Conrad Mbewe – “Are We Preachers or Are We Witch Doctors?”
Zambian preacher and author Conrad Mbewe kicked off the third and final day of Strange Fire with a powerful introduction to life in the African church. He vividly explained that many charismatic pastors hold the same offices—and essentially function—as local village witch doctors, taking advantage of the superstitions of their people. The pastors use the peoples’ superstitions to their advantage, insulating themselves from criticism. Mbewe gave a clear call to support the spread of the true gospel in Africa, and to counter the vast damage caused by the importation of charismatic teaching.
Phil Johnson – “Providence Is Remarkable”
During the breakout sessions, Phil Johnson addressed one of the major presuppositions of the charismatic movement—the belief that unless God is regularly moving in miraculous ways in the world, He is altogether absent. He explained that the charismatic mindset sees the cessation of the gifts as nothing more than deism, and that this misconception has led to the widespread watering down of the church’s understanding of miracles. Preaching out of Matthew 10, Johnson described Christ’s commissioning of the disciples and His emphasizing God’s providence and not the gifts He had bestowed on them. By explaining the various ways God regularly intervenes in the world through His providence, Johnson made it clear that God’s engagement in this world is not dependent on His miraculous intervention.
Justin Peters – “Spiritual Shipwreck of the Word-Faith Movement”
Justin Peters’s second breakout session picked up where he left off Thursday, in his exposé of the Word-Faith movement. His apologetic approach provided a clear contrast between the words of false teachers and what the Bible plainly says. He addressed the strange manifestations and bizarre claims of many within the charismatic movement, particularly some practices that parallel behavior common to Hindu cults. He explained that tongues, prophecy, uncontrolled laughter, and slaying in the spirit are not the exclusive domain of charismatic Christianity. What’s more, he made it clear that those manifestations have no biblical foundation or defense.
Nathan Busenitz – “Charismatic Counterfeits: Do the Modern Gifts Meet the Biblical Standard?”
In his breakout session, Nathan Busenitz addressed the question of whether the modern charismatic gifts meet the biblical standard of spiritual gifts. He thoroughly defined the terms of the debate over spiritual gifts, carefully couching them in the historical context of the church. He paid specific attention to three key charismatic gifts—prophecy, tongues, and healing—and carefully walked his listeners through biblical examples of each one. In light of the clear testimony of Scripture, his conclusion was that what we see in the charismatic movement are not the same gifts described in Scripture.
For the second day in a row, Todd Friel sat down for a Q&A with several of the conference speakers. He led John MacArthur, Nathan Busenitz, Phil Johnson, and Conrad Mbewe through a discussion on the practical aspects of dealing with the charismatic church. The speakers took turns answering how best to assist people caught up in the movement, and how attendees can be effective spiritual stimulants in their congregations. As Friel played more video clips and probed deeper into the issues with thought-provoking questions, the speakers emphasized the importance of having a biblical basis for everything in the believer’s life. Each man was compassionate but direct in the need to biblically confront false teaching, and offered encouragement on how to effectively engage people on these important issues.
John MacArthur – “An Appeal to My Continuationist Friends”
To close the conference Friday night, John MacArthur took the pulpit and began by answering many of the criticisms regarding Strange Fire. He directly addressed the claims that the teaching at the conference has been unloving and divisive, saying that “the most loving thing someone can do is to tell the truth” and that “it’s better to be divided by the truth than united by error.” He said he does care about offending people, but he cares more about offending God.
With that in mind, he made a clear call for his continuationist friends to abandon a position that gives license and credibility to the excesses of the charismatic movement. He strongly exhorted them to consider the cost of their continuationist stance, and how it can be a gateway to unbiblical charismatic theology and practice. He closed his time, and the week, by restating his motive to hold the Strange Fire conference. He demonstrated from 1 and 2 Timothy a pastor’s responsibilities—illustrated in the life of Paul—to declare and guard the treasured truth of God’s Word.
We trust Strange Fire was an encouragement to you. In the coming weeks, the audio and video from the conference will be available both here and at tmstrangefire.org. We look forward to how the Lord will use those resources to strengthen His church and grow His people.
