Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charismata in Other Countries: A Dialogue

A few years ago I engaged in a dialogue about charismatic gifts in other countries.  My first comment was merely to call for expanding our interest in what is happening in other countries.

Perhaps another perspective to consider is the exclusive focus of this discussion (so far) to the North American scene. Philip Jenkins in his books (“The Next Christendom” and “The New Faces of Christianity”) shows us that churches in the “Global South” are very much alive with healings and exorcisms. The larger church community is reading the Bible and their background experiences bring different sets of questions and answers to the text. For example, Tod K. Vogt was a church planting missionary among the Fon people of Benin, West Africa. He has written in interesting essay “Jesus and the Demons in the Gospel of Mark: Contrasting Secular and Animistic Interpretations” in which Fon believers are noted as to their reflections on the demonic in Mark and their experience. Vogt’s essay can be accessed here http://www.africamissions.org/africa/markexor-vogt.htmlAlso worth looking at is Amsalu Tadesse Geleta’s study for the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, “Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches.” Gelata documents 20 cases of exorcism in which 16 Gelata was personally involved. Gelata’s study can be found here http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/all/nairobi-2000/187-ethiopian-case-study.htmlThe discussion of cessationism/continuationism should also include perspectives from outside our own culture and time.
Jim says:

Rick, could not find any material on healing sickness at this link you sited. I have heard alot of stories and a lot of books have been written but I or any of my church associates have never seen a genuine healing through another person. I agree with Michael…..if it’s happening it certainly is either not that amazing or not happening very often IMHO. The whole North America might not be getting it concept suggested by Richard is rather amusing. ….easy to say things are happening when one isn’t there to verify. Not trying to sound too annoyed but I get tired of hearing of great healings and neither the believer or unbeliever recognize it.

Jim says: 

Sorry, last sentence should read. neither the believer or unbeliever are acknowledging en mass as what was happening during Christ’s ministry.

Jim,I don’t mind disagreement but let’s not put words in my mouth. You wrote: “The whole North America might not be getting it concept suggested by Richard is rather amusing.” I did not suggest any such thing. Go back and read my comments. My post had to do with other perspectives outside the North American context. I made no claim as to what North America may or may not be “getting.” Since many of the claims being made in this discussion revolve around experience then we should be willing to look outside our own cultural context to hear of their experiences as well. That was my point, plain and simple–nothing amusing about as far as I can tell.

Jim Z. says:

Richard, I’ve heard the “geographic argument” before and find it, frankly, appalling. Sorry if that sounds harsh. I don ‘t direct it at you personally, but rather at that argument. What it seems to say is that 1.) God has rejected the modern world in favor of the primitive world, 2.) God’s gifts depend on the receiver’s faith, 3.) God no longer loves the modern world (say the USA) but loves the primitive world. The “geographic argument” seems to have grown from the liberal Christian stream that in its self-loathing says that everything Western is bad and everything non-Western is good, so why would God want to do anything in the West? I grew up with that sort of teaching.
But beyond that, where the “geographic argument” get quite nasty is when it robs someone of hope that God loves them and CAN heal them regardless of where they live. I, like Michael, have a badly arthritic back and I think one of my knees is going down the tubes, too. I need the hope that regardless of whether I live in Wisconsin or Papua New Guinea God loves me enough to heal me.
It is interesting, is it not, that all of these reports of miraculous healing and raising of the dead in the global south take place in areas where there is virtually way to authenticate them by expert medical eye witness? How come we never hear of an instantaneous, complete, and permanent healing of a disfigurement by a charismatic in, say, Johns Hopkins? How come we never hear of a medically certified dead person being brought back to life by a charismatic Christian in, say, the University of Wisconsin Hospital? Is it because the patients at those type of places don’t have enough faith, or even as much faith as a native of some slum in Benghazi?
I’m not opposed to the idea of healing. Lord knows, and He does, that I desparately want it for myself and my father who was just diagnosed with cancer. Rather, I believe that miraculous healing is something that God does and it doesn’t depend on location or standard of living. If He chooses not to heal me, I’m fine with that. I know that His grace and love for me doesn’t depend on whether He chooses to heal me. I submit to Him and not the other way around.

