Saturday, October 26, 2013

Is this charismatic?

Cessationists frequently begin with definitions. They then stretch or shrink the data to fit their a priori definitions. Now I don't necessarily object to starting with definitions–although in my experience, cessationists don't really begin with Scripture or get their definitions from Scripture.

That said, it can also be good to start at the other end of the process. Begin with credible reports, then decide the best way to classify the phenomena. I'm going to quote some examples of what I consider some credible reports. I think they have prima facie credulity because the sources are credible. By that I mean, they come from credible witnesses, scholarly sources, or sometimes both.

The reader can decide how he thinks they should be classified. Are they miraculous? Prophetic? Charismatic? If you think they're consistent with cessationism, that's fine. If cessationism can accommodate this kind of phenomena, then cessationism and continuationism bleed into each other.

You can also reject all these reports. If so, you need to explain how your criteria ultimately differ from godless debunkers.

Only once do I remember hearing him [William Nobes] speak and that was truly an occasion to be remembered. It was at the Fellowship Meeting...[when] he told us the story of his conversion.

He said little about his early days...And then, with his youth behind him, when he was well on to middle age, he had a dream. The horror of that dream was real to him yet, and he managed, in the hush of that meeting, to involve us, too, in the horror of it. In his dream he was hanging over a flaming inferno, helpless and frantic. Above him and almost obstructing the opening of the pit was an enormous ball, like a great globe, and he found himself trying to climb up the roundness of this ball to get away from the heat of the flames below, and out into the clean, cool air above. Sometimes he would make two or three feet, sometimes more, at times only two or three inches.

Once he thought he had really got over the widest part of the ball, but in spite of all his efforts and his mounting fear and agony, the result was always the same–he would fail to keep his hold, fail to make another inch, fail to keep what ground he had gained, and in helpless weakness slide and slither back along that fearsome slope, to find himself back where he had started.

This seemed to go on for an eternity, and then at last, all hope gone, and hanging over the open jaws of hell, he looked up once more at the light above him and uttered one great despairing cry and there was a face in that light looking down at him, full of love and pity, and a hand reached down and grasped his, and drew him up out of all the horror below him and stood him on the firm sweet earth and in the pure clear air...From then on he walked before the Lord in love and thankfulness.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones, Memories of Sandfields (Banner of Trust 1983), 61-63.

A gentlewoman [i.e. Cotton Mather's late wife] whom I may do very well to keep alive in my memory, fell into grievous languishments wherein a pain of her breast and an excessive salivation were two circumstances that were become as insupportable unto her as they were incurable. She apprehended (in her sleep, no doubt) that a grave person appearing to her directed her, for the former symptom, to cut the warm wool from a living sheep and apply it warm unto the grieved part; for the latter symptom, to take a tankard of spring water, and therein over the fire dissolve an agreeable quantity of mastic and of gum-isinglass and now and then drink a little of this liquor to strengthen the glands. The experiment was made, and she found much advantage in it.

Selected Letters of Cotton Mather (Louisiana State University 1971), 116.

Even within a fortnight of my writing this, there was a physician who sojourned within a furlong of my own house. This physician, for three nights together, was miserably distressed with dreams of his being drowned. On the third of these nights his dreams were so troublesome, that he was cast into extreme sweats, by struggling under the imaginary water. With the sweats yet upon him, he came down from his chamber, telling the people of the family what it was that so discomposed him. Immediately there came in two friends that asked him to go a little way with them in a boat upon the water. He was at first afraid of gratifying the desire of his friends, because of his late presages. But it being a very calm time, he recollected himself. "Why should I mind my dreams or distrust the Divine Providence?" He went with them, and before night, by a thunderstorm suddenly coming up, they were all three of them drowned. I have just now inquired into the truth of what I have thus related; and I can assert it.

Magnalia Christi Americana (Banner of Truth 1979), 2:468.

John Sanford wrote of a dream his father experienced a week before his death. Sanford's father was dying of kidney failure:

In the dream he awakened in his living room. But then the room changed and he was back in his room in the old house in Vermont as a child. Again the room changed: to Connecticut (where he had his first job), to China (where he worked as a missionary), to Pennsylvania (where he often visited), to New Jersey, and then back to the living room. In each scene after China, his wife was present, in each instance being a different age in accordance with the time represented. Finally he sees himself lying on the couch back in the living room. His wife is descending the stairs and the doctor is in the room. The doctor says, "Oh, he's gone." Then, as the others fade in the dream, he sees the clock on the mantelpiece; the hands have been moving, but now they stop; as they stop, a window opens behind the mantelpiece clock and a bright light shines through. The opening widens into a door and the light becomes a brilliant path. He walks on the path of light and disappears.

