Friday, November 08, 2013

Brown v. Waldron

I'm going to venture some off-the-cuff comments on the debate between Sam Waldron and Michael Brown. It's difficult to comment on a 90 minute oral debate. I'll simply remark on things that stand out in my recollection. 

i) There's a difference in theological method. Brown demands explicit revocations, whereas Waldron operates more like a systematic theologian. Waldron's basic methodology is sounder and more sophisticated. 

On the other hand, he's open to the charge of arbitrarily segregating some gifts from other gifts in 1 Cor 12-14 and Eph 2. 

ii) The eschatological interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-10 is the most plausible. That's a problem for Waldron's position. Of course, you still have to define Pauline prophecy and tongues. 

iii) Waldron's attempt to restrict Acts 2:17-18 to the Apostolate is exegetically hopeless. The promise is demographically universal. And that stands in studied contrast to the OT status quo ante. In addition, the promise is diachronic (v39). For the duration of the church age (the "last days").

Moreover, Acts 2:17-18 is a programmatic statement which is illustrated by subsequent events in the Book of Acts.

iv) Brown is correct to say that Jn 14:12 can't be restricted to the Apostolate. However, that admission creates a potential problem for Brown. Does every Christian perform greater works that Jesus? Does any Christian perform greater works than Jesus? Not even greater. How many Christians perform works equal to Jesus? 

J. Ramsey Michaels thinks the contrast is not between Christ and Christians, but between what Jesus could do up until then, and what the Ascended Christ will do (through others). That makes more sense, both exegetically and historically. 

v) Waldron's cascade argument proves too much. Problem is, if the cessation of the greater entails the cessation of the lesser, then that wouldn't be confined to the cessation of miraculous gifts, but the cessation of all spiritual gifts. 

vi) Waldron employs Pauline usage as an interpretive grid for Luke. But that's dubious. Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit whereas Luke speaks of the gift of the Spirit. In Acts, every Christian receives the gift of the Spirit. And the gifts of the Spirit are latent in the gift of the Spirit.

vii) Waldron tries to tightly correlate miracles with Apostles, but that doesn't quite match up with the NT. On the one hand, miracles aren't attributed to all apostles. On the other hand, all miracles aren't attributed to apostles. 

viii) Waldron tries to tightly correlate NT writers with Apostles, but that doesn't quite match up with the NT. On the one hand, not all NT writers are apostles. On the other hand, not all apostles are NT writers.

ix) Moreover, there's no reason to assume that James and Jude are canonical because the authors were connected to the apostles. Rather, the authors were stepbrothers of Jesus. The connection is with Jesus rather than the apostles. 

ix) Waldron uses Deut 13 & 18 as a benchmark. However, it's unclear why even every OT writer (much less NT writer) should be classified as prophetic under that rubric. For instance:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass (Deut 13:1).
But many OT writers don't fit that profile. Not all OT writers are seers. Not all perform miracles. Not all make predictions. 
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him...22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:18-19,22).
But not all OT books consist of God speaking to the writer. Not all books contain divine predictions. Some are historical narratives. Others record images rather than speech. Some contain laws, poems, proverbs, &c. 
It's reductionistic for Waldron to define prophecy that narrowly.
x) Waldron poses a good question. Why is the canon closed? His answer is, the canon is closed because the apostles died. 
There's something to be said for that, but taken by itself, it's a weak principle:
a) At best, it only furnishes de facto closure rather than a de jure closure. 
b) It only pushes the question back a step. If NT scripture ceased because apostles ceased, then why did apostles cease? Why did God cease giving apostles? 
xi) If we retroengineer the NT canon, one feature which stands out is the fact that every NT author either knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus. So that suggests the NT terminated because the NT is a historical witness to the historical Christ. The NT writers are confined to folks who either knew Jesus personally or were at one step removed from Jesus. 
Either firsthand or secondhand testimony. No thirdhand testimony. So you have a historical chain of custody which is confined to one or two links. Eyewitnesses woo link the reader to Jesus. Or confidants of eyewitnesses; they link the reader to eyewitnesses, who in turn link the reader to Jesus. Once that generation dies out, the pool dries up. 
That's assuming the traditional dating and authorship of the NT books. And I think that's eminently defensible.
xii) Waldron's argument for the sign-gifts is contradictory. On the one hand, he contends that the purpose of miracles was to verify an apostle or prophet. On the other hand, he classifies prophecy as one of the miraculous sign-gifts.
If, however, prophecy itself is miraculous, then prophecy is miraculously self-attesting. A prophet doesn't need miraculous attestation over and above his prophecies, given that his prophecies are miraculous sign-gifts in their own right (according to cessationists like Waldron). 
xiii) Brown makes an interesting claim about a difference in the authority between OT and NT prophets. He says that because OT Jews in general didn't have the gift of the Spirit, they were not in the same position as Christians to judge prophetic claims or claimants. They didn't have that particular qualification (i.e. the gift of the Spirit). They lacked that spiritual discernment. 
What he says about the distribution of the gift of the Spirit is true.  However, you have both true and false prophets in OT times. So ordinary Jews had to "test" prophetic claimants even in OT times. And the OT lays down some criteria. So even though there's an element of truth to Brown's statement, I don't think it really distinguishes the authority of OT prophecy from the authority (or not) of NT prophecy.
xiv) If a Christian has a revelatory dream, should we classify that under the "gift of prophecy"? In what sense is that a gift? A dreamer is the passive recipient of the dream. He didn't will himself to have a revelatory dream. He doesn't control the process. Whether or not he has a revelatory dream is out of his hands. 
xv) Is prophecy infallible? Authoritative? Depends on what phenomena we classify as prophecy. Let's take the case of premonitions. In his autobiography, John Ruskin relates the dream of a relative. 
Before her illness took its fatal form, before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself – my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone's interpretation; – that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having had no care after her mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might go to them.  
John Ruskin, Praeterita: And, Dilecta (Borzoi Book, 2005), 63.

