A Response to New Apostolic Reformation Critics, Revised and Expanded, August 2022
Reviewed date: 2023 Mar 10
A Response to New Apostolic Reformation Critics, Revised and Expanded, August 2022
This paper by Dr. Randy Clark and some of his Master's program students is a response to R. Douglas Geivett and Holly Pivec's book A New Apostolic Reformation?: A Biblical Response to a Worldwide Movement.
Section 1: Addressing Issues Raised by New Apostolic Reformation
by Dr. Randy Clark
I'm not impressed. The first response Clark makes, which is fair, is to point out that NAR is not organized, and very few would claim the name NAR to describe themselves. Geivett and Pivec admit that too, but are not reluctant to go ahead and label people as NAR anyway. (They also point out that some deny the NAR label in the face of criticism even though they embraced it and used it in the recent past.) NAR has become a label applied by the critics and disputed by those in the movement. So we just have to be aware of the terminology disputes.
Dr. Clark also spends quite a few pages advancing the idea that Geivett and Pivec's criticism of NAR are due to their premillennial dispensationalist eschatology. NAR tends to be postmillennial or victorious amillennial, and Clark believes this disagreement on the end times causes critics to misunderstand NAR and explains much of the criticism. Clark is wrong. Premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism are all within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, and the criticisms of NAR don't depend on a particular eschatology. Clark is wrong to presume this. I'm amillennial and I find Geivett and Pivec's criticisms valid.
Next, Dr. Clark responds to seven criticisms brought by Geivett and Pivec by sending out a survey to apostolic leaders and using those results (he got 22 responses) to demonstrate that the NAR leaders don't believe what Geivett and Pivec claim they do.
Geivett and Pivec identify seven primary areas that raise problems and require clarification. First, they argue NAR adherents believe the gifts of apostles and prophets are being restored to the Church, and they are to have strong governmental powers. Second is the role of the prophet in leadership. Third, are issues related to Strategic-Level Spiritual Warfare. Fourth, are matters dealing with eschatology. Fifth, they dispute signs and wonders, especially healing and miracles. Sixth, they raise concerns about discipleship (teaching or training) and how to obey the commandments of Jesus—especially the ministry of healing and miracles. And seventh, they highlight issues related to the meaning and various applications of the concept of revelation (page 39)
So Dr. Clark has said exactly what Geivett and Pivec claim is always the response to criticism of NAR: we aren't NAR, and we don't believe that stuff anyway. But it might be a fair claim nonetheless, so on to the survey.
There are two problems with the survey. First, Clark is not a good writer. He included some of the questions from the survey and they are beyond difficult to decipher. He mentions several times that he got conflicting and contradictory answers to different questions, and surmised that the survey-takers misunderstood the questions. He did not get good data from that survey.
Second, even if we stipulate that the survey results are accurate, what Geivett and Pivec have done in their criticisms is look at the public teachings and actions of these NAR leaders. It's one thing to say on a survey that you don't believe a particular thing; it's quite another when your entire public ministry communicates the opposite. To take an example from something outside of NAR, it's like when you try to pin down Joel Osteen on what he believes, exactly, and when pressed he will affirm orthodox Christian doctrine. But when you listen to the man preach he twists and manipulates Scripture to present a false gospel. Dr. Clark's survey is trying to pin down the NAR leaders on specific points of doctrine, and of course they will give the correct orthodox answer. They aren't fools. But when they are writing books, giving lectures, going on stage, in public, performing their ministry—that's where their real beliefs come out.
The other sections of this paper are written by Dr. Clark's students, and I hope they can do a better job of defending NAR doctrine and practice. Dr. Clark himself has, unfortunately, made a fool of himself.
Section 2: The Office of the Apostle
The Apostolic Challenge by Landen Dorsch
This essay is disappointing. Dorsch responds to cessationist objections to NAR. However he doesn’t address Geivett and Pivec’s objections, which are careful to distinguish between classical (and orthodox) Pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, and NAR teachings, which are substantively different. Further, Dorsch uses Scripture to support his views but I read those passages and a plain reading of them often doesn’t support his claims. E.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 does not in any way imply that New Testament prophets were allowed to err in their prophecy and that the church’s job was to hold on to the good bits of prophecy and discard the rest while still holding the so-called prophet in high esteem.
