Friday, June 28, 2013

Jeremiah: Prophetic Interpreter of His Times

Jeremiah was called to speak to his own time.  His words were collected and compiled so that they might speak to the generations to come in the exile and after the exile.  Jeremiah's words provide the revelatory lens by which Judah is to interpret her experience.  There was a very real danger that the exiled Judeans would come to false conclusions regarding their exile in Babylon.  The common way of reasoning was that when one nation conquered another this was a sign that in the warfare of the gods the conquered nation's god(s) had been defeated.  Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was to provide a proper interpretative framework through which to view the exile.  Yahweh was not weak and therefore able to be defeated by the Babylonian gods.  Rather, Judah had been wicked in idolatry and the exile was Yahweh's just judgment.  John N. Oswalt nicely captures this dynamic of proper interpretative reasoning:
It is often said, "The winners write history."  But that is exactly what Yahweh would not allow to happen.  He told them what their history meant, and it was usually quite different from what the rich and powerful would like to have said about it and themselves.  In the end, the idea that the God of these little Canaanite principalities called Israel and Judah was in fact using the mightiest powers of the world to discipline and refine his people was the last thing that anyone would have expected to emerge from Israel's experience.  For in the end, Israel's history is tragedy compounded by tragedy.
Here is what the Israelites could have thought:
* We were really arrogant to think that ours was the only God; now we know better.
* We were much too exclusive in our thinking, believing that there is only one way to express one's faith; now we know better.
* Our spare and limited expressions of faith could be enriched by the rich religious pageantry and imagery of our captors.
* Our reliance on a book religion--verbal communications from God about the way we conduct our lives--needs to be replaced with the much more satisfying ritual participation in the great cosmic dance.
But what was the actual meaning of that experience as testified through the prophets?  It was the very opposite of the reasonable conclusions above.  The exile was intended to teach the Judeans that Babylon's gods were not gods at all; Judah's problem was that they had not been monotheistic enough.
* The exile was intended to teach the Judeans that covenantal obedience is indeed the only way to express faith; Judah's problem was that they had not been exclusivist enough.
* The exile was intended to teach the Judeans that ritual is only symbolic of genuine changes in personal relations between the worshipper and God; Judah's problem was that they had been too much infected with ritualistic understandings inherent in the worldview of continuity.  
* The exile was intended to teach the Judeans that it is by means of the Word of God that we will be delivered from entrapment in the cosmic plunge; Judah's problem was that they were already too much entrapped in attempts to control the cosmos for their own benefit.  (The Bible Among the Myths, pp. 135-136)
So Jeremiah was tasked with calling for repentance and yet realizing, with increasing clarity, that Judah would not repent and therefore go into exile.  Jeremiah's words were, thus, preparatory for coming exile.  Judah needed to enter the exile with the proper interpretative framework so as to respond rightly. R. E. O. White aptly comments:
Yet if Judah went into exile blaming the past, or the fathers, or fate, or foreigners, or God, then the experience would teach her nothing and would only breed bitterness and further rebelliousness.  But if she went forth in true sorrow, feeling her guilt before God, and in her suffering found the way to penitence, then the outcome could yet be healing, cleansing, and the renewal of her covenant with God.  A generation or two immersed in the heathenism she had so longed lusted after might well cure her of it forever.  If her humiliation was rightly interpreted as God's cleansing judgment, Judah might yet return with God's law written upon her heart.  (The Indomitable Prophet: A Biographical Commentary on Jeremiah, p. 23)
The Church today needs the prophetic perspective and message of Jeremiah.  As we continue to feel the reverberations of the demise of Christendom and the abandonment of the vestiges of a Christian consensus there will be all sorts of temptations to compromise fidelity to the Word of God.  Proper interpretation of our times must flow from God's perspective as grounded in his Word.  This has happened before.  When the Roman empire was being overtaken by barbarians there was a kind of "current events" wisdom that said this was due to the forsaking of the old gods.  Christianity was faulted.  Augustine's The City of God provided another interpretation rooted in the Christian tradition to explain why the cultural crisis had come.  The generations to come might call for the need for another Augustine to arise and, in a Jeremiah-like fashion, interpret the times in a way faithful to God's revelation.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