K. Bulkeley & P. Bulkley, Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions (Beacon Press 2005), 64.

The present writer has a personal interest in the subject of religious visions, since he became a Christian as a result of a vision of Jesus. This occurred one winter afternoon when he was sixteen years old, during term time in a residential school. Sitting alone in my study, I saw a figure in white approach me, and I heard in my mind's ear the words, "Follow me." I knew that this was Jesus. How did I know? I have not the slightest idea. I had no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever–it had intentionally been kept from me. My parents were both Jewish–my father was president of his synagogue. I had never been to a church service. I had never read the New Testament. I had never discussed Christianity with my friends. The only manifestation of Christianity that I had witnessed was that a few boys knelt beside their bed to say their prayers at night in the dormitory. (Jews do not kneel to pray.) Apart from at school, all my friends and acquaintances were Jewish. I had been barmitzvahed at my synagogue, and at school I did not attend chapel or religious education lessons. Far from attending them, someone from outside the school came to give me lessons in Judaism. I had not been searching for a faith: indeed, I had even thought of becoming a rabbi. Yet I immediately recognized the figure I saw as Jesus. How I knew this, I have no idea. He was not a person who had crossed my conscious mind. (Naturally I do not know what happens in my unconscious, or it would not be unconscious.) In my vision, Jesus was clothed in white, although I cannot remember the nature of his clothes, nor yet his face, and I doubt if I ever knew them. I feel sure that if anyone had been present with a tape recorder or a camcorder, nothing would have registered.

It was certainly not caused by stress: I was in good health, a happy schoolboy with good friends, leading an enthusiastic life and keen on sport as well as work...Again, I am sure it was not wish fulfillment. I was (and still am) proud to be Jewish.

I cannot account for my vision of Jesus by any of the psychological or neurological explanations on offer. That does not prove that it was of divine origin, but my experience over the last sixty plus years of Christian life confirms my belief that it was.

H. Montefiore, The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates (Upfront Publishing 2002), 234-35.

Close friends recently told me about Hilda (not her real name), a woman of their acquaintance who recently died of cancer at forty years of age. Hilda's parents have been involved in Christian ministry all of their lives, and her maternal grandparents were, too, while they were alive. Hilda's parents received three unusual telephone calls on the day after her death. One was from a city close to my own, where someone reported a dream in which Hilda's grandparents were seen in heaven with their arms outstretched welcoming someone whose identity they were not given. A second telephone call came from a family friend from Wales, where someone had a dream that was identical to that reported in the first call. Finally, a chaplain who occasionally visited Hilda phoned her parents, saying that he had dreamed that he met her in heaven and began to converse with her about her sufferings. He did not know that Hilda had just died. In the conversation, she dismissed her pain as insignificant in comparison with the joy she was experiencing. Hilda's parents do not think these three individuals had any contact with each other.

P. Wiebe, God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience (Oxford 2004), 66-67.

I have had firsthand, incontrovertible experience of extrasensory perception, and a little precognition. But the experience I want to mention here is relevant to the matter of the resurrection.

Many of us who believe in what is technically known as the Communion of Saints, must have experienced the sense of nearness, for a fairly short time, of those whom we love soon after they have died. This has certainly, happened to me several times. But the late C. S. Lewis, whom I did not know very well, and had only seen in the flesh once, but with whom I had corresponded a fair amount, gave me an unusual experience. A few days after his death, while I was watching television, he "appeared" sitting in a chair a within a few feet of me, and spoke a few words which were particularly relevant to the difficult circumstances through which I was passing He was ruddier in complexion than ever, grinning all over his face and, as the old-fashioned saying has it, positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. I was neither alarmed nor surprised nor to satisfy the Bishop of Woolwich, did I look up to see the hole in the ceiling that he might have have made on arrival. He was just there–"large as life and twice as natural"! A week later, this time when I was in bed reading before going to sleep, he appeared again, even more rosily radiant than before, and repeated to me the same message, which was very important to me at the time. I was a little puzzled by this, and I mentioned it to a certain saintly Bishop who was then living in retirement here in Dorset. His reply was, "My dear J..., this sort of thing is happening all the time."

J.B. Phillips, Ring of Truth (Harold Shaw Publishers 1989), 116-17.

Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, "Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut." In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, "Oh, I was praying you might come today." And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber's prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident. I have stood by the bedside of a woman [his wife] whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, "These bones are as solid as rock. It's miraculous."

C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night (Mariner Books 2002), 3-4.

He [Spurgeon] 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.

While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I [Spurgeon] deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took nine pence, and there was four pence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for four pence!" A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place: Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took nine pence the Sunday before, and that there was four pence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul."

I [Spurgeon] could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly." And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, `The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.

The H.J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (Flemming H. Revell Co., 1899), 2:226-27.

