cloud(ing) judgment?

mjkimpan  —  April 16, 2014 — 2 Comments


jesus. glory.

have you seen this yet? apparently at bethel church in redding, CA there are some… interesting things happening. like a ‘glory cloud’ defined by pastor bill johnson as the presence of God.

according to the pastor, these glory clouds are ‘hard to explain. it looks like smoke, looks like dust. and when you get closer… it looks like gold.’

here’s a compilation video of the glory cloud phenomena at the church ::

curious, that.

i stumbled upon this story while scrolling down my facebook newsfeed when i saw my fb friend michael hardin commenting on it.

i only recently discovered michael and his work a few months ago, and in the past several weeks have been unintentionally and repeatedly bumping into his online presence. he was interviewed in the (highly recommended!) documentary Hellbound and is the author of The Jesus Driven Life (you can learn more about michael and his work here).

then i found out he’s in cahoots with brian mclaren.

and any friend of brian’s is a friend of mine.

so rather than summarize the thoughts michael offered in his status updates, i asked him for permission to (re)post them here. take a look ::

Stirring the pot some more. Don’t just react to this post. It will get you immediately de-friended. If you find yourself getting angry, ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, God is trying to speak to you. Breathe. Take a walk. Then come back and reply. I am thinking out loud here. These are just my thoughts. They are not gospel. I don’t make the mistake of assuming that everything that pops into my head is downloaded from God. On the other hand, maybe God is speaking to you through this.

I confess I have trouble understanding the Bethel Church’s (Redding CA) explanation of so-called glory clouds. For my non-charismatic readers, here is a video of the head pastor Bill Johnson explaining this phenomenon. (see above)

In an earlier post I mused “Has anyone ever considered how much moisture is expelled by the lungs of hundreds (or thousands) of people singing in a closed room for an hour or two hours, add to that all of the dust in the air, add to that the need for spotlights, and isn’t it possible that is what a so-called glory cloud is? Now, if someone wanted to make a real case for the so-called glory cloud, let’s see this phenomenon outdoors!

But here is my real problem: the argument is that when the people of God worship, and the more authentic and genuine and heartfelt the praise and worship, then, and only then, does this so-called glory cloud appear. My second problem is the way Bill Johnson connects this phenomenon with the ‘cloud’ of the Presence in the Hebrew scriptures ( I will not deal with this highly questionable exegesis here).

Let me put it crassly: If God needs God’s ego stroked in order to appear as a little smoke and dust particles, then God has a big problem. This is not love, for love manifests itself to the enemy other. Why then would God need to listen to people sing for an hour or two and then show up as a little smoke and dust? I mean really, you are the God of the universe and this is the best you can come up with?

Now for a less crass version of what I am saying: I see an identical problem with both Protestant Orthodoxy’s apologetics of inerrancy or six day creationism and Charismatics use of ‘signs and wonders.’ Both function to validate the viewpoint, doctrine or theology of the person. In both cases what is sought is certainty. Charismatics, like their conservative rationalist counterparts seek certainty. Both groups absolutely want to be able to absolutely prove that their version of the Christian faith is correct. Both use suspect apologetics to do so.

Think about this please. Charismatic movements don’t arise from liberalism but from extreme conservatism. Both are grounded in a Cartesian dualism. Both seek certainty. One finds it in ‘rational’ (sic) apologetics, the other in supernatural (sic) manifestation. Both seek to argue that God is on their side. The one uses pseudo-science, the other a pseudo-hermeneutic. Both argue from within the (il)logic of the Platonism that undergirds their thinking. Neither side will admit to this. What we end up with are the extremists in each group battling the other (witness John McArthur’s recent Strange Fire Conference and the passionate reaction to it).

Here is the real problem for me with regard to this ‘glory cloud’ business and other things like Holy Ghost Circuses. It turns the work of God in the world into a sideshow, a carnival, a freak show. It suggests that God is to be found in the margins of the normal. Jesus, it seems to me adopted quite an opposite approach. While Jesus spoke about the margins, it was to the sociological margins. Most of Jesus’ miracles are manifestations of a healing that re-socialized the person so they could re-enter society. That is, Jesus miracles weren’t about ‘manifesting the glory of God’ (which is why the Gospel of John calls them ‘semeia’ not dunamai), they were about healing persons from the stigmas of social purity codes. Jesus’ miracles (in the Synoptics, dunamis) were all about challenging the hegemony of those who built community upon those who could be deemed outside the will of God. Jesus in the Gospels, does not seem to be about healing every ache and pain. Rather, his miracles had a crucial sociological component. Furthermore, Jesus did not want to be known as a miracle worker. He constantly commanded (not asked, but commanded) people not to say anything. I do not see this at all in modern charismania.