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B131019 COPYRIGHT ©2013 Grace to You
John MacArthur – “Testing the Spirits”
John MacArthur kicked off the second day of Strange Fire with an exhortation to “test the spirits” of the charismatic movement. He explained that true spiritual warfare is a fight for the mind, and that “for the charismatic movement to succeed,” it has to “turn discernment into iniquity.” Preaching out of 1 John 4, he highlighted several biblical principles for testing the spirits, focusing primarily on the Holy Spirit’s role in exalting Christ. By contrasting the biblical truth about the Person and work of Jesus with the spurious version proclaimed by many charismatic leaders, John made the clear point that a true movement of the Holy Spirit wouldn’t preach an inaccurate Christ.
Tom Pennington – “A Case for Cessationism”
Tom Pennington provided us with a biblical case for the doctrine of cessationism. He began by defining cessationism as the belief that God ended His use of the miraculous gifts that existed during the first century. He went on to explain that miracles were unique in Scripture, showing that they only appeared during profound moves of God, particularly during the ministries of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Christ. Miracles validated those specific ministries, as well as the ministries of the apostles who laid the foundation of the church. When God finished that crucial work, the miracles ceased because they were no longer needed. That teaching has been the church’s standard position on signs and miracles throughout its history.
Phil Johnson – “Is There a Baby in the Charismatic Bathwater?”
“Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” That simple maxim has been the knee-jerk defense for charismatic apologists against criticism of their movement. Their reaction to Strange Fire is just the latest example. In his first breakout session, Phil Johnson attempted to identify anything salvageable from the doctrinal sludge of the charismatic movement. He pointed out a smothering fear within the movement that any criticism will quench the Spirit, noting that discernment is labeled as sinful rationalism. He said the “open but cautious” crowd cannot be content to wait and see what is of the Lord and what is not—and that in fact they should be the loudest critics of charlatan prophets and phony miracle workers. He concluded that the movement doesn’t produce good fruit because it is actually a bramble bush.
Justin Peters – “The Devilish Puppet Master of the Word-Faith Movement”
Justin Peters’s breakout session was loaded with video clips and quotes from Word-Faith and prosperity preachers. Letting the charlatans’ words speak for themselves, Peters was able to easily illustrate how far the movement’s core doctrine is from the truth of Scripture. Focusing specifically on key tenants of Word-Faith teaching, he exposed several damning inaccuracies that color the movement.
Nathan Busenitz – “A Word from the Lord? Evaluating the Modern Gift of Prophecy”
Nathan Busenitz tackled the issue of modern prophecy in his breakout session. He focused on one of three tests that any true prophecy must pass: Does the prophecy possess predictive accuracy? (The other tests focus on the doctrinal orthodoxy of the prophecy and the moral integrity of the prophet.) He explained how those in the charismatic camp—as well as many in the noncharismatic, continuationist camp—have created a second tier of prophecy, one that is not held to the test of absolute accuracy. Busenitz debunked the supposed biblical support for this second, lesser level of prophecy and warned against any teaching that permits and promotes fallible prophecy. He concluded that the “self-proclaimed prophets who fail any of the three tests should consider the serious biblical warnings against falsely claiming to speak for God.”
Christian radio host and commentator Todd Friel moderated a lively question-and-answer discussion between John MacArthur, Justin Peters, Tom Pennington, and Steve Lawson. The focus of their discussion was primarily the theological foundation—such as it is—of the charismatic movement. Friel played several video clips of various charismatic worship services, focusing on key words, phrases, and practices that show up frequently in charismatic teaching. The speakers had visceral reactions to the video clips, which vividly depicted the aberrant theology and brazen manipulation of Scripture that permeates the charismatic movement.
Steve Lawson – “The Puritan Commitment to Sola Scriptura”
Day two of Strange Fire closed with Steve Lawson’s excellent examination of the Puritan devotion to the sufficiency of Scripture. He began with a thorough examination of the Westminster Confession of Faith and its assertion of the perfect and complete quality of God’s Word. He then traced the dilution of that doctrine in Quaker teaching, showing the similarities between its theology and that of the charismatic movement. He closed his session with several quotes from the writing of John Owen, who was a staunch Puritan defender of Scripture’s sufficiency. Quoting Owen, he concluded, “As the teachings of the fanatics contain matter alien to . . . the Scriptures . . . shun them as diabolical, execrable, useless, groundless, and false.”
