Soul Confusion

Chapter 27

The March 16, 1999 television chat show, Larry King Live, featured five panelists: Robert Thurman, professor of Buddhism studies at Columbia University; Marianne Williamson, New Age author and spokesperson for the spiritist-channeled Course in Miracles; Rabbi David Aaron, expert on and proponent of Kabbalah, an occult/mystical/gnostic interpretation of Judaism; Deepak Chopra, charismatic spokesperson for a popular version of Hindu monistic thought; and Franklin Graham, head of Samaritans Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization, and son of Billy Graham, the renowned American evangelist. 

One thing they could all agree upon is the idea that human beings have souls, though there were disagreements about the origin, nature, capacity, and meaning of “soul.” Indeed, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to what the soul actually is. This is an attempt to express the Christian or biblical view of the soul. 

What is the soul?

Though the five spokespersons differed on many points, they seemed to reach a consensus in understanding “soul.” In fact, Deepak Chopra voiced agreement with Graham’s understanding of the soul. We have long heard Billy Graham say words like: “You have a soul, and it will go to heaven or hell when you die.”

Historically, the concept of soul has been around for tens of thousands of years. The “soul” concept had its beginning in what is called “animism,” the idea that in all things lived a spirit or a soul, a spiritual entity that was core to the object. And the object could be a tree, a river, a mountain, an ant, a bear, a rock, a human being—anything at all. 

According to this idea, the human soul is a mysterious, spiritual, and immortal part of the human being that leaves the cold, dead body at death. Those on Larry King’s program who believed in some form of reincarnation were able to agree together about the soul from their own traditions, though they might have used other symbols to express the same thing. 

Confusion concerning the nature of the soul has a powerful influence among the people of Mill Valley where Miller Avenue Church is. Though the doctrine is not biblical and is absent from the teaching of the early church and several successive centuries afterward, the idea that the soul is the focus of evangelistic efforts persists in many Christian traditions. Franklin Graham was concerned about the soul. He should have been concerned about the whole person—body, mind, soul, and spirit. 

So many in our community believe in reincarnation that Graham’s doctrine on the soul would not be troublesome for them. The soul? Well, they say, it needs purifying and experiences endless lifetimes, anyway. These people do not like to think that they will be resurrected to stand before the judgment of God. “My soul” is one thing; “myself” is another. 

Total Resurrection 

The biblical doctrine is one of bodily resurrection, not the floating away of an immortal soul. We are whole, integrated beings, though the Bible writers spoke variously of mind, heart, body, flesh, spirit and soul for the sake of emphasis and illustration. A person is all of these and more, a whole being responsible to God in the totality and indivisibility of his nature. What we are in total will be raised from the dead, either to eternal life in heaven or eternal death in a much darker place. We do not have immortality in and of ourselves. This truth is found in 1 Corinthians 15:53: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (NKJV). 

Soul confusion must be countered by the truth of the resurrection, even if it means parting from long-established ways of thinking and preaching. Let us not give the unconverted comfort by implying that they have only some ethereal soul to be concerned about. 

A Brief History of the Soul 

Animism was a direct fore-bearer of shamanism, which probably developed twenty to thirty thousand years ago in Siberia. At first, as the scholars say, it spread both west and south and east. West into Europe, south into Africa, and east into what is now Alaska, and all the way southward down to the tip of what is now known as Argentina. This last point is clearly seen in the religions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, which are nearly all based upon shamanism, which involves belief that shamans, with a connection to the otherworld, have the power to heal the sick, communicate with spirits, and escort souls of the dead to the afterlife. The inner dwelling of a soul, completely independent and separate from the body, became and still is a well-established spirituality. 

Probably more Christians than not hold to the idea of a soul that is somehow inside the body and survives biological death. It was a widely held belief in the Graeco-Roman world in the fourth century, which is when Christianity started to incorporate the idea into its theology, and it has remained ever since. Greek dualistic thought posits the theory that the mind, spirit, and soul are good, even divine, counterbalanced by the body, flesh and matter, which are bad, the repository of evil. Therefore, it was the soul that mattered and the soul that needed saving, while the body was simply a temporary prison for the soul. 

Flourishing in the fourth century was a revival of Greek philosophy, mainly dualism of the Neo-Platonic or Neo-Aristotelian varieties.1 

1 Dualism, among other things, viewed the body as bad, even evil, while the mind, spirit, soul, were good and connected to the divine. The body then became the prison house of the soul, which supposedly pre-existed and entered human bodies, transmigrated or left them upon death. The Eastern concepts of karma and reincarnation are dependent upon this understanding of soul.Over a millennium later the reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, both ministers (priests) in the Roman Catholic Church, retained their Church’s doctrine of the soul, despite expounding salvation by grace through faith alone. Only the more radical reformers, the Anabaptists, looked for their theological foundations further back in history before Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430), the great Pauline theologian, who incorporated the construct of the separate existence of the soul in the human being. The famous Augustine, one of my heroes of the Church, nevertheless was steeped in Greek philosophy and blended the dualistic concept of the soul into his Christian views. Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225– 1274), another great theologian, then included the Greek influenced doctrine of the soul in his Summa Theologica, minus the portion about the transmigration and pre-existence of the soul that was common to Greek philosophy. 

The Christian Protestant denominations originating out of the Reformation inherited the concept of the soul. From Luther comes the Lutheran denominations; from John Calvin and John Knox come the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, followed by the Congregational churches, the Anglican Church, and by extension both American Episcopal and Methodist churches, plus all the offshoots from these denominations. Not all the Baptists, who followed the Anabaptists, rejected the Greek influenced soul view, but many did. Pentecostals and charismatics hold a variety of concepts about the soul. 

Biblical Passages Having to Do with the Soul 

We first encounter the word “soul” in Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” And the reader would be correct in protesting, where is the word “soul?” The version quoted is the English Standard Version (hereafter ESV) and has replaced “soul” with “creature.” And why? Because “creature” is a better rendering of the Hebrew nephesh than soul. The point is that God created a human being. Adam and Eve were actual people. 

The King James Version (hereafter KJV) and older English versions of the Bible translated nephesh as “soul,” and so the term stuck. Furthermore, soul has come to acquire something close to the idea of “ghost,” and not because of anything biblical. And in fact, in Job 11:20 and Jeremiah 15:9, the KJV translates the Hebrew nephesh with ghost. 

In Deuteronomy 6:5 we find the greatest of the commandments: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The Hebrew word for soul here is from nephesh. The point of the commandment, however, means that we are to love God with all of us— all of who we are—and thus the bringing together of three words that were commonly used to describe different aspects or characteristics of all that is human— heart, soul, might.2 

2 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and inserts the word “mind” along with heart, soul, and strength. See Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27. Thus Jesus interprets the fulfilling of the greatest commandment to include the mind; thus love of God is conscious and thoughtful.

Many Christians, including editors of biblical texts, unreasonably retain how the KJV translated many words, due to the extreme, yet appropriate popularity of that version of the Bible; therefore, the word “soul” pops up frequently in the Old Testament. But it means creature, person, or living being, and it does not refer to something ethereal and separate from a body. It is better said that a human being is a soul. To say a human being has a soul is not a biblical construct. If you disagree, please investigate the issue and do not simply rely on tradition. 

There are literally dozens of passages in the Old Testament where it is clear that the English word soul really means person. For the purposes of this essay, two examples will be given that are characteristic of the lot. The first is from Exodus 1:5, and the KJV is, “And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.” Two times the word “souls” appears, and in both cases the Hebrew word is nephesh. Now the same verse in the ESV: “All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt” (Exodus 1:5). In one instance, nephesh is translated “descendants” and in the second “persons.” The ESV gives the most natural of the translations and is more accurately reflective of the Hebrew writer’s mindset. 

The second example is from Psalm 6:3-4, and the KJV is, “My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long? Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies’ sake.” In both cases soul is nephesh. The same verse in the ESV reads, “My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD–how long? Turn, O LORD, deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.” Nephesh is the Hebrew word translated “soul” in “my soul” and “me” in “deliver me.” In the first instance the ESV translators have the emotional experience of the writer in mind – King David’s emotional state of mind to be exact – and so the term “soul” meets the literary requirement to better convey emotion. In the second instance “me” is more appropriate, as David is directly referring to his person. This second instance from the Psalms illustrates a wide range of translation possibilities, but “soul” speaks to us in a poetic manner. 

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture known as the Septuagint, or LXX, is a translation made by Jewish scholars in Alexandria Egypt in the early part of the second century before Christ. In it, psyche is used in place of nephesh in both passages, Exodus 1:5 and Psalm 6:3-4, and this is consistently the case throughout the translation. 

Turning our attention now to the English versions of the New Testament, we see that psyche is sometimes translated “soul.” With the exception of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, the New Testament was written by Jews who inherited the Jewish understanding of the soul. Jews did not believe, in complete distinction from the Greeks, that the soul was anything other than the whole person. Old and even new translations of the New Testament tend to pull toward the KJV and translate psyche as soul. Again, we are looking at tradition. 

Let us consider some examples. One is Matthew 2:20: “Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life” (KJV). “Life” is psyche, so the KJV used the proper word, thus revealing that the KJV translators knew the correct translation. The ESV also has “life” here. We will remember that psyche is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew nephesh

Matthew 10:28 is a passage that convinces many that there is such a thing as a soul indwelling human beings. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The word “soul” appearing twice in the verse, is in both places the Greek word psyche. Here is another example of English translations yielding to the early English versions of the Bible, especially the King James Version. The usage of the word is likely a proverbial manner of speech commonly used and understood in that day, and not to be taken literally. 

Notice, Jesus does not mention the “spirit,” which is the English word used to translate the Greek “pneuma.” This point is important because we can clearly understand that Jesus is teaching that the death of a Christian, by whatever means, will not prevent that Christian from being in heaven after death. In addition, the killing of the body does not prevent a Christian from being with the Lord in heaven because of the resurrection of the body, which will be the reality for all believers in Jesus. It is not a “soul” that gives or guarantees everlasting life, but the new birth given by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Another example is Matthew 10:39: “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (KJV). “Life” in both places is psyche

Mark 3:4, and the KJV now, is helpful: “And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?” Here “save life” uses psyche for life and is the antonym for “kill.” Obviously, Jesus has in mind a person and not a ghost, soul, or something else of an ethereal nature, which, according to some, could not be killed anyway. 

And this is the problem with importing into the Judaeo/Christian Scripture the concept of a soul that does not die or cannot be extinguished. The biblical worldview is resurrection. Jesus was resurrected; even He had no soul that survived the crucifixion. Furthermore, when Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46), “spirit” in the sentence is from the Greek pneuma and can be translated spirit, breath, or wind. It was essentially an idiom, a statement that would have been well understood by those who heard Him and that meant simply, “Father, as I am now dying I trust in you” – a final confession of faith. 

In the Parable of the Rich Fool Jesus describes a successful farmer who prospers greatly to the point he plows all his gain back into his business and grows increasingly wealthy. This fictional character even boasts: 

“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years, relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? (Luke 12:19-20) 

“Soul” in Jesus’ parable stands for the rich fool himself. The farmer is smugly speaking about and to himself. 

Jesus uses, as He often did, the folksy and picturesque communication styles common to that era. And then we consider what it would mean that only an ethereal soul was to be extracted. What about the flesh, the mind, the heart, the spirit? 

Going now to the Book of Acts, chapter 2 and verse 41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” 

Peter preached the Pentecostal Day sermon in Jerusalem, the first Christian presentation of the Gospel, and 3,000 hearers were converted, and subsequently were baptized. The “those” are referred to as “souls” at the conclusion of the verse. Not sure how souls would be baptized, but no of course, the people who were saved by the power of the Holy Spirit were baptized. This is a rather clear instance in which people are referred to as souls. 

Then a look at 1 Corinthians 15:45. First the KJV: “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” Soul is psyche and spirit pneuma. The ESV translates it, “The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Adam was a person, not something without a body. Jesus is the last Adam, the one who brought life and not death. 

