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Posts Tagged ‘miracles’


Many years ago, C.S. Lewis was not the only prominent Christian to do a series of radio addresses. J. Gresham Machen gave a series of addresses on the person of Jesus in 1935. These are collected in The Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior.

When he gave these, he had already resigned from Princeton Seminary to form Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Having set up an independent missions board, Machen was battling in the church courts. In 1936 he would be suspended and found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He would fall ill and pass away on January 1, 1937. As a result, these are among the last public words from Machen whose most important works had already been written.

In the course of the addresses, Machen lays out the objections of liberal theology and secularism to the deity of Christ, and positively puts forth the case for Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Machen was at the forefront of the struggle against liberalism as evidenced by his books Christianity and Liberalism, and The Virgin Birth of Christ. He lays out all of this in a very simple, understandable manner. In other words, he doesn’t come across as an academic, but one addressing the common man that they may believe. This was his goal, that people would believe that Jesus was God the Son and Savior.

While interacting with liberal views, you’d think such a man might sound bitter, but he doesn’t. He succinctly addresses their presuppositions, and brings us back to Scripture to show that the Jesus of liberalism is a fiction.

There are seven addresses presented here. The first is on the Triune God, explaining briefly the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He covers a lot of ground in a short time, including God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. He does recognize mystery in that finite man can’t comprehend the infinite God, but that we can understand what God reveals to us. For him, the OT assumes the Trinity while it is taught in the NT. He gives a few of the places we look to in order to understand where we find this doctrine.

He then moves to the deity of Christ. The problem he addresses is the differing understanding of this phrase. People have different definitions so you may think you are in agreement when in reality you aren’t. His personal and denominational history does arise here as men with a liberal understanding of this phrase entered the ministry and subverted congregations and denominations. We must have a biblical understanding of God to understand what it means that Jesus is God.

He continues with whether or not the Bible teaches the deity of Jesus. In discussing the meaning of Messiah, he brings the audience to Daniel 7 to show that the Son of Man is a representative of the people but not also a supernatural figure. He connects Malachi’s coming of the Lord with the angel’s words to Zachariah about John the Baptizer. He precedes Jesus who is Jehovah coming to His people.

Machen then turns to the Sermon on the Mount to address another way people try to avoid the divinity of Christ to focus on a great teacher. He shows how the sermon both assumes the deity of Jesus, and reveals this authority. Jesus has authority as law giver and judge of humanity. He isn’t just a rabbi. He pronounces blessings on those who obey Him and curses on those who don’t.

In What Jesus Says About Himself, Machen brings us back to Daniel 7 to understand the Son of Man sayings of Jesus. This covers some similar ground as the previous chapter. It focuses on the more explicit sayings.

The last two chapters focus on miracles. The first focuses on miracles in general and the second on the resurrection. Miracles are often a stumbling block for people. If we removed them, like Thomas Jefferson did, “It would be far easier to believe, but then, you see, it would not be worth believing.” We don’t need another teacher; we need a Savior. Machen then spends some time on the subject of David Friedrich Strauss’ book Life of Jesus as an attempt to find the “real” Jesus. Strauss argued against finding rational explanations for accounts of miracles, as liberals had been doing. He asserted they were myths, pure and simple. Now skepticism about the whole Bible emerges. How can you find the real Jesus? How can you find the source to sort this out? We can’t escape a supernatural Jesus. If we follow Bultmann we get to a Jesus we can’t believe in, a phantom of sorts.

The greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus. Without this none of the others really matter. While the resurrection is often debated, what is not debated is the effect on the disciples. They changed from people hiding for their lives. to people who spread Christ’s message around the world often as the expense of their lives. It spread peacefully, not at the edge of the sword like some other religions. What changed these men and woman?

The only coherent answer is what the New Testament claims, that Jesus rose from the dead. He also mentions some of the ways the reality of the resurrection is denied, like the “vision theory”: they all had a similar vision of Jesus. Machen notes that this “means that the Christian church is founded upon a pathological experience of certain persons in the first century of our era”. He also brings up the “spiritual resurrection” theory. But Christianity is based on an event, recorded in Scripture with eyewitnesses who could be questioned at the time of its writing.

“What we are trying to establish is not the resurrection of any ordinary man, not the resurrection of a man who is to us a mere x or y, not the resurrection of a man about whom we know nothing, but the resurrection of Jesus. … It is unlikely that any ordinary man should rise; but it is unlikely that this man should not rise; it may be said of this man that it was impossible that he should be holden of death.”

These addresses by Machen are a handy apologetic tool for people wondering who Jesus really is. It is not technical, but for the average person. It does not presuppose much knowledge of the Bible. It is brief, not overly complex, and to the point.

