Sunday, 29 January 2017

When Joe met Mike...

It was a meeting intended to clear the air. It was a meeting sewn together by a local church pastor as their moderator. It lasted for about two and a half hours. It ended well enough. They came together, had a hearty chat and left. They even smiled for the camera.

Dr Michael Brown (MB) wrote this about the meeting with Pastor Joseph Prince (JP) recently: "Without a doubt, the points on which we agreed far outnumbered and outweighed those on which we differed." (Refer to:

Short of reading the transcript of what really transpired between them, and based only on MB’s write up above, I felt the meeting left some things unsaid. It also felt like a two-and-a-half hour of carefully edited dialogue to give the reader only the sunny-side up of the story - the agreeable side.

While ending the meeting by emphasizing on what they agree is a safe option, I felt that they should focus more on how they intend to reconcile or narrow their differences. Isn't that the aim of their meeting anyway? In other words, they should shed some light on their differences, and not so much their similarities – most of which, can’t be denied anyway if one still professes to be a Christian.

While it is a given that they will agree that "it's all about Jesus" and "God calls us to holiness" and "a true believer may fall into sin but will not practise sin" and it is important to commit "to the local church and the authority of the local church", as it would be doctrinal suicide to disagree on any of those things, I would have expected them to go deeper (or at least write more about it).

Imagine Obama coming out of a meeting with Trump and uncharacteristically tweeting that he felt it was a good meeting. He further tweets that they agree on many things like respect for the office of the presidency, commitment to serve the people, and the belief that the president will do his best for the nation.

Alas, don't we already know that? You also have a feeling he was being nice for nice's sake. 

And mind you, this was the same Obama who once said that Trump is clearly unqualified to be the President – he may even be dangerous for democracy.

And returning to the JP-and-MB meeting, this was the same Dr Michael Brown who once wrote that JP did not present the full Gospel, he tends to mislead and exaggerate with his interpretation of the scriptures, and he has misunderstood the role of the Holy Spirit. Is he being nice to sweep these issues under the ecumenical rug in their first ever meeting for nice's sake?

If the meeting is set up with the aim of clearing the theological air, then shouldn't there be some acknowledgment that one’s doctrine or teachings exceeded the intent of scripture without getting personal about it? Deal with the issue not the person, so they say.

Because if you know what JP and MB preach and write about in their books and behind the pulpit, their views often differ more than they agree. In fact, some may even be mutually exclusive, or mutually inconsistent. While seeking common ground helps in some ways, it however does not serve the purpose of closing the gap of understanding on the abuses of grace teaching and living.

Let me give you some examples of where they diverge before they took that smiling wefie shot.

In the write up, MB singled out just one point that they disagreed. He wrote this: "Our principal area of disagreement remains his (JP) teaching that the moment we are saved, our future sins are already pronounced forgiven (in contrast with the idea that our future sins are paid for but sin is not pronounced forgiven until it is committed and brought to the Lord)."

Here is the first question: Is this a small, inconsequential difference? I don't think so. This has to do with repentance. It has to do with a broken and contrite heart. It has to do with holy grief/sorrow that leads to a convicted soul and spirit. There are implications for believers in the way they read the scriptures and live their lives. It is therefore an indispensable aspect of our belief and faith.

But MB stopped short at further elaboration by glossing it over with this: "But to repeat, our area of strong and vibrant agreement are much greater than our area of disagreement, and I want to shout out those areas of agreement to the world." (I preface that the spirit of this is undeniably admirable, but not if you're keen to delve deeper into the distinction between true grace and counterfeit grace).

While I can understand that when two highly respected preachers/teachers meet, they are expected to be cordial, civil and respectful to each other. And to be eager “to shout out those areas of agreement to the world” is no doubt an encouraging sign of such manifest cordiality and maturity. But then, it serves little purpose towards deepening our understanding of scriptures when it comes to warning us about the pitfalls and dangers of hyper-grace. 

Obviously, some believers may be mature enough to deal with it, but others are clearly not. On this, MB made this pertinent observation about the possible abuses of grace, “Although I gladly acknowledged those (positive) testimonies and said I also heard similar stories from those who follow his (JP) teaching (because of the wonderful truths he delivered), I reiterated that I had also heard opposite stories from those who had become complacent and fleshly (because of what I believed were errors in (JP’s) teaching).” (Does MB still hold that view, that is, the part about his belief that there are still errors in JP’s teaching? Or is he now of the view that such errors are either insignificant to the collective body of the faith, because they agree with each other more than they disagree, or that such errors can be overlooked after discovering how sincere and charming JP is? A third possibility is that MB is wrong about JP in the latter's interpretation of scriptures. Well, the write up did not entirely clear the air on that).

