Some Thoughts on Inter-religious Dialogue

Of late I have been following a controversy recently created and stirred up by professing Christians among the “right” in U.S. politics. This controversy primarily surrounds one event (taking place over the course of two evenings) started and participated in by Dr. James White – specifically a dialogue that Dr. White had with a Muslim imam named Yasir Qadhi – and unfortunately the critics focus most of their attention on lambasting and slandering the persons involved. I wish to avoid that end of the controversy, however, and address the views that are being promoted by the critics where it involves how a Christian should interact with unbelievers – particularly members of other religions.

(Side NOTE: the dialogues in question can be found at these links: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=updtj99Fp80 & https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=r2tPHLOej1w . . . For those interested in being better able to share the Gospel with Muslims, I would highly recommend them)

Now, one of the more reasonable arguments I’ve heard from the critics of the dialogues has been pulled from Scripture by referencing 2 John 7-11. Their argument is basically that a public meeting, for the purpose of merely discussing certain issues, should never be held among Christians and people of another faith – because that would violate the spirit of the passage referenced. (Their argument particularly centers around a very fearful view of Islam, however I believe my summary captures the essence of the argument.)

The first thing the reader should note about the passage mentioned – and many like it (e.g. Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 & 14, etc.) – is that the author is primarily warning followers of Christ away from the poison of those who practice and believe things that go against the teachings of Christ. The context of many of Scripture’s warnings against false teaching is false teaching and practice that tries to claim to be Christian.

Put another way, Scripture’s concern is to keep disciples away from false doctrine that claims to be in the same vein as what Christ would teach. It does not necessarily address false religions that do not associate themselves with Christianity, possibly because it is easier to recognize that they are not of God.

However, the strong language against the apostate does not necessarily correlate to assuming the disciples of Christ should treat the unbeliever with the same severity (at least, not at all times). In fact, I would say the actions of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles is reason enough to think that we should regularly be interacting with the lost. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 implies their having worked daily among unbelievers as well as believers; the whole book of Acts would give examples – but Acts 17:16-21 is a pointed example; and obviously Jesus spent much time with people who He knew would end up deserting Him – John 6:64-66. Now, I have heard one radio talk show host complain not so much about the conversation but the “official public format” of the dialogues participated in by Dr. White and Dr. Qadhi. My question, however, is how is a public format any different than the examples cited? Other than the fact that more people get to learn and participate in the format used by Dr. White?

Lastly, unfortunately it seems this whole thing has become a controversy because so many Republicans in America fear (and sometimes despise) Muslims, and that extends into American Christianity because of how it identifies itself with Republicanism. I would encourage the reader not to make that mistake – a Christian’s politics might primarily be conservative (because of being affected by Scripture), but that does not mean the views or position of the “conservative right” are by default Christian.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

No disciple of Christ should fear anyone of any ideology or religion that sets itself up against God. Take courage, Christian, and share the Gospel with your neighbor (Muslim or otherwise) and treat them with love and respect as you do so.

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Believer’s authority – Part 2

A critical examination of the doctrine of “the believer’s authority” as taught by Kenneth Hagin in his book of the same title.

(NOTE: Kenneth Hagin recounts having changed and repetitiously “prayed” Paul’s prayers in The first half of Ephesians over himself many times… for fuller context; see “Part 1”)

“I spent about six months praying this way during the winter of 1947-48. Then the first thing I was praying for started to happen. I had been praying for “the spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17), and the spirit of revelation began to function! I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before. It just began to open up to me.” ~ Kenneth Hagin, the Believer’s Authority – page 10

A question to the reader: does a “spirit” (when in reference to a human being) have to be “activated” or “accessed” in order to “function,” so to speak? And, if so, why isn’t there clear instruction in Scripture for this practice?

Another thing I will put out there for the reader to ponder; I personally always retranslate phrases like “I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before” and “it[the Bible] just began to open up to me” as actually meaning something along the lines of “now the text doesn’t actually say what I’m about to tell you, but…”

Think about it, especially when coming from someone who’d supposedly been teaching the Bible for many years (14 in Hagin’s case – pg 11), why should we trust them when they begin to teach something diametrically opposed to a normal understanding of the Scriptures?