Seems to me that's consistent with Acts 2:17-18. But is that authoritative? In what sense? It's not a command.
Moreover, it has no bearing on Christians in general. At most, it's a prevision about the impending death of three of Ruskin's relatives. That doesn't impose any sort of obligation on the rest of us. It's not even relevant to the rest of us. His relatives aren't my relatives. 
It addition, it's not a speech, but a scene. His aunt saw something in her dream. No one spoke to her.
Furthermore, it's allegorical. The river represents death. One bank represents life while the other bank represents the afterlife. The sequence in which the characters cross the river represents the order of their impending death. 
Is that "infallible"? Well, if it came true, then it was true. It happened. However, it wasn't a propositional truth. It's metaphorically true. 
Assuming it was a revelatory dream, this doesn't entail that his aunt had an infallible recollection of the dream. Or that she was speaking under verbal inspiration when she shared her dream. The only supernatural element would be the dream itself. Beyond that, she relies on her fallible memory of the dream, which she relates in her own words. Fallible words. Likewise, the interpretation is fallible.
Let's take another kind of example:
He also mentioned  the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said, "Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer." At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room, which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, "It's the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won't expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief'."  
The ‎H.J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (American Baptist Publication Society 1878), 3:88-89. 

Seems to me that dovetails with 1 Cor 14:24-25. But is it infallible? Authoritative?
If you were the thief, it's not a question of taking Spurgeon's word for it. You know for yourself if it's true or false. So this isn't a matter of trusting the speaker or submitting to his authority. 
Likewise, these aren't "words from God." Spurgeon is using his own words. It reflects inspired insight or hindsight (rather than foresight). Extrasensory knowledge. But it's not a "word from the Lord." And it's not a divine command. Rather, it's a revelation about something in the thief's recent past. 
BTW, does this have to be a "gift of prophecy." Suppose it was a one-time event. It would still be revelatory. 
xvi) Let's compare this to some cases of canonical visionary revelation.
Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar have revelatory dreams. Joseph and Daniel interpret their dreams. In this case, both the dream and the interpretation are inspired.
Ezekiel has visions. And he records these for posterity. But the vision and the account are inspired. 
Some of his visions include auditions. God can speak to the seer in a vision. Or there can be an angelic speaker who functions as a tour-guide an interpreter.
In this case, the visions contain inspired words as well as inspired images. They may contain divine commands.

Here's my follow-up post:

1 comment:

  1. Does every Christian perform greater works that Jesus? Does any Christian perform greater works than Jesus? Not even greater. How many Christians perform works equal to Jesus?


    J. Ramsey Michaels thinks the contrast is not between Christ and Christians, but between what Jesus could to up to then, and what the Ascended Christ will do (through others). That makes more sense, both exegetically and historically.

    The second statement seems to have a typo. I'm not sure what Steve is saying. What is clear and accepted by all is that if any Christian does the works of Christ (either in miracles or in holy living) it can only be done through the power of Christ via the Holy Spirit (John 15:5; Phil. 4:13). Fruit and miracles are by the power of the Spirit.

    Not to contradict Steve's statement (but maybe to add to it), I think Jesus' statement (or the distilled teaching of Jesus) as recorded in John 14:12-14 is meant to be an optimistic and hyperbolic standard by which we're called to aim for similar to the statements made by John (the same author?) when he writes:

    No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
    - 1 John 3:6 NASB

    No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.- 1 John 3:9 NASB

    We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.- 1 John 5:18 NASB

    John 14:12-14 is similar to Matt. 5:48 in the sense of being God's perfect standard. The difference is that the former asserts that EVERY Christian CAN and MUST fulfill it as a condicio sine qua non. In that sense, the former is being hyperbolic. But potentially it's true precisely because Christ and His anointing (i.e. the Holy Spirit) is in every Christian.

    We're called to be like the master because we're destined by God to be conformed into His image (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Cor. 15:49).

    A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.- Luke 6:40 (cf. Matt. 10:25; John 13:15-17)

    And the gifts of the Spirit are latent in the gift of the Spirit.

    AMEN!!! Given that, it's also true that all the gifts of the Spirit are latent in every Christian since every Christian has the Holy Spirit.

    However, it's unclear why even every OT writer (much less NT writer) should be classified as prophetic under that rubric.

    I wouldn't be surprised if some of the psalms were written by seemingly insignifcant OT believers who were never considered prophets. But in time their worship songs gained such popularity and approval that they were eventually included in official collections of worship music, and then in time eventually included in the canon.