Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mark Driscoll, "I see things", cessationists, prophets, and recovered memories

Readers will have noted I wrote a lengthy series expressing my reservations about Driscoll's approach to Song of Songs.  I've also written my thoughts on the logo situation and about giving trends.  I have been intending to write for some time about the "I see things" clip.  I listened to the whole spiritual warfare series back in 2008 while I was still attending mars Hill.  I also actually picked up the unabridged The Christian in Full Armour by William Gurnall because I learned of it through a Boar's Head Tavern discussion. Unfortunately I have since lent it to someone and I have no idea who!  I have wanted to read the book simply out of curiosity because so many books purporting to deal with spiritual warfare have been, well, too ... "Pentecostal" for my taste.  Alas, reading the book has been a non-starter but such is life. 

This is something I've been meaning to write about for months but I have wanted to avoid writing anything merely off the cuff.  I have also wanted (ardently) to avoid writing from some passion of the moment.  I've seen a lot of for and against about Driscoll over the years and longtime readers will know most of it drives me completely up the wall.  Like Spiderman battling Doctor Octopus levels of up the wall.

The subject of Driscoll's clip from the 2008 presentation in January to church leaders has been whether the claims are legitimate and whether Driscoll is insane for having made the claims he has made.  I've already seen a variety of claims.  One is that he's lying through his teeth and knows this is all a farce.  Atheists make that one, surprise.  Another is the cessationist "pornographic divination" variety that is probably exemplified by the Team Pyro kind of case.  Neither of these seem to get at Driscoll and they won't get to him, either.  He's not an atheist and he's a former cessationist in leaning.  Part of why he backed off was due to some experiences he said he had.
By 2002 he and I had discussed exegetical problems in how most cessationists attempt to get their views into passages that can't be interpreted in a cessationistic way, most famously 1 Cor 13.  There basically is no strictly exegetical defense of cessationism and Driscoll came to this conclusion ten years ago.  Having conversed with Driscoll personally about the work of Wayne Grudem, Gordon Fee, and others I am in a position to know that Driscoll also became disillusioned with what he considered to be John MacArthur's irresponsible polemics against charismatic/Pentecostal/continuationist theology.

Driscoll rejects dispensationalism and won't endorse either the Rapture or post-millenialism in its theonomistic varieties.  He also rejects an abstainence from alcohol teaching even though for years he avoided drinking alcohol himself.

But cessationist critiques of Driscoll's claims to visions aren't the only basis from which to express concerns about Driscoll's "I see things" claims.  Secular science in psychology and cognitive development have established decades ago that recovered memories are, at best, problematic.  In this respect I find the secularist skepticism about a recovered memory of a sexual immorality ten years ago to be more plausible an objection than a cessationist simply asserting that Driscoll must be guilty of divination.  The idea that God can't look upon evil as a reason that God wouldn't beam visions of violence into Driscoll's had is the kind of straw man that gets into a freak gasoline fight accident with the friends of Derek Zoolander and then lights up a cigarette.  Of course God sees evil in some fashion or there's no point in Genesis 6, is there?  There's no point in a final eschatological judgment, either.  If God can't even look on evil how were authors of scripture inspired to write down Amnon raping Tamar or Onan's refusal to continue his brother's family line? And what about the Levite's concubine? 

Another problem with the claim of pornographic divination comes from the issue of what sort of role a pastoral role actually is.  In this matter many cessationists want to judge preachers as though they were prophets yet there are countless Christians and some church traditions that consider pastors to be priests.  If the pastoral role is a priestly role then, yes, all those prohibitions against divination make sense.  Notice, however, that the modes of divination forbidden to the priest are to the priest.  They appear as a set of things priests are not allowed to do.  Elisha asked a man to tap arrows on the ground and the number of times he tapped the arrows on the ground would indicate the number of victories he had.  Elisha cursed a group of children for mocking him and they were mauled by bears. Ezekiel and Isaiah and other prophets were known to do and say very odd things.  Elisha told Namaan to bathe himself in the Jordan seven times.  Elisha advised actions that could, depending on how you looked at things, seemed curiously like sympathetic magic. 

As Susan Garrett put it in her books on diabology in Luke and Mark, one of the challenges of defining witchcraft or sorcery is that it often has an inherently polemical definition.  One person's holy man is another person's sorcery and this is shown most explicitly in the accusation Pharisees made against Jesus, claiming that His exorcisms were performed in the power of Satan.  Strictly speaking Jesus' rebuttal that if Satan casts out Satan he is at war against himself is not a completelly watertight argument.  After all, if it had been no one would have continued to want to kill Jesus.  So some of the challenge here, amongst actually religious people, is that a claim that Driscoll must be guilty of pornographic divination is that the claim is already a polemic which assumes the worst about Driscoll without adequately backing up the assertion.  What is divination?  I'm not suggesting cessationists could never have a basis for making that assertion but they would need to explain what they actually mean by divination. 

