13 myths Christians believe about the gifts of the Spirit

hand-raising-in-church-black-and-white.jpg

This is a blog post that I recently realised I have been writing in the back of my head for the past 6 months or so. From dozens of conversations with people and epiphanies in the shower, all of which I thought were unrelated, I’ve realised that a lot of the thoughts I’ve been thinking lately can be more or less unified under the topic of misconceptions Christians hold about the Holy Spirit, his gifts, and his interactions with us. So here are 13 myths that I think (many) Christians believe and should start unbelieving about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

While this is partly a cathartic rant unloading all the ways everybody but me is wrong, actually, I hope much of what’s written here is a liberating and empowering encouragement to people to, as Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.” (1 Corinthians 14:1), with even a few practical ways that we can actually do that, all towards a vision to use these gifts to build up the church and see real change in our lives. Much of what I say here we can all agree on, while every reader, from every denomination and theological persuasion, will probably find something to disagree with.

1. Equating the gifts of the spirit with the Holy Spirit himself

I’m kicking things off with this one because it was encountering this myth in a recent conversation that got me frustrated enough to write this thing in the first place. You see, this is something that we charismatics say a lot, and I wonder if we realise what we are saying – where we use the term “the Holy Spirit,” to refer specifically for some reason to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’ll just be a passing comment where someone will say, “It’s so sad how those traditional Christian folk don’t believe in the Holy Spirit.” Or, “Unlike them, we believe the Holy Spirit is present in the Church today,” or, “What a shame that so many Christians miss out on the Holy Spirit.” And we’ll talk about how the Pentecostal revivals of the early 1900s were the long awaited return of the Holy Spirit to the Church. We’ll even put on services at church with a focus on healing and prophecy, and we’ll call them “Holy Spirit” nights.

There is a gigantic problem with this way of speaking, and it is that it equates the gifts of the Spirit with the Holy Spirit himself. Or more specifically it implies that the Holy Spirit’s sole function in the Church is to give people “spiritual gifts”. The reality is that the Holy Spirit does a lot more than give us spiritual gifts. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit has far more important things to do than give us spiritual gifts, such that by far the majority of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the lives of Christians are things that every Christian believes in, whether they’re charismatic or not.

First of all, it is impossible to be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit living within you (Rom 8:9-11, 1 Cor 6:19). To say that someone doesn’t have the Holy Spirit is to say that they are not a Christian at all. So let’s be careful with what we say. Further, to put it bluntly, the Holy Spirit is the one who actually does the dirty work, on the ground, of actually saving us (Titus 3:5-7, John 3:5, Romans 8:15). The Spirit is also the one who empowers us to believe and say that Jesus is Lord – according to Paul, without the Spirit it is impossible for us to do this (1 Cor 12:3). The Spirit is also the one who sanctifies us and empowers us to die to sin and live in obedience to the Father. There’s a reason our good works are referred to as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26, Romans 8:13). I could go on listing all the other nifty things the Holy Spirit has been involved in, from creating the universe to raising Jesus from the dead, but we’d be here all day. Hopefully by now you can see that restricting the Holy Spirit’s resume to “spiritual gift giver,” really fails to give him enough credit, which is ironic when the people who talk like this claim to be the ones who like the Holy Spirit more than other kinds of Christians.

When we talk about prophecy, tongues, healing, and other spiritual gifts, we are talking about something much more specific than the entire person of the Trinity that is the Holy Spirit. We are talking about one of the many things the Holy Spirit does. And so when it comes to charismatics (who believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit) vs cessationists (who believe these gifts ended with the first generation of Christians), both of these camps believe in the reality and power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. In fact charismatics and cessationists agree on far more about the Holy Spirit than they disagree on. Also, I know we mean well, but it’s kind of nonsensical to talk about “Holy Spirit nights” at church. Every church service in the history of church services has had the full involvement and cooperation of the Holy Spirit, without which nobody would be saved, nobody would be edified, and Christ would not have been proclaimed or worshiped. And as for the “return” of the Holy Spirit to the Church in the Pentecostal revivals… If the Holy Spirit ever actually left the Church, the Church would cease to exist. Continue reading

Us Too: Why Christians Should Man Up and Embrace Feminism

screen shot 2019-01-19 at 12.16.07 pm

This one goes out to all my Christian friends who don’t feel like they can quite get on board with feminism, who can’t help but feel that feminism is some kind of affront to God, and that to embrace it would mean bowing just a little bit to the idols of this world. This is for all the Christians who, whenever they hear yet another woman getting on the #MeToo bandwagon and talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, they just get a little annoyed for some reason. This used to be me. But not so much anymore.