Dorsch’s paper, I’m afraid, does not respond in a meaningful way to Geivett and Pivec’s criticism of the NAR.
Dorsch clearly has a broad understanding of the subject matter. He name-drops people and events and books that he presumes the reader will be familiar with. However, that makes for unclear writing; a good editor would have helped him elucidate and offer more explanation as necessary. Unfortunately his professor, Dr. Randy Clark, is also not a great writer, so it seems nobody edited or proofread any of this.
Modern-Day Apostles: Critiques, Corrections, and a Response by Will Hart
Hart at least attempts to respond to Geivett and Pivec's critique of NAR. He focuses on the term apostle, in particular the distinction between big-A Apostles of Jesus (such as the Twelve) compared to small-A apostles who are properly understood as missionaries and evangelists—that is, anyone who is sent out by the church. Hart points out that many of those who Geivett and Pivec label as NAR Apostles (big A) don't use the title apostle, or if they do, are quick to claim only the small-A apostle meaning. However, Hart doesn't address what Geivett and Pivec point out, which is that many of these NAR leaders will disclaim big-A Apostolic authority but their actions and ministry communicate the opposite.
Hart makes a big deal of interviewing Heidi Baker and showing that she only claims (at best) to be a missionary (which could be a small-a apostle.) But very little of Geivett and Pivec's criticisms are focused on Heidi Baker; she's mentioned only twice, both times in passing, in the book A New Apostolic Reformation?. Her ministry, Iris Ministries, is mentioned only once, in a list of member organizations of the Revival Alliance. If Hart wanted to let the air out of Geivett and Pivec's criticisms of NAR he could have chosen an NAR leader that Geivett and Pivec actually talk about. But he chose Heidi Baker, presumably because he knows her and could get her for an interview, so let's go with that.
Hart is mostly responding to a Christian Post article where Geivett and Pivec mentionsHeidi Baker's public claims that put her in the big-A Apostle camp. They link to a video clip where Heidi Baker claims a personal encounter with Jesus, who gives her an apostolic anointing, and to another video clip where Heidi Baker gives a prophetic word from God to the nation of America. If that's not big-A Apostolic I'm not sure what is. But Hart interviews Heidi Baker and she disclaims the title of apostle, and for Hart that settles the question.
I notice that people in the NAR community are credulous. They take people at their word even if their public actions contradict those words. Hart concludes Heidi Baker does not claim big-A Apostolic authority because Heidi Baker, when asked directly, denies she is a big-A Apostle. He never checks out her claims by testing them against Baker's actions and her public ministry. She denies the title or office of Apostle, but her words and actions are those of someone who claims Apostolic authority.
Credulous might be the single most apt description of people in the NAR.
Section 3: The Office of the Prophet
Prophets: A Response to NAR Critics by Charity Cook
Cook writes better and her thinking comes through more clearly than Dr. Clark, Landen Dorsch, or Will Hart. I find some of her criticism of Geivett and Pivec to be missing the point. She chides them for pointing out the personal moral failings of high-profile prophets, saying that the sins of individuals do not discredit an entire movement. But that misses the point of what Geivett and Pivec were doing: they pointed out these personal moral failings in high-profile prophets to show that there was and is no mechanism for accountability; these prophets are still respected, cited, and the NAR movement as a whole doesn't seem concerned.
Cook also points out what I found to be the weakest part of Geivett and Pivec's argument against present-day apostles. Geivett and Pivec, like many cessationists, don't seem to be capable of understanding that God can give revelation to prophets today, and that the new revelation can be true, God-inspired, and also not Scripture. For the most part Geivett and Pivec are able to present the argument against NAR without making cessationist arguments, but this is one area where I think they failed, and Cook rightly identifies it.
Still, though, I'm not convinced. Geivett and Pivec have done a more convincing job in showing that this NAR movement is truly something different, and is not merely the same old Pentecostal and charismatic beliefs.
