Biblical Literalism

Are we to read the Bible literally?  That is, are we to literally read all of Scripture literally?

Taking a strictly literal approach to Scripture reading is problematic. Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9); so, does this mean Jesus was the unique Word made flesh, while simultaneously a flat wooden object with hinges in order to allow woolly, bleating animals to enter? Even more troubling are the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal 4:19, NIV). So, not only was Paul in labor to birth the Galatians, he had already birthed them previously! Talk about a miraculous conception!! Today’s varied and many successful attempts at conception have nothing on Paul, a man who self-conceived his many Galatian offspring – simultaneously. 

Obviously, Jesus as a gate is a metaphor, just as “sheep” represents true followers of Jesus Christ.  And Paul was only metaphorically ‘birthing’ the Galatians. The meaning of the verses in John can be easily gleaned by the context.  The Galatians passage is based on and adapted from a Jewish idiom: “If one teaches the son of his neighbor the law, the Scripture reckons this the same as though he had begotten him”1 (cf. 1 Cor 4:15; Philemon 10).  Therefore, Paul was making the point that he had previously taught the Galatians the Gospel, yet, as they were being influenced by Judaizers, he had to steer them back to the purity of the Gospel message, away from the Law (Gal 5:1-6).  Paul used an apparently well-known metaphorical expression, while adding some hyperbole (“again in the pains of childbirth”) to drive the point home.

Another good example of hyperbole is in the Sermon on the Mount: …If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away (Matthew 5:29, 30; NIV 1984).  Certainly, Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation!  He’s illustrating the seriousness of the sin of lust.

There’s also a metaphorical component to these verses: the “right eye” and “right hand”.  Craig Blomberg notes, “[A]s is characteristic of Jesus’ figurative and hyperbolic style, he commands us to take drastic measures to avoid temptations to sexual sin – to remove from ourselves anyone or anything that could lead us into scandal (‘causes you to sin’).”2  The right eye and right hand were viewed as more valuable3 and the right side more powerful than the left.4  Charles H. Talbert adds a bit more:

These two illustrations are hyperbole; they are not to be taken literally.  Together they call for a radical integration of the self.  Whatever does not fit into the self’s integration around God’s will is to be jettisoned, whether it be eye (intent) or hand (action).  The sentiment is reflected in Philo, Planting 36-38, where he says the soul needs to be cultivated, protected, pruned, and even have parts cut off if necessary in pursuit of moral development.  “The maiming that moral life requires will be a thousandfold repaid with the wholeness of selfhood and the life of God that comes with amputation.”5

The “maiming” and “amputation” are, once again, metaphorical, not literal.  This “pruning” is done with God’s help, as illustrated in the Gospel of John (15:2).

As evidenced by the three examples above, Christians cannot interpret all of Scripture literally.  Yet, this is a charge that comes from some liberals who try to demean “Christian Fundamentalism” – a term used pejoratively – by portraying all (or most all) orthodox Christians as foolishly reading and interpreting Scripture in an unsophisticated and anti-scholarly manner, thereby distorting the ‘real’ meaning.6  Of course, it’s these same liberals who distort Scripture by literalizing metaphors and interpreting texts meant to be taken literally as metaphorical instead.

True Biblical Literalism

On the other hand, conservative, orthodox Christianity adheres to a doctrine known as Biblical Literalism for Scripture reading.  So, what is Biblical Literalism if not reading the Bible literally? 

In the best application of the term, Biblical Literalism “Generally…seeks to discover the author’s intent by focusing upon his words in their plain, most obvious sense.”7  This means, among other things, that literal passages are taken literally, metaphors are interpreted as metaphors, and hyperbole is understood as exaggeration for rhetorical effect.

The following excerpt is from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition:

 Article XVIII.

WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

WE DENY the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.8

The grammatico-historical method seeks to uncover the author’s intent by studying the grammar, syntax (sentence structure), literary type (narrative, poetry, etc.), literary devices (metaphor, hyperbole, etc.) and historical context.  Here’s more from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy with Exposition, this time from the Exposition section:

…[H]istory must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.9

How Many Meanings?

