Thursday, November 07, 2013

Have the charismata ceased?

I listened to the debate between Sam Waldron and Michael Brown on the charismata. Unless someone produces a transcript, I don't intend to offer a detailed commentary. 

There are different kinds of debates. In some debates, the event is scheduled weeks or months in advance. In some cases, both debaters use the lead-time to carefully prep for the debate by boning up on their opponent's positions and supporting arguments. In other cases, only one of the debaters takes advantage of the lead-time. That usually turns out badly for his unprepared opponent, who thought he could wing it.

In this case, the debate was arranged so recently that I doubt either Brown or Waldron had much time, if any, to study in each other's specific positions and supporting arguments. So both of then opened with their standard arguments. They didn't know what to expect from each other in anticipation of the rebuttals and cross-examinations. That made the debate less predictable.

Dan Phillips was worried about whether Waldron could hold his own against Brown. I think Brown was a somewhat better debater. Quicker on his feet.

I don't know if Waldron is a practiced debater. He does, however, have a practiced position (his cascade argument). So I think the contenders were more evenly matched that some had feared.

To the extent that one lost and the other won, I think that had less to do with the ability of the respective debater and more to do with the hand he dealt himself. Is one position harder to argue for than another? 

In general, I think cessationists will say Waldron won while charismatics will say Brown won. Who won or lost is frequently a reflection of where your sympathies lie. Usually, one debater has to bomb before supporters of his position concede that he blew it. Because both men turned in strong performances tonight, that won't happen. 

Within the inherent limitations of a 90 minute debate on a complex issue, I think it was a usefull exposition of the rival positions by two fairly skilled exponents. 

When I hear a debate like this, I mentally compare and contrast it to some of my own arguments and formulations. So I judge it, not merely by how they respond to each other, but in relation to me, the listener.

BTW, I believe Evan May had a hand in arranging the debate. 


  1. Dr. Waldron (whom I highly respect), like most cessationists argue that when interpreted the gift of tongues functioned like the gift of prophecy which was fully inspired, inerrant and infallible. Yet in the Corinthian church the gift of tongues was abused. Were all of these abuses cases where people who didn't really have the gift of tongues spoke in what merely appeared to be the gift of tongues? That seems unlikely since Paul nowhere implies that. Otherwise, Paul could have stated that any abuse (e.g. overuse or disorderly use) of the gift of tongues is an instance of a untruthful tongue (I purposely avoid using the phrase "false gift of tongues" for a reason). But if any instance of the abuse the gift of tongues was of a genuine gift of tongues, then wouldn't that imply that a person could, in essence, hold the Holy Spirit hostage and force Him to given an inspired, infallible and inerrant revelation any time at the whim of a sinner? That is, assuming that tongues was just as inspired, infallible, and inerrant as an apostolic revelation.

    Therefore, it seems to me that in all likelihood both tongues and NT prophecy (with the exception of the inspired utterances of the Apostles) could be fallible and wasn't like the prophecies or revelations like the (greater) OT prophets and the NT apostles.
    If you think about it, the greatest available spiritual gift in the NT was not teaching (cf. the warning in James 3:1), nor was it the gift of speaking in tongues (since Paul seems to place it at the bottom of the list if not interpreted). Rather it's the gift of prophecy. This was the reverse of the Old Testament. Repeatedly Paul encourages EVERYONE to earnestly/eagerly seek that spiritual gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1; 5; 24; 39 cf. Acts 2:17-18). Paul says, "For you may/can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged" (1 Cor. 14:31). The "learning" there might be learning to prophesy (which might include trial and error). But if NT prophecy had to be 100% true, and accurately interpreted and applied then that opened up the possibility of massive cases of people being excommunicated if their prophecies proved false. Yet, if they weren't necessarily fully reliable (unlike the OT prophetic and NT apostolic revelations) that would explain why Paul would have to exhort Christians not to despise prophecies or forbid tongues. Apparently, some Christians began despising prophecy (1 Thess. 5:19-21), possibly because some of them weren't reliable and because people were uttering them outside the proportion of faith and grace given by God (Rom. 12:6). The reversal of the rarity of prophecy in the OT and its universal recommendation in the NT would correspond to the reversal of the requirement of absolutely accurate prophecy in the OT with the fallibility of NT prophecy without fear of capital punishment or immediate excommunication. In the OT prophecy was reserved for a few "elite" who were held to a high standard of accuracy, while in the NT prophecy was available for all, but with a lesser standard of accuracy. That's why they had to be regularly tested rather than implicitly believed and obeyed like the revelatory utterances of OT prophets or NT apostles.

    JUST COMPARE the difference between 1 Thess. 5:21 & 1 Cor. 14:29 which require the testing of prophecy; 1 Cor. 14:37-38 which states some prophets may not be recognized (without the implication of necessary excommunication); Rom. 12:6 which require people to ONLY prophesy "in proportion to their faith"

    WITH 2 Chron. 20:20 which requires implicit belief and obedience ".......Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed."

    1. This answers Dr. Waldron's question as to how a continuationist can consistently affirm the closure of the canon and also affirm the continuation of the charismatic gifts. I grant that if NT prophets spoke with the same authority, inspiration and inerrancy that OT prophets like Jeremiah or Isaiah did, then it's inconsistent for continuationists to believe that the canon is closed since those same prophets would have the same prerogatives as OT Prophets and NT Apostles. They could hypothetically add more books to Scripture. But many (most?) continuationists deny that NT prophets or prophecy was and is on that same level.

