03 November 2005

Invasion of the evangelical soothsayers

This is the start of a brief new series on the current obsession with "fresh revelation" from God. Predictably, a lot of the same people who have decided that Scripture isn't "relevant" have developed an itching after new and different revelation. From the evangelical mainstream to the wildest charismatic fringe, multitudes are convinced God regularly speaks to them directly. Unfortunately, a lot of what's being "heard" is just hooey. This sort of artless divination has done more than anything else—including "drunkenness in the Spirit"—to propagate lunacy and confusion in the visible church. It is also a serious attack on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

I can attest to you on the basis of almost 30 years of experience in Christian publishing that there are a lot of very strange people out there writing an awful lot of books that ought never to have been written.

Of course, the ones who are inevitably the most impervious to critique or correction are the people who claim that what they have written was given to them directly by God.

A few years ago, when I worked as an acquisitions editor for a very conservative evangelical publishing company, I received a manuscript in the mail with a cover letter that said this:

It may surprise you to learn that I am just 22. My work, however, speaks for itself. These truths, indeed these revelations, were given to me by God and they need to be published for the whole world. By the way, I am familiar with your policy of no cash advances. Do you have a "no exceptions" policy as well?

A few days later, before I had time to reply, I received a second letter from the same author:

Stop the presses. My book must not be published in its present form. The material that does not edify must come out, and new material must replace it.

He explained why he was issuing this emergency recall:

My former pastor, Sister B. R. Hicks, in direct disobedience to God, lavished the prophetic gift meant for me on another whom she favored. She has not repented, she will not answer my mail, and she may not even acknowledge that my words are legitimate prophecy. I greatly fear for her and the church which she pastors.

Apparently this fellow's falling out with his pastor involved some moral failure on his part, because he wrote,

Sister Hicks may tell you that I fell from grace, but the heartbreaking truth is that I was pushed. She repeatedly turned me away from my calling.

As a result, all that God has given me in the way of prophecy has come to me in my separated, somewhat backslidden state. But I have been praying, fasting, and studying, and now I have a better understanding of God's message. So help me if you will, and return my manuscript for revision.

You can tell from the way that fellow wrote that he wasn't a drooling idiot. He was inventive, somewhat literate, unusually articulate, and very clever. He was totally serious when he claimed to believe that his writing was inspired by God. Oddly enough, however, his unshakable belief that God had inspired him did not keep him from wanting to make revisions to the text.

That tendency is the very thing that has always puzzled me the most about people who believe God is giving them private revelation. The messages they receive always seem very pliable. The meaning of the message often changes with the circumstances. There is no legitimate hermeneutical approach for interpreting such messages from God. And the meaning of any given message from God is often treated like a clay figure. You can bend it and shape it into any form that pleases you.

That sort of "prophecy" is no better than the deliberately vague and trivial horoscope messages printed every day in the local newspaper. In fact, it's worse, because it claims to be revelation from God, leaving the impression that He speaks indistinctly and unreliably.

"We have . . . a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19).

Phil's signature


Unknown said...

I stand convinced that prophecy is an active gift today - I can't quite see how it isn't. And yet most of what passes for prophetic speech or writing probably isn't.

The horoscopic prophetic mumblings that are so often uttered are so trivial that it feels like people just putting their subjective preferences into the mouth of God rather than them expressing what God is actually saying.

Oddly the most prophetic seem to be people like you calling the church back to the word of the gospel....

mark pierson said...

I spent the first ten years of my walk with Christ in the charismatic movement and can attest to the fact that what the Bible teaches is merely a side-show in their services. So much emphasis on visions and prophecies. It's taking a while to get used to focusing purely on what the Bible itself teaches.

Jeff Jones said...

Phil, what is your take on the stories about Charles Spurgeon pointing out members of his congregation and exposing sin in their private lives?

Would this count as "prophecy," or other supernatural insight, or are these stories merely unsubstantiated legend? Given your work on Spurgeon, you'd be uniquely qualified to assess these events, I think.

I've grown increasingly skeptical about the continuation of spectacular charismata over the last couple of years. The excesses I've seen personally are beyond belief. Yet I've seen evidence that even traditional Reformers like John Knox predicted future events, and again there's the legends about Spurgeon. How do these fit with cessationism?

This whole topic of miraculous gifts has me deeply confused...

Peter Bogert said...


As you deal with this, don't confine yourself to the TV preacher. There are well-meaning Christians in the soundest churches who feel that they carry on private conversations with God each day. I don't know how many times someone has said, "And then God said to me . . ." Make sure you cover that one.

I'm preaching on the 5 Solas in these weeks following Reformation Sunday and plan to talk about this a bit this week.

theinscrutableone said...

Great topic, Phil!

For the first few years after I first professed Christ, I was one of those folks who claimed to be receiving direct revelations from God. 90% of these so-called revelations came to nothing, and the 10% that came to pass or had some other apparent value served only to encourage me to seek further revelations. All this time, I was just as uncertain and changeable as the "prophet" you described in your post. In one case, I waited in vain for five years for one particular "word" to come to pass, essentially putting an important life decision on hold. I suffer the consequences of that foolish choice to this day.

In time, God saw fit to have mercy on me, and it became clear that 100% of my "words from God" had had 100% rotten fruit. Even the ones with alleged value had done nothing good for my soul. Instead, they had enticed me to lay aside the study of the Scriptures in favor of chasing after dreams, visions, and prophecies.

I know all too well that the folks who seek after such "words" base the authority for their practice on their personal experience. In my case, it was nearly impossible for anyone to talk me out of my experiences, because many of them were powerful and real. I needed nothing less than a sovereign work of God's grace to make me to see the terrible fruit that had come of my dabbling in evangelical soothsaying. Therefore, please don't let the vehemence and seeming strength of conviction of the pro-prophecy folks discourage you from speaking out on this subject. They are self-deceived as I was, and will not see their error until God sovereignly opens their eyes and inclines their hearts to accept the Scriptures alone as their authority.

On my blog, I've written several recent posts that go into more detail about my experiences with today's alleged gift of prophecy, experiences that very nearly led me to apostasy.

Sharad Yadav said...

Great post. It's scary how easily people can prostitute God's authority for their own intuitions and feelings. I preached a series of sermons on the will of God on this topic, and tried to call this what it is: superstition and divination.

Frank Martens said...

Someone gave me a book by Rick Joyner titled "The Final Quest". I couldn't even get through the introduction without finding inconcistencies with scripture. Not to mention the first chapter was so confusing I sat there woundering what the guy was talking about.

What a disaster.

LeeC said...

Mysticism is rampant even in conservative circles.

I can count on one hand how many missionaries I have heard speak that did not seem to say "Then the Lord led me to this open door , and then I asked Him to show me what He wanted, and lo and behold right there in front of me was a travel brochure to Zinbabwe!"

The sad thing is how many charismatics accuse cessationists of "Quenching the Spirit" when in fact it is my belief that it is they who denigrate the work f the Holy Spirit by not acknowledging the great work He has done in making us new creatures with the discernmet to understand His Word and its sufficiency!

You want signs and wonders?
Look at who I was, and then take a look at who God has made me.

Enough said.

My employer is charismatic and at one point accused me of being a "Biliolator" (sp?) making an idol out of the Bible. I told him that you cannot seperate God from His Word, and that it is sfficient for all my needs. To which he sarcasticaly asked me "Does it tell you whether you should go out that door right now?" poiting at the front door of the office.

I told him yes it does, it tells me that I should not do so while on the clock because that would be dishonest and dishonoring to God, it tells me that I should not do so in a fit of ager at this conversation because the I would be sining against both you and God in my heart, and a few others.

He has not recanted of his stance to my knowledge, but over the years he seems to be leaning more on the Word, but his spiritual talk is still fraught with "We'll see where He leads me. And I'll see what the Lord says to me." type things.

It is tragic because he is denying himself the joy of the certainty of relying on Gods Word!
I personally feel that he uses "A word from the Lord" as an excuse to free him from decision making and responsibility.