Prophets: Fathers and Mothers of Children of Revelation by Tracy Nicole
*sigh* Again, way too much time spent countering cessationist criticisms. Geivett and Pivec's criticisms are largely not cessationist. The real crux is whether NAR differs substantively from orthodox Christian beliefs in ascribing to present-day prophets a governing office in the church.
Nicole defends the NAR teaching that present-day prophets should not be held to the same high standard as OT prophets. This is because OT prophets were operating pre-Scripture and pre-Spirit, so their voice was the only way God's people could hear from God. Therefore 100% accuracy was necessary. NT prophets and present-day prophets are operating in an age where the people have the Scriptures and the Spirit, and therefore have many more tools to discern God's word. Thus complete accuracy from prophets is unnecessary. I'm not convinced. If a prophet claims to speak from God and makes a false prophecy, I'm inclined to think that person is a liar or a fool and is not to be trusted. I don't think we can just glide past false prophecy.
Nicole suggests the critics misunderstand what governing means in a non-denominational NAR organization where leadership and authority are relational, not positional. Then Nicole goes on to describe a role for a prophet that is more aligned with the traditional Pentecostal and charismatic doctrine and not with the way (as Geivett and Pivec have demonstrated with numerous examples) that prophets actually function with significant authority in NAR circles.
In an appendix, Nicole states that the term false prophet should refer to those who "reject the Lordship and knowledge of Jesus." Nicole suggests that someone who professes the Lordship and knowledge of Jesus while making false prophecies is an "immature prophet." I suppose there is value in distinguishing between those who reject Jesus and claim to be prophets, and those who affirm Jesus and claim to be prophets. But this brings me back to my earlier thought: people in the NAR world are credulous.
Section 4: Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare (SLSW)
Strategic-level Spiritual Warfare: Overview and Critique by Ty Yoshimura
C. Peter Wagner developed the concept of Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare. His model posited three types of spiritual warfare:
- Ground-level - delivering individuals from demonic oppression
- Occult-level - combatting powers of "New Age, Satanism, Eastern religions, and witchcraft"
- Strategic level - opposing high-ranking territorial principalities and powers.
Using Clinton E. Arnold's 1997 book 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare, SLSW consists of three parts:
- Discern the Territorial Spirits Assigned to a City - this would be spiritual mapping
- Deal with the Corporate Sin of a City or Area - look to historical events, and the practice of identificational repentance
- Engage in Aggressive Warfare Prayer against the Territorial Spirits - prayer to break the power of the territorial spirits
Major verse is Ephesians 6:12, "“our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." There is a presumption (based largely on this verse and bits of Daniel) that territorial spirits exist and have an influence on the spiritual condition of people living in that geographical region. For identificational repentance, the biblical concept of corporate sin is alluded to, and in particular, Ezra 9:7. Crucially, identificational repentance presumes that sins can be ascribed not just to communities, but to geographical regions, and (in Wagner's words) that sins committed in the past become “strongholds of the forces of darkness, allowing them to keep multitudes in physical misery and spiritual captivity.”
Breaking the power of territorial spirits happens through prayer, not of regular Christians but mainly from those called to be spiritual warfare prayer warriors. This is prophetic prayer, done intensely for a period of days, and must be done in obedience to God.
Differing practices within SLSW: some practitioners (George Otis, Jr.) practice spiritual mapping but see no need to cast demons out or learn their names, while others (Arnold) believe spiritual mapping is an important way to identify the territorial spirit's name and then casting it out. John Dawson practices identificational repentance but sees no biblical support for the idea of territorial spirits.
Yoshimura then looks at the results of Dr. Randy Clark's survey, which I will skip, because (as I already mentioned) that survey is worthless.
I deeply appreciate Yoshimura's analysis of the Scriptural evidence. Alone among the authors in this paper, Yoshimura takes the Bible seriously and interprets verses in their proper context. Yoshimura concludes there is no biblical support for the practices of SLSW, but that SLSW is not incompatible with Scripture and there is no prohibition against it. He suggests practices like spiritual mapping can be useful, but confronting territorial spirits can be dangerous. Yoshimura suggests refraining from addressing "territorial spirits directly, rather pray to God to act against the spirits while also asking Him for His direction on how He wants us to pray. Then, only when it becomes clear that God is granting authority to speak against these spirits for a time would it be appropriate to do so."
