Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Christian debunkers

I'm going to comment on a recent tweet by Dan Phillips:

When "continuationists" can point to 5 thoroughly documented resurrections by "faith healers" in the last year, let me know

This raises several questions:

i) When he demands documentation, what has he actually read on modern miracles?  

ii) We don't have 5 recorded resurrections per year in the book of Acts. In fact, we don't have 5 recorded resurrections in the entire the book of Acts–roughly 30 years.

iii) Restoring someone to life is attributed to only two apostles: Peter (Acts 9:37-40) and Paul (Acts 20:9-10). And I don't know if they'd count was "resurrections" rather than miraculous. resuscitations. Dorcus was only dead for a few hours, and Eutychus was only dead for a few minutes. That's not like Lazarus, who was dead for four days (Jn 11:39).

iv) Miracles are attributed to Stephen (6:8), yet there's no record of his raising someone from the dead. Yet if he had, we'd expect Luke to record that, inasmuch as Luke recorded the cases involving Peter and Paul. Same thing with the other apostles. So if Dan is suggesting that resurrecting someone is a litmus test for continuationism, hasn't he disqualified most of the apostles?

v) How does Dan think Peter and Paul healed people? Does he think God delegated healing powers to them, so that they could heal anyone at will? Or did God retain sovereign discretion over the outcome? 

vi) How is Dan's taunt different than asking, "Why won't God heal amputees"? 

Pentecostalism is a target-rich environment. However, it concerns me when Dan seems to adopt the same debunking mentality as knee-jerk skeptics like Paul Kurtz, James Randi, and Martin Gardner. 


  1. Replies
    1. Gordon located healing in the atonement if I am not mistaken as do most pentecostals today which begs the question why are Christians sick. Gordon himself died of Bronchitis and the Flu at age 59. So much for healing being included in the atonement.

    2. Sanctification is also in the atonement. Then why do Christians still sin? Our resurrection as well as our glorified bodies are in the atonement, then why do Christians still die? Just because something is in the atonement doesn't mean we can have its fulness now. I'm a Calvinist and a charismatic and I believe that healing is in the atonement. So does D.A. Carson and Wayne Grudem (see Vincent Cheung's book Biblical Healing pages 9-10 where he quotes both Grudem and Carson). My personal belief is that healing is in the atonement and that it's always God's revealed will to heal (just as it is God's revealed will to always save if one is believe). However, I also believe that God's will of decree is not always to heal (a Christian or non-Christian). However, it is always God's will to heal a Christian eventually, if not also in this life, then in the next. All things being equal, God will's to heal. All things considered, God sometimes chooses not to heal. However, we're called to believe and seek to experience God's revealed will for healing, just as in sanctification.

      Just because we continue to sin doesn't mean we should put up with it. Given Calvinism, God is also sovereign over our sins such that He decreed we would sin whenever we do. But that in no way contradicts our duty to strive for holiness. The same goes for healing. God normative way to heal is in response to faith (which, as Calvinists we believe ultimately comes from God). However, God also sometimes sovereignly heals in the absence of faith (or presence of weak faith) for various purposes (including out of sheer mercy/compassion, or for certain short term or long term consequences).

      Our affirmation of deus absconditus shouldn't undermine our affirmation of God being deus revelatus in Christ.

    3. Healing can sometimes waver and fluctuate like sanctifcation, and sometimes it can be instantaneous and permanent like justification. God is sovereign over who, when, where, and to what degree anyone is healed. However, we're called to believe God's promises for healing in the same way we're to seek sanctification.

      The best books that are freely available online that prove that healing is in the atonement (to my knowledge) are Christ the Healer by F.F. Bosworth, The Gospel of Healing by A.B. Simpson, and Divine Healing by Andrew Murray. From a Calvinist perspective, Vincent Cheung's book Biblical Healing and his former book Lectures on Biblical Healing are a good place to start. Though, not all Calvinists will accept some of his personal Calvinistic distinctives which he brings to bear on the subject (e.g. occasionalism).

    4. BTW, I wasn't claiming that Carson and Grudem are charismatics. Only that they both believe that healing is in the atonement. Grudem might consider himself a charismatic. Regardless, he's clearly an admitted continuationist.

    5. I recommend people read chapter 10 (The Verdict of Candor), chapter 11 (The Verdict of Caution) and chapter 12 (The Conclusion) of A.J. Gordon's book The Ministry of Healing (AKA Miracles of Cure In All Ages)

    6. Ed Dingess said...

      Gordon himself died of Bronchitis and the Flu at age 59. So much for healing being included in the atonement.