How Gnosticism Helped the Church

A few thoughts on the "profit derived from Gnosticism" by the early church from Louis Berkof's The History of Christian Doctrines (Baker, 1937):
The Church also derived actual profit from the appearance of Gnosticism, but only in an indirect way.  It learned to mark off clearly the limits of divine revelation, and to determine the relation of the Old Testament to the New.  Moreover, it became keenly alive to the necessity of drawing up short statements of the truth, based on current baptismal formulas, which could serve as standards of interpretation (Rules of Faith).  There was also a very evident doctrinal gain.  Christianity was not first conceived as a 'doctrine' and as a 'mystery'.  The intellectual element in the Christian religion was emphasized, and this marked the real starting-point for doctrinal development.  The Christian idea of God was rescued from the mythological speculations of the Gnostics.  The Church came into conscious possession of the truth that God is the Supreme Being, the Creator and Upholder of the Universe, the same in the Old and in the New Testament.  The doctrine of the Demiurge and his creative activity was set aside, and the dualism of the Gnostics, making matter essentially evil, was overcome.  Over against the Gnostic tendency to regard Jesus Christ merely as one of the aeons, His unique character as the Son of God was emphasized, and at the same time His true humanity was defended against all kinds of docetic denials.  The great facts of His life, His virgin birth, miracles, suffering, death, and resurrection were all maintained and set in clearer light.  Moreover, the doctrine of redemption through the atoning work of Christ was put forward in opposition to the speculative vagaries of the Gnostics; and the universal receptivity of men for the Gospel of Jesus Christ was stressed in answer to Gnostic exclusiveness and pride.  (pp. 49-50)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Reading Irenaeus (part 2)--On Being Thankful for Irenaeus' Boldness

As I've been reading Irenaeus' Against Heresies I have often been moved to prayers to God, thanking him for Irenaeus and for using him to protect Jesus' church.  I was recently perusing J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism and came across these lines:
“Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.”  p. 51

“In such times of crisis, God has always saved the Church.  But He has always saved it not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.”  p. 174
Or consider this from another angle: what if, instead of Irenaeus, the early church had to rely on Rob Bell to defend the Christian gospel.  Scary isn't it!  Be thankful, be very thankful for Irenaeus.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Evangelical and Charismatic: Affirming Both Word and Spirit

Colin Hansen's book Young, Restless, and Reformed alerted us all to the rise of the young Calvinistic movement that is growing.  What is worthy of note is that this growing movement is more charismatic in nature.  Hansen writes:
Considering domestic and international trends, it's likely that Reformed evangelicals will become more charismatic if Calvinism continues to spread.  Cessationism among American evangelicals has waned outside Reformed circles just as it has within.  Certainly around the globe, Christians tend to assume that the New Testament miracles continue today.  (p. 103)
A fascinating thing I noticed in reading Hansen's book is how often Dr. Wayne Grudem was mentioned.  He was not interviewed for the book but time and time again people who were interviewed brought up his name and books--especially his Systematic Theology (see pages 12, 97, 102, 116, 122, 125, 127).  In that Dr. Grudem combines both a deep love for the Word of God and a deep passion for the power of God displayed in the full range of spiritual gifts it is no wonder that the neo-Reformed movement is displaying both of these tendencies.  Dr. Grudem is not the only one who is manifesting this twin emphasis of Word and Spirit.  I have already written about Sam Storms and his book Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist (see here).  Below are three more books seeking to combine a robust concern for the Word with an experiential role for the Spirit in spiritual gifts.

The first book is: Empowered Evangelicals: Bringing Together the Best of the Evangelical and Charismatic Worlds by Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson (Vine Books, 1995).

