Let me begin with two admissions:
1) Mark Driscoll’s “I See Things” video is a little outside of my comfort zone. I’ve “heard God’s Voice.” I’ve discerned the presence of demons. I’ve had some insights into the future and into people’s lives that I can’t describe any other way than God’s Spirit. But I’ve never seen people’s lives on a screen in front of me. The extent of Driscoll’s “visions” and the way he describes them are beyond my experience – uncomfortably so.
2) If Benny Hinn or some other “charismaniac” said the same things, I’d probably be more likely to join into the ridicule. But the fact that Mark Driscoll is a theologically astute advocate of these experiences is even more troubling. We can’t just dismiss him as a theological nut or someone who has no biblical discernment. He knows theology but he still claims to “see things.”
So, Driscoll is an enigma.
But I see something else in some of the anti-Driscoll rhetoric (not all of it, just some). I see a growing anti-supernaturalist bent among some evangelical Christians, what I am calling “Supernaturalism Embarrassment Syndrome.” To be theologically orthodox we have to believe in the reality of the supernatural – in biblical times. But today we want things reasonable, rational, theological and verbal. Those who want to fit into today’s evangelicalism, especially in Baptist or Calvinist/Reformed circles, have to believe that those things don’t happen today, or at least that they haven’t happened to me. If someone advocates something that doesn’t fit into our clean theological systems, blood pressure rises. Those who claim that God spoke to them, that they dealt with the demonic, that God led them, or that God did something miraculous to or through them are often viewed as weirdos. Many evangelicals are theoretical supernaturalists but practical deists.
Driscoll addressed this in one of the videos I posted a couple of Saturdays ago. He was specifically addressing his Calvinist/Reformed brethren and said (in a joking, but pointed way) that many of them have committed to a new trinitarian formulation – “Father, Son and Holy Bible.” Talking about the “finished work of Christ” is much easier than understanding the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. That makes us uncomfortable.
But the Bible is a supernatural book. Almost every page involves something supernatural. Obviously, the greatest miracle is salvation. Close behind that is the work of God to give us love for our enemies, joy in times of sorrow, peace in the storm, kindness to difficult people, patience with the difficult…so on and so forth. These are great miracles. But the Bible is also full of real miracles happening in the lives of real people.
I want you to imagine that someone came to you with the following stories.
“Pastor, I’m going to have a baby. I’m not married and I’ve never been with a man. But God appeared to me and said that the Holy Spirit would place in me a baby who would be the Son of God.”
Uh, yeah, right. I know, there was only one Virgin Birth, but God does amazing things, doesn’t he? The point here is simple: the New Testament starts with a miracle, ends with a miracle and is filled with them in between.
Let’s try a few more of these.
I’ve got some bad news for you two. I know that you said that you were giving the whole price of that piece of land you sold, but God told me that you are lying – and because you are lying you are also dying! That’s what God told me. (I wonder if Peter saw that on a screen?)
Pastor, I’d like to tell you how I got saved. I was driving down the Damascus highway when suddenly, a bright light appeared out of nowhere and I ended up in a ditch. I was laying there on the ground and I heard this voice coming out of heaven. It was Jesus. (Someone, call Deacon Jones!)
Look, I know you guys don’t think these people are fit to be part of the church, but I had a vision the other day. All this food was coming down out of heaven – unhealthy stuff that I never eat. God said to eat the food and to accept everyone into the church – regardless of their race and background. (I should have used this kind of vision in my first pastorate, where members were irate because some black teens played basketball in our parking lot.)
Pastor, while we were worshiping, God spoke to several of us. He wants two of you from the church staff, Paul and Barney, to leave the church and go out as missionaries. We all heard the same thing from God.
Sorry, pastor, I know I was scheduled to come to your church for a series of evangelistic meetings, but God spoke to me and told me that I wasn’t allowed to come to Bithynia Baptist Church. In the night I had a vision of some folks from over in Macedonia County and God wants me to go there.
Okay, so you get the point – the New Testament is a book of supernatural events that we would consider strange today. Obviously, there are theological issues at work here. But to maintain that God does not speak directly to the redeemed heart. to poo-poo the miraculous and the subjective work of the Holy Spirit, one must assert that the way things were in the New Testament is not the way things are today.
I studied at Dallas Theological Seminary and was taught cessationism as gospel truth. The “miracle gifts” passed away either at the destruction of the Temple or at the end of the apostolic era. I bought into it because I wanted to buy into it. I thought charismatics were nuts and I wanted nothing to do with them and so I applauded the teachings of the cessationists who taught me. But over time, I had to abandon cessationism because I just couldn’t see it in the scriptures. People who complain about the tortured hermeneutics of egalitarians then perform biblical gymnastics to put the miraculous and the subjective work of the Spirit in a previous time.
I can understand the motivation. Once you open that door to the supernatural, it’s hard to know where to stop. Can we accept private prayer language but not public tongues? Do we accept that God spoke to me but deny dreams and visions? Maybe we are uncomfortable with Mark Driscoll’s “I see things” but where do we stop? Once you give up the black and white, you have to deal with a hundred shades of gray.
I have more questions here than answers. Currently, I’ve settled smack dab in the middle of the grays. I believe that God does all he used to do, but perhaps not at the same level of intensity and frequency. Is that just another convenient position? Perhaps. But while miracles were present during the entirety of scripture, they were at their most intense during three primary time periods – the Exodus and Conquest, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the NT era (most of which took place within less than 40 years). We perhaps should not expect God to do wondrous works at the same rate he did in the early days of Acts, but we should not accept that it has all passed away either.
Here’s a question I have. Do we stop believing in the present reality of the miraculous because we see so little of it? Is our doctrine something of a defense mechanism? It’s a thought.
I know this. The Bible I believe teaches the miraculous. The charismatics and pentecostals didn’t make all that up. In that Bible, God parts seas, turns back time, sends fire from heaven, raises the dead, heals the sick and banishes demons. He speaks directly to people in such a way that they clearly know that God spoke. Audible voice? An impression in the heart? Who knows? But God spoke and folks knew it was God. And he gave dreams and visions and sent angels, not to mention a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Those who would deny that these things are real today need to demonstrate that exegetically. I’ve not been convinced by any of the arguments I have seen.
A Story to Wrap It All Up
One of the funniest stories in the Bible is in Acts 12. Peter is in jail and the church is having a prayer meeting to ask God for his release. God grants their prayers and miraculously releases Peter, who goes to the house of John Mark’s mother, where the disciples were meeting. He knocks at the door and a servant girl named Rhoda appears and hears his voice. She runs back in to the prayer meeting (forgetting to open the door) and announces that Peter is at the gate.
The response? “You are out of your mind.” (Clearly a Baptist group, right?) When she insists, they spiritualize things. “It must be his angel.”
Peter kept knocking until they opened the door and everyone knew a miracle took place.
It’s comforting that even in the early church God’s people struggled to process his miraculous power. I’m still struggling with it now.
NOTE: David Rogers linked to an article he wrote during the PPL discussions back in 2007. It is so easy for links to get lost in threaded comments. So here is the link to David’s article which is well worth reading. It is called “A Priori Skepticism.“