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Confessions of a Former Charismatic, Part 2: Why I’m No Longer a Charismatic

In part one of this “confession,” I talked about some of my experiences as a Charismatic, including the time I encountered Benny Hinn. For the formative years of my Christian life, I fully embraced the Charismatic viewpoint. I spoke in tongues, believed that God raised up healers and prophets today, and considered churches that weren’t practicing “The Gifts” to be dead. In this second part, I want to talk briefly about why I changed my views.

Before I begin, let me be clear on this point: I believe there are many sincere, genuine Christians who are Charismatic in their pneumatology. They truly love the Lord, do much good in His name, and are trying to serve Him faithfully. I have known many such people over the years. The majority of Charismatics I’ve known would want nothing to do with the Word-Faith movement. While they might share Benny Hinn’s belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, they would reject much of what he teaches with regard to health, wealth, prosperity, and would cringe at his irreverent—even blasphemous—“Holy Spirit ministry.” As a Charismatic, I never really bought into the health and prosperity teachings. What captured my attention were the supposed manifestations of God’s activity in “words of knowledge,” “slaying in the Spirit,” “speaking in tongues” and so forth.

My conversion to cessationism (for want of a better term) was not the result of a single event or a particular book. It was a process that began after I left university and started giving more time to considering the questions I had previously shelved. If God is sovereign—and I was becoming more impressed in my studies at how extensive God’s sovereignty is—why does He need to be a “gentleman,” as Benny Hinn would say? Surely He could impose the Spirit on us and have us all speaking in tongues, if that was His will for every Christian. There are examples in Scripture where God sends spirits of one kind or another without regard to people’s feelings. He sent an evil spirit upon Saul, and I’m sure He didn’t ask Saul’s permission (1 Samuel 18:10). When the church was filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it was an act of God done in His timing, and in the way He desired (Acts 2:4).

Through books like A Different Gospel by D. R. McConnell, and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaf, I became increasingly aware of the bad theology undergirding the Word-Faith movement. As I said above, many Charismatics would distance themselves from the Word-Faith teachers, but I had to wonder: would God bless bad, even heretical theology with the miraculous? If the miracles in Acts were used of God to confirm the gospel message, would God perform tongues, healings, and “slayings” to confirm Benny Hinn’s gospel? If not, then why do these things happen at Benny Hinn crusades? If the “miracles” at a Benny Hinn meeting are not of God, then could it be that the same things happening elsewhere are also not of God? How would one know?

As time went on, I found that while I still clung to a belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, that belief had absolutely no impact on my life. I stopped speaking in tongues. I spent less time waiting for an audible voice of God and more time studying His Word to know His will. In short, I became a practicing cessationist. And to my shock, my Christian growth wasn’t stunted as a result! This led me to wonder exactly why I still believed in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts. What purpose did they serve in the church today? If the canon of Scripture is closed, why look for prophets with new revelation? If Scripture is everything that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells me it is, then what else do I need to hear from God other than the inspired Word He has already revealed?

I felt no loss at leaving the Charismatic movement behind, and I still don’t to this day. I do, however, feel sad at the wreckage I’ve seen among former Charismatics who have since left the faith. I’ve heard too many testimonies of self-proclaimed atheists who were formerly members of Charismatic churches. Our culture has a fascination for the supernatural. Popular television shows and movies betray a hunger for unexplainable manifestations, and weird, seemingly-spiritual experiences. If Christianity is nothing more than another flavor of strange supernatural stuff, then its no wonder worldly-minded people go elsewhere. And when people like the English mentalist Derren Brown can use hypnotism and other psychological techniques to fake Benny Hinn-type manifestations, we shouldn’t be surprised when people who have trusted in that kind of thing as their evidence of the truth of Christianity walk away.

