I honestly had something else planned for today, but this post speaks directly to a question I was asked on Sunday and that I have answered several times in recent months. And so I think it is worth revisiting.
We all need to be very cautious about who we allow to teach our families, and this extends not just to where you attend church, but also to what books you read (and allow your family to read) and what religious broadcasts you listen to and watch. But what about charismatic authors and pastors, are they all bad? Or can charismatic resources be helpful and edifying? Well the answer depends on several factors.
The first question about any teacher, author or broadcaster that must be asked is do they affirm the inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture and accept its authority.? While almost all the charismatic would be quick to affirm the first two, it is their view of the authority of God’s Word that can be most revealing. Many in the charismatic movement, especially in the Pentecostal camp affirm, with their mouths, the authority of God’s word, but their lives and their ministry tell very different stories. For instance where they stand on the qualifications for ministry can be very telling. Do they allow women pastors (or are they a woman pastor/teacher) in clear violation of 1 Timothy 2:12? Then they are to be avoided. While they may say some things we would agree with, a rejection of such a clear teaching of Scripture indicates that they view their own conscience as more authoritative than God’s word, and thus they are entirely untrustworthy.
Likewise if they disregard the character qualifications for eldership they should be avoided. A key question to ask, have they been involved in extramarital affairs or unbiblical divorces? If so they are unqualified to teach, even on the printed page. Another key issue is their relationship to money. 1 Timothy 3:3 says an overseer must not be a lover of money and Titus 1:7 says an elder must not be greedy for gain. While it can be difficult to discern a man’s heart in this matter, here are a few tips. If someone links giving (to them) with future blessings, they should be avoided, as should all who use the term seed faith. These indicate a heart more concerned with income than with souls. Likewise $30,000 watches, private planes, and six figure cars are red flags (and yes that is a real picture of a real charismatic leader’s car parked in front of his real house). There is nothing in Scripture that indicates that a pastor should be poor, in fact it says that the laborer deserves his wages (1 Tim 5:18). However naked displays of materialism are simply unacceptable in the ministry and indicates a rejection to Scripture’s authority.
While it is easy to see who to avoid, many believe in the continuation of the sign gifts affirming the authority of Scripture and blessing the body of Christ greatly through their teaching and writing. Men such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, C.J. Mahaney, D.A. Carson and many other conservative continuationists have greatly blessed the body of Christ through their work. Although the charismatic question seems to evoke stronger emotional responses than other issues, it should always be remembered that it is not a first line doctrinal issue. I would see it in the same category as being on the wrong side of the dispensational/covenantal theology debate. It is a serious issue, with serious implications and can lead to other errors, but it is not something to divide over. So how should their teaching and writing be used? With discernment.
This may seem obvious, but always compare any teaching or book to Scripture. If there is a clear error, if the bible is being used out of context, or without regard to the authorial intent of the passage, then the teaching should be rejected. This does not mean everything written is unprofitable, but disregard the section of the book or sermon.
Likewise if the primary evidence for a position is experience rather than Scripture it should be rejected. There is a place for anecdotes in preaching and writing — primarily to illustrate biblical truths, not to discover them. Scripture must never be used to validate the teaching of experience. Often the teacher is sincere and well meaning, and even may be at a loss for how to explain something he experienced. John Piper, preaching on demonic possession vividly recounted an experience that he once had and simply admitted he cannot think of any way to explain it, except to say it was demonic possession. But his experience in no way reflectes the accounts of demonic activity recorded in scripture, and thus the teaching that flows out of that experience should be viewed with skepticism.
Another key is to be careful of hobbyhorse issues. While church leaders and teachers benefit reading these works in order to understand their reasoning and arguments, they are not generally helpful or edifying — especially when you know their conclusions before reading the book. Do not be surprised Wayne Grudem endorses fallible Prophecy as a spiritual gift in his book on prophecy or R.C. Sproul concludes in favor of paedobaptism when writing on baptism.
Be aware of hermeneutical departures. Often an otherwise sound exegete will throw his hermeneutic and exegetical method out the window when examining passages pertaining to continuationist issues, effectively running off of the hermeneutical rails. In his otherwise excellent systematic theology, Wayne Grudem abandons his systematic approach and general affirmation to the continuity of Scripture when examining the question of the New Testament Gifts of Prophecy, healing, and tongues. His normal exegetical precision disappears. Perhaps the most striking example is D.A. Carson’s work on gift of tongues in chapter 3 of Showing the Spirit. The brilliant Carson resorts to introducing categories of tongues such as “hot” and “cold” that have no biblical meaning or referent, and then spends a huge portion of his examination of the issue postulating how nonsensical utterances, that by his own admission bear no resemblance to any intelligible language, could contain a coded message to God (pp84-87). When there is such a sharp methodological departure it is a good indication that the section of the book or sermon should be disregarded. If the argument can’t be made scripturally with sound application of the historical grammatical hermeneutic, it should be disregarded.
With these cautions and guidelines in mind I believe much of what has been written by men who differ with us on the sign gifts can be of great value. C.J. Mahaney’s devotional works on purity and worldliness are among the best I have ever read, Grudem’s systematic theology is wonderful, and John Piper is not only one of the finest preachers in the English speaking world, and his work on biblical manhood and womanhood (in conjunction with Grudem incidentally) has been an incredible blessing to the body of Christ. To disregard the gifted men and their work because of a disagreement over an important but non-essential doctrine would be unwise. As in all things be a Berean!