Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blown about by every wind of doctrine

Lyndon Unger (aka "Mennoknight") has posted a critique of an appendix Craig Keener wrote for inclusion in Michael Brown's Authentic Fire:

I don't normally read Unger's stuff. That's because he's a buffoon. He acts like he got his MDiv from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. 

And that's ironic. Cessationists criticize charismatics for their anti-intellectualism. And many charismatics are, indeed, anti-intellectual.

Yet Unger operates at the level of a birthday party clown. He plasters every post with funny pictures. I don't mean one or two. It's wall-to-wall slapstick.

Keep in mind that Unger is a contributor to the Cripplegate blog, which is informally associated with Grace Community Church and the Master's Seminary ("our ministries"). And there are plans to republish the entire multipart review (by Fred Butler, Lyndon Unger, et al.) at Cripplegate. 

Why do they think cessationists can't read a straight review of Authentic Fire? Why do they think cessationists have such a childish attention span that they need to be entertained with a barrage of slapstick pictures? 

Dr. Keener opens the appendix stating that the appendix is being written before the book or the conference (there is a single footnote linking to his review of the Strange Fire book).  He’s writing in a book that’s a response to a book/conference spearheaded by John MacArthur and shows an amazing lack of familiarity with every position John MacArthur holds on all the relevant subjects…Dr. Keener seemingly didn’t care much about interacting with the Strange Fire conference or book since he didn’t really address any of the specific beliefs or statements made in either the book or the conference…I’m kinda surprised that Dr. Keener is contributing to a response to a specific book and openly admits that he hasn’t even read the book. 
i) Unger faults Keener for failing to hit a target that Keener never aimed at in the first place. But, of course, Keener can't very well miss what he wasn't even aiming at. 
ii) I happen to know that Keener was reluctant to get drawn into the Strange Fire controversy because he does his own research. He doesn't have staffers to respond to critics, unlike MacArthur, who can let Phil Johnson, Fred Butler, Nathan Busenitz, Mike Riccardi et al. run interference for him. 
iii) Unger's complaint is petty and silly because Keener subsequently published a mammoth review of MacArthur's Strange Fire book:
Johnson and John MacArthur have openly discussed this at Strange Fire (they’re open to the possibility but recognize that 99.99% or more of claimed modern miracles don’t fit the biblical definition, and miracles are incredibly infrequent, even in the scripture).Dr. Keener spends around a third of his chapter talking about opponents of miracles in general…which wouldn’t be so bad except that he admits that cessationists generally accept the possibility of miracles…and we do (in fact, I don’t know of anyone in the cessationist camp that doesn’t).  Christians are, by nature, supernaturalists…it’s just that some of us aren’t suckers.  We look for a little more than the “like, for reals!” level of evidence often provided.
i) That's a throwaway concession. They are hypothetically open to modern miracles, but unless they inform themselves by reading the best literature, the allegation that "that 99.99% or more of claimed modern miracles don’t fit the biblical definition" is viciously circular. An exercise in self-reinforcing ignorance.
ii) They also manipulate definitions to artificially and preemptively restrict what counts as a miracle. That's another circular exercise.  
iii) To say miracles are "incredibly infrequent" begs the question. 
Not a single reference.  He quotes a whole bunch of stuff (Moreland, studies, etc.) but we don’t get any way to track down and verify anything he has said…so I’m suspicious of all his claims.  I seriously doubt Dr. Keener is a liar and I’m not suggesting that he is, but he’s hardly an unbiased observer. 
Unlike Unger, who's obviously unbiased. 
I will suggest that I don’t believe any of what he’s said, not because of a personal or moral flaw with him but because he hasn’t given me any reason to (like an actual citation).  I don’t take his word for it because, in matters of truth, no man is a trustworthy and unbiased authority.
That's not a very smart thing to say. On the one hand he says, "I don’t take his word for it because, in matters of truth, no man is a trustworthy and unbiased authority." On the other hand he says "Not a single reference.  He quotes a whole bunch of stuff (Moreland, studies, etc.) but we don’t get any way to track down and verify anything he has said."