Cessationists are correspondingly susceptible to the sins of the debunker. I am much less likely to get a cessationist to believe in a remarkable response to prayer than I would be able to get a charismatic to believe it.

Ferinstance. A number of years ago a good friend of ours was dying. When she finally passed away, Nancy and I were on the road (in Philadelphia). It was the middle of the night and we both woke up. Are you awake? Yeah, are you awake? How come? Beats me. A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was the news that our friend had gone to be with the Lord. Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, "She died. She is in Heaven." They found out later that she had in fact died that night.

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.

When I first came to America, thirty-one years ago. I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew, and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland be said to me:

"Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened which, has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Muller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by some one tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Muller: "'Captain, he said, 'I have come to tell you that I must be In Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' This was Wednesday.

"'It is impossible,' I said.

"'Very well, if your ship can't take me, God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an engagement in fifty seven years.'

"'I would willingly help you. How can I? I am helpless.'

"'Let us go down to the chart-room and pray.'

"I looked at that man of God, and I thought to myself, what lunatic asylum could that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.

"'Mr. Muller,' I said, 'do you know how dense the fog is?'

"'No,' he replied, 'my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.'

"He got down on his knees and prayed one of the most simple prayers. I muttered to myself: 'That would suit a children's class where the children were not more than eight or nine years old.' The burden of his prayer was something like this: 'O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement you made for me in Quebec Saturday. I believe it is your will.'

"When he finished. I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. "First, you do not believe He will; and second. I believe He has. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.' I looked at him, and George Muller said.

"'Captain. I have known my Lord for forty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.' I got up, and the fog was gone!

"You tell that to some people of a scientific turn of mind, and they will say, 'That is not according to natural laws.' No, it is according to spiritual laws. The God with whom we have to do is omnipotent. Hold on to God's omnipotence. Ask believingly. On Saturday afternoon, I may add, George Muller was there on time."

The Herald of Gospel Liberty (August 25, 1910), 1060.

George Müller: charismatic Calvinist

This is ironic:

One of my favorite accounts from church history in this regard is the testimony of George Müller…That perspective fueled Müller’s evangelistic zeal — from the 10,000 orphans he helped to care for in England to the over 200,000 miles he traveled as an itinerant evangelist, taking the gospel to dozens of foreign nations. Müller’s example is one of many powerful answers, from history, to those who would allege that an affirmation of God’s sovereignty in salvation kills evangelism.

Why ironic? On the one hand, Nathan Busenitz is a MacArthurite cessationist. He teaches theology at The Master's College. And he was one of the speakers at the Strange Fire Conference.

On the other hand, Müller is famous for his chronicle of miraculous answers to prayer:

That's how Müller supported his orphanages. If Müller were alive today, he'd be classified as a charismatic Calvinist. 

Busenitz might try to evade this by saying Müller's experience was providential rather than miraculous. However, the way in which God answered his prayers was nothing short of extraordinary. If that's providential, it's providential in the sense of coincidence miracles rather than ordinary providence.

Our guilty silence

Every now and then I run across articles that castigate American Christians or American churches for their (alleged) silence in the face of Christian persecution around the world. Although I share their concern, what, if anything, do the critics have in mind by way of a constructive alternative?

Do they think pastors should denounce from the pulpit the persecution of Christians around the world? If so, what would that accomplish? Would that change anything?

Do they think pastors should educate their parishioners are the phenomenon of Christian persecution around the world. If so, what would that accomplish? Would that change anything?

Do the critics think American Christians ought to take action? If so, what action? Email the White House? Email the State Department? What would that accomplish?

Write their senator or Congressman? If so, what would that accomplish? To begin with, what if you live in a blue state. What if your liberal senator or Congressman doesn't care about the plight of persecuted Christians?

And even if he does, what do you think he should do about it? Hold a Congressional hearing? Write an angry letter to the ambassador of a county that persecutes Christians?

Propose economic sanctions against countries that persecute Christians? Arm Christians in countries that persecute Christians? Offer asylum? 

I'm just curious about whether critics of our "silence" have any practical solutions. 

Are Biblical miracles "undeniable"?

Part of the MacArthurite schtick is to claim that Biblical miracles are "undeniable," in contrast to reported modern miracles. Yet in the NT we have examples of both outsiders and churchgoers who deny the Resurrection. 
and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked (Acts 17:31-32). 
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Cor 15:12).
So, by MacArthurite standards, does that mean the Resurrection doesn't count as a real miracle? 

Excesses of the Wahoo Brethren

Friday, October 25, 2013

How much should a pastor make?

