CATCHING GOD: OLD PRACTICES IN
The Further God Pursuits of Tommy Tenney
by G.Richard Fisher
Tommy Tenney has pulled off a creative switch. What was being called "anointing" and "impartation" for the last sixty years1 is being renamed and repackaged by him under the name "God chasers." While it appears to be the latest Charismatic fad, in reality it is the same old, same old: an old, worn practice in a new package.
Dr. Harry Ironside observed, "The times are solemn. Old errors are being paraded in new terms, on all sides. ...Satan has nothing new to offer. Old heresies are re dressed and brought forward as new conceptions of truth from age to age, but in this respect, 'there is nothing new under the sun.'"2
Tenney gives a big thumbs up and a glowing endorsement of the Brownsville Revival (a.k.a., Pensacola Outpouring) and its pastor, John Kilpatrick.3 In a taped message Tenney delivered at Pensacola, Tenney, with wild and overblown exaggerated rhetoric, said that Kilpatrick's and revival evangelist Stephen Hill's preaching was flowing out into the city and into the nation. In reality, the Pensacola Revival had little effect on the city (except for the heightened motel and restaurant business), let alone our nation. Two key players of the revival, Hill and the revival's theologian Michael Brown, are gone and the revival's ministry school has split under Brown. We must not forget what Tenney is endorsing and see the direct tie in and dependence on Pensacola phenomenon.
"As God's manifest presence comes over these individuals, they respond in a variety of ways. It is similar, I believe, to what happens when a human body might hit an electronically charged power the body often cannot withstand the brilliant force. So it is when a supernatural God manifests Himself on a natural human being: people are sometimes knocked over limp (or slain in the Spirit), some shake uncontrollably, others are rigid and tense. Sometimes people break out into tears or laughter, they dance or sing, they sit or stand."4
Tenney endorses this overtly as we have noted. His "God chasing" and "God catching" are what used to be called the river of revival. Same claims new name.
In the last issue of The Quarterly Journal, several of Tenney's previous works were examined. The critique documented Tenney's low view of Scripture, his endorsement of bizarre physical phenomenon, and his mystical trends. While these blatant errors should alarm every believer, Tenney gets prominent space in many Christian bookstores.
The aim of this article is to further evaluate his teachings located in his new book, The God Catchers. Tenney subtitles the book, "Experiencing the Manifest Presence of God." The book is mostly a rewrite of The God Chasers,5 but with a different title and a change of illustrations. The core content, however, is not really different.
As in The God Chasers, Tenney offers in his new book a tantalizing taste of what he seems to think is on the horizon:
"At times when I am in prayer or when I meditate on God's Word, I have some wild dreams. They are coming to me more and more: I see scenes of major sporting events attended by tens of thousands of people. When they begin the game with a token prayer or song as usual, God suddenly shows up and breaks out in the middle of that crowd without warning."6
Tenney doesn't say this is wishful thinking and imaginative, nor does he provide scriptural basis.
Tenney again allows a bit of pantheism to peek through when he says, "His presence is literally the air your spirit man breathes."7
Every so often, a newspaper or magazine will run a cartoon without a caption and invite readers to submit creative lines for the cartoon. Some submissions are very fertile and imaginative. It is funny to read various ideas as to a meaning.
Some today must think that reading the Bible is like the above. They take a verse and make up a meaning or application. They make the Bible say things that are creative, sometimes funny, but subjective and off the mark. Like the old blacksmith used to advertise: "Fancy twistings and turnings done here," many twist and bend the Scriptures all out of recognition as Peter predicted they would (2 Peter 3:16).
The Church at large desperately needs to get back to good, sound, solid hermeneutical principles.
Some of the basic principles and rules (and there are many others) are: 1. context, 2. continuity, 3. culture, and 4. proper word definitions.
When observing context, we read around the verse in question and tie in verses before and after to get a fuller understanding. Many Bible words can only be understood in their context. When you hear the word "flat," you could not properly understand its meaning unless you knew whether it was in the context of a car, a living quarter, a musical note, a glass of soda pop, a piece of land, or any number of other "flat" objects. Our everyday speech is only understood in context, so why not the Scripture? We cannot treat the Bible like we are trying to read shapes in clouds or creating captions for cartoons.
C.W. Slemming's words are timely and appropriate:
"To understand a text we must know the context, otherwise our interpretation may be a pretext. We must ask ourselves such questions as: 'Who is speaking God or man? Is it the Old Testament or the New Testament? Is it a historical statement or is it of doctrinal intent?' By doing this we shall be better able to 'correctly handle the word of truth.'"8
Continuity has been called the analogy of faith and simply means comparing Scripture with Scripture. Proof texting with one verse or obscure verses is dangerous. Many Scriptures on the topic at hand must be consulted. We are to interpret the obscure and difficult with the plain not the other way around.