But if "no man is a trustworthy authority," then it wouldn't matter how many references he gave. For Unger would still be taking the word of referenced sources. 
No serious interaction with scripture.  He opens up the chapter with “The main reason that I could never embrace cessationism, however, is that I am convinced that the biblical evidence is uniformly against it” (Kindle Locations 4858-4859), glosses over 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, and then proceeds to tell stories for the rest of the appendix.  The entire chapter has a shining 27 references to the scripture at all, and 18 of those references (that’s 66%) are in the 9 paragraph section where he discusses when the gifts will pass (namely 1 Cor. 13:8-12), but he doesn’t actually spend any time in any passage at all.  
Is Unger really that dull? Keener has made his exegetical case elsewhere. Since he's just contributing an appendix to someone else's book, he doesn't repeat his exegetical arguments. There's no room for that, and it's redundant.
The appendix is essentially all testimonial evidence.
Well, if the question at issue is whether miracles still occur in the modern world, testimonial evidence is the primary line of evidence. Isn't that self-explanatory? 
Dr. Keener may claim to be convinced by the scripture, but he sure doesn’t write like a man who came to his conclusions based upon the scripture.
Is Unger just monumentally ignorant of what Keener has written on the subject?
This entire section is entirely irrelevant to the issues around Strange Fire.  Nobody is opposed to miracles in general.  I’m open to the miraculous. 
Except that MacArthurites say that with fingers crossed behind their back. 
As for all the testimonials and statistics, I simply don’t doubt that people experienced what they claim, but I question their interpretation of their experience.  
i) That's a necessary distinction in assessing reported miracles. If, however, that's your automatic fallback to dismiss reported miracles out of hand, then you're a theoretical supernaturalist, but a functional naturalist. 
ii) Keep in mind, too, that atheists are more than happy to deploy that distinction against Biblical miracles. 
Someone may have prayed and God may have miraculously healed in response to prayer, but that doesn’t mean that the person who did the praying has the gift of healing (or even that a “biblical quality” healing actually occurred).  It’s far more biblically reasonable that God simply answered their prayers.
Let's take a hypothetical comparison:
i) Someone with the gift of healing lays hands on a patient, prays for them, and they are miraculously healed.
ii) Someone without the gift of healing lays hands on the patient, prays for them, and they are miraculously healed. 
What's the big difference? 
Why does nobody seem to be able to answer why I don’t see or hear about events like Acts 3:6-10 or John 9:1-34 happening anywhere?  
I've discussed that sort of thing repeatedly on my own blog.
I’m not talking about people praying and the sick getting healed; as a cessationist I expect that.  I’m talking about people who claim to have the gift of healing in the same sense that Jesus and the apostles did.  I’m talking about divinely selected people being given the gift of healing and using that gift to instantaneously heal objectively verifiable physical infirmity (i.e. wounds or paralysis)…and not with mysterious strangers that nobody can ever track down.  I’m talking about cripples that everyone knows and dozens can vouch for.  I’m talking about instantaneous, complete, public, irrefutable and documented (or documentable) healing that doesn’t involve prayer (if you look in the New Testament, neither Jesus nor the apostles ever prayed before healing people).  I’m talking about God healing through an individual at the discretion of that individual.
Take this promise:
12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it (Jn 14:12-13).
Notice here that miracles ("greater works") are specifically indexed to prayer. Keep in mind, too, that cessationists confine this to the apostles. 
But, then, it's not an autonomous gift. Rather, apostolic miracles are granted in answer to prayer. That's the programmatic statement in Jn 14:12-13, as cessationists themselves construe it. 
I’m talking about someone yelling “rise up and walk” and a cripple hopping to their feet and doing the moonwalk.  Jesus did it all the time and so did the apostles. People cry “foul” when cessationists ask for an example of someone, anywhere, going and cleaning out a cancer ward.  Jesus and his apostles did that regularly (Matt. 4:24, 8:16, 12:15; Mark 3:10; Luke 4:40, 6:19; Acts 5:16, 8:7).  Jesus healed people of blindness, paralysis, open wounds that were years old, leprosy, etc. and every wheelchair that goes into a healing crusade comes out the other side.  
