A Notebook shared over Lunch

Bryan and I met because, frankly, he and I disagree about the meaning of Christianity.  We would both claim to be Christians.  We probably agree on a lot more than we disagree on if you did a survey, but there is a specific point of disagreement which, I think, will never be resolved: the question of the normal experience of the daily Christian life is hinged on the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

In my view, it is utterly essential to say that the Holy Spirit is alive and works in the believer to call him to repentance, to give him new life (a changed life, a "second birth" as Christ says in John 3), to establish faith in the believer in an indestructible way, to illuminate the Scriptures, to work toward our holiness (which is called "sanctification"), and to give him fellowship with fellow believers.

Bryan would not disagree with any of that, it seems to me -- but he wouldn't stop there.  As I understand him, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit empowered the believers in Christ to supernatural acts which have never stopped since that day, and that the normal Christian life will be populated with visions, works of healing, prophecies, and other miracles -- if one is properly trained or disciplined.  For Bryan, these things are not incidental or uncommon but the normal Christian life -- or it ought to be, if we have the right faith and practice.

The disagreement, then, is over whether or not the Holy Spirit's necessary work is limited to our spiritual and moral perfection to be made into God's people by grace through the sacrifice of Christ, or if that work is supplemented and improved through supernatural work which is inexplicable except as a work of God.

The first time we met was over lunch, and that conversation gave me the idea to ask Bryan to share a blog with me so that the conversation we started in person could be expanded and continued.  So this blog is a notebook of that conversation, which is where the title comes from.

We are doing this for the sake of anyone interested in this conversation, and we hope that it will, at the very least, help people on both sides of this gap understand both sides and come to a faithful, biblical conclusion in their own spiritual lives.

Why Have This Conversation? An Introduction by Bryan Burke

An Opening Perspective
I talked with my conservative charismatic friend, Jason, the other night. It was refreshing. We hadn’t talked in some time. He is one of those men that I think all of you would admire…a mind for truth and gift for teaching that would intimidate the smartest and most prideful of us, an intimately mature walk with God that would inspire both cessationists and charismatics alike, and some God stories that I’m sure would wow you and probably (and presumably) greatly increase your faith in God’s desire and willingness to speak to you, guide you, and use you.
While Jason knows about the “strange fire” conference to some extent, he hadn’t followed it at all, nor has he been, or would he be, interested in debating the issue of continuationism. Why not? Well, as he and I discussed the other night, the issue is for him, as it was mostly for me before the epic “strange fire” conference and my ordained run in with a pastor from Grace Community Church who told me about the conference, a distractingly tiresome and ridiculous debate to entertain... at any level.
Hard cessationism, in our view, was/is like a rare skin disease that continues to infect only a small percentage of the population who gather in Spirit-proof igloos and perfect the art of scratching and sniffing one another. Having been biblically and experientially vaccinated for years without knowing (or preferring not to know) the disease and it’s spiritual third world victims are still around, it’s shocking (perhaps naively so) to find that pockets of the disease have aggressively resurfaced and are threatening civilization and proponents of spiritual reality once again with combative crusades to persuade others that the biblical and experiential vaccinations actually lead to mysterious brain sickness. Ironically and stealthily, but maybe unwittingly, they smuggled in their own kind of spiritual reality vaccination engineered from the laboratories of fear, skepticism, unbelief, and name brand incorrigible pride.
So here we are--to our great disappointment, hard cessationism hasn’t ceased like we’d hoped. It’s alive, and its rabid proponents are demanding to be scratched and sniffed. So, unlike my wise friend Jason, I’ve decided to scratch and sniff a little. The smell so far has been mostly intolerable. That is, until I met Frank Turk. Had I not met Frank in person through a kind providence, I think my opinion of him gathered mostly from his writing would still be incompletely shaped. Let’s face it…it’s far easier to wage war against those you’ve dehumanized or demonized from a distance. But when that articulate and sarcastic writer in cyberspace gets closer and becomes a person…things change…even if just a little.
I guess it’s safe to say…I like Frank. I like his frankness. I like that he probably doesn’t care if I like him. And I’m frankful to be having this conversation with him.
That said, let me also say: It would be unwise for me to consider Frank an enemy. In fact, he is my brother in Christ (more on this in a minute). Even if he were my real enemy, I’m still commanded and eager to love him.
So what does love look like toward one another in this convo? I mean, both of us can be sarcastic and penetrating and truthful, but not be motivated by love, right?
Here’s the thing. Both of us think we know we’re right. But in our “rightness” will we be righteous? Or will we beat our chests like King Kong after every penetrating point or stinging argument we think is clever and “clearly irrefutable”?
I suspect we’re far from the danger of emasculating this conversation and reducing our teeth to gums. However, because of the contemporary popularity of thin skin and soft love, I also suspect this will be lively intercourse for those that feel conflict is sinful. It is still my hope that we engage wisely, strongly, and lovingly.
So what motivates me to engage in this conversation? I think this introduction and our subsequent interaction will answer that question fully. But let me start here:

I'm This Having Conversation Because...
I’m having this conversation because it grieves me that Frank and his camp take aim at many genuine works of the Holy Spirit and people that I know for a fact are of the Spirit of God.
It grieves me because I believe much of what cessationists like Frank are arguing-- grieves, mocks, and quenches the Holy Spirit.
It grieves me because whether you realize it or not…the cessationist camp will themselves ignore abuses and attitudes they should be addressing in their own circles, and will also, propagate a form of unbelief and fearful skepticism that can keep people in a sort of religious bondage.
It grieves me because it really does seem to me that Frank and his camp/tribe have hardened themselves beyond any rebuke or correction. Despite the fact that the rest of the world gazes and marvels at the giant weakness in their armor, they still see fit to making it a hobby to point out the chink in everyone else’s armor except their own.
Has the Macarthur and Turk camp not essentially trained others to feel this compulsion to respond to them in Christ-like loving ways to their sweeping absurdities and stings, while they themselves justify their own fleshly responses and continue with their attempts at theological tyranny? And is it not true that while we spiritual peasants are somehow trained and expected to die the death of a thousand appreciative disclaimers before we then candy-coat what we really want to say to them, they feel completely free to fire away at will and hit us straight between the eyes?
Who is it, really, that’s crying foul? This hard cessationist camp and expression are like the abusive bullying husband who pushes his wife’s buttons and pushes her buttons and pushes her buttons, waiting until she finally explodes and shows him some nice dark colors and teeth, so he can then punish her for it and demand she not have any buttons to push.
Those are strong words I know, but can you entertain a little hyperbole? You know, it's that reason above that keeps me from too quickly mentioning (though I'm obviously doing it now) the thankfulness that I and continuationists have for the aggressive fidelity of cessationists to continually urge the Body of Christ to honor the Word of God (The Bible) as the ultimate authority. And despite the cessationists faulty vantage point in attacking the continuationists, I think in the end--the Strange Fire conference and the waves it has created will only serve to wash over and purify the continuationist position and practice. But will it toss us up onto the rigid rocks of cessationism? Not a chance. Turns out, the Holy Spirit likes to surf.             
Despite this thankfulness we continuationists probably share, I know many of us still find conversation impossible with hard cessationists because of the intimidation tactics and scrambled double standards commonly employed to advance their cessationist kingdom. What is supposed to be a conversation turns into a power ping-pong match of each side accusing the other side of the same thing. And back and forth it goes...slam after slam...return after return. 
Real conversations are hard to have when these attitudes are what seem to constantly emanate from Frank's camp:
Scratch. Sniff.
One, If God were really doing “those” things today, we’d be the first to know. Two, besides, God has us here to keep everyone in line, something we can‘t do if you really know something we don‘t. Three, since we’ve somehow been granted immunity from ever being wrong, we reserve the exclusive right to decide who’s quack and who’s not, who‘s saved and who‘s not. Four, accept this view we have of ourselves and humbly and appropriately invite our input into all your sub-standard conferences, but don’t expect to be invited to any of ours. Five, we’ve got everything so nailed down, there's really no difference between what God thinks and what we think, so, everyone else should desire our stamp of approval and fear what we’ll say about you and your ministry if we feel you've adequately earned our disapproval.
The Main Point of Disagreement
Frank and I disagree primarily on what should be the normal expected experience and expression of Christianity. You would probably discover we actually agree on a lot more if you sat down over coffee with us. We do both claim to be Christians. And as far as I know and can detect, I think we both have received the Spirit of adoption (as sons), by whom we cry to our mutual Father in heaven (Romans 8:14-16). I find this mutual confidence in our identity as children of God to be crucial to conversation. For sure the issue of our identity is crucial to the rest of the debate.  However, my understanding is that Frank does not share that view, or at least, thinks it's wise to use an open but cautious view to describe our unity on this point. While this is not the time to discuss that issue, I do think where we land on it speaks volumes about the overall differing processing grids both Frank and I bring with us into this dialogue. 
That being said, though in my view we are unified by evidence of the Spirit’s adopting us and identifying us as both sons of the same Heavenly Father, there is still a very significant gap between us. To help clarify, I’ll describe and develop this deep gap and point of disagreement in the form of some questions:
“Does or should the NORMAL expected experience and expression of the Christian life, involve the daily SUPERNATURAL and/or MIRACULOUS intervention of the Holy Spirit?”
To be more specific, should we really expect the normal Christian life to be “naturally supernatural” and characterized by the more obvious miraculous works of healing, casting out demons, hearing the voice of God outside of Scripture in the form of dreams, visions, prophecies, discerning of spirits, and words of knowledge?
Are we really missing out on something or Someone if we don’t expect and experience these as normal to our Christian walk?
Do not all the arguments on both sides really come down to arguments from experience or lack of experience?
Is this conversation even worth having if it’s likely neither side will budge? Why is it unlikely neither side will budge? What then is the end goal?
Why can’t we just acknowledge where we are on this “spectrum” and unite around the things we agree on?