The passage, Hebrews 4:12, for many seems to seal the existence of a soul apart from a body. 

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 

The author of Hebrews draws upon three instances in the minds and poetry of people of that era that are so closely entwined that nothing on earth can separate them. Only God is able to do so. Indeed, the Creator God is all powerful and nothing is beyond Him. Point is here that the phrase “of soul and of spirit” does not give credence to the existence of a separate entity called the soul, which most people living in the Graeco-Roman world would have believed in. It was a fitting point of reference for the biblical writer. 

The words of the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:9 “. . . obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” are often cited by those who support the concept of a non-material soul. Peter writing to those who had never had the opportunity to see Jesus in the flesh, said that they still had “the salvation of your souls.” 

We are more than a soul; we are people who are to receive salvation. Our bodies will be changed in an instant and we will be in the presence of God and not just an ethereal soul. 

Another one of the passages often used to support the concept of a soul that is separate and distinct from a person is Revelation 6:9, and this having to do with the opening of the fifth seal: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who have been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” 

We note that “souls” comes from psyche first of all. These souls are “under the altar.” One might question here: Are souls visible or invisible? The author of Revelation, John the Apostle, could see the souls. Now going on to verses 10 and 11 we see something very interesting. 

They [the souls] cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. 

The souls were given white robes. Do we easily imagine souls wearing clothes? These souls are actual Christians who had been martyred. An ethereal or non-physical entity wearing clothes? 

There is a second passage from Revelation that deserves our attention, Revelation 20:4. 

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 

John “saw” these who had died a martyr’s death. By their appearance he knew who and what they were—not floating apparitions with ghostly features, but actual resurrected Christian people.

What I Wish I Had Known Then

Chapter 47 of Memoirs of Jesus Freak

Although awakenings were mentioned in Church History classes at seminary, I did not learn much about them then. I wish I had known that they had beginnings and endings, that they were unusual and not normal, that they were completely a work of a sovereign God, and that they were not always wonderful and joyous events from beginning to end.

Oddly, it never occurred to me that I was involved in an awakening while it was happening. It is not that I was a brand new, right out of the box, Christian. My conversion was in 1963, I had preached occasionally before I got to seminary, was pastor of a church, and had a couple years of seminary under my belt. The trouble was that when the conversions and miracles began, I thought it had to do with my faithfulness and boldness to be a witness. Yes, I thought it had much, though not all, to do with me, that somehow I was specially used of God. The false view I had of myself and what I was seeing made for a kind of personal pride and a judgmental attitude toward others who were not as “sold out for Jesus” as I was. 

“Normal times versus awakening times,” is language I borrow from David Martin Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray, two of the most knowledgeable people on this sort of thing. They distinguish between the two, emphasizing that most of the time for most Christians, we experience normal times. We plan, pray, and preach for an outpouring of God’s Spirit, but such efforts cannot produce or guarantee it. Charles G. Finney taught exactly the opposite. Due to the seeming success Finney is reported to have had at the tail end of the second awakening in America, 1825 and on, most evangelists who came later tried to copy him. The essence of Finney’s ideas is that revival depends upon Christians. Even in the midst of the JPM, I thought this was correct. Ifsomeone had worded it as, “Philpott, do you think you can force God’s hand?” I would, of course, have said, “No.” The fact is that I was never confronted with such a challenge, so I did not think those thoughts. The prevailing attitude was that people were responsible for revival. 

This leads straight to the question, just who is in charge? On the other hand, who would argue that humans are? The concept of a sovereign God who will do what He will when He wants was essentially foreign to me. I recall an evangelistic campaign by Southern Baptists called, “I Found It.” I was then pastor of Excelsior Baptist Church in Byron, and local Baptist associations all over California were holding Billy Graham-style, evangelistic, outdoor meetings. We pasted “I Found It” bumper stickers on our cars, went door to door, handed out flyers, conducted long prayer meetings with fasting, and promoted the program as best we could. This was in 1968, right when the JPM was under way, and I was fully behind it. The advertising paid off, or rather, it sparked a negative response, as cars started sprouting bumper stickers that read, “I never had it,” “I lost it,” and “I am not looking for it.” The results were rather dismal and disappointing, and we wondered why. 

“The glorious times” were not completely apparent to me during the JPM. My memories of the conversions and miracles are somewhat over-shadowed by the devastation that followed. It is difficult to account for this. Why is it that God would allow for the dark sides of awakenings to compromise the outpouring of His Spirit? Jim Jones, The Way International, The Family, Manifested Sons of God, and many others—what about them? There were also the divisions between those who spoke in tongues and those who didn’t, and between those who submitted themselves to the Shepherding Movement and those who didn’t. 

The wild fire that looked innocent enough at first continues to haunt the Christian community now. It is only when I look back on America’s other awakenings that I begin to understand. Without question, the first two awakenings saw all kinds of serious mischief emerge during them and following them. This is without dispute. 

What Is this Phenomenon? 

There is a spiritual war going on. Whether the devil attacks or counter attacks is unknown. But the reality of the warfare is entirely clear. The same scenario is observed in Scripture. Martin Luther’s great hymn, “A Might Fortress is our God,” says it succinctly. Luther, leader of the greatest awakening the Church has ever known in its history outside the Bible, fought the devil and won some battles but lost others. Perhaps what we observe in the JPM is simply how it is in spiritual warfare. 

Another thing I have learned that I wish I had known then: I am vulnerable to deception. I am most at risk when I suppose I am above it all. It is abundantly evident to me that I must keep close to Jesus and His Word. I want to be sure that what I hold to be true is clearly stated in all of Scripture—Old Testament,

1 In regard to the Old Testament, I want to see collaboration in all three of the major sections, Torah, Prophets, and Writings.Gospels, and records of the early Church like Paul’s, John’s, Peter’s, James’, and Jude’s letters. In addition, I value the traditions and consistencies of the Church throughout its history. 

Rightly or wrongly, I am not impressed by those who say, as we often did, that they are “sold out for Jesus.” The Children of God used that phrase a lot and convinced many young Christians that the churches they were involved in were luke warm at best. Members of The Family, on the other hand, were so on fire they left everything behind, sold their possessions, and hit the road to win others. Some of this is biblical, but it was taken to extremes and used as a kind of guilt weapon to upset the lives of vulnerable people. 

I am not going to buy into a claim that God is doing something new in the last days. Prophets are proclaiming new revelations, supposedly confirmed by miracles and success in attracting large followings. We have had enough of the Mohammeds, Joseph Smiths, Russells, David Bergs, and so on. 

Jesus Christ is God become flesh, full of grace and truth. That is enough for us. 

Pentecost or Weeks

The authors’ thesis is that Jesus completed, or fulfilled, Pentecost or Weeks1 in that He sent the Holy Spirit in power and the Church was born on the very day the holiday was celebrated. Is this warranted on the basis of the biblical material itself? 

Christians traditionally speak of “Pentecost” while Jewish people use the term “Weeks.” Here the terms will be used interchangeably. 

Pentecost or Weeks. The transliterated word from the Hebrew is shavuot and means weeks. It is the second of the three pilgrimage feasts, one of the three agricultural feasts, when all male Jews who were not prevented by unusual circumstances should attend the celebration at the Temple in Jerusalem. Most observant Jews would therefore attend the first three spring holidays, since Passover, the first pilgrimage feast, was followed so closely by Unleavened Bread and Firstfruits—all over the course of three days (though Unleavened Bread lasts for seven days and incorporates Firstfruits). 

Deuteronomy chapter 16 records the instructions of only Passover, Pentecost (referred to as The Feast of Weeks), and Tabernacles (referred to as The Feast of Booths) and may be the reason that only these three were designated as the pilgrimage feasts. 

In Exodus 23:16 this feast is referred to as the “Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor,” a term that is a major clue in seeing how Jesus, through the sending of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fulfilled the long-term intentions of this feast. 

Leviticus 23:15-22 

“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you bought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the LORD. And you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one bull from the herd and two rams. They  shall be a burnt offering to the LORD, with their grain offering and their drink offerings, a food offering with pleasing aroma to the LORD. And you shall offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. And the priest shall wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before the LORD, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the LORD for the priest. And you shall make proclamation on the same day. You shall hold a holy convocation. Your shall not do any ordinary work. It is a statute forever in all your dwelling places throughout your generations. And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to the edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. I am the LORD your God.” 

Notes on the passage: 

One. There is no introductory formula for Pentecost as it appears to be connected with Passover and is the conclusion of the spring holidays that begin with Passover. 

Two. Pentecost is a word that comes from the Greek meaning “fifty.” The holiday may be referred to as Pentecost, but the most common biblical term would be The Feast of Weeks. Pentecost would have fallen on the sixth day of the month of Sivan. 

Three. Fifty days after Firstfruits means Pentecost would occur on a Sunday, the day following the Sabbath day. 

Four. The feast was centered on a grain offering, like Firstfruits. On Firstfruits a sheaf of newly cut grain, most likely barely, was waved before the LORD. Then at Pentecost, two baked loaves of bread were waved before the LORD, and most likely the grain was wheat. 

Five. The loaves were baked with leaven within them. 

Six. In addition to the loaves, there would to be a burnt offering, a sin offering, and a peace offering. 

Seven. No ordinary work was to be done. Again and again the emphasis is on rest, perhaps the focal point of all the holidays.

Eight. Provision was made for caring for the poor, which was a necessary part of the feast. 

Background material 

Israel, according to many biblical scholars, arrived at Mt. Sinai around the time of Weeks, and thus the feast came to be associated with the celebration of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. This feast could also then be called the Feast of Revelation. 

The Law given to Israel re-established God’s covenant with His people. In Jewish tradition it is called “the Season of Giving of our Torah.” Though not stated in our Leviticus passage, Pentecost has been considered almost as the birthday of Judaism, because so much of the religion has to do with God’s revelation of His will via Moses to His chosen nation. The rite of circumcision, which was part of the requirements of the Law, was the basis for the covenant God made with His people going back to the time of Abraham. Circumcision was and is important, because it is an affirmation of God’s promises to Abraham and an expression of faith that God will preserve the physical seed of Abraham in spite of all the efforts to destroy that seed. 

The giving of the Law at Mr. Sinai, however, was not without tragedy. While Moses was receiving the Law upon the mountain, the people grew restless and rebellious, and a golden calf, apparently resembling an Egyptian god the people had known during their captivity, was created and worshiped. Judgment soon followed, and “that day about three thousand men of the people fell” (Exodus 32:28). The number three thousand must be remembered. 

Prior to Sinai the people of Israel grumbled and complained. After spending a year at Sinai, receiving God’s revelation, and enjoying His provision, they again set out and again grumbled and complained (see Numbers 11:1-15). It grieved Moses so badly that he wanted to die. In response God instructed Moses to gather seventy men of the elders of Israel upon whom He would place some of the Spirit that was upon Moses and these seventy would help bear the burden of leading the people (see Numbers 11:16-25). “And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied” (Numbers 11:25). Of great significance is the ending of Numbers 11:25, “But they did not continue doing it.” 

But then, when two of the new prophets, Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp and Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ chief assistant, requested that Moses stop them, Moses’ reply was, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Could it be that the prophet Joel, who would one day speak of an outpouring of the Spirit upon God’s people (see below), saw the significance of Moses’ desire in Numbers and that it informed part of his prophecy? 

The point is that the Law given at Sinai did not and could not change Israel; they would continue to grumble and complain—a rejection of the LORD. There would come something more, a later outpouring of the Spirit. 

Pentecost fulfilled 

By the days of Jesus, Pentecost was a celebration, both of the wheat harvest and the giving of God’s Law to Moses. Jews from all over the Roman world arrived in Jerusalem for the feast. Jesus had already risen from the dead and had made it clear to His disciples immediately before His ascension back to the Father that they were to wait in Jerusalem. Luke described the situation in Acts 1:4-5: 

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 

The disciples remained in Jerusalem as ordered, but during another post-resurrection appearance the apostles asked Jesus if He was then going to restore the “kingdom to Israel” (see Acts 1:6). These men had seen enough, they had seen the blind and crippled healed, the dead raised to life, demons cast out, food multiplied to gigantic proportions, and realized that even nature was subject to His command. There was no doubt that this young Galilean was none other than the Messiah about whom the prophets had written. 