i) Really? What about this?
And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mk 6:5). 
17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able” (Mk 9:17-18). 
and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20).
ii) Or take this passage:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thes 4:13).
Why didn't Paul just raise the dead? 
iii) Furthermore, Unger's claim is self-refuting. On the one hand he says, "cessationists ask for an example of someone, anywhere, going and cleaning out a cancer ward.  Jesus and his apostles did that regularly."
On the other hand, he says, "miracles are incredibly infrequent, even in the scripture."
But in that case, we wouldn't expect a Christian healer to regularly clear out a cancer ward. After all, miracles are "incredibly infrequent"…"even in scripture." 
As for his claims about “a majority of conversions” in the third and fourth centuries, he’s simply making unsubstantiated claims that I’m ignoring as nonsense…and it’s interesting how he needs to pull out Catholic saints like St. Boniface (whose most famous miracle was cutting down a tree).  That seems really desperate.
i) To begin with, he's written a 2-volume monograph on miracles, with copious documentation.
ii) If you're going to demand evidence for miracles throughout church history, then, of course, that will include pre-Reformation Christians. 
As for his citation of J.P. Moreland and how “up to 70 percent of that growth involves ‘signs and wonders’” (Kindle Locations 4998-4999), I simply say “so what?”  The Chinese think they’re experiencing miracles en masse.  So what?  That doesn’t mean that what they think is happening is actually happening.  Their interpretation of their experience is possibly wrong.
True. But if you're going to apply that to preemptively discount the testimony of thousands or millions of Chinese Christians, then you react with the same reflexive disbelief as secular debunkers like Paul Kurtz, Martin Gardner, and James Randi.   
Let me be clear on this:  I don’t care if Dr. Keener himself teleports to the Republic of Nauru, preaches a sermon in their native tongue, heals a whole cancer ward and the whole nation proclaims faith in Jesus.  That’s not proof that God has always done miracles in the past or that his miracle is itself an act of God.  Only the scriptures interpret our wild and crazy experiences, including what appear to be astounding miracles, and a surface-level proclamation of faith is not divine verification of what seems to be divine miracles (just saying “I’m a Christian” doesn’t make anyone a Christian).  If he preaches a false gospel (not assuming he would but only hypothetically speaking), his astounding miracles would be an astounding work of Satan.
That sounds very pious, but it's self-contradictory. According to cessationism, miracles enjoy priority over Scripture. Scripture doesn't validate miracles; rather, miracles validate Scripture. According to cessationism, we only believe the messenger (Jesus, apostle, OT prophet) because his message was corroborated by sign-gifts. 
There might be prophets around today (since “the perfect” in 1 Cor. 13:8-12 is most likely the second coming)
That's quite a concession. 
Dr. Keener has never met one (i.e. a prophet with 100% accuracy who speaks God’s words in the place of God) and his fortune cookie examples show it clearly.
Are all (or even most) of his cases "fortune cookie" examples? 
With regard to his comments on tongues, it’s strange how he seems to hold to multiple definitions of tongues.  He quoted Del Tarr and discussed how Mr. Tarr has witnessed people speaking unknown earthly languages, but then Dr. Keener talked about his own experience with ecstatic speech and even mentioned prayer languages.  I don’t know if he thinks that there are two or three different types of tongues, but I’ve written two posts (number one and number two) on the definition of “tongues” in the apostolic period and would suggest that Dr. Keener is confused as to the definition of tongues.
i) To begin with, cessationists define glossolalia as xenoglossy. Assuming for the sake of argument, that that's correct, Keener just gave an example of modern xenoglossy. And he gives additional evidence in the first volume of his commentary on Acts. So that's meeting the cessationist on his own turf. Yet when their demands are met, they fluff it off. 
ii) And notice how conceited Unger is. If Keener disagrees with Unger, then Keener must be confused. 
Oh boy.  Dr. Keener’s argument here boils down to “I know more about African Christianity than Conrad Mbewe because I married an African and lived there for a while…”  Just the very thought that he’s more widely exposed to African culture or can somehow speak from a position of greater authority on Africa than Conrad Mbewe, an African pastor who has traveled the continent preaching and ministering for decades, is laughably arrogant.
