Saturday, November 09, 2013

Postmortem on the Waldron/Brown debate

This is a sequel to my previous post on the Waldron/Brown debate. 

I've gone back and taken notes on the debate. 

i) A basic disagreement between the two men involves hermeneutics. Brown is suspicious of Waldron's methodology, which places greater emphasis on logical inference, as well as interpreting a passage of Scripture within a larger theological framework.

I think at least part of the difference is due to their different educational backgrounds. Waldron is a seminary educated scholar. And he's a systematic theology prof. So that's how he approaches Scripture. It's not how he approaches the charismatic issue in particular. He didn't devise this method to evade charismatic prooftexts. Rather, that's his general approach.

Ideally, the interpretation of Scripture is concentric. You start by interpreting a book of Scripture on its own terms. In some cases, books of Scripture are literary units. In that case, you'd begin with more than one book as your frame of reference. For instance, you should interpret Genesis in light of the Pentateuch as a whole, or Acts in light of Luke. 

Moreover, NT books usually cite or allude to the OT, so you also interpret the NT writer in light of his engagement with the OT texts. 

Furthermore, if a NT author has written more than one book, you use his entire corpus as a frame of reference. So that widens the interpretive circle.

Finally, systematic theology attempts a synthesis of Biblical teaching. The provides the largest frame of reference. 

Now, that's circular. You interpret the parts in light of the whole and vice versa. But it's not necessarily a vicious circle. Ideally, you compare and contrast different ways of relating the part to the whole, and vice versa, until you arrive at a synthesis that integrates the most data. 

On a related note, this means a systematic theologian deals with concepts and categories as well as individual passages. What's the function of miracles? What's the function of the Apostolate? 

By contrast, Brown received a secular university education, with a focus on Near Eastern languages and literature. As a result, he has a narrowly textual focus. 

That may be sufficient explanation for their different hermeneutical approaches, but it may also go deeper. Waldron is a Western Christian. There's a tradition of systematic theology in Western theology. The Summa Theologica of Aquinas is a seminal example. Other paradigm-cases involve Calvin's Institutes, Turretin's Institutes, John Gill's Body of Doctrinal Divinity, and so forth.

Especially since Aquinas, Western theology has had a fairly Aristotelian methodology, in the sense of classifying and categorizing, seeking unifying principles, defining terms, drawing logical inferences, analyzing concepts, and corrleating revealed truths in a larger set of logical relations.

Now, Jewish converts to Christianity are immediately confronted with  a decision. What are their theological models? Do they begin with 2000 years of Gentile Christian theology as their frame of reference? Or do they look for something more Jewish? For instance, do they go back to the Talmud as their frame of reference?

As a Messianic Jewish apologist, Brown is to some extent a Talmudist. He has to be conversant with the Talmud to debate fellow Jews.   So that may be another difference between Waldron and Brown. Each has a different standard of comparison.

Since I myself am a Western Gentile Christian, I don't find anything alien or suspect about Waldron's basic approach. Mind you, I can disagree with the specifics. But I don't have Brown's reaction. 

ii) Brown accuses cessationists like Waldron of forbidding what Scripture commands and promises. Although this didn't come up in the debate, one potential problem with his accusation is that cessationists return the favor by accusing charismatics of disobeying Scriptural commands and promises. That's because cessationists don't think charismatics are in fact doing what Scripture commands or promises. They think charismatics have substituted something else. They think charismatics begin with their experience, then read that back into their prooftexts. And I think charismatics are often guilty of that.

iii) Brown says that when the NT commands or promises something, that creates a presumption of continuity. We need explicit revocation to overcome that presumption.

Waldron doesn't deny a burden of proof. But he says preceptive duties only last as long as the situation which the duties presuppose. If God changes the underlying situation, then the corresponding duties change. If there are no prophets, there's no duty to prophesy. 

His position is logical. Whether it's correct is a different issue. Since we're dealing with the new covenant, there's a general presumption that new covenant commands and promises with endure until the Parousia. 

At the same time, there are some transitional elements in the NT, as it shifts from the old covenant to the new covenant. And some commands are culturebound. So there's no general answer. We have to examine the issues on a case-by-case basis.

iv) Brown contends that healing and deliverance are integral to the in-breaking of God's messianic kingdom, and that occurs whenever and wherever the gospel spreads into unreached parts of the world, which is Satan's domain. Waldron responds by contending that Satan's power was broken at the first advent of Christ. 

