Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Who's redefining what?

I'm going to comment on this post:

So look, here's my modest proposal: If we aren't going to start with sound exegesis of the Bible and be content with that…

Well, when is Dan actually going to start with sound exegesis? We keep getting his token reverence for the sufficiency of Scripture, absent the exegesis to back up his claims. Less genuflecting and more spadework would be appreciated. 

Same thing for all their other redefinitions. If they wanted some holy status for their errant feelings and hunches and "leadings," they should never have assaulted the well-known and well-defined Biblical phenomenon of prophecy, and embarrassed themselves by trying to redefine it to suit their experiences. 

i) First of all, notice that Dan doesn't tell us what the definition of the this "well-defined" phenomenon is. This is yet another example of Dan's routinely perfunctory performance. Make pious gestures towards the authority of Scripture, but don't follow that up with the goods. 

ii) Also, let's compare his claim to David Aune's conclusion in his standard scholarly monograph on prophecy:

Prophetic sayings and speeches preserved in early Christian sources exhibit a wide variety of forms and styles. Even though we have somewhat overconfidently proposed a typology of six types of basic forms of prophetic speech and three kinds of complex forms, it is apparent that only the presence of formal framing devices betrays the possible presence of Christian prophetic speech…There is therefore no such thing as a distinctively characteristic form of Christian prophetic discourse that is recognizable apart from the presence of formal framing devices. The only real exception to this generalization is the apocalyptic vision report, a literary form which we have not considered in any detail and which requires careful study in its own right. D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Eerdmans 1991), 337-338.

Hmm. Seems like the phenomenon is far less monolithic than Dan purports to be the case. 

See, that's where the modern inventors of Charismaticism/"continuationism" went wrong. Parham and his poor dupes were originally seeking the Biblical gift of tongues. That is, they expected to be able to speak in unlearned human languages supernaturally. And when they started babbling and gobbling, they were convinced it had to be that, that Biblical gift, that falsifiable gift with defined contours and edges. So they went off to mission fields, expecting to be understood by the Chinese... but, yeah, you know how that went. Natives shrugged and, in effect, made little circular gestures by their temples. Incomprehensible babble.
So here's where the first-gen errorists went afield. They were sure their experience was valid (Charismaticism 101), so then took some large hammers and saws to the Bible, and eventually changed the interpretation of what "tongues" meant from, well, what it meant, to what they were doing. They took a well-understood gift and invented something that gave cover to their experience.

As with prophecy, Dan dictates a received definition of glossolalia–which he equates with xenoglossy. He then accuses Pentecostals of redefining the phenomenon to retrofit their actual practice. Let's compare Dan's claim with some standard scholarship on the issue:

The ambiguous evidence regarding the exact nature of tongues raises the question of whether even Paul himself or the other earliest Christians knew the exact nature of the phenomenon. R. Ciampa & B. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2010), 586. 

From the way Paul speaks of this phenomenon [tongues] in the rest of this chap. [12] and in chap. 14, however, it seems best to recognize it as some form of noncommunicative utterance or incoherent babbling.
The phenomenon cannot mean speaking in foreign tongues…it denotes here [14:2] some sort of utterance beyond the patterns of normal human speech. J. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians (Yale U. Press 2008), 470, 510. 

Second, Paul understands these utterances to be addressed to God (14:2,14,28) and not to humans (14:2,6,9). It is not a language of normal human discourse, but something mysterious and "other," which may give it its appeal. It consists of "mysteries in the Spirit" that are unintelligible to humans (14:2 ) and that benefit only the speaker (14:4). It communicates with God through prayer and praise (14:15) in ways that analytical speech do not…This rules out the view that tongues refer to the miraculous ability to speak in unlearned languages or to speak in one's native language. D. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Baker 2003), 584. 

Edwards declares: "It is evident that the Corinthians did not use their gift of tongues to evangelize the heathen world. They spoke with tongues in their Church assemblies, and not once does the Apostle urge them to apply the power to the purpose for which it would be so eminently serviceable." 
If there were any hint of this use, Paul could not have said "the person who speaks in a tongue speaks not to people but to God" (14:2), let alone, "the person who speaks in a tongue builds up only himself (14:4). But we saw that insofar as Chrysostom, Cyril, Thomas, and most especially  Theodoret and Calvin were concerned, the whole point of using foreign languages was strictly to serve the proclamation of the gospel as part of the mission to the world. But if we decontextualize the gift from mission (as Paul clearly does in 1 Cor 14), the basis for the gift has disappeared. 
Tongues may then be viewed as "the language of the unconscious" because it is unintelligible (unless it is "interpreted") not only to others but also to the speaker, A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2000), 977, 988. 

