Pentecostalism

On the many who claim to be prophets today, and dreamers of dreams

Jeremiah in Sistene ChapelFor one who teaches biblical hermeneutics, I am cautious to pull a text like this into our contemporary context, since it is from the end of the pre-exilic context of ancient Judah when Jeremiah wrote dire warnings against them for their idolatries and against the scores of people who then claimed to be prophets sent from God. Nevertheless, can we not ask if there is any similarity with our own generation in regards to the countless claims from people of God revealing, speaking, giving further revelation, visions, and prophecies, so many of which have been widely shown as both false and often misleading? (An example that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)

(left)Jeremiah by Michelangelo (Sistine Chapel) 

Does not the principle stand that for anyone to claim a revelation or prophecy from God, and who did not actually receive such (but only imagined or hoped to have received such), they would most certainly be considered a false prophet. In biblical terms, that is. Even if they prophesied something concrete, in a predictive fashion, that happens to occur, and it did not come directly from God, it still makes them a false prophet. Yet, consider the many thousands of people today claiming prophecies, dreams, visions, etc., who have made themselves a laughing-stock with their oftentimes outrageous and patently false claims. At best they are mostly ignored, but at worst they frequently manage to point people away from the actual canon of revelation in the Old and New Testaments to themselves and their seemingly benign imaginings. Many people have even started movements and organizations on the basis of such spurious revelations, but even if they have many followers it does not make them a prophet from God.

In sum, take heed from Jeremiah to all who claim, “The Lord said to me” or “The Lord gave me this dream  . . . or vision.” And, to all who listen to these many self-proclaimed prophets of our times, take heed lest you too are taken captive by all sorts of vanity and delusions that may appear marvelous, but are nothing more than “the visions of their[the prophets’] own minds.”

Jeremiah 23

16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’”

   25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My n, me, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’ 26 “How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, 27 who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? 28“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the LORD. 29“Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock? 30“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who steal My words from each other. 31“Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the LORD, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32“Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.

Jeremiah was not alone in confronting those who claimed to receive prophecy from God.  Ezekiel, as well as a number of other OT prophets, also confronted those who claimed to be prophets:

Ezekiel 13:1-3
“The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, ‘Listen to the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets who are following theory own spirit and have seen nothing.”

Also, Ezekiel continues this exhortation against false claims of prophecy in  in 13:4-10

“O Israel, your prophets have been like foxes among ruins. 5“You have not gone up into the breaches, nor did you build the wall around the house of Israel to stand in the battle on the day of the LORD. 6“They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The LORD declares,’ when the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word. 7“Did you not see a false vision and speak a lying divination when you said, ‘The LORD declares,’ but it is not I who have spoken?”’”

8Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Because you have spoken falsehood and seen a lie, therefore behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord GOD. 9“So My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will have no place in the council of My people, nor will they be written down in the register of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel, that you may know that I am the Lord GOD

 

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On Jesus Calling by Sarah Young [The New Mystic]

On Jesus Calling by the Sarah Young [The New Mystic][1]

Since the very popular author Sarah Young has now published her own Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, I think it is even more pressing that we address her hugely successful devotional book published some years previously, called Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. In this earlier devotional publication she claims that its content came to her by direct dictation from Jesus. My concerns with this devotional are not with its content per se; it is her claims of direct communication from Jesus (which seems comparable to the increasingly common New Age channeling practitioners who also claim to receive messages, even sometimes from Jesus). If Young had not put this in the form of direct revelation from Christ to her (and presumably to all believers), but rather as Christian reflections to encourage and teach others, it would not be so problematic. In fact, I would find it a bit more acceptable if she had only claimed that this was a literary and imaginative work for devotional encouragement, but that is not the case. Most seriously, as with all claims of direct messages from God, in Jesus Calling Young’s claim of direct (dictation)[2] revelation would logically necessitate some kind of divine inspiration, and thus infallibility, and thus inerrancy (as the logic goes). Although Young denies inerrancy for these “messages from God,” I do not see how anyone can accept her claims without attributing to her works unwarranted authority.

Young’s mystical orientation puts her in company with many other, similar Christian mystics, “listeners” who have “visualizations” and experiences of losing “all sense of time.” Young’s theology may be otherwise orthodox, as far as I know.  As several reviewers have noted, however, the theology of Young’s devotional is thin. Indeed, the most common theme seems to be simply “Don’t worry, trust me,” in the traditional, pietistic motif of “let go and let God,” or, “cease striving.” Further to that thin theme, there is the central mystical thought of “empty yourself and your mind” that I find very unsatisfying as a model for the Christian life in a fallen world. Indeed, the biblical model is to be filled with the Word, so that his word dwells in us for fullness of life.

The message Young conveys in this devotional of dictations is that scripture was not sufficient for her, and need not be for us. As she writes, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).  And, since God has given her a deeper peace from “personal messages” directly from Jesus, we too are encouraged to get solace and peace with this fresh new word from Christ himself to her. She offers to her readers that “more” she yearned for, but it is a further word, not the scripture. The fundamental doctrines of the Protestant faith include the sufficiency of scripture and the cessation of divine revelation with the closing of the canon.  Any claims of something “more” beyond that have historically been rejected as usurpations, and thus unauthoritative. Also, by adding biblical scriptures to the bottom of her revelations, Young gives further unjustified authority to the words she claims come directly from Christ.

Works such as this one undoubtedly indicate a spiritual hunger for more teaching that “speaks to the heart and soul” in our times, and perhaps particularly in Reformed circles that tend sometimes to especially emphasize the mind and thoroughgoing theology. Yet, in response to that suggestion, I propose that any downplaying of the “heart and soul,” and the human need to be ministered to there, is entirely out of accord with our history of Protestant, Reformation piety. Just consider, for example, Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections.” I do think there is a widespread hunger for something more in this area. Indeed, there may be something of a famine in our times, but I think it is the meat of the Word through the Spirit that alone produces a true “experience” of God and his presence (this is not to say we do not read other books to learn, grow, and get encouragement, etc., but that we do not consider them in any way as further revelation).

In sum, since our experiences are such unreliable guides for piety, we must depend on the scripture alone as our authoritative rule and guide for life and faith. Sola scriptura was about both the authority of the Scripture and its sufficiency. Indeed, I believe that we do not need to “yearn” for anything more than sola scriptura. Jesus is calling, but he never calls us to go beyond scripture.

Stephen Hague

[1] Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.

[2] On dictation notions of inspiration, ironically, no Evangelical theory that I know of seriously entertains inspiration of biblical revelation in the terms she describes that her messages are received by dictation.