Sunday, June 13, 2004

The 4-Door Labyrinth-2

4. Charism & Charismata

Another comparative newcomer to the debate is Pentecostalism. But the case for charismatic theology moves within the same old framework as apostolic succession. Prophecy is traditionally classified in official terms. A prophet holds the prophetic office, just as an Apostle holds the apostolic office. An office is more or less permanent insofar as it admits a succession of incumbents. When a Pentecostal reads 1 Cor 12:28 or Eph 4:11 with this official framework in mind, he can only regard the spiritual gifts as a natural extension of regular church office (e.g. the pastorate).

The problem with this analysis is that suffers from the alien imposition of a Roman bureaucratic overlay. The category of "office" derives from Roman government, not NT church government. This is not to deny that we have some positions or functions in the Bible that could be classified in official terms (e.g. kingship, priesthood, eldership). But we should not take this conceptual scheme as our point of reference.

It is traditional to characterize the prophetic "office" as an "extraordinary" office, as over against ordinary church office. However, the conflation of an extraordinary office commits a category mistake. It would be more accurate, both exegetically and conceptually, to distinguish between office and gift or calling.

Even this distinction can be misleading if we abstract the idea of a gift or calling from its concrete setting in Scripture. A "gift" easily connotes a natural talent—something that’s always on tap. Again, a "vocation" suggests a fulltime occupation.

But even in the Bible, prophetic insight was an occasional phenomenon dependent on divine initiative. It is not something that a prophet could dial up at will. This is not how he made his living.

Charismatic theology standardizes the spiritual gifts. They become as ordinary as the sacraments or church office (e.g. elders, deacons). But this process of normalization violates the special character of an oracle or miracle. So charismatic theology builds on a false foundation.

Many Christian theologians deny outright any brand of subapostolic revelation. For them, this is a matter of redemptive-historical theology. They contend that revelation is epochal in character. More precisely, word-media and event media are correlative. The role of revelation is to expound and explain the significance of God’s redemptive deeds. But there are no further redemptive deeds during the inter-adventual age.

There is, moreover, a basic distinction between saying—on the one hand—that God may, on special occasion, directly address a Christian, heal a believer or perform a miracle in answer to prayer, and saying—on the other hand—that God has endowed some Christians with the gift of healing, prophecy or wonder-working power. A cessationist could be quite open to the possibility or reality of extraordinary and direct divine intervention without admitting a third-party that mediates this action on a regular or official basis.

A subpoint is the debate over glossolalia, both because interpreted tongues are the equivalent of prophecy, and because they're both charismatic phenomena, so that the case of charismatic theology rises or falls as a unit.

And one of the issues is the identity of modern glossolalia in relation to Acts 2 and 1 Cor 12-14. If modern glossolalia are not the same as NT glossolalia, then that would support the cessationist case. And if glossolalia in 1 Cor 12-14 are the same as glossolalia in Acts 2, then that would equate NT glossolalia with foreign languages. As one scholar has noted,
"the reference here (1 Cor 14:2 ) is to uninterpreted tongues. If no interpreter is present, then no one can undertand what the one speaking in gonues says…Such a statement about tongues does not contradict Acts 2. The tongues are comprehensible in Acts 2 only because those who understood the languages spoken happen to be present," T. Schreiner, Paul (IVP 2001), 367.

Some commentators classify this as an auditory rather than vocal miracle. But that’s a false dichotomy. The listener hears a foreign tongue because the speaker is using a foreign tongue. Paul also describes the auditory aspect of the phenomenon (1 Cor 14:28), but no one takes this as exclusive of the vocal relatum. The xenological understanding would also explain the functional equivalence between prophecy and interpreted tongues (1 Cor 14:5). And if modern glossolalia are not foreign languages, then that would support the cessationist case.

Gordon Fee contends that "the question seems irrelevant, [for] Paul's whole argument is predicated on the phenomenon's unintelligibility to both speaker and hearer. Cf. God's Empowering Presence (Hendrickson, 1994), 173. But it appears to me that the question is highly relevant, and Fee's counter-argument is highly irrelevant. For the assumption seems to be that if glossolalia were foreign languages, then they would be intelligible to both speaker and hearer. But how does that follow? Isn't it obvious that a foreign speaker can speak in a tongue unfamiliar to the listener (cf. Acts 14:11)? Doesn't Paul, in fact, make that very point (1 Cor 14:10,21; cf. Acts 2:4)?