      If one read's A.J. Gordon's book (which I did about 10 years ago) one would find that he doesn't believe that since healing is in the atonement that Christians won't or shouldn't get sick, or won't remain sick. Yes, Gordon teaches that we ought to fight sickness and pray for healing since sickness is clearly taught as a curse in the Scriptures. He goes on to say,

      It is as true here as in any other field that God acts sovereignly and according to His own determinate counsel. He sees it best to recover one person at the instance of His people's prayers, and He may see it best to withhold such recovery for the time from another...And we would most strongly emphasize the importance of offering our supplications for this, as for all mercies, in the most loyal and hearty and unreserved submission to the will of our Father. He has told us that "all things work together for good to them that love God," but we are not to conclude that they all work in one direction. There are blessings and trials, joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures, sickness and health, falls and recoveries, advances and retrogressions, but the final issue and resultant of all these experiences is our highest good. This we conceive to be the meaning of the promise. And when we remember that God superintends all this complex system of providences, and foresees the final effect of each separate element in it, we see how becoming it is that we should bring every petition into subjection to the will of the Lord. When Augustine was contemplating leaving Africa and going into Italy, his pious mother, fearing the effect which the seductions of Rome might have upon his ardent nature, besought the Lord with many tears and cries that he might not be permitted to go. He was suffered to go, however, and in Milan he found his soul's salvation. "Thou didst deny her," says Augustine in his confessions, "Thou didst deny her what she prayed for at that time that Thou mightest grant her what she prayed for always." This is a perfect illustration of the point which we are emphasizing. God may withhold the recovery which we ask today because He will give to us that "saving health" which we ask always. He may permit temporal death to come, in order that He may preserve His child unto life eternal.

    7. Oops, I didn't provide the links I wanted to:

      The best books that are freely available online that prove that healing is in the atonement (to my knowledge) are Christ the Healer by F.F. Bosworth, The Gospel of Healing by A.B. Simpson, and Divine Healing by Andrew Murray.
      [various websites offer these books online]

      From a Calvinist perspective, Vincent Cheung's book Biblical Healing and his former book Lectures on Biblical Healing are a good place to start. Though, not all Calvinists will accept some of his personal Calvinistic distinctives which he brings to bear on the subject (e.g. occasionalism).

    8. The link above to Cheung's Biblical Healing is to his 2012 version. The Lectures on Biblical Healing are 2001. Here's a link to his Biblical Healing 2003 version.

      While I have many disagreements with some of Cheung's theology, apologetics and philosophy, I think he's right on a few other things. Since this is a website with Calvinistic readers, they might appreciate his books on healing which come from a Calvinistic (some might say, hyper-Calvinistic) perspective.

    9. BTW, there are other Calvinists who are also continuationists. Though obviously, they may disagree on specific continuationist issues (e.g. to what degree can we expect or believe for healing; are tongues for today, if so what is their nature?; is prophecy for today, if so what is the nature of NT prophecy? et cetera).

      They include John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, James K.A. Smith, Matt Slick, Vincent Cheung, Johanes Lilik Susanto. I would include Andrew Murray because he believed divine healing was for this age, though some would question whether he was a "continuationist" regarding other spiritual gifts; as well as whether he actually held to unconditional election despite the fact that he was part of the Dutch Reformed Church.

  2. I've read a bit of Dan's work over the years and I've never really been able to make sense of it. He seems to claim that since the deaths of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is active solely through the preached word.

    But Dan never says how He is active through the word. Can the Holy Spirit convict a person personally and subjectively of a specific sin or sins or is His work corporate only? I mean, that's one of His promised functions, right? If it the Holy Spirit can act at a personal level, why cannot/does not He also continue to interact with us throughout our daily existence? How is it that Christ is "with us even to the end of the age"? Was that only for the Apostles or is that for garden variety saints (as if such a catagory exists).

    Dan doesn't really like the idea of the Holy Spirit doing anything and I can see why vis a vis the charismatic movement, but I think that Steve is right here. Dan is falling back on faulty knee-jerk reactionary tactics. This is one reason why I've stopped reading Dan's stuff since last year.

    And I'm writing as a covenant-theology, reformed Presbyterian type guy.

  3. Everybody in the charismatic movement (onla a slight exaggeration) knows someone who knows of somebody whose second cousin knows this other person who heard eyewitness testimony from someone who was present when a miraculous resurrection occured at an evangelical meeting in a small African village.

    To hear some tell it, this sort of thing happens all the time. Televangelists have advised their followers to bring their recently departed loved ones before the TV screen and to expect to receive them back to the land of the living.

    I believe that it is in this context that Dan Phillips is asking for tangible proof of what are common claims.

    1. Unless Dan has bothered to study some serious authors on the subject, (e.g. Rex Gardner, Healing miracles: A doctor investigates; Craig Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts), his request is disingenuous.