An important aspect of the grammatico-historical method is that there is only one correct reading of any passage of Scripture.  This does not preclude a passage, or even a whole book, from being literal yet also encompassing an allegorical understanding when the context makes this clear, such as the book of Hosea in which the relationship of Hosea to his wayward wife Gomer is analogous to God’s relationship with Israel.10  There are also NT fulfillments of OT types such as Jesus as the manna from Heaven (John 6 / Exodus 16).  Moreover, this does not preclude the Biblical author from using double entendre (double meaning) as in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus, in which John records Jesus using γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, which means is born from above/again (John 3:3).11

Yet, historically, there have been those who have claimed there are multiple meanings, or levels, of Scripture.  Origen (ca. 185-ca. 254) was one such individual. 

It’s important to understand that Origen was influenced by Middle Platonism,12 teaching on the preexistence of souls (and some, as I, construe transmigration of souls / reincarnation as well).  Attendant with this belief was his doctrine of universal reconciliation (all will be saved – including the devil!)13.  Some of Origen’s works were later burned, and he may have been posthumously branded a heretic at the Second Council of Constantinople (553AD) for these beliefs, though scholars are divided on this issue.14

With Origen’s penchant for mysticism, resulting from his affinity for the philosophy of Plato, came his threefold interpretation of Scripture, with a preference for the allegorical, though he sometimes departed from his own triadic formula:

…According to Origen, the biblical texts have a literal meaning, another which is moral, and another which is intellectual.  This is parallel to the presence in humans of body, soul, and spirit, based on what Philo had previously said and done.  But Origen did not always follow this triple scheme; instead he frequently included only the allegorical sense, and at times found a multitude of different senses in the same text….15

In effect, Origen’s belief system created a two-tiered structure of Christians – the unenlightened and the enlightened: “For Origen, those who stayed only with the literal meaning of the text were unenlightened souls who had not realized that Jesus gave some of his teaching in the valleys and some on mountaintops.  Only to the latter disciples, those who could ascend the mountains, did Jesus reveal himself transfigured.”16

Origen was quite influential, even into Medieval times, as his method of extracting meaning from the texts (or variations thereof) continued, expanding to a fourfold (quadriga) sense: literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical (personal foreshadowings, prophetic).17  However, some sought ‘only’ two meanings, while still others reached for seven.  The literal sense was typically viewed as the least important, while the allegorical retained its preeminence,18 a la Origen.

While most rejected or downplayed the literal sense, there were a limited few who gave priority to the literal:

…[Thomas] Aquinas made the other meanings of Scripture dependent upon the literal meaning and thus elevated it above them.  He said, “…all the senses [of Scripture] are found on one – the literal – from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory…” (Summa Theologiae, i.1.10)19

However, it wasn’t until the Reformation that Scripture was afforded the opportunity to speak for itself.  Quoting Martin Luther, “When I was a monk, I was an expert at allegorizing Scripture, but now my best skill is only to give the literal, simple sense of Scripture, from which comes power, life, comfort, and instruction.”20

Protestantism continued with this “literal, simple sense” of the Biblical text amidst a myriad of challenges in the ensuing centuries from Pietism, Hegelian historicism, Liberalism, the “Historical Jesus” movement, Form Criticism, Bultmann’s demythologizing the Bible, Structuralism (Biblical books as literature only), etc.21

Current Trends in Christendom

It seems that in the past 100 or so years, there’s been a shift in some of Protestantism (loosely defined) away from the literal, plain meaning of Scripture back to the allegorical.  Postmodern (or is it now post-postmodern?) thinking has provided an ‘anything goes’ method of understanding Scripture, with one’s own intuition or experience dictating meaning.  In some quarters, there’s a dichotomy between those who dismiss orthodoxy and scholasticism over against those who adhere to the more traditional form of Christianity, such that some in the hyper-charismatic and Emergent wings of Christendom (again, loosely defined) seem to be of the opinion that “my feelings and/or experiences trump your dogma”.  Mystical experiences and/or one’s own thoughts are shoe-horned into Scripture – a practice known as eisegesis (reading meaning into the text).

