Frank's last word

First, I want to thank Bryan for his time and energy here because not everyone is a blogger, and working to a deadline is a very painful experience.

Bryan made some statements in his last answer which I think deserve some unpacking and some response, and then I have a few words to wrap up my end of this discussion.

In his last answer, Bryan said:
After you listen to the testimonies, here are the immediate options that I think you are left with:
A.  Matt and Bob are lying.
B.  Matt and Bob are not lying, but they are deeply confused about what it is they've experienced.
C.  Matt and Bob are telling the truth, it actually happened, and they are completely sober minded about their experience.
Now, if you pick C. and choose to believe their testimony, your next two options emerge:
A.  God supernaturally revealed those details to Matt and arranged it all.
B.  Satan supernaturally revealed those details to Matt and arranged it all.
It really bothers me that while Bryan lists 3 possible conclusions after listening to the testimony of Chandler and Hamp (and I think there are others one can reasonably come to -- for example, Chandler & Hamp may have forgotten some parts which make the story less compelling, or they are participating in a Southern genre of story telling where telling a good story is more important than getting the facts exactly right [this is distinguished from lying by its intention]), he simply ignores the second conclusion -- which is my conclusion.  That is: Bryan resorts to an argument which ignores my position entirely.

That may be interesting for someone who believes what Bryan believes, or it may be a trope for charismatic apologists who have a canned answer for their critics, but it's not convincing to anyone else.  But: what if Chandler and Hamp got every fact historically and factually accurate in this story but it turns out that they are using the wrong categories to explain them?

The categories they use -- and Bryan uses -- say that either Satan provided all these facts or God did, and therefore they were either under the power of Satan or the power of God in some kind of metaphysical chess game.  I'll leave it to Bryan to tell us where in the Bible God says that's how he's going to get things done, by somehow ambiguously flashing pictures at people in the hope they get it right, and then make the move against Satan God hopes they understood.

The categories I would use to describe this come from, for example, Eph 2:10 -- where it's plain that God saves us from an old life into a new life, and has also worked out things for us to do in this life before we know we are supposed to do them.  This is the category of providence, not prophecy.  Further, there's nothing actually revelatory in the sense Brian needs to say that this is the work of the Holy Spirit if we, again, trust what the Bible says about how the Holy Spirit works.

Look: I'm happy to say that God is sovereign over everything, and that God is working out all things for the good of those who love him, and that the Holy Spirit is working to conform us to the image of Christ.  What I'm not happy with is to say that somehow Jesus wants the Christian life to be "risky" (as Chandler does in the audio Bryan linked), in which he means that we are somehow lead around by God in a game of Marco Polo until we somehow reach the prize He has meant for us.

What the Bible rather says to us and about us is that the Christian life is one of obedience made in gratitude (Mat 28:16-20; Acts 2:37-47; Acts 17:29-31; 1 Cor 1:29-31; etc.); it says that while we are justified in Jesus' work, we are sanctified by living as if Jesus work and words are true (Tit 2:11-14; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Col 3:1-4; etc.); it says that the there is an ordinary life of the church which takes the world by surprise (Acts 2:37-47; Acts 11:19-26; Acts 17:1-9; etc.).

What it clearly never says is that they shall know us by our confidence in coincidence or by the way we take risks.  

Bryan says this:
I realize we can disagree on what to call the experience, or how we interpret the experience. But in terms of origin, it's gotta be either the Holy Spirit or some other supernatural personality giving the information and setting it all up.
Well, there is a third choice at least: that sometimes good things happen by coincidence.  Yesterday at work, I locked my keys in my office.  By the time I got back to my office, it was after business hours and all the people with master keys are usually gone for the day by 4:30.  I thought I was about to spend the night sleeping in the hall because my car keys were in there.  But, on a hunch, I went to the Machine Shop and asked the guys there if there was anyone around who could either get me a piano wire (because I learned things when I was a lost person about opening locked doors) or a master key.  It turns out that yesterday, the Machine Shop lead (who always works 6 AM - 3 PM) was working 2nd shift.  He let me in my office.

Now: is that made by Satan?  If not, do I have to attribute it to prophecy that it occurred to me to ask the right person for a spare key?  Or can I attribute that -- without harming my faith in God and in the Holy Spirit particularly -- to good fortune and a merely-ordinary good circumstance?

I ask because I think Bryan's question reveals exactly how confused he is about the events in the world and the way God tells us the world works out.  In his book, if you're hungry and you write down the address of a local burger joint, and then it occurs to you that there may be a black fellow in dark clothes there (ask yourself: how common or uncommon is it for a black man to be dressed as Chandler describes?  How common or uncommon would it be to see a fellow like that at a Wattaburger in Texas?), and then you randomly think of pink pigtails (you know: not yellow [less common] or blue [uncommon] or black [nearly unique]) -- and you go to that Wattaburger and meet a fellow your friend knows who is dressed that way who has a sister who wore pink pigtails once (though not right then), you must be the subject of prophecy, not coincidence.  What I'd love to see is the scripture which tell us that this is how we should expect the Christian life to work which also tell us that these workings are Necessary and are God's prophesies to us.

The alternative I suggest, btw, has plenty of Scripture to back it up -- even if we accept the same facts.  In my view of it, Matt making the choice to be in fellowship with Bob Hamp rather than to go hide in front of the TV is a godly choice (Titus 2; 1Thes 5:15-16; Heb 12:14-16; etc.).  Praying before fellowship is a transparently-good thing (you need Bible verses really? How about James 5:16).  Eating is a fine way to spend time together.  Running into someone you know and showing him love and hospitality: stellar.  Praying for him and his family?  1 Tim 2.  And it turns out: when we live the way God asks us to live, we wind up doing the things God wants us to do because they become self-evident - Ephesians 2.

