Tom: We’re in part two of my discussion with Cedric Fisher. He writes for Lighthouse Trails Publishers, and his apologetics website is truthkeepers.com. Last week we opened up with just talking about apologetics and how important it is, and this week what I’d like to do is talk about one of his booklets, the title of it being IF It Is of God: Answering the Questions of IF: Gathering. So, Cedric, thanks for coming back that we can discuss these things on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Cedric: And thank you for having me on the program, Tom.
Tom: Cedric, as I mentioned, we are co-publishing some of these booklets from Lighthouse Trails, and they’ve just been wonderful, and certainly the book that I read, the first one that I read by you, the title of it is IF It Is of God: Answering the Questions of IF: Gathering. And the topic was something I wasn’t familiar with, but I found it – reading your booklet, I found it very informative. What I’d like you to do is give us just some background. Why did you address this book? And just give us some background as to what this is about.
Cedric: Well, the IF: Gathering is a – I’d consider it a movement, founded by Jennie Allen, that basically operates from outside of the local churches. I would call it a parachurch organization. They form little local fellowships that they call IF:Table, and they are able to go inside of the church and get some converts or get some adherents from the church, and they indoctrinate them with whatever IF is producing. And that happened in our local area, in our area with one of our local fellowships, and somebody that was dear to me. And as soon as I heard what was being said, the alarms just went off, and I thought, “That’s not right.” And so I began to research it and the more I researched it, the more I realized this was not a healthy movement, not something that I would advise anybody, any woman, to get involved with. It’s a woman’s movement, but I wouldn’t advise any woman to get involved with this movement.
It’s a very popular movement. I think they say on their website they have reached over a million women in 179 countries, so it’s not just some little small thing that we don’t have to worry about, but something that has gained momentum and is gaining momentum every time they do one of their conferences, and I think that we have to know what it’s about. Since it’s from the outside of the local church, it’s not been vetted by pastors or church leaders, and we don’t know all of the qualifications of the people involved, I think it’s something we have to concern ourselves about, and know about.
Tom: Mm-hmm. So give us some specifics as to when the alarms went off – not just the general organization or how this came together or the influence, but what in particular troubled you about it?
Cedric: Well, the first thing that really bothered me was the fact that IF: Gathering, the movement, was based on a question, and that question is, “If God is real, then what?” I thought, What do you mean, “If God is real?” I mean, what a thing to ask! I mean, if you were talking to a group of atheists at a conference somewhere, yes, of course – try to make them aware of the consequences. If God is real, then they’re in trouble. But to use that as a title for a Christian conference is just stunning for me. “If God is real…” – to question the existence of God and then to question afterwards, “then what?” Well, obviously the gospel! God is real! When God was real to me, Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior, and the gospel was the next step – to get into the gospel, to understand the gospel, to read God’s Word, study God’s Word, and to try to win the lost and to be involved in something that was important for me to be involved in. Whether God called me to preach, or God called me (as He did in the beginning) to be in prison ministry, or to do apologetics, I wanted to go forth and do what God called me to do.
In this situation, it seems like they are telling women that there’s something wrong with you, where you’re at. “We discern there’s something wrong with you. We want to change a generation of women,” is the phrase they put on their website. It goes, “We’re going to change a generation of women by unleashing, equipping, and discipling them.” I thought that was the mission of the local church! But here’s an organization that’s taken over that mission, and they’re doing it their way without accountability, and they – the whole thing was just very disturbing to me.
And then the fact that Jennie Allen, when she says how she got this mandate from God to form this very large organization with such a tremendous goal there, she said that she actually heard God whisper to her audibly in the night, “Gather and equip your generation.” But then at the 2014 conference, she said, “The truth is that IF: Gathering began as more of a hunch than a vision.” And then at the 2015 conference, which was down the road – I think she said seven or eight years from when she first heard the voice, she says, “Okay, I didn’t hear the voice.” But she becomes confused, or at least frustrated, when she’s trying to explain how it really happened, and in the midst of that, she says, “This is like all different theologies right now, okay? Just give me grace. I don’t know, but I’m telling you in the night I woke up and was overcome with these words: ‘Disciple a generation.’”
