The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing

In his essay, Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon, (available here) Scott C. Dunn argues that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is the product of automatic writing. He begins with the example of Helen Cohn Schucman and her three volume “A Course in Miracles” dictated to her by “by an inner voice that identified itself as Jesus Christ.”

His second example is Jane Roberts who “conducted experiments” with the occult “which soon led her into contact with “Seth,” a discarnate personality who spoke through the medium of Roberts’s mind and voice. In these sessions, Roberts lapsed into a trance while Seth lectured on complex philosophical and metaphysical subjects beyond the educational experience of Jane Roberts herself.” He also mentions Levi H. Dowling, author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ.

For the purpose of his essay, Dunn defines “automatic writing” as “the ability to write or dictate text in a relatively rapid, seemingly effortless and fluent manner with no sense of control over the content. Indeed, except for sometimes knowing a word or two moments in advance of writing and speaking, the individual is typically not consciously aware of what the content of the writing will be.”

Dunn mentions channeled texts such as the Oahspe by dentist John Newbrough “who claimed that the book’s angelic spirit authors controlled his hands on the typewriter each morning for fifty weeks.”

Aleister Crowley wrote The Holy Books of Thelema under the influence of something he called his Guardian Angel. He said of his prose, “It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objectives which I should myself have raised.”

How about someone a bit tamer? Dunn brings up Charlotte Bronte who “is said to have written her masterpieces Villette and Jane Eyre at a constant rate with her eyes shut. Dunn writes:

Calling her a “trance-writer,” critics Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar quote entries from the author’s journal that describe her visionary experiences and moments of “divine leisure” in which “the stream of thought…came flowing free & calm along its channel.” Similarly, the English poet A.E. Housman once noted that entire stanzas of poetry would come into his mind all at once. More on the mystical side is the visionary William Blake, who claimed that his lengthy poem Jerusalem was “dictated” to him.

Anyone familiar with Joseph Smith can see where this is going. 

Dunn continues examining the various forms that automatic writing have taken over the years. He multiplies examples, many of which have obvious parallels with Joseph Smith. One obvious parallel are people who use scrying stones:

In such instances, the individual may experience some sort of vision while the hand writes. Typically, the text reports what was seen in the vision, but in some cases, the stone-gazer sees written words […] One psychologist reports that a young boy dictated a fantastic adventure story, which he saw enacted in the crystal while his hand wrote automatically at the same time.

Dunn cites studies suggesting that automatic writing may be a product of “the unconscious mind.” He also spends a good deal of time discussing Pearl Curran who experimented with an ouija board and produced the writings of one ‘Patience Worth.” Curran’s writings, like Joseph Smith’s, exhibited skills she should not have had, in her case it was the appearance of a massive number of Anglo-Saxon words, “proof” of their ancient nature. One scholar cited by Dunn calls these works a “philological miracle.” Dunn also says:

Another startling thing about the works attributed to Patience Worth is their accuracy on factual details that Curran apparently could not have known, a defense often applied to writings given through Joseph Smith […]

Dunn says, “Pearl Curran is like Joseph Smith in still another way: for both, available evidence militates against  the likelihood of conscious fraud.” Dunn then outlines evidence for the BOM being a product of automatic writing:

…the content of automatic writing is often similar to that of the Book of Mormon: Examples include multiple authorship, use of archaic language, accounts of bygone historical figures, accurate descriptions of times and places apparently unfamiliar to the writer, narratives with well-developed characters and plot, accounts of various ministries of Jesus Christ, poetics, occasionally impressive literary quality, doctrinal, theological, and cosmological discussions, and even discourses by a deity. […]

In addition, the bulk of the Book of Mormon, dictated after Oliver Cowdery became Smith’s scribe, was completed in approximately ninety days. This represents fairly rapid work for a book of this length-588 typeset pages in the first edition-even if the translation progressed will every day. Again, the speed and ease with which Smith worked is characteristic of automatic writing.

Dunn mentions that Smith “pronounced the words of the text with his face buried in a hat, looking at a seer stone” and concludes that “This certainly implies a relatively effortless or automatic process. Moreover, this use of a crystal or stone is a well-known method of producing automatic writing.”