For instance, the second actual bit of Scripture Hagin quotes in his book is Ephesians 6:12 (notice, he skips a massive portion of the Epistle before giving any exegesis… and supposedly his book is a “study based on Ephesians”) – he then goes on to blather and bluster about “our authority over such evil spirits”(pg 12) when there is nothing about “authority” even within the context of the text he quotes. Now, he tries to make it sound like it is by telling us that we must ‘think of this passage in light of what Paul wrote elsewhere,'(pg 12) but fails to give any form of direct quotation.

(Side NOTE: I would like to know who on earth the people are that “think that authority over the devil belongs to only a few chosen people to whom God has given special power”(pg 12) according to Hagin… notice again, no references or sources)

What he does do is try to reference “being born again” and tie that to this assumed “authority in Christ” without giving any Scriptural basis for the presupposition.

The same page(12) of Hagin’s book leads me to caution the reader about trusting the teaching of anyone who thinks they know so much about Satan and his wants and desires. Where is it told us in Scripture what “the devil” does and does not want us to know or do? Again, I plead with the reader not to allow wolves like Hagin the ground for their presuppositions that have no basis in Scripture.

Although we are told in Ephesians 6 that as disciples of Christ we now primarily wrestle/struggle (notice there is no concept of “overwhelming victory” in the passage – it simply mentions the act of “striving against”) against “spiritual forces,” there is no reason to assume that the evil thoughts and schemes of men are not also in view here – do we not face such “spiritual darkness” when we preach the Gospel to a hostile crowd and call upon the Holy Spirit to make dead men alive?

In any case, the next passage of Scripture that Hagin quotes is Ephesians 1:3.

“Ephesians 1:3 reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us [the whole Church] with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.The American Standard Version renders “all spiritual blessings” as “every spiritual blessing.” This means every spiritual blessing there is. In Christ, all spiritual blessings belong to us. Authority belongs to us whether we realize it or not. But just knowing this isn’t enough. It’s knowledge acted upon that brings results! It’s a tragedy for Christians to go through life and never find out what belongs to them.” ~ Last paragraph of page 12, “The Believer’s Authority”

First, I’m sure the reader has already noted the lack of context given by Hagin when he quotes the text. And he has forced an assumption upon the phrase “spiritual blessing” merely based upon the presence of a word that can be translated into English as either “every” or “all.” Where in the text does it say that “authority” falls under the category of a “spiritual blessing?”

Also, with all of the clear teaching given on justification and salvation in and through Jesus Christ in Paul’s other Epistles, why is there not more clear teaching on how this gives the believer supposedly supernatural powers of control over supernatural beings? Are we really expected to just assume the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit given the Christian to fight temptation, flee from sin, and do what is pleasing in the sight of God should include some vague notion of “bossing around demons,” as it were?

Obviously Hagin’s primary problem here, as usual, is in interpretation.

The purpose, extent, and descriptions of these “spiritual blessings” the Christian is given is explained in Paul’s following words starting in verse 4!

Just read the first 2 chapters of Ephesians with the goal of understanding what Paul’s primary point was and you will easily see that the wonder and glory of God (and His worthiness to be praised) in the salvation of wicked men and women through Jesus Christ is the highest idea within Paul’s words! Anyone who would try to make this about the “awesome power(ahem, given by God, of course) of the Believer” over ANYTHING is deceived and/or attempting to deceive others.

Thus far Hagin gives very little support for the presumptive statements he makes about his chosen topic. In future posts I will do my best to more thoroughly address the Scripture that Hagin tries to use – but for now I wish to press upon the reader, once again, the need to acknowledge (if not outright challenge) the assumptions presented with no Biblical bases by Hagin and those of the Word of Faith movement for their false doctrine of “the believer’s authority.”

Believer’s authority – Part 1

A critical examination of the doctrine of “the believer’s authority” as taught by Kenneth Hagin in his book of the same title.

Kenneth E Hagin is often referred to as the father of the “Word of Faith” movement – a particular brand of the ‘health and wealth’ or ‘prosperity’ “gospel” – and I would submit to the reader that his definitive manifesto, if you will, was “The Believer’s Authority.”

If not in all cases, it is certainly within my personal experience with “Faith” people that the doctrines espoused within Hagin’s book are key and essential to these people’s very religion.