So this changing story of how God called her was very perplexing to me and very disturbing. I don’t understand what she means by “all different theologies.” Theology is the study of the nature of God. Of course, it could be – it may have come to mean something else and I’m just out of the loop. But if she didn’t hear the voice of God, why did she say that? And if she wanted to correct her first story, why didn’t she think about it – at least write it out so she doesn’t botch it – and give a clear statement that she can stand by? But that did not happen, and all of those things together really alerted me that something was very seriously wrong with this movement.
Tom: Yeah, and we know – look, God can speak to our hearts. God can…
Tom: …can communicate however He chooses to do it. But when somebody comes to me and tells me, “Well, God said to me,” or “God told me” whatever, I can’t do anything about it. That was a subjective experience that they may or may not have had with God. I can’t rule on that, because God does speak to our hearts. However, all I have to do is follow what comes out of that, and this is where we’re going to go with this IF: Gathering and the people involved and the conferences. You’re – you know, you’re going to give us certainly some information about that. And then as we listen to – if God said, “Put this together,” okay, well, what is the makeup of what’s being put together? Is it good fruit, is it bad fruit, or are we dealing with individuals?
Cedric…and maybe many of our listeners – last week we talked about the…carefulness: “Take heed that no man deceive you.” This is the issue of our day. “Many will come to me and say in that day, Lord, Lord, didn’t we do this, or that?” So this is an important issue, and I want to get back to, then, the – how did this then play out? This supposedly began with God speaking to her heart, you know, which we can only judge that by the fruit of it or what came of it. So what came of it? Or what has come of it?
Cedric: Well, when they – when Jennie Allen began the conferences, of course, all conferences have the best speakers they can get. They’re going to get individuals that are – that have something to offer the people who are coming. If it’s really a genuine Christian conference, they’re going to have speakers that – whose lifestyles measure up. They’re not just going to get someone that’s popular, but they’re going to vet those people before they have them to make sure that they’re going to give people the truth, and they’re not going to come and exalt themselves and so forth. But the speakers that she chose for the conference were very troubling, as well. One speaker, Jen Hatmaker, who has famously come out in support of gay marriage, was very troubling even before she made that decision public. I didn’t think that some of the influences in her life would have qualified her to speak in a Christian conference, at least not one that I would attend – people like Henri Nouwen and others that are involved in…that promoted contemplative spirituality that we now have as a very pressing problem in Christianity.
Tom: That’s the Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen. Go ahead.
Cedric: Yeah. Well, she talks about that in the – on the website, “We’re going to bring forth a gospel-centered message.” Well, if you’re going to do that, you need to have gospel-centered speakers that are not influenced by dangerous heretics, and she didn’t do that. And she had others ones that spoke at the conference that are almost, like, on a “who’s who” list of heretics or false teachers and false preachers. And it was very, very disturbing to see that happen, and the message that was being delivered was ambiguous, to say the least. It was cavalier. There was a lot of cavalier things said and the way that they approach certain things was very cavalier.
I think that when you’re dealing with God’s Word, when you’re dealing with essential truths, beautiful truths, I think that you should never be casual or cavalier about the way you present them at a conference or even from behind the pulpit in a church building. I think you have to be serious about what you’re saying. It doesn’t mean you become foreboding and you shake your finger at folks and beat the pulpit, although one may do that. But I just think you should really treat it with respect what God has deposited in your life, what He’s put in your heart, and you should never make it seem that it’s so casual that you can take it or leave it, or this is not something you really have to be concerned about. And what – the conference that I watched, it seemed like there was just way too much of a cavalier attitude toward the things of God.
Tom: Mm-hmm. And again, you know, we have seen this before. If you’re going to draw people to your conferences, as you mentioned, certainly people who are popular – you’re not going to have a conference that’s going to draw from people that you don’t know, no matter how true to God’s Word they might be. And too often, as you point out, that’s not the case. So the contemplative influence by some of these speakers – what else?
Cedric: Well, it wasn’t just the contemplative influence, but it was the general concept that Jennie Allen has of her relationship with God. She makes many, many references to being “restless.” In more than one book, talking about restlessness, of heading down wilderness trails, going out into the wilderness, uncharted trails, and so forth and so on, and seems to want to transfer that restlessness to the women that she draws into the movement. One of her statements is, “There is a restlessness among the next generation of women who fear more than anything wasting their lives. We want to harness that hunger and passion by providing space to be equipped to pursue their God-given dreams.”