Here's a little anecdote. I once knew a jail chaplain who was interviewed by a church board for an open pastoral position. (This was years before he became a chaplain.) The conversation eventually came around to how much he expected to be paid. He suggested that each of the board members write down their income on a slip of paper, hand it to the chairman (or treasurer), have him average them out, and that would be a fair wage. He didn't get the job.
I think the chaplain had a good rule of thumb. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

In his house are many mansions

Pastor Steven Furtick's newly built $1.7 million, 16,000 square-foot mansion is under the spotlight. A few comments in no particular order of importance:
i) I automatically catalogue stories like these in the "There's a sucker born every minute" file. 
ii) One thing you can say about prosperity preachers: they aren't hypocrites. They practice what they preach. Or maybe I should say, they practice what they leech.
Why is anyone shocked, least of all their check-writing parishioners, when a prosperity preacher is…prosperous? Admittedly, it's sometimes hard to balance a wealthy lifestyle with a healthily lifestyle, but Furtick's still young. The arteriosclerosis comes later. 
iii) Imagine what a new 16,000 square-foot mansion would cost in California!
iv) Furtick's come a long ways from Moncks Corner. Jerry Falwell had many faults, but he was born, raised, lived, worked, and died in the same place all his life.  
v) Furtick's parishioners have no cause for complaint. You get what you pay for. And they have the best pastor that money can buy. 
They are to Furtick what Obama voters are to Obama. Just as Obama voters are coming to the rude realization that, where Obamacare is concerned, we are all One Percenters, the members of Elevation Church have more dollars than sense. 
vi) If one of his parishioners built a $1.7 million, 16,000 square-foot mansion, would this even be a story? It's not just Christian ministers who are called to a servant lifestyle. All Christians are called to a servant lifestyle. Our life is not our own. We were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20). Furtick deserves to be excoriated, but let's avoid double standards.

I notice that the controversy swirling around Steven Furtick's McMansion has spun off in a new direction. I think we need to draw some rudimentary distinctions.
There's a difference between valuing certain amenities and creature comforts because they make life more pleasant, and spending big bucks on status symbols. There's a difference between valuing something because it's beautiful, and valuing something to impress the neighbors. 
Furtick's mansion is ostentatious. That's worldly. 
To take a comparison: you can own a big boat because you enjoy boating, or you can own a big boat to make a statement about your bank account. There's a difference. 

Apprising Ministries

Pastor Ken Silva is going through a rough patch:

Those of you who can might consider a love offering.

How to Build Noah's Ark

Strike three and counting

Mark Driscoll has been roundly chided for the stunt he recently pulled at the Strange Fire conference. I'd just say that given prior mounting evidence (e.g. pornographic revelations, financial irregularities, 1-2 hrs per week sermon prep), Driscoll probably forfeited any presumption to be taken seriously well before the latest kerfuffle. 

Perspectives on Africa

Conrad Mbewe was the only speaker at the Strange Fire conference who had anything worthwhile to contribute to the issue at hand. Mike Riccardi transcribed most of his presentation:

Mbewe highlights the dangers of syncretism, as charismatic theology merges with indigenous religion. I think his warnings should be taken seriously. 

That said, there are obvious limitations to his presentation. Africa is a huge, culturally and theologically diverse continent. Imagine an international conference in which one speaker represented the North American perspective, another speaker represented the Latin American perspective, yet another speaker represented the European perspective, still another speaker represented the South Asian perspective. Clearly one man can't speak for all of African Christianity. For instance, Mbewe is Baptist, but Anglicans have a huge footprint in Nigeria. 

Indeed, two African left comments on the Mbewe post taking issue with his overview. 

Likewise, Craig Keener is married to a native African: Médine Moussounga Keener, who holds a Ph.D. from University of Paris. She's one of his sources in his monograph on miracles. For his part, Craig Keener is coauthoring a book with a Nigerian professor and pastor on charismatic theology. African Christianity has many voices. Just as Mbewe's firsthand observations ought to be taken seriously, so should theirs. 

Soul brothers

Ed Dingess

You will reply that you personally don't know of any faith healers to whom we can turn for healing. Have you ever witnessed an indisputable, certified genuine miracle? One for which there were no natural explanations?


Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have the opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another. 
I live in the eighteenth century, in which miracles no longer happen.
The problem is that reports of fulfilled prophecies are not fulfilled prophecies; that reports of miracles are not miracles. 

Short-sighted objections

From an avid MacArthurite:

Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.

i) I didn't realize that Jesus repeatedly cleaned out cancer wards on camera with verification by medical staff. 

ii) As a rule, Jesus didn't seek out sick people to heal. Rather, they sought him out. Is that suggestive? 

iii) Jesus only healed a tiny fraction of all the sick people alive during his earthly ministry. Is the fact that he never tried to heal everyone suggestive? Is the fact that that he never attempts to heal everyone today suggestive? 