Smith had time to think through themes for the BOM before he launched his project, but Dunn says this isn’t unusual for automatic writing:

Before producing Oahspe, John Newbrough was visited by its angelic authors, asked if he would “perform a mission for Jehovih,” and was told to prepare for this experience…Finally, ten years after the first visitation, the angels told him to proceed with the automatic typing of their work.

Dunn brings up one critic, the ever-present Blake Ostler, and writes:

Blake Ostler has put forth what is essentially an automatic writing model, though he is reluctant to call it that. He states that Smith’s “state of consciousness differs from…most reports of automatic writing in that he did not lose consciousness of his surroundings or become dispossessed of his personal identity,” apparently unaware that the same is true of A Course in Miracles and all of the Patience Worth literature. “Further,” Ostler continues, “there is no evidence that [Smith] claimed to hear a voice or take dictation from another personality, unlike cases of spirit writing or channeled text.” But this also applies to such dramatic instances of automatic writing as The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ and The White Goddess. In spite of his attempts to distance Smith from these works, nothing in Ostler’s characterization of the translation process is inconsistent with the best-documented instances of the this phenomenon.

One well-known feature of the Book of Mormon (BOM) is its reliance on the Authorized version of the Bible. I have often wondered if Smith just pulled out the Bible and dictated these sections of the BOM from it, but Dunn addresses how these sections might have happened under an automatic writing model:

Just as individuals under hypnosis have been able to quote lengthy passages in foreign languages which they heard at the age of three, so have automatic writers produced detailed information from books that they have read but in some cases cannot remember reading. Thus, if Smith’s scriptural productions borrowed material from the Bible, this is entirely consistent with other instances of automatic writing. This quirk of memory, known as cryptomnesia, may also explain the presence of styles and literary patterns that are found both in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Another common question is how Smith addressed the origin of Indians and certain theological concepts of his day in such detail if he didn’t have access to the texts current in his day? Dunn says:

But automatic writing renders such a question irrelevant. Automatic texts often contain information available to the writer in the most obscure manner imaginable. One researcher described a woman who, with a ouija board, produced automatic writing that recounted “almost exactly” the death notices in an available newspaper. Although the woman apparently had not read these obituaries, she had done the crossword puzzle found on the same page in the newspaper. It seems that her mind had picked up and stored material that was in her field of vision as she worked the crossword puzzle; she had unconsciously read and unconsciously written information of which her conscious mind was entirely unaware. Interestingly, the researcher further reported that the writing contained information to which the woman had no access whatsoever. It should not be surprising, therefore, to find Smith’s scriptural productions repeating things he may have heard or overheard in conversation, camp meetings, or other settings without any concerted study of the issues.

Dunn ends his fascinating essay with a series of questions about what makes scripture into scripture? He really doesn’t have an answer. The test should clearly be doctrinal fidelity with previous Scripture, namely the Old and New Testaments. He doesn’t pose this as a test, but he should have.

I believe Dunn’s proposal to be the best explanation for the authoring of the BOM. Other explanations are a bit rag-tag in proposing dependence on this or that text, or the penmanship of Cowdrey or Rigdon. What he fails to consider is the possibility of demonic influence/dictation. Perhaps automatic writing is a combination of the subconscious with demonic guidance. I have addressed this before in relation to Socrates, who claimed demonic inspiration. Socrates said:

There is something spiritual which, by a divine dispensation, has accompanied me from my childhood up. It is a voice that, when it occurs, always indicates to me a prohibition of something I may be about to do, but never urges me on to anything ; and if one of my friends consults me and the voice occurs, the same thing happens : it prohibits, and does not allow him to act. And I will produce witnesses to convince you of these facts.

As the Apostle Paul warned us, even an angel from heaven might appear bearing a false gospel.