What may seem less obvious is that a foreign speaker might not know what he himself is saying. And under normal circumstances, that is true enough. If I learn a language, I know it. But Paul is dealing with a paranormal phenomenon involving possession. In that case, it is not the human host, but the indwelling spirit, be it divine or demonic (cf. 1 Cor 2:12; 12:3,10; Acts 16:16; Isa 29:4; 1 Sam 28:11), which is the source of the utterance, of which the human host is the medium or ventriloquist. And in that event, the language could well be unintelligible to the speaker; indeed, that would only serve to heighten the numinous aura. Cf. "Xenoglossis," Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, L. Shepard, ed. (Gale, 1985), 3:1463b-69a; F. Goodman, How About Demons? (Indiana U Press 1988); Speaking in Tongues (U of Chicago, 1972); K. Koch, The Strife of Tongues (Kregel, 1975), 31-34.

B. Closed Systems of Revelation

1. Biblicism

This little tour goes to show that everyone must go through the first (and following) doors. No one is exempt from taking this trip. And everyone does indeed go through the same four doors. Some go on their own, others hire a guide (e.g., tradition, the Magisterium).

Thus the Protestant position doesn’t detour you into any more twists and turns than the Catholic or Orthodox. To be sure, choices generate other choices, but if a traveler chooses not to go down the Protestant trail, he has—in a sense—already made that journey if only to deem it a dead end. Why would you turn left rather than right unless you knew which was a wrong turn? And how would you know that unless you’d taken each fork in the road in turn?

As a practical matter, no one has explored every nook and cranny. Rather, everyone hires a guide to scout out the territory and show him the shortcuts. For the Protestant, Biblical tradition composes the advance party, for the Catholic—Magisterial tradition, for the Orthodox—conciliar tradition. In that event, you check out the guide rather than the trail to make sure he's not going to lead you astray. There is a sense in which I don't choose the Bible—the Bible chooses me. For God has a chosen people and a chosen book. He has chosen the people for the book and the book for the people. He puts his people in touch with his book, and touches their hearts to believe and live by his book.

Keep in mind that Orthodoxy and Catholicism are just a couple of the more conservative and pious alternatives to sola Scriptura. But once you open the door a crack to multiple-sources of dogma, the door can swing wide open! Consider reason and experience. It is amusing to hear those disdainful of revelation exhort you and me to judge all things by reason, as if that were such a straight and narrow path. But if you go through the door marked "reason," that opens into another hallway with other doors marked history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, biology, anthropology, cosmology, and so on. And if you go through the door marked philosophy, that will, in turn, come out into another hallway with other doors marked Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Husserl, Heidegger, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Chisholm, Quine, Derrida, and so on. If you go through the door marked Wittgenstein, you’ll enter a room with two sidedoors, one marked "early Wittgenstein," and the other marked "later Wittgenstein." And through each door you can overhear heated arguments over the true meaning of the Master. And if you retrace your steps and repeat the exercise with the door marked "psychology," that will take you down another corridor, and another, and another.

Adhering to sola Scriptura doesn’t imply that you despise reason and experience. Indeed, a Protestant regards revelation as the very highest form of reason inasmuch as it amounts to nothing short of divine reason. And one value of revelation is to broker the completing claims of uninspired reason and experience.

Now let’s go back to sola Scriptura and see if it’s really such a problem. And let’s begin with the canon. Many people seem to find this deeply problematic. And I think the major reason for this misconception is that they approach the issue from the avenue of church history. Maybe they’ve read something about the Council of Jamnia, or Marcion or Luther. And this fosters the impression that the Church started with a random pile of books, tossed a few of them and canonized the rest.

Now there’s a value in viewing the canon from a church historical standpoint. There are several fine treatments from this vantagepoint. (Cf. R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church [Eerdmans, 1986]; F.F. Bruce, the Canon of Scripture [IVP, 1988]; B. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament [Oxford, 1987]; J. Roberts & A. Du Toit, Guide to the New Testament, vol. 1 [Pretoria, 1989]; B.B. Warfield, Syllabus of the Canon of the New Testament in the Second Century [Pittsburgh, 1881].)
But this presents a rather skewed perspective. For it takes us out of the Bible and into a retrospective phase. It creates the impression that the formation of the canon was an afterthought, something improvised in a pinch, long after the composition of the books.

How often have we heard it said that the Church is prior to the Bible because the Church antedated the Bible and gave us the canon? Well, which Church and which canon? Did the NT church antedate the OT? Did the Jews have no canon of Scripture before Trent?

