religion, christianity, articles
Holy Spirit

Anecdotal

By Jerry Brewer

religion, articles, christianity

Asserting that "the Holy Spirit of God speaks to us not just through the Bible," Joe Beam attempts to make a case for what he calls anecdotal evidence as proof of the Holy Spirit's work today. His attempt amounts to nothing more than old fashioned holy roller testimony. It is based upon unsanctified, bovine, sentimental human experience. It is at best uncircumcised.

Citing the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 as an example of how the Holy Spirit operates today, Beam says they based their decision on anecdotal evidence.

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe (NIV).
He's referring, of course, back to what happened in Acts chapters 10 and 11, the conversion story of Cornelius. And he goes on telling what God had done. In verse 8: 'God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us' (NIV). And of course on that occasion the Holy Spirit came before immersion. God obviously was making a very important point there. And he talks about that for a while.
Verse 12: 'The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them' (NIV). Now, so far, basically what you have, at least that's recorded, is what we would today call anecdotal evidence. They're not referring back to scripture. They're referring to what has occurred. Peter says, 'Here's what we saw.' Paul says, 'Here's what we saw' doe Beam, Tape 2, The Holy Spirit, Nashville Jubilee, 1996).

What Beam calls "anecdotal evidence" in Acts 15 is the testimony of inspired men. There is no parallel between their testimony and so­called human testimony today. Peter and Paul were apostles, inspired of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13) and their accounts of what God had done for the Gentiles through their efforts were inspired accounts. Besides, New Testament speakers and writers could demonstrate their message was from God "by the signs that followed," and by which the teaching was confirmed (Mark 16:20).

If a person today wants to tell his story and recite his experience and claim that it is a revelation from God, he ought to prove it by raising the dead, or walking on water. If he has no such proof, then he needs to stick with the certified gospel. We prove the spirits today not by claims to strange happenings, but by the Bible. Let us hold to God's unchanging Word and not to some human interpretation of a fancied experience. Every careful observer knows that human tales will grow and change, but the New Testament remains the same. Most uninspired anecdotes are about as accurate as what you read in the newspaper.

Relating a string of personal stories, Beam attempts to make the point that they constitute proof of God's work today, as long as they don't contradict the Word of God. But his plea for personal testimony falls short of proving anything. While he pays lip service to the Word of God, he denies its all­sufficiency by saying, "The Holy Spirit of God speaks to us not just through the Bible."

The Holy Spirit works dynamically in sanctifying believers; His work is not limited to the effects of the words of the Bible on the human heart and mind. He works when, and where, and how He pleases, rather than according to predictable and fixed patterns (Ralph V. Graham, "Why I Left The Churches of Christ," Voices of Concern, Mission Messenger, St. Louis, 1966, p. 134).

While Graham and Beam share a common theology regarding the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, Graham was honest in his religious affiliation. He left the church and went to the Christian Church in 1964.

"Anecdotal evidence" is Beam's term for testimonials and witness bearing. Webster defines anecdote as "a short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary). If you've ever heard Beam preach, you understand why he likes that term. Personal stories constitute the bulk of his preaching and that's the kind of evidence he says the apostles and others in Jerusalem accepted and upon which they acted:

Now James says, 'Let's compare what's happening to the Bible. Let's see if this that's happening is in contradiction to the word or in harmony to the word.' Now, when they look at it they find that what is happening is not in contradiction to the word but is in harmony to the word and they're now trying to make a decision what they should do.... 'It is my judgment therefore that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.... Then the apostles and elders with the whole church decided to choose some of their own men and send them back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Now, they write a letter ... and in verse 28 they say this in the letter: 'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements ... This is our judgment.' And when they came together in that judgment, they say it is good to the Holy Spirit. Now, if you read that, they just ascribed their decision to the Holy Spirit. They gave him the credit for what they decided. (Joe Beam, The Holy Spirit, Nashville Jubilee, 1996, Tape 2).

Beam's conclusion is that what happened in Jerusalem by, in and through inspired men is an example of how we acquire spiritual wisdom today. They ascribed their decision to the Holy Spirit because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit! Their judgment was the same kind of inspired judgment Paul gave to the church at Corinth when he discussed marriage (1 Cor. 7:25, 39). Claiming inspired spiritual wisdom, Beam offered no more than "anecdotal evidence" of his claim when he said God enabled him to know if someone lied to him during a marital counseling session. Paul demonstrated the truth of his claims by the miracles he did (2 Cor. 12:12). When Joe Beam performs a miracle to substantiate his "anecdotal evidence," we'll believe him. Until then what he says is sophistry.1


1 Sophistry: false reasoning, illogicalness, illogic, intuition, sophistical reasoning, false reasoning, fallacious reasoning, specious reasoning, evasive reasoning, rationalization, double think, self­deception, mental reservation, concealment, equivocation, mystification, blinding with science, word fencing, casuistry, subtlety, oversubtlety, special pleading, hair­splitting, logic­chopping, claptrap, mere words, mumbo jumbo, hogwash, empty talk, logomachy, quibbling, quibble, chicanery, chicane, subterfuge, shuffle, dodge.


Published June 1997