Sadly, those better equipped to deal with these problems – those who teach at seminaries or Bible Colleges – are mostly deaf to the issues, either by ignorance of these problems, or seeming apathy.  Of those at least somewhat aware of the issues, their silence may render them complicit.  This leaves the task of correction to informed laypersons, many of whom have been and are frantically trying to learn orthodoxy and proper methods themselves, most not having the financial wherewithal, or time, to attend Bible College or seminary, in order to instruct others.  As I see it, properly instructing new converts is the second part of Jesus’ command to make disciples:

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20, NASB]

Just getting them in the door (like the so-called “seeker friendly” churches) is not enough; we must teach them to observe all that Christ commanded.  How can the average church-goer know what Christ commanded if they’ve not been given the teachings?  How can the hyper-charismatic or Emergent church attendee know what Christ commanded if they’re merely reading their own intuitions and experiences into the Bible?

The Way Ahead

What can we do now that instead of one wayward sheep out of a flock of 100 (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:4-7), there seem to be 99?  (Assuming these are really sheep to begin with.)  Desperately needed is leadership that can properly instruct in order to correct these negative trends.  Basic interpretive principles must be taught, so that the average church goer can be truly made into a disciple of Christ, thereby becoming less likely to stray as a wayward sheep.

Before going further it needs to be mentioned that the true Holy Spirit indwelt Christian can read Scripture on his/her own, without external aids, by the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Nevertheless, proper instruction can help to enhance one’s reading and promote good reading habits.

It needs to be stressed that the initial step in understanding any Scripture (or any literary work) is to begin by extracting meaning from the text (exegesis).  Proper exegesis comes from reading a given passage in its larger context (rather than simply ‘proof-texting’ one verse or clause), taking note of metaphors and hyperbole, to include reading the entire book. 

For example, if one wishes to understand what Paul means by some preaching a “different gospel” in Galatians 1:6-7, one needs to read the rest of the epistle to see what Paul is referring to.  To make his case, Paul goes on to explain his position as an authority called by God (1:11-24), that he was accepted as an Apostle (2:1-10), and that he scolded Peter for preferring Jews over Gentiles out of fear, attempting to impose Mosaic Law upon the Gentiles (2:11-21).  The meat of this epistle then is an admonition to continue in the faith and not become slaves again to the Law.  This reverting back to the Law of Moses is the “different gospel” of which Paul speaks in the beginning of this letter.

Once the reader understands the point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the reader is less apt to proof-text individual verses into meaning something entirely contrary to that which the writer had intended.  One who listens to Bill Johnson, for example, would dismiss Johnson’s teaching that Paul’s “another gospel” was one that would negate an ‘all must be healed’ gospel, for Paul’s message instead is clearly about the Judaizers who were trying to bring back the Law.  In fact, Paul himself speaks of an illness he endured in 4:13-14:

13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. [NIV]

This obviously shows that Paul was not preaching an ‘all will be healed’ gospel, as Paul’s illness brought a trial to the Galatians of whom Paul states “you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (v 15).  Surely, this would have provided a very bad example for the kind of “gospel” Bill Johnson is claiming.  That is, unless Bill Johnson wishes to claim that the Apostle Paul himself was preaching “another gospel” – a quite absurd notion.

Knowing a bit about the societal and cultural background in NT times is also quite helpful towards good exegesis.  Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and even some study Bibles, can provide this information.  For more on getting the most from your Bible reading, I recommend the Gordon Fee/Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.22 

It’s time the Church, most especially the Emergent and hyper-charismatic wings, came back to true Biblical Literalism  –  instead of engaging in eisegesis, thereby taking Scripture out of proper context in order to fit one’s own interpretation.  Teaching congregants how to apply proper exegetical principles will alleviate this sort of thing and bring forth Biblical literacy.  Any subjective experience or thought must be measured against the literal, plain sense of the Bible, and, if not found to be congruent with Scripture, it must be rejected as not of God.

