Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't bother me with the facts!

Fred Butler has sort of responded to some critics:

However, they don’t represent the best of the continuationists. We need to consider the sound arguments made by continuationist/charismatics like DA Carson, John Piper, Craig Keener, and Wayne Grudem.
i) I'm curious as to how Carson got classified as a "continuationist/cessationist." This is the second time I've run across that designation applied to Carson from a MacArthurite. Yet in his contribution to Power Religion, Carson was extremely critical of Third Wave theology (a la John Wimber and the Vineyard Church)–as he understood it. So why do some MacArthurites (e.g. Fred Butler, Nathan Busenitz) classify him as a continuationist/charismatic rather than a critic thereof? This appears to be a legend that's taking on a life of its own.
ii) Speaking for myself, I haven't said the MacArthurites need to engage Piper or Grudem. I typically mention Fee and Keener. I've also mentioned Carson, as an important representative of a mediating position. And I've made passing reference to two other distinguished charismatic scholars: Graham Twelftree and Max Turner. 
My commenter seems to think no one from our “camp” has offered any meaningful critique. Though if one were to do a simple search you could find a number of articles.
There's an equivocation here. I, for one, have specified members of the "MacArthur" circle. Fred seems to be switching to cessationists in general rather than MacArthurites in particular. Now, there's nothing wrong with his citing general cessationist scholarship. But it's deceptive for him to cite that as a counterexample to my contention, when I was very specific about what "camp" I had in mind. Perhaps, though, Fred has someone else in mind.
For example. Wayne Grudem: HERE, HERE, and HERE
I myself haven't cited Grudem as a standard of comparison. 
DA Carson: HERE and HERE
The second analysis that Fred links to isn't really a "critique" of Carson. Rather, it seems to agree with Carson's premise, but uses that to argue for cessationism. So Fred's characterization is misleading.
Gordon Fee: HERE
That's a critique of Fee's egalitarianism, not a sustained critique of his supporting arguments for charismatic theology. 
So Fred's links amount to a token, scattershot response. Something cobbled together as an afterthought, in belated response to critics. That fails to meet the challenge. 
Those who identify with Grudem-Carson-Piper-Keener consider themselves to be “open, but cautious.”  I honestly never understood that description. Either spiritual gifts as described in the NT documents function among Christians in today’s church or they don’t. It’s that simple.
Once again, I'm puzzled by Fred's classification scheme. To my knowledge, the "open, but cautious" designation was first coined by Wayne Grudem when he edited a "Four Views" book. Progressive Dispensationalist Robert Saucy was the spokesman for that view. And that represents the viewpoint of those who are noncommittal. By contrast, Grudem and Keener are squarely in the charismatic camp, while Carson tries to strike a balance. 
However, as long as Fred is redefining the term, we might as well consider three different ways in which a Christian might be "open, but cautious."
i) He might be noncommittal on the cessationist/continuationist debate. He may think both positions are underdetermined by Scripture and extrabiblical evidence. He withholds judgment.
ii) He might be open to modern charismatic phenomena in principle, without presuming that any particular claim is true. He judges each report on a case-by-case basis. 
iii) He may think that, in all likelihood, the charismata still happen, but he doesn't presume a stereotypical pattern, trend, or trejectory. It's not predictable. It's up to God's sovereign discretion when or where that happens.
The very description, “open” implies you believe spiritual gifts function in today’s church just like in the NT…
How does mere use of the word "open" imply any such thing?
…but the addition of “cautious” means you are not so sure. In fact, if you think about it, the two terms cancel each other out. To say you are “cautious” puts you in the same camp as me, the spirit-quenching MacArthurite cessationist.  The term “cautious” means you’re skeptical about the so-called healing or whatever supernatural manifestation may have taken place, at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim. Indeed, if you are are skeptical, by Steve Hays’s standards, you’re thinking like Richard Dawkins and other new atheists.
Unfortunately, Fred is misrepresenting both his position and mine:
i) By definition, cessationism rules out the charismata in advance. That doesn't involve an initially negative presumption about any reported example, a presumption which can be overcome by adequate evidence. Rather, cessationism stipulates, at the outset, that as a matter of principle, the charismata were time-indexed to the establishment of the NT church. 
ii) In addition, cessationists in the MacArthur circle try to draw a line between mediate and immediate miracles. They say they don't rule out modern miracle where God is acting directly. Rather, they rule out modern miracles where God is acting through a human agent. (BTW, I've pointed out that they can't consistently maintain that distinction in the case of prophecy.)
So this isn't a case of being "skeptical" that modern prophets or healers exist, "at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim." Rather, they deny that eventuality apart from any reports or evidence or counterevidence. 
Certainly it doesn’t mean an “open, but cautious” person is “open” to, or even “cautious” about, Benny Hinn whipping alleged deaf people with his suit coat. He’s automatically discounted at the outset of this discussion per my commenter’s comment.