Well, it’s hard for me to put restlessness together with hunger and passion. To me they’re two different kinds of emotions. The person who loves God, who is intimate with God, who God feeds with His Word, and all the other benefits of being a child of God, should not have what I consider a restlessness in their spirit. You ought to be satisfied with what God is doing in you and how God is using you, and there should be more of a contentment in God. There should be more of a peace that passes all understanding. But this restlessness seems to be one of the things that has brought some other errors into this movement – not just the contemplative stuff, but even the emergent stuff that seems to be coming into the movement – the seeker friendly-type atmosphere that’s in the movement, and other things that I feel like can be very, very damaging to anybody that is not grounded in the faith. Although I know that individuals who are serving God faithfully and love God with all their heart and they’re just looking for something they think is important to them and stumble into a movement like this or stumble into a conference like this, I believe that individuals like that would know instantly that something is not right. But when people influenced by Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence, Dallas Willard, and other individuals are up speaking before the congregation, then you’re going to get some flavor of that influence in their speech.
And one more thing that I might add, too, is there was a speaker by the name of Ann Voskamp who wrote a bestselling book One Thousand Gifts that has spoken at the conference, and I think she spoke at this last conference, that I can’t even describe how frustrated that I became when I read some of her statements. I can’t even repeat some of the salacious statements about God and Christ that she put in her book. How could the Holy Spirit have spoken to Jennie Allen or God have spoken to Jennie Allen to form this great movement, and she can’t choose speakers any better than this? And I’ll say that these people are on the top-100 list of influential Christian women, but that doesn’t make them on God’s list for who we should have speaking at a conference where we’re going to minister to women and disciple women.
Tom: Last week we discussed how important it is to adhere to sound doctrine, and of course the warning of Scripture, that we’re – and we are in the days in which they will not – we will not endure sound doctrine. When I say “we,” those professing Christians or even true believers that won’t go to God’s Word.
Now, did I misunderstand: I thought I heard you say that maybe on their website they talked about discipling women?
Tom: Okay, now let’s talk about that for a minute: you see, to me, I’m just a simple-minded guy, and I say, “Let’s get back to the fundamentals.” Last week we talked about the essentials of the faith and how important they are. Unless you’re grounded in those kinds of things, but you’re now enticed to get off into the things that you just described, these different speakers with their ideas, their feelings, their emotions, and so on…
Look, you know, I’m not saying that men are not emotional and won’t be emotional, but I believe that women, God’s given them the gift of nourishing and their attitude in raising children and all of that. So…but that can also be a problem. It’s like, as a believer, I have – when I was born again, given the Holy Spirit, I began an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ! Now, if there are no emotions involved in that, then I don’t know what you could call it. But, as you know, Cedric, that’s the byproduct of being born again, the emotions that come with it. That’s the cart that follows the horse. What happens when that cart moves ahead? You know, then it goes into the ditch! So my concern for women who are certainly more given to emotions, they cannot let that rule, and that is what I’ve seen when women go off to conferences; and some come back to a church here and there, they’ve got a new idea! They have a zealousness, an emotion. But rarely does it come back to the fundamentals, the gospel, what it is, and understanding it better and their relationship with Christ according to the Scriptures. Do you see any of that in what you’ve seen in this movement?
Cedric: Truly, there is a lot of emotion in those conferences – a lot of playing on women’s emotions. I had, matter of fact, a letter from one of my readers that wrote about that in detail, and she said she tried very much to find a message in all of that and couldn’t find it, because it was more a manipulation of the emotions, tapping for donations, selling merchandise, and the excitement of a good, charismatic speaker. If you’ve got someone who is very charismatic, who can speak well, that has a good repertoire of stories to tell and one-liners to speak, they can mesmerize a congregation, and they can keep people excited and stirred and so forth and so on. But what do you take away from that? Do you take a deposit of truth away from that? Is that something that you can use to build on, like you said, your salvation experience? If that’s not the case, if they’re leading you down something new, down a new path, you should be very alerted to that immediately.