But another aspect to consider here is what the nature of the pastoral role actually is.  Deuteronomy's warnings against divination is a warning for priests.  As I have considered here, prophets in the OT could occasionally act in ways that could be construed as a form of sympathetic magic depending on who was interpreting things.  Saul, famously, sought the witch of Endor to get in touch with Samuel after the prophet/judge's death.  We could propose for the sake of yet another tangent in this post that a difference between Samuel's understanding and David's understanding of Samuel's role could have been that David understood Yahweh to be guiding him through Samuel's actions while Saul saw Samuel as another seer and someone who was not necessarily any more special than another seer he could have hired to find his father's livestock.  If it is possible for two different annointed kings to view the same prophet as either a prophet or as someone to consult for divination this, too, may suggest that an attempt on the part of a Christian to evaluate Driscoll's claims may not always be as simple as cessationists would claim it is.

For instance, let's take the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy.  There are no actual prohibitions on how prophets might hear or perceive the word of the Lord. In fact Elisha called on a musician and after hearing the musician spoke an oracle.  Trance-induced states inspired by music were certainly not unheard of in ancient prophetic guilds.  Though the priests were barred from resorting to divination methods common in Canaan there is no description of how one would actually recognize a prophet of the Lord other than the negative test of a failed prediction.

Yete here, too, the popular passage cited by cessationists runs into some challenging test cases.  For instance, Jeremiah was nearly killed for predictiing devastation and was accused of being a traitor.  He was kept alive by elders who realized that until what had come to pass actually came to pass, or failed to occur, then it was too soon to kill Jeremiah as some false prophet.  Conversely, as I discussed in my series about Driscoll and Song of Songs, Ezekiel's prediction in chapaters 26-28 about Tyre was not fulfilled in exactly the way the most literal reading of the texts would often suppose.  What's more in a post-exilic context what group was around to stone Ezekiel as a false prophet anyway?  Jonah's own anger at God was because he anticipated God would be merciful and spare Ninevah, this would make Jonah come off like a false prophet predicting a woe that didn't come.  Of course Jonah was prophesying against Ninevah and not Jerusalem, but perhaps Jonah didn't much care about that detail.  He still wanted to die.

All of this is to say that if pastors are seen as playing prophetic roles it becomes nearly impossible to condemn them for any claims of visions or spiritual insight because the OT never condemns prophets for claiming to have those things.  Here, too, we must note that the test for a false prophet is that if what he says DOES NOT COME TO PASS you have no reason to fear him.  But since in Driscoll's case he's making claims about things that happened in the past it becomes impossible to find Driscoll wanting on the basis of the criteria of a false prophet at the most literal application of Deuteronomy 18.  He's not telling people to worship gods other than Yahweh, he affirms the Trinity.  He does not endorse sorting through the organs of birds or sacrificing children by passing them through fire or the various forms of necromancy mentioned in the Torah as off limits.  And if preachers are exercising the gift of prophecy or continuing a prophetic office how would prohibitions on priestly appropriation of divination even be relevant?

Of course plenty of Christians understand the pastoral office to be, in essence, a priestly role.  And someone, could, I suppose, say that the whole body of Christians constitute a priesthood of all believers.  But by that measure every Christian could conceivably ask for the gift of prophecy and get that gift. 

Though I have heard it asserted time and again that prophecy is preaching this does not adequately account for the prophetic role as described in Deuteronomy 16-18.  I'm not in the habit of referring to Frank Crusemann but his book on the Torah has been instructive at at least one point, in his break-down of the judicial implications of Deutoronomy as a way to shape the legal milleu of Israel.   Cruseman notes that the most important common judicial reference points for case law were the tribal chieftains and judges.  These were appointed by the people adn the elders of the land.  If there were judicial cases too difficult for the tribal magistrates the case would go on up to the judge or acting priest who would then settle the matter.  Whatever the priest or judge decided upon was the final decision.

Provisions were made for a king to be appointed by the people at God's direction.  Crusemann notes, usefully, that the king is to be a fellow Israelite. He was not to amass too many wives, too much gold, or too many horses.  Here Crusemann notes that a mass of wives is easy to explain.  Too much gold might indicate that the king was actually not supposed to levy much by way of taxes and should be relatively self-sufficient in terms of his means.  Crusemann camps out a bit on the significance of horse, explaining that this Deuteronomistic prohibition would refer to checking the level of power the king's personal guard and standing army would have.  Having consulted some works by Israeli Defense Force authors on biblical texts I'm now in a position to get some idea of what Crusemann is getting at--the king is never to have a standing army or personal guard so numerous and powerful that it can overwhelm the tribal civilian militias.  There are a set of checks and balances decentralizing a lot of power away from any one branch.  The king is actually not authorized to appoint regional judges, which is something the people are supposed to do. 

