There was a little girl, who had a little curl, applied directly to the forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid!
Speaking of Team Pyro…
As a frequent reader there (Pyromaniacs), frequent writer here (To Be Continued…), I’ve known sooner or later it would happen. I find myself pretty much in their camp on most things–with one major exception–which happens also to be the subject of this blog–Continuationism. I knew eventually I’d have to post something to be applied directly to the horrid.
I figured I’d wait until one of the crew posted some cogent argumentation for Cessationism, and then counter with a well-reasoned, insightful, exegetically-based, Biblical response. But then Dan Phillips today offers a 26-worder in which he basically says: “Don’t bother.”
His pithy posting we can reproduce in toto (plus title):
Tersely put: “continuationism” self-refuting
The very fact that “continuationists” acknowledge the need to make their case to Christians by argument is, itself, a devastating and sufficient refutation of the position.
Now what are we to make of this epigram, which would seem to be a low and inside pitch, or to change metaphors, a little bit of choir practice? Mr. Phillips, sir, you force me to bring out the numbers.
1. As best as I can decipher his meaning, being a bear of little brain, I would paraphrase thus: Continuationism is about the showy-stuff. If you can’t show me the showy stuff, what good is to give me a bunch of telly stuff? Cessationists of this ilk are prone to refer to certain gifts as “spectacular” or “dramatic,” with razzle dazzle like a kind of magic show:
Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate.
While a manifestation of the Holy Spirit may well be impressive, especially to those to whom His work is directed (e.g. 1 Cor 14:24-25), we would be wrong to expect Him to put on a show for us. His effects are deeper, directed toward spirit, heart and mind: “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3); conviction of “sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
2. Behind this statement lies a number of Cessationist misconceptions about how “spiritual gifts” work. This type of argumentation (much in the MacAruthur tradition) I call the Unicorn and Jackass show. Insist on a unicorn: a mythological beast, which never existed: such as a “gift of healing,” with which an individual is endued (something like an X-man super power), operating at will, always efficacious, instantaneous, permanent, irreversible. Or inerrant oral prophecy, which neither the Old nor New Testaments teach (the Scriptures yes, oral prophecy, no.) Then with this expectation bring out the jackasses. This can be done in as few as two words: Benny Hinn.
3. Note the formulation of his statement. Quotes around continuationists. Why? The use of “need” (always a red flag for misleading argumentation). I’d like to know who he is purporting to quote here as “acknowledging” this or that. Who knows? Maybe it’s Team Continuo here. I doubt it, but we do acknowledge the importance of Biblical argumentation.
4. Which makes it odd, coming from a blog that otherwise highly values “argumentation,” appeal to Scripture and right reason, that one of them would denigrate such in this case.
5. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of basing their view on experience rather than the Scriptures–all the while doing this very thing themselves, as in this case.
6. So often Cessationists accuse their Continuationist bretheren of being “an evil and adulterous generation [who] seeks for a sign,” and then themselves insist on a “spectacular” sign, or else they will not believe the Scriptures.
7. It is the Scriptures themselves that teach Continuationism. We see both in the direct teaching of our Lord (John 14: 12) and of His apostles (1 Cor. 12-14), that it is the Father’s will, and to His glory that the Body of Christ continue Christ’s empowered ministry between Pentecost and Parousia. One looks in vain for valid support of the notion that any of this would cease within the first century.
8. We are called to pursue these gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), but to do so we must be convinced that the Scriptures do in fact teach that they are for today as well as for the first century. This cannot be done by experience, but only by examining the Scriptures. Whatever we do, we must do in faith, and faith must be grounded in the Word. Thus argumentation.
9. So anyway, if we show you something “spectacular,” you say, there are “lying wonders.” Just because it’s supernatural doesn’t mean it’s of God. Or if we demonstrate something clearly from the Scriptures, you ask “Tell me about your most recent spectacular miracle.”
10. A Continuationist is not one who can say “Lookie-lookie what I can do.” It’s not about possessing an ability in oneself. It is one who says, “Look here in the Word of God. Shall we not believe what God tells us?”
