In the original review of Authentic Fire, Fred Butler and I didn’t address all the appendixes because of the four, the other three were already dealt with in various places on the internet. I felt it was appropriate to interact with Dr. Keener in depth, seeing that he is one of the oft cited intellectual defenders of the entire charismatic movement, and though this entry has be extensively reduced in size (I’ve cut it in half) and it’s still colossal…I apologize in advance to any CrippleGate readers who have ADD.
Appendix 1 Summary (Seeing that I’m interacting with the honored Dr. Craig Keener, I felt it was appropriate to change the image to something fitting)
Now that’s someone who would destroy me in a debate!
Okay! Let’s summarize Dr. Keener’s appendix. Dr. Keener’s appendix is broken into seven sections:
1. Introducing the Discussion
Dr. Keener opens the appendix stating that the appendix is being written before the book or the conference (there is a single footnote linking to his review of the Strange Fire book). He therefore states his disagreement with the themes of the conference, though he admits to seeing how someone can see “hard cessationism” in the Bible. He admits that witnessing abuses of the Spirit could tempt one to embrace cessationism, but suggests that abuses are no reason to reject something.
That being said, Dr. Keener writes “The main reason that I could never embrace cessationism, however, is that I am convinced that the biblical evidence is uniformly against it. That is, it is experience that has sometimes tempted me toward cessationism, and biblical authority that has prevented me from accepting it” (Kindle Locations 4858-4860). He references his two-volume work on miracles and also refers his readers to his biblical defense of the continuationism, stating “It is my impression that few scholars today would try to defend cessationism primarily from Scripture in any case” (Kindle Location 4876).
Continuing on, Dr. Keener defines his terms. He defines “charismatic” to mean “practicing continuationist—someone who not only believes in principle that biblical spiritual gifts are meant for the body of Christ after the first century (i.e. a noncessationist), but who also seeks to depend on the Spirit by using the gifts I have been given. In my case, this includes tongues in private prayer, sometimes prophecy, and most conspicuously and often, the gift of teaching” (Kindle Locations 4879-4882). Dr. Keener comments then about how the term “charismatic” has been hijacked to include things like the prosperity gospel but claims to use the term “charismatic” in a more historic, broader sense.
Dr. Keener then defines the term “cessationist” as a wide ranging term: it apparently is used by those “hard cessationists” who reject “anything supernatural” (i.e. miracles and demon possession), those moderate cessationists who accept miracles but reject the “supernatural gifts” (he dismisses the “natural” and “supernatural” distinction as unbiblical), and even those soft cessationists who suggest that God normally doesn’t act in miraculous ways outside of a rare occasion or places “where the gospel is breaking new ground” (Kindle Location 4894), which is undefined but appears to be a context like “frontier missions”.
2. Signs of God’s Compassion
Dr. Keener spends this section discussing miracles in general. He references his own work on the subject and makes the interesting claim “Despite some press the book receives, its purpose is to challenge not cessationism but antisupernaturalism— not the belief that dramatic miracles ceased but the belief that they cannot have ever occurred” (Kindle Locations 4919-4921). He comments on Augustine’s experiences of miraculous healing in response to prayer, as well as the “miracle accounts” of the French Huguenots, Cotton Mather, the Moravians, Mercy Wheeler, John Moorhead, John Wesley and Francis Shaeffer.
Dr. Keener then moves on to discuss how an anonymous survey claims that 86.4% of Brazilian Pentecostals claim to have experienced divine healing, another survey reports that “many tens of millions reported witnessing divine healing” (Kindle Location 4948) and those numbers include both charismatics and non-charismatics. He shares stories of people from various places in the world (India, Congo, etc.) who prayed for, and received, healing…including one instance of what sounds like it may have been a resurrection. Dr. Keener recounts several miracle accounts of his own as well, just for good measure. Interestingly, they involve a woman in a wheelchair who regained her ability to walk (or hobble with help), and Dr. Keener also recounts a story about his ankle that was horribly sore after an accident: he writes “I twisted my ankle and probably broke it” [Kindle Location 4988]. He recalls how it was instantly healed after prayer…though both the prayer and the healing happened three years after the initial accident.
