Saturday, October 26, 2013

George Müller: charismatic Calvinist

This is ironic:

One of my favorite accounts from church history in this regard is the testimony of George Müller…That perspective fueled Müller’s evangelistic zeal — from the 10,000 orphans he helped to care for in England to the over 200,000 miles he traveled as an itinerant evangelist, taking the gospel to dozens of foreign nations. Müller’s example is one of many powerful answers, from history, to those who would allege that an affirmation of God’s sovereignty in salvation kills evangelism.

Why ironic? On the one hand, Nathan Busenitz is a MacArthurite cessationist. He teaches theology at The Master's College. And he was one of the speakers at the Strange Fire Conference.

On the other hand, Müller is famous for his chronicle of miraculous answers to prayer:

That's how Müller supported his orphanages. If Müller were alive today, he'd be classified as a charismatic Calvinist. 

Busenitz might try to evade this by saying Müller's experience was providential rather than miraculous. However, the way in which God answered his prayers was nothing short of extraordinary. If that's providential, it's providential in the sense of coincidence miracles rather than ordinary providence.


  1. George Müller of Bristol And His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God by Arthur T. Pierson:

    George Mueller's Strategy for Showing God sermon by John Piper

    George Mueller quotes on prayer and faith

    George Muller biography by Basil Miller

    The Life of Trust by George Muller

  2. "If that's providential, it's providential in the sense of coincidence miracles rather than ordinary providence"

    I agree. I've seen this evasion often and it is usually implied that the one claiming a miracle is denying God's sovereignty. I'm trying to figure out how miracles aren't providential by definition. I could understand an (only to really restate in different terms the quote) ordinary vs extraordinary providence distinction where miracles are of the latter type. In the end I really don't know how to answer such a weird bifurcation of providence by the neo-cessationists since they use terms so haphazardly and can't seem to self-reflect on that at all. Maybe they just have too much invested in the anti-everythingness to be self-critical.

  3. Was Andrew Murray a "continuationistic Calvinist"?

    The late Francis Nigel Lee argued that Andrew Murray was a consistent Calvinist rather than an "incipient Pentecostalist" in his book "Rev. Dr. Andrew Murray -- Calvinist or Pentecostalist?" He addressed the issue because there are claims and rumors on the web on both sides of the issue. There are those who claim Andrew Murray accepted some of the tenets, movements and meetings of various Holiness and Pentecostal groups and individuals. While others claim he explicitly rejected some or all of them. From my own reading of Andrew Murray there are times when he wrote in ways that would seem to imply that he rejected unconditional election and possibly limited atonement as well. There are also passages that would suggest he was open to some or all of the of the charismatic gifts. He clearly believed in divine healing for a long time since he wrote a book in its defense. Though, I've read somewhere that he rejected it near the end of his life, but the claim wasn't documented (so I doubt it). Maybe this has been confused with another claim that the circulation of his book Divine Healing was stopped by others in his denomination. His book "The Full Blessing of Pentecost" suggests he believed that the gift of tongues was still available in this age. Though, having read the book, I can see how a Calvinist like Dr. Francis Nigel Lee could interpret it in a cessationistic way too.

    What is clear is that many of Andrew Murray's books are popular among Pentecostals and Charismatics even if he really couldn't be categorized as a continuationist. From my own limited reading, I suspect he should be understood to be a continuationist of sorts even if he rejected some of the tenets and fanaticism of Pentecostals of his day. Yet, I've even read from various sources that Andrew Murray personally knew John G. Lake (cf. HERE page 37). Lake, nowadays, is famous for being a healing evangelist in the early 20th century second only in reputation to Smith Wigglesworth. When it comes to election, I suppose it's possible that Murray believed in unconditional election even though he sometimes phrased his sentences to imply otherwise. Something which is not uncommon for believers in unconditional election to sometimes do in their sermons and books. Though, I think it's also possible he may have rejected or doubted it too (similar to Alvin Plantinga's views) contrary to the official teaching of his denomination.

    1. I wrote "(cf. HERE page 37)" That's page 37 according to the PDF document. But page 24 INSIDE the document. That is, page 24 according to the text.

  4. I doubt that Müller would be at home in a church that sanctions false prophets to teach the congregation. Thus he would not be a charismatic.

    1. Do you think all charismatic churches sanction false prophets?

      More to the point, I'm referring to his experience. If his claims regarding his prayer life are true, that's quite out of the ordinary.

