Please read Part I before starting Part II; click HERE
Chapter Three – My Sojourn in Pentecostalism
Until I turned 14, the only charismatic person I knew anything about was JFK. Since then I have been charismatic (one year, give or take); then post-charismatic; anti-charismatic; teacher of charismatics; bridge-builder with charismatics; regular spokesman against neo-Pentecostals and Word of Faith teaching; author who promotes the Spirit’s work, sometimes against anti-Pentecostals – see my essays in the collection Strangers to Fire: When Traditional Trumps Scripture (2014).
If you haven’t read Part I of my testimony, it might interest you to read Chapter One – I react against false teaching. While I was working through the life-and-death question of what it takes to be saved, in tandem for some months I was figuring out what it meant to be a charismatic believer. I am the only person I’ve ever met who was a practicing Adventist and a practicing charismatic at the same time; now Wikipedia tells me that there are thousands of people who have managed to combine the two.
After supper on September 15, 1972, it was warm enough to go to the local swimming hole for a dip. When I got back, I saw that someone had lent my mother a copy of Dennis Bennett’s The Holy Spirit and You: a guide to the Spirit filled life. This was the 70s, and the charismatic movement had been moving outward from the Pentecostal churches and the Assemblies of God; people in many denominations began to pursue a more direct experience with the Spirit.
Days later and the news began to circulate around the Baptist church that “Gary got baptized in the Spirit!” My pastor said that I should read 1 Cor 12-14, a passage I devoured as being relevant to my life today. A few people from our church went to a Thursday night prayer meeting in a school across town, and they offered to take me. For about an hour and a half we would have choruses, Bible readings, and at some meetings someone would speak in tongues or give a “message” to the group. I learned later that it was a group of mainline charismatics, and in fact the Rocky Hill School was an Episcopalian prep school (the headmaster attended, as did his wife, who was one of the real-life Von Trapp daughters). So, no jumping around, no shouting or confusion, just a quiet and orderly time of worship. When someone spoke in tongues, they waited for someone to interpret.
It was there that someone gave me a pocket New Testament, which was a constant companion – I wore out a couple, and still have my last copy. I enrolled in the group’s “Life in the Spirit Seminar.”
I started to pray, as the apostle says, “without ceasing.” I devoured the Bible, I prayed for my friends, I prayed for people to be healed or saved and saw God answer. I attended 2-3 meetings a week, Rocky Hill but then others, often in the homes of my teenaged friends.
I heard testimonies of people who had spent years, decades, in the church but only recently had come to confess Christ as their Lord and Savior. On the other hand, I met other people, usually teenagers or young adults, who took another path: some had a mania for speaking in tongues, and they suffered for months and months, begging God in vain to receive the gift. Among my contemporaries was a focus on the spectacular but little on holy living.
The Bible was my entry-point to the charismatic movement; in the end it was my exit, as I applied the rule I’d learned from the outset: Not believe anything anyone said about the Bible, unless I could prove it to my own satisfaction, using just the Bible. I expanded my rule to include the axiom that while personal experiences may open our eyes to God’s truth, in the end the Word has to be the judge over our experiences. I read Acts and 1 Corinthians, and looked into my heart and looked at my charismatic friends. “People are claiming to be speaking in other languages, but what I hear doesn’t line up with the ‘interpretation’ that is offered.” There were other discrepancies. I finally had to ask the question, should I continue with a movement that has much good but which now strikes me as wrong-headed in some important ways? I decided, No. I didn’t storm out, but I did quietly cut my ties.
For a while I interpreted my experience as that I had been in two sects, Character Building Associates (Part I) and the charismatic movement. But once the dust settled and I was able to think more objectively I decided that the two groups were very different in kind; Character Building Associates nearly destroyed me, whereas the charismatics gave me some misdirection but also plenty of good. My time with them gave me the chance to “bulk up” spiritually and in my understanding of God’s Word. When I was in a cult, I reasoned, no-one came to my rescue. So most of my spiritual intake was now under my own supervision.
Chapter Four – I discover the Scofield Bible
In 1970, Hal Lindsey published the runaway bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth. Like many Christians of that period, my thinking about the end times was completely molded by Lindsey, Salem Kirban’s novel 666 and a stack of what we now would call “Left Behind” type of books. At the same time, my radio preacher hero, J. Vernon McGee, said that a person who really wanted to study the Word should get a Scofield Bible. By that time the New Scofield was out; I biked the three miles to the local Christian bookstore and got a massive 1000-page Scofield.
What a feast – maps, book introductions, a concordance, all sorts of helps. Many of the notes gave historical or cultural background.
What I didn’t catch is that it also came with a strong theological agenda.
Dispensationalism is hard to define – at the least it emphasizes that God has a different agenda for Israel and the church; that Christ had offered Israel the kingdom and it was rejected, so instead he died on the cross; that Israel will inherit the Holy Land for the thousand years after Christ’s return; that Christ would come secretly to “rapture” the church before a seven-year tribulation. Scofield founded Dallas Theological Seminary; both Lindsey and McGee were graduates of Dallas; other Dallas people include Chafer; Dwight Pentecost; Ryrie; Walvoord; Howard Hendricks; Charles Swindoll. Moody Bible Institute sent out waves of dispensationalist missionaries. Scofield founded the Central American Mission, and many Latin Americans today are dispensationalists because of his influence, an effect that we still feel, ironically for me, in Costa Rica. As many Christians in the 20th century concluded, those people who seemed to be the closest and most faithful Bible students were dispensationalists.
My second read through the Bible was in the Scofield. My grandmother still laughs and reminds me that during those days “Gary was always reading the Bible.”
But this time I didn’t properly apply my personal rule, not to believe anything anyone said, unless I could see it with my own eyes in the Bible. After all, when I read my Bible, what did I see if not dispensational theology?
Positively, I took away from this chapter of my life more of what I was taught early on – the Bible should be taken as a whole, not simply as a list of verses. 2 Kings and 1 Peter and Joshua and Matthew were pieces of a whole.
I held a dispensationalist view into my 20s. I went to a dispensationalist Bible college, Philadelphia College of Bible. Over my four years there I came to question and, after graduation, begin to reject many teachings of Scofield, although I still believe in a literal millennium and a future conversion of ethnic Israel at the return of Christ. My Greek teacher at PCB took me back to the rule I once held dear: “You say the truth is this – I don’t care what professor said it, you show it to me in the Bible.” He was a strong dispensationalist, but he invited me to question humanauthority.
But that was still far in the future. I was 15 and had been studying the Bible every day for over a year. I was about to take what little I knew and share it with others my age.
Part Three is HERE.
 There is a disturbing irony in the manner that non-charismatics reject teachings of the charismatics. One famous preacher writes a whole chapter to prove that “Experience, however, is not the test of biblical truth; rather, biblical truth stands in final judgment on experience.” He critiques charismatics for pointing to their experience. Fair enough, but within the same chapter the author wrote pages of anecdotes, some of dubious reliability, of experiences which supposedly prove that the miraculous gifts are not in operation today. He interprets 1 Cor 13:8-11 and Hebrews 2:2-3 through the lens of his experience. One cannot have it both ways – either personal experience reveals God’s truth or it does not.
“My four decades in the Bible – Part II,” by Gary Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica