Thursday, October 24, 2013

Millard Erickson on Spiritual Gifts

I've been reading sections of Millard Erickson's Christian Theology for a theology class I'm taking.  This the third edition (2013) so it is his most update version.  I've written a bit about chapter 21 "The Origin of Humanity" HERE.

Chapter 40 is titled "The Work of the Holy Spirit" and on pages 798-803 he addresses the issue of "The Miraculous Gifts Today."  I didn't find his presentation particularly enlightening.  Here are a few reasons.

1.  As with other sections this chapter shows no awareness of developments in this arena over the past 30 years.  The most current bibliographic entry is 1972.  This is important because Erickson is attempting to engage with linguistic arguments to overturn those who affirm tongues-speech today.  There has been a great deal of research into this since 1972 and Erickson doesn't address any of it.  He could have interacted with Vern Poythress' research even for the first edition of Christian Theology (1983).  Poythress published "Linguistic and Sociological Analyses of Modern Tongues-Speaking: Their Contributions and Limitations" in 1980.  This essay was subsequently republished in Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia. Watson E. Mills. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. Pp. 469-489.

2.  This chapter betrays a preoccupation with the "Charismatic movement" as it was expressed in the 1960's and 70's.  During this time a major focus was on the gifts of "tongues" (glossolalia).  Erickson writes:
Most frequently mentioned are faith healing, exorcism of demons, and especially glossolalia or speaking in tongues. (p. 798)
I would argue that the 1980's brought about a focus on the gifts of prophecy and healing.  Particularly among those who aligned with the "Third Wave" these were the gifts that were stressed.  Erickson does interact a bit with this view of prophecy in chapter 41 but his discussion here in chapter 40 needs to be updated.

3.  Erickson writes:
The question that has occasioned the most controversy is whether the Holy Spirit is still dispensing these gifts in the church today, and, if so, whether they are normative (i.e., whether every Christian and should receive and exercise them.  (pp. 798-799)
The way that Erickson has set this up is a bit reductionistic.  Why should we think that normativeness of the gifts (of a more "supernatural" kind) should be seen in such an individualistic manner?  Perhaps they are normative for the church without necessarily attaching normativeness to every individual believer.

4.  Erickson makes a methodological decision at this point that is suspect.  He writes:
Because glossalalia is the most prominent of these gifts, we will concentrate on it.  Our conclusions will serve to evaluate the other gifts as well.  (p. 799)
First, there is no reason to suppose that glossolalia is the most prominent of the gifts currently among those who espouse their continuation.  Second, it doesn't follow that conclusions relevant to the gift of tongues necessarily can be used to evaluate other spiritual gifts.  Paul spoke of tongues being of lesser value than prophecy (1 Corinthians 14) so there may be unique features for other gifts need special discussion.

5.  On page 801 Erickson discusses the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" in his discussion of tongues.  This, however, is a conceptually distinct issue from the continuation of the gift of tongues.  Classical Pentecostalism is different from the brand of evangelicalism known as the "Third Wave."  Erickson seems to be conflating what should be distinguished.

6.  Erickson writes:
In the final analysis, whether the Bible teaches that the Spirit dispenses special gifts today is not an issue of great practical consequence.  For even if he does, we are not to set our lives to seeking them.  He bestows them sovereignly; he alone will do so regardless of whether we expect it or seek it.  (p. 802)
There is a great deal to take issue with in just these three sentences.  First, are we really to think there are no "great practical consequences?"  What a person or church decides on this issue can have profound practical consequences for what church will attend, how that service could be conducted, and how one might pray--all very practical consequences!  Second, Erickson's use of language is vague when he talks of how "we are not to set our lives to seeking them."  What does this mean--"set our lives?"  Is this indicative of a person's sole pursuit in life?  If that is the person being considered then he has set up an easy target to refute.  Of course, the pursuit of spiritual gifts should not the main or sole pursuit of Christians.  In speaking this way it seems that Erickson may be against any seeking of spiritual gifts.  This doesn't fit with Paul's thinking in 1 Corinthians 14 where we are told to "desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14.1).  [Sam Storms has a good discussion of this passage HERE].  Erickson seems to come dangerously close to using the fact of God's sovereignty as an excuse for passivity and inattention to these gifts.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

J. P. Moreland on Adam and Eve: What Consequences for Denying their Historicity?

Evangelical philosopher J. P. Moreland presented a paper at the 2013 Society of Vineyard Scholars entitled Keeping Vineyard Distinctives in the Plausibility Structure.  This is an amazing piece that should be read by all evangelicals regardless of their thoughts on the Vineyard collection of churches.