If we take a step back and look at the way the Bible is put together, we will see that historical theology can present a very artificial and anachronistic conception of the process. In some cases, for example, there would have been no hard and fast line between composition and canonicity. The Pentateuch supplied the charter documents of the old theocracy. The theocracy didn’t codify the Pentateuch; rather, the Pentateuch codified the theocracy.

In the case of the Psalter, likewise, many of the Psalms were official productions. They were composed for the national worship of Israel. So, in such cases, we should see canonization as a more organic process. Inasmuch as many of the authors of Scripture held institutional positions within the Temple or theocracy, inasmuch as inspiration had official organs (e.g. the sons of Korah, the court historian), canonization was not a separate and subsequent step. Likewise, when Peter, Paul or John addressed letter to one of their churches, it would ordinarily enjoy immediate reception. So the formal origin and formation of the canon were often coincident events.

In addition, if we make some allowance for overlapping authors, the historical books of the OT present pretty much a continuous narrative history in serial installments, viz.,


Seen this way, the historical books are like a train of passenger cars, with connecting doors, all moving in the same direction. And these, in turn, supply the historical backdrop for the Psalmists (e.g., David [1 Sam 16-2 Kg 2; 1 Ch]; Asah & Jeduth [2 Ch 5:12], and the sons of Korah [Num 26:11; 1 Ch 6]) and the Prophets (e.g., Isaiah [2 Kg 19-20], Jeremiah [2 Ch 35:25; 36:12,21-22], and Zechariah [Ezra 5:1; 6:14]), as well as for various events and individuals which figure in their writings (e.g. Pss 78; 105-106; 135-136). So there are assorted connecting rooms between one book and another. As Nahum Sarna remarks,

"The messianic theme of the return to Zion as an appropriate conclusion to the Scriptures was probably the paramount consideration in the positioning of Chronicles. Further evidence that the arrangement of the Scriptures was intended to express certain leading ideas of Judaism may be sought in the extraordinary fact that the initial chapter of the Former Prophets (Josh 1:8), and of the Latter Prophets (Isa 1:10) and the closing chapter of the Ketuvim (Ps 1:2) all contain a reference to Torah," "Bible," Encyclopaedia Judaica (Keter, 1971), 3:382.

The same holds true when you come to the NT. Say you go through the front door marked Luke. When you enter the Lucan room, you find a backdoor to the OT (24:44) a sidedoor to Acts (1:1), and another sidedoor to Mark (Acts 12:12). If you go into through the sidedoor to Acts, it has sidedoors to Timothy (Acts 16:1), Peter (Acts 1:13), James (Acts 12:17), John (Acts 1:13), John-Mark (Acts 12:12), Matthew (Acts 1:13) and Paul (Acts 7:58). And if you go through the sidedoor to Mark, you find another side door to Matthew (Mk 3:18), Peter (Mk 3:16), John (Mk 3:17) and Jude (Mk 6:3). If you go through the sidedoor to Matthew, it has a sidedoor to James (Mk 13:55). If you go through the sidedoor to Jude, it has a sidedoor to Peter—because 2 Peter and Jude are synoptic—and if you go through that sidedoor, it has a sidedoor to Paul (2 Pet 3:15), and another sidedoor to Mark (1 Pet 5:13). If you go through the side door to Timothy, you’ll find another sidedoor to Hebrews (Heb 13:23). If you take the sidedoor to Paul, it has a sidedoor to James and John (Gal 2:9), and another sidedoor to Mark and Luke (Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:11; Phm 24), which brings you full circle.

We could explore a great many more connecting rooms. The larger point is that in reading the NT we find the same cast of characters circulates from book to book, either as actors, authors, or both. So it resembles a series of interconnected tunnels.

Another way of looking at this is to see that canon and covenant are correlative inasmuch as the Bible is a history of federalism. Genesis gives the federal history of the Adamic, Noahic, and Abrahamic covenants; Exodus-Judges the federal history of Mosaic covenant; and Ruth-Chronicles, as well as the wisdom literature (the wisdom literature could also be called the royal corpus because it is the expression of the Davidic dynasty), and the federal history of the Davidic covenant; whereas the NT gives the federal history of the New Covenant in the person of Christ as the later and greater Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, in whom their respective covenants receive final fulfillment.

Yet, for some critics, this is not enough. They deem a rule of faith to be a failure unless it constrains consent. Now this is a rather odd assumption. It’s like saying that the multiplication tables are defective unless you never make a mistake once you commit them to memory. But that is not the proper role for a rule of faith. A rule sets a standard, a benchmark. But we wouldn’t blame a yardstick because you're sloppy with your measurements. If you're off by half an inch, that’s your fault for not accurately aligning the yardstick or carefully counting off the units.