     [1] Marvin R. Vincent Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume IV, 2009 (5th Ed, August 2009), Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, USA, p 147.  This is taken from the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, folia 19b (para 11) as found here: <http://www.come-and-hear.com/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_19.html>, Rabbi, Dr. I. Epstein (Gen. Ed.), n d, Soncino Press, London, as accessed 05/01/13.  While the Babylonian Talmud was not written until well after the Apostle Paul penned the Epistle to the Galatians, it seems very possible that this idiom was in the oral Tradition of the Jews at the time of Paul’s writing of the letter.  Cf. F. F. Bruce New International Greek New Testament Commentary: Commentary on Galatians, 1982, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 212-213, though Bruce does not mention the Jewish idiom. 
     [2] Craig L. Blomberg The New American Commentary: Vol. 22; Matthew, 1992, B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, p 109. Emphasis in original.  The Greek word rendered ‘cause to sin’ is (transliterated) skandalov, from which we obviously get the word “scandal”.  Donald Hagner renders this “cause to stumble” [Word Biblical Commentary, 33A: Matthew 1-13, 1993, Word, Dallas, TX, p 119].
     [3] Blomberg Matthew, p 109
     [4] Grant R. Osborne, (Clinton E. Arnold, Gen. Ed.) Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 1: Matthew, 2010, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, p 196
     [5] Charles H. Talbert Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7, 2004 (2nd pr. 2007) Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, p 76.  The portion in quotes at the end of the selected text is from Frederick Dale Bruner [The Christbook, A Historical/Theological Commentary: Matthew 1-12, 1987, Word, Dallas, TX, p 186] as cited in Talbert.  While this may seem like Talbert is stating that we do this through self-effort, the point is to submit to the indwelt Holy Spirit.
     [6] See G. K. Beale The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, 2008, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, p 21, for a brief mention of fundamentalism.  Cf. C. T. McIntire “Fundamentalism” in Walter A. Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984 (10th pr. 1994), Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 433-435.
     [7] J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [8] Currently available online at <http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html>, © 2001-2012 Michael D. Marlowe, as accessed 04/28/13.  Also available as Appendix 2 in Beale Erosion of Inerrancy [pp 267-279].  Article XVIII is on p 273.
     [9] Beale Erosion of Inerrancy, p 277.  While Beale generally agrees with the Chicago Statement [p 24], he states in a footnote that he takes minor issue with some of the wording.  In the section as quoted above beginning with “Differences between literary conventions in Bible times…” and ending with “…that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed” he explains: This statement does not take into consideration that even some modern literary genres use non-chronological narration or nonprecise [sic] time or geographical measurements or approximations as an acceptable style.  Also, I would prefer not to speak of “apparent inconsistencies” in Scripture as “illusions” [ED: see last sentence in above quote]…but rather as phenomena that will one day be understood at the end of history, when we shall ‘know fully’ (cf. 1 Cor. 14:12).  This underscores the partial knowledge that we have in the inaugurated eschatological era in contrast to the ‘full knowledge’ that we will have in the consummated eschatological period (see 1 Cor. 14:9-12) [from footnote on p 267].  I would have to agree with Beale.
     [10] Leon J. Wood “Hosea” in Frank E. Gaebelein (Gen. Ed.) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary with the New International Version, Volume 7: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, 1985, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, pp 164-167.  Cf. Donald E. Gowan Theology of the Prophetic Books: The Death and Resurrection of Israel, 1998, Westminster John Knox, Louisville/London, pp 47, 37-47, in which the moderately liberal Gowan seems unwilling to recognize that it’s Gomer referenced in both chapter 3 and chapter 1 of Hosea, though he sees chapter 3 as allegory: That it was intended to be symbolic, that is, representing in the prophet’s life what was happening in the relationship between God and Israel, is made evident by the comparison: “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes” (3:1).  Israel has been promiscuous, so the prophet must deal with some promiscuous woman the same way God deals with Israel…[p 47].
     [11] BDAG [Walter Bauer, F. W. Danker, et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2000 (3rd ed.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL] defines the term as “at a subsequent point of time involving repetition, again, anew”, also noting that in the context of John 3:13 ανωθεν “is designedly ambiguous and suggests also a transcendent experience born from above” [p 92].
     [12] Andrew Louth The Origins of Christian Mysticism: From Plato to Denys, 1981 (1983, 1st pprbk), Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York/Toronto, pp 52-53
     [13] Justo L. Gonzalez “Origen” in Justo L. Gonzalez, Gen. Ed. (transl. Suzanne E. Hoeferkamp Segovia) The Westminster Dictionary of Theologians, Westminster John Knox, Louisville, KY, p 267; Chas S. Clifton “Origen” Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, 1992, Barnes & Nobles, New York, 105.
     [14] Clifton, Encyclopedia, a rather abbreviated source, states so definitively [p 105]; Gonzalez [Westminster Dictionary] is less straight-forward, though leaning in the same direction: Such theories were never accepted by Christians in general, and they were soon officially rejected by the church [p 267].  Contra John A. McGuckin “The Council of Constantinople II” in The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology, 2005 (2nd ed.), SCM Press, London: In Anathema 11 the name of Origen himself appears as a heretic.  Modern scholarship has since argued that the name was inserted as a later interpolation into the conciliar acts to justify the burning of his books (though many propositions from Evagrius and the Origenist monks of the desert were certainly condemned here) [p 84; bold in original].  Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok “Origen” in Who’s Who in Christianity, 1998, Routledge, London/New York, is confusing in that the phraseology could be construed as though Origen is branded a heretic at Constantinople II for his teachings on the Trinity; nothing at all is mentioned about his views on the preexistence of souls [p 227].
     [15] Gonzalez Westminster Dictionary, p 266
     [16] McGuckin “Origen” A-Z of Patristic Theology, p 244
     [17] J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643; D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in G. W. Bromiley, Gen. Ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Fully Revised), 1982 (July ’88 reprint), William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, p ii.865.  Hereafter ISBE.
     [18] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865;  J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [19] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865
     [20] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865; from Tischreden, 5285, Oct. 1540.  Cf. J. J. Scott “Literalism” in Elwel, ed. Evangelical Dictionary, p 643
     [21] D. P. Fuller “History of Interpretation” in ISBE, p ii.865-874
     [22] Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI

Testimony of a Former IHOP-KC Attendee: Stephanie

[Part of this testimony first appeared here and is titled “I Was at IHOP and FSM for about 3+ Years…”  In a subsequent comment on that blog article, “Stephanie” added some more to her testimony.  She graciously revised her testimony to include both the original and her additional comments for publishing here at CrossWise.  Bill over at Beyond Grace has recently published two other testimonies.  Please take the time to read both The Mother of all IHOP Casualties and Red Flags over IHOP – Devotion or Deception?.  I had previously made a passing reference to another one of the second author’s articles (Red Flags… author “Ariel”) in a previous CrossWise post — The Kingdom of God is at Hand, part II (at footnote 5).]

I grew up as the only Christian in my household. My parents came to know Jesus when I was about 10. My Father began to backslide after his grandmother died which took a pretty big toll on his relationship with my brothers, my mother, and I. Off and on since I was in about 7th grade, I had severe night terrors and nightmares. I attended a Bible High School as well as a Bible College after I graduated. I often tried to find a reason and a way to stop my night terrors, with little to no answers.

Meanwhile, my family was extremely rocky to say the least. My dad was an absentee, my youngest brother was abusive, and my mom was enabling them both. I always wanted to help them, but neglected myself in the process. Wanting to get closer to the Lord, I decided to go to an extension campus in Hawaii (without praying about it and for pretty selfish reasons). I knew I probably wasn’t supposed to go but went anyway to escape from everything else going on in my life.

The Pastor who ran the campus quit 3 days before our arrival and a local apprentice to the pastor was put in charge and (very) reluctantly took the position. It was a pretty messed up situation, to which I and everyone else on campus (about 20 people) ended up leaving as a result. At this point, my walk was very dry and I felt so out of place no matter where I was. I just needed a place I felt I could fit in and, at the same time, draw closer to the Lord and get some answers for weird things that would happen (like the night terrors).