Don't get me wrong by the way, I love my boss and I thank the Lord every day for my job under him. This stuff concerns BECAUSE I care for him.

Mike said...

First, It is true that most of what is labled prophecy is utter nonsense. For this reason I have no problem speaking about the mainstream (see TBN) use of this "gift".
However, it would of course be an informal fallacy to deduce from this that no gift of prophecy exists. Unfortunately this is all to often our problem. I am convinced that if we lived in Samaria that we would see the acts of Simon and come to an a priori rejection of Phillip. I have not see Phill do this necessarily and for that I am thankful. However, I was once the cessationist (and if I got to choose which doctrine was or was not true then I would probably want to place these gifts in the not true category), and I really think that for a want of biblical evidence, this is really one of the main arguments.
So again, I encourage the calling out and publicizing of the false notions concerning prophecy (such as your correspondence with the author), so long as we do not take an incorrect leap as we jump to claim that all prophecy is non-existant.

Lastly, I would also like to hear your take on Spurgeon's views regarding some of these gifts. Since prophecy is on topic it may be best to limit our discussion to his views on prophecy.

As a side note, I have not experienced any of these visual gifts (prophecy, tongues, etc) that I am aware of (which it seems the biblical examples were always aware of) and if I had to create a doctrine from experience then I would be a cessationist. However, in doing so, I would be making the same grevious error as the Pentecostals who place more emphasis on personal experience than on what the text actually says.

In Christ alone,

John R. said...

The man sounded disturbed and pained.

I felt sorry for him as I read.


Chris Freeland said...

Okay. Confession time...

In my (way) earlier, (much) less informed days, I actually abused this myself.

The big thing by people in a circle I used to run around with was to say "God laid it on my heart to..." and then discuss the various decisions you were about to make. Honestly, looking back, I think it was more of a cop out to keep people from having to take ownership of the fruits of their decision. After all, if God "laid it on my heart" to jump out a 6th story window, I should do it without questioning the validity of that calling. God says "jump," and I say "how high?"

Well, being a stupid, ignorant, dumb moron, I latched on to the lingo, and used it to get a girl's phone number once. "God laid it on my heart to pray for you... can I get your phone number to follow up?" She had no choice but to give it to me. After all, who was she to question God's calling on my life?

I've confessed a billion times. Fortunately we live in an age of grace. I should have been stoned.

Ephemeral Mortal said...

Leec Said:
"...You want signs and wonders?
Look at who I was, and then take a look at who God has made me.

Enough said."

Amen brother. The same here. This has to be the biggest miracle of all.

FX Turk said...

Phil, the number of books we cannot sell because the people claim to be "prophets" ... I swear, having standards is a crippling disease.

So did you send him his manuscript back? Of did an angel stop by and pick it up from you and transfer it to golden plates?


FX Turk said...

Rick Joyner -- PHEH! Don't get me started.

It's funny: I think Jesus died for false prophets, too. That is, false prophets who have repented of their error. Just dropping the title (cf. Juanita Bynum) isn't repentence.

Sara Morse said...

I've often heard people in conservative churches say many of these kinds of things without really thinking. They have simply become another little phrase in "Christianese." I wonder if the lack of real biblical preaching of the Bible as the only true revelation of God has left us with our own interpretation of God's plan, taken from our experiences without testing them by the Scriptures.

I was at a city wide prayer meeting once where the a man stood up and said God had given him a word about this event that his church was going to be having in three weeks, and God then told him everything they were going to be doing at the event AND then God told him they were going to be charging 10.00 a person! Why test something that good by the Bible? (just kidding)

Stephen Morse said...


So how much did you make that time? It sounds like a great moneymaker... why don't you try it for our blog and see how it turns out?