The cultural setting of the Bible should be investigated, as Baker's Dictionary of Theology reminds us:
"The books of the Bible are ancient books, reflecting social and cultural environments different from ours. In this respect they need to be explained for modern readers like other ancient writings. ... What kind of people were those whom we meet in the Bible? The effort to get under their skin and see life through their eyes is difficult, but it is necessary if we are to understand their actions and words, their loves and hates, their motives and aspirations."9
Some awareness of Jewish culture and Jewish customs is absolutely necessary. This is not to in any way displace the work of the Holy Spirit in illumination and interpretation, but is to understand that the Spirit works best in a context of order and with seeking and searching minds. The Spirit who is truth does not work through lies, distortions, and false meanings. One cannot row a boat straight ahead with one oar. The Holy Spirit working with and through good interpretive principles keeps the boat on a steady course not heading for the rocks. Cult leaders too often deceive and manipulate in the ignoring of proper interpretation. Charismatic gurus, with their claim of supernatural anointing, often resort to the same practice.
Word definitions are important to scriptural understanding. Words have meanings and we cannot ascribe meaning to words in a willy nilly fashion. If the words are clearly metaphorical or allegorical, we need to look for the literal meaning behind the metaphor or allegory. However, words should be seen in a normal way and not given any definition that we want.
We can get into to serious error when we forget that many Hebrew words can
only be properly understood in context. The words have to have a context to
precisely define them. Word meanings must be developed in their setting. The
Hebrew word for "forever," which is olam, can mean in some contexts
a long undisclosed amount of time or age long. It can also mean hidden or concealed.
When used of God it means strictly and absolutely eternal.10
We must know the context.
PUTTING GOD ON THE SCALE
Tenney, for instance, regurgitates the view also taught by Kilpatrick that God's glory has to do with the "weight" of God, that is literal weight as in heaviness. Kilpatrick has said:
"So when I hit that floor and it felt like I weighed 10,000 pounds, I knew something supernatural was happening. ... The Hebrew word for glory, Chabod, translates weightiness. It is like a security blanket. ... The heaviness I felt that day, and for the next two weeks, was God's glory visiting us at last."11
Does God have weight? Is God's presence really to be equated by poundage and a scale? Is God heavier, let's say, than a car? Does He gain or lose weight? Is this just a dishonest way to try to justify altered states of consciousness, fleshly manifestations, and emotionalism by Kilpatrick? Or are Kilpatrick's notions really biblical?
Tenney's rendition sounds like this:
"The thick blanket of His tangible presence was so heavy that I received an 'up close and personal' understanding of what is meant by God's Word when it says: ... So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud."12
Tenney further calls it, "the weighty manifest presence,"13 and "kabod, the weightiness of God."14
Respected linguist Joseph Thayer translates chabod as "splendor" and "brightness" and parallels it to the Greek word, doxa, which means, magnificent, excellent, preeminence, and expresses dignity.15
The root of the word chabod may in some few instances carry the idea of weight but not in the way described by Kilpatrick and Tenney. They are off the mark, using a pretext and pretending it is a text. The error of Kilpatrick and Tenney has to do with an exegetical fallacy described by D.A. Carson as a "word study fallacy."
Carson describes how this occurs:
"One of the most enduring of errors, the root fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology; that is, by the root or roots of a word. ... Normally we observe that any individual word has a certain limited semantic range, and the context may therefore modify or shape the meaning of a word only within certain boundaries. ...the specification of the meaning of a word on the sole basis of etymology can never be more than an educated guess. ...as important as word studies are, it is very doubtful if profound understanding of any text or of any theme is really possible by word studies alone."16
Glory generally has to do with light and brightness but try Kilpatrick and Tenney's proposal on the following verses:
We will not go on with the obvious silliness.
Both Kilpatrick and Tenney miss the nuances of the biblical concept of the heaviness root of chabod. The question must be: In which direction is God's glory weighted? God possesses glory which lends itself to the idea that the one possessing glory (God) is weighted down with power, splendor, riches and position. The weight is on God, not literally, but in an anthropomorphic (using human figures and images so we can understand) sense. Of Jesus it is said:
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing. ... Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever" (Revelation 5:12 13).