Let’s talk about it.

Christianity and Feminism have a very complex relationship. On one hand, original 1st century Christians championed the cause of women. Jesus and his followers treated women with a dignity that had not been seen before in that part of the world. They broke down all kinds of social barriers, including those between the sexes. They treated women as equals and included them fully into the community. On the other hand, over history, many Christians, or people who saw themselves as Christians, have partaken in and even invented new systems of oppressing and subjugating women. Today, I often hear (not from all Christians but from more than you might think) Christian pastors and teachers (male and female) say that feminism is a worldview that is at odds with Christianity. And whenever they say this, I have to wonder what exactly they mean.

Part of the complexity of the relationship between Christianity and feminism comes from the fact that “feminism” can mean so many different things. Feminism is a diverse system that has significant internal disagreement. Two people who call themselves feminists may not agree on peripheral or even central things. There are “sameness” feminists who want to emphasise that women can do all the things men can do, and there are “difference” feminists who want to emphasise that women and men are different and these differences should be taken into account in society. Some feminists kind of seem to hate men, at least at a glance. Most are less radical. But feminism has become so broad that we have to ask, when a preacher says that feminism is anti-Christian, what do they mean by the word, “feminism”? Often when someone villainises feminists, they attribute to feminists a set of beliefs that most feminists wouldn’t subscribe to at all. Feminism seems so hard to define, and thus even harder to have a debate about.

However, at this point in recent history there seems to be emerging into mainstream popular culture a more clearly defined version of feminism than ever. And that is thanks to the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has started a conversation that has brought feminist issues into the foreground in such a way that, from what I can tell, there has never been an easier time to tell what “mainstream” feminism is – what it believes, what it wants, and what it looks like. It isn’t extreme to the point misandry, but neither would you call it moderate, if “moderate” comes with any connotation of acquiescence. Women around the world are uniting around a clear message that is educating and changing the mindsets of many men, but also pushing the wrong buttons of many others. It is this mainstream, popular feminism exemplified in the #MeToo movement that I want to commend to Christians as something we should wholeheartedly embrace.

 

The Male Objection to Feminism

Leaving Christianity out of it for the moment, why do so many men find the kind of feminism behind #MeToo so objectionable? Well, every version of feminism will make two basic kinds of claim. A prescriptive claim (a claim about values – how things ought to be) and a descriptive claim (a claim about facts – how things are). At its core, feminism has always been routed in the prescriptive value judgement that women intrinsically are, and ought to be treated as, equal to men. Today there are very few people in western society who would dispute that claim. Most people who say they oppose feminism would still agree that women should be treated with equal moral worth and dignity to men. This prescriptive claim is not really where the disagreement lies. Almost everybody agrees on the way things ought to be. What nobody seems to be able to agree about is the way things are. See, in addition to making a prescriptive claim about how things should be, feminism additionally makes the descriptive claim that things are not that way. That things are not as they should be. And it is this claim – that women are currently not enjoying freedom, opportunity, or safety equal to that of men – that some of us really seem to find offensive. In fact, for the most part, it is this description of the world that differentiates the various kinds of feminism from one another. Feminisms agree that there should be gender equality, but they disagree regarding the extent to which inequality exists and the nature of that inequality. It is the versions of feminism that depict the greatest extent of inequality in the world that are seen as the most extreme and, concordantly, the most objectionable to many men.

I think it is quite clear why many men take issue with the idea that women are currently not enjoying gender equality: We take this notion as an attack on ourselves. It is as if feminism is women making an assessment of the world, and finding it lacking. Making an assessment of all the men of the world, and finding them lacking, not enough, that they haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of women, and that they are to be blamed for all of women’s problems. The poorer the feminist’s assessment of the world – the more extreme the version of feminism – the greater failure the man is claimed to be. And the #MeToo movement is precisely this – a very poor assessment of the current state of affairs. It is men getting a bad grade. It is women claiming that things are very much not okay. It is women claiming that they are the the victims of more aggression at the hand of males than we would like to think. That there are aspects of our common culture, in the workplace and in the home, that are contributing to this. It is a claim that can often be reduced to, “You know that thing that you do all the time that you think is normal and harmless? It’s actually sexist in a subtle but powerful way.” Continue reading

I recently heard a Christian argue against the Theory of Evolution on the basis that they find conflict between the notion that humans are descended from non-human animals, and the idea that we are made in the image of God.