A few years after my experience with Benny Hinn at the Birmingham N.E.C., I returned to that same venue, this time to see Paul McCartney in concert. The place was packed out, and Paul put on a dazzling two-and-a-half hour show. I have no doubt, that if Mr. McCartney had called me up onto the stage, I would have experienced the same kind of adrenaline rush, and light-headed excitement I felt that day with Benny Hinn. With the right set of psychological expectations, I would have been just as susceptible to being “slain in the Spirit.” I don’t say that because I’m now skeptical of Charismatic experiences, but because I have, over the years since that time, recognized those same feelings in different contexts.

Where I Am Today

I believe God can do the miraculous. He can grant someone the ability to speak a foreign language. He can heal the sick without the intervention of medicine. But I don’t believe God guarantees that He will always do this. Instead, the Word indicates we can expect persecution, tribulation, distress, and famine (Romans 8:35). Indeed, God ordains sickness and trials in order to glorify Himself (Genesis 50:20; John 9:3). And there are harsh words in the New Testament regarding those who seek signs and wonders (Luke 11:29; John 2:23-25; John 4:48).

One of our problems is that we have become so used to God’s grace in our lives, we fail to recognize the miracles He is working in our midst every day. The fact that our propensity for sin is restrained, the fact that hard-hearted sinners become lovers of God and servants of Christ, the fact that the penalty for my sin has been paid by Another—these are all miracles, no less remarkable than the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And what was the raising of Lazarus other than a sign pointing to that greater wonder: the resurrection of dead souls to new life in Christ?

My study into the gifts of the Spirit have lead me to the conclusion that the sign gifts displayed and described in the New Testament were given at that time for a specific purpose. Nothing in the Scriptures convinces me that those gifts were intended to be permanent. They served the purpose of establishing the church and validating the message of the Apostles. We have that message in Scripture, and we have the confirmation of that message in the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, testifying to us of the truth of the gospel. First Corinthians 12-14 is not a manual on how to use spiritual gifts, but was written to correct the abuse of those gifts within the church at Corinth. While those gifts are no longer functioning within the church, the truths Paul preaches regarding the supremacy of love and the necessity for order within the church are certainly applicable to us today.

I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and working within the church. His ministry is evident in the lives of believers as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The unity I see between believers within my local church, and throughout the world, is evidence of the Spirit’s activity. How else could the body of Christ hold to various positions on secondary issues, and yet speak with unanimity on the essentials of the faith? How else could brothers in the Lord like James White and Michael Brown disagree in love, and defend the faith shoulder-to-shoulder? As I see lives transformed by the gospel, marriages healed, and the kingdom of God advanced, I am convinced the Holy Spirit is continuing to do His work in Christ’s church today, as He has for the last two thousand years.

I hope this brief summary of my journey is beneficial to you. May the Lord use it to help and encourage His people.

Post Debate Sermons at PRBC

Well, I was scheduled to preach this Sunday anyway, and since I had prepared for the two RevelationTV debates, I figured it would be wise to stay with what is fresh upon your mind (and in your preparation).  Besides, I didn’t exactly get to express myself as fully as I would like, of course, in the brief time allotted to us in Spain.  So, here are two sermons, the first on healing, the second on the atonement, from PRBC today.  Our members are very patient with their weird traveling elder, and seemed to enjoy them a great deal.  I hope they can be a blessing to others as well.

They Love Not the Truth

When we observe the length to which some men will go to preserve their little empires and protect their little kingdoms, we can see how deeply deception can enwrap the heart of a man.  This is playing out in a small little Baptist school in the backwoods of Georgia, where Ergun Caner has taken up residence as President of Brewton-Parker College.  Clearly an act of desperation on the part of the trustees as the small school attempts to recover from a financial scandal, the appointment of Caner is not based upon his massive scholarly output (when your books contain references to Hadith 9:157, well, that makes Jack Chick look like a scholar) but upon his ability to “fill the seats” and entertain young people.  At that, Caner has few peers.  Well, at least for a while.  Once you’ve heard his five or six sermons, his canned set of jokes and stories, it gets really old, but for a while, anyway, Caner might bring enough energy to the situation to place a bandage on the faltering school.  But the long term damage that will be done on any meaningful level of integrity and Christian truth is inestimable.