The "weight" is all on Him not us. Obviously the
weight is not literal but descriptive. Baker's Dictionary of Theology
explains chabod further stating, "it carried the notion of reputation
or honor which was present in the use of kabod. But kabod also
denoted the manifestation of light by which God revealed himself, whether in
the lightning flash or in the blinding splendor which often accompanied theophanies."17
BACK TO DUSTY LOVE LETTERS
Tenney had previously said that early Jewish believers "walked and talked with Him in such a rich level of intimacy that it wasn't necessary for them to pore over dusty love letters that were written long ago. They had God's love notes freshly written on their hearts."18
It is a curious thing to see Tenney, in this new book, appeal to Scripture
the way that he does. In his quote above he undercut confidence in the Word
by referring to it as God's dusty love letters (also as the tracks where God
had been). It was as if we really did not need it as much as we needed mystical
experiences "love notes freshly written" on our hearts, whatever that
Yet, in The God Catchers, Tenney appeals to Scripture and biblical characters to try to make his points or as illustrations. It is a bit disingenuous, self serving, and inconsistent to rehearse the Bible stories and violate his own principle of the Scripture being a kind of old love letter lacking the freshness and relevance that we really need. Why go where God has been? However, without the biblical filler Tenney's book would have very few pages in it.
But even in appealing to the Bible, Tenney does not properly exegete it, but deviates into fantasy with strange embellishments and imaginary filler. Tenney spins a tale of how God planted the seed of the sycamore tree before the birth of Zacchaeus and then sent two angels to guard it. He develops dialogue between God and the angels over the tree.19
In describing Zacchaeus it sounds like Tenney is just making up captions for a cartoon story as he adds his own narration to the biblical event:
"While Zacchaeus stood in the shadow of the sycamore tree debating over his dignity, the angels were cheering, 'Go on; climb the tree, man! Get up there. We didn't guard this tree for fifty years for nothing. Deity over dignity!' After all the sovereign preparations for this blind date with destiny, it was no time for Zacchaeus to wrestle with his fear of public disapproval by a public that already disapproved of him."20
Tenney is not interpreting and applying the Scripture but rather creating an apocryphal gospel story.
In his address to a Brownsville Revival audience,21 Tenney goes into all kinds of elaborations on the tabernacle of David and talks of a "blue flame" on the Ark of the Covenant and how David sought the "blue flame." One could look long and hard in the Bible to find a blue flame. It is nonexistent except in Tenney's imagination. People object to the addition of the Old Testament Apocrypha, but for some reason give Tenney a pass on his imaginary additions to the Scripture. Are we up in arms over The Book of Mormon, but want to embrace other kinds of fanciful additions?
Tenney even goes so far to say that God left His celestial throne to visit the prison cell of Paul and Silas and sing to them.22 What an amazing imagination Tenney has. If God ever left His throne or Christ abdicated His place of mediatorship, this whole universe would be in very deep trouble. And besides, the text just does not say that. Can we read anything we want into the Bible? He adds that if we sing through "pain and midnight desperation" we can set prostitutes and drug addicts free.23
We also find other extrabiblical narration from Tenney, this time regarding the day of Pentecost:
"He immediately notices that there are thousands of people laughing, babbling in foreign languages, and staggering drunkenly around the streets of Jerusalem. When he sees his old buddy Peter, he hustles over and asks him, 'What happened here?' Peter says, 'Man, our hair is on fire! You missed it ... you left one day too soon.'"24
Where in the Bible does it say thousands staggered drunkenly around Jerusalem and where does Peter say his hair is on fire? Tenney also informs us that the Apostle Paul was a "God Chaser," who "lived with divine discontent."25 Paul said he was always content (Philippians 4:11 12), but Tenney tries to convince us that that was not what Paul really meant and reiterates that Paul was a "chronic God Chaser."26 What Tenney does to a biblical text is criminal.
When Tenney just makes up stories around biblical events and puts words in peoples' mouths, how can anything he says be trusted? To fill the text with imaginary things makes all of Tenney's teaching and stories suspect. Some may say these are just small items around a few small happenings, but how do we know on the larger items whether Tenney is being honest or has gone into flights of imagination? But what part of the Scripture is unimportant?
To make it even more incriminating, Tenney says we must lay down our "holy hyperbole" if we expect God to pour out His fullness.27 Why doesn't Tenney do it? His holy hyperbole is downright fictions and lies.
Tenney is very critical of worship as conducted in most churches. This is not to say that there cannot be mindless worship or worship without heart. But Tenney's indictment overreaches and is scathing and judgmental:
"Perhaps the church suffers from the Uzziah Syndrome today. We insist on approaching God our way, and we say that everything is fine. Our way will be the acceptable way because we are sure we know what God likes. We think we can continue to 'feed Him' like a trained pet on a chain with our crafted sermons, serial liturgies, and orchestrated prostrations in religious pride and arrogance."28
Why, so often, are discerning countercult and apologetic ministries charged with being judgmental, but comments such as Tenney's cited above are just passed over or hailed as spiritually discerning? God ultimately will be the judge of how sincere or insincere a person's worship is, not Tenney.
Tenney's example of Uzziah and what he calls the "Uzziah Syndrome," likewise misses the meaning of the text altogether. Again he is creating apocryphal accounts. Uzziah's experiences have nothing to do with a church service. This is where context is totally ignored by Tenney. Uzziah was overly proud and as a result of his heart "being lifted up" he attempted to intrude on the priest's office (and assume the priest's office) and in disobedience to God offer the priestly incense in the Temple (2 Chronicles 26:16).