So, the second related question here is this: How does the area of agreement, even if they are much greater than the area of disagreement, resolves or settles those areas that they don't see eye to eye?

Now, having said that, I would be naïve to think that one short meeting can do all that, that is, cause one to modify or correct one’s teachings in a few thorny areas concerning hyper-grace. But at the very least, I expected more to be said or discuss (or write about) on what were clearly left unsaid, that is, their disagreement.

At such time, I am reminded of how Jesus would have dealt with false teachings. He left no stones unturned when he told off the scribes and teachers of the day how they had fallen from the true purpose of God’s will for their lives, and how they have distorted His word for self-profit and glory.

So, can we then expect round two or three? Or is this the end of a touch-and-go affair to maintain that burnished image of agreeableness?

Alas, here are more differences (or disagreements) that were left unexplored in MB’s write up of the meeting – the detailed transcript notwithstanding.

Before they ever met, MB wrote in his book, Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Movement, that JP had wrongly interpreted 1 John 1:9 about us confessing our sins and God being faithful and just to forgive and purify us.

JP insists that 1 John 1:9 does not apply to believers. It only applies to Gnostics. He insisted on this so as to justify his stand that repentance is really unnecessary, if not optional after the altar call. In other words, you just need to repent once (because the HS no longer convicts you of your sins as they are all forgiven past, present and future). 

However, MB strongly disagreed with JP on this interpretation and he implied that anyone who interprets it that way is irresponsible (I wonder MB or even JP can shed some light on that? Surely, both can’t be right, right? If it applies to born-again believers in the first place, then JP has erred in his countless numbers of teachings (after he received that so-called revelation from His spirit). If not (that is, it does not apply to born-again believers), then MB needs to go back to the exegetic drawing board. Sadly, the write up fell short on that).

Another related point of contention between them is the Holy Spirit's role. This is an important area. All MB said in the write up of the meeting was that for JP, the primary role of HS is to remind us we are the righteousness of God. And JP was dead sure about it.

Strangely, MB said that JP’s view goes hand in hand with his view that HS's primary role when we sin is to lovingly reprove and correct us. To MB, this is equivalent to the conviction of sins by the HS. Conviction here is understood by MB as a form of rebuke, discipline and exhortation by the HS. (He actually wrote that "the Greek word translated "convict" in John 16:8 is elencho, which can mean "convince, convict, reprove, correct, rebuke, discipline").

But what MB left out for clarification were these words, which were once uttered by JP…(pls strap up): "The bottom-line is that the Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. He NEVER comes to point out your faults. I challenge you to find a scripture in the Bible that the HS comes to convict you of your sins." (Is JP excluding the words “rebuke”, “discipline”, “correct” and “exhortation” from the definition of “conviction”? Is he playing with semantics?)

Here, MB unreservedly took up that challenge (posed by JP). In his hyper-grace book, he quoted 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 in rebuttal and shouted this out to the world at large: "It looks like that challenge have been met!" (Exclamation mark from source).

In the light of the above, you'd wonder how MB could have asserted in his write up that the HS's primary role as interpreted by JP goes hand in hand with his view of the HS's primary role (that is, conviction of sins). In fact, to JP, the Holy Spirit NEVER convicts one of his/her sins - full stop. That's his bottom-line declaration.

Unless JP had back-peddled on his bottom-line declaration or MB had changed his view on the HS's convicting role (that is, HS now no longer reprove or correct our sins), I can't see how the twain can ever meet. Can you?

(To be fair to JP, MB did mention that JP like him agree that "the Lord corrects us, and even disciplines us" and this was admitted in the meeting. But are we then to interpret this as JP doing a backflip on his bottom-line declaration when he was so sure the HS NEVER convicts? Or is this a case of split Trinity where such conviction is done only by "the Lord" as our Father God and not "the Lord" as the Holy Spirit? Again, we will just have to wait for another write up for a clarification or admission - fingers crossed).

So, I can go on about the contention on law and grace, the issue of effortless spirituality, and JP’s old vs. new covenant (that is, JP once said - and I paraphrase - that what Jesus said before the Cross does not apply to believers), which MB and JP differs widely, but let's just restrict myself to their views on progressive sanctification before I end.

