I don’t know if you’re like I am, but when the movie is over I always want to know more. If it is based on a true story then I look up everything about the person to see how they are doing and to learn more of their journey.
After watching a movie based on the spiritual conversion of Angus Buchan, called Faith Like Potatoes, I searched out more. To that end, I looked up information on Mr Buchan subsequent to the events portrayed in the movie. I watched interviews with him. I watched an hour-long documentary in which Mr Buchan spoke of his spiritual journey. I watched clips on Youtube of his preaching at revivals. I watched interviews, such as a recent one on CBN/700 Club with Pat Robertson.
You can read my review of Faith Like Potatoes. The essay focuses on the movie and alludes to some doctrinal issues I’d had with the faith as it was portrayed. By the end of the movie I’d become concerned that the faith Jesus came to deliver was portrayed more as a ‘miracle-based, look what God can do for you’ kind of faith rather than the ‘I’m a sinner and look what Jesus did on the cross for me’ kind of faith.
Buchan’s joy in the Lord is contagious and his faith does seem genuine. He has done many good things, such as start an AIDS orphanage and provide education for local Zulu. Mr Buchan has worked tirelessly and fervently for many decades for the Lord. There are many fine things he has done. I don’t question his motivations or his faith.
However I do question his methods and his emphasis.
My subsequent research has shown that the suspicion I’d had was true and is proved to be based on fact. My suspicion was that Mr Buchan relies on miracles to get the attention of unbelievers and then parlays that attention and interest into an altar call. Thousands flock to the stage at his altar calls, but I worry that the seeds he has sown eventually dry up in the hearts of the people who respond because they were superficial to begin with. I worry because his emphasis is more on Charismatic manifestations of miraculous events and less on the Word, though the Word is present at his revivals.
Let me give an example.
As Mr Buchan explains on The 700 Club, an event in Mozambique occurred at one of his revivals. Most of his revivals are “healing revivals”, you know. Buchan was preaching to 5000 Muslims. He said, “I was preaching my heart out. Nothing was happening, and the Holy Spirit says to me, ‘Stop preaching. They’re not listening to you.’ And I looked down, and right in the front row, there was a man sitting there and he had two crutches. He had a stiff leg. I felt the Holy Spirit say, ‘Go down and pray for that man. And that miracle will turn the people.’ Put my Bible down, told them on the microphone, ‘I’m going to stop preaching. I’m going to go down and pray for this man, and God’s going to heal him.'”…
“I went down there and we had instant attention. From 5,000 people that were milling around and moving in and out, there was absolute silence. You could have heard a pin. I anointed him in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And I said, ‘Do you want Jesus to heal you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, please.’ We prayed for him. I bent down, 5,000 people watching us, and I took hold of his leg. I tried to bend his knee, and nothing happened. It was solid. [This was because the man had a steel pin in his leg due to a forestry injury]. I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, ‘Bend his leg.’ And I bent his leg like that, and something gave way inside. His leg came free, and he was moving his leg. He chucked his crutches and was running up and down and jumping and shouting for joy.”
Here is Mr Buchan’s conclusion to that miracle story: “I want to tell you after that I didn’t have to preach another word. I made the altar call and 5,000 people ran forward to give their life to Christ.”
Which Christ did they give their life to? The healing, miracles performing Christ? Or the Christ that delivers us from our own personal sins, which had kept us from reconciling with Him? Of course the man wanted Jesus to heal his leg, but the question a preacher should ask is ‘do you want Jesus to heal your depraved, sinning heart via his work on the cross and submit to His resurrected Lordship over you all your life?”
Mr Buchan has said several times in the interviews I’ve seen, a heartbreaking quote which he triumphantly proclaimed at the conclusion of the Mozambique story:
“At Shalom we’ve got a saying: one genuine miracle equals a thousand sermons.”
No it doesn’t. Every single person Jesus healed is dead now. But millions are still alive by hearing His word and having faith in who He is. We are convicted of our sin by the power of hearing the Word. (Romans 10:17). Not by seeing:
“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:46-48).