Vladislav Surkov

The latest issue of the London Review of Books has a fascinating article on someone I had never heard of, but who is a power behind the throne in Russia, his name is Vladislav Surkov. Apparently he wrote a novel called Almost Zero under the pen name of Natan Dubovitsky. The LRB says:

The novel is a satire of contemporary Russia whose hero, Egor, is a corrupt PR man happy to serve anyone who’ll pay the rent. A former publisher of avant-garde poetry, he now buys texts from impoverished underground writers, then sells the rights to rich bureaucrats and gangsters with artistic ambitions who publish them under their own names. The world of PR and publishing as portrayed in the novel is extremely dangerous. Publishing houses have their own gangs, whose members shoot each other over the rights to Nabokov and Pushkin, and the secret services infiltrate them for their own murky ends. It’s exactly the sort of book Surkov’s youth groups burn on Red Square.

The article outlines his early life:

In the 1980s and early 1990s Russia was experimenting with different modes at a dizzying rate: Soviet stagnation led to perestroika, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, liberal euphoria, then economic disaster. How to believe in anything when everything around you is changing so fast? Surkov abandoned a range of university careers from metallurgy to theatre directing, put in a spell in the army, went to bohemian parties, had regular violent altercations (he was expelled from drama school for fighting). Surkov, it said (or allegedly said) in one of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, had always thought of himself as an unrecognised genius, but it took him a while to find his metier.

He trained at a martial arts club with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then one of Russia’s emerging young business stars. Khodorkovsky took him on as a bodyguard, saw he had more use for his brains than his muscles and promoted him to PR manager. He became known for his ability not only to think up ingenious PR campaigns but to manipulate others into getting them distributed in the major media with a mixture of charm, aggression and bribery. ‘Surkov acts like a Chekist of the 1920s and 1930s,’ Dmitry Oreshkin, a political analyst, said. ‘He can always sniff out your weak spot.’ Top jobs followed at banks and TV channels. In 1999 he was invited to join Yeltsin’s presidential administration. Looking more like a designer than a bureaucrat, he stood out from the rest. He was one of the key spin doctors behind the promotion of Putin for president in 2000. Since then, while many of his colleagues have fallen from grace, Surkov has managed to stay in the game by remaking himself to suit his masters’ needs. ‘Slava is a vessel,’ according to Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition politician: ‘Under Yeltsin he was a democrat, under Putin he’s an autocrat.’

The Origins of Women’s Ordination in the Episcopal Church

So how did it all begin? Without going into great detail, we can look at the seventies and the illegal ordinations that happened at that time. The heretic James Pike had previously ordained a woman to the diaconate, but the ball really got rolling in 1974.

In the book “Anglican Communion in Crisis”, Miranda Hassett writes:

…women deputies were not accepted by General Convention until 1967. By this time the controversial liberal bishop James Pike had already ordained a woman as a deacon, an ordained role oriented toward service and without all the sacramental duties of the priesthood. With the encouragement of the women’s movement in the larger society, other breakthroughs followed quickly. The General Convention of 1970 accepted female deacons, and the 1976 Convention admitted women to the priesthood, following the unauthorized 1974 ordinations of eleven women as priests. The first Episcopal woman bishop, Barbara Harris, was consecrated in 1989.

In “A Brief History of the Episcopal Church”, David Lynn Holmes writes:

Nevertheless, in the summer of 1974, in Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, eleven women deacons were ordained to the priesthood by three Episcopal bishops. Two of the bishops were retired; the third had resigned as bishop of Pennsylvania earlier in the year. Neither the bishops, nor the deacons, nor the parish had authorization for the ordinations. In an emergency session, the House of Bishops declared the ordinations invalid and rebuked the ordainers.” (page 168)

Time magazine has articles on these ordinations here, here and here. And now, a mere three decades later, “conservatives” all over the place accept this practice, foisted upon the church by radicals and heretics, as perfectly fine and normal.

The Regulative Principle Redefined

I finished up Leithart’s From Silence to Song yesterday and found his writing illuminating as always. He discusses the Reformed “Regulative Principle” and recasts it in a very different light (a much better one). The Regulative Principle is usually held to mean that anything God hasn’t expressly commanded in worship is forbidden, you’ll often see it trumpeted in modern times by nuts like the Still Waters Revival folks who hold to no instruments in music and exclusive Psalmody.