3. Miracles Associated With The Spreading Of The Gospel
Dr. Keener then shifts gears from general miracles to signs, which he claims God often uses to draw attention to the gospel. Dr. Keener takes an ever-so-brief look into history books to connect signs with the proclamation of the gospel, writing “The majority of conversions to Christianity in the third and fourth centuries were due to healings and exorcisms” (Kindle Locations 4993).
Dr. Keener then shifts gears to talk about the present. He references J.P. Moreland’s work Kingdom Triangle and comments on how Moreland reports that “up to 70 percent of that growth involves “signs and wonders”” (Kindle Locations 4998-4999). Dr. Keener points to the church in China as being overrun by experiences of healing, apparently present in “half or more of all new conversions” in the final two decades of the 20th century. He continues on quotes various unnamed studies and revivals coming from India, Ecuador, the Philippines, Suriname, Congo and Nigeria…all involving vague allusions to large quantities of healing.
4. Tongues And Prophecy Today
It was at this point that Dr. Keener got to the stuff that was actually relevant to cessationism and Strange Fire. Dr. Keener makes a bee-line for 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. He takes “the perfect” as “Christ’s return” and then tells a story about how he had an interaction with an elder at a Baptist church who said that “the perfect” was “the Bible” and Dr. Keener responds that “the perfect” obviously cannot be the Bible. He further attacks the idea that “the perfect” is “the Bible” and makes it quite clear that “the perfect” that is coming is not the Bible.
Dr. Keener then starts talking about prophecy and how God still “speaks” and writes:
I do not look for new doctrinal revelations; but I certainly look for God to speak at times. At the very least this communication is the Spirit reassuring our hearts that we are God’s children (Romans 8: 16; and what is this, if not “experiential”?), and the Spirit declaring God’s love to us through the cross (Romans 5: 5-9). (Kindle Locations 5083-5085)
Dr. Keener comments on the need for a “subjective, personal relationship with God” and comments that such was the experience of everyone in the Bible, from Abraham to Paul. He then comments on the reality of fallible prophecy in the New Testament by stating “…prophecies were not infallible even in the New Testament, where, even among believers, they had to be tested (1 Corinthians 14: 29; 1 Thessalonians 5: 20-21)” (Kindle Locations 5089-5090) and makes a passing reference to how cessationists ignore 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 14:39.
Dr. Keener then goes on to give “examples” of contemporary prophecies. He tells a long story of when his African wife received generic prophecies in Congo about marrying a white man in ministry, how their cultural differences would be all right, and how he would write “two big books”.
Then addressing the question of tongues, Dr. Keener talks about how Del Tarr, a Pentecostal academician and linguistics scholar, has personally witnessed people speaking in a foreign language in a Pentecostal worship service. Apparently one of Dr. Keeners’ students’ mother was converted by the gospel being preached in tongues. Dr. Keener closes off his talk about tongues with a story of how his own personal conversion involved ecstatic speech.
5. Hard Cessationist Criticisms of African Christianity
Dr. Keener finally moves on to address the Strange Fire statements about Africa and addresses Conrad Mbewe. Dr. Keener suggests that Conrad Mbewe’s generalizations about the wide acceptance of the prosperity gospel “leave a false impression of African Christians” and “Such an approach allows hard cessationists to dismiss the value of miracle claims from Africa and much of the Majority World” (Kindle Locations 5138-5139). Dr. Keener has spent much time in Africa, including living there for a while, but his real expertise comes from his Congolese wife who “holds a PhD in history and is conversant with a wide range of African cultures and history” (Kindle Location 5143). She’s not from a Pentecostal denomination but the Congolese people in her theological circles see the Pentecostals as excessive and yet still welcomed the gifts of the Spirit and recognized the criticisms made by Mbewe but saw them as obvious deviations from the norm.