Jesus responded that it was not necessary for them to concern themselves with times or seasons—not that the kingdom they were looking for would not come—but there was something else awaiting them. He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

And they waited until Pentecost. They were in Jerusalem, gathered together in one place, probably the famous “upper room” where the Last Supper was eaten, when suddenly their world was altered forever: 

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

Acts 2:2-4 

The imagery in these verses comes from the Old Testament. At Mt. Sinai God came down with the dramatic sound of thunder and with the fire of lightning (see Exodus 19). 

The noise in the upper room brought a large group of the pilgrims, devout Jews from all over, apparently to the street outside the home where the apostles were meeting. What they heard was the apostles “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Some were amazed; some mocked and thought the men they were hearing were drunk. 

A prophet’s message comes true 

Peter, speaking for the rest, quickly challenged the accusation that they were drunk by quoting from the prophet Joel and essentially saying that what the crowd was hearing was what their own prophet had said would happen. Peter proceeded to quote Joel 2:28-29: 

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. 

In Acts 2:17-21 are the words Peter spoke to the crowd that day that included Joel 2:30-32; they are closer to the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Tanakh than the Hebrew. But the essential declaration of Peter is clear—what was heard was a fulfillment of an ancient message from one of the prophets, namely Joel. 

On Pentecost, then, a prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus had spoken several times that when He left, He would not leave His disciples orphans. He would send the Paraclete meaning Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Helper, or more literally, One who would come along side them. The Paraclete being with them was the same as Jesus being with them. Following are some examples of Jesus’ promises to the apostles relating to the Paraclete

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18 

“The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26 

“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” John 15:26 

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7 

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:13-14 

The fruit of Peter’s sermon 

In Acts 2:14-36 Luke presents Peter’s sermon that Pentecost day. It is a very Jewish address indeed. The concluding sentence was, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). 

The effect was immediate: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). Peter responded with the core message of Messiah Jesus and concluded with words based on the prophecy from Joel: 

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. 

Acts 2:38-39 

The Church, now only minutes old, experienced the influx of about three thousand Jews, along with possibly some Gentile proselytes and God fearers. “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Remember—at the time when the first covenant was given at Mt. Sinai—about three thousand died. Now three thousand are “added” with the arrival of the second or New Covenant. Not an insignificant detail. 

Two more prophetic fulfillments 

An enormous paradigm shift had occurred. The Holy Spirit had come upon ordinary people, men and women, young and old, and social class did not matter. The promise of a new covenant had become reality, that promise expressed by the prophet Jeremiah many centuries earlier: 

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” 

Jeremiah 31:31-35 

The prophet Ezekiel, in chapters 36 and 37, spoke similarly to Jeremiah. From verse 22 in Ezekiel 36 to the end of Ezekiel 37, the LORD informs Ezekiel there would come a time when He would cleanse His people of their uncleanness. Verse 26 of chapter 36 reads, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Then chapter 37 has the story of the “Dry Bones,” where God revives a valley full of dry bones, the seemingly impossible miracle of restoring Israel. The climax of the story is Ezekiel 37:14: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” 

The prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel are one—both point to a time in the future when God will do Himself what the Law could never do, was not intended to do. And it would be then, after sin was forgiven and removed, that God’s Spirit would indwell His people, personally and individually. 

The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel spoke about the cleansing of sin, personal and individual fellowship with God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the person, or body, of the individual. And this is what happened through the ministry of Jesus. His sacrifice on the cross, His burial—these put away sin. His resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit make possible a personal relationship of the individual with God, characterized by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. In this way, the believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16). 

Pentecost completed 

Embedded in the story of the Feast of Weeks was a promise of a greater harvest and a better covenant. This is what Jesus said would happen. He then completed or fulfilled the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost through the Holy Spirit, that Spirit which would bear witness to and glorify Him. 

Is there a biblical warrant? 

Is it possible to state that Jesus completed, satisfied, and fulfilled, in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit something that God had laid the foundation for in the Jewish holidays and which mark the roadmap of world history? 

These authors say it is so, but there is more. We now turn to the fall holidays to see if perhaps there are any indications that Jesus will one day complete or fulfill these as well. 

Final Note: The Preposterous God: A Summary

The mostly unknown God is preposterous and unimaginable, and thus it is beyond our human capacity to define Him. Yet we read in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” 

Solomon, the likely author of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible, gives us the above verse in the tenth century before the Common Era. We ask, “What did he mean?” 

We have a sense of what might be referred to as a Godness buried deep within us. Genesis 1:27 contains a staggering revelation: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” 

The Creator God constructed us humans, male and female, and in His image. Thus, one can legitimately say the Creator God of the Bible is both male and female and who implanted the quest to know Him within us, perhaps in our DNA. Quite amazing yet unimaginable! 

Despite an inner awareness of something greater than ourselves, a God concept, this does not give us a revelation of who God is or what God is like. Our understanding is, to say the least, extremely limited. Smart as we are, aware as we are—these only take us so far. Thus, the absolute necessity for revelation. 

God in Person 

Some two thousand years ago, a tried and tested elderly apostle of Jesus wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Was it the author’s intent to remind the reader of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”? (note: the Greek word translated “was” in English can be rendered “was and is.”)

The Word, logos in Greek, is God. God is the Word, a word spoken to us and buried deep within us. For long millennia, the sound of the word was muffled, faint, confused, and illegible. 

Yet we humans searched, and searched hard, to hear the Word. How close we came to an accurate decipher is an unanswerable question. No matter how hard we tried, we could not get there. Therefore, the Word Himself showed up. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 

The apostle Paul put it this way: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Galatians 4:4). 

This Word gave us this word: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

All the foregoing is preposterous, but what would one expect from a preposterous God? 

Who is the Word? What did the Word do? 

“Name” in ancient or Biblical Hebrew has a double component. The name is derived from both who a person is and what the person did. 

For instance, Daniel means “one given by God,” and Daniel was a prophet to the nation of Israel while they were captive to the Babylonians in the sixth century before the Common Era. The name Daniel refers to who Daniel was and what he did. 

Joshua is another example. The name means “Yahweh saves,” and Joshua, Moses’ second-in-command, led the Israelites, the chosen people of God, across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. 

Jesus, the name, is derived from Joshua via several languages, first Hebrew, then Greek, then Latin, finally English. Jesus, Joshua—the names mean that Yahweh or God saves or brings salvation. It was long thought that the Messiah, or Christ, meaning the one appointed by God, would be named Jesus. In the first century of the Common Era, many Jewish mothers named their sons Jesus. 

In the sixth century BCE, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah received a word from God about a coming Messiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel means “God come to be with us,” in person. Two chapters later we find, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 

This is surely a preposterous God. Yet, a God who speaks the entire universe into existence should be able to pull off such a task. 

Jesus, the son of the Virgin Mary, is this God with us. Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4–5). The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:1–2). 

We see who Jesus is. Now, what did He do? “To redeem” goes directly to the doing. Jesus’ death on the cross, prophesied centuries earlier (See Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53), was the substitute for the death that sin finally brings to all. There Jesus took our sin away in a manner we will never completely understand. 

The title Savior means that Jesus takes our sin away and gives us the gift of eternal life. His resurrection seals the work of the Savior. This Savior, this Redeemer, will return at a time no one knows to restore us to fellowship with the Creator God, which is the ultimate intention of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Preposterous but true! 

Christian Mysticism from Pathways to Darkness

This chapter is taken from the book written by Kent and Katie Philpott titled, The Soul Journey: How Shamanism, Santeria, Wicca, and Charisma are Connected. It was published by Earthen Vessel Publishing in 2014. It is predominantly written from Kent’s personal point of view.

What is broadly known as Christian mysticism has existed for many centuries. The mystics’ quest was for “more” of God, to experience Him directly and personally. Within Christian mysticism is contemplative prayer, which is distinct from either vocal recitation of words, mental reflection, or mental meditation on God’s word and its meaning and application. 

Kat Kerr’s journeys into heaven to speak with the Father also fit into the classification of Christian mysticism. Within this chapter are other examples of mysticism, not all of which are or claim to be Christian in orientation: the work of Richard Foster, Mirabai Starr, Richard Rohr, and Sarah Young. 

A Connection with Christianity

Contemplative prayer shares a broad theology common to mainstream and historic Christianity. It may, however, involve certain techniques that result in a state of mind resembling or identical to an altered state of consciousness or ecstasy, which then moves it into a category similar to shamanism, Santería, Wicca, and charisma.

While a doctoral student at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California, (Presbyterian), I learned about contemplative forms of Christianity. At first I was attracted to these and read somewhat extensively in the area, even attending retreats where contemplative prayer was practiced. For some reason it never worked with me; in fact, I would engage in rather heated debates with some of the “spiritual mentors” or “spiritual directors” enlisted there. In any case, I learned firsthand what was involved. 

I want to be clear that there is much in what is called contemplative prayer that I value and actually cherish. We are called to love God with all of our being, and the truth is, in our human weakness, we rarely experience a very deep love for God and what He has done for us in Christ. There are times when I long for nothing more than to simply be alone with my Bible, read favorite passages, settle back and think of Him, and pray and talk and reflect. This is normative and healthy. What I am addressing in this chapter is quite different, something that crosses the line, however faint, into an altered state of consciousness. It is that state, often called ecstasy, especially in shamanism, that exposes a person to invasion by entities that are indeed spiritual but not holy. 

Richard J. Foster 

Richard J. Foster is often associated with contemplative prayer. His book, Celebration of Discipline, published in 1978 by Harper & Row, dramatically impacted many in the years after its first appearance and is still widely used in Bible colleges and seminaries around the world. In the year following its publication, it was our primary text for a class called Spiritual Formation, which was part of my doctoral curriculum. Foster divides his twelve disciplines into three categories: Inward, Outward, and Corporate. In the first category, the Inward Disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study.1 

1 I was much taken by Foster’s work and attempted to explore it to the extent possible and to seriously engage myself in each of the twelve disciplines. I lived with the book for many months. Though I still deem much of the material in the book to fit within a broad Christian and biblical range, I consider that the very first of the Inward Disciplines, “Meditation,” crosses the aforementioned faint line. Let me explain. 

Foster indicates his awareness that Eastern forms of meditation involve the attempt to empty the mind. Then he says, “Christian meditation is an attempt to empty the mind in order to fill it.”2 

2 Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 15. It sounds good, but is emptying the mind normative for the Christian? In my opinion, it crosses the line and has neither biblical precedent nor warrant.3 

3 By “precedent and warrant” we mean that, for a Christian to engage in such processes, it should be clearly evident that Jesus engaged in such meditation with His disciples, that such is found in the life of the primitive Church and thus recorded in the Book of Acts, and that such practice is mentioned in apostolic New Testament letters. But there is no such evidence and therefore no biblical precedent or warrant for such a practice.Christians should indeed desire the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16b) but that does not suggest an emptying of the mind but a transforming “by the renewal of the mind” (Romans 12:2). 

Foster also speaks of the Eastern meditative process of detachment, especially as it relates to Buddhism. He acknowledges that detachment from the confusion of the world around us is not the goal for Christians but that Christians actually go beyond that. He implies that the Christian must go through detachment to reach attachment. Again the difficulty is that many would simply say amen to this without questioning the idea of the Christian need to detach. To me, this is the perfect set up for a significant deviation from healthy and scriptural prayer and meditation. 

Even more problematic is what he says later: “It is wonderful when a particular meditation leads to ecstasy. . . .”4 

4 Ibid., 17. When I first encountered this I was much impressed, but after some attempts at what I thought was “ecstasy,” I gave up and fortunately so. The desire for ecstasy might have led me deeper into an Eastern style of meditation, to the point of going into an altered state of consciousness and thus exposing myself to invasion by unwanted and unclean spirits. 