Finally we get to the prohibitions against the priests using divination methods common in Canaan at the time.  They are told to not practice the abominations of the locals and the priests are to instead consult the prophet.  The prophet is mentioned after the priests are given prohibitions against any divination to discover God's will.  Why would a priest want to figure out the will of God?  Well, the narrative literature explains this.  Priests would enquire after the Lord on behalf of men like David or Saul.  Priests would end up speaking to ordinary people like Hannah.  A king might not know whether or not to go into battle with a certain country or whether to stay uninvolved.

One of the difficulties with attempting to say that modern times cannot have prophets because that spiritual office has stopped is that this raises the question of what that office was supposed to do.  If prophecy were merely "preaching", which is what any pastor does, then a cessationist interpretation of 1 Cor 13's "but where there is prophecy it shall cease" becomes impossible if "that which is perfect" ever referred to the canon itself. 

Now there are cessationists who are not that lazy and so the question arises of how prophecy has continued into the present.  If prophecy is preaching then we still have the gift of prophecy.  But this makes a hash of what the role of prophecy actually was throughout the Old Testament.  To be sure prophecy could include preaching but preaching to who?  Did Gad the seer preach much when he was David's consulting prophet in his earlier career?  Was Nathan preaching when he and Bathsheba conspired to get Solomon installed upon the throne?  Deborah was a prophetess and she advised a significant military campu in pre-monarchic Israel, right?  Huldah was the prophetess consulted during the years of Josiah's reform.  Phillip the evangelist had daughters who prophesied.  If the prophetic role involves preaching then those cessationists who equate prophecy with preaching who are also egalitarians at least have a consistent position, but it's not clear that anyone who looks at the Ot will see that the role of the prophet was preaching, not in terms of preaching as the role in which a spiritual leader instructs God's people about the scriptures. 

Both cessationists and charismatics seem to spend a lot of time defining terms related to New Testament texts rather than anchoring a discussion of the office or role of prophet in Old Testament literature.  There is also a propensity to only interpret Deuteronomy 18 or comment on it in terms of Jesus.  Now it's typologically a given that Jesus fulfills Deuteronomy 18 perfectly for Christians ... but if we look at Deuteronomy 16-18 as a judicial summary the role of the prophet is to speak on behalf of the Lord in cases that no one else can consult. 

To spell this out even more obviously, the Torah establishes hundreds of laws that form case law and a basis for dealing with a range of common social and religious situations.  In the vast majority of cases a tribal chieftain or elder or judge would hear those cases.  If the case were unusually tough it would go to the priest or judge over Israel.  If there were a judge or king and there were an unusual military situation the prophet would be consulted. Why?  Well, for instance Deuteronomy forbids Israel from going to war with Moab on the basis of kinship.  What happens if Moab attacks Israel, though?  Should they defend themselves?  Should they do nothing in case God has providentially designed some other way to thwart the plans of Moab?  Deuteronomy 29:29 establishes that the secret things belong to the Lord but the laws are for all God's people forever.  A prophet had a role that was a concession to the reality that though the Torah (i.e. the given scriptures of that time) were sufficient for understanding the character and story of Yahweh with His people, it was not so comprehensive that a prophet didn't need to be consulted to understand Yahweh's will in unusual circumstances not covered by Mosaic case law. 

In other words, though the scriptures were authoritative to define the lives and faith of God's people it was not presented as so comprehensive as to deal with every judicial, economic, or military scenario or to cover every conceivable form of case law.  For this reason priests were barred from resorting to divination techniques and were commanded to consult prophets.  Though prophets were considered to speak as authoritatively for God they were not going to be consulted for the majority of cases, which the given scriptures would account for.  The prophet served as a kind of divine ad hoc consultant, frequently as religious and military advisors to kings and priests.  In other words, prophets were not, so far as social role went, the official leaders.  There were prophetic guilds and professional prophets but it was not necessary for a prophet to have the "job" full time.  Amos, famously, declared he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (i.e. in one of those guilds) but someone upon whom the Spirit of God rested to speak.  Amos herded sheep and tended sycamore trees.  So if a prophet or prophetic office indicates "preaching" or "pastor" now Amos was some kind of bivocational pastor.

Somewhat more seriously, the OT precedent for prophets is as advisors rather than executive or adminsitrative leaders.  Huldah could verify the authenticity of the book of the Law because she was a prophet.  Jeremiah in 8:8 is able to confirm that the scriptures themselves were being made into falsehoods by corrupt scribes and priests.  Prophets not only played an important role in advising the royal court, they also had a significant role in providing some criticism of priestly corruption.  Of course prophets themselves could be corrupt and so at times prophets had to speak up against the corruption of the prophetic guild itself. 