Adam Clarke comments that Uzziah's "heart being elated, he went into the temple to burn incense upon the altar, assuming to himself the functions of the high priest."29 This was a daily ritual only to be done by Sons of Aaron. It was a clear act of prideful disobedience and a violation of God's Word on Uzziah's part which earned the judgment of God by way of leprosy. It has nothing to do with a believer coming in sincerity and faith to a church service. There is no one to one correspondence or parallel except in the overt disobedience of a believer. The context is not worship at all, but the abandonment of one's calling and the intrusion into a calling that God has not given. Tenney indicts many believers by misapplying a passage of God's Word which is clearly manipulative and unacceptable. He is adding subjective captions out of his imagination.
Jesus is our High Priest. He mediates the presence of God to us. Tenney, in insisting on an unmediated experience of the "manifest presence of God," may be getting perilously close to where Uzziah was. We cannot bypass God's Word and God's High Priest and seek an unmediated presence lest we fall prey to the demonic spirit realm or human delusion.
Tenney has no time or patience for the average church meeting either:
"If you've ever had encounters with Him, then 'man meetings' will drive you crazy because you will be interested only in 'God encounters' after that. That is the exact name and address of my God addiction."30
Tenney is also disdainful of the average churchgoer and gives them an oblique homiletical flogging:
"If you ever have an encounter with the manifest presence of God, it will ruin church for you. From then on, you put up with church. What you really want is, 'Come on, God.' Man centered sermons and songs will make you sick. Going through the motions will just drive you nuts. 'What are you trying to do?' People can't even see what you're looking at. They think you're looking out the window, but you are looking for the pattern to appear on the windowpane. You're not even looking at the same things."31
EXPLANATIONS THAT DON'T EXPLAIN
Just what Tenney means by "the manifest presence of God" and "Come on, God" is not clear. But it is some kind of experience, that's for sure. Tenney refers to it as "encounters that I have had," and says "even if you have personally experienced it at levels that are neck high."32 He also says, "If you ever see Him, it changes everything."33 Tenney further promises, "Wait until you've glimpsed Him in His glory!"34
Tenney is clear that God chasing and God catching is an experience and seems to say it is a visual experience. Up to this point it is not real clear, but Tenney adds that there are conditions and levels of finding God:
"1. You can pursue Him like a toddler. If you find His feet, you find His face. 2. At other times, desperation pulls Him from His dimension into yours. He finds you!"35
Just when you think you've got it, Tenney says that, "There really is no formula."36 The reader must begin to feel like he is in a mystical netherland when he hears Tenney say, "Passion knows no logic."37 Tenney exhibits no logic when after having told us "there really is no formula," he informs us, "God wants to display His glory to you; He's simply waiting for you to get the conditions just right."38 Conditions sound like a formula, so if there is no formula, why offer one? This echoes Werner Erhard's number one rule of life. Erhard said the number one rule was, "there are no rules." If there are no rules, how could he have a number one rule?
A formula is defined as a "law, rule, fact ... list of ingredients or instructions" and a condition is defined as "required as part of an agreement."39 So both contain the idea of certain requirements and stipulated procedures. This illustrates Tenney's imprecision and confusion.
Tenney fits the category of mysticism as defined by Norman Geisler:
"The Nature of a Mystical Experience. Religious experiences are notoriously difficult to define. ... Mystical experiences of God are noncognitive. They are not mediated through concepts or ideas. Rather, they are unmediated and intuitive. They are direct contacts with God. As such, they are not discursive. They involve no reasoning processes."40
Geisler goes on to explain that mystical experiences are not objective and are not testable. They are self canceling and can be misrepresented. They also can lead to agnosticism. Geisler explains further:
"When a mystical experience is used to support the truth claim of the belief system of the one having it, it is without value for the simple reason that people with conflicting belief systems have mystical experiences. But if the same kind of evidence is used to support opposing beliefs it is self cancelling."41
Mysticism is the host organism upon which the virus of God chasing and God catching find their home.
IT'S NEVER ENOUGH
Whatever this chase involves, Tenney makes it clear that it is never over. We never quite get all the way there and even if we do we must keep doing it. There never seems to be an arrival point: "we must be continually desperate for more of His manifest presence."42 The chasing and catching must go on and on in a never ending cycle. But we must remember that is what was said of anointings and impartations. Fresh anointings were always being dispensed and one could keep returning to the vending machine. One can get hooked on getting high and it may not always be dispensed in pill form, but rather from a platform.
