Monday, June 27, 2011

A Review of the audio book ‘Churched’ by Matthew Paul Turner

I first became aware of the writer Matthew Paul Turner (MPT from now on) when someone I follow on Twitter re-Tweeted one of his tweets. I was curious to read more about him, not because I agreed with what he said, quite the opposite in fact. I don’t remember exactly what the comments said but I seem to remember it was making fun of either Reformed Theology or possibly John Piper. Anyway it was enough to peek my curiosity so I started to follow him on twitter and read some of his Blog 'Jesus Needs New PR' (The blog title may give you a hint of his agenda).

It wasn't long before I stopped reading his blog and some time later I stopped following him on Twitter. The reasons will become clearer.

Any way a few months ago Christian Audio gave away his book ‘Churched’ as their free monthly download. So, since it was free, I downloaded it to see if I could try and understand where MPT was coming from. The book has the following description:

He spent his childhood trapped within the confines of countless bizarre, strict rules. And lived to tell about it.

In this first-hand account, author Matthew Paul Turner shares amusing–sometimes cringe-worthy–and poignant stories about growing up in a fundamentalist household, where even well-intentioned contemporary Christian music was proclaimed to be “of the devil.”

is a collection of stories that detail an American boy’s experiences growing up in a culture where men weren’t allowed let their hair grow to touch their ears (“an abomination!”), women wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of pants (unless swimming), and the pastor couldn’t preach a sermon without a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone. Matthew grapples with the absurdity of a Sunday School Barbie burning, the passionate annual boxing match between the pastor and Satan, and the holiness of being baptized a fifth time–while growing into a young man who, amidst the chaotic mess of religion, falls in love with Jesus. (Cited from

churched The Audio Book version that I listened to was read by MPT himself which I guess added to the experience as His reading of his own book clearly added extra weight and humour to the words.

Several things struck me after I had finished listening to the book:

Firstly I have no experience first hand of that kind of Fundamentalism. The only thing that comes close was an evening when my first church invited some man to talk about secular music to the youth group. I was about 18 at the time. He was a nutter quite frankly and saw the devil in everything. I quickly learnt to filter out that kind of nonsense.

I have heard about that kind of US fundamentalism and have read the odd article from people with that kind of viewpoint. Not growing up in a Christian home I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a child in a grace filled Christian home let alone one so rigidly moralistic and graceless.

There are some areas of UK Christianity that are very moralistic in nature but I have not personally come across that level of Fundamentalism, described by MPT, in my 22 years as a Christian believer. There were some friends at university that came from a fairly moralistic, Baptist upbringing and struggled to cope living outside of that bubble. With some predictable results of going off the rails a little.

Secondly, although I do not in any way doubt the sincerity in which the book was written, I struggle to accept that much of what was written has not been embellished by MPT’s adult self. I struggle to remember conversations that happened last week let alone detailed conversations I had as a child. Since this book is a series of narratives of various stages of MPT’s growing up it is full of these conversations.

We all filter and interpret our memories through the life lenses we are currently wearing. That is not to accuse MPT of lying or making stuff up. However he has clearly been deeply affected by growing up in such a strict environment and many of the subtle points he is making come through narratives that are time wise his childhood but message wise most certainly his adult self.

Thirdly it can only be by the Grace of God that he is even a believer today. Some of the incidents described are literally ‘you could not make this stuff up’ stories. Enough to crush and stifle the life and soul out of any person.

However, back to the reason I could no longer stomach reading his blog or following him on Twitter. It is fully understandable to be angry and frustrated with the Fundamentalism in which he grew up. Who wouldn’t be? But much of his twitter stream and blogging is filled with poking fun at and maligning anyone who could be broadly categorised as Reformed or Calvinist. Particular targets are the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll (which is odd as the fundamentalism that MPT experienced, Driscoll pokes fun at all the time). That is not of course to say that they are above criticism as no one of course is. However Piper, Driscoll and the pastors, teachers and groups they are associated with are as far from MPT’s fundamental experience as you can get. Their whole message is ‘Grace’ which of course is anathema to moralistic fundamentalism.

What saddened and yes annoyed me most was the comments that others made on his blog. Now Calvinists have a reputation for being harsh, but I have never read more angry, insulting and blatantly Un-Christian views than I read from people on his blog comments against anyone in the Reformed camp.

I use twitter and read blogs for one main reason, to learn more about and grow in my Christian faith from gifted and wise teachers and writers. If I find the blogs of the people I follow on twitter no longer serve that purpose or in fact have a negative affect on that purpose I no longer give them my attention or time. Different views on theological issues are welcome, but when those views are nothing more than childish digs why waste time with them.

MPT if a gifted writer and communicator. Sadly however his childhood experience has so blinded him that he seems to now lump anyone who he does not agree with and is on the more conservative side into one category, Fundamental.

No MPT, Jesus does not need new PR, that is a very arrogant. The Church is Jesus’ body on earth despite itself. What everyone needs is to know, understand accept and experience is the unconditional Grace which he freely offers to all. That is the message of true Reformed theology which you seem to so dislike!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Do not Quench the Spirit

holy-spirit-01 We are currently working through 1 Corinthians in our Sunday Sermon series at church and last Sunday we hit 1 Corinthians 12:10-11. You can listen HERE.
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
The focus was working miracles and distinguishing between spirits and then on v11. Prophecy and tongues etc will be dealt with in a different sermon later in the series. We also had a lively debate, last night, in our small group. This is not uncommon when the spiritual gifts are being discussed.
(Please note the dove picture representing the Holy Spirit is posted slightly tongue in cheek)

Where do I stand on Spiritual Gifts?