Strange bedfellows


Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.
It is nice to hear about a person having her hip pain taken away and his flu-like symptoms disappearing, but those miraculous healings, even if they are occasionally supernatural healings (and I am not saying they aren’t) are no where near the kind of supernatural healings recorded in the Bible. I want to see people with the gift of healing going into burn wards, veteran’s hospitals with soldiers who have lost limbs, and hospitals that specialize with spinal cord injuries.


Also, he [God] could say, "Folks, I'm going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer," where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made -- God's love is "not a merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps -- and we realise that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course, ...)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rearguard cessationism

I'm going to comment on a few of Tom Pennington's arguments, from his Strange Fire presentation:

I'm going to skip most of his arguments because I've already interacted with the arguments of the most astute cessationists (e.g. Richard Gaffin, O. P. Robertson, Dan Wallace, B. B. Warfield).

Cessationism does not mean, as our critics present it, that God no longer does anything miraculousCessationism also does not mean that the Spirit cannot, if He should choose, to give a miraculous ability to someone today. He’s God, He can do whatever He wants. If He wants to, He could give a language to someone they’ve never studied, it just wouldn’t be the New Testament gift, because it wouldn’t be revelation from God.
Really? That's not how another MacArthurite defines cessationism: 
Let me make one more distinction: There are two kinds of miracles noted in Scripture.1. Some are remarkable works of God apart from any human agency.2. The other kind of miracle involves a human agent, who from the human perspective is the instrument through which the miracle comes.
Pennington allows for God to miraculously empower somebody today, whereas Johnson disallows that very thing. Pennington erases the line Johnson draws. 
Of course, MacArthurites are free to disagree with each other. But when Pennington accuses "our critics" of misrepresenting cessationism, even though Johnson confirms what they say, that sends mixed signals. 
Because the primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger—to establish the credibility of one who speaks for God
Yet Pennington just said: the Spirit, if he so chose, could give a miraculous ability to someone today. It just wouldn't be a revelation from God. 
How, then, does that square with his claim that "the primary purpose of miracles has always been to confirm the credentials of a divinely appointed messenger—to establish the credibility of one who speaks for God"?
But how were the people to know if a man who claimed to be a prophet was in fact speaking God’s own words? Moses faced this dilemma. [Reads 4:1–5] So understand that God enabled Moses to perform miracles for one purpose only: to validate Moses as God’s prophet and Moses’ message as God’s own words. Moses was universally accepted as God’s prophet, and what he wrote were literally the words of God and came to be accepted as such. Why? Because the power to work miracles validated his claims to speak for God.
I'm sorry, but on the face of it, that claim is exegetically preposterous. In Exodus, the primary reason Moses is a miracle worker is to trounce Egyptian religion, thereby exposing the vanity of the Egyptian deities, in contrast to the omnipotence power of the one true God. See Currid's analysis. 
The first was that of Moses and Joshua, from the Exodus through the career of Joshua (1445-1380 BC), about 65 years. The second window was during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (ca. 860-795 BC), again only about 65 years. Here in Deuteronomy Moses laid down 3 criteria for discerning a true prophet. The true prophet’s predictions must always come true (v. 21). In Deut 13:1–5, God says that if He chose to authenticate a true prophet He would do so by empowering him to work miracles as He did with Moses. Also in Deuteronomy 13, He said, even if He works miracles, the third criterion is that the prophet’s message must be always in complete doctrinal agreement with previous revelation.
If we apply Pennington's criteria to Pennington's examples, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha were the only true OT prophets. Hosea, Micah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi, &c. were false prophets, for they fail to meet the three criteria of a true prophet. Most of of them performed no miracles. 
It's also odd that Isaiah doesn't make the cut, since miracles are associated with him. Why doesn't Pennington include him?   
Consider the gift of healing. In the New Testament when someone with the New Testament gift of healing used his gifts, the results were complete, immediate, permanent, undeniable, every kind of sickness, and every kind of illness. 
i) How does he know that every NT healing was permanent? The NT contains no record of long-term follow-up studies. So what's his evidence for that claim? Is it his assumption that a temporary healing would be defective? If so, he needs to supply a supporting argument for his theological assumption.
ii) By permanent, does he mean that if Christ or an apostle cured someone, that immunized them from the recurrence of the same disease? If so, how does he know that? Suppose St. Peter healed a man of syphilis. Does that mean the man could no longer contract syphilis, even if he continued to indulge in sexual immorality?
To take another example: elderly women are a higher risk of dying from pneumonia. Did they die of pneumonia, or did they die of old age? Both. Age made them more susceptible to pneumonia. 
If Christ or an apostle "permanently" healed a younger women of pneumonia, does that mean she could never again catch pneumonia?
Or take Christ's warning to the invalid: "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you" (Jn 5:14). This insinuates that his particular disability was due to sin, and if he returned to a life of sin, his disability, or worse, would return. A potentially impermanent cure. 
iii) What does he mean by "undeniable"? Does he mean a miracle no one would deny? But atheists deny Biblical miracles in toto. 
Does he mean a miracle which no reasonable person would deny? But to say no modern miracles are undeniable in that sense begs the question. 
Moreover, it comes into conflict with his prior admission that "the Spirit, if he so chose, could give a miraculous ability to someone today." Would that be deniable or undeniable? 
The purported healings of today’s faith healers are the antithesis: incomplete, temporary, and unverifiable. 
i) What's his evidence that the healings of today's faith healers are "unverifiable"? What's his source of information for that blanket denial? 