  4. Dan also needs to read more church history, and do so without the blinders of "cessationism" on. Take Pentecostalism and the modern-day "charismatic movement" completely out of the discussion. Is he not aware of the ongoing healing miracles that occurred during the Patristic period mentioned by Irenaeus (in "Against Heresies", Book 1) and Augustine (in "City of God", Book 22, Chapter 8) among others? How about the evangelical witness of the Waldenses during the Middle Ages who not only believed in "the grace of healings", but practiced it? What about Martin Luther? Has he not read about the remarkable case regarding Philip Melanchthon who was, to all appearances, on the verge of death when Luther's prayer for him resulted in his miraculous recovery? Hasn't Dan even read about the early Protestants of Scotland, among whose ministries a remarkable number of extraordinary miracles of healing were set down in writing? A. J. Gordon says of this latter group that "When we reflect that these things are recorded by the pens of some of the holiest men the church of God has ever seen, and recorded too as the experience of their own ministry of faith and prayer, the fact must furnish at least food for reflection to those that assert with such confident assurance that the age of miracles is past..."

    Is Dan really prepared to throw Augustine, Martin Luther, the Moravians and the Scottish Covanenters under the bus too when it comes to this issue by maintaining an obdurate resistance to the idea of miracle healings just because he'd rather cling to a theology of across-the-board "cessationism"?

    I'll repeat what I said in the earlier thread:

    "Although I agree that the age of the Apostles was an abnormal period and certain peculiar features of the era passed away *with* it, it's important to distinguish carefully what *did* and did *not* pass away with it."

    1. There are very few who deny that healing miracles have happened through prayer and the miraculous intervention of Providence. I think the problem many "cessationists" have is that this does not necessarily continue certain apostolic ministries such as binding revelatory prophecy.

      I have not researched the issue in much depth, but I would not doubt that great healing miracles have occurred through faith and prayer with some regularity over time. I would doubt occurrences of miraculous resuscitation have occurred through apostolic-type agency since the apostolic era. As far as I know there has not been any serious Christian investigation of claims to resurrection/resuscitation of the dead in modern times, and to be honest I have not heard anything beyond third or fourth-hand hearsay accounts of such things.

  5. I don't know if I'm seeing the helpful distinction being made here between "God sometimes heals people" and "God still gives the gift of healing". Those aren't the same.

    1. Maybe that's the crux of the problem. Can you elaborate?

    2. Yeah, it's a big part of it at least.

      It leads the discussion more to where it needs to be - the nature of the gifts, what they lookED like in the NT, and whether there are people who plausibly have those gifts today.

      An analogy - the gift of tongues was never a prayer language, mere gibberish. That's what most people are talking about when they say "gift of tongues" today. Who has the gift of tongues, to supernaturally speak in another language they've never studied?

  6. Yeah, I get that, but I am wondering about the delineation between two quoted phrases in your post. Can you delineate that out a bit clearer?

    I mean, I can see that Benny Hinn isn't legit and I've been exposed to "prayer language" nonsense, but what is the difference between "gifting" and other work of the Holy Spirit?

    1. I would say that gifting = a more permanent thing, something given (though not necessarily immediately acknowledged) at conversion.
      God can work miraculously whenever He wants.
      Similarly, I'm supposed to exercise mercy when I have the opportunity. But someone who has the gift of mercy will take pains to seek out ways to show mercy b/c they really really like it. It's their gift (and not mine).

    2. I'm not sure if that clears it up.

      Scripturally speaking, do these categories exist?

    3. Rhology:

      Re the matter of how healing is transmitted by God, that was a point I addressed at the end of the Kathryn Kuhlman thread earlier this week; you might want to look it up. Depending on God's sovereign will in each individual case, divine healing has come about in several different ways: a petition by the believer himself, through the public ministry of a "specialist' like Kuhlman acting as a vessel (despite the fact that not everyone who sought healing in her services received it), or by His intended healing ministry that should be operating inside local churches as outlined in James 5:14-16.

      Since the subject has come up, I will also briefly add that after considerable study my own view is that healing for our mortal bodies is not *in* the atonement in the same way that forgiveness of sin is, and therefore it should *not* be preached and offered to all believers as a guarantee on the basis of Matthew 8:16-17. Although healing ultimately comes *through* the Atonement in the sense that every spiritual blessing does, it is sin that required expiation by the blood of Christ, not sickness. Sickness *itself* is not sin, there is no guilt attached to it and therefore no legal penalty; it is the hereditary result of sin.

    4. I appreciate it, guys. I have to bow out; just limited time. Apologies. Blessings to you.