Charismatic Gullibility, Dr. Michael Brown and Discernment

I am an unashamed Pentecostal/charismatic believer, a lifelong tongues speaker (since Jan. 24, 1972), one of the four principle leaders who served in the Brownsville Revival, the author of an in-depth, scholarly treatment of divine healing, the man who wrote Authentic Fire in response to Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire

Yet I am terribly ashamed of our folly, our gullibility, our lack of discernment, our failure to test all things by the Word, our carnality and our openness to being duped, deceived and defrauded.

Dr. Michael Brown, a charismatic scholar and apologist, has written for Charisma Mag what is effectively a rebuke of some in the charismatic movement who are “gullible.” To be clear, Brown isn’t turning in his charismatic credentials, as you can see above. Brown references himself as one of the four principle leaders of the Brownsville Revival in an attempt to bolster his claims as a charismatic, which are already well-established. He also references himself as a lifelong tongue speaker and critic of John MacArthur (whose claims, he goes on to say, are “imbalanced” and “inaccurate”).

Brown’s chief contention concerning the gullibility plaguing charismaticism is corrupt fundraising among charismatic televangelists (although he reiterates that he does believe in “sowing and reaping”). Brown mentions a televangelist who used time at the Garden of Gethsemane to plea for money, a “prophet” guaranteeing provision in an upcoming famine in exchange for an offering, and other abuses designed to rake in cash. Brown did not name names in the process, saying instead that he was committed to reaching out to the offenders personally.

Brown ends with a hopeful admission, “It is high time for this nonsense to stop, beginning with each of us reading this article (me included) searching our own hearts and lives.”

Well, amen and amen.

There are a few observations, however, that should be noted as we debrief from Brown’s unnamed rebuke of gullibility in charismaticism. I want to demonstrate some glaring blind spots here and explain why it is impossible for charismatics to heed Brown’s words and not be gullible.

First, in his self-credentialing as a charismatic, Brown introduces himself as a leader in the Brownsville Revival. The Brownsville Revival, also known as the Pensacola Outpouring, was a series of revival services from 1995 to 2000 at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. Millions of people (if you can believe the numbers) during that time visited the church and experienced “manifestations of the Spirit” with such things as being slain in the Spirit, writhing in ecstasy, laying coma-like in a trance and other occultic practices. Dr. Michael Brown earned the nickname “Knock ’em down” Brown for his ability to slay people in the Spirit (for what that looks like, click here).

The Brownsville Revival was replete with controversy and gullibility, as many believed the reports circulating about the inexplicable manifestations of the Spirit (all such claims were debunked, except the perfectly explainable occultic practices mentioned above). The local newspaper, the Pensacola News Journal, which was at first affirming of the revival, began to report the false financial claims made by Brownsville Revival leaders (link). According to their reporting, revival leaders were not disclosing how they were spending the millions of dollars being brought into the revival (and not even church members were allowed to look at the books). The newspaper reports, “Revival leaders are generating fortunes. The top four ministers have set up their own nonprofit corporations selling their own revival-related merchandise, such as books, tapes, T-shirts and bumper stickers. The merchandise is sold both inside the church and via mail order. Only one of the corporations is paying sales tax.” And while the revival was raking in millions, the church gave a whopping 2% to missions.

In fact, the revival was criticized not only for gratuitous financial opportunism, but for urging people to turn over gifts and jewelry they had acquired through ill-gotten means or affairs into the offering plate. The revival was happy to have those things. Furthermore, journalists revealed that the claims of divine healing were not substantiated. The claims were always general, but never with specific names of people that could be consulted for reporting (link).

It’s on this note that Christian leaders began to question their claims of spiritual outpouring. Hank Hanegraaff (aka the Bible Answer Man), visited the revival and wrote the following…

Finally, I remain concerned that the Brownsville Revival is indicative of a paradigm shift taking place within Christianity — a shift from faith to feelings, from fact to fantasy, and from reason to esoteric revelation. This shift is what I call the Counterfeit Revival. While Brownsville leaders strongly emphasize holiness and repentance in their preaching, they also emphasize that “God will choose to offend our minds in order to reveal what is in our hearts” [quoting a revival leader] or “The Lord is saying, ‘I’m bypassing your mind and going straight to your heart…The heart is what matters to the Lord.”

One of the other three “principle leaders” with Brown then wrote concerning Hanegraaff, “I’m going to prophesy as a man of God that the Lord bring you down in 90 days.” When the prophecy did not come true, he said, “I was not speaking that as a prophet but as a shepherd putting something in the ears of God…Let me reemphasize again that was me speaking.” When he issued his prophecy, however, he began by saying, “I got a word from the Lord last night…(source link).

This is the convoluted mess that Brown identifies himself with – a revival that shifts “faith to feelings, from fact to fantasy, and reason to esoteric revelation, a Counterfeit Revival.” He identifies himself with a revival that bilked its believers for millions, didn’t financially disclose what they should have, personally profited and evaded sales tax, and made a bunch of spiritual claims that couldn’t been proven or rationally believed.

And he claims folks are too gullible. Again, Brown writes…

Yet I am terribly ashamed of our folly, our gullibility, our lack of discernment, our failure to test all things by the Word, our carnality and our openness to being duped, deceived and defrauded.

The irony here is that Dr. Brown is the epitome of folly, gullibility, lack of discernment, failure to test all things by the word, openness to being duped, deceived and defrauded. He escapes the carnality charge with aplomb.

Brown partnered with arch charismatic villain, Benny Hinn, for a series of episodes on Hinn’s television program. When pressed on the issue, Brown claimed he wasn’t fully aware of who Hinn was or the problems surrounding him (source link). And while only the gullible would believe that, Brown called in to the Pulpit & Pen Program to discuss his appearance with Hinn, and claimed that giving false prophecy doesn’t make someone a false prophet unless they intended to prophesy falsely (source link).

Brown defended Hillsong, claiming the story about homosexual choir directors were only “Internet rumor” (source link), and after I personally corrected him in a private email and after a video of Brian Houston surfaced proving him demonstrably wrong (source link), Brown did not offer a correction or apologize to those he claimed were slandering Hillsong. Most recently, Brown defended Hillsong’s “sexy” Christmas cabaret program as something they intended to do (as though that makes it better somehow) and again chastised the discernment community (source link).

Brown is, beyond a doubt, the chief finger wagger at those who call for any discernment in Charismania. The Brownsville Revival leaders used Brown as their token scholar to give their movement credibility, and years later, Brown is still the token scholar defending the indefensible.

The reason why Brown’s call to end the gullibility in charismatic circles will fall on deaf ears is precisely because the entire movement is founded upon the bedrock of gullibility. Discernment, an actual manifestation of the Spirit, is entirely missing from a community of believers who think that being slain in the spirit is anything but silliness or demonic mysticism. Discernment, an actual manifestation of the Spirit, is entirely missing from a community of believers who think that uttering gibberish nonsense words is the Biblical gift of tongues. Discernment, an actual manifestation of the Spirit, is entirely missing from a community of believers who look back at the Brownsville Revival with pride rather than embarrassment. Discernment, an actual manifestation of the Spirit, is entirely missing from the very magazine in which Brown was published, which regularly highlights Jim Bakker’s emergency survival food as the solution to Rick Joyner’s apocalyptic prophecies.

The lack of discernment in charismania isn’t just something they need to work on, like being nicer or brushing their teeth more. The lack of discernment in charismania is indication that the Holy Spirit is not at work among those who light strange fires upon the altar.

The charismatic movement will not stop being gullible because without gullibility there is no charismatic movement.

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[Contributed by JD Hall]

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