ii) Suppose an atheist turned tables by demanding verification for Biblical miracles? What is Pennington's comeback?
iii) What's his evidence that all their healings are temporary? 
iv) What about temporary healings? To some extent I'm sympathetic to this objection. A "temporary" healing suggests a psychosomatic healing. Put another way, a "temporary" healing suggests a face-saving euphemism for a failed healing. In other words, no healing at all. So I think many temporary healings are suspect. There's a presumption against their authenticity.
v) But our assessment still comes down to the specifics. Take the famous case of Joy Davidman. She had advanced cancer which went into remission in answer to the prayer of an Anglican priest who had a reputation as a healer. Yet she suffered a fatal relapse two years later. 
vi) Where does Jas 5:14-16 fit into Pennington's paradigm? Does he think that expired in the 1C AD? If not, does he think that necessarily results in a permanent cure? 
What if a dying father or mother is estranged from his or her children? What if God heals the parent long enough to effect a family reconciliation? Does Pennington rule that out?  
Pennington's cessationism has a veneer of Scripturality, but the more you scrutinize it, the more a priori it turns out to be. 

Does Church Need to Be More Manly?


Meyer contra Marshall 4

"More on Small Shelly Fossils and the Length of the Cambrian Explosion: A Concluding Response to Charles Marshall" by Stephen Meyer.

Luther, Jews, and charismatics

Disambiguating the charismatic debate

There's a good way and a bad way to argue against continuationism. Unfortunately, these are not consistently distinguished in popular debates:

The wrong way:

Point to examples of Pentecostals run amok. Point of Word of Faith hucksters. Point to YouTube clips of "holy barking," &c. 

Universalize from these examples to continuationism in toto.

That's a bad argument because it's logically fallacious. A classic inductive fallacy: a hasty generalization. 

Moreover, it's a double-edged sword. After all, atheists use that same type of argument to discredit Christianity en masse. 

The right way:

Demonstrate from Scripture that continuationism is false.

Point to examples of Pentecostals run amok to illustrate the consequences of a false starting-point. 

See the difference? In the first case you are using examples to establish a general principle.

In the second case, you first establish a general principle, then use examples to illustrate that principle. 

In the second case, the principle is grounded in arguments independent of the illustrations. 

In the first case, the principle is dependent on the examples.

In the second case, the examples are dependent on the principle.

In the second case, this is how the examples are related to the principle: because continuationism is false, so-called excesses and abuses are not isolated incidents. Rather, these are the inevitable, unavoidable consequences of a building on a false foundation. 

Hence, it's ultimately irrelevant to distinguish between reputable and disreputable charismatics, for reputable charismatics are reputable in spite of their theology, not because of their theology. Whether they represent the majority or minority of charismatics is a red herring. 

One final clarification: what I've said doesn't mean the good way is a good argument. It may be a bad argument. But it's a good way to mount the argument. That's the proper way to frame your objection.

Your objection may still be bad, but that's the kind of argument we should engage. 

That would shift the argument to a primarily exegetical argument.

That can also be supplemented by a historical argument, for cessationism and continuationism both have broadly predictable real-world consequences. 

One mediator between God and man

In this post I'm going to comment on the difference between Christian and unitarian models of mediation. 

i) In the OT, there's a categorical difference between God and the world. Between the Creator and the creature. Time and space originate in God's creative fiat. So God is essentially transcendent.

In theory, this could lead to a deistic concept of divine action, where God acts in the world through intermediate creatures. In theory, God could be so holy, so other, so set apart, that he only speaks or acts through go-betweens. And to some extent, angels function as emissaries between heaven and earth.

However, in the OT, you also have theophanies. And you have an angel who is not a creature, like other angels, but God himself, assuming an angelic similitude. 

So, in the OT, angels don't take the place of God, as go-betweens. In the OT, God reserves the freedom to bypass angels and make "direct" contact with humans. 

ii) But in Second Temple Judaism, there's a shift. Because Second Temple literature isn't constrained by divine inspiration, it loses the balance, and sometimes becomes deistic. This is seen in the exaltation of Metatron. Because Yahweh is so sacrosanct, so unapproachable, Metatron becomes a cosmic viceregent or prime minister. The acting God. 