Then a friend told me about the International House of Prayer (IHOP). I heard that my favorite band was going to play at their “One Thing Conference” in December. I decided to go, for three reasons:

1. To meet the friend who told me about IHOP

2. To see my favorite band

3. Hopefully get closer to the Lord and find some answers to my questions

At this time, I had absolutely no experience in anything the Charismatic church teaches and was clueless about manifestations, deliverance ministry, baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. At the same time, I was very desperate to be loved and accepted by God and by people, and I was desperate to feel anything. I felt so dry and empty. I just needed someone to be there for me and understand… I needed Jesus.

SO I went to the conference and had some very different experiences. I heard people speak in tongues for the first time. People talked about Angels and Demons like it was a normal every day experience, and I heard doctrines that I’d never heard before. I was also told that all the other churches in America were dead, dry, and boring and were, therefore, without Jesus. Because my walk was dead, dry, and boring, it seemed right to me. And the experiences I had that weekend, although strange to me, felt good and exciting. Because of the conference, I decided that I wanted to go to FSM [ed: Forerunner School of Ministry], in hopes of finding Jesus and acceptance there.

I attended IHOP/FSM and was heavily involved for about 3+ years.

My first semester there, I had nothing but good things to say about IHOP because I was still learning all these new things that I found to be fascinating, and I felt I was accepted by everyone else who was “just like me.” I also thought I found answers to my night terrors, when they explained it was because I “had demons” that needed to be delivered. After going through several of their deliverance ministries, however, the terrors only got worse and more frequent.

It wasn’t until my second semester (after going home for Christmas break) that I realized I had completely disconnected from my family, friends, and reality. All of my closest friends and family members sat me down (individually) for an intervention, of sorts. They would tell me things like that I’ve changed and I seemed happy and “on-fire” for God, but that something was off and something was wrong. And when I would tell them some of the things I was learning or experiencing, they only became more worried and they confronted me with scriptures, which got me thinking. So going back into my second semester, I was a lot more confused and had a lot more questions.

Slowly but surely, the Lord chipped away at my heart and showed me very clear scriptures to cause me to question the things that would go on there. After realizing this, I started feeling really weird about some things that were being done and said there, so I took it to the Lord, as any “Berean” should. I started looking up the scriptures my teachers would give us in handouts to explain some of their doctrines, and I realized that not one of those scriptures had anything to do with those doctrines. They were either taken completely out of context or just had nothing at all to do with what the doctrine was (ie: deliverance, manifestations, etc). So, I became even more confused and concerned. I started asking very genuine questions about where certain things were in scripture (like deliverance ministry, false prophesies, manifestations, etc.) because I wanted to be sure that I was doing the right thing in God’s eyes. I just wanted it to be explained to me because I didn’t understand the doctrines and I didn’t understand why the scriptures weren’t lining up with my experiences. When everyone would “feel the presence of God” or everyone would “break out into manifestations of God,” I wouldn’t feel anything and I would almost never experience what everyone else did. So, most days, I felt like an outsider because everyone but me was “getting it.” I started feeling confused and rejected by God, which is why (again), I turned to scripture.

I noticed that, when I started asking questions, that I had been “red flagged.”  What I mean is that I had particular people in leadership following me around and keeping tabs on me.  I was moved out of my core “Omega” group and into one with Sabrina Walsh who was a former, practicing witch and was also a leader at FSM. She and her husband were in charge of the “Signs and Wonders” classes where they teach kids how to prophesy and perform miracles. I was put in the group because I was to be “monitored.” After changing groups, I began having strange dreams and getting attacked on almost a daily basis.