The foreword is written by J. I. Packer and he helpfully writes:
This is a book that should not have been needed.  But it is needed, and in some quarters quite urgently.
It seeks to lead polarized people out of some tangles of negative and impoverishing opinion in which they are currently caught.  One group sees the other as weak in the head, while the second rates the first as weak in the heart.  Each forfeits some wisdom and maturity by declining to learn from the other.
Wilson and Nathan are pastors, not devotees of either side but men with feet in both camps, and what they want to do is help these two sorts of Bible people to benefit from each other's insights and experience at the local church level.  I applaud their venture.  It would be a mistake to treat their upbeat, well-rounded presentations as implying that once their points are taken all problems are solved and all troubles are over, but following their lead will be a big step forward toward the unity in truth and power that our times oblige us to seek.  They did not waste their talents when they wrote Empowered Evangelicals, and you will not be wasting your time when you read it.
The second book is: The Word and Power Church: What Happens When s Church Experiences All God Has to Offer? by Doug Bannister (Zondervan, 1999).

This book chronicles Bannisters journey from evangelical cessationist to someone seeking and experiencing more of Spirit's power.  He writes:
I now had a foot in both camps.  As an evangelical, I loved the Word but longed for more of the Spirit.  As someone who had begun to drink from the water of the charismatic renewal, I loved the emphasis on the Spirit's power, but saw that this power needed to be wedded with a stronger rooting in the Word.  I saw strengths and weaknesses in both traditions.  Both camps hold a piece of the puzzle the other needs.  (pp. 19-20)
Again, J. I. Packer endorses this book as well!

The third book is: Straight Talk on Spiritual Power: Experiencing the Fullness of God in the Church by Bill Hull (Baker, 2002).

Bill Hull is well-known within evangelicalism for his many books on disciple-making.  In this book he shares his journey into experiencing more of the Spirit's power and how he led his church into this charismatic dimension.  In his introduction Hull writes these poignant words:
As I had observed in Florida the chasm between traditional evangelicals and evangelical charismatics is rapidly closing at the leadership level.  But at the local church level, there is still cultural separation that is just as strong as any theological differences.  I find there are more cessationists by custom than by study.  Someone taught us that certain gifts and means of power are no longer active; therefore our church culture has been shaped around that teaching.  The worship, the teaching, the praying, it all is slanted toward the cultural customs of the past.  People's resistance is not theological.  It is, however, a deeply inbred way of thinking.  If the process of change affected only principles and logic, change would come a lot easier.  Despite the baggage of our tradition, my desire for our church was to take them on a journey to experience all the fullness of God.  But I knew that taking them on such a journey would require a great deal of prayer, team building, teaching, and patience.
The evangelical church is divided into two groups: those who are focused on the Scriptures and those who seek spiritual power.  The separation was never announced, just experienced.  The Word-focused church gets periodic visitations of power, and the power church gets periodic visitations of the Word.  For churches to continue like this is wrong.  For me, the separation of my church from other bodies of believers became a matter of personal integrity.
I believed, along with the pastoral staff and elders, that all the gifts of the Spirit are active and available to the church.  It became clear to me that our practice and our beliefs were not consistent.  We had treated the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 like the crazy uncle the men in white coats came and took away years ago.  We all know he is alive but we don't talk about him.  I began to see the duplicity in our practice.  God convicted me.
God seemed to be saying, "If I have gifted my people for the common good, then why are you not teaching it?  You are blocking the flow of my power.  Why are you asking them to serve me without their tools and weapons?"
The congregations of many churches are not fully equipped for ministry.  A good third of the Spirit's gifting lies dormant, because of custom or theology it is not available.  How can the church serve God and fulfill the Great Commission with one arm tied behind its back?  Since I believe that the full package of gifts was and is available to the church, my not teaching about them was wrong.  I became convinced that I must move forward in a way that would be for the common good of the church.  This would mean teaching on the subject; it would mean dealing with the unknown.  (pp. 20-21)
The rest of Hull's book explains what he taught and how.  He has a number of great discussions and is pastorally sensitive to the journey he was taking his congregation on during this time.

