Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Pastors Who Prophesy About People's Hidden Sins

If you put a gun to my head and make me pick teams in this fight, it's not a tough call. And I'm guessing that if you know me well at all, you can figure it out without breaking much of a sweat. (Unless, of course, you're the guy who told my then-boss that I was in the tank for a couple guys with the initials R.W. and J.O. . . .)

Now having said that, it just happened (I'm not calling it revelation) that I was cleaning out some really old e-mail tonight and stumbled across a link a friend sent me back in 2008. That article contains this curious anecdote:
The ministry of Charles Spurgeon is a case in point. Read carefully the following account taken from his autobiography:

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul though him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.’”

Spurgeon then adds this comment:

“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, [Curts & Jennings, 1899], Vol. II, pp. 226-227).
Now, the preacher in the first link might be quite appropriately criticized for many things—many things even in the 5-minute clip embedded in that post. But perhaps the root issue—the question of whether the Spirit supernaturally reveals specific details of people's sins—might be more complex than we think. At the very least, perhaps we need to expand the objects of our criticism.


Joshua Caucutt said...

This is an area where we must tread carefully and closely to Scripture - regardless of where it leads us.

Are you saying that based on the experiences of Spurgeon, we must now consider revising the predominant orthodox teaching of Scripture on this point?

Or are you making a biblical argument?

Shayne McAllister said...


I take the point that if we're going to make accusations about how the idea is going to negatively effect the church, then it's wise to look at church history. If GTY is going to pick on Driscoll, it may need to pick on Spurgeon too. I mean, who is has been more influential across church history?

I recently listened to Wayne Grudem's sunday school class discussion of the gift of prophecy as he sees it. He gives an eye-opening biblical argument.


Ben said...

Josh, I agree that we must tread carefully and closely to Scripture. Which is why the only people who need to change their doctrine are the people whose doctrine is unbiblical. No one's experience defines what Scripture teaches.

And Shayne is right that the clear issue here is the parallel between CHS and MD. Are there distinctions? Sure, but Phil Johnson makes an argument that really demands he disagree with CHS:

"I can't imagine how anyone holding Grudem's view of modern prophecy could possibly repudiate what Driscoll insists he has experienced."

This is a subtle point, but if Grudem can't repudiate MD [implied: but SHOULD], then he also can't repudiate CHS, but should. Grudem might argue that he could repudiate MD because of the pornographic images and other distinctions between MD and CHS, but Johnson doesn't allow for that. He argues that Grudem can't repudiate because of his view on prophecy, which implies that the central issue is openness to prophecy itself. And that applies to both MD and CHS here.

Having said that, I'm not personally persuaded by Grudem's view of prophecy, though I concede that he raises some difficult issues.

Shayne McAllister said...

Grudem would say "you have to call it like you see it, it's just like calling balls and strikes." In the audio link I posted, he gives several examples of how he himself rejected a word of prophecy as not from the Lord. In practice, Grudem could repudiate it according to his own view.

Ben said...

Yeah, I think that's a fair point about how Grudem would respond, but I'm agreeing with you that Grudem has room in his view to repudiate MD but not CHS. (Though I'd argue that gets us closer to some of the unconvincing aspects of Grudem's view.)

Johnson doesn't allow that room for Grudem, though.

Gerry Carlson said...

Full disclosure: I never even dreamed you were in the tank for R.W. and J.O. :)

Interesting question about CHS and MD. But didn't one guy claim he knew what he had seen and the other clearly declared he didn't? Just saying.

Also, isn't CHS's testimony similar to many of those revivalists who claim similar testimony in their repertoire of illustrations? Just saying.

Ben said...

Gerry, I knew you had my back. ;-)

I see the distinction you're making, but does it really change the nature of what happened? Spurgeon said he felt that the Spirit wanted him to say it.

And I'm not sure I remember those stories from the revivalists. But a hard cessationist would need to say they're all either lucky guesses, fabrications, or demonic influence, right?

Ben said...

Phil Johnson tweeted a link to some anecdotes and cautions from CHS. Summary: Seems like CHS is doing the same thing with an emergency brake and without the pørn, but he's not calling it a gift of prophecy.