Depends on what is meant by "automatically discounted at the outset." Every debate takes certain facts for granted going in. It's not because Benny Hinn is discounted by definition. Rather, there are preexisting exposés of Benny Hinn. His reputation precedes him. 
So. Are the “open, but cautious” then saying they are cautious about those claims of healing coming from among the proponents of the “open, but cautious”? If that is the case, then what exactly is the criteria that makes a claim of healing genuine? Or perhaps I should ask, what is lacking in the testimony about the claim of healing that would make an “open, but cautious” proponent cautious of the claim?If the claim is dubious, and the “open, but cautious” person is skeptically cautious of the claim, then why doesn’t that dubious claim place that person making it along side Benny Hinn? Additionally, what if a like-minded “open, but cautious” friend believes the claim is genuine, but you are still cautious? How would we determine which person is right? One could say Scripture is the final arbiter in those cases, but each person can equally appeal to Scripture.
i) It looks like Fred is trying to generates a dilemma. But that suffers from his idiosyncratic and equivocal definition of "open and cautious" (see above).
ii) In addition, the question of criteria for miraculous healings or prophecies doesn't suddenly become an issue for the post-apostolic church. The same issues crop up in Bible times. 
iii) There's also the question of consistency. Didn't Fred just tell us that to be a "MacArthurite cessationist means you’re skeptical about the so-called healing or whatever supernatural manifestation may have taken place, at least until you can evaluate the authenticity of such a claim"? If so, why doesn't that implicate his own camp in the same dilemma? Doesn't he have some criteria in mind to "evaluate the authenticity of such a claim"?
That subjectivity would be especially true in regards to alleged prophetic announcements. At least according to Grudem’s paradigm, a prophecy can be fallible. 
I agree with Fred that Grudem's paradigm is unstable. But that's not the only paradigm.
Checking the biblical record, I see no case of tongues being nonsensical gibberish done either in public or private. It was a genuine human language that operated according to the normal rules of linguistic grammar that the person speaking that language had never learned.
Of course, there are exegetes of 1 Cor 12-14 who don't see it that way. And you don't have to be a charismatic or Pentecostal scholar to reject the notion that 1 Cor 12-14 refers to xenoglossy. 
The reality is that 100 percent of the “tongues” practiced among Christians in churches or in private, even among the “open, but cautious” is fake. Perhaps I am being over the top to say 100 percent. Maybe 98.92 percent; but I have yet to come across that fraction of a percent.
Unfortunately, this seems to be one of those overly familiar situations where a MacArthurite hasn't seen the evidence because he has his back turned to the evidence. Even if we define glossolalia as xenoglossy, Keener cites modern examples of that in the first volume of his commentary on Acts. Now, Fred might not find the examples convincing, but the problem seems to be that Fred isn't even aware of the ostensible evidence because he gets his information from pulp sources like Charisma magazine. Like Richard Dawkins, MacArthurites keep insulating their pronouncements from correction by refusing to do their homework. 
When people were healed, it was an undeniable, extraordinary work of the Spirit healing an individual (Acts 4:16). Something the “Amazing” Randi could not deny. Think Iraqi war veterans getting their limbs back completely whole or the late Christopher Reeves having his spinal cord injury reversed.When we MacArthurite cessationists ask for evidence of such occurrences, it is not because we deny God can heal. It is that the track record for such testimonies has been consistently tarnished with the exaggerations of eager enthusiasts or outright fabricated all together by flim-flam artists. The reality is that none of those kind of miracles are happening, because if they were, everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity.
i) It's striking that Fred has so much faith in the integrity of secular debunkers. He seems to be blithely unaware of how debunkers have been debunked. 
ii) Fred is trying to take a short-cut. He doesn't have to examine the evidence, because if these kinds of miracles were happening, "everyone would certainly know about it, including the most militant critics of Christianity."
That's a classic armchair denial. "Don't bother me with the facts. I don't need to peer into your telescope. I know ahead of time that there's nothing to see!"
The echo chamber of the MacArthur circle must be pretty deafening. 


  1. C. Michael Patton wrote a while back:

    I believe the landscape is changing. There are now fewer hard cessationists who believe with absolute conviction that the supernatural sign gifts have ceased. You know that the battle lines are fading when [Calvinist and continuationist]C.J. Mahaney and John MacArthur can share the same pulpit! Because of the stature of these respected scholars, many cessationists are beginning to scratch their heads wondering if they might be wrong. Some are one experience away from fully embracing a continuationist theology.
    [bold added by me]

    I wonder if Mahaney and MacArthur actually have shared the same pulpit, say in the same conference. Of course, it's not uncommon for speakers in a conference to have disagreements. Or for speakers to arrive just for their time to speak and then immediately to leave. Or for speakers not to know the list of all the people who will be speaking at the same conference.

    1. Regardless of what one thinks of Mahaney, if he has spoken in the same pulpit as MacArthur that says something. Same thing with MacArthur and John Piper. It's my understanding that Piper and MacArthur not only know each other, but consider each other friendly colleagues.