For the record I will lay out where I stand on what are often called ‘The Charismatic Gifts’. That is the supernatural gifts given in scripture by The Holy Spirit:
  • I believe the gifts of the spirit are for today and did not cease at the end of the Apostolic age. Therefore I am NOT a Cessasionist at all. The best term to use would be ‘Reformed Charismatic’.
  • I believe God can and indeed does heal people today and know people who have been miraculously healed.
  • I believe in prophecy (as in words of knowledge from God about others as well as words from God including pictures etc.. Also words for specific people or the church that are from God about what God wants to do in the future. By way of some examples) I have operated in these gifts myself. NB: With the Caveat the prophecy is always subject to Scripture and is in NO way equivalent to it!
  • I believe speaking in tongues is valid, as is interpretation of tongues. I however do not speak in tongues myself.
  • There are many other gifts mentioned in scripture and I do not have any issues with them being a normal part of the Christian life and experience.
  • The greatest spiritual gift is the gift of Regeneration of the unbeliever to being a believer. The creation of a new Christian life. The must surely be the greatest miracle of them all!
I became a Christian at 18 and have always attended churches where the spiritual gifts were practiced. It has always been part of my Christian experience. I was witness first hand to what became known as ‘The Toronto Blessing’ (look it up). I have seen some pretty whacky stuff over the years it has to be said.
With that being said why did I find Sundays sermon challenging? I’ll come on to that!
On one hand we have the above on the other, I am a self confessed cynic . I very rarely just accept what people tell me without question. If people claim to have been healed I want proof. Very often one must just accept the word of the person and trust their integrity. However I do sometimes wonder why God does not heal more obvious problems rather than the obligatory back ache, arm ache, head ache’s etc… All those are great and fantastic to be healed from. I suffer back problems and would love to not have to worry about it recurring again. We do have testimonies of more obvious physical symptoms being healed. Like legs growing, backs straightening, the deaf hearing. Those I get more excited over as they baffle doctors and are clear undeniable miracles. In my previous Church in Crawley there was a wheelchair bound lady with ME and other disabilities, dependant on medical and financial help, who had been in her chair for years. One night she was healed and to this day I believe is now walking about. A walking talking miracle!
Tension-in-rope1505 So I am constantly in this tension between cynic vs believer. It is certainly not a helpful place to be and is often lack of faith or just plain unbelief on my part.

I certainly have issues with some of the more wacky things people are claiming and much of this comes from Bethel mania among others, see below. Gold dust and Angel feathers for example just say to me distraction from God rather than glorifying God which ultimately all spiritual gifts must do. I know the bible does not list in exhaustive detail all spiritual gifts or miracles but I find such things unhelpful.
So what was so challenging in Sundays message? The following passage was cited:
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–22 (ESV)
Now v21 is often used as a defence against some of the more out there spiritual manifestations and rightly so. However preceding it is v19. We are often in danger of quenching the spirit when we throw out everything, if we detect even one thing that may set off our alarm bells. I find this is exactly what I do. As soon as I detect the slightest hint of theology that I would consider ‘off’ then I switch off.
My biggest example of this is in the case of Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding California. Now there seems to be little doubt that God is moving spiritually in that church in some amazing and miraculous ways. The long list of testimonies of healing is amazing. However I cannot listen to Bill Johnson preach. I have tried and cannot get through an entire ‘sermon’ of his without being very annoyed by it. I certainly have theological differences with him and with his use of scripture and these create a huge barrier. Yet God is using him in ways that are undeniably amazing.

Main two Tension Points!

What I massively struggle with is the tension between the fully realised Kingdom of God in the new creation of Jesus return and the now, cursed fallen world that God’s kingdom breaks into occasionally. The already and not yet of the Kingdom. How much can we expect of the miraculous in this age?
The other is the line between how much a part faith plays vs the absolute sovereignty of God. V11 of 1 Corinthians 12 says:
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
The spirit decides who gets what, when, where and how much.


So on the one hand we MUST ‘test everything’ as I believe there is much counterfeit faux spirituality out there within the Christian church. One example of which I heard recently was an event where the preacher/teacher didn’t once open his bible and it was all about the ‘experience’. Run away, run a mile and don’t look back at that sort of thing. If Gods word is not taught and supporting what is experienced or lip sevice is paid to the word then at least question what you are seeing. Be a Berean (Acts 17:10-11)!
Yet on the other hand we must NOT let our own prejudices and fears of the supernatural ‘quench’ what God is doing even through people I may disagree with theologically. I need to be open to God using me for the miraculous. I need more faith to be honest as I struggle to believe supernatural things will happen when I pray. My struggle with the tension points mentioned above often causes me to choose safe faith over stepping out and taking risks. I must learn to be humble realising how little I understand and trust God always that whatever happens He is Sovereign and works all things together for Good (Romans 8:28).