Even if you get frustrated with the constant searching, Tenney has an answer for that. He writes, "Will it help if I tell you that all the spiritual luminaries of ages past have lived at frustration's address?"43 Tenney even puts a twist on how to interpret the inevitable depression that will come seeking highs as he bends reality:
"Do you feel as if you can't stand the weight of your hunger anymore? Does your frustration make you feel as if you are on the verge of depression at times? It may feel that way, but the problem is that you are disillusioned with man (probably not any man in particular) and you are sick of what we call church (although you love your local body). ... Frustration is the address to which God sends the anointing. ... God births a frustration in your heart that compels you to pursue Him for more and more of His presence, which in turn makes you want Him even more!"44
Tenney labels the breathless moving from being a chaser to a catcher and then back to a chaser again as the "Holy Frustration Zone."45
The above is a deadly brew for mental instability. Your depression from anointing
withdrawal is not Tenney's fault (or problem) and it is not your fault, but
it is the fault of the Church and God. His answer is: Just go back to the cause
of the depression in the first place. It is like an alcoholic going back to
the bottle to get relief from the symptoms the bottle created! Tenney locks
his avid followers into a box called emotion addiction. Any feeling, good or
bad, is not a symptom of something being wrong, but is a trigger to go back
to the drug.
It is clearly one thing to continue to grow in the Christian life. It is quite proper to continue to search the Word and find new and exciting things out about God and His character and works. It is the goal of every believer to obey God and be consistent in church attendance and serving others as Hebrews 10 declares. Christian growth is a process. It is quite another thing to chase elusive, mystical experiences or connections to the manifest presence of God. The Holy Spirit makes Christ real to us, while the chasing of mysticism is a sure route to spiritual burnout. An old Baptist brother said there is such a thing as "reviving a church to death." Seeking the means of grace given by God will never depress or frustrate.
Though Tenney refers to Bible characters and tries to establish present day mystical encounters based on their experiences,46 there is really not a direct correlation. Who could sit with Jesus in His physical body and have a Passover meal in an upper room but the twelve? We would not insist on everyone having to have the exact conversion that Paul had. We would not insist that every jailed missionary have an angel unlock the prison like Peter. Some things clearly are unique and not reproducible. We would not insist that every believer be given a new book of Revelation like John.
God's direct revelation to David, Isaiah, Joel, Malachi, the apostles John and Paul, and others was objective content for then and now. It had the purpose of preserving God's Word for future generations as they penned it through divine revelation and divine inspiration. These are not reproducible nor can they be repeated. There are no Scripture writers today because we don't need them. Praise God, His Word is complete and sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16 17). Just as we do not have to have Calvary repeated because "It is finished," we do not have to have a new reinspired Bible written.
As Tenney goes on, he just keeps adding more qualifiers and more conditions to the chasing experience:
"God has to break through our programs before He can break out and manifest His presence among us. He has to demolish our artificial intelligence (our dim and sometimes haughty imitation of His omniscience) and artificial spirituality (our programs) to bring in the real thing and take a city or nation. ... That means we have to face a 'garden of Gethsemane' experience before we can see His face."47
The Gethsemane experience is not explained. However, even if Tenney would define it, it would be trite and shallow to compare our problems with Christ's Gethsemane experience.
Tenney seems to be upset with preachers and preaching as well:
"At some point our churches have to get tired of preachers sticking plastic pacifiers in their mouths by talking about the promise of His presence. They need to set up a juvenile howl of the hungry that declares in no uncertain terms, 'No, we don't want you to talk about Him anymore. Keep the empty promises and give us the real thing. We want to meet Him! Where do we go and what do we do?'"48
Christians should be offended by Tenney's cynicism, sarcasm and put down of what faithful ministers of God's Word do faithfully week in and week out. The Apostle Paul certainly did not think that "talking about the promise" was "sticking plastic pacifiers in their mouths." The Apostle Paul declared:
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews require a sign, and Greeks request wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:21 23).
The context of Tenney's statement indicates that his reference to promises are the promises of the Bible. It should outrage the reader to hear them addressed as "empty." The Apostle Peter contends (under divine inspiration) just the opposite:
"As His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which we have been given exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:3 4, emphasis added).
Joni Eareckson Tada reminds us:
"'We have his promises!' Jesus and his promises. They are virtually one and the same. ... 'no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.' To believe in Christ is to believe in God's promises."49
The down playing of preaching is heard quite often in Tenney's statements. People do not go to impartation meetings to hear and think, but only to feel. It reminds one of the warning of the Prophet Amos as he thundered:
"Behold the days are coming, says the Lord God, that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of the hearing of the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but shall not find it" (Amos 8:11 12).
The normal pattern would be north to south or east to west. Running "north to east" seems to indicate no plan, pattern, purpose, design, or order just a racing from one revival center to another wherever there is a claimed breakout of "God" so one can be "anointed," "slain," "electrocuted," or convulsed; all with no promises of Scripture or comfort from the Word. They claim to have a fullness and be filled, but are empty, dry, and thirsty.
