealed Himself, not because I was seeking a vision or a dream, but because I was seeking His mind. It was a vision, nevertheless…” (p11).
If there exists a difference between what Stanley says and what Wimber says, we are at a loss to know what it is. They both have the same exact view of revelation beyond the Scriptures. They both receive visions and direct instruction from the Lord? As a matter of fact, Wayne Grudem, a VM theologian, wrote a whole book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, promoting the exact same view of revelation as Stanley’s, in almost the exact words.
How can the individuals that we have been discussing be certain that they are not being deceived by what they think is God’s guidance? After all, the Bible offers no techniques for determining the voice of God. They would say that the experience itself is self-authenticating. If one believes he has heard from God, and especially if things work out (pragmatism), then apparently God has spoken. Right? Who are we to question such experiences? And if this is how our leaders receive guidance from God, then why not us? More importantly, where will such views of revelation take the evangelical church in the years to come?
Ironically, Stanley gives a warning that we all should heed. “Satan doesn’t knock on the front door and say, ‘Hi, I’m Satan.’ He comes in the back door using the most cunning, convincing, persuasive language possible. The best way in the world to deceive believers is to cloak a message in religious language and declare that it conveys some new insight from God” (p56). We could only pray that men like Stanley would realize that they have been deceived, and are deceiving millions concerning the revelation of God.
Noncharistmatic evangelical Christianity has definitely taken on a mystical bent in recent days. While never denying the authority of Scripture as such, many of our biggest names regularly point to mystical experiences as the basis for much of what they do and believe. While we will document our concerns directly from the writings of these leaders, we encourage you to examine them for yourself. Please keep in mind that we are not necessarily against the individuals that we will mention. Many are fine Christians who have been greatly used of the Lord in many ways. But we are concerned that their weak view of the Scriptures will ultimately cause great harm in the body of Christ. We agree with David Well’s assessment, “Granting the status of revelation to anything other than the Word of God inevitably has the effect of removing that status from the Word of God. What may start out as an additional authority alongside the Word of God will eventually supplant its authority altogether” (God in the Wasteland p109). We are also reminded of Martin Luther’s pledge, “If I declare with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of God’s truth except for the one bit which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ no matter how boldly I may be professing Christ” (Protestants and Catholics, Do They Now Agree? p165).