John MacArthur on John Piper and Wayne Grudem regarding Spiritual Gifts

I've written about John MacArthur's upcoming Strange Fire conference (herehere, and here).  Pastor MacArthur's rhetoric seems primarily rooted in responding to the face of charismatic Christianity as found on television.  There seems to be little understanding of responsible charismatic theology.  Dr. MacArthur doesn't even adequately define those who disagree with him.  For example, Dr. MacArthur says the following in an interview in January 2011:
There are people like people like C.J. [Mahaney] and other people like that who have shed that theology and simply hold on to what is called a non-cessationist view, that is the view that may be the miracles and signs and the tongues still exist.  They haven't ceased.  That's what's called a non-cessationist.  We would be cessationists, if we would  say we can show biblically how that's all ceased.  So what's left to them is they've embraced good theology and I think they're moving in the right direction.  But many of them, you know, people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who are, generally speaking, theologically sound will hold on to that non-cessationist's view and say, "Well, God could do that and there could be miracles and there could be tongues."  
Dr. MacArthur has not done justice to these men and their views.  John Piper and Wayne Grudem are not simply "non-cessationists" who think that God "could do that."  This is false.  Here is something of Piper's view from a sermon he preached:
In the previous section I argued that "signs and wonders" in the New Testament were not the prerogative of apostles only. The "seventy" performed them (Luke 10:9,17), deacons performed them (Acts 6:88:6), Galatian Christians performed them (Galatians 3:5), Corinthian Christians performed them (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). Since signs and wonders were not the prerogative of the apostles, there is no New Testament warrant for inferring that these miracles were to cease after the apostolic age.
In fact, I want to argue in this section that the New Testament teaches that spiritual gifts (including the more obviously supernatural or revelatory ones like prophecy and tongues) will continue until Jesus comes. The use of such gifts (miracles, faith, healings, prophecy, etc) give rise to what may sometimes be called "signs and wonders." Therefore signs and wonders are part of the blessing we should pray for today.
There is no text in the New Testament that teaches the cessation of these gifts. But more important than this silence is the text that explicitly teaches their continuance until Jesus comes, namely, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.
The main point of this passage is that love is superior to spiritual gifts like "prophecies" and "tongues" and "knowledge". The basic argument for the superiority of love is that it lasts forever while these gifts do not. They cease "when the perfect comes," but love goes on forever. The reason given for why these gifts cease is that they are "imperfect". But when the "perfect" comes the imperfect will pass away. So the key question is: When does the "perfect" come which marks the end of the imperfect gifts like prophecy?
The answer is plain in the text if we follow Paul's line of reasoning. Verse 8 says, "Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away" (RSV). Why are these gifts temporary? The answer is given in verse 9: "For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect." So the reason these spiritual gifts are temporary is their incompleteness or imperfection.
How long then are they to last? Verse 10 gives the answer: "When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away." But when is that? When does the perfect come? The answer is given in verse 12: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." The "now" of incompleteness and imperfection is contrasted with the "then" of seeing face to face and understanding even as we are understood.
So the answer to the question of when the perfect comes and when the imperfect gifts pass away is the "then" of verse 12, namely, the time of seeing "face to face" and "understanding as we are understood." When will this happen?
Both of these phrases ("seeing face to face" and "understanding as we have been understood") are stretched beyond the breaking point if we say that they refer to the closing of the New Testament canon or the close of the apostolic age. Rather, they refer to our experience at the second coming of Jesus. Then "we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) The phrase "face to face" in the Greek Old Testament refers to seeing God personally (Genesis 32:30Judges 6:22). Thomas Edwards' hundred-year-old commentary is right to say, "When the perfect is come at the advent of Christ, then the Christian will know God intuitively and directly, even as he was before known of God" (First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 353, italics added).
This means that verse 10 can be paraphrased, "When Christ returns, the imperfect will pass away." And since "the imperfect" refers to spiritual gifts like prophecy and knowledge and tongues, we may paraphrase further, "When Christ returns, then prophecy and knowledge and tongues will pass away."
Here is a definite statement about the time of the cessation of spiritual gifts, and that time is the second coming of Christ. Richard Gaffin does not do justice to the actual wording of verse 10 when he says, "The time of the cessation of prophecy and tongues is an open question so far as this passage is concerned" (Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 111). It is not an open question. Paul says, "When the perfect comes [at that time, not before or after], the imperfect [gifts like prophecy and tongues, etc.] will pass away."
Therefore, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 teaches that such spiritual gifts will continue until the second coming of Jesus. There is no reason to exclude from this conclusion the other "imperfect" gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Since these include miracles, faith, healings, etc., with which we associate "signs and wonders", there is clear New Testament warrant for expecting that "signs and wonders" will continue until Jesus comes.
Now, obviously, this is more than simply saying that all the gifts "could" be operative today.  Pastor Piper is arguing that all are available!  Dr. MacArthur's comments are even more off-base in discussing Wayne Grudem's views.  Reading chapters 52 and 53 of Dr. Grudem's Systematic Theology shows that he is very much arguing for the full range of spiritual gifts today--including gifts of healings, prophecy, tongues and interpretations of tongues.  For those wanting a short study by Grudem on these issues and to see for themselves exactly what his views are, one should consult his essay Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible.  Now there is a category of person who corresponds to Dr. MacArthur's "non-cessationist" portrayal.  In a four-views book edited by Wayne Grudem entitled Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan, 1996) one of the views is called "Open But Cautious" and is defended by Robert L. Saucy.  Saucy's position is nicely summed up by his words:
To state my opinion up front, the New Testament does not explicitly teach the cessation of certain gifts at a particular point in the experience of the church.  It is, therefore, impossible to say, on the basis of biblical teaching that certain gifts cannot occur at any given time according to God's sovereign purpose.  On the other hand, there are several lines of evidence that demonstrate that the miraculous phenomena experienced in the early biblical church are not standard for the life of the church throughout all time.  (p. 100)
Here is a statement that is reflective of MacArthur's "non-cessationist" position.  This, however, is not Piper's or Grudem's view.  To assert otherwise is irresponsible scholarship.  