After discussing the idea of "knowledge" and the function of "plausibility structures" Moreland writes about the current all-encompassing naturalism that forms the background noise of our culture.  He rightly notes the incompatibility of Christian theism with this naturalism.  He writes:
It should be clear that naturalism is not consistent with biblical Christianity. If that’s true, then the church should do all it can to undermine the worldview of naturalism and to promote, among other things, the cognitive, alethic nature of theology, biblical teaching and ethics. This means that when Christians consider adopting certain views widely accepted in the culture, they must factor into their consideration whether or not such adoption would enhance naturalism’s hegemony and help dig the church’s own grave by contributing to a hostile, undermining plausibility structure.
Moreland goes on to mention three areas where he sees potential problems with Christians (especially academics) adopting positions that undermine the Christian plausibility structure: (1) theistic evolution, (2) neuroscience and the soul, and (3) doctrine and ethics.  Moreland's insights on these areas are well worth pondering.  In setting up the discussion he utilizes an example before discussing these three areas.  It is this example I want to quote at length because it addresses the idea of how adopting certain views can unwittingly compromise Christianity and help the cause of naturalism.  Here is Moreland's example regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve.
Consider as an example the abandonment of belief in the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Now if someone does not believe Adam and Eve were real historical individuals, then so be it. However, my present concern is not with the truth or falsity of the historical view. Rather, my concern is the readiness, sometimes eagerness, of some to set aside the traditional view, the ease with which the real estate of historical Christian commitments is abandoned, unintended consequences of jettisoning such a belief. Given the current plausibility structure set by scientific naturalism, rejecting the historical Adam and Eve contributes to the marginalization of Christian teaching in the public square and in the church and thereby those who reject Adam and Eve unintentionally undermine the church. How so? 
First, the rejection reinforces the idea that science and science alone is competent to get at the real truth of reality; theology and biblical teaching are not up to this task. If historically consistent understandings of biblical teaching conflict with what most scientists claim, then so much the worst for those understandings. 
Second, the rejection reinforces the privatized non-cognitive status of biblical doctrine, ethics and practices—especially supernatural ones that need to be construed as knowledge if they are to be passed on to others with integrity and care. Since the church has been mistaken about one of its central teachings for two thousand years, why should we trust the church regarding its teaching about extra-marital sex or the veracity of the gift of prophesy? Admittedly, the history of the church is not infallible in its teachings; still, to the degree that its central teachings through the ages are revised, to that degree the non-revised teachings are undermined in their cognitive and religious authority. The non- revised teachings become more tentative. 
Finally, the rejection reinforces the modernist notion that we are individuals, cut off from out diachronic community, and we are free to adopt our beliefs and practices in disregard of that community and our adoption’s impact on it. 
If I am right about the broader issues, then the rejection of an historical Adam and Eve has far more troubling implications than those that surface in trying to reinterpret certain biblical texts. The very status of biblical, theological and ethical teachings as knowledge is at stake in the current cultural milieu as is the church’s cognitive marginalization to a place outside the culture’s plausibility structure. Those who reject an historical Adam and Eve, inadvertently, harm the church.
I think Moreland's argument here needs to be heeded.  Giving up on the historicity of Adam and Eve may engender short-term "success" and ease ("we can stop having to fight Darwinism") but it may bear ugly and self-defeating fruit latter.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Evil People: A Few Thoughts