And so, in providing this examination and criticism of the book, I hope to prevent others from falling into the “Word of Faith” trap, and perhaps offer a light to help those who are already adherents a way out of that cloud and mire.

First, before addressing specific passages of Scripture quoted and statements made in the book, the reader must understand that, like all authors, there are a very many assumptions and presuppositions within what Hagin wrote. In reading anything – even my own words here – I urge the reader to think critically about the content of words and utilize what ever learning they have and resources at their disposal to test what they read. Just because someone makes a statement using a quote from something before it and then using similar language, does not mean their argument stems from or is consistent with what they quoted.

Secondly, if a teacher encourages verbal repetition and memorization or adjustment of a portion of Scripture with no emphasis toward critical thinking and study, be very wary of that teacher. For instance, in the first chapter (page 11) of the “Believer’s Authority” Hagin tells about how he “personalized” the prayers of Paul in Ephesians 1:16-20 & 3:14-19 to “pray” them for himself over and over again – and encourages the reader to do so, without giving any Scriptural basis or reason for doing so… I might point out that the words of our Lord in Matthew 6:7 came to mind as I read this account and suggestion.

Finally the reader should always have this question as a base to examine an idea that is presented to them: is the focus and goal of this idea to glorify God, or to puff up mankind?

And with that we shall begin the Foreword of “the Believer’s Authority” (I am using a PDF of the book that I found online – according to the file it is the “Second Edition – Twenty-Second Printing 1996. ISBN 0-89276-406-6”

The Assumptions of the Foreword

Right from the outset, Hagin gives us the unorthodox and man-centered assumption that he presumably will prove throughout the course of the book; that is that “believers” have some form of undefined, supernatural “authority” given them to use on earth, a power of which they have been failing to take advantage.

He gives us this assumption clearly not only in the foreword of the book, but in the very first sentence; “Back in the 1940s, I asked myself the question, “Do we have authority that we don’t know about – that we haven’t discovered – that we’re not using?””

May I suggest to the reader that this is never how you should approach the Religion of God? Starting with a question that didn’t even come from Holy Writ is dangerous territory to dabble in – the Scriptures should never be approached with a presupposing request for information on a topic it may very well never address.

Now the concept of “authority” is addressed in the Bible, but again, that doesn’t mean we approach the text with a question that presupposes something, because that opens the door to a plethora of misinterpretations.

Which leads to my next thought on the Foreword. Hagin then mentions that he did “word studies” on “power” and “authority,” another questionable and ill-advised tactic that often ends in the “studier” just finding the answers their question assumes – especially when they have no grounding in or understanding of the cultures or languages the original manuscripts of the Scriptures were written in.

In short, the assumptions of Hagin’s book are clear and manifest in the Foreword. The reader’s first questions should be, “why ask this question?” and, “is there even Biblical warrant for it?”

Chapter 1: the Prayers of Paul

In his introduction to chapter 1 Hagin tells us that his book is based on Ephesians, but he only encourages us to read (repetitively) the first three chapters of the Biblical text (pg 9). (I would encourage the reader to read the entirety of the Epistle, if they would like to follow in depth.)

Then he goes on to point out Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians in the first three chapters of the Epistle, at which point he writes “the turning point in my life came when I prayed these prayers for myself more than a thousand times.“(pg 10, italics original)

His subsequent explanation of that I have already addressed where it comes to the vain repetition, however, the reader’s other concern should be that Hagin seems to have a very twisted understanding of what Paul actually meant by what he prayed. But Hagin doesn’t even bother to explain to the reader what he believes Paul means or why he believes it.

We are given a pretty good indication of the vague, superpowerish view Hagin has of some of the things Paul prayed for by his statement in the last paragraph of page 10 when he writes “the spirit of revelation began to function!”

His following proclamation of “I began to see things in the Bible I had never seen before”(pg 10) and his declaration that he “grew spiritually” more in six months than he had “14 years as a minister”(pg 11) does not help me trust that he suddenly gained a “better” understanding of Scripture. Especially not when almost immediately after quotes himself as saying to his wife, “I was so ignorant of the Bible…”(of 11); his ignorance is plain from his view and use of the text of Scripture.