Clarke’s Commentary says of that miracles verse-
“Except ye see signs and wonders, etc. – Our Lord does not tell this man that he had no faith, but that he had not enough. If he had had none, he would not have come from Capernaum to Cana, to beg him to heal his son. If he had had enough, he would have been contented with recommending his son to our Lord, without entreating him to go to Capernaum to heal him; which intimates that he did not believe our Lord could do it at a distance. But the words are not addressed to the nobleman alone, but to all the Galilean Jews in general; for our Lord uses the plural number, which he never does when addressing an individual. These people differed widely from the people of Sychar: they had neither a love of the truth, nor simplicity of heart; and would not believe any thing from heaven, unless forced on their minds by the most striking miracles.”
“They were favored with the ministry of John Baptist; but, as that was not accompanied with miracles, it was not generally credited. They require the miracles of Christ, in order that they may credit the advent of the Messiah. There are many like these Galileans still in the world: they deny that God can have any influence among men; and as to the operations of the Holy Spirit, they, in the genuine Galilean spirit, boldly assert that they will not credit any man who professes to be made a partaker of them, unless he work a miracle in proof of his pretensions! These persons should know that the grace of working miracles was very different from that by which a man is saved; and that the former might exist, even in the most astonishing measure, where the latter did not.”
In his interview with Pat Robertson, Buchan talked of the time in a Zulu hut when Buchan apparently raised a girl from unconsciousness, or the dead, no one is quite sure, Buchan said, “I prayed over her, Pat. I said “It’s your reputation here, Jesus.”
Jesus’s reputation does not rest on whether or not He performs to the satisfaction of onlookers.
In the movie, when the tractor was Buchan driving lurched and his nephew fell off and was crushed under the wheel, the entire family was thrown into a deep grief. Buchan’s grief was so deep that his pastor asked Buchan to hand over his gun until the grief lessened, thinking Buchan may commit suicide. However, Buchan and his brother’s grief was only lessened after a dream that Buchan’s brother Ferguson had three months after the death. Buchan described it in an interview, and it was depicted in the movie.
Buchan’s brother Ferguson ‘saw’ his four-year-old son running across an emerald field. The tyke looked happy. Fergie picked up his son and asked his son if he was really happy there or if he wanted to come back. The boy said he was happy and that he was just waiting for him, his dad. Ferguson called his brother to tell of this dream-vision, and they both then felt a measure of relief from the grief they shared.
|Faith Like Potatoes, p. 63|
However I have questions about this event as described by Angus Buchan. It is symptomatic of the charismatic reliance on external manifestations of miracles rather than a knowledge and certainty of internal faith, in my opinion. For example, did Fergie ascend into heaven to see his son? The bible says “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:13).
Did the boy descend? In no way do the spirits of the dead commune with the living. After death people are either in heaven or in hell (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). And besides, the dead do not have their glorified body yet so the boy was spirit. In that case, how could Fergie have picked him up and hugged him?
Only the evil spirits and the holy ministering spirits are out and about. So who did Ferguson ‘see’, exactly? And where?
Another question more related to the point of this discernment lesson is that the brothers only got relief from their grief after receiving a sign, which was the dream. Did they need a dream to be comforted? Why was his faith in the knowledge that the boy was with Jesus not enough? It was for David and his example is a model for us to take comfort in. (2 Samuel 12:23). But comfort came to the brothers only after a sign and a wonder.
Faith is already knowing he is safe with Jesus, whether a dream comes or not.
I know that the grief of a parent who has lost his child is among he deepest griefs on earth. I can’t speak to having experienced it, and I don’t want to belittle it. But what parent wouldn’t want to have a sign bestowed to them, a dream in which they could pick up their child one last time? Other parents must wonder, why isn’t my faith strong enough to have been the recipient of a dream like that? What is the matter with me that God didn’t see fit to send a sign that my son or daughter is all right? It causes jealousy and division rather than a comfort. The greatest comfort we all receive equally is the word itself. For example, scriptures show David’s resolute knowledge that he would be with his son again … Jesus compassion in healing the epileptic boy… examples of surety and grace and compassion from the word should be enough.
Overall, reliance on manifestations and miracles is not good. I’m not saying they don’t happen. Relying on them to the exclusion of sermonizing is not good, as Mr Buchan does. Remember, he says, “At Shalom we’ve got a saying: one genuine miracle equals a thousand sermons.”
The problem is the word “genuine.” Who confirms the genuineness of the miracle? Who vetoes it? And on what basis? Is there an appeal regarding the validation or vetoing of its genuineness? That is why preaching from the word is always better. It is a more sure word. (2 Peter 1:19). There is no question IT is genuine!