This is the most even-handed and serious defense of SLSW that I've encountered. I can't say it convinces me that there is any truth to it, but if all its practitioners were as careful of Yoshimura is in this essay then SLSW would have a much better reputation.
Section 5: End-Times Miracle-Working Army
End-Times Army: A Response to NAR Critics by Mike Yoder
This relates to Joel's army, or the Manifest Sons of God. (See Joel 2.) There is a belief in an end times outpouring of miracles, signs, and wonders that will bring many to Christ and usher in the kingdom of God. Yoder's primary response to the criticisms of Geivett and Pivec is to make this about eschatology: to wit, that Geivett and Pivec's criticisms amount to nothing more than a premillennial dispensationalist disagreement with the victorious postmillennial or amillennial views of NAR. Once again, I'm disappointed. I don't see Geivett and Pivec's criticisms to be at all related to eschatology, and Yoder's response does not properly address them.
Yoder brings up Geivett and Pivec's claim that NAR misinterprets John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (NLT) as support for the belief that Christians will perform miracles even greater and more impressive that Jesus performed. Rather than admit the misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture, Yoder doubles down. At least I think he did. He had a long and complicated digression at this point in the essay, and when he returned to the issue he was ambiguous. But I think this quote indicates that he does accept the NAR meaning of John 14:12.
It is not a believer who performs the same and greater works of John 14:12, but instead, it is the power of Christ in us through this union with Him. We do not outperform Jesus’ miracles in our power. If He chooses to perform more incredible miracles, it is in partnership with us through His power.
Yoder acknowledges that the claims of Bill Hamon and of Latter Rain teacher George Warnock are fringe, extreme, and unbiblical. Yoder denies that these represent mainstream NAR belief. (I think Geivett and Pivec did make a case for why these teachings are still important, though. It's because NAR leaders are credulous and not willing to call out false teachers. NAR doesn't do a good job of policing its own, and obviously false teachers are still respected and influential. But it's good that Yoder is distancing himself from Hamon and Warnock by name.)
Yoder finishes by addressing the role of apostles, and makes the same comment that Tracy Nicole does: that critics of NAR misunderstand the way NAR adherents understand church governance. Apostles and prophets, even in their "offices" in the church, function as collegial or relational leaders. Their job is not to take hierarchical control, but to form relationships and bring Christian unity in a world where denominations and sects divide Christians along theological and doctrinal lines. Apostles and prophets seek to use relationships to bridge those divides.
Section 6: The Ways of God
Ministry Misconceptions and the Ways of God: A Renewalist Response to Critics of the New Apostolic Reformation by Anne Watt
A pretty decent paper. Well-written, well-organized. Covered much of the same ground as some of the other papers, and I apologize but I'm tired and have no wish to synthesize and summarize this paper.
I'm not convinced the NAR is right, and these papers did nothing to disabuse me. I am more willing to accept that there is greater variation within the NAR movement than Geivett and Pivec present, and that many or even most of the NAR leaders will affirm orthodox doctrines when questioned directly.
I'm also becoming convinced that the term NAR is a problem. Invariably the first response to critics is to deny the existence of NAR, to debate the meaning of the term NAR. The term's association with C. Peter Wagner is a problem, and perhaps dialog would be better improved by coming up with a different umbrella term. Then again, some would disagree there is any larger movement.
My biggest takeaway is this: NAR critics and NAR proponents have a different understanding of church governance. Geivett and Pivec identify that a key characteristic of NAR is a belief that present-day apostles and prophets should hold governing offices in the church. The NAR belief, which several people in these papers mentioned, is that governing offices of apostle (and prophet) function less as hierarchical authoritative roles and more as collegial, relational roles. The NAR apostles seek to create Christian unity in a world divided by denominations, theologies, and doctrines, and they see their role as seeking to bridge that divide and create real unity. I'd love to see some in-depth research on the specific understanding of what a governing role is, and how these NAR apostles actually function—not just their rhetoric, but their actions.
Oh, and my other big takeaway: I still think people in the NAR movement are credulous. There is (it seems to me) an astonishing lack of discernment and an almost complete unwillingness to ever label something as unbiblical or out of bounds.