понедельник, 3 июня 2013 г.

Don't be taken in by David Pawson

Browsing youtube.com today I came across various clips by a charismatic pastor called David Pawson, whose books many will have seen on the shelves of Christian book stores. David Pawson isn't one of those wild charismatics prone to shouting or getting people to fall on the floor. Nor is he 'on the make' preaching health and wealth. However, while he is a Christian brother and not a heretic, nevertheless major emphases of his quiet, thoughtful, apparently Biblical message are also wrong and damaging.

Around 1993, when I was an undergraduate student at university, David Pawson made a great impression on me. He explained the truth of the Christian faith in simple and memorable terms, referring both to the original languages of Hebrew and Greek and to church history. Or so it seemed. His simple logic led to straightforward conclusions, not least justifying the so-called baptism in the Holy Spirit and the church practice of the charismatic churches in which he had found his spiritual home (having previously been a Methodist and a Baptist). Accepting his teaching for a short period I came to believe that I was not yet a Christian in the full sense of the word and I awaited a particular experience which would finally usher me into the fullness of the Spirit. God, graciously, did not answer my prayer. If he had granted my request I am sure I would have imposed this view on others, unchurching all of Christendom.

At the time I was helped my best Christian friend and, later, by my own study of the Bible. I came to see that the case David Pawson was making started with a particular conclusion (for example the experience of the baptism in the Spirit) and then read it back into the book of Acts and the epistles. The use of Greek words or references to church history were smoke and mirrors. And they served to distract my attention (and no doubt of thousands of others) from the central truths of the gospel. Once I was able to study the Bible proactively (eg 1 John), the conclusions in David Pawson's books were not only absent; they were directly contradicted.

For example, answering the question, "What is the normal Christian birth?" David Pawson answers: repent, believe, be baptised and receive the Holy Spirit (four steps).
What is missing from that list?
1. First of all the absolutely central place of God's preached message of the gospel. By focusing on 'steps to be born again' the preached message becomes secondary, a sort of explanatory warm-up for the real event: my steps towards God. Notwithstanding the order of events at key turning points in the history of the church (Pentecost, the Samaritans, Cornelius), there are instances in the book of Acts of new birth before baptism or without the outward signs, but never without the preaching of the Word.
2. Secondly, the reality is that salvation is not what I do (a series of steps), but rather I receive salvation (or am receiving salvation) as I respond to the saving grace of God. There is a simplicity and unity to this response (think of Abraham's 'amen' to God's promise in Genesis 15), albeit at times spread out over time and with various aspects. For example, John Murray (Salvation Accomplished and Applied) speaks of this response in terms of repentance and faith not as two distinct 'steps' but as penitent faith and believing repentance.
3. And thirdly, there is no mention of the signs of Christian life: the basic Christian virtues of faith, hope and love; the various 'tests' in 1 John. While a tenuous case might be made that, like the Samaritans, someone might believe but not yet have received the Spirit, a life bearing the fruit of the Spirit is a sure sign that a non-charismatic believer is not still stuck in the delivery room.

Twenty years later listening to an elderly David Pawson it is rather more evident to me that this is an amateur theologian. His knowledge of Greek is piecemeal and a knowledge of individual words not the language as a whole (compare his pronounciation to the monk reading the New Testament on my iPad). His references to church history are snippets rather than comprehensive. And simplistic generalising cliches such as the hellenisation of the Christian faith are not the fruit of in-depth study. David Pawson is not a scholar and his audience is not in a position to critique or question what he is telling them. In academic parlance his teaching is not peer-reviewed. And his burdens and special revelations from God just don't 'do it' for me any more; these are the figments of his own mind and experience, not words from God.

So why was David Pawson so convincing? Why then and why now?
1. Firstly, because he positions himself as a scholar and he is speaking to those who know no better. It's the blind leading the blind. It is the responsibility of every Christian believer to know what they believe and why they believe it, to have some basic grasp of the Bible and of church history to be able to test and discern such 'scholarship'.
2. Secondly, because he is preaching to the choir. As long as one is content with 'life as it is' in one's own denomination, ignorant of anything outside, then apologists for the status quo will be appealing. We all want to be told that what we are doing is right. In one talk David Pawson suggests the Didache (an early church text dated to the first century AD) offers the model of a 'teaching session' followed by a 'time of worship'. In case you missed it, he is referred to the liturgy of the Word followed by the liturgy of the Eucharist! In other words it reads into a 1st century text the culturally bound practice of 20th/21st century evangelical charismatic churches. You need to get out more!
3. Thirdly, because simplistic answers appeal to our lazy, anti-intellectual instincts. If only it was all about having the right experience wouldn't things be simpler? It's a Christian version of the unexamined life.

Brothers, keep yourselves from idols. 

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