That's a classic amil position. However, it's not to clear to me how Waldron squares that with 1 Jn 5:19. Also, Acts illustrates the fact that the first advent of Christ didn't automatically put Satan on the run. He has to be chased away, as Christian missionaries push into pagan parts of the world. 

v) Brown appeals to Jn 14:12 as a continuationist prooftext. He treats this as a universal promise because it employs a universal formula "whoever believes." He thinks that's bolstered by the next two verses on prayer. Waldron restricts the passage to the apostles, based on 15:27, viz. any one of you apostles. 

Both men have a point. It's clear from 15:27 that you can't apply Jn 14-16 in toto to Christians in general. However, the actual wording of Jn 14:12 supports Brown's interpretation. In addition, does the promise of the Spirit in Jn 14-16 only apply to the Apostolate? Doesn't this also pick up on Jn 3:5-8, 4:23-24, 6:63, and 7:37-39?

vi) Waldron defines a spiritual gift as the ongoing possession of a miraculous ability with repeated manifestations. However, he doesn't exegete that definition.

vii) He stipulates three marks of an apostle: (a) appointed by Christ, (b) a physical eyewitness, (c) having the miraculous sign-gifts.

(b) is ambiguous. Does he mean physical in the sense that an apostle saw Christ with his own eyes, or physical in the sense that he saw Christ in the flesh? Must it be an objective vision? Or would a subjective vision count? If Christ appeared to someone in a trance or vision, would that count? Or must it be external to the observer? Christ physically present?

(c) is problematic since we have no NT evidence that every apostle performed miracles. Conversely, the "sign gifts" weren't confined to apostles.

viii) Waldron says the apostolic/prophetic foundation in Eph 2:20 is historical and chronological. But he doesn't take time to defend that interpretation.

ix) Conversely, Brown appeals to Eph 4:11-16 as a continuationist prooftext, but he doesn't explain why. This raises the question of whether Brown believes in modern apostles. Brown says yes, in the lower-case rather than upper-case sense of an "apostle." There are no modern apostles in the sense of Acts 1:21-22. But are there any modern apostles who are directly commissioned by Christ? That question doesn't come up.

There are at least three problems with Brown's appeal to Eph 4 as a continuationist prooftext:

(a) His position commits him to the view that Paul is referring to lower-case rather than upper-case apostles in this passage. What reason is there to think that's what Paul had in mind?

(b) As one scholar, commenting on v11, points out, 

The final clause of the verse (until we all arrive), should be attached not to the verb "he gave" in 4:11, but to the verbal idea contained in the closer noun "building up." Paul is not saying that Christ continues to give apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church "until we all arrive," but that the work of building up the church continues "until we arrive," F. Thielman, Ephesians (Baker 2010), 280.

Of course, Brown might disagree. If so, he needs to defend his understanding of the syntax. 

(c) He also needs to define what he means by a lower-case apostle. Does a lower-case apostle have all the gifts? Does he prophesy and heal and work miracles and speak in tongues? Does Brown think there are living apostles in that sense? 

x) Based on 1 Cor 15:8, Waldron contends that Paul is the last apostle. Brown denies that by distinguishing between upper-case and lower-case apostles. Indeed, Waldron draws the same distinction. So that's a stalemate.

xi) Brown says that, in any event, 1 Cor 15:8 doesn't mean that Paul was the last person Jesus ever appeared to. 

xii) In reference to Jas 5:13-16, Brown says the prayer of faith means the elders expect God to answer their prayer for healing, whereas Waldron reserves that expectation for faith-healers, in contrast to the elders. Neither man takes time to defend his claim exegetically. 

xiii) Brown says the gifts are indexed to the Spirit rather than the apostles. I think he's on firmer ground.

xiv) Waldron says that if prophecy continues, then we have an open canon. Brown denies that by saying that even in the OT and NT, not all prophecies are canonized or inscripturated. Waldron also admits that some prophecies may be local rather than universal. 

xv) In addition, Brown says there's no competition between the gift of healing and the closing of the canon. 

xvi) Waldron restricts Mt 28:18-20 to the apostles, even though he concedes that this necessarily extends beyond the lifetime of the apostles. But by parity of argument, Acts 2:17-18 would extend beyond the lifetime of the apostles. 

xvii) Waldron restricts Acts 2:17-18 to the Apostolate. However, that passage is a programmatic statement which we see illustrated in subsequent episodes in Acts, where it's not restricted to the Apostolate.  