Phil I have two questions for you. One has to do with the Roman Catholic practice of 'seeing' Mary and the 'worship' and 'prophecies' that follow that. I know an individual who gave me copies of photos in which Mary can be seen in a bank window down in Florida and a bunch of photos taken from down in Georgia in which a door to heaven opens and you can see right in (don't laugh. This guy and his wife drove to both places and 'worshipped'! The testified that their lives were changed!)
Second; in the line of questioning about Spurgeon, what about Whitefield's early tendencies to practice, I think he called it, 'casting lots' or something.

I am waiting to hear your take on this because my brother prophecies that our blog will recieve more posts this year than yours did when you weren't even there!

Jeremy said...

[joke]Phil, you should have known turning down T.D. Jakes would have resulted in him publishing stuff elsewhere... I mean look at what money Moody lost out on because they didn't print the Living Bible, or the Left Behind stuff... man... you editors need that gift of prophecy too! [/joke]

Michael Russell said...


God just revealed to me that everything you said in your post is true.

Mike said...

lol ... other Mike ... you are funny

wordsmith said...

i think a lot of this stuff is driven by hubris and self-aggrandizement - "God spoke to ME about the BIG THING/NEW WORK He's doing in the world/church today, and how I'm going to play a part in this last GREAT MOVE of God..." blah blah blah....

farmboy said...

In regard to answering ephraim's questions, how about adding a couple of verses from the other New Testament book that begins with an "R" to his list of verses from Romans?

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, ESV)

Regarding ephraim's concluding question, given the above, when it comes to the Holy Spirit leading through divinely inspired special revelation, it seems prudent to limit one's self to the 66 books of the Bible.

LeeC said...

Thanks to the Holy Spirit we are free from the bondage of sin and able to understand and obe Gods comands....which we find in His Word.He leads us in righteousness.

The signs and wonders of the pre-cannon days gave testimony to the veracity of the apostles. They are the founation of the church, but no building is all foundation is it?

Of course prophecy has not entirely ceased because there are the two prophets of Revelations still, but that does not normalize prophecy today.

Jeremy Weaver said...

I've been reading a book, maybe you've heard of it, The Book of Mormon, taht gives me peace and makes me feel good when I read it. This is no heresy though, it's another testament of Jesus Christ.
Can I send you a copy today?

Mike said...

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, ESV)"

It is these sort of absurd cessationist arguments that truly reveal their view. We can easily catch Arminians reading things into the text, interpreting incorrectly, etc - but then we use this as some sort of cessationist argument. Wow.

Jason Robertson said...

Thankfully the Perfect has come.

Ben Myers said...

"That sort of 'prophecy' is no better than the deliberately vague and trivial horoscope messages printed every day in the local newspaper."

Well said -- and it's often even more trivial than the daily horoscopes.

Bhedr said...

Heaven and Earth must bend to Scripture. In all circumstances.This should carry over to theologians that tend to be Scientific in their reasoning as well. It is the same as Charasmatic re-revelation. may we all tremble at His word.

Brad said...

oh good. a new fresh hack at those Christian nuts- hadn't checked the site in a few months, but it is soothing to notice the consistency.

Brad said...

OK. I've put down my sarcasmatron. Seriously, I do pity and wish that you geniouses would see the flip-side of your argument. To argue against the need for "fresh revelation" or communication with God, is of the highest order of arrogance. You simply don't need anything- you've got this book. I'm telling you there's more and He aligns with Scripture. Dont settle for dating your wife- actually be intimate with her.

LeeC said...

My relationship with God is based upon what he says, not what I feel.
And yes, it is very intimate, just not self centered.

Arrogance is not admitting that we are flawed creatures prone to self deception and in desperate need of Gods objective Word as the only true plumbline of Wisdom and truth.

Brad said...

"Fresh revelation" is Pyro's term- I simply say that if you don't believe God communicates with people today, I'm not sure you're a Christian, but a dried up prune filled with decay inside clinging to words on a page instead of the God those words point to.
Jerryw, when the sun comes up tomorrow it will be a unique, fresh revelation of God and it will be consistent with Scripture.
Leec, I agree with everything you've said. Please guys, for your own sake, let loose of this "religion" and discover that Jesus is Truth- a person!