    2. Ex Nihilo is touching on an important distinction. While one can happily believe that God still performs miracles, it is another thing to accept the claims of the Charismatics. Tongues, for example, seem to be highly touted since, as I imagine it, they're the easiest to fake. Having once been a Pentecostal myself, I know for a fact that my own tongues were nothing more than gibberish, while the scripture says they are an actual language. Even an 'angelic" language is still going to have some kind of a meaning to it, a syntax, morphology, etc.

      Prophecy is another big problem on the Charismatics side. I've heard hundreds upon hundreds of vague Charismatic prophecies, which were useless and, all these years later, not one of them have ever come true. Some have been more wicked. I was accused of trying to seduce a wife of one of the pastors based on their power of "discernment."

      It doesn't help that the Oneness Pentecostals, those heretics, make all the same claims as they do. Complete with miraculous healings, allegedly, backed up by doctors and the like.

      The question isn't necessarily that God works miracles. The question is, do the Charismatics actually perform miracles? Are they a genuine movement of God? Does God, perhaps, answer their prayers, for the same reason he sometimes let the devil perform miracles? (In order to try the faithful?) What kind of a theology, and what kind of a fruit, actually comes from the Charismatic movement? How do the Charismatics feel about Catholic Charismatics? I've met a few of them. One as dumb as a rock who told me I was going to hell for not being in communion with the Pope. She claimed she spoke in tongues and was in a church where the gifts were openly practiced.

      Is she right?

    3. You're not raising any issues I haven't dealt with before. And I notice that your judging charismatic theology by your experience. Yet in the same breath, cessationists fault charismatics for making experience their touchstone.

    4. Steve,

      The belief that God answers prayer is universal among Christians. It is hardly a charismatic distinctive. And if there is a charismatic church out there somewhere that consistently, as a matter of church policy, disciplines members who give false prophecies and denies the pulpit to unrepentant false prophets, I'd like to know about it; so that I may thank them personally for upholding biblical ecclesiology and church discipline.

    5. Have you actually read Müller's account, or are you just winging it? Do you think his reported experience is normal?

      "Ordinary providence" becomes indistinguishable from miraculous intervention considering the self-reported frequency and improbability of his answered prayers.

      When Robert Lewis Dabney reviewed Müller's account, he criticized Müller's experience as a norm, precisely because it was so extraordinary.

    6. Steve,

      I read the account before writing my responses to your post. Does this change your view of or response to what I wrote?

      I don't buy the idea that there is necessarily a clear distinction between providence and miracle. Daniel saw visions that revealed, among other things, the coming rise and fall of certain world empires. Clearly miraculous. God worked those events out in history through the day-to-day activities of unbelieving persons and nations. What was prophesied came to be, through the combination of the most mundane activities, along with some very odd and spectacular events. Must we conclude either that it was miraculous or that it was providential that the empires rose and fell as Daniel had foreseen? Or can we say simply, "God was working out His purposes in history and we are in awe."?

      When George Müller prayed for the fog to lift, and it lifted; is that a miracle? Or providence? Do we know for sure that the lifting of the fog was a supernatural occurrence? That there is no way it could have happened without the the suspension of the ordinary laws of physics? I don't know. Do you?

      If we call it miraculous do we thereby vindicate the entire package of beliefs and practices that define the charismatic movement?

      Faith is a gift from God. Some Christians deny this. But it is what the Word teaches. It was by faith that Müller prayed and believed that God would provide his needs. That's just biblical Christianity. Call it miraculous if you like. But you err if you think that you can establish the whole charismatic experience by piggybacking it on answered prayer. That doesn't follow.

      Or call it providence. Providence is often extraordinary; Dabney notwithstanding. The fine tuning of the universe to allow life is, for example, quite extraordinary and to secular folks, unexpected.


    7. I'm not referring to the single incident of the fog lifting. That was on a different post. Rather, I'm referring to his entire chronicle (Answers to Prayer) which I linked to in the body of this post.

      As far as that particular incident goes, a coincidence miracle doesn't involve the suspension of the ordinary laws of physics.

      You may not draw a clear line between miracle and providence, but MacArthurite cessationists do. By attacking that distinction, you're attacking their position, just as I'm attacking their position.

      "Extraordinary providence" is just a synonym for a miracle. That would concede that his experience of answered prayer was miraculous. A string of miracles. That's in tension with MacArthurite cessationism, which was this post's frame of reference.