Jim Z. says:

Richard, just for clarification: The way that I have always encountered the “geographical argument” is with people telling me something along the lines of “if only we Americans would get it like the people in the Third World do, then God would do those sorts of miracles here, too.” The other, less common, way that it has been told to me is “We have so much to learn from global south Christians. look at how God is blessing them with miracles”.
That is just my experience. It is always in the sense of people castigating western Christianity for not being blessed like the global south is being blessed. I have never heard spoken any other way. Perhaps you and others have. I’ve only heard people speak of reports of the miraculous in the Third World as meaning that there is something wrong with, most often, Christianity in the USA.
Back to the subject at hand.

Jim Z.You need to read my response to Jim. Almost everything you say in your post (#10) is completely irrelevant to what I wrote. Your thoughts are worth saying and I’m not trying to shut you down but the fact that you direct the comment at my comments shows a real disconnect between what I wrote and what you wrote in response. I did not present a “geographical argument.” I made a suggestion to consider the voice of others from outside our own cultural context. This is simply an aspect of Christian charity as well as an attempt to refrain from limiting our experiential horizon.Furthermore, you continue to make claims that go beyond the evidence available. There are those who seek to bring self-critical analysis to miraculous healing claims. As one example see David C. Lewis’s essay “A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing” in “The Kingdom and the Power” edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer (Regal, 1993). I wonder if you have not raised the bar of authenticity too high when you speak of “expert medical eye witness” testimony. Must this be American medical expertise? What do you think of the testimony outlined in Jack Deere’s book “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit” (pp. 203-206) in which he narrates the raising of a man’s son. Deere claims to have seen the death certificate with the official seal and even provides the address for the boy’s family in Zaire. Does this count as evidence–if not, why not? The bigger issue is that the Spirit doesn’t often choose to operate under the framework of clinical medical trials. But then why would we expect him to do that? Someone said he is like the wind–he blows wherever he wishes.

Jim Z.,Thanks for the clarification in post #11. Just to further clarify–I never wrote or said any of the things you are bothered by in your post. I did not castigate North America or elevate the Global South. I did not say “we have so much so to learn from the Global South.” I did not say that we Americans “need to get it.” You might be fighting an opponent but it’s not me!

Jim Z. says:
Richard, I’ve tried hard not to direct anything at you personally and please don’t take it that way. It is certainly not intended by me to be read that way and anyone who does so is wrong and totally mis-reading what I wrote.
My intent was merely to state my views based upon *my experience only*. Why not “expert eye witness testimony”? To be sure, all new “miracle drugs” have to go through extensive FDA testing before they are released on the general public. New types of surgery have to be peer-reviewed. So, if someone is claiming healing powers, why would that be exempt? Are we not supposed to “test the spirits”? Your comment about Jack Deere saying that he saw the death certificate and published the boy’s address. I have not read Deere’s book. But did he print a copy of the death certificate in the book? Was it subjected to any scrutiny at all? Here’s the issue that I see–and I was reporter during my college days (back in the day when reporters were real skeptics! ): You’re talking Zaire, not exactly a bastion of governmental integrity, where someone could certainly buy a phony death certificate. Indeed, if a charismatic *REALLY* raised someone from the dead (maybe he really did), don’t you think that it would merit more than just mention in charismatic circles? Wouldn’t we have at least one story on it in a major-market news outlet? I mean, really, this is the definition of news–a person certifiably dead is brought to life at the command of another person. You’d think that it would at least show up in the AP’s “World News In Brief”. That tells me that someone somewhere probably looked into the story and said that there is no real “there” there.

Jim Z.,I’m not taking anything personally so don’t worry about that. I’m enjoying the discussion with you. My concern is that somehow my initial comments led you to think that I was putting forward a “geographical argument.” This was an error on your part. Go back and read my comments. It was not a “geographical argument.” I certainly understand if you want to speak to your experience about others who may have put forward a “geographical argument” but this is not something I did. I hope that distinction is clear.  Regarding your standards of evidence you delineate. Be careful of the reasoning here. I think I understand the trajectory of it but it begins to sound like the unbelievers who say things like: “If Jesus rose from the dead why isn’t there more mention of him and this event in the ancient literature?” (This apologetic challenge can be met by the way.) The concern here is an unhealthy skepticism. When evidence is brought forward it seems that there is always some reason to discount it. If a medical certificate is brought forward, well, now it is the “wrong kind” from people with a bad government. I can imagine that even if someone did meet your burden of proof then you could potentially say, “Well, that’s only one! We should expect a lot more if continuationism is true! And why is it not happening at John Hopkins (or wherever else your standard dicatates)?” Surely the path is somewhere between naive gullibility and hyper-skepticism.Thanks for the interchange, Jim.