Leithart contrasts this with the canonical example of David’s instructions for Temple and Tabernacle worship. He writes:

A strict regulativist living at the time of David would syllogize thus:

Major premise: Whatever is not commanded is forbidden.

Minor premise: Singing is not commanded in the Levitical Law.

Conclusion: Therefore, singing in worship is forbidden.

David appears to have reasoned by analogy:

Major premise: The Law governs worship.

Minor premise #1: The Law prescribes that trumpets be played over the public ascensions, in public worship.

Minor premise #2: The trumpet is a musical instrument.

Conclusion: Analogously, song and other music are a legitimate part of worship.

In place of a “regulation-by-explicit command” principle, David operated according to a “regulation-by-analogy” principle.

He qualifies this by showing that not all analogies are valid – pigs can’t be offered in sacrifice because cows are, so Scripture controls the application. Once again, Leithart’s writings are some of the best theological insights you can find today on a host of subjects.

U2 and Lenin’s Favorite Songs

I thought I should record this on the internet since I spent some time finding it. The fanfare/intro to the U2 song, “Daddy’s Gonna Pay for your Crashed Car” (on Zooropa) is from a song called “Le Rocher Sur La Volga.” The version U2 used was from a record called Lenin’s Favourite Songs. Other versions are our there. You’re welcome internet.

Thoughts on C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries

For once in my life, my wife trumped me in the news department. She mentioned casually to me a few nights ago that C.J. Mahaney was stepping down from his position at Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). “What?” I was floored and had to immediately navigate over to the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge blogs to figure out what was happening.When I read C.J.’s statement, my first impression was that he is doing the right thing and his head seems to be in the right place. I don’t like the model of getting a group of celebrity advisers to minister to me as part of my eventual return to ministry (see Jim Baker, Ted Haggard and Todd Bentley among others); however, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In my opinion, guys who have serious issues would be better served to completely die to self and disappear into anonymity for the rest of their lives. It would be nice to try to figure out “whatever happened to that Mahaney guy” ten years from now – then you would really know that change occurred. But I am getting sidetracked…

So I clicked back to the SGM Survivors blog and saw a link to this document drop on Scribd. I started reading “The Untold Story” and my whole view of the situation changed. These files exhaustively document many of the inner struggles of the leadership of SGM. There is not financial impropriety, adultery or other sensational sin, but there is what I would call cunning, flattery, anger, bitterness, disengenousness or dishonesty and a pattern (that I have heard of before) of people being moved out or cut off when they don’t toe the party line. There is more than that, but that’s my high-level view of things. I would also say that there is excessive introspection to an amazing degree, but that is to be expected given the “cross-centered” theology that SGM has wrapped itself around the axle on over this past decade or so.

So why does it matter? Do these kinds of character faults, grievances and betrayals disqualify anyone from leadership or constitute serious sin? I haven’t waded through all of the documents yet, but I think they do. We are told that overseers are to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable…not quarrelsome..He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered…” The emails suggest a level of over-sensitivity and soft revenge that are not in keeping with a pastor (or bishop, as CJ really is).

My observation of SGM over the years and what I’ve heard from insiders have raised the following concerns:

  • Acting like clones. From shaved heads to speech inflections and cadence, the pastors at various SGM churches sound very much like CJ. Folks in the movement tend to use the same terms like affection, passion, serve and appropriate. One example of this is from the document “A Final Appeal” that quotes CJ in an October, 2005 email to Brent Detwiler saying, “From the first e-mail I have informed Pat about my support but in his desire to serve me he has continued to pursue this” and “I will be glad to explain my perspective on this if that would serve you.” The verb “serve” is something that you hear constantly from SGM folks and if you pay attention, it becomes like an in-group code word. Christians need to be real, living in the real world with the transforming grace of the gospel, but also without falling into systems of jargon, denial, happy talk and sectarianism. When talking to another Christian, I want to be able to honestly discuss life without having to use phrases that end up meaning nothing because they are so overused.
  • The gradual removal or “un-friending” of people who don’t toe the line theologically. Someone described this to me as “a hang-over from the charismatic shepherding movement, though in a less overtly authoritarian modality, a sort of soft-despotism” and I think that is an accurate description of what you read in Detwiler’s documents.
    I’ve heard stories over the years including a guy who was on the inside at Covenant Life and whose WIFE had a theological view that was considered aberrant. This was enough to begin the gradual removal of the man from the inner circle and he eventually resigned his position. I grant that it can be hard to maintain friendships with people who have theological convictions different from our own, but a real love towards them should make it possible to continue in relationship, and not ice them out due to a Stepford wives type of conformity. Further, if we believe in the catholicity of the Church at all, it demands that we learn how to accept some degree of doctrinal variance within local churches. Someone I know was essentially asked to leave the church due to hesitation over the excessive demands for self-disclosure at small group. Add to this the many “de-giftings” where pastors are suddenly removed from their position with little or no explanation given to the congregation.
  • Institutional arrogance / lack of Catholicity. Jesus said in John 17, “that I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The exact implication of what this verse demands are of course debated, but the failure to listen to warnings to change on the part of SGM sets a bad precedent. The SGM practice of rebaptism for people baptized as infants is a grievous affront to the catholicity of the Church.
    I question why SGM cannot merge or cross-pollinate with groups like Acts 29, the Grace Network, and others. Does it really require a SGM church in every city, even if there is already a strong Calvinist and/or Reformed Baptist presence? (I’m looking at you Fredericksburg).
  • A flawed polity. As I mentioned several months ago, SGM’s structure of church governance is skewed. It is similar to Calvary Chapel, where the pastor is Moses to his congregation and Chuck Smith is the Pope. The emails do show that CJ is treated akin to the Pope of SGM. He functions as an Archbishop, but without the time-honored constraints of a true Episcopalian system (vestry, church courts, and so forth). In the emails, leadership group members don’t want to be the one to confront him or deliver bad tidings to him. Local pastors are removed from on-high with no explanation. Systems of government do not solve problems, bad people can be in any system, but they can make it easier to correct problems.
  • Morbid introspection and an incorrect understanding of “the Gospel.” Someone I know put it better than I can: “SGM deemphasizes the resurrection and overemphasizes introspection and “the cross”, which becomes morbid; they also decidedly deemphasize bible study; their view of culture is truncated as is their view of the Gospel: “Jesus died for my sins” v. “The good news is that the King has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ.”
    This introspection is constant in these documents and in the lives of SGM churches. Every motive must be scrutinized at absurd lengths and a neo-Puritan desire to constantly work into emotional distress over being the chief of sinners and returning to the cross is modeled from on high. A view of glorification and Christian maturity give way to prob- ing motives for pride, no matter what we do. SGM does not see the Gospel as the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus and union with Him (a more Calvinist approach), rather, it is simply imputation, which seems to be the hill that SGM always wants to die on.

With all of this said, these men are brothers in Christ. They have produced good fruit in many lives (as well as bad fruit in others). Sometimes we can wonder how it is possible to read a book on humility and be changed for the better by it when the book is written by a guy struggling with just that issue? But God seems to work like this (we aren’t Donatists). We can receive good things even through flawed vehicles because Christ is at work in all. This cannot, however, become an excuse to allow these men to continue in their sins, be leaders for life, or be above the law somehow.

One possible response from SGM leaders is that people shouldn’t read these documents or they are gossiping. They may blame the internet for their problems. Susan Sontag wrote an essay about Abu Ghraib in which she talked about blaming the *pictures* rather than blaming the *actions*. It is similar to an abusive husband being angry because his behavior has been exposed rather than the fact that he sinned. In this case, C.J. Mahaney is an extraordinarily public figure who has brought attention on himself due to his increasingly high profile over the past decades. He writes books, speaks at conferences and leads a denomination. His activities can be scrutinized and public records (such as Detwiler’s) can be read. We don’t have to ignore the elephant in the room and play a pietistic game of pretend. I believe SGM needs deep reform in many areas, but it will be hard to change what has become an institutionalized culture of conformity to patterns of thought, speech, appearance, and behavior that most of the pastors have been steeped in for their entire professional lives.