Dr. Keener comments on how many westerners are likely not too comfortable with African culture or religious expression, but that doesn’t mean that the accusations of syncretism are as widespread as Mbewe (and others) might suggest. Non-western people don’t have the western aversion to miracles and also are more “charismatic” in other ways (like experiencing God in dreams) and few Africans are cessationists. Dr. Keener points to the Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria as responsible charismatic churches that teach the scriptures and still experience the gifts. Dr. Keener refers to an unnamed survey that suggests that 85% of non-Pentecostals in Jos, Nigeria think that Pentecostals are genuine Christians and 75% of those same people think that Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible. Dr. Keener interestingly then comments that most African churches don’t receive western funding (except the prosperity preaching churches) and also that a majority of the African Christians have little to no theological training. He closes off this section by agreeing that there are widespread abuses and counterfeit miracles, but contests that there is also widespread faithfulness and authentic miracles.
6. Charges Of Charismatic Syncretism
Dr. Keener moves on from speaking about tongues, prophecy and Africa in order to discuss the charges of syncretism. Dr. Keener quotes MacArthur as saying that a majority of Pentecostals are not Christians and suggests that this, in combination with the comments made about African pastors functioning like witch doctors, leads Dr. Keener to believe that MacArthur is charging the movement with widespread syncretism. Dr. Keener continues and protests that even if error is widespread, it’s not due to silence on the behalf of Pentecostals and charismatics since “many of us have spoken explicitly on these points” (Kindle Location 5258) but those critiques are only read by those who agree with them. He refers to critiques by Gordon Fee (who wrote The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels), Julie Ma (a Korean missiologist at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies), his professors at the AOG college and seminary that he attended, and himself.
Dr. Keener recalls how a decade ago he almost wrote a book on prosperity teaching but the publisher turned it down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore” (Kindle Location 5275). Dr. Keener then writes:
“In some locations where I ministered, my primary colleagues in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel assumed prosperity teachings because they had been taught them. At the same time, these teachings were incidental to their faith that was also nourished by regular study of Scripture. More than their commitment to prosperity teachings, they firmly believed the saving gospel, lived sacrificially, and were leading people to Christ. Some in time did recognize errors on various points and left them behind.” (Kindle Locations 5281-5284).
He suggests that the proper response to the prosperity gospel is a loving dialogue rather than pronouncing them to be missing out on the kingdom, which would actually be a false gospel in itself since it would be adding doctrinal considerations to Christ’s saving work in order to be saved. Dr. Keener cites an unnamed survey that says that a majority of Africans believe that “God can provide prosperity through faith” and suggests that many Africans simply trust God to provide their basic needs, which Matt. 6:25-32 instructs them to do and admits that people in the third world emulate American consumerism, which is the real problem behind the prosperity gospel (which only gives a theological justification to consumerism).
Dr. Keener then discusses how some cessationists posted ignorant comments about Congo on Amazon.com in reviews of his book on miracles, and comments about how “guilt by association” is committed by “hypercesstionists”, giving the example of Rolland and Heidi Baker and plays the “at least they’re doing it” card.
Dr. Keener goes on to suggest that the real problem might be a “western log” in our eye. He comments that when he was converted, he struggled to overcome his naturalistic way of thinking and again suggests that this is the substructure behind belief in hard cessationism and again argues that hard cessationism is a form of syncretism with empirical naturalism and deism. He closes off this section admitting that “most hard cessationists are my brothers and sisters in Christ” and writes “I would , however, urge them to lay aside the cultural and experiential prejudice they have against God’s activity and hear Scripture more clearly” (Kindle Locations 5366-5367).
Dr. Keener closes off ironically saying “Sometimes people with gifts for teaching and people with gifts for evangelism (or other gifts) oppose one another, perhaps because we have spiritual pride” (Kindle Locations 5368-5369) and continues on writing “Claims that have been widely circulated by some in MacArthur’s circle— such as that most charismatics are not Christians or that the vast majority of African evangelicals are heretical— are not merely overstated. They are slander and they divide God’s people” (Kindle Locations 5369-5371).