11. You might as well have someone who insists God is not doing that “prayer” thing any more. God is not answering prayer any more. Go on, show me. Pray something and lets see what happens. Sure, you hear stories about God answering prayer with specific fulfillment, but this is always somebody’s neighbor’s cousin’s hairdresser. Face it, these answers–if they happen at all–are coincidence, wishful thinking, psychosomatic. We many wonder at our lack or efficacity at prayer, when the Bible promises so much (James 5:16).
12. Anyway, to hold to Continuation is not to say that all happens now as it did for Christ and the apostles. Or that history has shown a constant and even presence of these gifts without fluctuation. What continues is God’s purpose, design, and provision, not His church’s specific performance in what He has provided. It is thus with every other aspect of the life of the Church. Why should “spiritual gifts” be any different. Some things nearly lost must be rediscovered (such as salvation by grace through faith), and the Church must always be seeking in the Scriptures to return to the faith taught by the apostles.
I think TeamPyro is a little like the “new athiests” in a way: they protest too much. If there’s nothing to continuationism, why spend so much energy fighting it?
Every time I take a peek over at Team Pyro’s blog, I walk away extremely saddened. I don’t even mind if people want to formulate a neo-reformed, cessationist theological perspective. It’s just that such would be better, or correctly, done in the manner after Christ – full of grace and truth (John 1:17). I really do have a grievous heart over the normal ploys of Team Pyro.
On another note, to interact with the article….
Marv, I think you have pointed out some very pertinent points. Worth a re-post at Theologica, and maybe I will also at Prodigal Thought.
On point #2, I am not sure the Scripture teaches about an inerrant Scripture. It teaches about the perfect word of the Lord, the Lord is no liar-deceiver, etc. But the word of the Lord and the graphe are not synonymous per se. And what we find is that God SPOKE through prophets (Heb 1:1), and I would add such is still continuing today, as you would agree. But WHO spoke? God. And 2 Pet 1:21 says, that the prophets ‘spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’
I think we need to stop making such a dividing split between the spoken word (which normally came first, though not always put down ‘word for word’ in the Scripture) and the written graphe of Scripture. They work together, with neither being more labelled as ‘inerrant’. Anyways, another post at another time.
On point #12, you said: Anyway, to hold to Continuation is not to say that all happens now as it did for Christ and the apostles.
Sam Storms argued this over at P & P. I think it does not hold water all to well, Scripturally nor in recognising that people have moved in the same way. Remember, you are the one who continually highlights John 14:12.
Thanks for your comments. Starting with your last point, I’d like to clarify what I meant, which might be slightly different from what Sam Storms was saying, and maybe different from what you take me to be saying. I am not saying that God has a more subdued version of what we see in the Bible for us now. Jesus makes it perfectly clear that what He intends is for us to (in John’s words) “walk as He walked.” What the Father is providing, the Spirit available to do, cannot be thought to be diminished. THIS is the Continue part in continuationism. This reality–the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ–is not diminished by whether X or Y generation so neglected it that things did not in fact continue in practice at that level. It’s not about man’s performance, but God’s provision. Say, isn’t that the way grace works anyway?
I’ve been thinking I’d have to repost about my point on prophecy, though I have already written on it as part of a larger article. Restated, the point is this. According to the Scriptures (in the OT) when you heard a prophet speak, you had to guard whether he spoke from himself or what he heard through revelation from God. Obviously, this means the prophets words are not GUARANTEED to be God’s words. One verification that they are from God and not from himself is fulfilled predictive prophecy. Or rather, failure to predict correctly shows that the prophet spoke “presumptuously” i.e. from himself and not from God. So therefore, any given oral prophecy is liable to be (a) from God, (b) from the prophet, or (c) a mixture. I DO take it (and I think the strong implication is) that whatever is from God is wholly true, infallable, inerrant. But the spoken prophecy is not necessarily equal to the revelation received by the prophet himself. It always SHOULD be, but WE have no guarantee in any specific instance that it is.
This is for oral prophecies, then or now. But every prophecy OF SCRIPTURES (2 Pet 1:20) is from God. It is pre-GUARANTEED. 2 Tim. 3:16 says this, in calling them theopneustos; they are equal in content to God’s revelation. No mixture has come through the human-mediated process to make any of it “presumptuous” or from man in such a way that the “from-God-ness” is diluted or polluted. Again the SCRIPTURES are guaranteed. We are never guaranteed such a thing about a speaking prophet, whether OT or NT. To the extent that what the prophet says really IS exactly what was revealed to him, then of course, that is from God and is fully reliable and without error. We just have no pre-GUARANTEE that this is what we are hearing. We do have that about what we are reading in the Scriptures.