The weight of the textual evidence, however, does not support this understanding of tongues as real human languages. The Pentecost story does emphasize the intelligibility of the tongues spoken, but a careful reading indicates that the miracle occurred in the hearing rather than in the mode of speaking. The bystanders do not ask, "How can they all be speaking our native languages?" but rather, "Since all who are speaking are Galileans, how is it that we hear them in our own native languages" (Acts 2:8).
As for Paul,he could hardly emphasize more strongly that in his view–and he was a speaker in tongues himself (14:18)–glossolalia is an intrinsically noncommunicative form of utterance (1 Cor 13:1; 14:2,4,7-9,16-17,23).
In summary, the convergence of evidence suggests that glossolalia is a verbal expression of a powerful emotional state. It is not a real language but a kind of structured or ordered babbling, "Glossolalia and the Embarrassments of Experience," L. T. Johnson, The Princeton Seminary Bulletin (1997), 117-118, 121.

Now, it's not the purpose of this post to give my own definition of glossolalia. I don't quote these scholars to endorse their interpretation. Rather, I quote them to document the patent falsity of Dan's assertions.

i) To my knowledge, not one of the scholars I quoted is Pentecostal or charismatic. Therefore, Dan can't say they were motivated to reject the foreign language interpretation to ex post validate their personal commitment to contemporary Pentecostal practice.

ii) In addition, their analysis gives the lie to Dan's claim that there's a received definition of tongues, such that anyone who rejects the foreign language definition is "redefining" the NT phenomenon. 

And frankly, it's examples like these which raise questions about Dan's integrity. He makes willfully ignorant public claims. For some reason, he feels no duty to make a good faith effort to inform himself before he sallies forth about the Bible or people who disagree with him. As a pastor, he ought to have more sense of responsibility. Don't tell your people what the situation is before you've done some basic fact-checking. 

Every time we're trying to talk God's Word, someone is sure to ask, "So, what about when X happens? or when Y happened in 1843? How do you explain that, huh?" As if this is what really should consume the Christian, because we already have so well mastered all that actually-in-the-Bible stuff.

Questions like that are quite germane when Dan and other MacArthurites deny that things like that ever happen. Does Dan really think his sweeping historical claims should be immune to empirical falsification? If he said something never happens, his denial invites potential counterexamples. Why does Dan imagine that he's entitled to operate with a double standard which allows him to issue blanket denials, but exempts him from ever having to consider any evidence to the contrary? What does that say about his character? 

But then again, really, since the whole point is that we've got this imperative (we must validate the Charismatic's experience and his special powers)…

I agree with Dan that that's a problem in Pentecostalism. Problem is, Dan has the same methodology. Dan is the mirror image of what he faults in Pentecostalism. Dan also begins with experience. He's a disguntled former Pentecostal. He had a bad experience. And because his experience with Pentecostalism left him emotionally damaged, he automatically rejects charismatic claims, as well as "contiuationist" interpretations. In Dan's case, you can take the Pentecostal out of Pentecostalism, but you can't take the Pentecostalism out of the Pentecostal. Because Dan burned his fingers playing with strange fire, he's now a crusader against matches. 

Finally, a word about the commenters at Pyromaniacs. They are very quick to recognize cult personality psychology on the part of folks who hang onto every word of some TBN televangelist, but oblivious to their own personality cult psychology when their MacArthurite heroes come under scrutiny. 


  1. If anyone wants to catch up with Steve's recent posts on cessationism these past few weeks, I've collected and ordered the links to his blogs chronologically HERE.

    Also, here's a LINK to a Presbyterian document that argues that it is in keeping with historic Presbyterianism to admit that there are special cases in which "prophecy" (in some qualified sense) can and does sometimes function in the church after the closing of the Canon of Scripture.

    Some Excerpts:

    Moreover, notice Gillespie's reluctance to say that the extraordinary foretelling of the future has ceased with the closing of the canon:

    ...for I dare not say that since the days of the apostles there has never been, or that to the end of the world there shall never be, any raised up by God with such gifts, and for such administrations, as I have now described to be proper to prophets and evangelists, i.e., the foretelling of things to come... (George Gillespie, Miscellany Questions , Chapter 5, section 7, p. 30).

    Though Gillespie will "dare not say" that the extraordinary gift of prophecy has ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture, notice what he believes that he "must say":

    I must say it, to the glory of God, there were in the church of Scotland, both in the time of our first reformation, and after the reformation, such extraordinary men as were more than ordinary pastors and teachers, even holy prophets receiving extraordinary revelations from God, and foretelling diverse strange and remarkable things, which did accordingly come to pass punctually, to the great admiration of all who knew the particulars. Such were Mr. Wishart the martyr, Mr. Knox the reformer, also Mr. John Welsh, Mr. John Davidson, Mr. Robert Bruce, Mr. Alexander Simpson, Mr. Fergusson, and others. It were too long to make a narrative here of all such particulars, and there are so many of them stupendous, that to give instance in some few, might seem to derogate from the rest, but if God give me opportunity, I shall think it worth the while to make a collection of these things (George Gillespie, Miscellany Questions , Vol. 2, Chapter 5, section 7, p. 30).