L to R: Peter Lumpkins, Jerry Vines, Emir Caner, Ergun Caner

So when Caner put his own picture into the dictionary next to the term “cronyism” by appointing none other than Peter Lumpkins “Vice President of Communications” for BPC, I quickly changed the title to its more proper form, VPofCon, since one thing Lumpkins can do is con people.  And now he gets paid to do it, too!  So much for objectivity!  Not like Lumpkins ever had any, but there is no pretense now.  Many of us are wondering when Timothy Rogers will be appointed Vice President of Academic Affairs or some such other equally ridiculous position.

In any case, Lumpkins, who, to my knowledge, has zero training in history, zero experience in teaching history, and zero published works relevant to historical topics, has recently decided he is an historian.  Now, remember, years ago Lumpkins posted a blog article where he 1) admitted he knew nothing about textual criticism, but 2) in spite of his admitted ignorance declared Bart Ehrman the victor in our debate.  So Lumpkins has no shame in pontificating about topics about which he knows nothing at all.  And he does it with a straight face.  At least, he does so behind a keyboard.  He won’t do so in the presence of responsible and capable opposition, however.  That much is clear.

A few days ago Peter Lumpkins demonstrated just how deceptive he can be by taking a quotation from my book on the Qur’an, using it to defend Ergun Caner, and thereby accusing me of hypocrisy.   Of course, as normal, Lumpkins has demonstrated not merely the ignorance he admitted in regard to textual critical issues—the time of claiming ignorance for Lumpkins is far past.  This is a wilful, purposeful mindset of twisting and misrepresentation.  It is a settled pattern for the man from Georgia.  Instead, this time, you have a man who is combing a book that itself demonstrates a significantly more accurate, careful, and in-depth understanding of the Qur’an than anything his mentor/leader/President has ever produced looking for something, anything, he can use as a club to beat back those who would dare to call for integrity and truthfulness in the scandal that is Ergun Caner’s “ministry.”  And what does he find?  A discussion of the common arguments related to the Synoptic gospels and the appropriate means of harmonizing differing accounts written by different authors at different times for different audiences.  So what does Lumpkins do?  It is so outrageous it should forever discredit the man from any kind of meaningful voice in matters of truth, but here it is anyway: he parallels the dozens of documented lies by Ergun Caner—lies regarding where he was born, when he moved here, what languages he could speak, who he has debated, etc.—with the issues raised by comparing the Synoptic authors!  He quotes my book, p. 221, and then writes,

Sure we do, James.  Except when it comes to Ergun Caner.  When he telescopes, compresses, and summarizes his life story, he’s lying through his teeth and deceiving anyone.  The hypocrisy James White displays remains staggering.

Of course, on any logical or historical basis, the comparison is absurd and laughable, and sadly, Lumpkins probably knows this too (which is why he would never, ever defend the thesis against a serious opponent).  Caner’s lies were not produced by multiple authors, they come from his own mouth.  The only way to create a parallel would be to accuse Mark of contradicting Mark, not of dealing with Matthew’s telescoping of Mark’s fuller account of the same incident.

Let’s consider the VPofCon’s argument.  Let’s look at where Caner was born.  Which of the common methods of narration noted explains him telling church audiences for years that he was born in Istanbul, calling himself a sand monkey, and pretending to have learned English in Turkey watching the Dukes of Hazzard, while at the same time telling others he was born in Stockholm, and telling a Turkish newspaper he came here in 1969 (while at the same time telling others he came here in 1978/79)?  Of course, none of them.  That is not telescoping, that is not compressing, that is not summarizing, that is lying.  There is a difference.  See, the narration methods I noted have to do with individual facts, events, etc. as recorded by multiple authors. Caner’s defenders keep failing to recognize that each of his claims was part of a larger narrative, and it is that entire narrative that has to be examined.  When we look at the Synoptic Gospels, that narrative is found to be consistent and to be derivable, through each of the authors, from a reliable historical core.  Such is not the case with Caner’s lies.  The factual core regarding Caner has been fully established.  Caner’s embellishments, additions and a-historical claims are in no way, shape, or form, parallel to the Synoptic issue.  Lumpkins’ attempt is audacious, but it fails, miserably.