All of this is to observe that if anyone proposes that prophecy is "preaching" then women must be permitted to be prophets on the basis of Huldah and Deborah, since it would take a series of mental contortions worthy of Plastic Man to dismiss their roles.  It becomes even more problematic in light of Joel and the promise that daughters would prophecy, to say nothing of the daughters of Phillip the evangelist.  Rather than attempt to fix a definition of prophecy from debates about NT text it is necessary to look at the cumulative witness of OT literature to establish what prophets did and how that would have informed NT precedent.  This is something I have not seen done often enough either by cessationists or charismatics. 

In light of Deuteronomy 16-18 as a foundational text for establishing the judicial/political role of the prophet within Israelite theocracy it is important to bear in mind that prophets were not intended to supplant divine revelation in the scriptures but to supplement it in ad hoc situations in which the Torah did not address a particular dillemma.  To merely assert that NT prophets "exhorted" or "encouraged" is to ignore the entire OT precedent for understanding the role of prophets within Judaism.  Prophets, though like Moses in speaking the words of God, are not introduced within Mosaic law as playing any role in making eschatological predictions.  As Frank Crusemann put it, eschatological prophecy is not the scope of prophetic activity prescribed and promised in Deuteronomy. To go just by the lives of Deborah and Huldah it was not entirely a given that prophets of the Lord would invariably be male even within the OT period.  So it becomes difficult to sustain a case that prophets are to be men because the scriptures don't uniformly establish this point, even though some complementarians would mightily wish for it.

When we get to the New Testament discussion of prophets we see that in Acts 2 Peter describes David as a prophet.  Certain Israelites from the past were seen as having a prophetic role even though David was primarily king.  Within Acts an important role is played by the prophet Agabus, who warns of a pending famine, and also predicts Paul's eventual imprisonment.  Curiously Paul hears the prophecy and goes on anyway.  Agabus predicted a famine and Paul's eventual imprisonment. 

All of this is to note that "if" a prophet is a role fulfilled by the modern-day preacher then the prohibitions against the priesthood making use of anything called divination is irrelevant.  Driscoll can't be called a false prophet if a pastor is a prophetic role.  If, however, a pastor is a priestly role then the accusations become significant.  Yet this would necessitate abandoning the entire idea that pastors and preachers have any prophetic role.  This would be, I propose, the natural outgrowh of taking OT literature by and about prophets seriously. If only men could be prophets God seemed to take pleasure in breaking that rule at least twice. 

If prophecy only means preaching then most prophets have never produced work that we can consider preaching.  Elijah, often considered one of the greatest prophets, wrote absolutely nothing.  Gad the seer was David's advisor for some time.  He didn't seem to preach anything preserved for us.  When the NT authors speak of Christ fulfilling the Law and the prophets in question wouldn't refer to all prophets as a group across time and space, but the prophets whose works were considered of essentially canonical status within Judaism at that time.  "According to the scriptures" was still somewhat in flux then.  If everything associated with an apostle or a prophet were considered authoritative Protestants would include the letter of Jeremiah or the letter of Baruch.  Pseudopigrapha being what it is I'm not going to bunny trail off on to that. 

What is worth mentioning is that Agabus, one of the named prophets does more than just "exhort" or "encourage" disciples.  He predicts a famine that becomes a basis for an aid campaign to Judea.  He also predicts Paul's imprisonment.  The precedent of prophetic function within the OT was to speak to issues that were not covered in the Torah.  Agabus' predictions as a prophet are consistent with an advisory role in subordination to leaders among God's people.  Agabus was, we may surmise, prompted by God to mention a pending famine and Paul's imprisonment.  We are not told that the disciples anticipated this famine. 

A digression into Acts 10 may be in order.  In this chapter, famously, Peter receives the vision of the animals in the white sheet.  He refuses to eat any animals therein because they are unclean and a voice says "What God has called clean you will not all unclean." It should go without saying Peter experienced a prophetic vision.  What was the aim of this prophetic vision?  Surely we know but it should be said anyway, God declared the Gentiles to be able to be in the followers of Christ.  In other words, while Jesus' teaching within a Jewish context was understood clearly enough among Jewish Christians it was not so clear what the global implications were for the nature of Christ's resurrection and the good news.  Anyone who wants to get some idea what the role of the prophetic was in either the OT or NT needs to bear in mind that certain events described in Acts bear all the hallmarks of prophetic insight and prophetic discoveries whether or not they are explicitly described as prophetic in the plainest fashion. 

In other words, if Driscoll is going to be labeled some kind of false prophet it can't be on the basis of priestly restrictions unless all preachers are performing a priestly role rather than a prophetic role.
Given how lazy and inaccurate the prophet/priest/king shorthand has become in a lot of new Calvinist writings I feel it would warrant a whole separate discussion ... but I'm just letting my remarks about that sit within this context where I trust the basic idea comes across. 
All that said, I am not convinced that either cessationists or charismatics have adequately defined or explored biblical texts establishing what prophets did and what their role was.  No prophet had as a goal "writing books of the Bible".  The Spirit's activity is not in every possible respect the same as what prophets would have understand about their work.  They were shown that they were writing not for themselves but for you.  Of course they were also writing for "you" as in "them" from the earliest recipients of the message.