    1. More excerpts:

      3. There is a 3rd revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things to come even since the ceasing of the canon of the word, as John Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, have foretold things to come, and they certainly fell out. And in our nation of Scotland, Mr. George Wishart foretold that Cardinal Beaton should not come out alive at the gates of the Castle of St. Andrews, but that he should die a shameful death; and he [Beaton-PRCE] was hanged over the window that he did look out at, when he saw the man of God [Wishart-PRCE] burnt. Mr. Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange. Mr. John Davidson uttered prophesies, known to many of the kingdom, diverse holy and mortified preachers in England have done the like (Samuel Rutherford, A Survey of Spiritual Antichrist, London, 1648, p. 42).


      Assert. 2. Yet it is not altogether to be denied, but that the Lord may, in particulars of the last kind, sometimes, reveal himself to some, by foretelling events before they come, such as the famine that Agabus foretold of, or Paul's imprisonment were; of such the history of the martyrs and saints do sometimes make mention: and particularly, Athanasius is often advertised of hazards, as is recorded, and in the verity cannot be denied; and of this sort there were many at the reviving of the light of the gospel who, by foretelling of particular events, were famous, as John Huss's foretelling, within a hundred years after him, to follow the outbreaking of reformation; such, it is likely, was Hieronymus Savonarola, who was burnt by the Pope, not as was pretended, for foretelling of events, as they imputed to him, by unlawful means, but for faithful reproving of his faults, as he is described by Philip de Cumius, and other authors: of such many were in this land, as Messrs. Wishart, Knox, Welch, Davidson, etc.. And this cannot be said altogether to be made void: for, although God has now closed the canon of scripture, yet that he should be restrained in his freedom, from manifesting of himself thus, there is no convincing ground to bear it out, especially when experience has often proven the contrary in the most holy men. (James Durham, Commentary upon the Book of Revelation, Glasgow, 1788 edition, cited from SWRB bound photocopy, Vol. 2., pp. 219-224).

      Next, Gillespie notes:

      ... although such prophets be extraordinary, and but seldom raised up in the church, yet there have been, I dare say, not only in primitive times, but amongst our first reformers and others; and upon what Scripture can we pitch for such extraordinary prophets, if not upon those scriptures which are applied by some to the prophesying brethren, or gifted church members? (George Gillespie, Miscellany Questions, Vol. 2, Chapter 5, section 7, p. 30).


      There is difference to be put betwixt the simple foretelling of an event, which may be of God, and a conclusion which may be drawn therefrom; this may be of ourselves, as we may see in the predictions of these, Acts 21 [vs. 11-PRCE], who foretold of Paul's imprisonment at Jerusalem, yet was not that to divert him from his going there, as many collected; that therefore was not from God, as Paul's pressure in the spirit to go notwithstanding, does clear; every such prediction therefore cannot make be made a rule of duty, seeing the Lord may have other good ends of trial, advertisement and confirmation in it. And we will not find, that any have made use of such particular revelations, as from them to press a duty upon others, that would not otherwise be warrantable, although, when it concurs with other grounds, it may have its weight for swaying in lawful things (James Durham, Commentary upon the Book of Revelation, Glasgow, 1788 edition, cited from SWRB bound photocopy, Vol. 2, p. 222).

  2. I've just about had it with these two (Dan and Frank) when it comes to any expectation now of their being willing to hold up their half of an honest, intelligent discussion that consists of (1) both accurately exegeting the relevant Biblical text and (2) a close, unbiased examination of the historical record in order to get closer to the truth about this important subject. They seem incapable of arguing in good faith.

    1. I agree it's unfortunate Frank and Dan haven't been arguing in good faith thus far.

      Although I disagree with his posts and comments, Fred Butler has been considerably more reasonable.

  3. "Now, it's not the purpose of this post to give my own definition of glossolalia. I don't quote these scholars to endorse their interpretation."

    What is your definition of glossolalia? What interpretation of those texts do you endorse? I'm sure I'm not the only reader that wants to know.

    1. I don't have a firm opinion on that question. Since I'm not Pentecostal, the identity of tongues is not a pressing personal or practical priority for me.

      I think that in Acts 2, glossolalia probably describes xenoglossy, although it might be a miracle of hearing rather than a miracle of speaking. The other occurrences of glossolalia in Acts are less specific.

      In 1 Cor 12-14, Paul says some things about tongues that are consistent with ordinary human language, but he also says some things about tongues that seem inconsistent with ordinary human language. And since we can't go back in time and hear it for ourselves, I think that what Paul meant remains an open question.

  4. Steve,

    "Since I'm not Pentecostal..."

    Why aren't you Pentecostal?

    1. Because I don't think the NT predicts for everything Pentecostalism predicts will happen–when, where, how, to whom, for whom. I don't think we have God nailed down.