Pastor John MacArthur should do two things.  First, he should accurately and honestly speak of his fellow ministers' views.  He may disagree with both Piper and Grudem but he should be able to correctly label their views.  Second, it would be helpful if MacArthur would responsibly interact with the actual arguments put forward by Piper and Grudem.  In his book Charismatic Chaos MacArthur interacts with Grudem's views on prophecy in only one footnote on pages 368-369 and even this does not adequately articulate Grudem's views.

Can we expect better from the upcoming Strange Fire conference?

Reading Irenaeus (part 1)--Introduction

I’ve been reading Irenaeus’ great work Against Heresies.  I’ve just finished the second of five books and I thought I would write a bit about this important work.  Much of this will be bullet-point reflections rather than a comprehensively organized essay.

1.     Irenaeus wrote in the latter part of the second century.  Against Heresies is dated around AD 180.  The full title of his work is actually A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge Falsely So Called and is taken up with a refutation of the Gnostics. 

2.     For those attempting to read Irenaeus it is important to get perspective on his big project.  I’m also reading Mary Ann Donovan’s One Right Reading?: A Guide to Irenaeus (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1997).  Donovan’s book walks through Against Heresies in a section-by-section manner.  In doing this her book acts as a map for Irenaeus.  One should be wary, however, of some of Donovan’s perspectives and interpretations.  At times Donovan’s rhetoric regarding the Gnostics is a bit too positive for my tastes.  Here is one example:

The face of the adversary [the Gnostics] begins to emerge as the face of a fellow Christian who is far more at ease with plurality of interpretation in many areas of life than is Irenaeus.  The Gnostic is intellectually adventuresome in terms of both doctrine and interpretation, and given to the development of new liturgical forms.  (p. 46)

Notice the language—“plurality of interpretation;” “intellectually adventuresome”—doesn’t that sound so much superior than some stuffy orthodoxy?  As I read Irenaeus he is the one wearing the “white hat” and the Gnostics are the villains.  This simple reading of mine comes from the fact that Irenaeus points people to the Jesus of the canonical Gospels and the Gnostics point away from him.

