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Brad Pitt’s Atheistic Polemic Against Charismania (And Why He’s Right)

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Brad Pitt, the 51-year-old Hollywood celebrity, is an atheist.  He’s recently spoken out against his “Christian” upbringing with some observations that, though coming from a professing unbeliever, ought to cause us as believers to pause.  Pitt’s superficial observations are, after all, inherently logical.  They make sense for the believer and the unbeliever.

 “ … we grew up First Baptist, which is the cleaner, stricter, by-the-book Christianity. Then, when I was in high school, my folks jumped to a more charismatic movement, which got into speaking in tongues and raising your hands and some goofy-a** sh**.”  (Source)

“I remember going to a few concerts, even though we were told rock shows are the Devil, basically. Our parents let us go, they weren’t neo about it. But I realized that the reverie and the joy and exuberance, even the aggression, I was feeling at the rock show was the same thing at the revival. One is Jimmy Swaggart and one is Jerry Lee Lewis, you know? One’s God and one’s Devil. But it’s the same thing. It felt like we were being manipulated. What was clear to me was “You don’t know what you’re talking about—”  (Source)

Pitt’s atheistic observation of the unblurred lines between charismatic “Christianity” and secular entertainment is spot on in two regards.  First, the charismatic movement is indeed – in Pitt’s crass vernacular –  some “goofy-a** sh**” resembling nothing remotely close to the exhibition of the “gifts” in the New Testament church.

Tongues were actual languages and prophecies were Spirit-guided expositions of God’s Gospel and His Word, a divine function that was needed no longer at the providential completion of the canon.  Plus, modern prophecy is not equivalent to New Testament prophecy in terms of accuracy, even allowing the possibility of its continuation beyond the close of the canon.   Rick Joyner, a major deceiver in the charismatic movement, confirmed this problem with modern “prophecy.” God’s accuracy rate has fallen from a 100% rating in the New Testament to “about 65 percent at this time.” (Source)

Secondly, Pitt’s comment, “it felt like we were being manipulated,” is an altogether appropriate observation because, in fact, participants are being manipulated.  In some cases, this manipulation is diabolically rooted, while in others it is the self-deluding power of – and desire for – emotional frenzy disjointed from Scripture and uninformed by it that, again, reflects nothing like what is witnessed to in the New Testament narratives of the early church.

These two observations by the atheist Pitt should give us pause as Bible-believing Christians.  It should make us understand that an unbelieving world is looking on, watching, observing.  Is there a distinction, especially in our worship, that evokes reverence, holiness, and points to the Gospel of a self-revealing God who has made Himself known and knowable?  Or does “worship” look like the rock concert?

On his charismatic observations, Pitt is right.  The movement is dominated by bizarre, irrational behavior that is repulsive. It is repulsive to the rational thinking pagan.  And, it is repulsive to the Biblically-informed, rational-thinking believer.  It is repulsive if you happen to believe that God, among all His depthless attributes, is omniscient.  God is smart, very smart.  It’s not that the characteristic of “smart” exists as some quality of measure outside of God that He strives to achieve and exhibit.  He is perfectly smart because He is Truth. (John 14:6) He is “smart’s” definition.

Given God’s smarts, it seems remarkably, bluntly inane that He, the sovereign creator God of the universe, would choose to completely bypass rational human thinking  – which, btw, He created – and normal human speech – which, again, He created – to animate His creatures in ecstatic gyrations of irrational gibberish.  Why would a “smart” God do this?  We know He is a God who has revealed Himself and wants to be known and worshiped.   How “smart” is it to veil presumed godly behavior behind an unintelligible facade of supernatural spirituality?

As for modern “prophecy,” it is blasphemous to suggest that God’s accuracy rate has suffered entropy over the last two millennia. (Given that charismania only reared its deceptive head at the turn of the 19th-century, the prevalence of such “prophecy” is barely a century old.  Another sign as to charismania’s illegitimacy.) But God’s not diminished in His omniscience, nor is He incapable of reaching us in some other way like, say, His inspired, providentially-delivered, and perfect Word.

“Anything that divorces people from their reliance upon the Word of God is not the work of the Author of the Word of God.  Anything that diverts our attention away from Scripture is not coming from the author of Scripture.  It’s coming from the enemy.”  Justin Peters

Though the movement feebly attempts to justify itself by citing spuriously interpreted Scripture, the appeal of charismania is hardly Scriptural and staggeringly untheological.  How theological can it be when the most superficial behavior exhibited by apprehending its doctrines is a frothy-tongued expulsion of unintelligible shrieks and shrills that are more at home in a carnival’s tunnel of terror than in the midst of presumed worship of our Holy God?  When prophetic “words from the Lord” rarely and barely scratch twice the accuracy rate of your daily horror-scope, you’re admitting to faith in a less than perfect God.

The appeal of charismania is something that Pitt found served up with equal effect at a rock show or a revival.  This should tell us something.

“I realized that the reverie and the joy and exuberance, even the aggression, I was feeling at the rock show was the same thing at the revival.”