This is a tricky area – because there is a lot of semantics and context involved. It is also tricky because JP sometimes has this charismatic urges to make shock-and-awe-billboard-like statements more for effect (yet runs the risk of being misunderstood by a lot of people). But let me delve further into it.

According to the write up, it is written that "both agree that sanctification is progressive, meaning the moment we are saved, we are forgiven, declared righteous, and set apart as holy, but now we must grow in holiness." 

I sincerely applaud both of them, especially JP, for arriving at this agreement. In my view, this should always be the position of both parties (and all believers) from day one.

While MB is clear on progressive sanctification from day one, JP tends to send mixed, incomplete signals about it. At one point, he wrote that "you cannot mix your own effort with God's grace." The impression given here is that self-effort is redundant for sanctification, after justification.

At another time, he wrote that "Colossian 2 tells us we are already made perfect in Christ. We don't work towards perfection. Christ has made us perfect from the Cross." So far so good. Here's where it gets a little muddled. "The moment you believe you are made perfect in Christ. You work from your perfection, not to it." (underlined for emphasis). (In one of his online messages, JP - if I recall accurately - even urge believers metaphorically to sit and lie still, and allow God the Father - the Creator of the universe - to give us a full-body massage implying that nothing is expected of us; it's just all God).

In reply, MB wrote this: "What then do these teachers do with the verses that call us to "pursue holiness" or "be perfect" or "being sanctified" or "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?” You will just have to read MB’s book on hyper-grace for more of his almost-angsty-like rebuttals. 

But here is just a foretaste of it when he quoted George P. Wood's fair review of JP's effortless spirituality: "Paul is not against works or self-effort per se, he is against their being used as the ground of justification. Paul's vision of sanctification is not "effortless spirituality". Paul exhorts the Ephesians to "put off your old self", "be made new in the attitude of your minds", and "put on the new self". This requires effort. It may even require hard work. But the motivation for this effort is not the hope of gaining God's favor. God's favor has already been bestowed...Work, then, is not the ground of justification. Rather, work - the work of holiness - is the expression of having been justified." 

The irony is that I am quite sure JP agrees to the above fair observation. The problem with him is that he tends to throw off catchy, one-sided, obtusely metaphorical nuggets of truth here and there, online and offline, just so that he can stir up some unwarranted controversies - giving the impression that they are revelatory in naturesometimes for effects, sometimes for intrigue, sometimes for suspense, and sometimes for deer-in-the-headlights bewilderment.  So, to understand the man, you just have to wait for part two or part three or part four of his sermons in the hope that he will eventually clarify his position...or not at all.

But to sum up, here is an extract of what MB thinks about JP's all-grace-and-no-effort teaching or “effortless spirituality”:-

"Unfortunately, because Pastor Prince often does not qualify his words (or sufficiently explain them), his teaching all too often produces an unfocused, undisciplined, unholy spirituality, even if that is the last thing he intends." Enough said? 

Now the pertinent third question is this: Has MB changed his stand on the above after the two-and-a half-hour meet up with JP? 

I guess only he and JP know, and maybe we have to wait for a sequel to the write up of the meeting for his view on the subject, this time, one can expect him to be less affably conciliatory, and more cordially relevant. Cheerz.

Postscript:  I once met up with a member of NCC in an informal setting and he was rather effusive in his defence of the teaching of JP. Most of the time, I sat there and listened quietly. My intention was to understand how he thinks. 

At one point, I asked him about that bottom-line declaration by JP – that is, “The Holy Spirit NEVER convicts you of your sins” – which MB strongly disagrees to (and hope personally that after the meeting he still does).

I asked him what he thought about that. He quickly brushed it aside and said, “No he didn’t say that. Where is it, tell me?” He then told me to read and attend JP’s sermons to get the whole picture.

Here’s a surprise. I can’t disagree with him on that. Most of the time, we just listen or read what we want to listen and read, and we come to our own pet conclusion and protect/defend it like hell. I trust meeting with the man, talking it out and “agreeing to disagree agreeably” (however cliché-ish that sounds) is the best way forward for both parties.  The issue I however have with the meet up is that it felt like more a case of "agreeing to agree most agreeably" rather than "agreeing to disagree agreeably."

In the write up, MB was quick to preempt probable unwarranted responses by saying: “I’m sure Pastor Prince will come under attack for meeting with me and welcoming me warmly as a brother, and I’m sure I will come under attack for doing the same with him. And so, to each of you who find fault with us for having this dialogue in the Lord, I encourage you to pray for us and, more importantly, to ask yourself if you too agree with our points of agreement here. If so, join us in shouting them out to the rest of the church.

