Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Some charismatic demographics

I emailed a widely respected charismatic scholar about charismatic demographics. They've graciously granted me permission to post their response (slightly edited for anonymity).

Some things are a matter of definition. Some reports dump non-Christian movements (e.g., they see their founder as the messiah) in the "charismatic" category for sociological reasons.

But among charismatics as more traditionally defined, prosperity teaching and often extreme demonologies are very common in much of Africa and Latin America (and some of these go beyond the charismatics to the church more generally). At the same time, though these people have been taught wrongly on these issues, they often have embraced the true gospel regarding salvation. So (contrary to MacArthur et al.) many of these are sincere Christians whom God is using, and some are learning the hard way about other errors. Also, a large proportion of those polled as believing that faith brings prosperity actually were saying that they depend on God to supply their needs, which is quite different from prosperity teaching. [Another scholar], who is African but not charismatic, said that most Africans would answer that question Yes but not mean it the way those whom we call "prosperity preachers" do.

The mixed teachings are widespread and with maybe 50% of the population in many countries being teenagers or children we must teach the next generation rightly. But there is a shortage of Bible teachers and hard cessationists don't help when they divide those with the gift of teaching from others because we need teachers who can communicate with (rather than berate) those charismatics. The explosion of evangelism and of population makes it hard to disciple, and unfortunately it was the Western prosperity teachers who invested in getting themselves on African TV ... :-( So much work needs to be done. Prosperity teaching emerged as syncretism with Western materialism, but hard cessationism proliferated as syncretism with Western deism. Rather than choosing our poison, it would be better to just seek to bring people back to the Bible in every respect.


  1. So Conrad Mbewe, a pastor who actually lives in Africa and deals with this stuff everyday, is exaggerating the influence of charismatic health and wealth prosperity heresy upon the church in Africa? And where does this respected charismatic scholar live exactly?

    1. Hi Fred,

      Thanks for your comment. In response please:

      1. I'm afraid I don't see where the scholar has singled out Conrad Mbewe and accused him of "exaggerating the influence of charismatic health and wealth prosperity heresy upon the church in Africa."

      In fact, the scholar has said "prosperity teaching and often extreme demonologies are very common in much of Africa."

      2. Speaking of Mbewe, I'm sure he's a wonderful pastor and a godly man. However, he's simply one person in an entire continent. Surely there are many other Christians in Africa who could give us an equally if not more valid perspective.

      Imagine flying John MacArthur over to a major city in Africa like Nairobi for a Christian conference and hearing him talk about the influence of, say, atheism on the church in America. MacArthur is a pastor "who actually lives in" America and I would think "deals with" atheism "everyday." I'm sure he would have many valuable things to say about atheism, but how would what MacArthur has to say in such a conference about atheism be more representative than what another American Christian might have to say?

      3. Isn't Mbewe from Zambia? If so, then wouldn't he be most familiar with Zambia and perhaps its neighbors or Southern Africa? He wouldn't necessarily be the best person to ask about, say, North Africa, which obviously has quite a different religious society and culture to put it mildly (Islam) than sub-Saharan Africa. Nor necessarily about East Africa. Or West Africa.

      4. BTW, on a side note, I could be wrong, but isn't "the influence of charismatic health and wealth prosperity heresy" greater among West African churches than Southern African churches?

      5. what aspect of "the influence of charismatic health and wealth prosperity heresy upon the church in Africa" are we talking about?

      a. If we're talking about demographics, which is how I broached and framed the topic, then how is Mbewe an expert on the religious demographics of Africa?

      b. If we're talking about theological doctrine, then, theologically speaking, why tie the "health and wealth prosperity heresy" to the charismatic movement in the first place? A charismatic need not subscribe to the "health and wealth prosperity heresy."

      6. Why can't a non-African or someone not presently living in Africa be an expert on the religious demographics of Africa? This would be like saying Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America could not have contained significant insights on the topic at the time it was written because de Tocqueville only spent a couple of years traveling across America and eventually returned to live in France.

    2. I can't help noticing that Fred is appealing to the argument from experience. He's appealing to Mbewe's experience of Pentecostalism in Africa. But don't MacArthurite cessationists typically fault charismatics for forming theological judgments based on personal experience? So where does Fred draw the line?

      By the same token, Fred's appeal to experience cuts both ways. Just as you have native African Christians with a negative experience of Pentecostalism, you have naive African Christians with a positive experience of Pentecostalism. By appealing to experience, Fred opens himself up to confirmatory as well as disconfirmatory arguments for or against charismatic theology. If experience can invalidate charismatic claims, experience can validate charismatic claims.

  2. I know that Steve Hays has done a lot of articles on the recently Strange Fire and Michael Brown vs. Cessationism and John McArthur, but I have not seen interaction with these 2; (maybe you have, I searched a little and didn't find any) but have you guys seen these 2 - sermon by Phil Johnson and article and interacted with the details here: I thought Phil Johnson did an excellent job of critique.



    1. Hi Ken,

      Sorry, I haven't listened to Phil's sermon, or read his blog post. (I think there might also be a transcript of his sermon somewhere?) Anyway, I'll try to do that at some point if time permits. Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. Ken,

      i) Phil's original indictment suffered from some factual inaccuracies:

      "I received an e-mail from Dr. Storms correcting some inaccuracies in the original version of this post. He informed me that Rick Joyner was never an actual member of the Kansas City Prophets, nor did Dr. Storms meet him more than once or have any influence as his teacher or mentor. Dr. Storms also wanted me to make clear that he has not seen or spoken with Paul Cain in over a decade and does not in any way endorse him now as a true prophet. I've also clarified a few phrases that were ambiguous. I apologize to Dr. Storms for both the inaccuracies and the ambiguities. I do not want to misrepresent his position.)"
      ii) I think Phil scores a number of valid points. Insiders are prone to have blind spots about their own theological tradition, or members of the club. They are too close to their own tradition, too defensive of their own tradition, to see some of the problems. That's why outside critics are often useful in theology and church history. I think that to some degree the critical faculty of Sam Storms and Michael Brown may well have been disarmed by their insularity.

      iii) Because Pentecostalism encourages Christians to actively seek the charismata, because Pentecostalism expects the charismata to occur with a certain frequency, I think that invites false expectations. That sets them up for the fall. They are straining for an experience that isn't promised them. There's a temptation to imagine or manufacture an experience to match their theological expectations. I think that's a systemic weakness of charismatic theology.

      iv) However, cessationism isn't the only alternative. There's an obvious difference between seeking or expecting an extraordinary experience, and being open to the possibility of that happening out of the blue. Happening unbidden. It's not something you count on. Indeed, it may be totally unexpected.

      There are cases of God answering prayer in miraculous ways, cases of God giving Christians special guidance or protection, according to God's sovereign, unpredictable discretion.

      v) I notice that MacArthurite cessationists careen between condemning the appeal to experience and resorting to experience whenever it suits their cessationist agenda. On the one hand they condemn the over-reliance on experience which many charismatics or Pentecostals exhibit. On the other hand, they constantly cite examples of charismatics behaving badly to falsify charismatic theology. But if bad experience can undercut charismatic claims, why can't good experience underwrite charismatic claims?

      MacArthurite cessationists lack a consistency policy on the role of experience in assessing theological claims. Their simultaneous acceptance and rejection of experience–depending one which serves the immediate needs of the argument–is ad hoc and opportunistic.

      vi) There's a danger in judging a theological movement by the abuses. What about scandals involving Baptists, viz. Ergun Caner and his apologists (Norm Geisler, Peter Lumpkins)?Ted Haggard. Pastor Bob Moorehead. Franklin Graham's income. Patterson's mismanagement of SWBTS. How William Dembski was drummed out of Baylor? Does that falsify Baptist theology?

  3. Thanks for your interaction, Steve.

    On point i - good that Phil apologized for inaccuracies;

    but, it seems Storms, Grudem, and even Piper are too silent on the abuses of prophesy etc. ( I did not know a lot of that about what Phil Johnson said about Piper's silence - there is where Phil Johnson really pulls no punches and expects these guys to come out sooner in discerning these phonies, like Todd Bentley and Paul Cain.

    Phil Johnson here makes a great point - the very people who are seeking the gift of the prophetic in discernment warning type of ministry don't seem to have much discernment on this issue. It does not seem hard to discern that the Toronto Blessing, Brownsville Revival, and Lakeland (Todd Bentley) and this stuff about gold dust and barking and etc. is all a bunch of goofy emotionalism run amok.

    Phil Johnson has the gift of discernment without claiming any special gifting - just a keen sense of what is Biblical and what is not. Ironic huh?

    point iii - Yes, Pentecostalism - the classic version is that there is a second experience with evidence of speaking in tongues and that physical healing is in the atonement and is available today for those who have faith (and not just for when we get a glorified body in heaven) - those things definitely set them up for false expectations and falls. Third wave theology does that also.

    Also, there needs to be a distinction between a. Pentecostalism b. Charismatic and c. Third Wave theology (Wimber, Jack Deere, Storms, Grudem, and it seems, Piper) - Third Wave theology wants to take seriously the commands/exhortations to "earnestly spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1) and "earnestly desire the greater gifts" (1 Cor. 12:1) and "do not forbid to speak in tongues" - I Cor. 14:39 .

    on point vi - good point, but it is not Baptist theology in itself by nature that is related to the scandals - unless you can show a direct connection of Arminian baptist theology and those scandals you have named. I didn't know Ted Haggard was a baptist - I thought he was some kind of mild Charismatic.

    I guess it is the nature of the doctrine itself that Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms seems to be the main proponent of, that one can have the gift of prophesy and report them wrongly and make false statements that are directly related to a lof of the dis-crediting of it - since, some of the dis-crediting had to do with having to apologize to certain people for making false prophesies / exposing secret sins about their lives and ruining their lives, when it turned out to be not true. That aspect of the scandals of false prophesies has direct bearing on the doctrine and practice itself; whereas Baptist theology does not have a direct relationship to those scandals you mention.

  4. Correction:

    and "earnestly desire the greater gifts" (1 Cor. 12:31)

    1. There are different ways of rendering and understanding 1 Cor 12:31 & 14:1, as Thiselton explains.

    2. Agreed . . . I need to get Thiselton's commentary on 1 Corinthians. Matthison also recommends it as one of the top 5 exegetical commentaries on 1 Corinthians.

      Any comment on my point about the relationship of the nature of the claim of the gift of prophesy (that it can be communicated wrongly) and some of the scandals (ruining people's lives by wrongly accusing them of secret sin and saying "thus says the Lord" etc.) vs. nature of Baptist theology and the scandals therein?

    3. On the one hand you have scholars like Grudem who sincerely but mistakenly define NT prophecy. That can have the effect of justifying abuse.

      On the other hand you always have self-styled "prophets" who make oracular pronouncements. Some of them are deceivers, others are self-deceived. Some are calculating, self-conscious scammers, while others are self-deluded into believing they really do have special insight or foresight.

      Because Pentecostalism inclines to flamboyant preachers, it unwittingly recruits con men with acting ability.