WRONG ABOUT REVIVAL
Is Tenney correct when he states, "I have never yet seen, heard, or read about any preaching meeting that triggered a major outbreak of God. Preaching may have occurred in the process, but the fire broke out first at prayer meetings"?50 Liberals reject the Bible and say it is not true. Modern mystics relegate the Bible to second place and say it is not all that important. The Bible is peripheral and incidental, not central in their view. Whether Latter Rain, Toronto, or Pensacola, it is thrills, spills, and chills that take center stage and are what people seem to be seeking.
It is wrong for Tenney to rival preaching against praying as if the two are mutually exclusive. Preaching and praying have both played a large part in all the major revivals in the past. Preaching did not just occur in the process, but was central to the process. The Gospel and the preached Word are still the power of God unto salvation (see Romans chapters 1 and 10). Prayer and preaching are like two train tracks. Without both, the train of God's work can get derailed.
Not only did the Bible and Bible preaching trigger revivals, but during and after major revivals the Bible was loved and revered, never downplayed. An outgrowth of true past revivals has not been books on how to catch God, but rather Bible and tract societies and universities to teach the Word and train men for the ministry of the Word.51
Iain Murray, an expert on the history of revival, sounds this solemn warning:
"The older generation, while prizing the work of the Spirit of God in history, never gave their interest in that work priority over the work of the same Spirit in indicting the truth in Scripture. For God works in accordance with his Word. Without Scripture there is no 'sword of the Spirit'. The test whether experience is of the Spirit of God or of 'another spirit' is whether or not it brings greater understanding of the Bible and a closer obedience to it. So the foremost role of the church is always to teach and preach the Word and the work of evangelism and the ingathering of souls is never to be considered as in tension with the maintenance of true doctrine. Another way of stating this would be to say that the ultimate end of all things is the glory of God, and that glory is not given to him other than by men and women being brought to comprehend the truth."52
It may surprise some to learn that the word revival is not found in the Bible, even though it is a mantra for many. The word revive is used only 12 times. In at least five instances it has to do with physical bodily restoration, in two instances it refers to inanimate objects (stones and the work), and in one instance, sin (Romans 7:9). There are two instances of revive in regard to the nation of Israel and two as to revival of our spirits. These last two are found in Psalm 85:6 and 138:7. Neither denigrate the Word or catapult experiences over Scripture. Both are in a context of listening to God's Word (Psalm 85:8, 10 11). David, in Psalm 138:7, says, "you will revive me." He has this confidence based on God's Word for he declared in verse 2, "You have magnified your word above your name."
In commenting on Psalm 138:2, Al Dager offers:
"...God tells us that He has exalted His Word above His own name (Psalm 138:2); the integrity of His name is linked inextricably to the integrity of His Word. To incorporate unbiblical practices as a means to spiritual growth is to say that God's Word is insufficient in its instructions for our relationship to the Father. This is contrary to Scripture. ... When Jesus established the New Covenant He established all the terms of that covenant, as contained in the New Testament Scriptures. I am not aware that He has established yet another covenant with new terms, new revelations or new methodologies to achieve spiritual maturity."53
"YOU ARE IN HERESY NOW, TENNEY"
Tenney seems to enjoy shocking his readers with extreme and wild suggestions. Having already minimized the necessity and importance of Scripture, Tenney now suggests that God may use occult means to act and speak:
"I have a wild idea that at some point some New Age guru will consult his crystal ball and read his tarot cards hoping to conjure up anything to confirm the reality of the spirit realm. All of a sudden, the God of eternity will appear right there in front of him. 'Oh, you are in heresy now, Tenney,' you may say. Well, I beg your pardon, but could you tell me the difference between a New Ager and a murderer? (I know that neither one would have much of a chance to meet God in some of the programmed church performances we call worship.)"54
Tenney leaves the reader with his head spinning and then delivers another jolt by comparing the above to Paul's conversion on the Damascus road. Fortunately, Tenney has the New Ager instructed by Jesus to throw away the crystal ball and tarot cards.55 However, these things are simply displaced by Jesus in Tenney's scenario and never called evil, occult, or demonic. One gets the idea that these are almost evangelistic tools, or at least not all that bad since, "the God of eternity will appear right there in front of him."56 Occult paraphernalia deceives people and take them deeper and deeper into bondage and darkness. God is not making regular appearances in the way Tenney suggests.
Again, the heart of Tenney's problem is the Scripture. Over and over again, God forbade Israel to practice magic and occult arts. The only way God promised to "show up" was in judgment. God never suggested He would "show up" in the middle of a seance, but instructed His people to destroy all the articles of the black arts. God did "show up" at a seance conducted by King Saul and the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28), to bring a pronouncement of final judgment on the wicked king. The writer of 1 Chronicles informs us, "So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he consulted a medium for guidance" (10:13).