It is precisely for this reason that the influence of Foster finally aroused my critique. What might seem harmless and even appear to conform to some of the experiences of well-known Christian mystics like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and others, is in fact extremely dangerous and little different from where shamanism, Santería, and Wicca take their practitioners. 

It gets worse. Here are two sentences from Foster’s book that even more closely resemble the teachings of the religions named above: “All who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord are the universal priesthood of God and as such can enter the Holy of Holies and converse with the living God. It seems so difficult to bring people to believe that they can hear God’s voice.”5 

5 Ibid., 19.

On the one hand Foster expresses the biblical truth that in Christ we are seated with Him in the heavenly places, but he reaches too far in his declaration that we actually ought to hear the voice of God. Granted, there were those biblical incidents where it is reported that people heard the voice of God. These were the prophets and others, like Peter at Joppa in the run-up to the conversion of the Roman Centurion Cornelius, but it is not something found elsewhere in the Bible as a normal and regular spiritual practice. Conversations with various spirit entities are common, however, among shamans, Santerían priests and priestesses, and among witches of neo-pagan religions. This must give one pause. 

It gets even worse with Foster. Still in the chapter on meditation, he speaks of dreams. He teaches that a Christian can invite God to inform us through our dreams. “We should tell Him of our willingness to allow Him to speak to us in this way. . . . We simply ask God to surround us with the light of His protection as he ministers to our spirit.”6 

6 Ibid., 23. 

This is characteristic of Wiccan teaching, not biblical teaching. Nowhere in Scripture is there anything approaching this. It is mediumistic and spiritistic – the province of the occult. 

Foster goes on to say, “After awhile there is a deep yearning within to go into the upper regions beyond the clouds. In your imagination allow your spiritual body, shining with light, to rise out of your physical body. Go deeper and deeper into outer space until there is nothing except the warm presence of the eternal Creator. Rest in His presence. Listen quietly, anticipating the unanticipated. Note carefully any instruction given.”7 

7 Ibid., 27.Here Foster seems to promote, regardless of whether only “in the imagination,” out-of-body travel, also called astral projection, definitely belonging to the province of the shaman. 

These concepts are reminiscent of some of the errors found in charisma, in which more and more is asked, even demanded, of God. In charisma, people recently report to be conversing with angels and even Jesus. An acquaintance who is a proponent of having conversations with deity said, “You do not have to read the Scripture anymore, you can go direct.” This connects with shamanism generally, and especially with Santería and Wicca, in my view. 

Beyond Foster 

In the years from 1980 onward, I heard little of contemplative spirituality, and when I did it was from books by those who identified with the Emerging Church Movement, but not always. Though not a large emphasis among Christians, the quest for “more,” a deeper spirituality, was evident. 

Contemplative prayer is closely connected with meditation, but it is not the kind of meditation we find in the Bible, which is focused, alert, and thoughtful attention on God, who He is, and what He has done in His Son, Jesus Christ. In sharp contrast, contemplative prayer encourages an emptying of the mind in order to achieve a light, moderate, or deep altered state of consciousness. 

To do contemplative or centering prayer, one technique is to focus on a word and repeat that word over and over, much like a Buddhist mantra. The word chosen should have spiritual significance or meaning to the one praying. Perhaps one concentrates on a single lit candle or speaks a series of prayers, but the intent is to open one’s mind, soul, and heart to God. Contemplative prayer deliberately encourages the pursuit of a mystical experience with God, and the emphasis is on “experience.”

Mirabai Starr: A Connection with Contemporary Mysticism 

The autumn 2012 issue of Light of Consciousness: a Journal of Spiritual Awakening contains an article by Mirabai Starr entitled, “Contemplative Life.”8 

8 Mirabai Starr is one of the best known and respected teachers and authors of meditation and contemplation today. She has a deep interest in Hinduism, Sufism, Judaism, and mystical Christian practices. Starr points out that many of the world’s religions, including Christianity, have contemplative states. Contemplation, meditation, interior prayer, mental prayer, and centering prayer are essentially synonymous terms and describe means of meeting with the “Divine Presence” that Starr writes about. 

It is in such states of consciousness that a person will encounter “otherness,” the place she considers is where the Divine Presence reveals itself. However, that “otherness” is not what she thinks it is. 

Starr then describes a process whereby, in my view, a person becomes invaded by the “divine” presences (earlier, we called them by various terms, including spirit guides, etc.) that show up in the altered state. She outlines three stages of the process: Stage one is termed purgation or via purgativa. This is where a person surrenders and leaves behind whatever god conceptions he or she has. So, the door swings open to whatever is waiting to come in. 

Stage two is via illuminativa, where that which is divine, the divine light, is poured into the now purged, clean, and waiting empty vessel. During this stage the captivation of the one praying or meditating takes place. 

In my view, this is where possession by unclean spirits occurs. 

Stage three is union, or via unitiva. This is similar to the union sought for in Yoga and is the real and actual intent or purpose of Yoga.9 

9 Yoga means union, with the All, the Universe, the One Supreme Being, and so on. Yoga, as only exercise, is Yoga in name only and is usually practiced in the West as nothing more than exercise. Here the self, or what little is left of it, joins with or merges with the One. 10 

10 The “One” can be variously interpreted or understood depending on the religious concepts held by the one meditating.and actually disappears. Starr points out that this is precisely what the Christian mystics were aiming at in their contemplative practices – to be at one with God, to be in union with the Almighty. But, with what were John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila really in touch? 

What they were engaged in, and what Mirabai Starr recognizes in them and advocates, is nothing close to biblical or historic Christianity. 

We humans are basically repelled by holiness, and in a bizarre, even perverse way are attracted to the unholy. Prior to my conversion at age twenty-one, I shied away from Christians, because they seemed to be “holier than thou.” My friends and I embraced darker alternatives that seemed to be more fun. What Starr advocates looks and is spiritual but is not holy. For those who have not been touched by the grace of God in Christ, Starr’s pagan spirituality is oddly attractive. 

One of the chief points Starr makes is that the deep meditative state will change a person dramatically due to the profound spiritual insights thereby attained. 

I agree with her. As mentioned before, when one encounters genuine spirituality, actual and real spirit, one is transformed. That person will immediately abandon strict materialism and gravitate toward the spiritual and the mystical, almost regardless of what religion or spiritual practice is the attraction – Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Santería, Wicca, Charisma, or other. 

This meets my own experience in four decades of work as a pastor of Christian churches. Once again, it is necessary to recognize that much that is spiritual is neither good nor God. 

Satan is the master of deceit; if he is thought of as only evil and demonic, then deception is all the more probable. The demonic kingdom with which we are faced, including “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (see Ephesians 6:12), will appear grand beyond description. In fact, Satan can have an appearance so attractive, he is referred to as Lucifer, the “angel of light” (see 2 Corinthians 11:14). With such power and confidence that he targeted Jesus Himself, would we not be targets? 

Richard Rohr and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life 

For many people, the tragedies, traumas, failures, and disappointments common to the first half of life can be a catalyst for change, according to Richard Rohr. Once the idealistic views of life fall away, a person may recognize that there must be more, and this more involves the pursuit of God. His analogy is that rather than falling down when trouble descends, one may fall upward. 

In his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life11

11 Falling Upward was published in 2011 by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint. I was given the book by a friend who had been given a copy of it by a pastor of a large seeker friendly church in Los Angeles. This pastor recommended the book for growth in, Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, speaks to the reality of living in a fallen world and being fallen people. It is the nature of the “path” for falling upward rather than downward that I want to address. 

Clues to the actual nature of the “path” are apparent in the blurbs on the back of the dust cover. They are as follows: Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self, writes, “Falling Upward calls forth the promise within us and frees us to follow it into wider dimensions of our spiritual authenticity.” 

Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity and Naked Spirituality writes, “Richard offers a simple but deeply helpful framework for seeing the whole spiritual life – one that will help both beginners on the path as they look ahead and long-term pilgrims as they look back over their journey so far.”12 

Christian maturity and spirituality. 

Jim Finley, Merton scholar and author of The Contemplative Heart, writes, “We begin to see that, as we grow older, we are being awakened to deep, simple, and mysterious things we simply could not see when we were younger.” 

Finally, from Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest and author of The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, Centering Prayer, Inner Awakening, and The Wisdom of Knowing comes, “This is Richard Rohr at his vintage best: prophetic, pastoral, practical. A book I will gratefully share with my children and grandchildren.” While each of these endorsements is vague, the implication here is mind expansion of the variety considered in this book. 

Rohr states that his favorite mystic is Lady Julian of Norwich, who lived from 1342 to 1416.13 

12 Brian McLaren is identified as an evangelical Christian and as a leader within the Emerging Church movement. After falling deathly ill, she received sixteen mystical revelations, usually entitled, “Revelations of Divine Love.” She is venerated in the Anglican and Lutheran churches but was not made a saint in the Catholic Church. In her visions she saw God as loving, not wrathful, that all people would experience His love and have salvation (she is referred to by some as a “proto-universalist”), and most importantly, that sin is necessary to enable people to begin to discover the higher way of love. It is easy to see why Richard Rohr would embrace her. 

The Christian mystics, Saints Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, and even Francis of Assisi, among many other less known Christians, focused on turning inward by means of deep prayer, meditation, and contemplation. 

Characteristic of their experiences in such mind states were visions, revelations, and words of prophecy. These were problematic, because they often contained theology that differed, and sometimes markedly so, with Scripture. 

13 From Rohr’s Introduction, xx. 

But the revelations were accepted by some as coming from divine and therefore holy sources and not to be easily dismissed. The appeal of the ancient mystics is currently undergoing yet another renaissance. 

Rohr’s concepts are an excellent example of importing concepts from mystical, even occult-oriented, religions into spiritual practices for Christians. The popularity of this process is partially due to the fact that there are spiritual or mystical experiences connected with such practices that are entirely convincing and captivating. 

In the back of Rohr’s book is a list of related resources and recordings that are published by the Center for Action and Contemplation. The following quote is revealing: 

In January 2008, James Finley and Fr. Richard Rohr gave a conference in Albuquerque, sharing The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, the distilled essence of Buddhist teaching. In these talks, each Truth was introduced and explored, with emphasis given to the presence of these truths at the heart of Jesus’ call to awaken to God’s presence in every detail of our lives. 

Sarah Young and Jesus Calling: Who is actually on the other end?14 

“Rest in My Presence, allowing Me to take charge of this day. Do not bolt into the day like a racehorse suddenly released. Instead, walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time.” “You are on the right path. Listen more to Me, and less to your doubts. I am leading you along the way designed just for you.” “As you focus your thoughts on Me, be aware that I am fully attentive to you.” “You must discipline yourself to live within the boundaries of today. It is in the present moment that I walk close to you, helping you carry your burdens.” “Come to Me with a teachable spirit, eager to be changed.” 

The above are but a few of the hundreds of affirming statements Sarah says Jesus spoke to her over the years. It is no wonder her books, principally Jesus Calling (published by Thomas Nelson), have become bestsellers. People who buy her books also read Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and others in the health, wealth, and prosperity genre. 

Young is referred to as a woman of listening prayer. She prays then waits for Jesus to answer. She strongly affirms that He does, yet she says she does not hear an audible voice. She listens then writes or journals what Jesus places on her heart. But at the same time, she claims that what she hears in her heart are the actual words of Jesus. Inexplicably, however, she depends on the Holy Spirit 

14 Sarah Young and Jesus Calling are discussed elsewhere in this book, but her work falls more into the realm of contemplative prayer than charisma. 

to determine if what she hears from Jesus is biblically correct! This is more than just slightly confused and confusing. 

Young wanted “more,” and she wanted it now, on this side of heaven. She knew the Bible was the word of God, but she yearned for more. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not enough; the Scripture alone did not satisfy; she wanted and needed more. I have noticed that when people want more they will get more, and if they want to hear from God directly they will, sooner or later, hear someone or something speaking. 