I find it curious that he should write “each of you who find fault with us for having this dialogue in the Lord” – which implies/presumes that this dialogue is guided by His Spirit and if so, finding fault in it would be self-defeating – and then continue with this to “encourage you to pray for us” – which is rather unnecessary (based on the earlier presumption) since it is a dialogue carried out “in the Lord”.

Nevertheless, I guess what I am trying to say in this post is that MB’s write up is no doubt sincere, and is written in good faith and goodwill. But I would personally have benefited more from it if he had balanced it up with his thoughts on the disagreements he had with JP in the meeting.

Of course, I don’t expect a “hell in a cell” kind of debate where someone’s theological ear is being bitten off. But at the least, I expect MB to present his candid thoughts on what his views of true and counterfeit grace are, and how they have changed (or not) in the light of the discussion with JP.

Alas, I may be wrong. Maybe they have discussed it, but I would have to wait for the next write up by MB for the appropriate disclosure. Or maybe not…if the unspoken goal of the meeting is to let the dead dogs (of grace-abuses) lie for the sake of cordiality, mutuality and friendliness.

But then, in the end, my takeaway on the write up about the meeting - over and above all that I have written here - is captured in these words by JP:-

“He then asks, “So how do we know if someone is truly living under the grace of God?”

His (JP’s) answer: “We look at their lives.””

Well, I can’t disagree with that. No one can. It’s taken from the words of Jesus: “By their fruit you will know them.” My only qualification to that statement – as history has shown – is threefold:-

1)   Not all lives are that readily transparent;

2)   Some may take a lifetime (or longer) to unravel; and

3)   Some of them can prosper in wealth and numbers while riding/leading under a cloud of delusion (And for avoidance of doubts, I am specifically referring to some of the fastest growing cults in the world like Scientology, Unification Church and Warren Jeffs’ FLDS church, and this also applies to celebrity evangelical preachers who had fallen from grace like Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard and Robert Tilton). Cheerz.

Slay the dragon slayer.

Democracy says slay the dragon.

I say slay the dragon slayer.

Slay the one who propagates hate.

Slay the one who promotes division.

Slay the one who pretends that the problem is other people.

Slay the one who presents himself perfect.

Slay the one who perpetuates civic ignorance. 

Slay the one who prevents the dissemination of truth.

Slay the one who perverts goodwill, character and peace amongst diverse communities.

Slay the one who pants after fame, fortune and real estate.

Slay the one who prefers vainglory for vainglory's sake.

Slay the one who prizes fabrications, open lies, and shameless half-truths.
Slay the one who praises himself above all with zero self-reflection. 

Slay the one who preaches the gospel of personal success over the success of the personal gospel.
Slay the one who preys on the opposite sex, belittles them, disrespects them and treats them as instrumental to his narcissistic ends.

Slay the one who prays before the crowd with pharisaical zeal just to get their attention and votes. 

Slay the one who prattles on endlessly on the most frivolous over the most superficial.
Slay the one who passes the buck, finger-pointing at others but himself.

Slay the one who patronizes his own kind and performs just to impress.

Slay the one who pilfers the people by denying them their tax dues.

Slay the one who pinches pennies from the poor to give them to the rich.
Slay the one who poisons the well of racial harmony and unity with unfounded threats, prejudices and fears.

Slay the one who professes one thing, back-peddles on others, and does the direct opposite.

Slay the one who prostitutes virtues, provokes rebellions, and prospers only himself.

Slay the one who perches himself at the top of the pyramid of self, demanding to be admired, praised and adored.

So I say again...slay the dragon slayer and not the dragon.

For at most times, they are imagined dragons.

But the dragon slayer is not. 

He is real.

He lives amongst us.

He hails from high places.

He is set apart from the common folks.

He preaches from his ivory tower.

He promises to be the savior of all.
He is not imagined. 

He is not a figment.

He is an opportunist.

He exploits for self-gain.

He makes up the dragons.

In order to... 

Keep up the mass delusion.

Remain in power.

Retain blind allegiance.

Reinvent a metanarrative of false hope.

Receive all credit unto himself.

For at the tip of his sword,

Is not the blood of the imagined.

But it's the blood of the people,

For whom the dragon slayer had spun a legend.

Alas, the world doesn't need more dragon slayers.

Surely not those that slay imagined dragons.
The world however needs more than ever to have the dragon slayer slayed. 

For the dragon slayers are the real dragons to be laid.