    8. Steve,

      Most cessationists do not deny that God does miracles today. If the "MacArthurites" do so, then I disagree with them on that point.

    9. You keep swinging and you keep missing. The question at issue is whether Müller's prayer-life is normal or extraordinary.

    10. I've had numerous prayers answered by God in the affirmative. I know many Christians who have (many of them cessationists!). Scripture tells us that the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Müller's prayer life demonstrates the truth of this passage far beyond what most of us have experienced, and, in that respect could certainly be called "extraordinary." Perhaps we should expect to see God work more powerfully in response to our prayers.

      However, you still have not demonstrated how the great faith of this man of God makes him a charismatic. How does his prayer life validate the false prophecies, meaningless gibberish, and parlor tricks that rife in charismatic churches?

    11. To have prayers answered "far beyond what most of us have experienced," and to "expect" God to do whatever we pray for reflects a typically Pentecostal rather than cessationist mindset.

      "How does his prayer life validate the false prophecies, meaningless gibberish, and parlor tricks that rife in charismatic churches?"

      Of course, that's a tendentious extrapolation, but if you can't bring yourself to have a serious discussion, that's your choice.

    12. Steve, experience is exactly where the Charismatics fall to pieces, and where they also fail to differentiate themselves from the same type of phenomena done by religious cults. Even the Mormons, in their early days, had "Charismatic" experiences. I am not a cessationist who would deny all miracles or that God does not answer prayers in miraculous ways. Indeed, it was only after I left the Charismatics that I learned the difference between their play-miracles, and what it is really like to witness God answering prayers. The difference in power is dramatic, and the sad fact is, the Charismatics, by and large, have no power, even though they claim the name. Their prayer languages are not languages at all. Their prophecies are vague, vain, and useless. I can't help but to notice that most of them are outright Pelagians, and are ignorant of even the very basics of Christianity. Now, I don't know if that would characterize you, Steve. I don't know you. For all I know, you're an awesome guy. But if you think that gibberish is tongue-speaking, then you do not know the power of God either.

    13. You've simply gone from one confused position to another confused position. Your'e bouncing against opposite walls like a racket ball. You need to develop a stable position, not just react to one thing, then another.

    14. I don't doubt this may well apply to charismatic excesses. But the excesses do not the standard of comparison make. Not so in this case, for it's possible to theologically separate the excesses from bona fide charismata (assuming at least for the sake of argument modern charismata occur).

      Besides, if as you say "most of them are outright Pelagians, and are ignorant of even the very basics of Christianity" then they are not genuine Christians. As such, there's no reason to compare what the Bible teaches about the charismata with aberrant and heretical theology by false Christians.

    15. Ex N1hilo

      "I've had numerous prayers answered by God in the affirmative. I know many Christians who have (many of them cessationists!)."

      A cessationist can have a charismatic experience. That's why some cessationists become charismatic.
      Conversely, a charismatic can have a cessationist experience inasmuch as his actual experience is a comedown.

      It's not unusual to have a theological outlook that doesn't live up to your experience.

  5. @ Ex N1hilo

    "Or call it providence. Providence is often extraordinary; Dabney notwithstanding. The fine tuning of the universe to allow life is, for example, quite extraordinary and to secular folks, unexpected."

    Hm, actually, I don't think many militant atheists (obviously a fairly vocal and visible subset of secularists!) find "the fine tuning of the universe to allow life" particularly "extraordinary" or "unexpected." They'll dismiss it as random happenstance. A coincidence or somesuch. Or that it's not otherwise possible for those who live in such a universe to observe a non-fine tuned universe. So we can't say it's "expected" or "unexpected." Or they'll kick it back to the multiverse, which is neither "extraordinary" nor "unexpected." And so on and so forth.

    Point being, much of what you say in response to Steve could also be said by these secularists. You're just approaching it from one end, while they're approaching it from the other. Basically, you're both saying there's a non-"miraculous" explanation. It's just that the militant atheists chalk it up to naturalism whereas you chalk it up to general providence. Sure, there's lip service paid to special providence and miracles, but functionally speaking special providence is indistinguishable from general providence.

    Or to put it another way, sure, God may intervene, but if he does it's not evident to us. The militant atheist could likewise say, sure, God may exist, but if he does it's not evident to us.

  6. rockingwithhawking,

    Militant atheists do find fine-tuning extraordinary and unexpected. This fact is amply demonstrated by their willingness to appeal to a supernatural cause to explain it.