Most, if not all, of the “words of Jesus” spoken to Young are directed to her personally. She is instructed to do this and that – trust, know, believe, and so on, all expressed in the first person, “Me,” meaning Jesus. Her devotional books are purported to be a recitation of what Jesus said to her. 

It is difficult to determine if some sort of altered state of consciousness is involved in Young’s praying, but I suspect it is. I have known a number of parishioners who became so totally immersed in deep prayer they would lose track of time and place. I have experienced this myself. This was during a time when I was practicing the techniques taught by Richard Foster in his Celebration of Discipline. Being alone, quieting myself, breathing deeply, tuning out distractions, suppressing worldly concerns, sitting in a beautiful and peaceful place, perhaps with soothing music playing in the background – I could feel myself slipping into a light trance. And when I felt this happen I would become frightened to some degree and pull away. My personal experience informs me of how dangerous it is to put oneself in a spiritually exposed position, straining to listen in order to hear what God might say. 

Young’s Jesus is rather limited in what He says to her. There are continual streams of, “You are on the right path,” “Relax and trust in Me,” “I am with you,” and “Listen to Me.” These words of Jesus are rather imbalanced, however. His messages are encouraging and never otherwise; the pithy little sayings are decidedly skewed to the positive. But Jesus in Scripture is far different from this. A quick perusal in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will make it clear that Sarah’s Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. 

There is no actual Gospel message in what Jesus supposedly says to Sarah Young. This ought to make one suspicious. Not that what Sarah hears is unbiblical, but the whole of it is sub-Christian at best. 

At worst (and there is a worst) is that Young is listening to something or someone who is not Jesus at all but is rather imitating and counterfeiting Jesus. Helen Schuchman listened to the voice of what she thought was Jesus and came up with the Course in Miracles, a clearly mediumistic deception. Is Young following in her footsteps? My view is, yes! 

But the concerns do not stop there. Beyond Young’s descriptions of what she has experienced is her suggestion that others may also hear Jesus calling.  

Sarah’s books have therefore become for some a school for mediums. Naiveté on the reader’s part coupled with intent to deceive on the part of whoever or whatever is speaking to Young is an extremely dangerous combination. 

Sarah Young’s listening prayer presents a slightly different scenario from much of Christian mysticism. She does not seem to obviously seek an altered state of consciousness. However, it is in the listening mode where a light trance state may be entered, even without attempting to do so. Christian, biblically-oriented praying does not involve listening for an audible reply, whether in the open or in the mind. In that restful, contemplative state, the listening for an actual “still small voice” is the locus of concern, especially for those who have practiced going into deep meditative states of mind. The most powerful shamans can move easily into and out of their ecstasy, so that, over time, an altered state may envelope the one praying without intentionality. Again, when one is in such a state and hears a voice, the question must be asked, who is the speaker? 

Summing up 

Contemplative prayer, shamanism, Santería, Wicca, and charisma all have a common denominator, a connection that is the passive or altered state of consciousness, regardless of the means of getting there. While in such states of mind, encountering spirits seldom seems horrific and demonic. Rather, these beings seem benign, majestic, angelic, powerful, awesome, even holy, and therein is their captivating nature. These religious spiritualities bring their practitioners into the realm of beings, entities, and spirits, but they are unclean and demonic deceivers. This, I realize, is virtually impossible to accept for one captivated by spiritual forces. 

The dots are once more connected: the practices encouraged in books like Rohr’s and Young’s lead to the trance state, whether light, moderate, or deep. These states of consciousness, common to forms of Buddhism (especially Tibetan), Hinduism, Islam’s Sufism, Judaism’s Kabbalah, shamanism, Santería, Wicca (and other neo-pagan religious expressions), and charisma open the door to spiritual beings that can be enlightening and powerful but not holy.

The Dark Sides Emerge

 Chapter 46

The terms “Dark sides” and “wild fire revival” are generally synonymous, but I prefer to call them dark sides. They usually, but not always, follow on the heels of genuine outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

The first great awakening, 1735 to 1742, involving Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, the Tenants, and many others, had its dark sides, yet no one denies it was the real thing. The second awakening, roughly 1798 to 1825 or 1835, depending on how Charles G. Finney is viewed, certainly had its dark sides, which can still be felt two hundred years later. The third, from 1857 to 1859 (and some say this one continued through the Civil War), was perhaps the cleanest of America’s awakenings, an assessment I accept. But this fourth awakening?1 

1 In Awakenings in America and the Jesus People Movement, I make the case that the JPM meets the criteria of a genuine awakening was anything but clean, and the dark sides of it continue. I wonder if we have yet to see the worst of it, and this is being written in 2014.

Let me clearly state that I do not delight, to any extent, in the presence of the dark sides. Neither can I close my eyes to them and pretend that they, or some aspects of them, are a continuation of the fourth awakening or even, as some suppose, a fifth awakening or “wave.”

It is difficult to know where to start describing events and how they yielded unwanted results, because the whole business is so complex. Perhaps I saw some of it while still pastor of Church of the Open Door, from which I resigned in 1980, due to my divorce and the events surrounding it. The Sunday morning services changed from a focus on teaching and preaching to music and more music. The “worship” was relegated only to when the praise and worship band was on stage.  

I think it is biblically correct to say that, when the Holy Spirit moves in power, there is no need for humans to add to it. Two or three are gathered, Jesus is present, and that is enough. With just two or three—wherever, whenever, or whoever—miracles might happen. 

As the awakening waned, the desire, or maybe the need to ratchet things up came imperceptively at first, then deliberately. I had no idea how much worse it would become. 

Some Necessary Background 

I had begun studies at San Francisco Law School in 1980, assuming that a divorced pastor had to change careers. I was right in the midst of law school, had already developed a substantial legal support business with a partner,2 

2 This was Terry Cuddy, who spent eighteen years in a federal prison for bank robbery, was pardoned by Jerry Brown during Brown’s first governorship of California, who then proceeded to obtain a license as a private investigator. It was a real Humphrey Bogart kind of operation. I wrote a book about thirty-three of our adventures titled, Serving in Marin (not published yet, but on the schedule). and was ready to get my license as a private investigator, when an old friend, Prince Altom, pastor of what was then called Corte Madera Community Church, invited me to join him. I set the legal business aside to go back into the ministry. The American Baptist Churches of America, the oldest Baptist body in the USA, understood that it is possible to be restored to ministry, and they took a chance on me. In 1984, I began reviving and reorganizing the First Baptist Church of Mill Valley. After ten months we reopened the closed doors of the church under the new name of Miller Avenue Baptist Church. Thirty years later I am still pleased to preach the Gospel to non-believers and the Scripture to believers. 

The Church Growth Courses 

In 1987 the American Baptists asked me to attend a church growth program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. My brother Bruce was a cop in Pasadena (later the chief of police there), and I stayed with him in his home in Glendale, while I attended what I see now as something rather dangerous.3 

3 I realize there are those who will disagree with me on this point, but I must report what I thought both then and now.

The beginning and the advanced church growth meetings were held one year apart, each lasting five days. There I heard John Wimber teach about signs and wonders, and I was absolutely appalled to hear his instructions on how to manipulate a congregation using music, lighting, and other effects, to get people to where they felt the Holy Spirit was visiting them. I also had opportunity to talk with C. Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft, among others, while at Fuller. 

Church growth and church planting was what it was all about. And I do not blame anyone for desiring those things. The JPM was long gone, but the memories of the experiences of it were still fresh in the minds of many. Would we love to see those days again? Any Christian would answer immediately and loudly, YES! 

Human engineering, meaning applied psychology and sociology, was what I was hearing at Fuller. How to get people excited? How to fill the pews? How to meet human needs? On and on they propounded, with apparently little or no idea that a genuine awakening depends on the moving of the Spirit of God. The ideas expressed were all motivated by the notion that proper means could make awakening happen. I saw the error then, and I had not begun to even consider Reformed theology. 

The Emerging Church or the “seeker-friendly” church developed along the lines I saw and heard at Fuller. Meeting needs, reaching people where they are, targeting specific groups, blending into the culture, and becoming as inoffensive as possible was the litany for church growth and church planting. Cultic in terms of recruitment? Yes, I believe so. Full disclosure? No, not even close. If the Gospel, that offending Gospel that calls attention to our lost and eternally dangerous condition, is not presented, then you can expect the full flowering of a toxic, cultic mentality. 

Next came the Toronto Vineyard happening with Rodney Howard-Browne from South Africa. The Laughing Revival, the Toronto Blessing—such a big splash and magnet, drawing local pastors who ran up to Toronto to get the “anointing.” The anointing, the anointing, the anointing—this was it. Power to command even God’s blessing! More, more, and more. 

Then it spread like wild fire and landed where I could observe it, at Bethel Church in Redding, California. I went there to see it for myself. Enough has been written about that and about the Kansas City Prophets, International House of Prayer, and MorningStar in North Carolina. I suppose I would have succumbed to the pull if I had not experienced the Jesus People awakening and learned something of the other awakenings in America’s history. Moving and grooving to the beat, dancing and swaying “in the spirit,” talking to angels, even to Jesus. Frankly, it is not that much different from shamanistic rituals, Santerían bembes, or Wiccan journeys.4 

4 Released by Earthen Vessel Publishing in 2014 was The Soul Journey: How Shamanism, Santeria, Wicca, and Charisma Are Connected. The connection is the trance state or altered states of consciousness, upon which all of these pagan, neopagan, and even Christian-oriented practices or religions depend.

Spiritual Battles 

It is not surprising that the devil should show up. We see this in the Book of Acts. Jesus warned of it. Paul experienced it. John in Revelation predicted it. In a sense, it is business as usual. The enemy rushes to the holy fire to put it out or pervert it. I have in my mind the backfire, set in the direction of a fire out of control. Whatever metaphor is employed, the picture is one of confusion, deception, and error. 

Our God is a sovereign God, and He will do what He will do and allow what He will allow. The enemy is essentially powerless and can only go so far. Christians may pray, preach, and plan for revival and awakening, while at the same time recognize that the mighty wind of the Spirit moves where He will. 

The Presence of the Triune God

 Chapter 12 

Who would not be shocked to hear that the ultimate intention of the Creator God is to be forever present with those He made in His image? “Far beyond the wildest imagination” does not express the utter preposterousness of such a concept. 

We humans have difficulty being in the presence of one another for extended periods of time, however strong the bond. There are exceptions, surely, but overall, I suspect that for the majority of us loving togetherness for ever and ever is questionable. 

Many rooms 

During the closing days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He had long talks with His disciples. Part of one conversiation that suits our purpose is John 14:1–3: 

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 

After three-plus years of following Jesus, seeing Him raise the dead, heal all manner of illnesses, cast out demons, and break the fundamental laws of nature by multiplying food in vast quantities, walking on water, and calming storms with his command, they knew His word was not to be doubted. No, He would not lie to them or give them false comfort. 

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb 

The Church, that invisible Body of believers known only to God, is referred to as the Bride of Christ. The word “church” in the Greek is ekklesia and is feminine in form. 

Jesus is the bridegroom. He referred to Himself as such in Matthew 9:15: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The day will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’” 

One of the last parables Jesus gave to His disciples is the parable of the wedding feast. It is found in Matthew 22:1–14, and in it He painted the picture of a wedding feast. The second coming of Jesus at the end of the age is likened to a bridegroom coming to take His bride away. And when this happens there will be a wedding feast, or as it is spoken of in the book of Revelation, a marriage supper: 

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder crying out, 

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come; 

and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:6–8) 

The Bride then joins the Bridegroom, and they are happily united forever. Here now is what was revealed to the Apostle John as found in Revelation 21:1–4: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

The promise of the ultimate triumph of the “offspring” of the woman, depicted in Genesis 3:15, is fulfilled. By means of the completed work of Jesus the Messiah, the Word become flesh, God become flesh, that atoning death for sin, then the resurrection, and finally the ascension to heaven, the dwelling place of God, there is a Bride, the Church. 