“The direct evidence for the resurrection must be taken together with the total picture of Jesus in the Gospels, and then that must be taken in connection with the evidence for the existence of God and the tremendous of man which is caused by sin.”

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Michael Wilson  The Ledger

Photo: Michael Wilson The Ledger

This is my last post on Todd Bentley.  I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about him.  But there are things I think need to be said, for the cause of Christ.

I came across this yesterday but didn’t address it.  Contrary to what Todd Bentley told Stephen Strader, there was another party involved.  Fresh Fire Ministries announced that he had an unhealthy emotional relationship with a staff member, and that this had happened before.

My original point, which I didn’t express clearly, was this:  Is this-
A. an example of a man who did not appropriate the blessings of the gospel in his battle with sin.
B. the result of a truncated, incomplete understanding of the gospel.
C. the result of a deviant, and therefore false, gospel.

If the first, it doesn’t affect the validity of the ‘revival’.
If the second, it should cause those who partake in the ‘revival’ to gain a fuller understanding of the gospel.
If the third, I hope it will bring people to realize a false gospel was being proclaimed and to forsake it for the true gospel.

The press release from Fresh Fire Ministries places the blame on the Enemy, as though sin was “out there” instead of in our hearts.  As a result, there is little personal accountability, just the need for “healing”.  This minimizes the sinfulness of his actions- they need healing, not repentance.  Perhaps there are some ways in which Todd Bentley has been sinned against in the past that still require the balm of the gospel to bring healing.  But his transfer of affection in sinful, and indicates a bigger problem than he admits.

We are not sanctified after encounters with angels (as he seems to claim)- we are sanctified as we appropriate the gospel and put our sin to death in the power of the Spirit.  The obsession with miracles and power is remarkably similar to the triumphalism (and sin minimization) of the Corinthians as taught to them by the false apostles.  This obsession with miracles reveals at least a truncated understanding of the gospel, and most likely a false gospel.

This is not a continuationist-cessationist argument, but one about the central message of the gospel (regeneration => conversion => justification by faith => adoption => sanctification => glorification).  When parts of this are dropped off, you have a truncated gospel.  When something is put there in its place, or in addition to them, you have a false gospel.  In the NT they authenticate the message and messenger.  But in some circles they pretty much are the message.  I fear that healing has replaced the core message and people are being summoned to a false gospel that leaves them in their sins and under the wrath of God.  This is far more important than Bentley’s marriage problems.

The assessments of R.T. Kendall and Carl Trueman.

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Though often hailed as a monentous, historic revival, I have not found the Lakeland Outpouring to  compare favorably to other revivals using biblical criteria.  Whether people want to admit it or not, leadership matters.

The “mother of all revivals” was the Great Awakening.  There have been many books critically examining the Great Awakening, some by no less a heart and mind on fire for God than Jonathan Edwards.  Imagine how that assessment might change if Edwards, or Whitefield was discovered to have been an adulterer.  Or simply divorced his wife?  Would we say that God uses flawed people?  Well, of course he does since only Jesus was perfectly righteous.  But when you look at the flawed folks who led revivals in the Bible, did they have such smudge marks?  No.  David’s life was marked by pain and conflict after his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite (not to be confused with Uriah Heep).

Photo 6/12 by Michael Wilson

Photo 6/12 by Michael Wilson

Today I heard that Todd Bentley is separating from his wife– the first step of divorce proceedings in Canada, of which they are both citizens.  She recently packed up her bags and left the warmer climes of Florida with the kids.  This after a few years of marriage counseling.

Rev. Stephen Strader assures us that no third party is involved.  Is this supposed to make us feel better?  No adultery, they just can’t get along.  The ‘gospel’ he preaches can not help them work out their marriage issues.  There is no grace to be offered to one another.  There is no power to change their sinful patterns of behavior.  No miracle for them.

(more…)

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Bert dropped me a line about some events in our county that  are apparently making some big news around the country.  I was clueless, but I’m not anymore.  The coverage is interesting.

I’ve driven by the Ignited Church, and wondered what it was like.  I didn’t know it was pastored by Stephen Strader, son of Karl Strader the former pastor of Carpenter’s Home Church.  A few years ago, Carpenter’s Home Church was the site of Rodney Howard-Browne’s “holy laughter”.  You could watch that on TV, it was interesting but hardly edifying since the Word of God was not preached, just subjective experience run amuck.

The younger Strader scheduled Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley for a 5-day revival beginning April 2nd.  The terminology has shifted from revival as a sovereign work of God to an event you can schedule and expect/demand that God show up.  And they are claiming He has shown up in powerful ways as Bentley preached “intimacy with God” and extended his stay into May. 