    Nothing I have said would be said by a secularist. My point, if I have not been clear enough, is that all that occurs is from God's hand and plan. Whether we call it "providence" or "miracle." How many secularists or atheists do you know that say that?

    1. @ Ex N1hilo

      "Militant atheists do find fine-tuning extraordinary and unexpected. This fact is amply demonstrated by their willingness to appeal to a supernatural cause to explain it."

      No, that's entirely incorrect. Militant atheists most certainly do not have a "willingness to appeal to a supernatural cause to explain it [fine tuning]"! That's one reason they're militant atheists. They're highly averse to considering "a supernatural cause." They think it could be explained naturalistically. They often say "to appeal a supernatural cause to explain it" is tantamount to a God of the gaps argument.

      For example, Richard Dawkins has said: "Don’t ever be lazy enough, defeatist enough, cowardly enough to say 'I don't understand it so it must be a miracle - it must be supernatural - God did it'. Say instead, that it’s a puzzle, it’s strange, it’s a challenge that we should rise to. Whether we rise to the challenge by questioning the truth of the observation, or by expanding our science in new and exciting directions - the proper and brave response to any such challenge is to tackle it head-on. And until we've found a proper answer to the mystery, it's perfectly ok simply to say 'this is something we don't yet understand - but we're working on it'. It's the only honest thing to do. Miracles, magic and myths, they can be fun. Everybody likes a good story. Myths are fun, as long as you don't confuse them with the truth. The real truth has a magic of its own. The truth is more magical, in the best and most exciting sense of the word, than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic - the magic of reality."

      What Dawkins has said is diametrically opposed to your contention that "militant atheists" have a "willingness to appeal to a supernatural cause to explain it."

      "My point, if I have not been clear enough, is that all that occurs is from God's hand and plan. Whether we call it 'providence' or 'miracle.'"

      So how is what you've said about "providence" distinguishable from what you've said about "miracle"? That's my point.

  7. Steve,

    George Mueller emphatically stated that he did not possess the charismatic gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians. We can either accept his words, or your vague associations. He believed that he could have a certainty of faith based on the promises of God's Word, and distinguished that as completely different from the gift of faith spoken of in 1 Corinthians. I gathered these facts from the links you posted.

    The question here is not whether his answers to prayer were extraordinary. Your words there are misleading, and do not reflect cessationism at all. Whether they are misleading intentionally, or out of ignorance, I have no idea. By changing the object of comparison with regards to the term, extraordinary, you have changed it's meaning.

    The term extraordinary in cessationism is not referring to a comparison of people in a given era. For example, a single person who is a true Christian in an ungodly area would have extraordinary faith compared to everyone else, as they have no faith, and he has enough faith to believe in Jesus. His faith is extraordinary by comparison, just as Mueller's faith is extraordinary compared to most Christians.

    The term extraordinary as used by cessationists contrasts the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians with ordinary miracles performed by God without these sign gifts. It is absolutely not a comparison between whether one person possesses more faith than another does; but a comparison between whether a person has the special gifts spoken of in 1 Corinthians, as opposed to simple faith (whether ordinary or extraordinary) in God's Word.

    Those who know much at all about cessationism know this. The people in cessationist churches often see God perform miracles in answer to prayer. Cessationists make exactly the same argument that Mueller does in the link you provided. It is possible to completely trust God on the basis of simple faith in a promise found in His Word without being a Charismatic. Is not faith in Jesus for Salvation trusting His promises? And is not that faith miraculous? And is not that an extraordinary thing? If so, then by your arguments all Christians should be labeled Charismatics. (All you have to do to falsely claim anyone as a Charismatic is change the meaning of one word - extraordinary - as you did.)

    1. My argument wasn't predicated on his claiming to exercise the charismata. Likewise, my argument wasn't based on imputing "extraordinary faith" to him.

      Cessationists like yourself are too conditioned by stereotypical ways of framing the issue to think outside the box. You also resort to stopgap distinctions to salvage your position.

  8. Like many Christians, I'd be less eager to embrace a cessationist position if in my 62 plus years I had seen ANY authentic evidence to the contrary among the Charismatic types I sojourned with early in my Christian life. The frauds, the fakes, and the delusional did little to convince me of authenticity. And nothing subsequent to my early years has reversed that view.

    1. While that may be understandable give your experience, cessationism is a universal negative. So it only takes a few well-attested counterexamples to falsify it.