Is there any middle common ground here?
Are conservative continuationists really providing a cover for false teachers in the charismatic movement?
Is opening the door to any Charismatic expression really opening an undiscerning door to all of it, or does it show a lack of true discernment to reject all Charismatic belief and expression?
Are cessationists and specifically the positions propagated at the “Strange Fire” conference guilty of attributing to Satan the works/manifestations of the Holy Spirit or are continuationists and charismatics guilty of attributing to the Holy Spirit the works of Satan?
I’m pretty sure Frank believes I and the continuationists are guilty of attributing the works of Satan to the Holy Spirit. And I believe Frank and the cessationists (especially the Strange Fire conference) are guilty of attributing genuine works of the Holy Spirit to Satan.
Both of us can’t be right on this one. That, is a very deep and wide gap. A gap worth exploring.
I’ll start here with a snapshot of my view:
My view is that the “normal” Christian life, should take it’s cues from the Holy Spirit empowered life, character, and ministry of Jesus; My position on the continuation, earnest desiring, and practice of the “gifts of the Spirit” stem from the belief that the nature and purposes of the Kingdom of God (namely, displaying the glory and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ through His ruling authority over sin and temptation, sickness and death, and the works of the devil) have not changed, but were/are, like a dramatic suspenseful story -- “to be continued…” -- and can only be done so by the Gift of the Holy Spirit Himself, who, equips and empowers each member in the Body of Christ individually as He wills, with various gifts/manisfestations of Himself, to build up the Church to continue to advance the Kingdom of God in truth, love, and power; to show and tell to all, the glory and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ (The Gospel).
In addition to my overall perspective above, I don’t think Frank and I would disagree with much, if any of these statements below in the agreement and disagreement categories presented by Wayne Grudem in a book he edited called, “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views”:
Areas of agreement: commitment to Scripture, fellowship, experiencing a personal relationship with God, and a measure of agreement on some details about miracles and the work of the Spirit, including the idea that God does heal and work miracles today, God guides believers, the Holy Spirit empowers us for life and ministry, and the Spirit speaks to people today by bringing words of Scripture to mind in a time of need, by giving us insight into the application of Scripture, by influencing our feelings and emotions, and by giving us specific information about real life situations that we did not acquire through ordinary means.”
Areas of disagreement: degree of expectation for seeing the Spirit work in miraculous ways, degree to which we should encourage people to seek miraculous works today, the extent to which we see church life in the New Testament as a pattern to seek to imitate today, and the degree to which “space” is provided during services for the miraculous work of the Spirit as understood in the context of our discussion to take place.”
Surely, as I've already discussed, the issues that divide us now (especially since the conference) seem more severe than what Grudem represents with those statements. And they are. But I do think this quote reveals and clarifies what we do agree on so that we're not misrepresenting where the points of disagreement actually are.
Again , why can’t we just acknowledge where we are on this “spectrum” and unite around the things we agree on? That's a real question, not my statement. Perhaps it's possible. Perhaps not. Frank and I are passionate about what we believe. Considering all the questions above, at least for now, but as I suspect, this gap is still far to significant and frankly, may never be bridged. For either of us to concede fully and jump across probably won’t happen...by arguments alone.
Here's a question I've been asking myself: Why run the risk of re-hashing the same things over and over, after all, have not scholars, popular authors, and prominent pastors on both sides of the debate already locked horns on this this issue long enough? Are we not at an impasse? Who are we to bring any real clarity on the issue if that's indeed a goal we have, if the attempts in the past proved futile?
Here's my hope: I do think this conversation could help move the debate from the pulpits to the pubs (I needed a "p" there..that's the best I could come up with); from conferences to around cups of coffee; from books and e-bombs to brothers discussing this face to face. After all, some of the most faithful friends and godly men that I have known, are cessationist. Some, are practicing charismatics...and I'm not giving up on any of those friendships. But here's my slant: I long for my cessationist friends to see and taste the truth. I pray for it. I know, with all my mind and heart, they are wrong on this issue. 
Yet, to use the words of William Wallace (Mel Gibson) how can we "unite the clans" if the accusations from both sides are this extreme? How can we unite to wage war against the real enemy? Well, we have to keep conversing.
Frank has  invited me to engage with him on this blog. I am grateful. My first real conversation with Frank happened over a meal. I'm grateful for that also. I actually just had coffee, but that's besides the point. I'm eager to continue this brotherly conversation with him...I've read enough of Frank to know I'm in for a treat. I hope our interaction is a treat for you as well.
My name is Bryan Burke. I'm the husband of one amazing woman, Stephanie Burke, and the father of one adorable almost one year old little girl, Ivy Grace Burke. I love Jesus. I like books. I'm an ex-cessationist/ex-hardcore Macarthurite.  I appreciate concrete floor art (it's what I do). My favorite food is probably spaghetti, if it has enough sauce and Parmesan. I daily pursue love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially that I may prophesy. Now,  I blog.