I’ve said this several times and I will continue to say it: this is not the day of something new. It is the day when we go back to the old paths, to the old ways, and get grounded there. Almost everything new that I’ve heard – as a matter of fact, everything new that I’ve heard – has not been good. I didn’t like it at all. We haven’t even done the things that God – the old things – that God has given us. Why are we out here looking for something new? I don’t want anything new in my life! There are several things that I’m trying to live up to in God’s Word that I haven’t accomplished yet. I’m working on that. I don’t need anything new to come along. And why would God confuse us in the day of deception, in the day – as you’ve said several times, and it’s true – in a day of great apostasy, why would God confuse us by sending us all these new things, these new revelations, new concepts of Him and new ideas of Him? Why would God do that? He wouldn’t do that! It’s not like God. He would tell us, as the Word of God tells us, to be grounded, to be settled and steadfast in the faith. These individuals seem to be trying to bring new concepts into their movement with every conference – just little hints of this and that and the other. Some of the statements – I could read a couple of the statements…
Tom: Yeah, go ahead!
Cedric: It might make you – help you understand a little bit better.
Cedric: Jennie Allen says, “He will take this hell on earth and someday show us how hell was building heaven.” I, as a Christian that’s been a minister for many years, I can’t even understand that! I totally disagree with that! Christ said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” How can hell build heaven? And even if that was a remark that’s taken out of context, the context should be supplied, and I would think you would choose a different way to try to describe what you’re trying to say. She says stuff like, “Grace is scary insane.” Christine Caine, one of the speakers, says, “God wants to date us! …where do you take God for a date? (Having made the world, finding something new is difficult.)” That’s not only cavalier, but it’s salacious; it’s creepy, if you want to know the truth.
They say things like, “I’ve always been drawn to that overgrown path in the wilderness, even though it scares me a little even now.” But then she will say – this is Jennie Allen – she will say, “Well, I wish I were a more confident and rebellious pioneer. God had to nearly force me into the wild new path He had for IF.”
Well, I will stay away from all wild new paths, and I will stay away from the wilderness, because I’m not the first one that’s traveled this Christian journey. This path has been traveled by many, many people before me, and it’s well-trampled. I think that when you start going off into new places and wilderness paths, and so forth and so on, and finding wild new conferences, at that point you’ve lost the concept of remaining steadfast in the faith and in the Word of God.
Tom: Yeah. Two things come to mind, as you’ve been saying that. Scripture says clearly you don’t add to God’s Word, all right? It’s complete. Not just you don’t add to God’s Word – I have a sign above my desk that says, “Christ supplemented [in other words, “added to”] – “Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted.” We go down the line with this, adding to and adding to, and we are getting farther and farther away from God, from Christ, and from His Word. That’s the inevitability of what’s taking place.
So, Cedric, we’ve got about two minutes left in this session. What’s your last encouragement, exhortation, to the women that are listening to this? Hopefully they haven’t turned it off right away, but they’re listening to this and need to be ministered to. What would you say in about the minute-and-a-half that we have left?
Cedric: Well, thank you for that, Tom. Certainly an inspiring conference with sensational speakers can make us feel better, perhaps cause us to want to be better, to do more. But if the speakers by their influences and concepts of God and cavalier treatment of the truth represent a share of the reasons why Christianity is not better, then all the excitement, sensationalism, and emotionalism that IF: Gathering can muster will not do a single thing to turn the tide of compromise that’s pushed its way deeply into every fracture of Christianity. If women are going to change for the better, then they have to get connected with God and fall back in love with His Word. And there are scores of women, I believe, in most churches that are grounded and steadfast and probably would not attend these conferences. They would be better to seek those women out, and if not for discipling purposes, at least to have someone that they could look up to that would show them by way of example how to follow Christ.
Tom: Amen, amen. My guest has been Cedric Fisher, and the booklet that we’ve been talking about is produced by Lighthouse Trails, but also we’re co-publishing it. The title of it is IF It Is of God: Answering the Questions of IF: Gathering.
So, Cedric, again, it’s been a blessing. Hopefully our listeners will take to heart many of the insights that you’ve given us. So, brother, thank you so much for being with us.
Cedric: Well, thank you, Tom, for having me on, and I appreciate all the ministry that you do there at Berean Call, and we just pray that we’ll have another opportunity to speak again sometime.
Tom: Very good. Thank you, brother.