Monday, November 26, 2012

Regarding the Charismata: A Few Comments

Steve Hays has an interesting discussion on spiritual gifts and the continuing debate between cessationists and continuationists.  His post, The Charismata, looks briefly at a number of issues.  I will post some of Hays' comments and then intersperse a few of my own.  Last year on the Parchment and Pen blog, C. Michael Patton and Sam Storms had a charitable debate in regards to the issue of spiritual gifts--with a special focus on the more "extraordinary" ones, namely prophecy, healing, tongues and interpretations of tongues.  I engaged the discussions in the comments sections and it is from these comments I will draw some of my quotations for this post.

There are two inter-related but distinct issues below.  The one concerns the authority of Scripture and the authority of New Testament prophecy.  Does a recognition of modern prophecy compromise the authority of Scripture?  The second issue revolves around the subjectivity of modern claims to prophecy.  There are, of course, more issues than these to be addressed in a full-blown theology of spiritual gifts but these two issues are important and are dealt with a bit below.

Steve Hays writes regarding the relationship between modern day prophecy and the authority of Scripture:
Cessationists view modern prophecy as a threat to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

Charismatic writers are often sensitive to this charge. One way they deflect the charge is to distinguish between canonical prophecy, which is infallible–and the NT “gift of prophecy,” which is fallible. There are some Jewish precedents for that distinction. Cf. D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World(Wipf & Stock 2003); C. Keener, “5. The Nature of Prophecy,” Acts: An Exegetical Commentary: Introduction and 1:1–2:47 (Baker 2012), 902-908. They also cite examples of what they take to be fallible Christian prophets in Acts 21:4,11
This issue of the relationship between Old Testament prophecy and some New Testament prophecy was also brought up by Sam Storms in his defense of modern prophetic ministry.  Storms essentially follows the model developed by Wayne Grudem.  In reference to "Jewish precedents for this distinction" that Hays mentions I wrote this to Michael Patton:
 Another very good TUP (Theology Unplugged)–thank you. In regards to the difference between OT and NT prophecy that you asked Sam about you might want to check out Wayne Grudem’s “The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians” (Univ. Press of America, 1982; Wipf and Stock 1999) pages 21-43. As you probably already know this is essentially Grudem’s Ph.D. thesis so the level of sophistication is higher than in his later “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today” (Crossway, 1988). The reason I single out the above pages is because here Grudem looks at the Inter-testamental period of the Jewish understanding of prophecy and argues from the primary sources that there was a notion of cessation of scripture quality words alongside a different conception of prophecy of a lower level. Here is a quotation from that section that sort of summarizes Grudem’s point he is driving toward:“My only concern in this section is to show the existence of a conceptual framework in which one could think that the fact of continuing revelations was entirely consistent with a belief in the cessation of prophecy with a divine authority of actual words, because the two were thought of as related but nevertheless distinct. In order to show that, it is only necessary to demonstrate that the same writers or traditions who believe in the one also accept the other.”Grudem goes on to posit that: “Especially for a former rabbi such as the Apostle Paul, the conceptual framework was already available and would have seemed quite natural.” (pp. 32, 33) This provides something of a historical context in which Paul was writing and this too should be taken into account when seeking to understand Paul’s arguments.