We must admit that we each share this craving with Pitt.  We crave “the reverie and the joy and exuberance.”  But it’s a natural craving.  That is, it’s a natural, fall-affected craving.  Emotions are a powerful mechanism within us.  While the devil may indeed have been explicitly or implicitly active at those Pitt-attended rock concerts, the devil also lusts for deception within the church.  In his cosmic, spiritual goal of anarchy against the throne of God, Satan’s primary attention is given to the church. Emotions are an easy point of entrance for diabolical deception.  Perhaps it’s why some 61% of professing believers buy into facets of the “new spirituality”  and some 54% agree with some tenets of our subjective, post-modern culture. (Source)

In a 2007 interview, Pitt sheds some light on this natural craving, one he found capable of being filled at either a Holy Ghost revival meeting or a modern rock concert.

“I’d go to Christian revivals and be moved by the Holy Spirit, and I’d go to rock concerts and feel the same fervor. Then I’d be told, ‘That’s the Devil’s music! Don’t partake in that!’ I wanted to experience things religion said not to experience.”  (Source)

The message from atheist Pitt is clear.  And it’s a message that is resoundingly echoed from all corners of our post-modern, subjective culture … “I wanted to experience things.”  This pursuit of experience is also what drives charismania, slathered as it is with the superficial veneer of “Christianity.”  Yet, as the Apostle prayed for the Colossians, it’s not experience but knowledge that leads to understanding that is emphasized.

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”  Colossians 1:9

My own interaction with a charismatic lady this week reveals, sadly, what Pitt missed in his exposure to “church:”  the Gospel. This charismatic defined her salvation not in light of the Gospel, but in terms of her “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and her continued exhibition of the “gifts.”  The “gifts” which they presume to have been empowered to exhibit serve as assurance to charismatics of their entry into heaven.  Consider the comments of the charismatic lady:

“Salvation is through obedience to the word of God. So after I repented, I was baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of my sins. And three months later, He filled me with the Glorious baptism of the Holy Ghost!  If I continue to walk in holiness and obedience, I will be saved.”  (Emphasis Added)

The experience of being “moved by the Holy Spirit,” as Pitt noted, can be fluidly compared to the charismatic lady’s “Glorious baptism of the Holy Ghost.”  But the fervor of the rock concert seems little different that the “Glorious baptism” experience.  Only the labels are different.  Really?  As Bible-informed believers, can we give an “amen” to this rebranding of heathenistic fervor as “Christian” when performed in a church setting?  Surely not.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Ephesians 5:3-6

The radio dial and the concert venue is brimming with toxic abuses of Paul’s warning for believers.  (So, too, is the overwhelming bulk of the television line-up.)  Not only are the “sons of disobedience” reveling in the sins noted by the apostle, but they are singing about them too.  For Pitt, then, to attribute his revival feelings “by the Holy Spirit” to the same sensations he got at a rock concert is quite telling -but not for the atheist …  for the revival hosts.  The Spirit of God does not laud the behavior of the wicked, nor does He mimic it.

But these are pleasurable, powerful emotions.  For the world, though, to look on at what is increasingly becoming the face of Christianity around the globe – charismania – and see something that is little different than a theatrical, percussion-pumping production is an egregious affront to the Holy God who also calls us to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).  Such an unblurred distinction tragically stunts a condemned already (John 3:18)  world’s capacity to hear the clear Gospel through the cacophonous charisma.  When your Sunday morning worship could be easily mistaken for a Friday night rock show, whatever you feel ain’t from the Holy Spirit.

What’s worse, as shown in the conversation I had, the Gospel isn’t even evident.  Salvation, according to the charismatic lady, is assured only by her post-baptism-of-the-Spirit use of her supernaturally endowed gifts, not by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  While Scripture is our guide, and though Scripture contains the Gospel – the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16) – its redemptive message is not a gifts-focused “do this, keep doing it, and be saved.”  Once saved, we are compelled – by the Spirit – to obey the Word, but that obedience is not grounds for our salvation.  When the Gospel is not the forefront and “salvation” comes by some other means, false conversions and legalistic responses ensue, while the eternity of the “saved” remains unchanged.  The lady I spoke with affirmed as much saying, “If I continue to walk in holiness and obedience, I will be saved.”  This “salvation by supernatural gifts” is unbiblical and not salvific.

The point is this:  if an atheist perceives the same behavior as having no distinct lines of demarcation – what’s truly of the devil and what’s truly of God – then Brad Pitt, the atheist, isn’t wrong and the “church” has a problem.  While he needs to repent and believe the Gospel – as does the charismatic lady I engaged with in conversation – Pitt’s assessment of charismatic Christianity is accurate.  To the onlooking world, what looks like ecstatic nonsense is precisely that.  To the Scripture-informed believer, what looks like ecstatic nonsense is a doctrine-void, emotions-driven movement that deters – not reinforces – the preeminence of Scripture for the believer and for the church.  In charismania, the offer of ecstatic, emotional fervor is distinguished from the pagan world only by location, and that location is little more than a moralized, alcohol-free venue beslimed with Christian-ese.

While Brad Pitt saw the charismatic church experience as little different than the experience he could find elsewhere, his indictment against that “church” stands.  For Christ told us how His church would be known by the world.  It would not be by indistinguishable experiences common to the world, nor by adherence to legalistic standards of do’s and don’ts.  His Church is known by one thing:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

Please pray for Pitt’s eyes to be opened to Gospel Truth.  Pray for the charismatic lady’s repentance and belief in the true Gospel. And pray that charismatics would shun their century-old fascination with ecstatic emotionalism and rely, instead, on the two-millennium-old veracity of God’s proven Word.

The world is watching.

[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]