No longer east of Eden, no longer in a world torn and tortured, no longer the presence of that hideous strength, Satan and his demons—no, it is paradise restored. 

It seems fitting to close with words that Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth: 

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are deemed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything even the depths of God. 1 corinthians 2:5–10

And so it will be forever and ever, says the Preposterous God. Amen! 

Islamic Mysticism

Chapter 25 from Pathways to Darkness

In Ayman S. Ibrahim’s A Concise Guide to the Life of Muhammad (published by Baker Academic in 2022) is a chapter titled, “Was Muhammad a Real Historical Figure?” Here he mentions three Muhammads: The Muhammad in popular and cultural Islam, then a second, Muhammad in the Muslim traditions, and finally the Muhammad of history. We will focus only on the first of these, the Muhammad in popular and cultural Islam, otherwise known as “the legendary Muhammad.”

The Quran presents Muhammad as an ordinary man who looked to Allah for mercy and help, but not the legendary Muhammad, this popular Muhammad, who was highly venerated even to the point where he was worshipped. It is thought here that he possessed divine qualities and could influence daily lives, even perform signs and wonders, that he knew the future, could raise the dead, and heal the sick. It was believed that he could visit sick people in dreams, especially if they drank holy water or recited verses from the Quran.

In other words, Muhammad was believed to have metaphysical or mystical abilities, and so Muslims like to visit holy places, shrines, and graves, associated with him, and they do so to obtain power, blessings, and protection from evil. And such activities are condemned by mainline Muslim theologians, but still these are popular with large segments of the Muslim population around the world. These will look to Muhammad to interpret dreams, receive divine visitations, and tell their future. 

Again, this is the legendary Muhammad and not the Muhammad of the Quran. 

The reason for the inclusion of this chapter on Islamic mysticism will be plain from the following, “Summary of the Exorcist Tradition in Islam.”

Summary of The Exorcist Tradition in Islam

Kent’s personal introduction: While attending the Mill Valley Islamic Center’s Mosque in January of 2016, I noticed a book on a shelf in the foyer, and during the prayer time I skimmed through this book by Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips.1 

1 Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, The Exorcist Tradition in Islam (Birmingham, England, UK: Al-Hidaayah Publishing & Distribution Ltd., 2007). I was stunned and had to read it. The Imam Abdullah allowed me to take it home on the promise to return it the next Friday. I bought a copy online, read every word, and began to prepare this for a section of Islamic Studies.

The Exorcist Tradition in Islam (hereafter, Exorcist Tradition) confirmed so much I already knew about “folk” Islam. Here, however, information I thought relevant to only rural Muslim folk was actually mainstream for Muslims everywhere. It also confirmed what I already knew and had written about over the years, including my first published book by Zondervan Publishing House in 1973, entitled A Manual of Demonology and the Occult. During the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, I actively and extensively engaged in what Dr. Philips refers to as exorcism but which I call deliverance ministry, as in the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil” (see Matthew 6:13). Then, in more recent times, I wrote Deliver us from Evil: How Jesus Casts out Demons Today, published by Earthen Vessel Publishing in 2015. 

When I returned Dr. Philips book, I also gave the Imam a copy of the new book mentioned above, which he gladly received and in which he eagerly expressed interest. It seemed necessary to me then to prepare this present chapter to assist those who might deal with this subject in their outreach to Muslims. 

Notes on the introduction to The Exorcist Tradition in Islam 

Dr. Philips gives the following reason for the writing of his book: 

In the last ten years, an upsurge of interest among Muslims about possession and the spirit-world has led to the republication of most of the classical texts on this subject (p. 7). 

He also says there has been a growing number of exorcists among Muslims. This interest then is the prime reason for Dr. Philips’ book, and his work is based upon sources that are accepted by Muslim scholars as being authentic and reliable. 

Chapter One is “The Spirit World,” where the focus is on three areas: the human spirit, jinn, and angels. Chapter Two is: “Spirit Possession,” in which he discusses the reasons for possession, partial possession, magic, the Evil Eye, exorcism, the validity of the need for exorcism, the exorcist, and methods of exorcism. Chapter Three is “Modern Muslim Exorcists.” A questionnaire developed by Dr. Philips was presented to Muslim exorcists, the results of which are presented along with a profile of the 20th century Muslim exorcist and a survey of Christian exorcists. Chapter Four is the author’s opinions about exorcism. There is an appendix that consists of interviews with seventeen exorcists, followed by an index of Qur’anic verses and hadith dealing with the subject, and concluding with a bibliography. Following now is commentary on these chapters. 

Chapter One: “The Spirit World” 

In Islam there are three different categories or species of created entities: human souls, angels, and jinn, all of which are considered rational yet invisible beings. Humans have bodies that are inhabited by human spirits or souls. Both the terms ruh and nafs are used in reference to the human spirit or soul. In this section we will use the word “soul” for the human spirit. 


Sunni Muslims believe the soul dies at death, based on Qur’an 3:185; 28:88; and 40:11. 

When a person dies, there is some disagreement among Islamic scholars about what happens to the human spirit or soul between death and the Day of Resurrection. A dominant idea is that they return to the barzakh, the place from which they originally came. It is from the barzakh that souls are “blown by angels into the human embryos” (p. 21).2 

2 Barzakh is a Persian word that means separation, that is, a spiritual state in which souls wait before being blown into humans while in the womb.

Upon death the souls of the prophets await the Day of Resurrection in the highest level of paradise, the seventh heaven. This is a lesser place than that of the martyrs, whose souls change into green birds in paradise (Abu Dawud, page 455, no. 3). In this hadith, it is also said that if the martyr leaves behind unpaid debt, he or she will not enter paradise. 

The souls of the ordinary believer will not enter the bodies of green birds in paradise; they will, however, exist in the form of birds but are not allowed to roam around in paradise, unlike those of the martyrs. 

The souls of disobedient believers are held in their graves and punished for their sins. Two kinds of disobedient believers are mentioned by Muhammad as recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 141, no. 215 and by Sahih Muslim, vol. 1, pp. 171–172, no. 575: “Surely, they are being punished right now, and not for major offences. One of them was not careful to protect himself from the splash of his urine, and the other used to spread rumors.” 

The souls of disbelievers sorrow greatly. These souls remain in the grave and are punished until the Day of Resurrection. Souls of believers have contact with each other just before they die, and the souls already having died inquire as to the lot and fare of acquaintances yet living. 

Some Muslim esoterics, called Batini, believe that perfect souls leave their human bodies and educate living Muslims in order to improve their souls. 


Although angels take the form of males, as in Gabriel who appeared to Muhammad, they are considered to be neuter with no actual sexual gender. 

Names are given to some angels in Islam: Jibril or Gabriel is the angel of revelation (Qur’an 26:192–193);3 

3 Where no citation is given, the authority comes from multiple hadith.

Mikail or Michael is responsible for rain; Israfil is the angel who will blow the horn at the time of the end of the world; Malik is the name of the guardian angel of hell (Qur’an 43:77) who lights hellfire and makes sure no one escapes; Munkar and Nakir are the two angels who will determine, after a person is dead, whether he or she was a faithful Muslim; Harut and Marut were angels who were sent to the people of Babylon to determine if they had real faith or not (Qur’an 2:102); and Raqib and ‘Atid are the two angels who sit on the shoulder of each Muslim recording their good and bad deeds (Qur’an 50:17–18). The following passages in the Qur’an speak of recording angels who are not named: 82:10–11 and 50:17–18. 

Angels have authority over the heavens and the earth. Angels determine or set in motion all that happens (Qur’an 79:5 and 51:4), yet they are merely servants of Allah. Angels are able to travel at incredible speeds. 

Some angels are able to read the minds of humans, and some know the acts that were planned by people but never carried out. Angels are in constant contact with humans, from birth to death and after death. Angels are assigned to each person at the moment of conception. They inspire people to do good and guard them from doing evil (Qur’an 13:11). There are also angels who pray to Allah for people about certain matters. 

One thing angels do not do is possess humans as jinn do, nor do they incite people to do evil. 


Jinn are hidden from human sight. The Arabic word for jinn is janna and means that which is concealed or hidden. Jinn is the plural form and jinni is the singular form. 

The belief in jinn is shared with Jews and Christians, but most modern day Jews, as well as some Christians, disavow the existence of jinn or demons. 

Jinn originate from fire (Qur’an 15:27; 55:15) and were created before humans existed (Qur’an 15:26–27). Since jinn are created beings, they also experience death (Qur’an 28:88; 55:26; 46:18). 

Satan, or Shaytan, is close to the concept of devil or demon. There are those who say Satan was not an angel but only a jinn; however there are those who disagree and believe Iblis, which is the personal name of Satan, was among the angels, but he refused to bow down to Adam and thus became a demon or even the devil (Qur’an 7:11 and also Qur’an 26:75–78). 

Though jinn are invisible to humans, some animals can see them. Some believe that certain jinn, like the angels, can assume human shapes and forms. Some jinn take animal shapes on a constant basis. 

(Note: Here is a connection with “spirit animals” common to Shamanism and neo-pagan groups like Wicca.) 

There are three different kinds of jinn. One type flies in the air all of the time; others take the form of dogs and snakes; and others wander the earth. These latter jinn are referred to as qarin, which means companion, and they will accompany a person from their birth to their death. 

There are jinn who listen in on the conversations of angels, who inhabit a lower level of heaven, and then report their findings to fortunetellers (Qur’an 72:8–9; 15:17–18). 

Jinn can be Muslims or non-Muslims. One treats a Muslim jinn differently, almost reverently, but not so a non-Muslim jinn. Satan is a non-Muslim devil. 

Some Muslim scholars contend, and are supported by some hadith, that camels are jinn or are created from jinn. 

Some hadith say that jinn eat and drink and do so with the left hand. 

Some, mostly Sunni scholars, teach that jinn can have sexual relations with humans and may have offspring, based on Qur’an 72:6. There are hadith that report that Muhammad habitually said when entering the toilet, “O Allah, surely I seek refuge in You from evil male and female jinn.” This particular saying was collected from all six of the major hadith, i.e., Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, pp. 105–106, no. 144 and Sahih Muslim, vol. p. 205, no. 729. In addition, Qur’an 55:74 and 18:50 indicate that jinn deflower females. 

Hinn are the lowest category of jinn and appear as black dogs. 

Jinn, like angels, are able to travel large distances very rapidly. They are also able to affect the human mind by implanting evil thoughts. Some jinn sleep and eat with humans without the humans being aware of it. Jinn may cause humans to be ill. 

At a person’s death, even a Muslim, jinn will attempt to cause him or her to go astray and leave the straight path of Allah. 

Jinn are the only possible source of possession of a human being; human spirits or souls or angels do not possess humans. Jinn can cause both physical and mental problems.

Chapter Two: “Spirit Possession” 

Sar is the most commonly used term for possession by jinn, and only jinn can possess a human being. This word is also used to denote epilepsy and literally means, “to throw down.” Mass is also a term used to refer to spirit possession but is also used to describe mental illness or madness. A possessed person is called a mansus. An insane person is called a majnun

Not all Muslim scholars hold to the idea that jinn possess people; some are more likely to see marks of possession as mental or physical illness; major Islamic scholars, however, do attest to spirit possession. In fact, it is said that if one denies spirit possession of human beings it is akin to apostasy and a denial of the Qur’an. 

Qur’anic evidence for spirit possession is found in Qur’an 2:275: “Those who devour interest rise up like one stumbling from Satan’s touch.” The hadith are used to substantiate this as well, several of which have wording like, “Verily, Satan flows in the bloodstream of Adam’s descendants” (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, pp. 1187–1188). In addition, Qur’an 14:22 suggests the possibility of spirit possession, but such is not absolutely clear from the passage itself. 