Certainly God can save an occult practitioner, a spiritist, or a New Ager, but not in the way Tenney suggests. Those saved out of those lifestyles are the first to strongly condemn the use of the accouterments of darkness and attest to the power of the Word of God and the Gospel to set them free. They are saved in spite of their dark tools, not through them.
The Apostle James would also disagree with Tenney on how a person is converted. He said that if we neglect to hear and do the Word that we are deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). James also said, "receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (1:21). Experience over truth is a sure route to confusion. At the very least, Tenney is not viewing the occult world and conversion from a biblical framework and is opening people up to encounters from the other side which may be exposing them to deep deception (2 Corinthians 11:3 4, 13 15).
"PEOPLE LIKE ME PAY YOUR SALARY"
It is surprising to read Tenney trying to illustrate one of his points through his own impatience, pride, and insensitivity. He relates his experience in a restaurant when he was receiving poor service from a waitress. Tenney resorted to getting into a spitting match with the waitress. In a boasting way, he describes the incident:
"The service, and I am being very kind to call it that, was so bad that I finally asked my waitress, 'Ma'am, do you know who pays your salary?' She sneered and rolled her eyes before she said, 'My boss.' I said, 'No, people like me pay your salary. I've even been known to tip more than the cost of the whole bill when the service warrants it.' I waited until she finally looked me in the eye and then said, 'Ma'am, you have no idea of my ability to change your future. I could make your day.'"57
Are we being too hard on Tenney? Most Christians would be or at least should be ashamed of their lack of love and compassion in reacting so carnally and with so much pride and impatience. Tenney is supposed to be a man who has stood in the manifest presence of God and "caught" God. He claims to be able to teach us how to do it. Tenney boasts:
"...once the Lord helped me get hungry enough to wait on Him and experience His manifest presence, I just couldn't get enough of Him. Now I am determined to wait as long as necessary to welcome His presence."58
Maybe the waitress was having a bad day or maybe had some tragedy she was dealing with. For love's sake (1 Corinthians 13) and in the name of loving one's neighbor and love covering a multitude of sins, her transgression could have been passed over for the sake of Tenney's witness. I wonder what that waitress would think if she picked up and read The God Catchers book? She may remember that this famous author could have made her day with a huge tip. How that can illustrate anything about God is beyond me and I think will be beyond most readers.
IT'S ALMOST HERE, WELL ALMOST
We must realize that Tenney fits into a broad category called Charismatic Restorationism. This movement (also called the Counterfeit Revival by apologist Hank Hanegraaff and others) relies on the following:
1. Convincing people that the Church at large has failed and is failing. The gates of hell have prevailed, in so many words. Tenney frames it this way: "I'm going to say it again: if sermons and songs were going to save our cities and nation, then they would have been saved a long time ago."59 We have no guarantee from Scripture of a saved nation, and the same thing could be said of the restoration message.
2. Causing Christians to be discontented by convincing them that their Christian experience is lacking and inferior and that they need something more. This is illustrated by Tenney's remarks that, "Something happened to me after decades of serving God and preaching what I thought was revival. Something was missing, and I had an idea it was God's presence. That was when I decided that I was tired of standing on the sidewalk watching the 'Jesus parade' pass by. I became too hungry to be satisfied with church as usual."60
3. Creating the illusion that there is a new age or new era of miracles ready to break out. It can happen at any moment if we just all believe in the miracle age restoration message and get in gear. God is going to "show up" and there will be an outbreak of creative miracles, cancers falling off bodies, the dead will be raised, stadiums will be filled with tens of thousands of worshiping people and the glory of God (or maybe Jesus) will actually appear. All we have to do is create a "landing zone" or a "throne zone" for God.61 The exact details differ with each teacher, but Tenney sums it up saying: "We haven't seen anything yet."62 Tenney spins the restorationist line:
"Again, I have a strong conviction that another wave of God's manifested presence is about to hit the shore of the human race. It has happened before in measure, but I am convinced that this new wave of glory has the potential to be different. God wants to break outside our centuries old religious box."63
4. The elitist message that there is an upper echelon of spiritual apostles and prophets who have heard from the mouth of God regarding this golden age. If you follow obediently and go through the prescribed paces (sometimes called hunger, or emptiness, or thirst, or labor pains), you may become one of the spiritual elite. It is not exactly the message of the 144,000, but it is close.
The restorationists sell books, but not reality. They sell dreams, but not discernment. They offer hype, but not hope. They sell illusions, but not facts. They have crowds, but no real goods. For the last century we've heard the claims over and over and over.
What Tenney and the other restorationists need to admit is the truth that the restorationists have failed. They have been promising, promising, promising for almost 100 years now. They have not delivered!