I hate to break it to you but the Genesis narrative says we were descended from… DUST.

Do you prefer this? Really, how is this better?

I would’ve thought that one of the overarching themes of Christian scripture is that the origin of something needn’t have any bearing on that thing’s identity, or its future. Matthew’s Gospel highlights that Jesus was descended from a prostitute. And he turned out alright.

12 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Date a Non-Believer

Let’s start by saying it out loud: I’m single. So here comes another single guy, writing about relationships as if he’s qualified on the topic. But actually, I’d want to suggest to you that perhaps my singleness is in fact exactly what qualifies me to talk about this. Because, while I have never been in a relationship, I have had several serious opportunities for relationships that came close but which I ultimately decided not to pursue. It’s not that these girls weren’t Christian, but I had my reasons for knowing that pursuing a relationship with them would not have been the godly thing to do. So while I may not know that much about dating, I do know a thing or two about, well, not dating. And that’s precisely what this article is about.

So. This is an article about why, if you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t date someone who isn’t. I’m writing this in part because it is a common issue in most Christian communities – all of us will have at some point at least known a Christian who was dating a non-Christian. But it’s mainly because I’ve often thought, from the conversations I’ve had about this topic over the years, that there is a lot of unclarity and maybe confusion around how some people in church think about this. It seems to be a bit of a grey area for a lot of Christians. I want to argue that it’s actually pretty black and white. I want to argue that because I don’t want Christians to be confused and unsure about this. So I hope to bring clarity and definition to the issue for people, so that they can have a conviction about it that is not merely a product of Christian culture, but is the product of their own engagement with God’s word on the matter.

Of course life and people are complicated things, and knowing clearly what’s right doesn’t always produce a lifestyle to match. It’ll take more than one blog post to change a person’s life choices. And the huge premise here is that, regardless of where we’re at on this particular issue, we’re all together in the fact that we’re messy, idiotic sinners who get stuff wrong all the time. And so I would hate for my exhortations here to come across as a self-righteous sense of moral superiority. I assure you I have no delusions that I am a good person. But as a starting point, whatever we do with the information, it is beneficial or all of us to be informed about how God wants us to live, and to know the reasons for our beliefs. Because we definitely can’t live right, or help our friends live right, if we don’t know what right is.

  1. How good or bad a boyfriend/girlfriend they are to you is not the issue

I think this is the first thing that needs to be said. This is not about how good or bad a partner a non-Christian will make. When I say you shouldn’t date a non-Christian, it is not based on some prejudiced, unrealistic notion that unbelievers are selfish, debaucherous people who won’t treat you right. This needs to be said because, personally, I am very perplexed by the frequency with which I hear the argument that goes, “A lot of unbelievers will treat a girl better than a lot of Christians out there.” This is so confusing. Why would you say that? Is it because you believe this is about how well someone treats you? It’s not about getting someone who will be good to you. It’s about something so much deeper than that.

Yes, there are plenty of Christian guys and girls out there who are after your affections and who don’t deserve them. There are some Christians out there who would treat you worse in a relationship than some non-Christians. But the answer to that is not to ditch those loser Christians and pick up the decent unbeliever. The answer is to neither date the inadequate Christian… or the unbeliever. The answer is to raise your standards – not lower them. The answer is to wait for someone who belongs to Jesus’ Kingdom, and will treat you right. Because Christians aren’t perfect, but you’re stuck with them. If you don’t want to marry a Christian, you might be in the wrong religion.

  1. The Bible says no

Sorry to be blunt. (I promise this article gets more tenderly pastoral towards the end.) But I really do believe God has spoken on this topic. Well, almost. The Bible doesn’t forbid dating unbelievers. But then again, “dating” is a foreign concept to the authors of the Bible. What the Bible does forbid is Christians marrying unbelievers. We can see this in 1 Corinthians 7:39, where Paul says a widow is free to marry anyone she chooses, “only in the Lord,” which is First Century Christianese for “only if he’s a Christian.” Continue reading

When faced with all the crimes the Church has committed in the past and the present – the judgementality, the bigotry, the discrimination, even the violence – the Christian who doesn’t understand unity will turn to the world and denounce and condemn these “other Christians”, distancing themselves from their works.

But the Christian who understands unity will turn to the world and say, “I am sorry.”

A little atheist myth about science.

Myth: Even when scientists believe in God, they become practical atheists whenever they do science; they never bring God into the laboratory.