The End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981–or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

The Petrine Office

This is me thinking out loud. The prominence of Peter in the New Testament is striking, but it does not mean what the modern RCC says it means. So what does it mean? I’m not sure. The famous passage from Matthew 16 says:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It looks to me like Jesus is addressing Peter, not everyone. Peter features prominently in the Gospels and the early part of Acts. He is given a lot of attention. His post-Resurrection restoration by Jesus is portrayed at length. Why? Why the focus on him?


  • Peter was flawed, he was not infallible, he made mistakes.
  • He was not in charge of the church in Jerusalem.
  • Paul says Jesus appeared to him first of all.
  • A party in Corinth claimed to be of him.
  • He led the church in the earliest days.
  • Peter was the rock, the leader of the early Church, but it was leadership in council, a conciliar model. He was not even first among equals, but one of perhaps a triad of leaders.
  • I believe that he did go to Rome.
  • The NT cannot possibly lay obedience to the See of Rome on believers as a necessity.
  • Jesus built the church on Peter in some sense.
  • The gates of hell did not prevail in some sense.

The New Charismatics

I just finished reading The New Charismatics by Richard Quebedeaux. The book is a history of the charismatic movement up until about 1973. I learned a lot from the book and it’s a subject I wanted to know more about, since it involves my Mom and the trajectory she took quite a bit. Some random observations from the book:

§ Early, Azusa-street era Pentecostalism was generally a phenomenon that began amongst the poorer and less educated segments of society. It was an *outside* movement which established its own denominations, like the Assemblies of God. Although it sprung from the same ground as the Holiness and Fundamentalist movements, those movements rejected it as aberrant.

§ The Charismatic movement came into being in the very late 50’s and throughout the 60’s. It was an *inside* movement which told people to stay in their churches. People often became better students of the Bible and better Christians as a result of the baptism in the Spirit. It was a movement that occurred more amongst the middle and upper classes, and professionals, thus engendering more respectability than the Pentecostal movement had.

§ The Jesus People movement was another *outside* force. It rejected existing churches as hypocritical and dead. It largely died when the Hippie fad died around 72 or 73. Many of the Jesus People moved into the churches that they had condemned a few years before and for all intents became part of the broader charismatic renewal.

§ The charismatic movement was ecumenical. It spanned Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Believers often united in local prayer or Bible study groups based upon the common experience of Spirit baptism and according to Quebedeaux, doctrine was not as important as love for Jesus. This accords with my Mom’s experience of Women’s Aglow, a charismatic prayer meeting/Bible study for women that crossed denominational boundaries.

§ Speaking in tongues was largely a learned experience. The book says:

William Samarin, a prominent linguistics scholar, suggests that glossolalia consists of strings of generally simple syllables that are not matched systematically with a semantic system. Moreover, it is clearly “learned behavior” – a linguistic phenomenon that can occur independently of any participating psychological or emotional state.

This is something that has always bothered me about the modern tongues experience. If it is essentially nonsense syllables that I learn how to say by practicing, then how is it a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit upon me? I don’t think it is and yet I have heard charismatic teachers say this sort of thing is OK, that you learn how to do it, God doesn’t come upon you and make you do it. To me, that doesn’t seem like what the New Testament experience was.

§ One interesting fact that the book only refers to obliquely is the outpouring of Spirit baptism in Kara Kala, Armenia around 1880. Apparently, Russian Orthodox believers had experienced outpourings of the Spirit even earlier than this, and were carrying the message to Kara Kala. This website says:

In view of his great need, it has always seemed surprising to me that Grandfather did not accept right away the strange message that had been trickling over the mountains for nearly fifty years. The message was brought by the Russians. Grandfather liked the Russians all right, he was just too levelheaded to accept their tales of miracles. The Russians came in long caravans of covered wagons. They were dressed as our people were, in long, high-collared tunics tied at the waist with tasselled cords, the married men in full beards. The Armenians had no difficulty understanding them as most of our people spoke Russian too. They listened to the tales of what the Russian called ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ upon hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox Christians. The Russians came as people bringing gifts: the Gifts of the Spirit, which they wanted to share. I could just hear Grandfather and Grandmother talking late into the night after one of these visits. One had to admit, Grandfather would have said, that everything the Russians were talking about was Scriptural.