Appendix 1 Comments (continuing my theme of “British Heartthrobs”, I’ll be represented by someone suitably distanced in coolness from Dr. Who)
Before we get going, I’d like to take a moment and make some general observations, but in the interest of space I’d refer readers to my original post for the details and give a nutshell summary: in the appendix he wrote, Dr. Craig Keener isn’t addressing Strange Fire at all. He wrote the appendix before the book/conference and every point he addresses has been openly denied by John MacArthur for decades. Dr. Keener clearly hasn’t really studied cessationism but he doesn’t have to; he’s Dr. Craig Keener and as such can tell cessationists what they believe because, well, cessationists apparently don’t actually know. They’ve blindly swallowed overtly pagan philosophy like empirical naturalism and deism, but Dr. Craig Keener is here to save us cessationists from our theologically knuckle-dragging selves.
1. Introducing the Discussion
I’m kinda surprised that Dr. Keener is contributing to a response to a specific book and openly admits that he hasn’t even read the book.
I loved it how he defined “charismatic” in the absolute broadest terms possible (he included the “gift of teaching”…?!?) and openly admitted to using the term outside of its contemporary meaning, but he defined “cessationist” in a way that no cessationist would consider remotely fair. It was hilarious to me how he pronounced that most scholars are “continuationists” and then turned around and said “though most do not highlight most gifts or practice them in public worship” (Kindle Locations 4900-4901). In other words, according to the usage of “charismatic” that most people would understand, most scholars aren’t charismatic. When he named the scholars who would be “charismatic” in the sense that most regular people would understand, he only named four fellows beyond himself.
2. Signs of God’s Compassion
This entire section is entirely irrelevant to the issues around Strange Fire. Period.
Then there’s the whole “sore ankle” story or the women in the wheelchair who *sorta* could walk after someone prayed for her. Why is it that every story I hear that’s tossed out as some sort of “evidence” for people having the gift of healing looks nothing like the examples set forth by Jesus and the Apostles?
Why does nobody seem to be able to answer why I don’t see or hear about events like Acts 3:6-10 or John 9:1-34 happening anywhere? I’m not talking about people praying and the sick getting healed; as a cessationist I expect that. I’m talking about people who claim to have the gift of healing in the same sense that Jesus and the apostles did. I’m talking about divinely selected people being given the gift of healing and perform instantaneous, complete, public, irrefutable and documented (or documentable) healing of objectively verifiable physical infirmity (i.e. terminal disease or paralysis or outwardly manifest physical deformity). I’m talking about God healing through an individual at the discretion of that individual. I’m talking about someone yelling “rise up and walk” and a cripple hopping to their feet and doing the Harlem Shake. Jesus did it all the time and so did the apostles…with possibly the exception of the Harlem Shake (it’s in the Greek…promise…).
People cry “foul” when cessationists ask for an example of someone, anywhere, going and cleaning out a cancer ward. Jesus and his apostles did that regularly (Matt. 4:24, 8:16, 12:15; Mark 3:10; Luke 4:40, 6:19; Acts 5:16, 8:7). Jesus healed people of blindness, paralysis, open festering wounds that were chronic, leprosy, etc. When I’m referred to stories of some sort of “out of the wheelchair” healing that is performed by a person who claims to have the gift of healing, it either doesn’t look anything like biblical healings. Dr. Keeners example where the woman slowly regaining the ability to hobble is a blasphemous sub-biblical mockery of what real healing looks like and Dr. Keener should be actually ashamed of trying to pass off such an obvious and laughable fraud as the real deal.
3. Miracles Associated With The Spreading Of The Gospel
Dr. Keener’s point about signs pointing people to the gospel was subtly wrong. God has never used signs to point people to the gospel but rather to verify his spokesmen (namely prophets and apostles) as authentic. As for his claims about “a majority of conversions” in the third and fourth centuries, he’s simply making unsubstantiated claims that I’m ignoring as nonsense…and it’s interesting how he needs to pull out Catholic saints like St. Boniface (whose most famous miracle was cutting down a tree). That seems absurdly desperate.
As for his citation of J.P. Moreland and how “up to 70 percent of that growth involves ‘signs and wonders'” (Kindle Locations 4998-4999), I simply say “well, the Bible clearly teaches that, statistically speaking, 100% of people don’t have divine insight into their own circumstances.” Outlandish statistics from all over the world that suggest that people think they’re experiencing miracles en masse means nothing. Why would I believe that what they think is happening is actually happening?