Yet prophecy in Acts indicates at least a possibility that the authority and sufficiency of the message of Christ was not so comprehensive as to preclude the need for an Agabus to predict a famine or the eventual imprisonment of Paul.  Jesus Himself predicted to Peter the way in which Peter would die.  John received Revelation at Patmos. If Jesus' coming had brought in "all truth" in the sense of an all-encompassing divine revelation it did not preclude the Spirit giving different people at different times knowledge or insight not expressly laid out in Jesus' own words. 

In other words, it's not impossible to note a continuity of the subordinate, advisory role of prophetic activity in Acts that corresponds to the advisory role prophets played within the OT and as prescribed by the Torah.  Speaking the word of God into a situation did not mean the prophet had unquestionable authority.  Deuteronomy 18 famously states that if a prophet's words do not come true then the prophet has not been sent by the Lord.  But as I have attempted to illustrate through the Torah and the OT literature that prophets were ever needed was a concession that though the Torah was sufficient and authoritative it was never considered comprehensive.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 "we know in part and we prophesy in part".  When that which is perfect comes prophesy will cease because Paul will known even as he is fully known.  In other words prophecy will cease when Christ returns and not before.  If prophecy is "preaching" then, of course, this must necessarily be true.  However, even if prophecy is not preaching this will remain true.

Do we then worry that anyone can claim to be a prophet and have authority on par with the Bible?  No, because a proper understanding of the limitations on the role of the prophet within the OT can guide us.  When we bear in mind that within the Mosaic covenant prophets were only even necessary to consult in cases that were extremely unusual and not covered by the Torah  As Frank Crusemann noted in his comments about Deuteronomy 18 and prophets, the people of Israel were still supposed to wait until the thing predicted by the prophet did not come to pass before taking any action against the prophet. The other test of a false prophet had to do with leading people away from the Lord.  If Driscoll is going to be accused of divination and false prophecy it needs to be established that Driscoll is enticing people away from worshipping God as Father, Son and Spirit.

While Phil Johnson may be determined that Driscoll's salacious content precludes his having any Spirit given super-powered visions Johnson needs to remember the salacious yet Spirit-super-powered Samson from the book of Judges.  Judges says that God used Samson's sexual avarice and stupidity as a way to punish the Phillistines.  God also used David, despite his having many wives and being an adulterer.  In fact David is referred to by Peter in Acts 2 as a prophet.  If Phil Johnson wants to argue that someone with impure sexual thoughts can't be used by the Holy Spirit then David presents a  conundrum that can't be fielded simply by any eschatological framework differentiating between the OT and NT.

The most credible criticism I have seen anyone bring to the table about Driscoll's claim to spiritual superpowers of seeing other people sin or being sinned against came from Unreasonable Faith:

Let’s consider what is happening here: Driscoll, a trusted and authoritative preacher, is telling people that God has shown him that they were abused. If we’ve learned anything about the mind in the past few decades, it’s that memory is far more slippery than we’d like to believe. Could Driscoll be creating the memory he believes that he’s revealed?

You can listen to Elizabeth Loftus being interviewed on SGU on the topic of false memories. She focuses on therapists who – intentionally or unintentionally – implant false memories of abuse in their patients. It seems possible to me that Driscoll’s talks with the victims he has visions about could result in the same thing.

I’m open to being corrected by someone who knows more about the science of memory than I do. But to me, this goes beyond absurd. This is actually dangerous and very, very damaging.

During the 1980s and the early 1990s there was a repressed memory fad making the rounds.  I saw it in a few Christian publications, too.  Recovered memory therapy has been debunked as of decades ago.  We know enough about cognitive development and neurobiology to establish that while it is "possible" to have some repressed memories it is not possible to have sustained long-term memory until around the ages of 6-7 depending on the child.  I found out that this varies when I asked my niece if she remembered the Star Wars in Concert performance I took her to see a year after the event, she didn't remember it.  Oh well, she had fun while we were at the concert!  :)  I trust my point is simple enough, if people who believe Driscoll is guilty of divination want to make that case they should at least go the distance and say they believe that the recovered memory movement or recovered memory methods of therapy constitute divination.

And you know what?  I would be willing to "kind of" agree with them on that given the majority of material I've considered on recovered memories and my own first and second hand experience of people who have employed healing-of-memory or recovered memory methods.  Only things like the recovered traumas or sins-in-progress Driscoll has claimed, if they aren't legitimate, don't have to be "divination".  Anyone who spent any time around people enthralled with the recovered memory ministry movement in the early 1990s knows that a recovered memory session might be the basis for an exorcism. 