FALSE

That is neither true historically nor conceptually.

Let’s consider the great pioneers of modern science – the scientists of the scientific revolution (who produced modern science as we know it). Believe it or not, they were not looking for “naturalistic” explanations of things. They simply looked for consistent explanations of things. The reason they believed that nature would behave consistently is because they believed that God ruled nature.

Atheists often tell us that that bringing God into the laboratory (bringing the theistic worldview into scientific endeavours) will lead to lazy inferences: that is, supernatural explanations. It is as if God becomes a conceptual crutch – an escape clause in every difficult anomaly whereby they can simply say, “God did it,” while atheists, who must assume nature causes everything, are left to do the hard work of figuring out the natural patterns and causes of things. (This is all part and parcel of the broader atheistic myth, that science and theism are essentially opposed.)

Of course, this would entail on the theist’s part an inconsistent model of nature – a nature that lacks the resources to produce the systems around us. For a scientist to invoke supernatural explanations for things would be to assume that nature, unaided by God, is unable to behave in the way that it has been observed to.

But the mistake this makes is not that it brings the theistic worldview into the laboratory; it is that it fails to consider the way in which God governs nature: rationally, consistently, and uniformly. The scientific revolutionaries – almost all of them Christians – didn’t make that mistake. They assumed that nature would behave according to intelligible patterns and laws, because they believed in a divine intelligence as nature’s lawgiver.

Thus when they came across an anomalous piece of data, rather than calling it a miracle, their way forward was not to suspend belief in a divine intelligence, but to invoke their belief in God by assuming that the anomaly must be a consistent part of a divinely designed pattern that had yet to be discerned.

Then they searched for the pattern. And the rest is history.

This myth does not seem to pass the test of history, let alone pure reason.

6 important differences between the Exodus movie and the Biblical Exodus account:

I know what you’re thinking. “Here comes another Christian complaining about the inaccuracies of a Bible movie and spoiling everybody’s fun.”

Well. Please don’t worry. This isn’t a negative film review, or a film review at all. If the Exodus movie isn’t Biblically accurate, that doesn’t make it a bad movie, or a movie people shouldn’t watch. This isn’t one of those articles.

What this is, is an appeal to watchers of the Exodus movie to be informed and educated. Everybody knows that this film is not entirely Biblically accurate, and that’s fine; it wasn’t trying to be. But what I know is going to happen for many people who watch this movie is that they will come away from it making certain conclusions about the Bible based on this movie, even though we all know that the movie doesn’t accurately represent the Bible.

No adaptation is 100% accurate. That’s impossible. But what people should be aware of with Ridley Scott’s Exodus adaptation is that it is different to the Biblical story in all the important ways, rather than being different in peripheral, secondary ways. Many people’s perceptions of God will be influenced by this film, when this film actually says some pretty different things about God to what the original Biblical story says about God.

So before you make conclusions about the God of the Bible, based on your viewing of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of this story in the Bible, be aware of the following differences between the stories:

1. In the book of Exodus, Moses is a spiritual leader; not a military one.

Ok. This isn’t a terribly important difference (not in my books anyway). But if you watched this film, thinking you were watching a faithful retelling of the Exodus story, then perhaps this fact will make you wary of assuming that what you watched is similar to what is written in the Bible.

This difference shows us that the filmmakers were not trying to simply put the same original story of Exodus onto the screen.

2. In the book of Exodus, Moses is a reluctant leader because of timidity, not because of arrogance. (Exodus 3:11, 4:10-13)

Ridley Scott’s film depicts Moses as a self-confident, at times hot-headed character, who is hesitant to lead the Israelites out of Egypt because, 1) he doesn’t yet fully self-identify with the Israelites and has residual allegiances to the Egyptians, and 2) he is unimpressed by the God of the Israelites, and tends to disagree with God’s way of doing things.

This is actually completely different to the character of Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus, who literally says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11), then points out his oratorical inadequacy (Ex 4:10), and then asks God to just send someone else (Ex 4:13).

In the film, Moses’ primary character development is a process of gradual humbling before God and before Israel. But in the Bible Moses develops in the other direction; he needs to go through a process of emboldening and encouraging in order to do what God asks of him.

Now, again, this difference isn’t terribly important in the scheme of things, and I rather enjoyed it as a piece of characterisation. But it does show us further, that the makers of this film have changed deep and basic things about the central characters of this story.

In what ways do you think they might have changed the character of God?

Continue reading

Physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox said on Q and A tonight that the power of science is that it’s the only discipline that admits its own fallibility.