The Sunnah, the pattern of truth found in hadith, support spirit possession by jinn, and not only the possibility of such but also its reality. 

Spirit possession occurs from lack of faith in Allah, not performing prayers, lustful inclinations of jinn, or horseplay. Major trouble may occur if jinn become angry. The example given by Dr. Philips is interesting: a person accidentally splattering urine on or pouring hot water on the unseen jinn will make the jinn angry, who in retaliation may possess the offender. In general, jinn tend to be harsh, ignorant, and volatile. 

Jinn fool mediums into thinking that they, the medium, can call up spirits of the dead, who even impersonate deceased ancestors, often using unknown languages that no one can understand. 

Objects, animate or inanimate, may also be possessed, as Jinn can dwell in both. One example is that rats, which are possessed by jinn, force the necessity of putting out a candle’s flame at night less the rat use it to burn a person (see Qur’an 7:148 and 20:86–89). 

Jinn may also appear in visions, while a person is awake or asleep, in order to lead the faithful Muslim astray. 

Sihr is Arabic for magic and refers to whatever is caused by hidden forces. It can also refer to speech that is subtle and strange, and Muhammad is reported to have said, “Some forms of speech are magic” (Sahih al-Bukhari, vo. 7, p. 445, no. 662). 

In Sharia Law, magic is defined as “a contract or incantation, spoken or written, or something done which will affect the body, heart or mind of the one bewitched without actually coming in contact with him.” It is said that Allah may allow such magical deception to occur. 

Islamic scholars generally disavow the use of amulets and charms meant to ward off evil jinn, curses, and in order to achieve good fortune. There is a division amongst Muslim scholars as to the reality of magic, yet it is widely practiced, since in the Qur’an and the Sunnah magical practices are mentioned. Evidence of this is found in Qur’an 2:102; 113:4; and 7:116. Qur’an 113:4 reads, “And (I seek refuge) from the evil of the witches who blow on knots.” The blowing on knots, rope, or animal hair was a mechanism by which spells were cast. 

The Qur’anic verses 7:117 and 20:66 also refer to the reality of magical practices. Magic works through the power of jinn and Satan directly. It is evident then that spirit possession and magic are linked together, the second being dependent upon the first. 

The Evil Eye is known to all Muslims and is a major issue for them. It essentially refers to an evil glance or look, which is thought to have a powerful impact upon the person looked upon. Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1192, no. 5427 says, “The effect of the evil eye (al-‘ayn) is real, for if there were anything which could overtake destiny, it would have been (the effect of) the evil eye.” This effect is caused by jinn. 

Exorcism is the term used for the expulsion of evil spirits. The name of Allah may be invoked along with a number of other rituals such as the recitation of formulas, prayers, and the use of various artifacts, charms and amulets, thought to have spiritual power. A popular practice is for the exorcist to recite the Qur’an over a cup of water, which is then drunk by the patient. Beatings are frequently used to drive evil jinn out. 

Exorcism treatments, according to Islamic Law, are divided into prohibited and permitted categories. Prohibited and permitted treatments are those stated to be so by Islamic Law, but whatever measures prove to be of value belong to Allah. 

In Islam there is no official position known as the exorcist, but different tribes and language groups employ various titles, such as ‘amil in India and Pakistan. 

The methodology of exorcism generally involves the following steps: 

  1. The undoing of charms, where the spirit possession was the result of magic. Such charms are weakened or cancelled. Once a charm has been removed the spell is neutralized. 
  2. The possessing spirit is commanded to leave. The exorcist may engage the spirit in conversation. The jinn may be evil or good, Muslim or non-Muslim. Non-Muslim spirits may be converted to Islam. The possessing spirits can be corrected and admonished. 
  1. If a jinn refuses to leave, curses may be spoken by the exorcist. Offending jinn can be scolded, threatened, and “Allah’s curse” may be used against it. 
  2. Recitations from the Qur’an may be used for physical healing as well as driving out jinn. Such authority is found in Qur’an 17:82 and 10:57. 
  3. Ayah al-Kursi means “Verse of the Footstool” (Qur’an 2:255), which the Prophet said was the greatest verse in the Qur’an as it relates to humans. This verse is said to have power when it is read over a spirit-possessed person. 
  4. Surah al-Baqarah is the second chapter in the Qur’an, also known as “The Cow.” In Sahih Muslim, vol. 2, p. 337, no. 1707, Muhammad is reported to have said, “The devil flees from a house in which Surah al-Baqarah is read.” There are 286 verses in that chapter, the longest in the Qur’an. 
  5. The Basmalah is a term that means, “In the name of Allah” or “God the Merciful, the Compassionate.” This is spoken often by Muslims and is a kind of prayer or incantation. When spoken it is said to weaken or disarm Satan and the jinn. 
  6. Ta’awwudh is a word that means taking refuge or protection from Satan in Allah (Qur’an 41:36 and 23:97–98). It is powerful to ward off evil jinn and Satan. If a person remembers Allah when entering a house and while eating, then devils will not be welcome. 
  7. Adhan and iqamah are both calls to prayer and are said to have the ability to drive away demons. 
  8. Prophetic Prayers, found in various hadith, can cure illnesses and ward off jinn. 
  9. Natural medicines such as dates may be used to ward off physical trouble caused by jinn. A bath can protect against the evil eye (Sahih Muslim, vol. 3, p. 1192, no. 5427). 
  10. Beating can be used when all else fails. It is thought that only the jinn experience the pain inflicted on the possessed person. The pain causes the jinn to depart. 

Chapter Three: “Modern Muslim Exorcist” 

Methods of Exorcism 

A number of exorcists from the following seven countries were interviewed to determine the methods they used in exorcisms. 

Egypt: Recitation of the Qur’an; Crushed lotus leaves in water and Qur’an read over it then drunk; drinking and bathing; communication with jinn; command to leave; Adhan called in right ear and Uqamah in the left ear; Qur’an read over water and olive oil, water then drunk and oil rubbed on body. 

Saudi Arabia: Qur’an recited; grasping the neck; beating; Qur’an read over olive oil and water, oil rubbed and water drunk; string tied around finger and toes followed by beating; communication with jinn; command to leave; jinn bound with an oath to leave; blowing; slapping. 

Pakistan: Scented oil poured on cotton and Qur’an read over it and given to smell; Qur’an verses recited in the patient’s ear; patient shaken; a lock of hair of the patient’s wrapped around the finger of the exorcist; beating; Amulets with Qur’anic verses tied around patient’s arm; Qur’an read over water and drunk; Nails with Qur’anic verses read over them hammered in the four corners of the patient’s house; communication with jinn; jinn scolded and commanded to leave; incantation before lighting lamps and blowing over lamps causes jinn to leave patient, enter lamp and be burned; Qur’an recited over oil and poured in patient’s ear; knot tied in patient’s hair to imprison the jinn; bound with oath to leave; Patient tied; Qur’an recited; amulet put around patient’s neck or right arm; charm burnt and smoke inhaled. 

India: Patient recites over Qur’an; Qur’an recited over water then drunk and bathed with; Qur’an recited over patient; blowing; patient tied down, talismans made of lines, numerology and knowledge of names; charms written in saffron ink on plate, washed with milk and drunk; amulets with Qur’anic verses given to patient; communication with jinn; a lock of hair grabbed to arrest the jinn; knot tied in patient’s hair; prayers; amulet worn around neck for seven days. 

Trinidad: Qur’an recited over water and drunk; Qur’an recited and blown in patient’s face; supplications; prayers; command to leave; mustard oil put in patient’s right palm and Qur’an recited over patient with blowing; mustard oil placed in patient’s ear and sealed; nostrils pinched closed and palm with mustard oil held in front of mouth; patient’s limbs massaged and pressed to determine location of jinn; communication with jinn; jinn driven upward to head and hair; tied lock of hair cut off; beating. 

Bahrain: Patient faces Mecca, and line is drawn in front of him and another drawn around him, along with supplications; Qur’anic verses are recited; light beating; communication with jinn; command to leave. 

Sudan: Exorcist touches aching body part with hand; Qur’anic verses recited; point of pain blown upon; administered only at sunrise or sunset; Qur’anic verses written on plate or bowl, then washed with water, patient drinks water and water rubbed over body; Qur’an verses or their numerical equivalent written on paper and burned while patient inhales the fumes; amulets with Qur’anic verses written on are tied to patient’s ankle, waist, or neck; beating; fasting from meat and dairy products.

General notes: 

Other means of treatment are the following: the patient made unconscious by depressing the jugular veins, supposing the jinn will expose itself thereby; the jinn may be arrested by tying knots in a patient’s hair, the patient’s fingers and toes may be tied to arrest the jinn; amulets with Qur’anic verses written on them may be used; other occult sciences may also be employed. 

Most of those requesting exorcism are women. The jinn may be Muslim or non-Muslim. Exorcists attempt to convert non-Muslim jinn. In India and Pakistan there are few real cases of exorcism. Most are possessed by a single jinn. These jinn may be male or female. 

Signs of possession are the following: change of personality; physical changes; mental changes; spiritual changes. In this last category is included strong reactions to the Qur’an and/or to the adhan (the call to prayer), reaction to anything to do with the Qur’an as water drunk which the Qur’an has been recited over; abandonment of religious practices. 

Reasons for possession are the following: retaliation for harming the jinn and the patient is then possessed out of revenge; jinn love or lust in that the jinn want to have carnal love relations with the patient; mischief in which evil, non-Muslim jinn possess due to their love of sin; magic where a spell or curse is placed on the patient by other humans. 

Chapter Four: Discussion 

The author states, “Muslims today erroneously attribute the power to expel jinn to the exorcist himself, rather than the mercy of Allah, which is available to any believer” (p. 195). 

The chief and most effective element in Islamic exorcism is the use of the Qur’an. Dr. Philips writes, “Since the time of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) exorcism by Qur’anic recitation became an indisputable part of canonical prophetic tradition (the Sunnah)” (p. 196). He continues, “The practice of blowing over the demonically possessed patients or on the location where the patient complains of pain is unanimously applied by modern exorcists throughout the Muslim world at different points during their exorcising” (p. 196). 

The Qur’an is seen as a magical book, especially in regard to exorcism. This much is made plain in the description of the methods used by Muslim exorcists. An example is the reading over cups of water and/or olive oil, which apparently magically infuses the Qur’an into the liquids, then when drunk expels jinn. Dr. Philips admits that neither Muhammad nor his companions used such a means for exorcism, but such treatment did arise in the Muslim community at a later time. And this practice was based upon Qur’an 17:82 and 10:57, in addition to passages in the Sunnah. He is clear that the use of amulets and talismans is a deviation from standard Islamic practices. The use of occult sciences and numerology is an even greater deviation. As to beating, the opinion is mixed, and Dr. Philips mentions that some patients died as a result of a beating. 

The author states that the methodology of exorcism has changed little over the past fourteen centuries, and that Islam does not have persons cast in the role of exorcists (p. 205). 

Dr. Philips says, “much of the theory and practice of exorcism in Islam agrees with that of Christianity” (p. 204). It is clear that Muslim exorcists are not to employ any techniques that would involve shirk, which would be the association of any other deity with Allah. 

On this point, however, we must disagree, as we have shown in two books on the subject and after decades of active engagement with the actual and literal casting out of demons that only Jesus and those who act in his name actually cast out demons. 

Muslims and Christians both authenticate demon possession and the expelling of demons. The Muslims do so essentially in the name of Allah. Casting out demons in the name of Jesus, however, while proving demon possession, is far different from exorcism in the name of Allah. It is evident that the exorcists from the various countries, whose methodologies are presented in chapter three, rarely, if ever, commanded jinn to leave “in the name of Allah.” Other magical means were used. 

The issue of the effectiveness of Christian deliverance ministry, which employs no magical elements, is problematic for Dr. Philips, who readily admits the following: 

The question which remains to be answered regarding the Islamic view of exorcism is, “How does Islam explain successful exorcisms performed by Christians over the centuries, when it considers Christianity to be a false religion” (p. 210). 