Gerry Carlson said...


Glad you knew "I was on your side" as they say on TV.

I sure heard those kinds of illustrations from SBC evangelists of my youth and some IFB evangelists during my ministry. BTW, almost all those guys loved to read and study CHS, and to quote him. Maybe that's where they got their ideas...?

The only problem I've had with those "prophetic words" was my strong sense of guilt of pasting recorded revelations like these in the back of my Bible. But now we can do it electronicly and it does not carry the same stigma, I guess.

If new revelation is possible why doesn't this guy's revelation qualify? http://vimeo.com/27035959

Joshua Caucutt said...

There are reports of supernatural experiences/visions throughout evangelical forerunners - from Luther to Wesley to Brainerd and more.

I even remember an MBBC staffer making a statement to the effect of "well, that's what happened to me" during the Keswick/Jordan River controversy near the turn of the century. ;)

Appealing to historical theology in order to bolster support (or remove support) is one thing, but to adapt or reformulate doctrine based on experience - regardless of who it is - can open the door for all kinds of problems.

brian said...

My guess is that our experiences shape our interpretation of scripture far more than we would like to admit.

Living in a part of the world where almost all of the believers have had a dream/vision prior to faith is an experience shaping my own understanding. And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. Others may disagree.

Ben said...

Josh, here's my statement: "No one's experience defines what Scripture teaches." But I think Brian's right that our experience shapes our interpretations. It's inevitable. I'd guess that your, Brian's, and my experience (or perhaps better, lack thereof) shaped our convictions at every point along the way of our lives.

That said, I can't remember when I found the exegetical foundation for dogmatic, universal, hard cessationism to be convincing—even before I met people whose experience contradicted it.

William Dudding said...

is it possible that another spirit could reveal such sins to someone because he knows that God's people will automatically want to attribute it to the Holy Spirit?

just asking

d4v34x said...


I don't think that house divides against itself.

BE said...

A few somewhat related thoughts:

First, could it be that PJ's point that Grudem could not criticize MD but should does not apply to CHS, since CHS is not claiming any special gift nor is he encouraging others to seek it or exercise it. IOW, cessationists are willing to allow the Spirit to do things that are out of the ordinary, but don't assume it's any kind of ongoing gift to the church or something that others should pursue (CHS's statement), whereas Grudem does and thus cannot criticize MD.

Second: though PJ's points seems to be stronger, isn't it at least worth noting that "cautious"/Reformed charismatic group rarely if ever call out the more extreme forms of it? PJ is claiming that it's b/c their position does not allow them to, while others have said he could. However, when has he really called any of these things out? PJ mentions his endorsements of Deere and Storms despite their wacky associations. Obviously that does not provde PJ's point, but it at least causes me to say "hmmm."

Finally, I understand the argument that there are some ways to figure out true vs. false prophecies: e.g., does it match up with Scripture. However, many of these "prophecies" don't necessarily contradict Scripture but are just weird, or end up being wrong. So, the "cautious"/Reformed charismatics end up having to say things like "it doesn't resonate with my spirit" or "it may or may not be from God" or "I'm just not sure about it." Instead of being able to say "God didn't reveal that to you, because he's not giving revelation today." That also seems to be part of PJ's point.


Ben said...


All your points are worth consideration. I'm not sure your first is the argument they're making, but it's up to them to clarify. To the best of my knowledge, they haven't. It seems to me they're making an issue of the fact that Driscoll claims Jesus told him these things, not that he's calling it a "gift." (Does he actually say that? Can't remember.) In any case, he seems to be describing some form of special revelation. And Spurgeon does the same thing. I'd like to see a dogmatic, universal, hard cessationist interpret Spurgeon's experience and similar experiences from credible people today.

I'm sure you're right about criticism. It's not unusual. It seems that we tend either to overlook our points of disagreement with those most similar to us, or to react more stridently than necessary. Maybe it depends what we're reacting against.

I'm not clear on how your final point relates to this post. But that's an obvious difficulty for non-cessationists. Just as explaining what's going on when these prophecy/revelatory/whatever thing-ish-nesses come true is a difficulty for universal, dogmatic, hard cessationists.