What this illustrates is truly saddening.  Lumpkins, Rogers, Penn, and the few others who have been willing to throw themselves and their reputations upon the funeral pyre of Ergun Caner’s fantasies have never shown the slightest concern for serious, front-line Christian apologetics.  They care not that Caner is a byword for “Christian dishonesty” amongst Muslims who know of his deceit.  And here, Lumpkins is willing to take a paragraph intended to aid in the defense of the Christian faith and the integrity of the biblical narrative and twist it completely out of its context in defense of the indefensible.  Any truth loving believer should be shocked at the depth to which these men will go to promulgate a lie and defend an unrepentant deceiver.  It likewise says volumes about Lumpkins’ own spiritual state that he can read my book, see the care with which the topic is addressed, see the fullness of the research and the accuracy of the citations, and yet, ignore all of that so as to look for a means of defending a man whose works lack all of the same attributes!  What kind of twistedness is shown in such behavior!

We can look with amazement and sadness upon this kind of behavior, but I must point out that the problem is larger than these few people.  It is the silence of the general body of leadership (especially the elders of the churches where Caner has been a member of the past few years), and of particular leaders (Norman Geisler, Richard Land, and all the others who knowingly and willfully close their eyes and give Caner a platform and cover, such as John Ankerberg and all the churches that bring Caner in to speak), who bear responsibility for this mess.  The amount of cronyism and politics that infects the modern American church is truly discouraging.

Confessions of a Former Charismatic, Part 1: Me and Benny Hinn

The venue was the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, the largest exhibition center in the UK. Five of us squeezed into a small car and drove the sixty-plus miles from Hereford to what we thought at the time was the biggest spiritual event of the year. Christ for All Nations, evangelist Reinhard Bonnke’s ministry, was hosting a conference, and one of the main attractions was Benny Hinn.

This was the late 80s—1988, I believe—and for most of the British population, television consisted of four stations. And none of them was TBN. This meant the only way we would ever hear the cream of American televangelists was on video or audio cassette tapes obtained either by mail-order subscription, or at conferences. The friend who drove us to Birmingham had obtained by one of these means a video of Benny Hinn, which he had shared with our church youth group some months previously. The presentation on the tape consisted of about thirty minutes of teaching—mainly Hinn recounting how his “Holy Spirit ministry” started, and then talking about how to relate to the Holy Spirit. He’s a gentleman, Hinn taught, and won’t come unless you ask. And don’t grieve the Spirit, otherwise He’s like a child, and you’ll lose His trust. There was no trace, as I recall, of his wackier teachings that I would later be made aware of. After the talk, there followed a solid hour or more of “slaying in the Spirit,” and people getting out of wheelchairs. Although four of us in the car were students of theology (two just starting University, and my best friend and I in our last year of A-Levels), we were all charismatic in our pneumatology, and Arminian in our soteriology. Within those parameters, we found a home for Hinn. More on that later.

The auditorium was at least two-thirds full. I don’t recall who the first speaker was that morning, or what he spoke about. I do remember a refreshment break, and then hurrying back to our seats to be sure we didn’t miss any of Benny Hinn’s presentation. He came out, he taught—I don’t remember any details of his teaching, though I daresay it was largely what we’d already heard on the video—and then the show started. The organ played, he set the mood, and then started with the “words of knowledge.” A lady over there being healed of something. A man somewhere at the back has been suffering with X and the Lord wants him to know he’ll be well before he leaves. Then he began calling people up on stage. People reported healings, people were in tears, and all of them were slain in the Spirit at the touch of Hinn’s hand.