Dr. Philips’ reasoning, and that of other Muslims who consider the issue, is that casting out of demons by Christians “in the name of Jesus” works because jinn react upon the employment of shirk, which the jinn regard as evil and so are motivated to leave the possessed person, but he also confusingly asserts that Christians cast out demons “in the name of God” and not in the name of Jesus, which would be effective. He is aware that Christian exorcism, preferably called deliverance ministry and fashioned after what is seen in the New Testament, is effectual, but only because of shirk. 

Dr. Philips asserts that those who attempt to exorcize demons in the name of Jesus or in the name of Muhammad are in the same category of error as any of the pagan religionists, which he contends is mere sorcery. And when demons do leave, or appear to leave, it reinforces the notion that there is power in such incantations.

Consequently, the jinn leave the diabolically possessed during Christian and pagan exorcisms by their own free will, having accomplished their malevolent goal of misguiding mankind as promised by Satan in the Qur’an.4 

4 Quoted from page 211.

Then Qur’an 7:16–17; 15:39; and 38:82 are quoted as proof. 

A final remark 

Generally, Christians do not consider saying “in the name of Jesus” to be a magical phrase or spell or incantation. We have been part of dozens of situations where demons were cast out without the words, “in the name of Jesus” even being spoken. The phrase simply means that Jesus has defeated Satan and the demonic kingdom by means of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and being seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. It is that Jesus has defeated all that belongs to Satan and the jinn. “The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And this Muslims simply cannot accept. 

There are many points where Islam and Christianity connect, and exorcism (deliverance) is one of them. Perhaps it is one of the most significant connectors. Dr. Philips’ book makes abundantly and sadly clear that Islam has no real way of dealing with the demonic kingdom except by various incantations, prayers, and rituals, which seem not to be effective. Indeed, the average Muslim is at the mercy of a most vicious foe. Combating magic with magic is deceptive, ineffectual, and dangerous. 

It is in the realm of spiritual warfare where Bible-based Christians will be able to connect with Muslims and share the love of God with them. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the only One who casts out demons, and this is one ministry Christians will be able to bring to Muslim friends. 

David in London, chapter 45 of Memoirs of a Jesus Freak

David had disappeared into The Family. Almost immediately, I began receiving letters from him post marked from some little town in Texas. It turned out he was at COG’s Texas Soul Clinic, a ranch-like property owned by Fred Jordan.

David made the best case he could for me to join up with The Family. I learned later that those letters were nearly dictated by his “shepherds” who rode herd on him during the early months. I kept every one of them. Only a few of those “evangelistic” missives arrived in the mail, then nothing. The next communications were different; David began to sound like he was being mistreated. Knowing David, he had discovered the real nature of COG and was beginning to challenge the leadership. (David had grown up in lockups in California and had spent two years in a federal prison; no one would be pushing him around for long.) I reasoned that it would only be a while before he either fled the scene or was booted out.

My Own Cultic Experience

Beginning about 1988, while pastor of Miller Avenue Baptist Church in Mill Valley, I began a workshop on cult recovery; it continued for six years. Each workshop consisted of 26 sessions, and I repeated it twelve times. I placed ads in the Marin Independent Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle inviting people to the workshop and was shocked at the response. There were Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness elders, ex-Catholics, Pentecostals, fundamentalists of various sorts, Baptists, and folks I knew well, drop outs from the Church of the Open Door. 

One of the reasons I started the cult recovery workshop goes back to 1977, when I began a doctoral program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, a Presbyterian institution, and my major professor was Dr. Louis Rambo. He happened to be one of America’s foremost experts on cults and conversion. 

In 1978, Lou told me that Church of the Open Door had a pronounced cultic nature to it, and his actual words were blunt: “Church of the Open Door is a cult.” The next week I brought him a copy of our statement of faith, which Lou examined but explained to me that, while our theology was orthodox enough, our ecclesiology or methodology was not. Lou explained what he meant. By the time I finished listening to what he had to say, I was shocked to the core. He actually put into words what I had been feeling for years. Indeed, the cultic nature he observed was what I had seen in the Shepherding Movement, yet I was unable to see that I was mired in something similar. 

Our primary trouble was the use of intimidating and manipulative tactics on people who were vulnerable, people who thought they were hearing from God through us. We had everyone believing that God spoke through the leaders of the church as well as the Bible. This communication came through words of knowledge, words of wisdom,1 

1 See 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. interpretation of tongues, and especially prophecy. He was spot on it, and I knew I was guilty, and more so than anyone else. I was the senior pastor, and everything that happened was essentially on my watch. So I began making attempts to correct our methods, only to run into a brick wall. Other leaders did not see things the way I did, and I couldn’t blame them. I experienced rejection, which effectively further isolated me. 

Back to David 

When David linked up with COG he had no way of knowing how twisted David Berg was becoming. My replies to David’s letters were likely not too helpful to him. Then there was another, much longer, period of silence. 

One day, I think in 1974, I received a letter from David written from Upper Norwood, a suburb of London.2 

2 David will be writing about this period in his life, which will be published. Not being sure of the details, I will skip most of it and relate only what happened to me.He had escaped out of the COG, but his family was still in and staying in an unknown location. My speculation is that David had been traveling in Europe hoping to find them; leaders of The Family were skilled at making people disappear. We exchanged a few letters, and then he sent one requesting that I come to London to help with a group of Jesus People from Wisconsin who were performing music at U.S. military bases across Europe.3 

3 The background for this is long and involved, and David, in his account of the JPM, will detail this far more completely than I am able to do. The band was called Sheep and was performing a rock opera called Lonesome Stone, developed with David’s input. 

Somehow David had met and become friends with Kenneth Frampton.4 

4 This is another long and involved story I don’t remember well. I did have an office in one of Mr. Frampton’s buildings in South Bromley and met numbers of people who were engaged in smuggling Bibles into the countries behind the Iron Curtain. And it was then that I met George Verwer who began Operation Mobilization. On several occasions I was a guest of the Verwers, who lived in a Frampton property in South Bromley, and learned of the incredible missionary work OM was and is engaged in.a big time real estate owner who later helped the Wisconsin youth group come to England. Due to David’s recommendation, Mr. Frampton, who was one of the most wonderful and gracious Christians I have ever known, invited me to come to London and help pastor the Wisconsin folks. 

My first trip to London lasted six weeks, and I never saw the sun once. I was staying in a big old house in Upper Norwood, just a block or so from the gravesite of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, although I did not at the time know who he was. I was in the house’s top floor, the fifth floor, and no light or heat ascended all the way up there. 

David was playing the role of Stone in the rock opera Lonesome Stone. Stone was a young hippie trying to find himself but was finally found by God, and at the Churchill Theatre in London, I saw a live show for the first time. Following that we got on a train to Liverpool and more performances of Lonesome Stone. The theatre was next door to the place where the Beatles started, and it was a popular nightclub at that time. Shepherd played there one evening; the place was jammed with kids, and that excellent band played some of the best Jesus music I had ever heard. 

That six-week period, although I was cold to the bone the whole time, led to several more trips to London and establishing a mission.5 

5 Some of those who led in this mission were Roger and Ava Hoffman, Carol Pohl, and David Philpott—an Englishman and no relation to me, though we are Facebook friends. from Church of the Open Door, Open Door Commission.6 

6 One of the efforts of the Open Door Commission was to establish a church in Mexico City. Jim Smith, a Golden Gate Seminary graduate, and a very fine preacher and teacher, led the way in this. I made several trips to Natividad, a barrio on the eastern edge of Mexico City, where Jim planted the church. The adventures encountered are worthy of a middle length book, but what I remember most was a certain taco stand and preaching a sermon entirely in Spanish.something I had instigated a couple of years before. 

Quickly, we gathered some people and began to do street evangelism all over the city, mostly in the popular tourist locations like Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. To this day I receive communications, mostly by way of Facebook, from some of those Londoners who responded to the Gospel during that period. 

David Hoyt must be considered one of the most significant personages of the Jesus People Movement. While I stayed mostly in San Francisco and Marin counties, he took the awakening to southern California, back up to the East Bay, then to southern states, eventually nine of them. Yes, he fell into the hands of a notorious cult, but he never gave up being a follower of Jesus. And it was David, who more than anyone else that I am aware of, took the JPM to England, many parts of England for that matter. 

As I look back on my Christian life, some fifty years of it now, I have observed that, although Christians stumble, fall, and make a mess of things, still those genuinely converted will, by the grace of God, get back up and continue following Jesus. 

The Birther from The Preposterous God

Chapter 11

The new birth, born from above, conversion, salvation, redemption, reconciliation—all are synonyms, and all are brought into being by the Birther, the Creator God. 

It must be so; we simply cannot birth ourselves. 

None of us birthed ourselves physically. And this is the point Jesus makes in the third chapter of John, which we examine below. We know we did not physically birth ourselves and so it is with the new birth. This is perhaps the most difficult fact that humankind has ever been faced with. Why? Because we are convinced we have to save ourselves. 

The greatest story ever told 

Now a look back to the early days of Jesus’ ministry. A distinguished and mature leader of Israel named Nicodemus approached Jesus at night. He said to the young man, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). 

Jesus performed many miracles, and this did not go unnoticed by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. “What does this mean?” must have been on their minds. Could it be that this young fellow from Nazareth is someone to be reckoned with? 

Whether Nicodemus came to Jesus on the sly or as an emissary from other members of the Council of Israel, the Sanhedrin, is unknown. He started with what might be referred to as flattery. Jesus stunned the learned rabbi by stating, “I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). 

Nicodemus said nothing that might have inspired Jesus to say what He did. Though Nicodemus might have been looking for information, Jesus aimed straight at his heart, because He knew his heart. 

Nicodemus immediately stated the impossibility of being born a second time; no going back to the mother’s womb. Jesus followed up with the fact that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again, not even an esteemed and righteous man. Jesus cautioned Nicodemus not to be shaken by what He said and further explained that the new birth can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. 

It is necessary to know, if we are to understand the next thing Jesus said, that the Greek word for spirit is the same word used for wind and breath. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (v. 3:8).1 The translation “wind” is used due to the idea of wind blowing, a sound that can often be heard, and the same can be said of the Spirit of God (see Acts 2:1–4). 

1 The word in John 3:8 translated “wind” is the Greek word pneuma. It is the same word “spirit” as in Holy Spirit. 2 

What did Nicodemus hear? Jesus told him that all his wonderful righteousness could not open his eyes to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was actually looking at the King of the kingdom of God. No, Nicodemus would have to be birthed into that kingdom. 

At the conclusion of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, as related by the Apostle John, Jesus says to Him: 

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16) 

What Nicodemus was looking for was standing right in front of him. His heart’s desire, like that of all people, was to know the Creator God and live for eternity. Nicodemus was at a stage in his life when he knew that all the other enticements his decadent culture meant next to nothing. 

Jesus’ words echoed and affirmed by the Apostle Peter. In the first letter attributed to Peter is this: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5) 

Peter knew birthing by the Holy Spirit, who alone brings salvation, is a gift of mercy and grace, accomplished by God alone. He is the Birther. 

A new creation 

Those born again, born anew, or born from above (these are synonyms) are, in Paul’s lexicon, a new creation. He said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

A new creation, a new race, a new people—are those birthed through the working of the Holy Spirit who reveals to us our sinful nature and the Savior, all for the purpose of preparing us to be re-birthed. 

Always and forever unimaginable 

Saved by grace reigns as the very most preposterous concept. And why? We simply cannot come to grips with the fact that we cannot earn the favor of God is some manner. In our attempts to do so we must lapse into some form of agnosticism or atheism. I have often said that if I were not a Christian I would certainly be an atheist. 

All the religions of the world save Christianity provides paths, ways, means, or  directions that a human can pursue to obtain some ultimate goal. Herein are the counterfeit means of salvation, which lead to nothing more than deception and hopelessness. To be saved, redeemed, converted, born again—is something only the Holy Spirit of God can do.