Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Jesse Phillips on Experiencing God

I wonder if any readers remember Jesse Phillips - one of the wonderful pastors at Metro Life Church in Florida. It's a church on my hit list to definitely visit one day when money permits not least to finally meet Jesse and Janelle! But Jesse used to run a brilliant blog I loved called; "Prophetically Speaking". Due to demands on his time he had to sadly discontinue it. But I was sorting out my computer files today and found a Word file I am so glad I kept. When I knew that he was going to stop the blog, I saved all his blog posts for just such an occasion.

I was refreshed by reading this again and re-challenged!

Here's some of what he wrote. We need sensible charismatics who can argue from Scripture when you have cessationists such as Phil Johnson attacking charismatic doctrine (and not arguing from Scripture but experience I might add);

Cessationists can be driven by experience

What if I told you, "We need to go start a revival"? Or, "We need to experience more of God's power and have some amazing encounters with the Holy Ghost"? Or, "What the church really needs is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts"?

How would you respond? You'd probably be concerned that I was turning into some kind of wild revivalist. You would think back to your own experience of how people abused the gifts and would be concerned that I was headed in the same direction.

You may say something like, "I know where that goes and we don't want to go there again." There is certainly much wisdom to be gained from experience. It does not make sense to keep repeating the same mistakes again and again.

There is, however, a universal human tendency to overreact to abuse and misdiagnose the problem. Whenever someone is shot and killed on the street, all of us face the temptation to ask how the criminal came into possession of a gun before asking why hatred filled his heart. Guns can be misused, but they are not the fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is in the person doing the abusing not the thing that is abused.

As good as wisdom from experience is, it also has limitations. It can lead to these misdiagnoses of problems.

And so, if you were to tell me, "I know where that goes" I would venture to ask, "Even though that's where it led last time, is it possible that it might not lead to the same place this time?" What if we were able to pursue the same things, yet learning from the abuses, be able to enjoy them in a way that is proper this time around?

There is a fine line between gaining wisdom from experience and investing authority in experience.

One of the reasons why people warn against things like revivalism and hot pursuit of the spiritual gifts is because some revivalists are emotionalists, placing authority in experience rather than scripture.

But here's my argument: it's just as easy for people who have had bad experiences to be driven by those experiences, rather than scripture. People who move away from the 'experiential' can, ironically, be just as driven by experience, either their own or others that they want at all costs to avoid. This is simply a different form of experientialism.

Many cessationists and others who have seen the abuses of the spiritual gifts would rather 'not go there' because of bad experiences. They invest authority in percieved bad experiencs and this motivates them toward avoidance, allowing their experiences to unduly influence their opinions on what is true and right.

Is there really a difference between being driven by bad experiences and idolizing good ones? Aren't both things different sides of the coin of experientialism?

I think that cessationists can be experientialists in as much as they think, "This can't be God's will, look at all this abuse." It's one thing to defend your view from scripture (which many cessationists, to their credit, try to do), and quite another to base it on your experience, good or bad.

I think that many cessationists and 'functional cessationists' are somewhat experiential, perhaps a bit more influenced by bad experiences, or the potential of, or the report of, than they they might be aware.

The person who has had a bad experience, and doesn't want any more bad experiences is just as driven by experience as the person who strongly wants a positive experience. The only differences that one is driven positively and the other driven negatively.

We must recognize the differences between abusing the gifts and the gifts themselves. We must also recognize the limitations of the wisdom that comes through experience. Finally, all of us, cessationists, charismatics and everyone in between, must learn to pursue experiences without investing them with authority.

There's one thing we can all be certain of: we'll never fully experience anything that we pursue only cautiously, God or his gifts.

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