Smoke and Fire Theology: Lessons I Learned from Brother Yun

John ArmstrongACT 3

Paul Hattaway, co-author and editor of Brother Yun’s two books (The Heavenly Man and Living Water) is also committed to defending the character of Brother Yun. You can read his entire “Open Letter” at Asia Harvest. I have read this response to the critics twice, once about 18 months ago and then again just after Brother Yun was here this last weekend. I waited to read Hattaway's letter for the second time in order to form my own views based upon what I actually saw and experienced myself.

Paul Hattaway says that when he worked on the first Yun book he knew two things would surely follow. First, many people would be blessed simply because Yun’s testimony is so remarkable. We all hunger to know people who demonstrate the power of kingdom life like Brother Yun. When we are touched by their lives we are better for it. Second, he knew that a sleeping Western church would attack the messengers of change that God sent to it. To not attack would be to accept the verdict of the prophet, and thus the message that we are the ones who are spiritually and morally asleep. It is far safer to criticize the messenger in this instance. This pattern can be seen throughout the Bible and church history.

“Smoke and Fire”

Dsc00609_2Hattway writes about the unique way that people will tend to process gossip and slander. They practice what he calls a theology of “smoke and fire.” Where there is smoke there must be fire. If people spread criticism widely enough then it must be true, or at least partially true. He says, “This kind of theology is completely unbiblical and dangerous.” Jesus was strongly accused of sin and unbiblical practice but this does make it true. Come to think of it Jesus was a highly controversial figure!

The Biblical Way

The Scriptures are clear about how to discover the truth about any one who is accused of false teaching or sin. Matthew 18:15–17 and Galatians 6:1 both come to mind. These are clear principles of confrontation. But almost no one who makes it their calling to write criticism of other Christians on the Internet follows these principles. This has been the case with Brother Yun.

I understand this all too well. I am told that numerous Internet sites, especially those promoted by very conservative Reformed and non-Reformed (anti-Catholic) fundamentalist Christians, routinely attack me and what I write. When my forthcoming book, Your Church Is Too Small, comes out in the fall of 2009 I expect this to increase exponentially. I look forward to serious reviews and honest critiques, which are warranted. I do not look forward to hearing from people who will savage my character and motives for what I have written. Some of both will likely happen.

Brother Yun’s Christ-Centered Response

Paul Hattaway says that in all of these struggles “I have watched Brother Yun closely, and have been amazed at his godly response to all of the criticism leveled against him. Not only has he refused to get into any public debate with anyone, he has completely forgiven all of his persecutors and holds no grudges at all.”

This is precisely where Brother Yun so ministered to me this past week. We spoke about my own life over dinner last Saturday night. He urged me to not read the attacks that are leveled against my character. He also said to me, “Your problem is that you have a far better mind than I do, and thus you want to argue and prove yourself right.”  (How did he know?)  He said, “Do not go to other Web sites that speak about you, ever.” And he added, “Make sure you forgive all who have hurt you.” The first admonition I have followed for almost a year now. The second issue I am working on and feel that I am there most of the time. I am often afforded public opportunities to speak ill of someone who has criticized me. I seek to “bless” such people by speaking of their many excellent positive qualities; e.g., the fact that their ministry has always helped many, the fact that they too love Christ as much or more than I do, the obvious fact that they have deep faithfulness to important doctrinal truth, etc. I will not make up stuff when this comes along but I can almost always find good things to say if I first pray and then do not speak too quickly. This is a real learning curve for me. Brother Yun helped me see this more clearly in a fresh and powerful way.

Brother Yun Helps Me

Brother Yun very specifically warned me about the harm that comes from gossip and slander and then showed me how to deal with it, in the most Christ-centered way that anyone has ever done in private. If he were a bitter man who nursed a grudge or who wanted to defend himself, I saw none of it. And the way he spoke faithfully to me truly helped me in profoundly personal ways. Rarely do I meet someone like this and connect in this open way so easily and quickly.

By the way, Brother Yun never once made me feel inferior in any kind of condescending way. I know he is far more like Christ than I am. And I know for sure that he has known far more of the awesome power of God and the real sufferings for Christ than I have ever known. But not once did he ever make me feel that I was inferior to him in any way. He built me up and even suggested, in one of his prophetic encouragements, that I was a Barnabas. I feel like I met the most Barnabas-like Christian I have ever met, so that was quite a gift to my own soul.