That’s just a brief glimpse of Day Two. We hope you’ll join us today for more excellent Bible teaching. Watch the free live stream at gty.org, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest conference updates.
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B131018 COPYRIGHT ©2013 Grace to You
John MacArthur – “Strange Fire”
Strange Fire launched Wednesday morning with John MacArthur explaining the basis and the need for the conference. Starting with the story of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10), he described the dangers of fraudulent worship and the vital need for discernment, the lack of which is “the biggest problem in the church today.” The purpose of the conference then is to help the church discern the truth about the charismatic movement, which he said has made no contribution to biblical clarity, interpretation, or sound doctrine.
John closed by highlighting the true work of the Holy Spirit—conforming believers to Christlikeness. Working through the life of Christ, he showed that the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the model for the Spirit’s work in the life of every believer. Put simply, the Spirit’s work is to mature, sustain, empower, fill, and perfect us toward the likeness of our Savior.
Joni Eareckson Tada – Testimony
To begin the second session, John MacArthur introduced his longtime friend Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni has been paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair for more than four decades, and she explained how the Lord has used her suffering in that time to grow her spiritually. She once longed for a miraculous healing, like the person at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. And while she obviously has not received that kind of healing, she’s thankful for how the Lord has healed her spiritually in the midst of the suffering she’s endured. She said she wouldn’t exchange God’s sanctifying work for any amount of walking.
R.C. Sproul – “Undervaluing Pentecost”
Even though R.C. Sproul was unable to make to the conference in person, he appeared via video as Strange Fire’s second keynote speaker. Dr. Sproul traced the work of the Holy Spirit throughout redemptive history, leading up to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out and indwelled all believers. His major complaint with his charismatic friends is not that they are overly fixated with Pentecost, but that they actually have a low view of Pentecost. Instead of recognizing that the Holy Spirit fully indwells a believer once, they’ve created a false, two-tiered system of Christianity.
Steve Lawson – “Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists”
Steve Lawson opened the third session by asking the question, “What would John Calvin say about the wave of new Calvinists who are ‘open but cautious’ to the charismatic movement?” To answer that question, he looked back at how Calvin dealt with similar controversial movements in his own time. Working through Calvin’s Institutes and his commentaries, Dr. Lawson showed how Calvin understood the apostolic gifts as validation of the apostolic message. He made it clear that Calvin saw no need for the gospel to be revalidated–just faithfully preached. He summed up the session by saying, “If we want to see a new reformation this day, and the revival of Reformed theology continually expand the borders of its influence, we must be exclusively committed to the written word of God.”
Conrad Mbewe – “The African Import of Charismatic Chaos”
Wrapping up day one, Zambian pastor and author Conrad Mbewe challenged the audience regarding the international exportation of the charismatic movement. “The Spurgeon of Africa” spoke about the charismatic chaos in His part of the world, and revealed the true nature of the massive church growth in Africa. He explained how the charismatic church has ignored the Word of God in favor of cultural superstition and prosperity preaching, and that what looks like revival from our perspective is not actually good news. Bible teaching is scarce, and Scripture does not shape the lives of many professing believers. Focusing on Christ’s words in John 17:17, Mbewe passionately emphasized the inability of believers to grow spiritually apart from the teaching of God’s Word.
That’s just a brief glimpse of Day One. We hope you’ll join us today for more excellent Bible teaching. Watch the free live stream at gty.org, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest conference updates.
Available online at: http://www.gty.org/resources/Blog/B131017 COPYRIGHT ©2013 Grace to You
Putting God first–living according to his word–serves the glory of God and also the best interests of believers, by giving them true wisdom for daily living.
The wisdom of making faith a priority
Hebrews 11:6 (ESV) — 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Putting the fear of God before other considerations
Psalm 31:19 (ESV) — 19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
Exodus 1:17 (ESV) — 17 But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.
Nehemiah 5:15 (ESV) — 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.
Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) — 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Preferring God’s way to sinful advice
Psalm 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
The precious wisdom of obeying God:
Proverbs 3:13–14 (ESV) — 13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, 14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
Proverbs 8:19 (ESV) — 19 My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.
