Friday, June 15, 2018

Tom Schreiner on the spiritual gifts

Recently I was reading Tom Schreiner's new book, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter (B&H 2018). His book is an irenic defense of cessationism. I should say I skimmed it, so I may have missed some things. 

I. Let's begin with some positives:

1. Chap. 1 has an evenhanded overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic movement.

2. Commenting on Acts 10:44-48, Schreiner says:

This is not an argument for baptismal regeneration; the point is that baptism with the Spirit and baptism with water are both initiatory events. The fact that Cornelius and his friends were baptized with the Spirit meant they were qualified to be baptized with water! (53).  

3. He uses Acts 16:16-18 to illustrate what Paul may mean by distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor 12:10).

4. A familiar crux is that tongues in Acts clearly seem to be xenoglossy whereas tongues in 1 Corinthians seem to be something else. Schreiner believes that tongues in 1 Corinthians are xenoglossy, too, and has a simple argument for harmonizing the two representations:

First, that those in Acts 2 understood the languages spoken doesn't prove that the gift of tongues is different. They understood the tongues because they knew the languages. The problem in 1 Corinthians is that no one was present who knew the languages spoken. It isn't the gift of tongues that was different; the situation was different (128).

II. In general, Schreiner's book is full of sanctified common sense. His analysis is beneficial and edifying even if you disagree with his primary thesis. That said, I'll turn to some disagreements:

1. Although he's branched out over the years, Schreiner's center of gravity is Pauline theology. He uses his interpretation of 1 Cor 12-14 as the primary frame of reference. He filters other NT data through his Pauline lens. 

His treatment of Acts 2 is cursory. There's no discussion, that I could see, of Jn 14:12. 

The result of his Pauline emphasis is to neglect non-Pauline paradigms of the spiritual gifts as well as imposing a Pauline interpretive grid onto non-Pauline material. But that's hermeneutically defective.

2. For instance, he denies that Spirit-baptism is a postconversion experience. He harmonizes passages in Acts by reference to Pauline pneumatology. As a result, he regards the delay in Acts 8 as anomalous.

I agree with him that as Paul defines it, Spirit-baptism is not a post-conversion experience. However, Schreiner just assumes that Luke and Paul are referring to the same phenomenon. By contrast, I think Luke in Acts 8 is using shorthand for supernatural manifestations of the Spirit–rather than Spirit-baptism in the sense of regeneration or spiritual renewal. 

3. On p22, I don't think he quite gets the point of the plural usage ("gifts of the Spirit"). Fee's argument is that this doesn't refer to a gift of healing. Paul isn't saying there are healers, in the sense of Christians endowed with the ability to heal. Rather, Paul describes each healing as a gift of God. 

On p89, Schreiner seems to appreciate that distinction. Yet that distinction undermines his case for cessationism, for on that interpretation, you didn't originally have healers in the ancient church, followed by the abeyance of that gift. There was never that contrast in the first place. Rather, there are miraculous healings. Same thing with xenoglossy and miracles generally.

4. Schreiner says:

Those with the gift of prophecy declare God's word…When Luke says that both your sons and daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:17-18), it probably means that both men and women will declare God's word, but it doesn't necessitate that they are all prophets, that they all have the spiritual gift of prophecy (95).

i) Acts 2 unpacks the definition of prophecy, not in terms of declaring God's word, but revelatory dreams and visions. But visionary revelation and verbal revelation aren't interchangeable categories. Images aren't words. 

ii) Dreams and visions can include a divine speaker or emissary (e.g. angel) who speaks on God's behalf. But sometimes dreams and visions are just images. 

iii) In addition, revelatory dreams can be literal or allegorical. Literal in the sense of representational (i.e. photographic realism) or allegorical in the sense of analogical symbolism. 

iv) The gift isn't the revelation itself, but the Spirit. The Spirit is given, who, in turn, sometimes grants Christians revelatory dreams and visions. 

v) Not coincidentally, the promise in Acts 2 is illustrated by revelatory dreams and visions in the course of Acts. So that's generally what's meant by "prophecy" in this context. 

5. On pp157-59, Scheiner argues that the Apostolate was temporary. I agree. But that depends in part on how we define our terms and concepts. Consider Keener's nuanced analysis:

Pace Keener, I think it invites confusion and abuse to say there are modern-day prophets, so I'd assiduously avoid that terminology. Still, it's necessary to engage more nuanced positions, like Keener's. 

6. Schreiner says:

Since prophecy is defined here as speaking the infallible word of God and since the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there are no longer prophets today, since the foundation of the church has been laid. The sole and final authority of Scripture is threatened if so-called prophets today give revelations which have the same authority as Scripture.

