The Reformation of Apologetics: Synthesizing Science, Scripture and the Supernatural
Christianity today is in a crisis. In the much of the world, the church is becoming the obstacle instead of the answer. Scientific theories challenge biblical authority; Christian holiness is challenged by heathen hedonism. In the face of these assaults, Christians must respond accordingly and effectively. Christian apologetics is a field of ministry dedicated to defending the faith against objections through means of reason, providing positive grounds for Christianity (“Christian”). However, in keeping with the ordinance of scripture, Christian apologists must always be prepared give “a defense for the hope that is in [them]” (1Pe 3.15). The key in this verse lies in the preposition—in—denoting the presence of the Spirit of Christ, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, who resides in every Christian (Rom 8.11). Over the years, Christian apologetics has been reduced to mere intellectualism, but true biblical apologetics combines science, Scripture and—the supernatural.
However, today it may seem that apologists should be more concerned with defending the church from itself. Pastor John MacArthur, a leading theologian and Cessationist, denies the validity of modern day miracles in the church and is calling for “a collective war” against the Christians who perform them (MacArthur xvii). In his 2013 book Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship MacArthur accuses Charismatic Christians—those who believe in contemporary healing miracles and praying in tongues—of being part of a “false church” and wrong spirit (xvi). MacArthur alleges the miracles to be bogus, and the tongues to be gibberish (135). Apart from some of MacArthur’s valid objections concerning widespread abuses within Charismatic circles, he warns that this “false church,” numbering some five hundred million Christians worldwide, is the fastest growing religion in the world today (14). While this statistic is indeed concerning, it should only be concerning to the enemies of the gospel.
Despite MacArthur’s skepticism, scientists are showing an increasing interest in both healing miracles and speaking in tongues (Brown 865). Ironically, what may be viewed by some to be one of the greatest threats to the church today, may be the solution to one of its greatest problems. When modern science helps Christians concede that modern miracles are real, what opponents once ridiculed as being a blind faith will be demonstrated as an experiential one. Christian apologetics will become more effective, when the Body of Christ accepts the biblical validity of the ministry of miracles, signs and wonders; presents scientifically verified evidence of such miracles and other supernatural phenomena; and fairly incorporates other evidence documented particularly from non-Christian sources.
Christianity today is exhibiting values that are not reflective of the tenants of the faith—principally, The Lord’s teachings on brotherly love and uncompromising unity. In the early church, after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a notable change was evident in Christ’s disciples; instead of competing with each other, Peter and John began healing others (Acts 2.44); believers shared “all things in common” and were “of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4.32). The Center for the Study of Global Christianity recently reported that Christianity today is divided into 41,000 different denominations worldwide (qtd. in Fairchild). This figure shamefully dwarfs the corresponding statistics of both Islam and Judaism combined (“Islam”). The church must realize that such divisions compromise the effectiveness of Christian apologetics, giving opponents an easy shot at believers—who do not practice what they preach.
Many church divisions over the centuries, have been due to doctrinal disputes; truth fought to triumph over tradition, and tradition fought to maintain its position. Jesus Himself rebuked the religious leaders of the day, saying they made “the Word of God of none effect” by their traditions (Mark 7.13). In like manner, reformation leader Martin Luther opposed the religious leaders of his day, for rejecting biblical authority in favor of their church traditions. Today, Cessationist leaders like MacArthur perpetuate this age old conflict. They too, like their predecessors, reject truth for tradition. In denying the efficacy of God’s Word—they deny the Spirit who gives it life.
Theologian Michael L. Brown, one of Christianity’s leading apologists—and Charismatics—raises a key question in his book Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire: is it even possible for the church to advance in the face of such slander and divisiveness (3496)? Nevertheless, Brown unequivocally redeems Charismatic theology from the charges laid out by MacArthur. In the sixth chapter of Authentic Fire, Brown thoroughly establishes the scriptural foundation for miracles today (2554-3470). Although the evidence demands a verdict, the controversy is far from resolution; until the church accepts modern miracles, the full potential of Christian apologetics will remain untapped. Nevertheless, in the words of the apostle Paul, “the word of God is not chained” (2Tim 2.9).
While Brown’s exegetical evidence is proving the biblical validity of modern day miracles—scientific research is authenticating them (Keener 8387). For many Christians in the world today, the Word of God is by no means being made of “no effect” (Mark 7.13). Researcher Candy G. Brown, who holds a PhD from Harvard University, generated positive media attention after publishing her team’s study on the effects of healing prayer by Pentecostals—Christians who share the same common beliefs as Charismatics (Brown 97). Within the study, the empirical testing demonstrates significant improvements in patients with audio and visual impairments (Brown et al. 864). The published test results sparked interest from across the media spectrum.
According to Brown, the attention garnered from this isolated study included publication in the Los Angeles Times, a television segment from NBC News, a CNN interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and an additional two hundred related news articles found on Google (Roan; Brown 97). The level of attention Brown has drawn over the miraculous, is telling of the times of Jesus and His disciples. Vast multitudes of peoples would gather to Him, not only to receive miracles—but just to see them as well. After the resurrection, the mantle was passed to His disciples who saw thousands come to salvation (Acts 2-5), through faith in the Gospel they preached with demonstrations of the Spirit and power (1Co. 2.4). Today, Charismatic ministers continue to follow the biblical model of healing evangelism, seeing even millions come to The Lord in just a single event. The human response to God’s authentic, miraculous power is undeniable and unchanged. Likewise, so is the attention it draws. Brown has paved the way for Christian apologetics; her peer reviewed research on miracles echoes The Lord’s invitation to hungry hearts to “come and see” (Jn 1.39).