Warren Pearson said...

mike after doxoblogist said 'It is these sort of absurd cessationist arguments'

How is this absurd?

Revelation is the last book in the Bible. If there was any later prophecy, chronologically it would have to be an addition to Revelation and therefore to the Bible. Genesis started in eternity past, Revelation extends to eternity future. For us, now, it is the complete revelation of Christ. What else is there to add?

Likewise in Deut 4:2, 12:32, Prov 30:6 God instructs, through his inspired prophets, that nothing of human origin is to be added to that which is divinely revealed and authorized.

Robert Thomas: “The part played by the warning of Rev. 22:18 in [the] decline and cessation [of prophetic/revelatory activity at the end of the first century AD] should not be overlooked. . . . This was perhaps the most basic reason of all. The warning must be understood in light of the prophetic focus of the times. Ample reasons existed for John to conclude that no more prophecy was needed. . . . {Rev. 22:18-19] is a divine proclamation terminating use of the gift [of prophecy]” (JETS: 6 /89, 215-16).

So to say this argument is 'absurd' seems rather harsh.

Mike said...

So you honestly think that Revelation 22 is an argument against continuation of gifts?

First, Rev 22:18-19 is clearly talking about the book of Revelation itself. At most, it could be expanded to the entire bible. In any event, not 1 person who believes in Continuation would take their words, write them down, and staple them to the back of the bible. Nobody is adding anything to the text.

Now, If anything ever contradicts the bible ... then it is most definitely out. God will not contradict himself.
Second, I'd also like to distance myself from BradMeyers. A) I am not a charismatic and B) I think he has a terrible view of scripture.
Lastly, for folks who have such a high view of scripture ... I wonder what you do with passages that specifically say Not to forbid this ...

Then again, we could always twist 1Cor 13 to our own demise ... or for that matter we could even use Rev 22:18-19

Warren Pearson said...

Mike said: So you honestly think that Revelation 22 is an argument against continuation of gifts?

Directly it's one of the arguments for the close of the canon - which indirectly argues for the cessation of the office of apostle and prophet - and for revelatory gifts.

So when was 1 Cor 13 written in relation to Rev 22? Probably about 35 years prior to it. Paul couldn't forbid in 1 Cor 14:39 what at that time was still a valid (and yet apparently 'dwindling') gift of tongues.

And there are fair and reasonable arguments to likewise understand 1 Cor 13:8-10 given by John MacArthur ("Charismatic Chaos") and others - which you say you've read.

FX Turk said...

This is not about the continuation of spiritual gifts or even of apostolic gifts: this is about liars who tell lies under the cover of "God told me to tell you".

It's the worst kind of sin against God. There's a reason the OT says to stone these vile men.

johnnybwoody said...

concerning being drunken in the Spirit, in your associated article about B R Hicks, Paul stated if we are sober it is for your sakes, if we are beside ourselves, it is for God. Be beside self is the word existemi in the Greek which is the root word for "ekstasis" or the trance states Peter and Paul were in, in the Book of Acts. Ekstasis is the word from which we get our word "ecstacy" or ecstatic states of conciousness or the drunken state the disciples were in on the day of Pentecost. Jeremiah said "all my bones shake, i am like a man overcome with wine, because of the Lord and the words of His holiness"(Jeremiah 23:9). You may not be familiar with much of church history, that these spiritual manifestations were found at azuza street, in the cane ridge meetings in kentucky in the 1800's, in john and charles wesleys meetings and in jonathan edwards meetings. IF YOU ARE SOLA SCRIPTURA, THEN INCLUDE THESE SCRIPTURES IN YOUR SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. AGAIN, THE WORD STATES LET EVERYTHING BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES(OF SCRIPTURE). WHERE ARE YOUR TWO OR THREE WITNESSES OF SCRIPTURE CONCERNING DRUNKENNESS IN THE SPIRIT NOT BEING A PART OF THE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE?

Unknown said...

i was a member of sister hicks' church for 10 years when i left i had to go back and re-evaluate her doctrine of the bride and her fasination with Kabbalah / go to