If one adopts this definition of prophecy, for anyone to claim such a gift of prophecy today would constitute a threat and danger to the church. Such claims would compromise the unique authority of Scripture, and the potential for spiritual abuse and a cultic type of authoritarianism would be great (160-61). 

i) Given how Schreiner defines his terms and frames the issue, I agree with his conclusion. However, the issue can be recast:

ii) Even if we define prophecy as the infallible word of God, which is a reductionistic definition, his conclusion doesn't necessarily follow, since he fails to distinguish between public and private revelation. Consider the following:

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza”...29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” (Acts 8:26,29).

That's verbal revelation. So it seems to meet Schreiner's definition. An audible voice representing God. Speaking in sentences. 

But that's not a revelation for the church. It's not a revelation for humanity in general.

Rather, it's a highly topical, time-sensitive form of divine guidance. It's to and for Philip, for one calendar date. It was defunct a day later. 

iii) In addition, as I already noted, visionary revelation isn't synonymous with verbal revelation. If a Christian tells me they had a premonitory dream, that's not "the infallible word of God". Even assuming they indeed had a premonitory dream, that's not propositional revelation. Rather, it's nonverbal communication that requires interpretation to articulate what they saw. The dreamer must supply the verbal description. He must put into words what he saw in his dream. 

iv) And even if there was a speaker in his dream, unless the dreamer has verbatim recall, he will summarize or paraphrase what he heard. So there's a difference between what he was told in the dream and what he tells you.

v) Then there's the question of verification. Suppose a charismatic comes to me and says: "God told me to tell you to marry Jennifer". 

But since God didn't tell me that, there's no obligation for me to act on that secondhand claim. I didn't have the experience he purports to have. I'm not privy to his purported experience. Even if he knows what God told him, I don't know that God spoke to him. 

vi) Now, there can be veridical dreams and visions. Take synchronized dreams, where two different people have the same dream. 

Or dreams that come true. If the dreamer shares his dream with other people, before it comes to pass. 

vii) In addition, God is not the only supernatural agent. Sometimes a miracle is a test of faith. Sometimes you're suppose to disregard the miracle or revelation (e.g. Deut  13:1-5; Mt 24:24; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13-15).

7. Schreiner says:

How should we think about miracles and healings?…If a person has a gift of healing, it seems there would be a pattern of healing. And the healings should be on the same level that we see in the NT: healing of the blind, of those who are unable to walk, of those who are deaf, and of those who are near death. Claims to healing are often quite subjective: colds, the flu, stomach and back ailments, sports injuries, &c…The issue is that it is often difficult to verify that a miracle has truly taken place. It isn't clear to me that particular people have a gift of healing or miracles (164).

i) One problem is that Schreiner has bundled two or three distinct issues into one: Are there healers (do some Christians have the gift of healing)? Are these the same kinds of miraculous healing we find in Scripture? Are these verifiable?

ii) As I pointed out before, what if there never were healers? What if there wasn't a gift of healing in the first place? Then that's not a point of contrast between the NT church and the subapostolic era. 

iii) You could deny the ongoing existence of healers but affirm the ongoing occurrence of miraculous healing. Those are separable claims.

iv) What if God occasionally works through a particular individual, but that individual can't heal at will? Perhaps he can only heal when God tells him to lay hands on someone and pray over them. 

v) It's unclear what case-studies Schreiner has consulted. The standard collection is Craig Keener's Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

He's updated that in "The Historicity of the Nature Miracles" in G. Twelftree, The Nature Miracles of Jesus.

In addition, Robert Larmer has two books on miracles which contain case-studies in the appendices: The Legitimacy of Miracle; Dialogues on Miracle.

There are other collections, but that's a place to start. 

8. Schreiner says:

Yes, God works miracles, but they are relatively rare (165).

i) Perhaps, but that depends on the frame of reference. Given tens of billions of human beings over the centuries, even if only a fraction experience miracles, that's still a lot of miracles.

ii) Moreover, some miracles may be invisible. Take a Christian who prays to God to prevent something. If it doesn't happen, was that a miracle? There's no evidence for a nonevent, but what if that nonevent is an answer to prayer?  

9. Schreiner says:

Perhaps God is pleased in cutting-edge missionary situations to grant the same signs and wonders we see in the NT era (165).

Now that the church has the authoritative guidance for faith and practice in the Scriptures, the gifts and miracles which were needed to build up the early church are no longer needed, and they are not common. This is not to say, however, that God never does miracles today (167).

But these two claims are tugging in opposite direction. If a new missionary situation is in some measure a repetition of establishing the church in the 1C Roman Empire, then by Schreiner's own argument, we might expect similar phenomena.

10. Schreiner says:

Last, I think it is significant that the great teachers whom God used to bring about the Protestant Reformation were cessationists…They would have loved to see signs and wonders and miracles like there were in the apostolic age (167).

What about prophecies attributed to John Knox? What about reported miracles among the Covenanters and the Huguenots?

1 comment:

  1. Well organized and scholarly material as usual, Steve.