Proverbs 8:32 (ESV) — 32 “And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.
Following sinful advice:
Numbers 31:16 (ESV) — 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
1 Kings 12:28 (ESV) — 28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
Choosing imaginative action rather than laziness or fearfulness
Numbers 13:30 (ESV) — 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.”
1 Samuel 25:33 (ESV) — 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!
Ephesians 5:16 (ESV) — 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Examples of failure to do this:
Matthew 25:10 (ESV) — 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.
Matthew 25:26–27 (ESV) — 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
Matthew 25:44–45 (ESV) — 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Matthew 26:40 (ESV) — 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?
Patient waiting rather than impetuous action
Psalm 40:1 (ESV) — 1 I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
Psalm 27:14 (ESV) — 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 37:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. 6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
Psalm 62:5 (ESV) — 5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
Psalm 123:2 (ESV) — 2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.
Proverbs 3:5–6 (ESV) — 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV) — 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Hosea 12:6 (ESV) — 6 “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”
John 2:4–5 (ESV) — 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Revelation 2:10 (ESV) — 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
The wisdom of making hope a priority
Hebrews 6:19 (ESV) — 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain,
See also Ps 147:10–11
Psalm 147:10–11 (ESV) — 10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, 11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Putting true riches above earthly wealth
Luke 16:9 (ESV) — 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Deuteronomy 15:8 (ESV) — 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.
Matthew 6:24 (ESV) — 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Matthew 19:21 (ESV) — 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:29 (ESV) — 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
Hebrews 11:26 (ESV) — 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
Putting eternal joy before temporal hardship
2 Corinthians 4:17–18 (ESV) — 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Acts 14:22 (ESV) — 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
Acts 16:25 (ESV) — 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
Romans 8:18 (ESV) — 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2 Timothy 2:10 (ESV) — 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
Hebrews 10:34 (ESV) — 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
The wisdom of making love a priority
1 Co 13:13 Paul’s concern that love, rather than competition over spiritual gifts, should be made a priority.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV) — 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Loyalty rather than opportunism
Proverbs 18:24 (ESV) — 24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Ruth 1:16 (ESV) — 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) — 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.
Following the Spirit rather than sinful human nature
Ga 5:16 Merely “human” activity betrays a failure of love for God.
Galatians 5:16 (ESV) — 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Psalm 147:10–11 (ESV) — 10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, 11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Isaiah 31:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! 2 And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words, but will arise against the house of the evildoers and against the helpers of those who work iniquity. 3 The Egyptians are man, and not God, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall, and they will all perish together.
Romans 8:5 (ESV) — 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Inner sincerity rather than outward appearance
Romans 12:9 (ESV) — 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV) — 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Ephesians 6:5 (ESV) — 5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
Colossians 3:22 (ESV) — 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
Actions rather than mere words
James 2:18 (ESV) — 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Matthew 7:21–22 (ESV) — 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
1 John 3:18 (ESV) — 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Peace rather than disharmony
Romans 12:18 (ESV) — 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 14:19 (ESV) — 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Hebrews 12:14 (ESV) — 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Truth rather than falsehood
Proverbs 12:19 (ESV) — 19 Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
Acts 5:4 (ESV) — 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”
Colossians 3:9 (ESV) — 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
Because psychology is a study of human behavior and cognition, people sometimes view it as a comprehensive theory of humanity. No single psychological theory, however, accounts for the sum of human life. It is only through knowing God that we can come to understand His creation, especially the nuances of the human mind and the complexity of human behavior. Only in God’s Word can we find guidelines to live our lives as originally intended. The value of psychology is that some of its theories, when filtered through biblical truth, can offer the Christian helpful insights.
Explanation of Gestalt Therapy
Founded by Fritz Perls, Gestalt therapy is an existential approach to counseling. Its name comes from the German word Gestalt, which means “form.” In the context of Perls’s ideas, Gestalt refers to a unified whole or something that cannot be separated into parts without losing its essence. Gestalt therapy is based on field theory in that it holds that a thing must be seen in its environment to be fully understood. Also, that environment is constantly changing; interrelational connections and process are very important. Perls viewed personality holistically (as opposed to the mechanistic view taken in therapies such as behaviorism). He emphasized the present over the past and process over content. Today, Gestalt therapy is not practiced as Perls originally designed it. His methods are viewed as not particularly supportive of the client, and today’s Gestalt therapists tend to take a softer approach.