This illustrates the internal tensions of unitarianism. On the one hand, because God is so untouchable, he must delegate the administration of the universe to a second party. Someone must fill the gap. That exaggerates divine transcendence.

But, conversely, in order for a deputy to act in God's stead, he must be so exalted, so godlike, that this once again blurs the distinction between God and the world. The solution ends up intensifying the original tension. 

iii) We see a similar development in Islam and Medieval Judaism. Islam and Medieval Judaism aren't so much monotheistic as they are unitarian. That's because these are post-Christian developments. These exist in conscious, antagonistic reaction to Christianity. 

They accentuate the unicity and transcendence of God. But in so doing, they create a void. And they fill the void by the Neoplatonic tactic of introducing intermediaries which bridge the gap. Intermediaries which are higher than man, but just a tad than God. Not quite divine, not quite mundane. They occupy the space (as it were) between God and creation.

One obvious model for bridging a gap is to fill it in with something that occupies the interval and touches both ends. It fills the empty space in-between either side of the gap, like stepping stones.  

iv) In the NT, the Incarnate Son is a mediatorial figure, but it's a completely different paradigm. Assuming that Second Temple Judaism has any influence on this conception, the mediatorial role of Christ stands in studied contrast to the Second Temple paradigm. It's not an extension of the Second Temple paradigm, but an antithetical alternative–like green screening, where the background color exists for the sake of contrast. 

In the NT, Christ is not an intermediary between God and man in the sense of being in-between God and man, as something less than God but more than man, but as both. Not within the two sides of the gap, but on both sides of the gap. That's a radically different conception. That's not commensurable with the Second Temple model, or its counterpart in Medieval Judaism. 

A unitarian might object that this fails to solve the problem. However, the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments, never viewed the metaphysical distance between God and the world as a problem in the first place. There's nothing to solve in that regard. The real problem is the ethical distance between God and sinners. 

v) To take an illustration, and that's all it is, suppose you had two warring factions. Two belligerent ethnic and religious groups. Suppose the two factions were reconciled when one faction's king marries the other faction's queen, and they have a child. The child embodies both factions.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where did all these Calvinists come from?

I admit, I was shocked that Dever never mentioned James White and his influence of reformed theology proper and his reformed apologetics in Evangelicalism and the world at large (Islam, Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, etc). Rap groups makes Dever's list as one of the most Reformed influences. But no mention of White.

So this blunderous lacuna on Dever's part skews his lecture on Calvinism. Other than that, it was a helpful overview.

Dingos and Darwin

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that Dingos illustrate a methodological problem for Darwinism. In Darwinism, a traditional way to establish common descent is to string fossils together in a presumptive phylogenic tree. 
Dingos looks uncannily like domestic dogs. So what are they? Are they domestic dogs that reverted? Are they wild canines (related to dogs, but not dogs). Are they hybrids–the issue of domestic dogs interbreeding with wild canines? From what I've read, scientists are unable to sort that out.
This is despite the fact that since Dingos are a living species, we know more about them than the fossil remains of extinct species. In addition, the white man colonized Australia a few centuries ago, so if they are either hybrids or feral dogs, that should be easier to trace historically. 
If scientists can't even sort out the evolutionary sequence for Dingos, how can they hope to sort out the evolutionary sequence extinct species from fossils scattered in time and space? 

Revive Us Again

i) Pentecostalism suffers from unrealistic expectations. I think that's due in part to the fact that modern Pentecostalism was birthed in revival. The Azusa Street Revival is the best known, but that came on the heels periodic revivals, clustered close in time. Cf. G. McGree, Miracles, Missions, & American Pentecostalism (Orbis Books 2010), Part 1. 
For those who experience a Christian revival or live through that period, that's apt to foster false expectations. In the nature of the case, revivals are exceptional. That makes them a poor paradigm for normality. It's hard to go back to the humdrum of ordinary life after the revival dies down. 
It's tempting to think your revival is not exceptional. That Christian history has finally turned a corner. The "latter rain" and all that good stuff. That this is a decisive turning point in Christian history. Your generation is different. You're something special
The letdown is hard to take. Hence, it's tempting to artificially stoke the fire. 
ii) Cessationism is the polar opposite. A classically risk-adverse position. If you're expectations are low enough, you'll never be disappointed. Kind of like a misanthrope whose cynicism immunizes him from disillusionment. 
iii) Cessationists often frame the issue by saying charismatics judge by experience which cessationists judge by Scripture. There's sometimes a lot of truth to that invidious comparison. And sometimes not.
iv) In my observation, cessationists unconsciously judge by experience. For instance, when they judge Paul Cain by false prophecies or judge Pentecostal worship by "holy barking," that's judging by experience. 
And there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't fall prey to hasty generalizations. But I find it striking that many cessationists are oblivious to the fact that they, too, are judging by experience.
v) Another example is how some cessationists have a very narrow definition of prophecy. For instance, they typically define prophecy as "an infallible word from God" (or something along those lines). They think that's Biblical. They accuse charismatics of redefining prophecy.
What's ironic is that they didn't get that definition from reading the Bible. In Scripture, prophetic phenomena are much more varied. For instance, visionary revelation originally consists of images rather than words. No divine words at all. 
Likewise, there's a potential (and sometimes actual) distinction between revelatory dreams and inspired speech. For instance, Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar were both recipients of revelatory dreams. But when Pharaoh tells Joseph what he saw in his dreams, Pharaoh isn't speaking under divine inspiration. When Nebuchadnezzar tells Daniel what he saw in his dreams, he's not speaking under divine inspiration. The dream is inspired, but his own account of the dream is uninspired. The dream is prophetic, but he recounts the dream from memory. 
That stands in contrast to canonical prophets, for whom the vision and the record of the vision are equally inspired. Both visionary and verbal inspiration. 
So why do cessationists define prophecy in such unbiblical, reductionistic terms? That's a result of their experience. They've been conditioned to define prophecy that way by cessationist preachers or writers they've heard and read. 
The paradoxical thing about conditioning is that operates at a subliminal level. To be conditioned is to be unaware of your conditioning. It takes a conscious effort to reflect on your conditioning. 