Professor Alan Lester of Grace Unlimited in South Africa attended several of Buchan’s revivals. He came away concerned about the overemphasis on miracles and the under-emphasis on preaching. He wrote a 50 page Open Letter to Angus Buchan, and in it, he asked,
Long after the ‘wow factor’ of miracles pass, the word remains.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).
There is always the problem of clinging to Jesus when the miracles are vivid. The problem is that people leave when the miracles dim in memory, or when they are contrasted with a hard lesson from the Word. Years after the revival has folded its tent and the man with the thrown-away crutches has left town, will they still cling to Jesus? When the hard work of the Word convicts their heart, will they hear? See John 6:60- “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
After the disciples heard the hard saying,
“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66).
And still others have the problem of seeing miracle after miracle but they do not repent.
“Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” (Matthew 11:20)
Professor Johan Malan wrote about the lack of lasting fruit from revivals like Buchan’s, “A number of case studies on converts during gospel rallies have been conducted in the past. At places where there are no evangelical churches or Bible study groups with high standards where converts can get further instruction, more than 90% of them did not stand by their original commitment. Angus Buchan will seriously have to face this fact. In modern preaching in general, more emphasis is placed upon moralising and human relations than on an improved man-God-relationship.”
A shallow conversion rate is the same issue with Billy Graham Crusades. “Observers over the years have noted that Billy Graham, who is considered to be America’s premier evangelist, gets a lot of people coming forward in his meetings, but few lasting conversions. Herman Otten, editor of Christian News, stated that “The editor’s home congregation participated in the 1957 New York Billy Graham crusade. . . The editor’s home congregation received about 28 [referral cards]. All were visited but none were interested in joining the church. Surveys have shown that Graham’s mass crusades have resulted in few ever joining a church.”
Graham himself said, “less than five percent of all those who made a confession or profession of faith at his crusades went on to become active members of a church fellowship.” (source)
When you combine the treachery of easy beliefism and its low conversion rates with dependence on miracles, it is an even worse situation.
“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:38-39).
I am concerned because Angus Buchan is HUGE. The photos above are recent and real. He is very big in Africa. His revivals and Mighty Men Conferences draw a quarter to a third of a million people at a time, and the crusades last for days. His charismatic approach to sharing the Gospel and his emphasis on miracles, combined with a noted waning of preaching actual scripture, is a very big concern in a continent that has largely escaped the worst of Western prosperity and charismatic emphasis. It is also a concern because of the need of the people to hear the full Gospel. I don’t think they receive the full counsel of God at a Buchan crusade.
Prof. Malan wrote in 2010,
“It is obvious that the South African revival preacher, Angus Buchan, does have a relationship with Jesus Christ as his Saviour and experiences Him as a living reality in his life. He also exhorts thousands of people to repent, and helps families to reconcile with each other, which is praiseworthy. On the other hand, worried voices are being heard that he reveals great ignorance on various aspects of biblical doctrines – to such an extent that he has embarked on the way of kingdom theology, the ecumenical movement, and even the promotion of dubious signs and wonders. On certain occasions he has made positive comments on false prophets such as Benny Hinn and Kathryn Kuhlman. His perceived ignorance on these matters is disturbing and even bewildering.”
A former friend of Mr Buchan’s, Shaun Willock said, “But then our paths diverged. It was inevitable, for as he embraced the Charismatic movement and became increasingly involved in it, the Lord was opening my eyes to the unbiblical errors of Pentecostalism/Charismatism, culminating ultimately in my departure from it and utter repudiation of it. And in this can be seen the discriminating grace of God. Separation from all that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement stood for was what I desired, whereas Angus wanted more of it.”
And from the photos above, Angus got more of it. Mr Angus Buchan seems to be a compassionate man who loves the Lord, but he is a Charismatic faith healer who depends on signs rather than the Gospel. He and his teachings are to be avoided. Any miracles he claims to have performed should be looked on with heavy skepticism.
Your own tried and true, bible preaching, caring, hard working pastor might not be as flashy as Angus Buchan, and 350,000 people might not clamor to attend your church, but it is the slow and steady that wins the race. Persevere in a quietly transforming faith, dependent on the word and prayer and a close walk in the ways of Jesus on the narrow road, and you will not hear the dreaded words, “Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.” (Matthew 7:23) but instead, you will hear, ‘Welcome to the paradise of God’. (Revelation 2:7)
FMI: My Faith Like Potatoes review