Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cases of xenoglossy


Keener gives some ostensible examples of modern xenoglossy:
This sort of supernatural knowledge also appears in an extensive survey of possession reports in traditional China, offered mostly from rural areas over a century ago when these experiences were far more common than they are in urban areas of China today. Informants claimed that some spirits spoke with unusual voices or poetic abilities and noted “northerners speaking the languages of the South, which they did not know.”61 Although most of the study’s informants naturally understood and presumably shaped their reports through the assumptions of their own Christian world view, a range of scholars have continued to find their information useful.62  
61. Voices and poetic abilities: John L. Nevius, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (Old Tappan: Revell, 1894), 46–47, 58 (hereafter, Demon Possession). Nevius (pp. 140–43) defends the reliability of his Chinese informants, interestingly noting on p. 143 that their reports are consistent with those from other cultures and eras. As William M. Ramsay also noted (The Teaching of St. Paul in Terms of the Present Day [2nd ed.; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913], 105–6), it was only Nevius’s field experience that convinced him that spirit possession was genuine (Nevius, Possession, ix, 9–13; “informants” quotation from ibid.). The use of allegedly alien dialects also appears in some other reports (Horton, “Types,” 29; Shorter, Witchdoctor, 183). 
62. Cf. the use of various missionary reports in Oesterreich, Possession, 143–46, 213–15, 219–23, 229, 362–64. 
https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/bbr20b04.pdf

This is germane to the cessationist/continuationist debate.  Cessationists typically contend that glossolalia is xenoglossy. But even if that identification is correct (which is disputable), if there are well-attested examples of xenoglossy in post-apostolic times, then that disproves cessationism on its own terms. 
Mind you, I've read cessationists who attempt to evade this by claiming that even if there were instances of modern xenoglossy, that wouldn't be a "gift," but a one-off event. Of course, that tactic renders cessationism empirically unfalsifiable. 
One problem with Keener's documentation in this case is that he summarizes the material rather than giving specific examples. That makes it harder to evaluate the evidence. One would need to look up the references. Since I'm not charismatic, it's not incumbent on me to hunt it down. I'm not investing in proving it. But for Christians who wish to defend modern xenoglossy, it might be a worthwhile exercise. 

13 comments:

  1. If you're not a cessationist, why wouldn't you consider yourself a charismatic? What category is between them?

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    1. i) To begin with, a charismatic is generally someone who claims to experience one or more of the "spiritual gifts." Unless I'm in that category, it would be inaccurate for me to classify myself as a charismatic.

      ii) The fact that I don't have a particular experience doesn't mean others cannot or do not.

      iii) Finally, it depends on what charismatic theology claims. For instance, I might disagree with charismatic theology if it makes ambitious projections about what, when, and where God will act.

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  2. If you think it is possible that others can and do practice the “spiritual gifts” (I assume you mean prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits), why don’t you seek to practice them yourself?

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    1. Why should I seek it? If it's not God's will, my seeking would be futile, and if it is God's will, my seeking is redundant.

      In principle, there are any number of things an omnipotent God can do for a Christian. Just because God is able do it is not a reason to seek it. What if my interests lie elsewhere?

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    2. Why couldn’t God’s will for your practicing spiritual gifts also involve your seeking to do so? Doesn’t Paul say to “eagerly desire” the spiritual gifts, especially prophesy?

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    3. You're repeating stock objections I've dealt with in the past. As Thiselton explains in his commentary on the Greek text, that's a dubious understanding of the verses in question. Try to keep up with the actual state of the argument.

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  3. Once again, Why couldn’t God’s will for your practicing spiritual gifts also involve your seeking to do so? As Keener writes, “Although God is sovereign over the distribution of gifts (12:11, 18), believers can be zealous for (perhaps pray for) particular gifts rather than passively waiting for a random gift to materialize” (p. 107). Has Keener not kept up with the actual state of the argument?

    Have Ciampa/Rosner or Witherington III not kept up with the actual state of the argument? Do you think Sam Storms is unfamiliar with the actual state of the argument?

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    1. "Has Keener not kept up with the actual state of the argument?"

      Unlike Thiselton, Keener hasn't written a commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians. He doesn't analyze the terminology in the way Thiselton does.

      "Have Ciampa/Rosner or Witherington III not kept up with the actual state of the argument?"

      i) I notice you don't quote Ciampa/Rosner taking issue with Thiselton's analysis of zeloute. So how do they present a counter to his position in that respect?

      ii) Unless BW3 had a crystal ball, I doubt his 1995 commentary interacts with Thiselton's 2000 commentary. Moreover, BW3 spreads himself way too thin.

      "Do you think Sam Storms is unfamiliar with the actual state of the argument?"

      He's a popularizer. I wouldn't consult him for exegesis. I think he has some good counterarguments to some stock cessationist arguments. But that operates at a more generic level.

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    2. It's very precarious for you to rest your whole case on a single Greek word in a single verse of Scripture. For one thing, our understanding of 1C Greek isn't that exacting. We have a limited, haphazard sampling of 1C Greek as our frame of reference.

      More reliable is Paul's general discussion of the Spirit's sovereign discretion in allocating the gifts.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. I've collected most of Steve's recent posts on cessationism and continuationism in chronological order at the following blog:

    Steve Hays on Cessationism

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  6. Other ostensible examples of modern xenoglossy can be found in Keener's Miracles, page 238 fn126.

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  7. Correction: page 328 fn126

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