4. Tongues And Prophecy Today
In 1 Cor. 13:8-12, “the perfect” isn’t the Bible, regardless of the beliefs expressed by a random elder in a Baptist Church (where all true scholars get their information, right? It’s not like intelligent cessationists write books or anything…). I agree that it’s the second coming, but I’m still a cessationist.
God doesn’t still speak through contemporary prophets, and Dr. Keener isn’t describing divine speech in that sense; Dr. Keener is actually a cessationist (and probably doesn’t realize it). The Spirit giving believers assurance of salvation in their hearts isn’t the same as “thus saith the Lord.” When charismatics talk about God still speaking, they are talking about personally receiving direct and propositional revelation from God (and not through reading the scripture, thinking about the scripture, hearing the scripture, etc.). People who receive propositional revelation from God are called “prophets.” There might be prophets around today (since “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13:8-12 is most likely the second coming), but the biblical definition of “prophet” still stands and so do the biblical tests…
…which brings me to his quote about fallible prophecy in the New Testament. Dr. Keener just astounds me here with one of the most lame-duck arguments I’ve heard in a while. Prophecies had to be tested in the Old Testament too (Deut. 13 & 18 anyone?) since there were false prophets. The reason you test prophecies in the Old and New Testaments isn’t because there’s such a thing as fallible prophecy and you have to discern the mixed prophecies made by a legitimate prophet; the reason you test prophecies is to discern who is a legitimate prophet in the first place!
Give me the Biblical standard for prophets (and a gun), and then show me a real prophet! Dr. Keener has never met one (i.e. a prophet with 100% accuracy who speaks God’s words in the place of God) and his fortune cookie examples involving “tall, dark and handsome strangers” reveal what a total farce he’s trying to peddle.
With regard to his comments on tongues, it’s strange how he seems to hold to multiple definitions of tongues. I don’t know if he thinks that there are two or three different types of tongues (or more), but I’ve written two posts (number one and number two) on the definition of “tongues” in the apostolic period and would suggest that Dr. Keener is quite thoroughly confused as to the definition of tongues.
5. Hard Cessationist Criticisms of African Christianity
Oh boy. Dr. Keener’s argument here boils down to “I know more about African Christianity than Conrad Mbewe because I married an African and lived there for a while…” Just the very thought that he’s more widely exposed to African culture or can somehow speak from a position of greater authority on Africa than Conrad Mbewe, an African pastor who has traveled the continent preaching and ministering for decades, is laughably arrogant (but it’s a pattern I’ve noticed among charismatic defenders from the west: “my many months of ministry in Africa among questionable churches say that Conrad doesn’t know what he’s talking about…”). It’s also worth noting that like Dr. Brown, Dr. Keener seems to only get his information from Pentecostals in Africa. If the prosperity gospel has run amuck and people have all bought into it, they don’t tend to see themselves as the heretics.
I couldn’t stop believe it when Dr. Keener cited the statistic about how 75% of Nigerian Christians think that Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible and then followed it up with comments on the “urgent need” for theological and biblical training in Africa. So, the people who admittedly haven’t had any biblical training think that the Pentecostals rightly teach the Bible? Even Godzilla sees through that example of rational seppuku.
6. Charges Of Charismatic Syncretism
In this section, Dr. Keener just uses irrelevant argumentation. His response to the charge of syncretism in the Africa charismatic movement was along the lines of “well, Pentecostals aren’t the only ones doing it…and at least they’re preaching the gospel!” Talk about unconvincing.
His claims about how the widespread error is being rebutted by Pentecostals and charismatics were also bizarre. He spoke of responses by himself, Gordon Fee, Julie Ma, and AoG seminary professors: all career ivory tower academics from the west…in other words, people that almost nobody in Africa would even be remotely aware of. The Kenneth Copeland crowd is a theological tank, blasting away with their heresy cannon all over Africa and someone is tossing sugar cubes at them from the west? Pardon me for being underwhelmed.
And his story about his efforts to write a book addressing the prosperity gospel that was turned down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore” (Kindle Location 5275)…What planet does Dr. Keener live on again?