 Hays brings us a number of cessationist responses to the notion of a kind of prophecy that is not infallible.  He starts by bringing up the argument for its usefulness:
Cessationists counter on various grounds. What’s the point of fallible prophecy? Isn’t that innately unreliable?
This same point was brought up by various cessationists who were responding to the Patton/Storms debate.  I argued in the following manner with a gentlemen named Jim who wondered how "uncertainty could be edifying":
Jim Z. (#45):You comments need some nuance as they appear (to me) to be a bit overblown in that a seek a philosophical precision of “certainty” or else there is no possibility of edification.
1. You ask, “how can uncertainty be edifying.”
It is not the “uncertainty” in the abstract that is edifying. You have not framed the conceptual issue very well here. A more accurate question is, “how can a fallible source of knowledge be edifying?” There are, of course, all sorts of ways in which a fallible source of knowledge can be edifying. Sam’s point was that preaching was in the same boat conceptually on this count. It is a fallible source of knowledge and yet it has been known to be edifying.
2. You write: “If I came to you and told you that God may or may not have told me that you may or may not survive your current disease, are you actually going to shout “Praise the Lord!”?”
No, I would not say that. What I would ask is “why are you telling me this? What in your experience is leading you to say this?” I would also weigh the entire context (who you are, how well you know me, your past experience in such things, etc); all the kinds of things we weigh in any relationship. Don’t forget that the Storms/Grudem model places great emphasis on judging/sifting the prophecies (1 Cor 14.29).
3. You end your comment with a false dichotomy: revelation or “random synaptic misfire.” No other options? What about a revelation from God that is not “heard” very well by the hearer? What about a revelation from God that is not communicated well by the hearer? There are a number of other options between the two you give.
There was also this interchange that broached this same issue from a slightly different manner.  I made the following comment and then Jim and I interact.
This was a great TUP session! As you all discuss 1 Cor 12 and 14 you are also manifesting the reality of 1 Cor 13 and that is wonderfully refreshing. This TUP was particularly enlightening because I think it very clearly brought out the fundamental issue of tension between the perspectives being articulated. As I heard Sam state it: in the OT there was an infallible connection between a) the revelatory act and b) the communicative act. He believes that this does not necessarily hold in for the NT conception of prophecy. Michael took issue with this. Sam urged that these two contrasting views of prophecy be examined by looking at how prophecy is described and functions in the NT. Toward that end I would urge a look (again) at Acts 21.4–”and through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” Grudem writes about this passage:
“The difficulty with the entire passage…is the fact that the expression ‘through the Spirit (in Greek, ‘dia tou pneumatos’) modifies the verb ‘they were telling in the Greek text (it modifies the imperfect verb, ‘elegon’)…So here is speech given “through the Spirit” that Paul disobeys! This fits well with a view of prophecy that includes revelation given by the Holy Spirit and an interpretation and report of that revelation that is given in merely human words, words that the Holy Spirit does not superintend or claim as his own, words that can have a mixture of truth and error in them.”
The amazing thing is that many hard cessationists handle the verse in the same way! They recognize that the Holy Spirit revealed something but the people added something else in. Richard Gaffin in “Perspective on Pentecost” talks of not confusing the revelation and their speech act (p. 68). O. Palmer Robertson likewise says: “To this perfected revelation the concerned disciples appended their own conclusion: that Paul should not proceed to Jerusalem.” “The Final Word” p. 111. He goes on to cite others (Munck, Bruce, Alexander, and Calvin) who agree with him. I have mentioned in another thread George Gillipsie’s view is the same on this passage. I know it’s only one passage but we begin to see the reality of a revelation from God that is added to by the receiver and then the whole complex of revelation/communication is said to be “through the Spirit.” This seems to accord with what Grudem and Storms want to say NT prophecy is.

.                jim says: 
September 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm 
Richard, You said”They recognize that the Holy Spirit revealed something but the people added something else in.” So the point being that a truth/revelation could be reveled to a prophet today and added to by the prophet through their speech. So where does that get us. How would I know if a revelation that is being shared with me by a prophet, is indeed the actual message that God gave to the prophet. How do I even know there was a message given at all to the prophet. And if in the end I have to check/spell it with God’s word as final authority then why bother with prophet’s at all, let’s go to the real source.


Here are a few thoughts with the limited space here: 
1. Let me respond to your last sentence, first. Why bother? Because God’s word says there is a gift of prophecy for the church that brings edification, exhortation, and consolation (1 Cor 14.3) and that these prophecies are to be tested (1 Cor 14.29; 1 Thess 5.21). We don’t have any examples of NT believers taking your view–”Well, if I have to examine it by the Scripture why bother with the prophecy at all–just go to the Scriptures.” Paul explicitly says, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances” (1 Thess 5.19-20). 
2. How do I know? You raise this in a couple different ways in your post. This is obviously an epistemological issue. As such it is not that different from the rest of life. Once we get past the false dichotomy of incorrigible certitude or complete skepticism we recognize that we all live with a range of varying degrees of certainty. Many times this is contextually determined. For example, I know that people can lie and have been lied to in the past. This does not mean every person lies to me. When my wife professes her love to me I don’t reason, “Well, people can lie, she is a person, therefore she may be lying!” The context of our life together brings the reality of knowing her words are true. This is important to remember because we are talking about communal prophecy in 1 Cor 14 and Rom 12. We often think and talk about these issues very individualistically. But our lives as lived out in the matrix of community is an important part of the knowing process. Do I know the one prophesying? Do I know their character? Do I know their “track record” with prophecies? Also I evaluate the actual prophecy itself. Sometimes it “rings true” to my experience. There is one example of this given in 1 Cor 14.24-25 where it speaks of an unbeliever having his heart exposed and this is very clearly known to be true by the receiver that he falls down and worships. For more on this I would recommend you look at Vern Poythress’ article “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology” especially section 6–’Circumstantial content received through nondiscursive processes.’ 
3. My point in my post was to look at Acts 21.4 and show that both continuationists and cessationist say similar things about the revelation/response distinction. Grudem and Storms find exegetical support for their view of prophecy. What is your understanding of Acts 21.4?