"Yes, Frank," come the annoyed continualist, "but how do you explain the predictive element here?  Don't you think they wouldn't have gone to Wattaburger unless they had prayed about it first?"  I leave that question to stand on its own as a monument to ignorance about Wattaburger.

What Bryan's version of this story leaves out, btw, is Chandler's warning label over the whole thing: this almost never happens to me.  When we hear that statement, however Matt frames up the rest has to be weighed by that condition, which goes back to my original question to Bryan: are these things necessary for the life of the local church?  If they almost never happen, they cannot be necessary for the normal Christian life.

Think of it this way: what if preaching God's word almost never happened in the local church?  What if fellowship of the believer almost never happened in the local church?  What if Baptism and the Lord's table almost never happened in the local church?  Those are the things which are necessary for the life of the local church -- and we would be appalled if they almost never happened.

You cannot talk about these so-called continualist events the way Chandler talks about this event and call it necessary for the life of the church.

Bryan continues:
If I'm understanding your question correctly Frank, I think it'd be similar to what Lyndon Unger asked in his post about Matt's experience. He asked "Are the only options for explaining these occurrences that they're either acts of true prophecy or demonic misleading?" He then answers that question by saying, " How bout this option: It is a work of God's providential orchestration of lives and minds, but it's not prophecy. It is God, but it's not prophecy."

Is this close to what you'd argue Frank? I know you've stated that we continualists simply don't have categories for providence (we actually do though) that frankly the Bible has and you have. 
Whatever I think of Lyndon's explanation, I think I have said plenty which was completely specific enough to speak to what I have said rather than, again, looking for me to explain someone else's views.  I like Lyndon, I think his words are adequate for his opinion, and I would have prefered that we, at some point, would have talked about what I have said myself.

Bryan also said:

There is not a more ordinary explanation when it comes to assessing the testimony of this kind of revelatory experience like Matt Chandler testifies to and that many many others can testify personally to. In terms of concluding what you believe to be the source of the experience, you do have to decide whether or not you think it's authored by God or if you believe it's demonic misleading. But you don't have to believe we're partnering with Satan to disbelieve or disagree with what we ultimately choose to call our experience. 

There are so many things wrong with this couple of sentences that it's hard to imagine a way to misrepresent all of the Christian life when one is in fact trying to defend and explain the normal Christian life.  

Let's talk about the word "revelatory" for a second here.  In the Bible, when God "reveals" things to the world, it is always about the incomprehensible things about Himself that we cannot understand through the so-called "book of creation."  For example, the Gospel would be incomprehensible unless there were words to describe what happened.  There's nothing "revelatory" about deciding to go to Wattaburger and meeting someone you know who lives around there, too.

In fact, making such a thing into prophecy and its fulfillment destroys the category of wisdom -- that is, the common virtue those who know and have faith in God use to govern every moment of their lives.  This morning I did not need a flash of intuition from the Holy Spirit to know I had to come to work, or to know which supply chain disasters I would face and therefore have to find a solution for.  Because I am diligent, I have prepared my routine and my professional arsenal with the things I need to face the day -- like an alarm clock, and a closet for clean clothes, and and a godly and biblically-informed character, and so on.  What I am not doing is waiting to see if God wants me to do all the things he has already said I ought to be doing in his word.  Studying those things, rehearsing them, practicing them, thinking about how I have done right and what I need to improve on -- that's wisdom, diligence, longsuffering, patience, goodness, kindness, self control and so on which are all demanded by Scripture over and over.  If I am rather expected to meditate and wait for a slideshow with no subtitles and just guess at what God has next for me based on some sort of Christianized version of Pictionary seems unwise at best.

There's nothing "revelatory" about Chandler's experience: there is something good and kind about it, and those things are great.  But to hold it up as something necessary for the life of the church?  That seems misguided at best.
The last bit from Bryan I'll cover here is this:

Once you believe and embrace that God does this kind of thing, who are we to decide what is normal for Him to do and what isn't? He can do it anytime He wants. Indeed, according to many other eye-witness testimonies, He is doing these things, similar to what He did through Matt Chandler and Bob Hamp, around the world through his people to reveal the Father's love and advance the gospel of the Kingdom. 

Expanding on something I said above, I think it's reckless to decide this is "normal."  It's not "normal" in the Bible for people to behave this way -- take, for example, John the Baptist who literally saw the Spirit come down and rest on Jesus.  When he found himself in prison, he didn't actually meditate or visualize to find out if Jesus was the Christ -- he sent a message to Jesus because he doubted that things were going the right way.  Or worse for this view: what about the 400 years separating the OT times from the NT times when God was utterly silent?

The flowery language which Bryan uses (which he learned from guys like Chandler and Jack Deere) does not cover up the problems his view has with showing people how, exactly, to get out of bed in the morning.  It doesn't overcome the vast gulf of gullibility this view produces in people which enables hucksters to bilk them of emotional and financial resources.  It doesn't assist in resolving doctrinal confusion over whether or not God's will is for you if you do not receive a vision or a word. 

For the readers of this blog, I beg you: read the New Testament to discover what the normal Christian life looks like.  If you can't tackle that because it is too many pages, read the book of Acts, then the book of 1 Thessalonians, then Ephesians, then Titus.  If the life of the church described there matches Bryan's view of it, do what seems right to you.  But if you read these books and find that God has ordained a more ordinary and sustainable way to live out faith in Christ, do that -- and see the benefits for your self, your church, and your community.