Speaking of living on a different planet, there was the quote he gave in point 6. He said that he worked with people who he admited believed the prosperity gospel but he somehow thinks that the prosperity gospel was “incidental to their faith?” It appears that either Dr. Keener doesn’t have the same definition of “prosperity gospel” as the rest of us. I’d recommend that Dr. Keener and anyone else who is confused take a gander at Kenneth Copeland’s book The Laws of Prosperity: it’s a free book that spells it out in detail. Also, that book is from 1974 and that is what all the modern prosperity preachers have been taught for decades and what is currently being taught: just take a glance at the two resources for sale under the “Bible Study/Reference” section at LifeStore – the CBD of South Africa. Then look at all the highlighted resources on the main page. See if you can find Drs. Keener, Grudem, or any other remotely level-headed charismatic on that entire website…anywhere. That gives you a hint of the theological sewage that is being sent to South Africa…
…and there is nobody who “got saved” through hearing the prosperity gospel. There is nobody who leads others to the Lord through the prosperity gospel…and opposing the prosperity gospel isn’t another, different false gospel. I don’t know how else to say it, but his whole line about the “false gospel” of adding doctrinal considerations to Christ’s saving work in order to be saved (and placing the prosperity gospel in the category of “extraneous doctrinal considerations”) is simply unbelievable. He’s literally saying “you don’t need to believe the actual gospel to be saved.
Also, the charismatic line regarding how when Africans say “prosperity gospel” they actually mean “daily provisions” is simply a lie. I’ve documented at length (here and here) how there are thousands of churches on the continent of Africa who boldly proclaim the prosperity gospel, fly in people like Kenneth Copeland to do it, and only make the absolute worst prosperity gospel literature available to their congregations. There are thousands of churches in Africa that are talking about private jets, not daily bread.
In responding to Strange Fire, Dr. Keener probably shouldn’t take comments on an Amazon.com review as any sort of official position from those associated with Strange Fire. Not only that, but his defense of Rolland and Heidi Baker shows a level of naivete that parallels Dr. Brown’s claimed naivete regarding the activities and teaching of Benny Hinn that is utterly unfathomable, and I simply do not believe. I’ll refer my readers to original post for a far more in depth look at the Bakers than I can provide here (but here’s a hint: they were a main force behind the establishment of the ministry of Todd Bentley…). It’s like guys like Dr. Brown and Dr. Keener simply don’t know how to do research on people when it comes to people in their own camps (and I seriously doubt Dr. Keener has any tangible ministry association with someone as barking mad as Rolland and Heidi Baker).
As for the charges of syncretism with empirical naturalism and deism…I mean, really? So the guy who wrote The Battle For the Beginning is the brainwashed empirical naturalist ignoring scripture where as Dr. Craig Keener, who attacks Young Earth Creationism in none other than the Huffington Post is the clear-thinking supernaturalist being faithful to scripture? Need I say more? Really?
It’s funny to me how Dr. Keener doesn’t address the specific claims made by John MacArthur and Conrad Mbewe, but he just condemns them as slander. John MacArthur’s famous quote about Christianity and how “these people aren’t part of it” was in reference to folks in the New Apostolic Reformation and I doubt that Dr. Keener is going out soaking up the anointing on graves or pretending that crafting glitter falling from the air vents is the shekinah glory, but Dr. Keener (for some unfathomable reason) defends those people. So, it’s more than likely that the only reason Dr. Keener is offended by the quote is because he hasn’t taken time to check out the context of the quote (kinda like everything else he writes about). Then again, this whole Strange Fire fiasco has taught me to assume nothing about the continuationist camp and reminded me that a whole lot of the vocal defenders don’t really check anything out, including their “intellectual defenders”. It’s as if when they’re attacking cessationists, anything goes and you can simply toss out nonsense and demonstrable lies without any concern for intellectual honesty or doing any actual research at all. Continuationists don’t have too; they just assume that they’re right and that all cessationist objections stem from some form of spiritual jealousy, emotional trauma or other equally trite reasons.
I’m honestly getting to the point of offering some of the “intellectual defenders” of Continuationism a penny for their thoughts, but none of them seem to be able to make change.