  2. Repeatedly Dr. Waldron states, "By admitting the cessation of the *Apostles of Christ*....our brother [Dr. Brown] has admitted to a form of cessationism."

    Hopefully I phrase this correctly. Continuationists no more need to affirm cessationism on account of that than the *Apostles of Christ* themselves would have to admit to a form of cessationism were they forced to admit the cessation of the Old Testament *Prophets of YHWH* (the last of whom was John the Baptist). Waldron's Cascade Argument seems to beg the question. It only works if we knew the reason why God took away the gift of Dominical Apostleship or *Apostles of Christ*. That's uppercase"A" in contrast to lowercase "a" ecclesiastical apostleship. Only if we know that God took away the gift for the purpose of resulting in cessationism, could the argument work. Continuationists can argue that it was for the main purpose of closing the Canon of Scripture. The closing of the Canon need not require the cessation of the charismatic gifts since it was always the case (subsequent to the inscripturation of revelation in Scripture which began with Moses) that any alleged further revelations must always be tested by the higher authority of the Scriptures as they were then currently recognized and collected by the majority of God's covenant people. In other words, Prima Scriptura operated during all the times of continuing revelation. That was true in the Old Testament between the time of Moses and David (when the OT canon wasn't complete or finalized). Through the time of David to John the Baptist. In fact, during the intertestamental period, the canon of Scripture was practically and temporarily "closed and settled" even though people were awaiting the Messiah and His addition to revelation. Now that Messiah and His highest Apostles have come and gone, the Canon is complete and closed. And rather than Prima Scriptura, Sola Scriptura now operates without denying the ongoing manifestation of the charismata.

  3. I don't believe that there was any clear winner Brown did as good a job as anyone could have of defending the continuationist argument. Unfortunately he is defending a theoretical continuation of gifts, not the reality of what we see in the Charismatic movement. Waldron gave a fairly standard argument against continuation, but never really landed a knockout blow. I thinks that these are too nice to really go at each others position. Granted the time constraint imposed limitations. I would recommend "Counterfeit Miracles", By B. B. Warfield.

    David Davis

  4. It seemed pretty clear that Waldron was more educated on the subject when Brown couldn't even make the distinction between apostles and Apostles (that Waldron even gave [apostles of the church/apostles of Christ]) and especially on issues of Canonicity.

    Waldron however had an interesting argument, if I heard it correctly, where he said the prophecy about "sons and daughters prophesying" was fulfilled in the Apostles alone. This went unchallenged as Brown was already on his heels.

    Waldron's cascade argument hinges on tightly connecting Apostle and *all* NT prophecy. He didn't argue against any objection to that mostly because Brown didn't give him a reason to think it was otherwise (at least directly).

    All in all it was just as unhelpful a debate as I feared.

  5. I'd like to see a Dan Phillips versus Steve Hays debate.

    1. That would be even more one sided than the Brown/Waldron debate. Why would Steve waste his time with someone that acts far too closely like the #Atheism twitter bots?

    2. I think it'd be a well-balanced match between Dan Phillips and Steve. They're both on-line heavyweights, and it'd be instructive as well.

  6. David Davis wrote:
    Unfortunately he is defending a theoretical continuation of gifts, not the reality of what we see in the Charismatic movement.

    Exactly! That is how it came across to me also; and it just "hangs there" without any evaluation of the modern tongues (gibberish, private prayer language); modern claims of healing (some internal unseen condition healed, not like NT miracles), and some kind of prophesy that seems to be more like warnings about sin and exposure of secret sin, rather than foretelling the future. (all credible continualists argue that modern prophesy does not add to the canon)

    Waldron's strongest point was his question: "What is the basis for why the canon is closed?" (not that it is closed, but why is it closed? - Michael Brown never really answered that question, it seems.

    So what is the answer to why is the NT canon closed? What is the basis for the closing of the NT canon?

    a. Because all the apostles died, therefore, it is impossible to have any more revelation - as the revelation was given from the Father to the Son to the apostles (John 17:8).

    b. Because the purpose for the 27 books of the NT was completed - 2 Tim. 3:16-17; John 20:30-31; Jude 3, Hebrews 1:1-3 - to testify to Christ and His work and sufficiency for faith and life. (and 2 Peter 1:3-4)

    Would that be what Waldron and other cessationists would say as to why the canon is closed?

    One of Michael Brown's strong points was from 1 Cor. 1:7, that the gifts would continue until the second coming of Christ. Jack Deere and Samuel Storms and Wayne Grudem use this verse also. And D. A. Carson's exegesis of 1 Cor. 13:8-11 is strong.

    Overall, I think Waldron's point was the strongest, but Brown's position has the (seeming) advantage of just reading the texts the imply the continuation of the gifts and letting them stand on their own - like 1 Cor. 1:7; 13:8-11; 12:31; 14:1, 3, 29, 39; Acts chapter 2 - that all Christians will prophesy, etc. Acts 2:16-39; whereas Waldron and other cessationists have to do more theology and interaction with history, the canon, the death of the apostles, etc. The problem is that many Bible Believing Christians intuitively go with the plain text without having to think through the implications of their position. If Brown's position is true, then the next question is, "Ok, where do we see any credible and verifiable examples of these gifts in the last 100 + years? (since the Azuza Street beginning of Pentecostal movement, 1903)

  7. Both presented their arguments well. Of course, many other arguments could be used for either side. I did think Waldron/James White let Brown ramble too long during the Q&A session. It also appeared that Brown doesn't know what Sola Scriptura means.

  8. "I think it was a usefull exposition of the rival positions..."

    Probably a better category to evaluate an "in-house" debate than "who won" anyway.

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