At some point, the family of Demos Shakarian was warned to flee Kara Kala, which they did shortly before the entire village was massacred. The Shakarian family ended up in…you guessed it, California, just when the Azusa Street outpouring began. Thus the mystical gifts poured out in Russia were transported to Armenia and then blended with the Azusa Street outpouring which kickstarted the entire Pentecostal wave across the globe.

§ One early Anglican leader of the movement said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not in any way necessitate changing music styles in the church to what we now see. He thought a church could continue in a totally high church fashion with hymns, etc. and that the gifts would be better practiced at home or in small groups. In other words, baptism did not equal worship style. I think this point is totally obscured today.

§ The book talked about the origin of the term “Center” for a church. Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim was one of the first places to use the term – which I abhor. Apparently it was originally supposed to mean a place where Christians from many denominations could worship without leaving their home churches, a “center” for them to gather but not a home church. Now of course the name is a plague on many churches.

§ Although the book does not mention him, it led me to find out about Lonnie Frisbee, an oddly named hippie who converted while on acid and was instrumental in the explosion of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and the first Vineyards. He was friends with Chuck Smith and John Wimber, he also converted Greg Laurie. Oh, and he was gay. Or perhaps we could say that he struggled with being gay. If you want to illustrate the confluence of the sexual revolution, the overthrow of tradition and the explosion of the charismatic movement, the life of Frisbee is one of the best places to look. Frisbee died of AIDS in the mid 90’s and Chuck Smith compared him to Sampson at his funeral.

§ The trajectory and orthodoxy of many of these folks was not good. The author seems enamored of the liberation theology of that day, Vatican II, and the societal upheaval taking place. The fact that this movement led to the prosperity gospel, women’s ordination, liturgical chaos, homosexual ordination, and so forth is not encouraging. At the same time, much good resulted from the movement, and chaff should be expected alongside the wheat.

New Covenant Scribes

Last week I read something Jesus said that puzzled me, it is in Matthew 13.51-52 where he finishes a string of parables and told the disciples:

Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Typically when Jesus is talking about scribes, it is not in a positive light. But here, he is taking about scribes trained for the kingdom. What did he mean? I asked around and Jeff Meyers said:

I think it’s important to remember that the apostolic calling was fundamentally about scribal work. They were called to write out the Scriptures for the new world, especially what we call the four Gospels. They understood this, if we read Acts 6:2, 4 correctly. This is not about them “preaching.” It’s them “attending to the Word.” The word “preaching” is not in the text. It’s about the “service of the Word.” They collaborated as “scribes” to insure that the words and acts of the Messiah were quickly recorded as founding documents for his new kingdom. Acts 6 is not about “preachers” and “deacons,” even if it might be applied to modern ecclesiastical issues like that by abstracting from the passage the wisdom of a “division of labor.”

Of course, the “service of the Word” also includes speaking the Word, as they do in the book of Acts.  But Acts 6 and Luke 1:2 point to more than proclamation.

I was thrilled to hear this! It makes perfect sense to me and it accords with what Jesus said. Further, Jesus later says:

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

One of the categories of people who Jesus sends to doomed Israel is scribes! It stands to reason, as Jeff wrote, that the process of writing the Scriptures happened early, contra what many recent scholars might think. Also, the early Deacons saying they should not wait tables to attend to scribal work accords will with the role of a scribe as described in Jesus ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38.24:

A scholar’s wisdom comes of ample leisure;

if a man is to be wise he must be relieved of other tasks.