As I read more scripture, I also began to realize that much of what they were teaching and practicing was extremely unbiblical and even dangerous. We were constantly fasting and in the prayer room. After starting to eat more and going to the prayer room a little less, I felt my head start to clear up and I didn’t like what I was seeing and how I felt. I often went back and forth, in my mind, between wanting to feel what everyone else felt, and realizing that it wasn’t from God, trying to figure it out. Half-way through my third year of school, I was brought into a room with several staff members (including Walsh) who accused me of many things that I hadn’t even come close to doing and they said something to the effect of:

“We know that you have father issues that need to be resolved (I didn’t) and we can tell that you are heavily oppressed by many demons.  However, we are incapable of this level of deliverance on someone. We just don’t have the time or the resources. So we are going to send you to this wonderful place in Toronto, Canada.  This rehabilitation facility is capable of handling your type of situation. We’ve sent many students there who have come back completely delivered.  We are going to send you there.  You cannot come back to IHOP or FSM until we have a written letter from them stating that you have been delivered.  In the current state you are in, you’re a danger to the other student’s growth and spiritual being.”

…To which I told them I would certainly go, but had no intention of actually going. I said I would go because I was very much afraid of what would happen if I told them I wouldn’t go, and was afraid until I moved back home. After the meeting with them, I immediately called my Dad, who I’d been told not to talk to anymore because he said IHOP was a cult. At one point, they also told me that I needed to stay away from my mom (who is my best friend in the world) because she had demons and was pulling me away from God (which was anything but true). My Dad booked the first flight to Kansas City.  At that time, my mom and I owned a home in KC and we had been helping students that went to FSM by providing rooms with low rent. I had an excellent relationship with each person in the house. Within two weeks of being pulled into the office ALL of my roommates – my friends – moved out. When asked directly, they either had no response or told me that the school had told them it was an “unsafe environment” because I and my mother “had a demon”.

I was absolutely crushed.  All I ever wanted was to know God and at the time I felt completely rejected by Him. When I finally left IHOP, I was not all the way better. I was actually worse than when I started because I was more confused, felt rejected, and still needed help. My head felt like it was covered in a fog. I would constantly go back and forth between “I know what happened was wrong” and “God was the one taking me out of there to save me” all the way to “IHOP was right” and “there is something wrong with me.” Like I said, I was a complete mess and it took a whole lot of love and prayer to get me out of that state of mind. I even flew to Illinois to go to my friend’s church (the same one who told me about IHOP in the first place) to try to get “Delivered” of this demon that IHOP told me about because I was so messed up. After that trip, I walked away from the Lord completely for about 6 months and was absolutely miserable both in and out of the church.

It wasn’t until I came back to my Calvary Chapel church that life started to become normal again. Even then, it took a really long time. I was able to let go of needing to feel something that wasn’t there and just focus on the truth of the Word of God and loving and understanding who God is. He is never-changing, always loving, arms-wide open, ever wise, ever beautiful, ever strong, amazing, orderly, and truthful God. He is my best friend, my Father, my peace, and my joy. And it didn’t take barking like a dog, falling over, being “drunk,” or being “delivered” from a “demon,” to do it. It was straight-up surrendering to His will and letting go of mine. It was repentance and it was loving God, even if it seems “Boring.” It was just worshipping at his feet, reading His word, fellowship with believers, accountability, etc… going back to the basics. The gospel is truly simple and God is very straight-forward. He is not the author of confusion.

I thank God for my Calvary Chapel pastor back home (and the amazing women at my church) who spent every minute praying for me, speaking life over me, and bringing me back to the truth of the Word of God. I almost lost faith and hope many times. But God is so amazing…He spared my life and got me out of there.

I grieve for the people I love who are still stuck within the lies of IHOP and for the many who are recruited to IHOP daily. I pray for their souls and I pray for the truth to be made known to them. If ever there was an “antichrist spirit,” this is it.

I’ve kept all of my journals, notes, books, and materials from when I was there. When looking back on the things I wrote and the things I would say…it’s like I was a mindless drone who repeated everything I heard. It scares me to think that so many people are being deceived, so many families ripped apart…so many lives destroyed….and all in the name of “Jesus”.  God help us and God forgive those who tarnish and blaspheme Your name!

[see also Hyper-Charismatica versus True Christianity]