3.     Second century Gnosticism was a serious threat to the Christian faith.  Although reading about the Gnostic system today can be tedious and mind-boggling, in its day it was seen as a progressive and sophisticated movement.  James Thomas Carlyon, in his essay “The Impact of Gnosticism on Early Christianity,” writes:

It was a species of mental culture, perhaps the most vigorous cultural factor in the life of antiquity.  Gnostics were the thinkers of the time, serious-minded men who combined genuine religion and piety with healthy intellectuality.[1]

            Carlyon quotes S. Angus in this same vein:

It was the religious reaction of the syncretistic centuries to the intellectual forces of the time.  It was a long-sustained attempt to reconcile religion and culture and to make religion at once rational and uplifting and enthusiastic.[2]

Gnostic Christianity was the “progressive” theology of its day.  It was trendy and “advanced” in its thinking.  It was also a grave threat to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Gnoticism ultimately leads people away from Jesus and into vain philosophical speculations that pander to pride.

4.     In his introduction Irenaeus speaks of the deceptive nature of error:

Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected.  But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by it outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.  (AH I. preface, 2)

The heretics of Irenaeus’ time were just like the one’s today.  They use the language of orthodoxy but in profoundly unorthodox ways—“because their language resembles ours while their sentiments are very different.”  (AH I. preface, 2)

5.     In Book One of Against Heresies Irenaeus goes into extensive detail—almost excruciating detail!—regarding the teachings of the Gnostics.  Irenaeus has obviously mastered their system.  He not only knows the truth but he also knows the intricacies of the Gnostic teaching.  He takes the time and energy to lay out their system so that he can accurately and effectively contrast the Gnostic teaching with orthodox teaching of the apostolic gospel.  In this Irenaeus provides an example for today’s defenders of the faith.  There is a place for some defenders to immerse themselves in the error of their time so as to defend the eternal truth of the gospel.  This will, at times, render their work time-specific in that the details of false systems are transitory and, usually, do not have generational “staying-power.”  So, although, this kind of work is “seasonal” in nature it is still crucial for the health of the Church. 

     [1] James Thomas Carlyon, “The Impact of Gnosticism on Early Christianity,” Environmental Factors in Christian History (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, 1939), 121.
     [2] James Thomas Carlyon, “The Impact of Gnosticism on Early Christianity,” 121.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Katharine Jefferts Schori's Demonic Exegesis

16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.  
17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."  
18 She continued doing this for many days.  But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!"  And it came out at that very moment.
Acts 16.16-18

Last May the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, preached a sermon in Venezuela in which she mentioned this scene from Acts 16.  Here is the relevant section:
We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
How bad does it have to be when the promoters of "same-sex relationships" have to not only debase the apostle Paul but also to praise evil spirits of divination!  Paul's problem, according to Jefferts Schori, is that he "can't abide something he won't see as beautiful or holy"-- namely the spirit of divination.  Paul is a bad guy--an abuser--because he "responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness."  This is not only sickening exegesis but also a little ironic.  As a woman Jefferts Schori might have been in a position to especially draw attention to the plight of this unnamed woman in Acts 16.  Here is a woman possessed by an evil spirit and, to add to the misery, is being pimped out for profit by men.  This tragic reality of women caught in miserable circumstances and then taken advantage of by greedy, unscrupulous men is repeated all over the world today.  There might have been some good applications to draw from Acts 16 for our contemporary needs.  Instead, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church chooses to castigate Paul, praise demon-inspired statements, and promote the cause of homosexuality.  No wonder that Michael Bird argues that this is a Good Candidate for Worst Sermon Ever.