For instance, I know of a case in which a woman who was a professing Christian, during a prayer time swelled up like a red balloon and began shrieking and screaming.  It took two grown men with former Marine corps service a good chunk of their strength to keep the woman from harming herself or others.  After a length ad hoc exorcism a man in the group, who led a home church/home fellowship I was conscripted into attending by parents a time or two, began to talk to the woman, who by all appearances would seem to fit a case of demonization.  The man prayed a bit and talked her through a scenario that was unsettling because it seemed to be spun out in the moment--when she was a teenager long ago she hung out with Mexicans who did things with her and got demons into.

Well, later the woman went to a pastor, happy to report she was free of any demonic influence.  The counseling pastor apparently was not wholly convinced and had her sent for evaluation.  Medications were prescribed.  Since the woman was a professing Christian it might be impossible to grant that the woman was really demon-possessed (unless your theology allows for that). On the other hand, the person could have had a psychotic break or a delusional episode.  For a Christian wholly committed to the idea that there is no such thing as mental illness the demon explanation would be the only acceptable one.  Yet this woman was a practicing Christian.  On the whole it seems if I had to pick one of two explanations I'd lean toward the psychotic break explanation, particularly if I were to learn that the family lineage has some history of neurological disorders.  I once had the unenviable task of suggesting to a long-time friend that given his brother's history with epilepsy and his mother's mood disorders that he might have bipolar disorder.  So I am not speaking as someone who only has "book learnin'" about people who have mental or emotional disorders.

Okay, having written all that, I want to get to the subject of the malleability of memory generally  ... it happens that a professor specializing in studying the flaws and limits happens to have been around here in the Seattle area, Elizabeth Loftus.
 In Missouri in 1992 a church counselor helped Beth Rutherford to remember during therapy that her father, a clergyman, had regularly raped her between the ages of seven and 14 and that her mother sometimes helped him by holding her down. Under her therapist's guidance, Rutherford developed memories of her father twice impregnating her and forcing her to abort the fetus herself with a coat hanger.The father had to resign from his post as a clergyman when the allegations were made public. Later medical examination of the daughter revealed, however, that she was still a virgin at age 22 and had never been pregnant. The daughter sued the therapist and received a $1-million settlement in 1996.


It is highly unlikely that an adult can recall genuine episodic memories from the first year of life, in part because the hippocampus, which plays a key role in the creation of memories, has not matured enough to form and store longlasting memories that can be retrieved in adulthood.
In the lost-in-the-mall study, implantation of false memory occurred when another person, usually a family member, claimed that the incident happened. Corroboration of an event by another person can be a powerful technique for instilling a false memory. In fact, merely claiming to have seen a person do something can lead that person to make a false confession of wrongdoing.

This effect was demonstrated in a study by Saul M. Kassin and his colleagues at Williams College, who investigated the reactions of individuals falsely accused of damaging a computer by pressing the wrong key. The innocent participants initially denied the charge, but when a confederate said that she had seen them perform the action, many participants signed a confession, internalized guilt for the act and went on to confabulate details that were consistent with that belief. These findings show that false incriminating evidence can induce people to accept guilt for a crime they did not commit and even to develop memories to support their guilty feelings.

Research is beginning to give us an understanding of how false memories of complete, emotional and self-participatory experiences are created in adults. First, there are social demands on individuals to remember; for instance, researchers exert some pressure on participants in a study to come up with memories. Second, memory construction by imagining events can be explicitly encouraged when people are having trouble remembering. And, finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not. Creation of false memories is most likely to occur when these external factors are present, whether in an experimental setting, in a therapeutic setting or during everyday activities.

If there's divination going on it is of a fairly natural and predictable sort.  Twenty years ago a huge fad was to have people go public with memories of repressed memories and traumas that couldn't possibly be confirmed as having happened because of the death of the accused parties. Loftus' observations about the settings in which false memories can be easily planted fit perfectly with settings of repeated pastoral counseling, settings in which Driscoll could plant seeds of false memories into the minds of couples with himself ever stopping to consider that this is what he was doing.  Why?  Because certain types of spiritual warfare teaching work on the assumption that God will reveal lost memories of sexual abuse. 

When Driscoll stated in the 2008 clip that he was shown a woman was sexually abused by a grandfather he says he asked the woman to go ask him.  This is, as has famously been blogged already, a remarkably stupid pastoral move.  I don't have to recite the concerns other bloggers have expressed in much detail.  If Driscoll has gotten visions of grandparents molesting children and doesn't report this to law enforcement and also advises counselees to go confront abusers this isn't wise.  If the person doesn't remember the event that happened at the age of 1 or 2 it can't be measured as a significant influence. 

On the other hand, if a child is raised being told he or she is always fearful and was always fearful a kid could easily internalize that and come to believe it.  The recovered memory fad grounds itself on an idea that things we don't remember had a formative and traumatic influence on us when the relational patterns we have over decades are more formative.  But it is easier, more tempting, and more magical (if you will) to assume that if we can divine that lost memory that is the key to unlocking "everything" we will have noticeable improvement in our life and relationships.