Healing miracles however, are not the only thing under the microscope. The supernatural phenomena of glossolalia, or praying in tongues, has also received important media attention in recent years. Dr. Andrew Newberg et al., of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, published a study on the effects of praying in tongues. Again, the results gained media exposure—including a television special on ABC News (“Science”). The study demonstrated that Christians who prayed in tongues produced markedly different test results than non-Christians who prayed otherwise. Those who prayed in tongues exhibited no visible activity in the frontal lobes of the brain, in contrast to Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns who displayed heightened visible activity during prayer (“Science”). Newberg suggests the test results are “consistent with the experience they have, because they say…[it is] the Spirit of God [that is] moving through them” (“Science”). Newberg is referring to the similarities between the test results and what the test subjects say is really happening. According to the Scriptures, when Christians pray in tongues their minds are inactive—because their spirits are praying (1Co. 14.14). Therefore, just as with the healing miracles, science is also validating tongues.
In light of this scientific testing, an important observation is becoming clear—the sharp distinction between charismatic Christianity and other religions. Brown et al. noted that the results of healing prayer by Pentecostals, yielded significantly higher results than other religious methods (865). This follows the pattern seen in the tests performed by Newberg et al., which showed polarized results between the prayers of the Pentecostals, and those of the Monks and Nuns (Newberg et al. 70). Brown et al. comments that previous researchers failed to separate the various methods of prayer during testing of healing prayers. These generalizations convoluted the results, having varying levels of effectiveness, if any at all, and thus made the studies inconclusive (865). Notwithstanding, the positive Christian-centered results presented by Brown are garnering attention from other religious researchers (Poloma 827).
These favorable findings published by Brown et al., are not only evidenced by healing miracles but also in the practice of praying in tongues. Dr. Carl Peterson, explains that extended periods of praying in tongues is physiologically advantageous. Peterson suggests the immune system is benefitted from the practice due to a substantial release of brain hormones (Peterson 1). Researchers William K. Kay and L. J. Francis observe, “[that] the absence of neuroticism supports the more positive evaluation of glossolalia which…is also in line with the standard Pentecostal/Charismatic teaching…from 1 Corinthians 14 4 on the edificatory nature of the glossolalic experience” (262). These claims validate what the Bible says in respect to praying in tongues; those who speak in unknown tongues edify themselves (1Co 14.4), and “the Spirit Himself helps [Christians] with [their] infirmities” (Rom. 8.26). Again, a correlation between biblical truth and scientific data is evident, not only suggesting the authenticity of Charismatic practices but demonstrating their benefit. Ultimately, Christian apologetics will become more effectual with scientific findings that validate demonstrable biblical truths.
Charismatic Christianity is afforded a unique standing when placed under scientific testing; it is benefitted when juxtaposed against other religions participating in the same experiments. Differences are evidenced between the consistently positive effects of the former, versus the consistent yet relatively negative effects of the latter. For example, research performed by Hine and Richardson has “suggested that people who pray in tongues showed…no increase in depression, anxiety, mania, or psychosis” (qtd. in Newberg et al. 69). Conversely, Valanciute and Thampy report the degeneration of a patient diagnosed with “Kundalini Syndrome,” a term describing the common experiences of practitioners of tantra yoga (Sanella 25-30). The psychiatrists affirm, that the patient “was gradually deteriorating” and later “assessed under the Mental Health Act and detained.” The patient is recorded to have “expressed…ideas of world disorganization…confusion regarding sexual identity…all of which he ascribed to be a part of his ‘Kundalini Awakening’” (840). This was not an isolated incident.
Psychiatrist Lee Sanella, co-founder of the Kundalini Clinic, recounts in his book The Kundalini Experience the case of a woman who was “stricken with a strange mélange of hallucinations, comas and convulsions’” who “appeared to be in a delirium, crying out against unseen and terrifying creatures” (39). Sanella asserts similar phenomena is observed in people undergoing “spontaneous kundalini awakening” (39). Kundalini researchers like Sanella believe that such terrifying experiences are only temporary consequences of a greater, spiritual transformation process (Sanella 93-108). Interestingly enough, Kundalini symptoms recorded by science, are also recorded in the Bible; Kundalini Awakenings characterize schizophrenia (Sannella 153; 156), just as demonic possession characterizes lunacy (Mat. 17.15-18).
Research suggests that Kundalini Awakenings are potentially harmful, when evaluated based on reports given by Sannella (Sanella 57-82). In contrast, research points to both the physical and psychological benefits of Charismatic Christian practices (Peterson 1; Lovekin and Maloney 391). Therefore, the fair inclusion of evidence from non-Christian sources is beneficial to Christian apologetics; it provides balance to the data used, and further points to the validity of Scripture.
Until Christians can unitedly embrace the ministry of miracles, signs and wonders—Charismatic advances will always be crippled by Cessationist attacks. However, hope lies on the horizon: Professor Tassos Lycurgo, one of Brazil’s leading Christian apologists, affirms that while over ninety percent of Christianity’s prominent apologists are non-Charismatic—things are starting to change (Lycurgo). A change in beliefs among such leaders regarding modern day miracles, may imply a change in beliefs in the church. The evidence presented by both scripture and science point to the validity of miracles in the modern day church, and the reality of the supernatural phenomena outside of it. Christian apologetics will only become more effective, when synthesizing science, Scripture—and the supernatural.
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