Also, be sure to see Timothy George's commentary and evaluation of this sermon in his First Things article entitled A Tale of Two Demons.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Jesus and Stephen Parallels

I’ve been reading Roger Stronstad’s work The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (CPT Press, 2010 [originally published by Sheffield Academic Press in the Journal of the Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series (16) 1999]).  He has a fascinating discussion of Stephen in the book of Acts. Here are some of his comments:
Stephen is the first of the charismatic leaders about whom Luke reports.  Luke describes his charismatic life and ministry using a variety of terms.  For example, as one of the seven Stephen was ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6.3).  When Luke subsequently names him as one of the seven whom the multitude chose he describes him as ‘a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6.5).  Further, Stephen ‘was performing great wonders and signs among the people’ because he was ‘full of grace and power’ (Acts 6.8).  In addition, Luke reports how some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen were ‘unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking’ (Acts 6.10).  Finally, Luke describes Stephen as having a vision of the exalted Lord Jesus moments before his martyrdom when he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7.55).

Luke’s fivefold description of his charismatic dimension of Stephen’s life and ministry is unparalleled in Acts.  Indeed, apart from his description of Jesus (Luke 3-4) no one else in the New Testament is described by such a concentration of references to the Holy Spirit.  On the one hand, then, Luke understands Stephen to be a typical representative of the ministries of these seven deacons.  On the other hand, Luke understands Stephen to be a charismatic deacon par excellence, unequaled among the apostles and other disciples in his experience of the Spirit.  Because of his experience of the Spirit, Stephen, Luke reports, witnessed both by the works which were empowered by the Spirit and by words which were inspired by the Spirit.  (pp. 84-84—bold face added)

Stronstad goes on to speak of a few implications of this narration of Stephen’s experience of the Spirit:
Luke’s report about Stephen (and next of Philip) shows that these acts of power, wonders, and signs are not exclusive to the apostles but are performed by other disciples as well. (p. 85)

This has obvious implications for those cessationist arguments that tend to see signs and wonders as exclusively the domain of apostles.  Stronstad also mentions that Stephen’s miracles were of even greater magnitude than the apostles.
Luke describes these miracles of healing power which Stephen performed as ‘great’ (megala) wonders and signs.  In other words, at a time when it was commonplace for ‘many’ wonders and signs to be performed by the apostles (Acts 2.43; 5.12), Stephen’s miracles of healing stood out as ‘great’ or very notable.  (p. 85)

Stronstad also has an interesting chart showing parallels between Jesus and Stephen on page 97 of his book.
Jesus (Gospel of Luke)
Stephen (Acts)
Full of the Holy Spirit (4.1)
Full of the Holy Spirit (6.3; 6.5; 7.55)
He kept increasing in wisdom (2.52)
Full of wisdom (6.3, 10)
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (4.14)
Full of grace and power (6.8)
Miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him (Acts 2.22)
Performed great wonders and signs (6.8)
Accused of blasphemy (5.21)
Accused of blasphemy (6.11)
Rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes (9.22; 22.66)
Opposed by scribes and elders (6.12);
False witnesses speak against him (6.13)
Speaks against Jerusalem and temple (19.41-46; 21.6)
Speaks against temple (6.13; 7.46-50)
His face became different and his clothing white and gleaming (9.29)
Had the (white/radiant) face of an angel (6.15; cf. Luke 24.4)
Rejection of the prophets motif (4.24-30)
Rejection of the prophets motif (7.51-53)
Trial: refers to heavenly Son of man (22.69)
Trial: refers to the heavenly Son of man (7.56)
Crucified cries out: “Father, into Thy hands I commit my Spirit” (23.46a)
Dying, prays: “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (7.59)
Crucified, prays: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (23.34)
Dying, prays: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7.60a)
Crucified: he breathes his last (23.46b)
Martyred: he fell asleep (7.60b)

Stonstad then adds:
The full significance of these parallels between Jesus and Stephen must forever remain locked in Luke’s mind alone.  The reader, however, can infer that their significance relates to their unique position in the unfolding of salvation history.  It is through Jesus’ ministry and death as the rejected prophet that the provision of salvation is made; it is through Stephen’s ministry and death as a rejected prophet that Christianity begins its decisive break with Judaism and salvation begins to be taken to the Samaritans and ultimately to the Gentiles.  (p. 97)