It is truly amazing that instead of rethinking their message and admitting their failed history and blaming themselves, they keep blaming the people, the preachers, and the churches. They are the failures and their message is a colossal failure because it is a fantasy and not based on proper biblical understanding. The failure of the unrealistic hype is a scapegoat on everyone but themselves. They have packaged a lie and then blame the consumer that the lie does not work. When the followers finally catch on, there is often a malaise and cynicism that sets in that is deadly.
Tenney is absolutely right when he says, "Some people automatically assume that 'this God Chaser stuff' is all about the selfish pursuit of just another 'religious buzz.'"64
Catching God may be catching on, but all the person will really be catching is a deadly spiritual "virus" that will deaden them to the Word, open them up to a disrespect and disregard for preachers (and preaching), and cause them to despise the Church and the means of grace. Call it by any name you want but both the Bible and history show us that it will have no long term staying power, but will only make way for another new fad or new craze that will sell books and divide the Church. Anoint, impart, catch God, or whatever label you give it it is the same old tired mysticism.
1. For example, beginning in the 1940s with the Latter Rain
Movement and continuing to the present day under the auspices of the Toronto
Blessing and the Pensacola Outpouring.
2. Harry Ironside, Lectures on the Epistle to the Colossians. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1960, Preface and pg. 15.
3. Tommy Tenney, The God Catchers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, pp. 197 198, endnote 6.
4. John Kilpatrick, Feast of Fire. Pensacola, Fla.: privately published, 1995, pp. 84 85.
5. Tommy Tenney, The God Chasers. Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image Publishers, 1998.
6. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 55.
7. Ibid., pg. 37.
8. C.W. Slemming, These Are the Garments. Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1998, pg. 22.
9. Everett F. Harrison, editor, Baker's Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1973, pp. 291 292.
10. See further, Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments. New York: Abingdon Press, no date, Vol. 1, pp. 136 137.
11. Feast of Fire, op. cit., pg. 77.
12. The God Chasers, op. cit., pg. 84, italics and bold in original.
14. Tommy Tenney, God's Favorite House. Shippensburg, Pa.: Fresh Bread, Destiny Image Publishers, 1999, pg. 49. Also cited in The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 120.
15. See further, Joseph Thayer, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing 1966, pg. 156.
16. D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985, pp. 26, 30 31, 32, 66.
17. Baker's Dictionary of Theology, op. cit., pg. 236.
18. The God Chasers, op. cit., pg. 74.
19. The God Catchers, op. cit., pp. 64 65.
20. Ibid., pg. 66.
21. Tommy Tenney, "God's Favorite House," Pensacola: Brownsville Assembly of God, 4/1/99, tape #990401, cassette tape on file.
22. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 172.
23. Ibid., pg. 173.
24. Ibid., pg. 93.
25. Ibid., pg. 170.
26. Ibid., pg. 171.
27. Ibid., pg. 100.
28. Ibid., pp. 20 21, italics in original.
29. The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments, op. cit., Vol. 2, pg. 529.
30. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 52.
31. Ibid., pg. 24. The reference to the pattern on the windowpane refers to Tenney's earlier analogy of frost as it is unseen in the air crystallizing on a window or bridge, "proving" that the unseen world can become visible (pp. 17 18).
32. Ibid., pg. 22, italics in original. Later printings of the book by Thomas Nelson have changed Tenney's statement from "the encounters that I have had" to "the encounters that I have heard of."
33. Ibid., pg. 23, italics in original.
34. Ibid., pg. 26.
35. Ibid., pg. 27, italics in original.
36. Ibid., pg. 28.
37. Ibid., pg. 29.
39. The Complete Christian Dictionary for Home and School. Ventura, Calif.: Gospel Light, 1992, pp. 259, 127.
40. Norman Geisler, The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1999, pg. 516.
41. Ibid., pg. 517.
42. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 36.
43. Ibid., pg. 164.
44. Ibid., pp. 165 166, italics in original.
45. Ibid., pg. 167.
46. Ibid., pp. 38 39.
47. Ibid., pg. 48, italic in original.
48. Ibid., pg. 50, italics in original.
49. Joni Eareckson Tada, More Precious Than Silver. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing Company, 1998, entry for February 3.
50. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 53.
51. See, for example, Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism. Carlise, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994, pp. 131 132.
52. Ibid., pg. 359.
53. Albert James Dager, "Renovaré, Taking Leave of One's Senses," Special Report, Media Spotlight, 1992, pg. 4.
54. The God Catchers, op. cit., pg. 56.
55. Ibid., pg. 57.
56. Ibid., pg. 56.
57. Ibid., pg. 76, italics in original.
58. Ibid., pp. 88 89.
59. Ibid., pg. 107.
60. Ibid., pg. 67.
61. Ibid., pg. 110.
62. Ibid., pg. 111.
63. Ibid., pg. 105.
64. Ibid., pg. 119.
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