The verse he works these claims, quotes/paraphrasing, and conclusions from, in context is this (I have emphasized the phrase Hagin pulled from the text)

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward uswho believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:15-21 (ESV)

From reading the passage in its entirety it becomes obvious that the “spirit of revelation” mentioned in verse 17 is one in the same with the “spirit of wisdom” – and, regardless of what you think this “spirit” actually is, it is obviously that it’s primary purpose is to grant knowledge and confidence or hope in who God is. The entire idea that Paul lays out in verse 18 and following is the awesome greatness of God the Father in His glory, who has granted us salvation and relationship/peace with Him through Jesus Christ.

The fact that Hagin just rips “the spirit of revelation” out of that context to claim some kind of “new” ability to “see things” in the text for himself just indicates to me that Hagin never had or gained a proper understanding of Scripture…

I will return to this subject later, for now I will leave the reader to consider the thoughts and questions posed this far.

~ J D White

Food-for-Thought & Terribly Accurate Satire

http://www.piratechristian.com/messedupchurch/2017/6/when-did-the-church-turn-into-amway

http://babylonbee.com/news/bee-explains-prosperity-gospel/

More on Positive Confession

In hope of helping the reader study and guard themselves against “positive confession” I thought I’d share a couple helpful articles/videos that were helpful to me…

The Christian Research Institute has a lengthy and good article presenting the mistaken assumptions and ideas used to promote positive confession and refuting them with careful observations from Scripture – http://www.equip.org/article/positive-confession/

And last would be Justin Peters’ Clouds Without Water seminar (previously titled “A Call for Discernment”). This is a well done seminar critiquing the Word of Faith movement from a Biblical perspective… although he does not spend a lot of time on positive confession, Mr. Peters does a good job of addressing other heretical doctrines that lead to and spring from it.

A Brief Examination of Positive Confession…

What is “positive confession?” Positive confession is one of THE key doctrines in the Word of Faith movement – also known as the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel – and can be summed up thusly: it is essentially the doctrine of man’s ability to speak things(primarily circumstantial, relational, emotional, and/or physical) into existence – stated differently, it is the doctrine of man’s god-like ability to create and/or modify reality merely by the power of his spoken words.

Like many doctrines of false religion, this one has many forms and extents – depending on who’s teaching it – and it also touches upon many different concepts in its full consideration; however, for the sake of keeping this post fairly short, I will be addressing the purely verbal/spoken end of the doctrine.

Though there are quite a few passages in the Bible used by those who teach the doctrine, Proverbs 18:21 – in my experience – is the most often quoted “go-to text” by those who assume the doctrine to be orthodox. I notice, however, that they rarely(if ever) quote the last half of the verse. Indeed, if my experience with those who quote it for this purpose were any gauge, one would assume there was no “other half.”

It is almost funny how often just going one or two verses back or ahead will undercut the misinterpretation of those who teach that this has anything to do with the supernatural “power” of a human being’s words. For instance, verses 19 & 20 seem to be in the same vein and are entirely ‘relational’ in nature. Nothing metaphysical or supernatural is implied. So why assume so in verse 21?

NOTE: the same principle is suggested in Proverbs 12:12-20 – and I would point the reader to the context of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:36-37… also, the reader of the Book of Proverbs should always keep in mind that it is not the same form of literature as is found in the Old Testament Prophets or the New Testament Epistles, etc…

James 3:6 is a close runner-up I’ve heard used to teach positive confession. The context, however, would again indicate a primarily ‘relational’ concept.The god-like ability to “speak things into reality” can be nowhere accurately drawn from these passages of Scripture – the idea must be forced upon them; or they must be ripped and twisted out of context to even get there.

The strongest argument (meaning non-Olympian level eisegesis) for the doctrine I have heard made from Mark 11:22-24. However, positive confessors seem to miss the fact that Jesus here is primarily speaking of prayer. The context itself also precludes inserting any form of constant, non-God-commanded, daily speech being full of “power,” idea.

NOTE: see also James 4 for a good idea of how the apostles took and practically applied Jesus’ teaching later on…

Obviously this doctrine is quite a bit more complex (as is it’s refutation) and pervasive in the worldview of it’s adherents than has been drawn out here, but, again, for the sake of brevity I’ll leave the reader to ponder and study further on their own.