I should note at this point that I was no stranger to the “slaying in the Spirit” phenomenon. It was only five years earlier that I came to the Lord through the witness of my best friend (the same friend who sat beside me at the NEC event). Since I was not in a Christian home, his family took me under their wing, and began the work of discipling me. This sounds ideal, except for the fact that they were heavily influenced by teachers such as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin, and about as deep into the charismatic movement as I have known anyone to be. My best friend’s mother was the most “on fire” of them all. His father was supportive, but not as vocal. Nevertheless, they would take me to revival meetings and church events where speaking in tongues and “slaying in the Spirit” were commonplace. I spoke in tongues, too, and I had at least wobbled in the Spirit—I had never experienced a full “slaying.” At least not yet…

Suddenly, Hinn invited anyone in the audience who wanted a healing to come down to the front of the stage. I had been having problems with my sinuses, and I mentioned that to my friend. Should I go forward? It seemed so trivial compared to the people on crutches and with misaligned legs. My friend encouraged me—why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So I did. I made my way down to the front of the stage and stood there along with probably a few hundred other people. I don’t recall if Hinn prayed over us, but I do remember him pointing at various people in the crowd and summoning them up on stage. I could hardly believe my eyes when his finger pointed at me. Me? Really? Before I knew what was happening, I was coaxed forward and helped up on stage.

From where I stood at the side, the audience seemed to melt into darkness. The lights were so bright I could only really see half the auditorium. A couple of people were ahead of me, and Hinn made short work of them. Then it was my turn. He didn’t even ask what was wrong, why I was there, what the Lord had done for me. But he was close enough that I could smell his aftershave. He looked at me and said, “The devil’s not gonna get you,” and he blew on me. I went wobbly, and it’s possible I went down. I don’t remember exactly. My next memory is sitting up at the side of the stage watching as other people came forward and were “slain.” There was definitely a vibe up there. A buzz. The feeling was something akin to a huge adrenaline rush, an intense excitement, and a feeling of light-headed clarity, all rolled into one. No-one came to check on me, or talk to me, so I made my way off the stage and rejoined my friends.

Not long after this, I started my theology studies at university. I remained a charismatic the whole time I was there, and went to “happy clappy” churches. But it was around this time that I began seriously questioning much of what I had previously assumed. If God is sovereign, why does He have to have my permission to come to me? If it’s so important that we speak in tongues, why doesn’t every Christian speak in tongues? And why do Christians have to learn how to speak in tongues? If we have the Holy Spirit, and He is sovereign, can’t He just do it for us? And what about those Christians who don’t use tongues, and aren’t charismatic? Are they really spiritually dead? If so, how come they seem to be as passionate for Christ as my charismatic friends—in some cases even more so? Since I was moving in predominantly charismatic circles, both at church and within the university’s Christian Union, I decided to set these questions to the side, resolving to study them more another time.

A few years after graduating, I stopped being a practicing charismatic. Not long after that, I turned my back on the charismatic movement altogether. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why I walked away from my former charismatic convictions.

Benny Hinn on “Prosperity Teaching” Today

Benny Hinn’s website today has a Frequently Asked Questions section (link to FAQ), which includes the following question:

What is the “prosperity teaching” referred to by critics, and how do you stand on that issue?

You can get the full answer at his site, but here is the introduction and conclusion of the answer:

The term “prosperity teaching” or “prosperity Gospel” is one of the most misunderstood and misused in today’s language.

I believe in biblical prosperity. It is taught throughout the Bible. Giving to the Lord is so important that God has promised that those who give for the work of the Gospel will be blessed and protected.

We give because it is God’s will. We give because it is His command! We give because it is His law. We give because the Lord has commanded every believer to give. And the Lord Jesus promises that when we give, we will surely receive.

As I have said to you before, the days are short. We must get the Gospel out, and I believe with all my heart that harm to the unbeliever is on the way. The Scriptures tell us clearly that evil is coming to the wicked, but God’s people, who love and obey Him, will be protected. That is God’s Word!

That is true biblical prosperity, for God has also promised to protect your finances and to keep you safe financially, as you obey Him and continue to sow into His work. The Word of God tells us in Ecclesiastes 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.”

That is what Benny Hinn says in a carefully crafted answer in writing – something he is teaching today by his website.  Go look for yourself – see if my quotations are accurate.  Can you really claim he’s repented of this kind of teaching?