The anecdotes Driscoll shared in the notorious 2008 clip all fit the basic profile of a recovered memroy guru, which is why they all raise red flags with me.  I don't have to attribute them to demonic divination.  I don't have to attribute them to some assumption that Driscoll is just making stuff up to control people.  A lot of otherwise well-meaning therapists got sold on this turkey decades ago.  It's not even an inherently religious fad or mistake.  I need neither assume the worst about Driscoll's motives nor assume he's lying nor assume that he has demons to question the viability of recovered memory counseling or treatment.  The scientific work on the fallibility of memory is too well-established at this point.  What I am willing to say is that if the anecdotes Driscoll described in his 2008 spiritual warfare series presented to church leaders could have been considered normative for pastoral counseling or spiritual warfare in Mars Hill that would set a precedent I would consider disastrous.

You see the script for memories of abuse is a script that can play into a cultic dynamic.  It isn't even necessary for the memories to be sexual abuse.  All it takes is to be in a church you find new and exciting and within this social setting you hear people talk about how great the church is and how it's like nothing you've seen or heard before.  The church is special, more special than any other church and it's a shame other groups of believers don't have this sense of community.

Well, I was there for about nine years and for a while I sincerely felt that way myself.  Then I stopped being in my twenties. :)  I began to realize that there were plenty of other churches in the Seattle area that were not theologically liberal.  Okay, maybe not TONS of them, but there are more of them around then people at Mars Hill might believe (if they're new, trust me, the old schoolers know there are plenty of other places out there, too, and a few of us ex-MH members have landed in a few of the same places). 

What I'm meaning to say is that the social life of Mars Hill contributes to a belief that it's completely new and in this social setting one can feel one has found a kind of new spiritual family.  A fellow I knew from the earlier years would talk passionately about how Mars Hill was the real deal and had real Christians in it.  He'd explain how his parents were Methodists and they were church attenders but not really real Christians.  He hasn't been at Mars Hill in years and I haven't heard him talk so much about how his parents aren't really the real sort of Christian since he got deployed overseas.  Those parents may not be "real" Christians but let's face it, flesh and blood can be more understanding of you than church "family" that may not always know you so well.

Though, that said, I love my Mars Hill friends and family.  I'm not saying any of this to just bag on Driscoll.  I've rambled at such prodigious length because I have felt obliged to touch on a host of issues I don't think have been discussed adequately that interconnect on the subject of Driscoll.  I could consider that the 2008 spiritual warfare series was presented to leaders as a guideline to leaders for how to approach spiritual warfare.  I'm not even concerned to cover all four hours of that content, just to touch upon the recovered memory aspect.  Other bloggers have already addressed things that worried them about Driscoll's discussion about other things.

I believe that Driscoll is a case study in which shortcomings of how both cessationists and charismatics deal with NT texts can be alleviated, at least in part, be reframing a discussion of spiritual gifts in the NT as being in continuity with OT texts and roles.  Whatever prophecy was (or is) it becomes difficult to make a case against Driscoll based on that.  A case against Driscoll's employment of recovered memory therapy techniques, however, can be mounted on entirely secular grounds and Christians should not preclude referring to advances made in discovering neurological findings and research into cognitive biases as a way to account for now what, in the past, certain cessationists types insisted had to be demons.  This is significant because so far as cognitive biases and methodological errors go, cessationists are no more innocent than charismatics.

P.S.  I am by no means endorsing everything Frank Crusemann has written about the Torah, for any of you who even know who he is.  However I have found his disscussion of Deuteronomy 16-18 as a formative prescriptive text for the judicial/political systems in Israelite theocracy to be a useful reference point.

P.S.S.  It is important to stress that what the blogosphere has been talking about in 2011 was content from a spiritual warfare series going all the way back to early 2008.  It may not indicate what Driscoll's current views on spiritual warfare or recovered memory forms of therapy are.  I hope that by now Driscoll should become informed enough to avoid using such counseling methods in any pastoral setting.  It's important to clear up what other bloggers have skimmed over, this clip is from a seminar that is nearly half a decade old! 

A lot can change in a pastor's thinking and practice in a few years.  In late 1999 when I first started attending Mars Hill Mark Driscoll not only leaned cesssationist he wasn't even a Calvinist!  I've got a friend who shared a time or two in the early years how Driscoll and another pastor got into shouting at him about how Calvinism couldn't be the right way to approach biblical texts.  Folks stumping against Driscoll as though his worst ideas all come from Calvinism don't know (and won't want to know) that a lot of the ideas they dislike about him often have been ideas that predate his Calvinism. It wasn't until about 2001-2002 that Driscoll started actually advocating for Calvinism on anything like a consistent basis.