Seems like a really nice guy, but I’m perplexed as to why he would believe something that is so obviously false: I’ve never met a philosopher, historian, economist, lawyer, literary critic, OR theologian, who does not admit their own fallibility and the fallibility of their discipline.

And yes, I meant it when I said theologian. Theologians consider the text they work with (e.g. the Bible) – their data source – to be infallible, but they consider their own interpretations of the text to be fallible.

Note that this is exactly the same as scientists, who consider nature – their data source – to be completely infallible: never lying to us, and never changing, but constantly being misinterpreted by us.

Scientists and theologians are no different in this regard.

On the Unity of the Church – What is this thing called Christianity?

[Edit (03/10/14): Apologies for how long this post is. If you’re in a hurry you may find it effective to just read the bits in bold to get the main points, and prioritise reading the final section.]

——————————————————————————————————————-

“Christianity” can mean so very many things.

When you meet enough people – especially people who have met a lot of other people – and when you see enough of the world, you must concede this fact, that two different “Christians,” when randomly plucked from different places on the globe, will not necessarily adhere to beliefs or practices that at all resemble each other. To study history only multiplies this phenomenon: not only is Christianity different from one place to another, but also from one time to another, within the same place! Over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, those who claim to follow him have said and done radically different and irreconcilable things. In the name of Jesus, some people have fed the hungry and clothed the poor, while other people have fought wars and taken land by force; some people have abolished slavery, while others have enslaved generations; some people have set up schools as centres of free education, while others have sought to suppress and persecute free thought. Some Christians have called Jesus the very Son of God, while others have called him only a good teacher; some have said that salvation is a free gift received by faith, while others have said we are to earn our way into Heaven by our good deeds. Some Christians believe fully in the authority of scripture, while others say it’s only a flawed human guideline. Of those who do believe the Bible, they can’t agree on how long it took God to create the Earth, or whether God exists as a Trinity, or whether or not women ought to preach. All the while some of these people are singing hymns while others sing rock music – and have even waged war on each other over differences comparable to this.

I hope you get the point. There is a serious question on the minds of so many people on the outside, looking in: What is this thing called “Christianity”? And why can’t its proponents get along? How can you say that there is one Christian religion worth talking about, when there as many interpretations of it as there are “Christians”? Of course, Christians like myself will say that people who fight wars in the name of Christianity have entirely abandoned the very essence of what Jesus came to earth to achieve – a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36). “They are not true Christians,” I will say. But of course that’s exactly it, they shall reply: who gets to decide who are the true Christians and who are the fake ones? Your peaceful Christianity is just your interpretation, while those who want to advance Christendom by the sword will tell you that your interpretation is wrong; you are the fake Christian. Who, then, can be the arbiter? Who can really say what ‘true’ Christianity is?

To complicate matters further, while there are a whole bunch of people who claim to be Christian that I will say are in fact not Christians, there is a whole group of other people whom I affirm when they profess to be Christian, even though I disagree with them on smaller but still major theological issues, such as the nature of God’s sovereignty and its relationship to human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or creation and the age of the Earth. Yes it seems as though Evangelical Christians (by which I mean roughly “Protestant Christians who believe that Bible is the sole authoritative word of God and that people must be saved from deserved punishment for sin through a personal faith in the atoning work of Jesus’ death and resurrection”), have decided upon a certain set of criteria for what it is to be a real Christian. We have at some point drawn a theological circle, inside which you count as a Christian and outside which you don’t. And of course, “to be a Christian” is here synonymous with “to be saved”, and thus such theological line drawing comes with a certain level of moral connotation, and can cause all sorts of offence. And yet such line drawing must be done, for not just any old person who believes any old thing can be called a “Christian” just because we want to be nice – no more than just anybody can be called a “hipster” (not that they necessarily want to be). The question then is, on what basis do we mark the cut-off between Christian and not? Just how much can a person disagree with me before I say they have departed from the true faith? Ultimately, on what basis can I say that there is one religion called Christianity? Continue reading

On prosperity theology

Even in the case that prosperity theology is true, then I still do not see how the believer is left with a reason to “chase God’s blessing.”

If the truth is that obedience to God will attract material blessing towards you, then this could only be a reason precisely not to chase wealth. For “it will chase you.”

The believer’s only task, then, would be to simply obey God by being generous towards others with their wealth.

It seems to me that any person who is storing up for themselves treasures on earth is not living a life that is consistent with prosperity theology.