Gestalt therapy assumes that humans are consistently in the process of becoming and that personal growth is made possible through insight and relationship with others. Gestalt therapy is aimed at helping clients become more self-sufficient through awareness of their internal and external realities. Counselors also help clients reintegrate or “re-own” any aspects of themselves they may have disowned. Perls was known for being confrontational; he would intentionally frustrate clients at times in order to increase their awareness. Rather than promote a client’s conscious effort to change, Gestalt therapists adhere to a paradoxical theory in which change is a product of self-awareness. So, the key to our becoming more patient is to realize we are impatient. What is important is to be ourselves fully in the current situation; striving to become what we “should” be is discouraged.
Gestalt therapists help clients deal with “unfinished business.” Various techniques bring a client’s past emotional struggles into the present and help him work through those experiences. Gestalt therapists view client resistance to making contact with their environments as informative—something to be explored rather than simply overcome. A therapist’s goal is to help the client attend to the present; dialogue is an important part of the process. Clients are charged with increasing their own awareness and making and responding to personal meaning. Therapists are expected to be themselves and relate with clients personally. A therapist’s ability to be “in the moment” with clients is more important than the technique he uses.
Biblical Commentary on Gestalt Therapy
Gestalt therapy can be challenging to quantify because it is largely experiential; however, we can comment upon certain of its underlying concepts. The concept that people are integrated beings is accurate. We are a complex blend of many interrelated parts, including heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Also, environment is important to who we become (1 Corinthians 15:33).
However, Gestalt therapy places an undue emphasis on its brand of authenticity. Freedom is viewed as being “the true you.” For Christians, freedom is found in submitting to the Holy Spirit. More important than being true to ourselves is being true to God (Romans 6:15–19). It is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32)—free to celebrate our identity in Christ. He must increase, and we must decrease (John 3:30).
Also, there is some valid concern over Gestalt therapy’s emphasis on self-awareness. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Relying on our own perceptions and creating a “personal meaning” for ourselves will not result in an accurate understanding of truth. At the same time, Gestalt therapists are adept at pointing out inconsistencies, a skill that can be useful in cutting through pretense. Gestalt therapists attend to non-verbal behaviors that belie a client’s words and reveal his true emotional state.
The concept of reintegrating parts of ourselves that we have disowned may or may not be biblical, depending on the part in question. If it is emotions we have disowned, then, certainly, it is biblical to reintegrate them. Emotions are part of being human and provide useful information (John 11:35). Owning our pasts helps us to see where God has intervened and redeemed (1 Timothy 1:12–14). Even owning up to our own sinful drives is helpful. However, Christians should not give in to their sinful natures for any reason. A believer must not fall for the lie that sinning is justified if he is simply “being himself.” Christians have the power of the Holy Spirit to live a sanctified life in Christ; they are being restored to the design God originally intended for humanity. Christians have been made new and are called to put off the sinful nature (Ephesians 4:20–24).
Gestalt therapy can be helpful in bringing to light the human tendency to deceive ourselves and others. It stresses our need to live in the present without wallowing in the past or fearing the future. Its emphasis on living genuinely is also helpful. We need to acknowledge our pain and bring it to God for healing.
A danger of Gestalt therapy is that it relies on humans to be curative in themselves—relationship and authenticity are seen as salvific; being “who you really are” is the supposed cure to life’s ills. The Bible declares that humans are dead, not merely deceived. We need a Savior to rescue us from sin and restore us to life (Ephesians 2:1–5). We need to be set free through a knowledge of God’s objective truth (John 8:32).
Please note that a large portion of this information has been adapted from Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal by Stanton L. Jones and Richard E. Butman and Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey.
Genesis 19 tells the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, lived in Sodom with his family. His daughters were engaged to local men. Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom, the area where financial and judicial transactions took place, when two angels came into town. Lot invited them to stay with his family. After a rather exciting evening, the angels made sure Lot, his wife, and his two daughters left before God destroyed the city (Genesis 19:13). As they fled, the angels warned them, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away” (Genesis 19:17).