And per pastoral counseling at MH, the most beneficial pastoral counseling I got from Mars Hill pastors came not from pastors trying to get to the bottom of some past event that needed to be uncovered, but pastors who have known me and my family well enough to actually address existing relational patterns for my family and I to work on. Driscoll's now notorious clip should not be construed as how all Mars Hill pastors handle pastoral counseling even if it were more recent.

By the way, in case potential new readers hadn't spotted this about me, don't expect anonymous flaming comments about Driscoll to get an endorsement or sympathy from me.  I used to serve in ministries at Mars Hill and have always been up front about my agreements and disagreements with Mars Hill and Driscoll over the years. I attempt to articulate construstive criticism, sometimes with a hefty dose of snark, but my friends at Mars Hill know that I've been this way for years. 

Additionally, many of the concerns I have written about here are also why I'm no longer Pentecostal so though Driscoll is a recent case study of some flaws in charismatic pastoral counseling methodology I know it isn't indicative of all pastoral counseling in charismatic or Pentecostal circles.  The woman I mentioned who hoad the psychotic break was advised to seek professional mental health care by a Pentecostal counseling pastor. Because I left Pentecostalism partly due to the healing of memory ministry fad I was disappointed that Driscoll seemed to so uncritically embrace elements from that fad when research has shown so much of it to be prone to error.

Anyway, i think I'm finally done here! :)


Ed Dingess said...

Your insult to fundamentialists is regrettable and unfortunate. The basis of that insult, directed at the lack of OT data regarding the sin of fornication is uninformed.

The Hebrew word ZNH means to commit fornication, acts as a harlot, have illicit intercourse, and prostitution. The word along with its derivitives occur 135x in the OT. It is the parallel to PORNEIA in the NT.

The text that deals with this unequivocally is Deut. 22:13-21. A girl who marries without being a virgin is said to have played the harlot (ZNH). She is stoned to death for her sin. The second text dealing with fornication is Ex. 22:16-17. There, a man who seduces must make her his wife. It is a crime and there is a price. Hence, the inference that fornication was unknown in Jewish law prior to the intertestmental period is supported by the clear teachins of Scripture and ancient Jewish tradition.

chris e said...

The other data point against the teampyro argument is the so called 'porno prophecy' in books like Ezekiel which describe Israel - in quite graphic terms - as an unfaithful wife. So much for God not 'beaming' such things into the heads of his prophets.

That said, the office of prophet appears to be an occasional rather than continuous one, and so I'd be sympathetic to arguments that it would be relatively rare in the contemporary church. If someone wanted to claim such an office, then I'd expect fairly extraordinary proof - and as you point out, the proof being claimed has other more prosaic interpretations.

chris e said...

Ed -

Exodus 22:16-17 is more about preserving the value of an unmarried girl (and it's always a girl).

Read in context with the previous passages it seems to be more related to a property crime than anything else.

After all, there is no stipulation that the man should perform any cultic act of atonement.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Ed, chris e pointed out the distinction between capital offenses and property crime. Fornication is treated as a property crime because a fine/fee is to be paid rather than facing capital punishment. There appear to be plenty of American Christians who note the distinction and may decide that pre-marital sex isn't as bad a sin as adultery or unfaithfulness because even in the OT it was considered to fall short of a capital offense under Mosaic law.
Ergo my reference to shotgun weddings. If the recent Relevant article on evangelicals and premarital sex is reliable it would appear that evangelicals are fornicating at epic levels in the ages of 18-29. Lauren Winner's criticism that evangelicals have to come up with a stronger argument for Christian chastity than "waiting for the wedding night" seems to still have teeth.

chris e, I have tentatively embraced the view that when the prophetic office is properly understood across the OT and NT that it should not be seen as a normative gift or office. Even if there were always a prophet in every generation the role of the prophet is occasional rather than constant. The judicial paradigm would be to work on the principle that the majority of cases could be fielded from consideration of scripture and that prophets would only be consulted by the priest or judge in extremely unusual cases. It's a gift that should still be sought but Paul doesn't explain how the gifts should be sought. This may be because he had more immediate problems to deal with. It was Corinth, after all!

By this criteria people claiming to be prophets must establish that they understand this occasional and unusual role for prophetic activity. It considers the most legitimate concerns of cessationists on the one hand while correcting the most common and egregious abuses of charismatics on the other. Having bailed on the Pentecostal scene as people I knew started embracing Latter Rain theology I can assure you I know all too well how far those abuses can go.

At a more mundane level, Jeremiah 8:8 seems prescriptive of a low-level prophetic role all literate Christians could potentially be capable of performing, becoming aware of when scripture has been tampered with or misrepresented. While a good pastor will eventually perform a prophetic function in preaching the cases of prophecy discussed in the OT and NT don't show us that public preaching or teaching is automatically prophetic. Ezra's instruction of the people in the Law was still a scribal/priestly function. Huldah played a prophetic role toward Josiah's court even though as a woman she was not necessarily going to be speaking a lot in public. Her authority wasn't dependent on having to be a "pastor".