Yet another unspoken assumption that underlies so much criticism of sola Scriptura is the attitude that if you like one set of consequences, but dislike another, that gives you the right to choose your rule of faith accordingly. But suppose that God has authorized only one rule of faith? Suppose the rule of faith is God speaking in his word? Your only responsibility is to obey God. Leave the results to God.

IV. Door 2

Does man have freewill?

I. Yes! Pelagianism, &c.

II. No! Calvinism.

Some definitions are in order. Arminian theology defines and affirms freewill as an inalienable power to do otherwise, whereas Reformed theology defines and affirms freewill as a voluntary or uncoerced decision. On the latter definition, freedom and determinism are consistent (compatibilism). Reformed theology denies freewill in the Arminian sense. There are several specific respects in which Reformed theology denies freewill. It denies that (i) an agent is free to thwart the divine decree; that (ii) the unregenerate are free to believe the Gospel; that (iii) the regenerate are free to commit apostasy, or that (iv) the glorified are free to sin. The Arminian version attacks the Reformed version on ethical grounds whereas the Reformed version attacks the Arminian version on exegetical and philosophical grounds.

A. Open systems of action

1. Libertarianism

Where you emerge from Door #1 affects where you end up here, or vice versa. If you answer "yes" to freewill, then you must answer "no" to sola Scriptura; for if everyone has a chance to be saved, then common grace and general revelation must supply the sufficient conditions, in which event, man is justified by the law, not the Gospel.

You see, there is an internal relation between sola Scriptura, sola fide and solus Christus. For if faith alone in Christ alone is a necessary and sufficient condition of our justification before God, then that, in turn, assumes sola Scriptura inasmuch as the Bible supplies us with the object of faith through the saving revelation of Christ in the scriptures.

Conversely, if everyone has a chance at salvation, then that must be apart from the Gospels inasmuch as everyone has not heard the Gospel. So even before you come to the freewill/determinism debate, your prior position on sola Scriptura may have already coopted your position on the freewill/determinism debate.

However, it is also worthwhile to weigh the alternatives on their own respective merits or demerits. Let us work through some of the consequences of freewill before returning to the subject of determinism. For freewill, although it negates determinism, does not thereby choose for or else eliminate any particular alternative to determinism. So it doesn't simplify the selection process. Quite the contrary, if you answer in the affirmative to freewill, then that, in principle, opens the door very widely indeed, for the degree to which, on that assumption, a man may contribute to his own salvation (or damnation) ranges along an infinitely divisible continuum of possible options.

To name just a few of the signs you see strolling down the ever-receding corridor, there’s Deism, Sufism, Socinianism, asceticism, Arminianism, Amyraldinism, Baalism, Bogomilism, Cabalism, cannibalism, Catharism, Confucianism, Gnosticism, Taoism, Molinism, Mormonism, Manichaeism, phallicism, Pharisaism, Neoplatonism, Zoroastrianism, Swedenborgianism, Yoga, open theism, Ophism, Orphism, condign merit (Pelagianism), congruent merit (Roman Catholicism), alchemy, necromancy, naval-gazing, Islam, idolatry, ufology, Mariolatry, Free Masonry, ancestor worship, emperor worship, ufology, process theology, Totemism, Tai Chi, witchcraft, priestcraft, child sacrifice, headhunting, intoning "OM," smoking dope (peyote, Soma), breathing exercises, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Mary, apocatastasis, theosis (Greek Orthodoxy), metempsychosis, &c.

2. Conditional Immortality

If you answer "yes," then that affects your eschatology. If even common grace and general revelation are not enough to level the playing field, then conditional immortality and postmortem evangelism take up the rear. For the notion of a second chance is predicated on freewill (although postmortem evangelism could be made accessory to universalism). But if you answer "no," then than slams the door shut on such rearguard actions.

Of course, conditional immortality is open to other objections. It repristinates a Sadducean eschatology (cf. Josephus, BJ 2:165; Ant. 18:16), in open defiance of Scripture (Mt 22:23; Acts 23:8). Sure, you can draw some hairsplitting distinctions between the Sadducees and their modern counterparts, but the respective views have the same cash value.

As with most compromise positions, it is heir to the same basic criticisms leveled against the opposing extremes without being able to capitalize on the distinctive appeal of either. It isn't strictly retributive (hell) or remedial (universalism). Conditional immortality is the Goldilocks lai of the afterlife—not too hot and not to cool! It really represents a transitional phase on the downward slide into secular materialism, which ends in universal annihilationism—what with its denial of the soul and survival beyond the grave.


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