Lot ran, his daughters close behind. “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26). She lagged behind. She turned and watched the flaming sulfur fall from the sky, consuming everything she valued. Then it consumed her. The Hebrew for “looked back” means more than to glance over one’s shoulder. It means to regard, to consider, to pay attention to. The Scriptures don’t say whether her death was a punishment for valuing her old life so much that she hesitated in obeying, or if it was a simple consequence of her reluctance to leave her life quickly. Either she identified too much with the city—and joined it—or she neglected to fully obey God’s warning and she died.
We’re fortunate to receive similar warnings. Ephesians 4:22–24 tells us to take off the old self which is ruled by sin and be renewed, putting on the new self that is in the likeness of God. Similarly, 1 John 5:16 says that willful, deliberate sin can lead to death. Lot’s wife wasn’t able to accept that. What she chose to value in her heart led her to sin, which led to her death.
The Bible isn’t clear whether Lot’s wife was covered in the salt that rained down with the brimstone or if her remains were dusted with a coating of salt later. But it is interesting that she is described as a “pillar.” The Hebrew for pillar is natsiyb, which refers to a garrison or a deputy, something set to watch over something else. The image of Lot’s wife standing watch over the Dead Sea area—where to this day no life can exist—is a poignant reminder to us not to look back or turn back from the profession of faith we have made, but to follow Christ without hesitation and abide in His love.
There are some groups, usually affiliated with some form of the “Black Hebrew” movement, who vehemently argue that Jesus was black/African in skin color/appearance. While this goes directly against the fact that the Bible declares Jesus’ Jewishness, meaning He likely had light to dark brown skin, ultimately, the discussion/argument misses the point. Does it really matter that we know the color of Jesus’ skin—whether He was black, yellow, brown, or white? Though this may be a controversial issue for some, the truth is that we simply don’t know what the color of Jesus’ skin was. While there are countless references to Jesus being Jewish as that was His heritage, the Bible provides little, if any, description of what Jesus might have looked like.
It is the prophet Isaiah who gives us the best description of the physical appearance of Jesus: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). If Jesus’ skin color and complexion were important, then God would have told us about them. Furthermore, to presume that Jesus is of one color or another is to speculate on information not found within the Scriptures. As such, it is useless speculation at best (1 Timothy 1:4; Titus 3:9). The point is that it does not matter in the whole scheme of redemption what color of skin Jesus had (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14).
So, what should we concern ourselves with when it comes to Jesus? Peter tells us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). In other words, Christ has called us to a life of glory and moral excellence, both here on this earth and in heaven. We are to live pure and righteous lives for His glory. And when we do He promises to give us a place in the glory and perfection of heaven. The message of this passage is clear: It is His glory and goodness that attracts man to seek life and godliness in Him. It has absolutely nothing to do with the way He looks or the color of His skin.
Peter also tells us that God “does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34–35). When Jesus calls for us to go into all the world and teach the gospel (Matthew 18:18–20), He is telling us that there are no cultural or racial barriers, that we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul echoes this in his letter to the churches in Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The color of our Savior’s skin has no bearing on our sharing the gospel. Nor should our neighbor’s skin color have any bearing on our imparting the gospel message to him (Romans 1:16). The apostles of the first century church always adapted to the cultures of the foreign countries, but they never did so at the cost of their fidelity to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19–23).
Paul may have changed his method of teaching whenever he entered a new culture or foreign land, but he never changed his message. He kept preaching the same things he had always taught, regardless of the color of his listeners’ skin. What mattered was that they received the good news of Christ. The truth is that the message of the gospel of Christ worked then and the gospel still works today! It still reaches into the hearts of those who yearn to know God, whether they are black, white, yellow, or brown. It’s not the color of Jesus’ skin or the color of our neighbor’s skin that matters in our eternal destiny. But what does is that … “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Without trying to sort through everything (or really anything) that has been said at the Strange Fire Conference–let alone sifting through what has been said and done in response–I thought it might be helpful to take a step back and give some historical perspective on the question of cessationism.
In the first section of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith we find reference to at least some kind of cessationism.
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto [even] baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)
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