Although every human person, excepting Jesus Christ, has been tainted by sin there are some individuals that manifest particular inclinations toward evil.  The New Testament has a great deal of information detailing the characteristics of evil people and also provides teaching that gives direction for how to effectively respond to evil persons.
            Of the many characteristics that describe an evil person there are a cluster of attributes that are of particular interest.  These attributes include: (1) the tendency to subvert the truth through lying and deception, (2) an arrogant and divisive approach to life, and (3) a religious veneer that cloaks the evil person’s actions.  Although all sinful people will manifest these tendencies to some degree the evil person will tend to exemplify these attributes in a more pronounced manner and in concert with one another.
            The narration of King Saul’s disobedience in 1 Samuel 15 shows the depths of deception and twisting of the truth of which an evil person is capable.  Having been told by the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions Saul fails to obey this directive.  He intentionally spares “the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good” (1 Samuel 15:9).  Saul then has the audacity to greet the prophet Samuel with the words, “Blessed are you of the Lord!  I have carried out the command of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:13).  The lie is bold and direct.  When confronted by Samuel on this breach of God’s command Saul resorts to minimizing the infraction by attempting to paint it in a “spiritual” light—the best of the animals were kept alive “to sacrifice to the Lord your God” (1 Samuel 15:15).  When pressed as to his disobedience Saul continues to affirm his
innocence by flatly affirming, “I did obey the voice of the Lord and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me” (1 Samuel 15:20).  At this point Saul also attempts to deflect criticism by misdirection and “scape-goating” when he blames the people for taking some of the spoil from the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:21).  This combination of deception, misdirection, and blame-shifting is indicative of Saul’s evil character. 
            Evil persons are also given to arrogance that results in a refusal to heed counsel or submit to proper authority.  Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this is Diotrephes.  The apostle John mentions him in the following manner:
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.  For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.  3 John 9-10

Diotrephes “loves to be first” and in his defiant arrogance divides the church unnecessarily.  The apostle Paul would also recognize this divisive reality on the part of arrogant people and counsel Titus to, “reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:1-11).  Another apostle, Peter, also speaks to this issue when he calls out the false prophets besetting his communities.  He refers to these false teachers as those who “despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10) and speak out “arrogant words of vanity” (2 Peter 2:18).  Paralleling this perspective Jude writes of how false teachers manifest their evil by using people for selfish ends.  He forcefully articulates how these false teachers are those who “arrogantly flatter people for the sake of gaining an advantage” (Jude 16).  Thus, from a multitude of New Testament witnesses the character of evil persons is seen to be manifest in an arrogance that divides the church.
            What is perhaps most sickening about certain evil people is their use of religion to cloak and justify their heinous machinations.  The Pharisees are the prime example of this evil.  In Matthew 23 Jesus excoriates these religious leaders for their hypocrisy.  These are men who engage in religious deeds simply to be “noticed by men” (Matthew 23:5).  They love religious titles and use these to exalt themselves over others.  These men also fail to uphold the “weightier provisions of the law” but, instead, focus on minutiae (Matthew 23:23).  The apostle Paul also mentions this kind of person.  In 2 Timothy 3:5 he describes those who hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”  These are men who, under the cloak of religiousity, pursue sexual immorality with vulnerable women in the church (2 Timothy 3:6).  When speaking to Titus, Paul uses the pointed language of: “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16).  This religious veneer masking evil behavior is often brought up in the New Testament and is an indicator of those engaged in evil behavior. 
            The Bible has no shortage of information on the characteristics of an evil person but it also gives perspective on how to respond to evil persons.  The following are some of the themes that provide direction on how to effectively handle evil persons: (1) the need for community assessment and involvement, (2) the place for confrontation and accountability, and (3) the importance for leaders to recognize their proper authority and wield that authority to protect the church.
            Jesus draws attention the communal elements needed in addressing sinful situations.  In Matthew 18 Jesus teaches his disciples a process for dealing with sin in the community.  Jesus mentions the need for two or three witnesses in the process.  There is even a place for the entire church to be involved (Matthew 18:17).  This is important for often evil people need to be confronted by a plurality of responsible people.  Since evil people traffic in deception they must be confronted by a multiplicity of witnesses.
            The need for confrontation and accountability is another factor in dealing with evil persons.  Titus 3:9-11 has already been mentioned above in reference to defining the divisiveness of an evil person.  This text also speaks to the necessity of confronting this person.  In particular, verse 10 gives the following directive: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.”  There are warnings given but there are also clearly defined consequences that are enforced.  This is necessary otherwise the evil person is allowed to create on-going and intractable difficulties in the church.  The apostle Paul also deals with this issue in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11.  He urges the Corinthian church to “not associate with immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9).  He clarifies this commandment to mean those who are in the church and claim to follow Christ.  He quotes from the Old Testament to provide direction—“Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Corinthians 5:13; quoting Deuteronomy 13:5).  Unrepentant evil people must be confronted and removed from the church otherwise their behavior will bring harm on the entire church.  The risen Christ graphically speaks to this reality in Revelation 2:20-23 when he is speaking to the church at Thyatira.  He speaks of a false prophetess Jezebel who “teaches and leads my bond-servants astray” (Revelation 2:20).  In light of her failure to repent Christ himself will enter into judgment with her by throwing “her on a bed of sickness.”  He then speaks in powerfully loaded language by saying, “And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts” (Revelation 2:23).  Jesus Christ places a high premium on the purity and protection of his church.  He will act to confront evil and hold accountable those who would promote evil designs in his church.
            In light of the need to confront evil in the church it is imperative that leaders in the church understand their role and authority in the church.  Church leaders must wisely wield their authority to protect the flock of God from evil persons.  Paul spoke sober words directing the Ephesian elders to  such a task:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.  I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Acts 20:28-30