For those involved, this is an obvious no-brainer: God is there.  For those within that theological tradition, the assumption is that God is involved.  It certainly sounds spectacular, and what Christian doesn’t want God to do great things?  But are great things happening?  Here’s what we know:

“Lord, remove the tumor,” Bentley shouted as he delivered a quick, open-handed blow to Borgelt’s midsection. Borgelt fell backward, eased down by the evangelist’s young staff members. A few moments later, after other healings unfolded above him, Borgelt stood.

“It still hurts,” he told Bentley. Not as much, he added.

Back on the arena floor, Borgelt seemed dazed. “I do sense that it’s better. But it’s still there.”

Will he go ahead with the surgery, scheduled today?

“I’m just going to wait and see what the Lord’s going to do.”

Hearing loss. Arthritis. Cysts. One wheelchair-bound woman walked with the help of two of Bentley’s staffers and then took a few steps alone.

Jesus’ miracles were undeniable, clear and everyone in the community knew they really had happened.  The guy born blind saw!  People crippled for years walked away boldly, not just a step or two.  What we read about here is hardly compelling evidence to people like me.  But to people who watch it on Christian TV it apparently is.  They are flocking to Lakeland just as they previously flocked to Brownsville and Toronto to experience miracles- supposedly hundreds of them.  But this “notable miracle” (as Brentley calls them) doesn’t seem notable.  No reports from doctors.  Just claims of …. well … something.  But they are not deterred!

The focus of the services has been on faith healings conducted by Bentley and his associates and Strader. A steady stream of people at the twice-daily services have presented themselves to ask Bentley and others to pray for relief from physical and mental ailments, ranging from cancer and deafness to diabetes and paralysis. Bentley and Strader say that hundreds have been miraculously healed.

“We opened a special room where people can bring the sick early so they don’t have to stand out in the heat. We’ve had people line up as early as 2 p.m. for the evening services,” Strader said. “Last night we had an incredible rush of miracles over cell phones.”

This is one problem as well.  Jesus is not the focus- healing is.  Our culture, our human nature, prefers the spectacular to the mundane.  A guy living out his faith at home and work … not interesting.  Healings, substantiated or not, draw big crowds.  I suspect God is more concerned with the former.  Then the reality that you can’t substantiate a miracle over a cell phone.  Why spread what could be a false report and potentially dishonor God?  Before announcing miracles, substantiate them.  We’ll wait.  We’ll praise God.

“It’s electric. It’s tangible,” said Bentley. “That’s what people are coming for and also the notable miracles.”

“It’s like the day of Pentecost,” said Brenda Copeland, of Lakeland, who has attended the events with her children and grandchildren. “We’re living in perilous times,” she said, and God “has told little Lakeland to throw its weight around.”

Tuesday’s meeting brought visitors from across the United States. Strader and one of Bentley’s assistants have begun holding 10 a.m. morning services at Ignited. More than 85 percent of the crowd at one meeting indicated they were from out of town.

There have been so many people the church’s facility could not hold them.  So off a larger sister church (pastored by Strader’s brother-in-law), the Lakeland Center and then to Joker Marchant Stadium, the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers (perhaps this may miraculously turn around their season).  4-7,00 people are showing up, and the security measures necessary are alleged to be putting a strain on the church.  Supposedly no one is making  money on this.  In revivals found in the Bible, people’s giving increases greatly as they are freed from greed.  If I were healed, I’d be grateful enough to dump in much of what I’d save in doctor bills.  But that is just me.

The services often go on for several hours, with worshippers engaging in ecstatic singing, laughing and shouting and frequently collapsing under what leaders say is the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Some of Bentley’s teachings are considered controversial in Pentecostal circles, such as his claim of being visited by angels. Asked whether Bentley’s theology was a concern, Simmons paused and said, “I think what we’re all about is seeing families put back together and people come to know Jesus. At the revival, I’m seeing people come to know Jesus, and I’m OK with that.”

One little mention of people coming to faith.  Is it to have their sins wiped away?  I don’t know, but there seems little to no mention of that message characterizing the preaching of God’s Word.  I don’t see the biblical pattern of revival here.  I don’t see the historical pattern of revival here (just do a search on this blog for revival and read to your heart’s content).  I believe God can and does send revival.  This just doesn’t seem like one of those times.  But may one come.

To read on this further consider these books:

Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff

On Revival by Jonathan Edwards

Revival by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The Spirit of Revival: Discovering the Wisdom of Jonathan Edwards by R.C. Sproul and Archie Parish including a modernized version of Edwards’ Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

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