Little wonder then that a John McArthur can easily come out with a strong critique of the charismatic movement. They left themselves wide open for a sucker punch. This is not to say that McArthur is right. As a cessationist he is certainly limiting how God may choose to act. On the other hand, after some thoughtful consideration I too, as a believer that God has not changed and may still do wondrous things, think that the running after these so-called ‘manifestations’, starting ‘Schools of Supernatural Ministry’ and such is just plain un-Jesus-like.

If our modern day healers remained unknown and on the fringes, like Jesus, instead of having big churches and TV ministries, if our modern day Moses’ with all their ‘supernatural manifestations’ were reaching out to the socially marginalized, particularly the LGBT communities, then I could say I saw some Jesus in them. Some may say but look, these churches minister to drug addicts and the like. Yeah, but only after the world had first begun the process. Then when it was socially acceptable the church came in and said “Oh, please let us add a dose of God to this, so we can Christianize it and thus make it legitimate.” Where are these so called ministers of supernatural things leading the way in creating a real vision of human community where ALL are included, not just the kinds of folks that look like them, think like them and dress like them?

I know some pastors that are really trying to break out of this box. I urge them not to fall into the trap of bigger is better, or that the supernatural is better. Jesus isn’t going to say to the goats “When did you heal someone, or manifest a glory cloud, or call down angels wings or heavenly jewelry?” No he asks about the common everyday simple things about real life: caring for the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and none of this is meant spiritually, he is talking about real food, real water and real acts of human compassion.

There is a sociological component to Jesus’ miracles. They were never meant to ‘prove’ anything other than that God had come to those the social power-brokers deemed unworthy. Our Christianity has become I-Me-My focused. Jesus’ faith was other focused. God is in the business of turning our hearts toward others. As long as it is all about our bliss, our happiness, our personal feelings we are just consumers. If, on the other hand, our worship ‘manifests’ itself in the courage to welcome those our society won’t, care those our society says should be the enemy, then perhaps we would have the right to say God is present.

i think michael offers some critical and invaluable insight to the conversation about the ‘glory cloud.’

what do you think?

  • His compare/contrast bit on charisma and cessation is brilliant. All in all great points on so-called modern miracles within Christianity and how they compare to the miracles Jesus was alleged to have done in the canonical gospels.

    An important thing to note on the topic (though it would have been a rabbit trail for his point) is that miracles meant something different to ancient people than they do to modern people living in a scientific/medical age. It’d be too much to really go into it here, but for now I think it’s sufficient to point out that in the historical context it’s only sensible for the gospel writers to want to include traditions of Jesus being a miracle-worker given the weight that the supernatural had in a pre-rational and pre-scientific society. But I think that the point of such stories is both to prove that Jesus was empowered by God, as well as emphasizing to whom God would deliver the kingdom–those rejected by society and by the religious establishment of the time. Jesus himself was one of those people, being a poor uneducated Nazarene. If you think about it, those stories could be seen as a sort of “fuck you” to the corrupt glory-seeking temple cult that Jesus and other people like him railed against (and which had literally just been decimated by Rome when the first gospel was written). Anyways, just a thought I had.

    All of that aside, stuff like that video only add fuel to the non-believers’ fire and make spiritual beliefs look downright laughable. There are way better “miracles” than this out there.

  • Stephen Patterson

    So I actually have had quite of bit of interaction with this ministry and the people who are in it. It would be hard for me to really explain their thought processes or their (quite healthy) definitions of the “supernatural ministry” and “healing”, but please believe me when I tell you these people are far more your allies in bridge building than not. I hope that you don’t find yourself in the Piper or Driscol camp of judging something without having any real interaction with it.

    One of the Guys on their pastor team wrote a book called “culture of honor” which teaches that we should be empowering people to find the answers from Christ rather than from the pulpit. The book also teaches that we should ask others questions rather than giving answers. These teachings are things I know you are in line with.

    Another person on staff at Bethel, Ray Leight, also happens to be one of the few elders on aChurch’s board that stayed after we stated the (not)radical idea of Christ being the only thing below the water line(thanks again for this imagery) for aChurch.

    I will be the first to say that the way they engage in worship is weird but from my experience with this blog and its author I’m pretty sure “weird” isn’t a bad thing. I think the quote from the video puts these people’s heart’s on display best :

    “we dont seek the signs but we dont ignore them either”

    I would love to talk with you more man, just hit me up!