That's a malicious misrepresentation of Keener's argument. To begin with, although Keener is less expert than Mbewe, he's more expert than Unger. He has more direct, firsthand knowledge of African Christianity than Unger.
Moreover, although Craig Keener is less expert than Mbewe, is there any reason to think Médine Keener is less expert than Mbewe? Likewise, is Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu less expert than Mbewe? 
I have dozens of friends (pastors, bible college professors, laypeople) who are currently in (or come from) all over Africa and the consistent story I get is that the church all over Africa is overrun by the prosperity gospel, word faith teaching and a dozen other obscene heresies.  
As if Keener doesn't have dozens of African contacts? 
If Unger were intellectually responsible, he's acknowledge his limitations at this point. Since he isn't qualified, he should reserve judgment. 
In this section, Dr. Keener just uses irrelevant argumentation.  His response to the charge of syncretism in the Africa charismatic movement was along the lines of “well, Pentecostals aren’t the only ones doing it…and at least they’re preaching the gospel!”  Talk about unconvincing.
Another malicious misrepresentation. Indeed, it's contradicted by what Unger earlier quoted:
Dr. Keener responds:“Although false claims do abound, they are hardly limited to some Pentecostals. Indeed, the caricature of the vast majority of African Pentecostals as not being Christian is also a false claim. In some places, in fact, Pentecostals and charismatics are the least syncretistic, and in at least some places they are the only people preaching the Christian message of salvation” 
Is that the same as “well, Pentecostals aren’t the only ones doing it…and at least they’re preaching the gospel!” 
And his story about his efforts to write a book addressing the prosperity gospel that was turned down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore” (Kindle Location 5275)?  He says it was around a decade ago, which would mean post Y2K.  What planet does Dr. Keener live on again?
Compare that with Unger's earlier summary:
Dr. Keener recalls how a decade ago he almost wrote a book on prosperity teaching but the publisher turned it down since “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore”
Unger acts as if Keener is out of touch. But it wasn't Keener who said “no one believes in prosperity teaching anymore.” Rather, that was Keener's publisher. Indeed, the very fact that Keener proposed a book-length assessment of the prosperity gospel, only to be turned down by his publisher, shows that he himself did think it was a live issue, and an important one at that. The better question is, what planet did his publisher live on?
But this is completely mangled in Unger's recounting.
So he worked with people who he admits believed the prosperity gospel but he somehow thinks that the prosperity gospel was “incidental to their faith?”  It appears that either Dr. Keener doesn’t have the same definition of “prosperity gospel” as the rest of us or he’s talking about something entirely different. 
People can be taught something, but it's peripheral to their own life and thought. Students are taught many things. Even if they believe what they were taught, much of it is filed away in the back of their minds. 
Also, the charismatic line regarding how when Africans say “prosperity gospel” they actually mean “daily provisions” is simply a lie. 
So Médine Keener is a liar. And Unger knows that because he has more personal expertise on African Christianity than she does.  
Dr. Keener then goes back to talking about naturalism, which apparently is the source underlying anything beyond milquetoast cessationism.  Also, his whole suggestion that cessationists choose the position out of some sort of fear of fighting the wider skepticism of the culture would have a shred of credibility if not for all the cessationists fighting liberalism (i.e. the culturally popular form of religion) in all its various manifestations for the past 200 years. 
Yet what he actually quotes Keener saying is "Antisupernaturalism first advanced its case based on earlier forms of cessationism, which was an overreaction against false medieval claims." 
Like many ex-charismatics I've encountered, Unger is a weathercock, blown about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14). An incurable reactionary. He went from being an undiscerning charismatic to being an undiscerning cessationist. 

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Unger may want to read Acts 9.40 and 28.8 in which two apostles (Peter and Paul respectively) healed after praying in the situations.