I hope this was interesting and/or helpful.

“If/Then” Statements in Relation to the Nature of God

My theological knowledge that was more orthodox than heretical began to develop in leaps and bounds around the age of 20 (I have no specific “conversion” memory, so I have no specific year to point at – let alone day) when I began to seriously study and read through whole books of the Bible in one sitting. That said, the idea that I am about to argue for was only a seed in my mind that wasn’t articulated until discussing origins theories with (at the time) my soon to be wife – so I will mostly be framing this concept within that realm.

This may come as a shock (or mild surprise) to some readers, but in my experience there are three groups of thought on origins theories within the Church (I.e. True believers disagree on which theory is the most Biblical). Those groups are “Young-Earth Creationists,” “Old-Earth Creationists,” and “Theistic Evolutionists” (I’ve heard Hugh Ross recently tossing around “young universe” etc. but as far as I know these terms are still widely used, so I’ll stick with them). Neither my wife or I find evolution to be a valid theory on any basis, so I will mostly be speaking in terms of the other two – also, both the former views tend to shy away from evolution as a validly scientific theory.

The names pretty much speak for themselves so I will not here go into more detail than this; Young-Earthers believe in a literal, 24-hour interpretation of Genesis 1 and a global flood, while Old-Earthers take a slightly less “literal” approach to Genesis 1 (thus allowing for about fourteen-billion years as opposed to ten-thousand for the age of the universe), and they believe in a “local” (but HUGE) flood…

That said, some groups in the Church are incredibly passionate about this topic and there has unfortunately developed a quite aggressive mindset among some in debating it. Though my wife and I have quite a few thoughts on what many Christians do wrong (and right) in this debate among brethren, one thing has always stood out to both of us as an essential that both sides SHOULD agree on; and that is this matter of “if/then” statements about God.

It has seemed to us that Young-Earth advocates seem to make this mistake more often than others in that many of them will make negative statements about God having been “wasteful” or “evil/sadistic” if He allowed or caused death and/or sickness to exist before the Fall of Man. However, I have also encountered Old-Earth advocates making negative statements about God being “deceptive” if the earth is young(thousands of years) because it looks old(millions of years)…

As the wise, unbiased, God-fearing reader will already know, even a hypothetical statement claiming that God is “bad” in any of those ways indicated above is an utter blasphemy that should never even cross a Christian’s mind, let alone his lips!

It shocks me how many professing to know and follow Christ do not seem to grasp this basic concept: God is the very DEFINITION of “Good.” (Revelation 4:8, Job 38-40, Isaiah 45:5-10, Psalm 24, Psalm 50, Colossians 1:16-17, etc.) As the Maker and Sustainer of all things He is the only being that can dictate “right and wrong,” define “good or bad.” And anything or anyone who rejects His Rules and/or Definitions is the very epitome of Evil.

The very expression “God is Holy, Holy, Holy,” is an acknowledgment of the fact that He is completely OTHER from His creation; He is SEPARATE in every meaning of the word as far as existence and/or being are concerned. Thus it is an absolute and obscene absurdity for any mere creature to pretend to be able to say something God does is “wrong” on any level!

So how should this effect our thoughts? Like so – if God deems it good/necessary to afflict the righteous or the wicked with a disease, then He is Good. If God decides to send a hurricane upon a continent, killing thousands of people and upsetting the lives of many more, He is Good. If God preserves the life of a child but gives it an intense disability, He is Good. So on and so forth, no need to explain His motives or reasons.

However, He HAS explained His reasons and motives to us in Scripture; He seeks to glorify Himself in Judging the wicked and unrepentant, and in showing Grace to a people for Himself. (Isaiah 45:5-10, Job 38-40, Psalm 50, Ezekiel 36:22-32, Exodus 4:11, Colossians 1:13-20, Romans, etc.)

Many will not like my implications that God is the source of calamity, disease, or any other thing that is not necessarily “good” for a person as people perceive it – but if they do not, that is merely because they have a sub-biblical view of God.

So, coming to a simple summary of my topic to close; God, as He IS and as He ACTS, is the VERY ESSENCE of what is Good, Right, and Perfect, and He dictates what is considered as such in His interactions with His creation, and in His creatures’ interactions with Him.