If the work that these New Covenant scribes performed was anything like the Old Covenant scribes, then we have some idea of what it consisted of.  Michael Fishbane writes extensively about the subject in his book, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. He says (with Hebrew terms excluded by me):

The technical title ___, meaning ‘scribe’, first appears in connection with the royal council established by King David at the outset of the United Monarchy (2 Sam. 8: 16-18~20: 23-25), and appears in similar listings preserved for the dynasties of King Solomon (1 Kg. 4: 1-6), King Joash (2 Chron. 24: 11-12), and King Hezekiah (2 Kg. 18: 18, 37). The the [scribe] appears as a stable component of the high royal bureaucracy for at least 300 years, from the beginning of the tenth to the seventh century BCE. However, the relative position of this court officer in these listings varies, and his relationship to the ___, ‘recorder’ or ‘secretary’, is unclear. As the priests, war commanders, major-domos, and tax officials noted in these lists were the heads of specialized sub-bureaucracies serving the royal administration, we may surmise that the ___ of these texts was the overseer of a diversified scribal network.
Regrettably, no biblical sources describe the training of ancient Israelite scribes. It may be assumed, however, that the skills taught in their various guild centres and schools (cf. 1 Chron. 2:55) enabled those scribes to serve a variety of administrative and state functions. Some served the military and aided in conscription (2 Kgs. 25: 19~Jer. 52:25); others, Levites by lineage, served as overseers of the priestly rotations (1 Chron. 24: 6), or provided administrative services to the Temple and its upkeep (2 Chron. 34: 13; cf. Neh. 13: 13); and still other scribes served in the royal court, providing the king with diplomatic skill and sage wisdom. Trained in the forms and rhetoric of international diplomatic correspondence, and thus kept abreast of internal and external affairs, many of these court scribes–as individuals and as family guilds–were directly caught up in religious and political affairs affecting the nation as a whole. Particularly exemplary of such involvements are the activities of the Shaphan scribal family during the final decades of the Judaean state. In other cases, the professional court scribe was primarily a sage counsellor–a repository of traditional wisdom. Just such a personage was Jonathan, an uncle of King David, who was ‘an adviser __, a man of understanding __ and a scribe ___’. There is no reason to doubt that this combination of traits reflects an authentic pre-exilic tradition, despite its unique articulation in the relatively late Book of Chronicles. What is certain, at any rate, is that this formulation draws from an international courtier vocabulary. […] The technical and official nature of this description is confirmed by the fact that Ezra the priest, the great teacher of the post-exilic restoration, is also called a __ ___ (Ezra 7:6). The fact that Ezra’s title already occurs in Ps. 45:2 as a frozen idiom suggests that this designation was known in the pre-exilic period as well, and was not simply a contemporary title conferred upon him by later historians.
In addition to their service in regional, national, and international capacities, ancient Israelite scribes were tradents of texts. Indeed, this activity was a constitutive characteristic of the ancient Israelite scribal class. Thus, in addition to copying texts, Israelite scribes were also responsible for maintaining, transmitting, and collating literary record. […]
Details related to the scribal activities of collating, entitling, and indexing literary records can be deduced from a variety of biblical data. A general indicator of such activity is the recurrent references in the Books of Kings and Chronicles to the archives or records of the Northern and Southern kingdoms from which the ‘historical’ report is excerpted or derived (e.g. 1 Kings 11:41, 14:19, 29, 15:7, 23; cf. 1 Chr. 9:1; 2 Chr. 9:29, 12:15, 13:22, 20:34, 24:27, 27:7, 32:32). Such historical archives were maintained by court archivists or other guardians of the historical traditions. Some scribal practices may be deduced from the annotations to the priestly regulations found in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers. These records have both superscriptive titles (e.g. Lev. 6:2, 7, 7:1, 11) and summary colophons (e.g. 7:37-38, 11:46-7, 12: 8, 15:32-3, Num. 5:29-31, 6:21), which are well evidenced in other ancient Near Eastern documents. Moreover, like the latter, these biblical regulation were often collated into short series or collections, for example the laws of sacrifice in Lev. 1-7 or the various laws on purity and impurity in Lev. 11-15. Such annotations and collections, found in legal and prophetic literature, only make sense as formal conventions of an established scribal tradition.

Fishbane, Michael A. 1988. Biblical interpretation in ancient Israel. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. Pages 25-27.

So it seems that the scribal profession was continued, purified and renewed, in the New Covenant.