Catholic miracles

A cessationist objection to modern miracles is that once we allow for modern miracles, we can't screen out Catholic miracles. Since miracles attest doctrine, God won't answer Catholic prayers. 
There are several problems with that objection:
i) First of all, it doesn't seem fair to treat all Protestant miracles as suspect just to preempt Catholic miracles. 
ii) The objection sounds admirably uncompromising. Seems to erect a thick high wall against Rome. 
Unfortunately, the wall has a backdoor. Unintentionally, this is a standing invitation for Protestants to convert to Rome. Practically dares them to convert to Rome. For if miracles attest doctrine, then it only takes one Catholic miracle for the wall to become a portal to Rome.
What starts out like firm opposition to Rome actually poises the Protestant right on the tipping-point of conversion to Rome. A single Catholic miracle will be a wholesale defeater for Protestant theology. You could hardly have a more unstable position. 
iii) A cessationist fallback is to allow for the possibility that a Catholic prayer might be miraculously answered, but attribute the source to the dark side. But although that explanation is worth considering in its own right, it succeeds by forfeiting the original premise. The miracle loses its evidentiary value as a witness to doctrine. 
iv) Why might God answer a Catholic prayer? 
Consider this. Every Protestant of Anglo-European extraction is descended from Roman Catholics, going back to our pre-Reformation forebears–or sooner. 
That was an age of high infant mortality. Modern medicine didn't exist. Other than folk remedies, which were often ineffective or positively harmful, prayer was the only recourse. And when a medieval parent prayed for a sick child, that's going to be a prayer to the Virgin Mary or St. Jude. 
So the question is, would God ever answer the prayer of a Medieval mother or father, pleading for the life of a sick child? If you say no, then you're taking the position no Protestant of Anglo-European descent was the beneficiary of God answering the prayer of a Catholic ancestor, going back scores of generations.
If, in fact, God answered the prayer, it wasn't to validate Catholic dogma, or attest the cult of the saints . Rather, it's so that hundreds of years down the line, you and I would exist today. God healed your great-great-great forebear with you in view. It was a way of creating Protestants! A delayed reaction. 
It's not the Virgin Mary or St. Jude who answered the prayer, even if it was directed at one of them, but God. 
And it doesn't stop with medieval Catholicism. Before there were Catholics, there were pagans. Every Christian today is the descendent of pagans. And that includes Christians of every ethnic group. 
So the question is whether God ever answered the prayer of a pagan parent, interceding for a sick child. Take Samson Occom, the great Mohegan missionary. He's a direct descendent of heathen Indians. Or take Abraham, a direct descendent of moon-worshipers. 
Consider their linear ancestors, many of whom were deathly ill as children. Did God never answer the prayer of their desperate parents? Or were all their lineal descendants preternaturally healthy? 
v) Someone might object that if God ever answered a pagan prayer, that would validate paganism in the mind supplicant. To that objection, I'd say two things:
a)Before Christian missionaries began evangelizing the pagan world, pagans were going to practice their pagan faith regardless of God answering or not answering any of their prayers. 
b) In addition, cessationists do make allowance for the possibility that witchdoctors have real power. They attribute that power to the dark side.
But if a sick child is healed by a witchdoctor instead of God, that will still be taken to validate paganism. Whether God answers the prayer, or permits a demonic miracle, the pagan parent or heathen onlookers will still credit that to their false gods. If that's a problem, cessationism isn't the solution. It just relocates the problem.