(And yes, transmission of the text RE-introduces a new possibility of pollution or dilution. “Everyone” acknowledges this. That is why what we are talking about is the autograph.)
You know that you and I disagree on our approaches to Scripture. So I am pretty sure we won’t agree on this.
But every prophecy OF SCRIPTURES (2 Pet 1:20) is from God. It is pre-GUARANTEED. 2 Tim. 3:16 says this, in calling them theopneustos; they are equal in content to God’s revelation.
But the thing is, not all of Scripture is prophecy and not all prophecy is in Scripture. So this is probably an unhelpful blanket statement.
Again, what was put into the written graphe-Scripture was normally first proclaimed (if not in a ‘word-for-word’ fashion, the gist of it was still). So true prophecy, whether spoken, graphe or both contexts, is truly from God and faithful as His word. And plenty of non-prophecy ended up in Scripture also. So we have to word these things, maybe rethink these things, a little better.
And I hope we can one day move past an over-obsession with the autographs. God does not seem as bothered with them as we are or 1) the transmission problem would have never entered in and 2) the NT authors would have never quoted been quoting from a substandard Greek text. I like these thoughts over at your friends’ forum.
The Bible does say “confess your faults one to another” so I’ll accept your statement of difference on Scripture in that regard. I’m not going to hash it all out in these comment threads. As you know my particular point was about prophecy as such, not Scripture in general. Whether something was originally oral before it was written is totally immaterial to my point. A prophecy oral or written can be wholly without admixture of not-from-God-ness and from error. The thing about writing is that it gives a what-ness to that utterance, a fixedness and sharability that a vibrating column of air does not possess. That act of WRITING is part of what makes Scripture (graphe) different from what the utterance was before it was written. This is for particular writings, obviously, those that have been recognized as Scripture. To say they are Scripture is essentially synonymous with saying they are writings given by inspiration of God (thanks to 2 Tim. 3:16). This is giving the stamp of certification that they are a text that has, at the ultimate level, God for the author, mediated through a human author. Just as obvious is the fact that to say that text X is certified as God-authored, if you now alter the text, every alteration takes it a step away from BEING that same text. So there is a difference between the text as authored (divine and human) and a text that is altered from the text as written. This seems dirt simple and bleeding obvious. If I take a post of yours and change say 10% of it, and someone shows you the resultant text, and asks you if you wrote it, you’d say it isn’t exactly what you wrote, though much of it is. You might be prepared to stand behind the text you DID write, but not as much behind my altered version of your text. So the text as you authored it, the autograph, has–obviously–a unique claim to its “from-Scott-ness” that my altered text does not. So I think your reference to “over obsession” of the autographs is dubious at best.
You give me a link to “BioLogos,” which is a pernicious influence in the church today. Maybe I’ll hold my nose and have a look at whatever drivel they are vomiting there. Sorry if I’m being overly subtle… 😉
If I take a post of yours and change say 10% of it, and someone shows you the resultant text, and asks you if you wrote it, you’d say it isn’t exactly what you wrote, though much of it is. You might be prepared to stand behind the text you DID write, but not as much behind my altered version of your text. So the text as you authored it, the autograph, has–obviously–a unique claim to its “from-Scott-ness” that my altered text does not. So I think your reference to “over obsession” of the autographs is dubious at best.
This is a good analogy and I will give some more time to ponder it. Though, I would say, initially, that God does not seem as overly focused on preserving the autographs since 1) we don’t have them, 2) we most likely never will, and 3) the other inspired authors, especially the NT ones, were not reading and quoting from the autographs but a translation into another language.
Not that there is no value if we had the autographs. It would be very beneficial in biblical studies and knowledge. But God did not seem to find it of utmost importance to preserve the autographs. Yet, if we asked Him, I suppose He would say His word has been preserved in the Scriptures we do have.
Just some initial thoughts.
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