Elders must understand their distinct authority and use their office to protect the church from these “savage wolves.”  In giving direction to Titus regarding the role of elders in the church Paul again speaks of this theme.  He mentions rebellious men “who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families” (Titus 1:11).  Evil unchecked and unchallenged will run through the church and destroy people and families.  Elders need to rise up and protect the church.  At times there is a tendency in the contemporary evangelical church to seek to be overly “nice.”  When this leads to a refusal to properly confront evil then this leads to damage in the body of Christ.  Elders and other appropriate church leaders must understand their authority and use it wisely to confront evil so that the church is kept safe.
            Evil people exist—even in the church.  Thankfully God has given revelation to understand and identify the marks of evil so that we are not left defenseless.  Among the clear marks of evil is a manifest deception.  Evil people lie so that they can engage in their selfish devices.  This is often combined with an arrogance that results in division in the church.  Sad to say, this deceptive and arrogant evil can be cloaked under the guise of religion.  In light of the reality of evil persons in the church leaders must recognize their God-given authority and actively confront evil for the protection of the body of Christ.  Leaders ought to do this in a communal manner that, at times, may involve the entire church.  God’s Word gives us the resources both to understand evil and confront it in a way that brings glory to God and protection to his people. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Jesus and Israel Parallels

I preached on Matthew 4.1-11 this past Sunday about the temptations of Jesus.  I tried to bring out the parallels between Israel and Jesus.  I put together the following chart:

Parallels Between Israel and Jesus


“Firstborn son” (Exodus 4.22)

“Beloved Son” (Matthew 3.17)
“Baptism” through the Red Sea
(1 Corinthians 10.2)
Baptism in the Jordan
(Matthew 3.13-15)
Forty years in the wilderness
(Deuteronomy 8.2)
Forty days in the wilderness
(Matthew 4.2)
Led in the wilderness by God
(Deuteronomy 8.2)
Led in the wilderness by the Holy Spirit
(Matthew 4.1)
Purpose: Testing
(Deuteronomy 8.2)
Purpose: Tempting (testing)
(Matthew 4.1)
Complains about lack of food—given bread (manna)
(Exodus 16)
Tempted in hunger with bread
(Matthew 4.3)
Grumble about lack of water—put God to the test
(Exodus 17)
Tempted to test God
(Matthew 4.5-7)
Reject God’s voice and worship an idol
(Exodus 32)
a.     Moses gone (Exodus 32.1)
b.     Build idol after 40 days (Deuteronomy 9.11-12)
Tempted to worship the devil
(Matthew 4.8)
a.     Voice from heaven gone
b.     Tempted after 40 days
(Matthew 4.2-3)