Conversely, Brown takes 2:17-18 to mean every Christian is potentially a prophet. That, in turn, affects his view of Deut 13 & 18. If every Christian is potentially a prophet, unlike OT Jews, then modern prophets (or prophetic claimants) don't have the same authority as OT prophets (or prophetic claimants), for it's no longer a relationship between prophets and non-prophets, but between fellow prophets. Christian prophets assessing the prophecies of other Christian prophets. 

However, that's not how I take it. I think 2:17-18 means Christian dreamers and visionaries will be represented in each broadly defined sociological category. 

Brown combines 1 Cor 14:29 with Acts 2:17-18. However, each passage must be understood on its own terms before we correlate them. 

xviii) Waldron takes 1 Cor 13:8-12 to refer, not to continued prophecies, but the continued product of prophecy, i.e. the knowledge imparted by prophecy. It's not a distinction between partial/perfect gifts, but partial/perfect knowledge. But there are problems with that interpretation:

a) The passage doesn't refer to "gifts of prophecy," but "prophecies." 

b) The passage doesn't distinguish between prophecies and the products of prophecies.

c) If we accept Waldron's interpolated distinction, that would mean prophetic knowledge ceases. But what does that mean? We will forget what we used to know, via prophecies?

I think the point of 1 Cor 13:8-12 is that at the Parousia, we will no longer need prophecies, both because all prophecies are fulfilled at that point (or shortly thereafter), and because we will all be equivalent to Moses at that point. 

xix) Brown takes issue with Waldron's appeal to Deut 13 & 18 because those are qualified by speaking "presumptuously in God's name" or speaking in the name of other gods (as well as making false predictions).

xx) Brown claims that no one in NT times had the concept of a NT. For a refutation, cf. Michael J. Kruger, The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (IVP Academic, 2013). 

xxi) Waldron asks Brown how he thinks the early church recognized the canonicity of the NT books. What criteria were employed. 

However, this is ambiguous. Does he mean, descriptively speaking, what criteria did the early church actually employ, or does he mean, normatively speaking, what criteria should we employ? Likewise, is he asking a historical question regarding the actual historical process, or an axiological question regarding the proper criteria?

Since Protestants had to revisit this issue, Waldron is presumably concerned with the normative question rather than the historical question. 


  1. "They think charismatics begin with their experience, then read that back into their prooftexts. And I think charismatics are often guilty of that."

    Fair point.

    Of course, charismatics might turn that same allegation back upon cessationists.

    I.e., "They think cessationists begin with their experience, then read that back into their prooftexts. And I think cessationists are often guilty of that."

    1. .I.e., "They think cessationists begin with their experience, then read that back into their prooftexts. And I think cessationists are often guilty of that."

      Some charismatics do overtly claim that. That often cessationist theology is a reactionary theology of failure based on experience and that their theology is formulated to to cover up and excuse their lack of spiritual power to fully preach the gospel with accompanying signs and wonders (they would cite passages like 1 Cor. 2:4; 4:20; Rom 15:19 etc.).

  2. But are there any modern apostles who are directly commissioned by Christ? That question doesn't come up.


    (c) He also needs to define what he means by a lower-case apostle. Does a lower-case apostle have all the gifts? Does he prophesy and heal and work miracles and speak in tongues? Does Brown think there are living apostles in that sense?

    Good questions because there are, as Brown mentioned, Muslims converting to Christianity because they allegedly have seen visions and/or dreams of Christ or are visited by Christ Himself. This is a well known (almost common) phenomenon in recent years. But are they revelations of the true Christ? Some of these converts claim Christ personally commissioned them to preach the gospel and evangelize. Some of them even claim miracles in their ministries.

    Does a lower-case apostle have all the gifts?

    While this question is about lower-case apostles, I personally doubt upper-case Apostles necessarily possessed (by normal gifting) all the spiritual gifts, even if they could sometimes manifest any of the gifts as God would sovereignly grant. If the "Apostles of Christ" didn't, then the "apostles of the churches" probably didn't either.

  3. Are there any published works that try to defend that Joel's prophecy was fullfilled ("Waldron restricts Acts 2:17-18 to the Apostolate.") in only the Apostolate? That seems like a very novel/unique view.

    Waldron seemingly conceded two types of apostles in his opener. (Apostles - apostles of Christ vs apostles - apostles of the Church). It was shocking Brown did not catch that, but it may be because Brown himself is confused on the issue.

    Does Waldron's position require Agabus to be an Apostle by his tightly coupling prophecy and Apostleship?

    How does Waldron harmonize women prophecying and tightly coupling that with equal authority with Apostolic level teaching. Luke 2:36 - Assuming Waldron is not an egalitarian.

    1. "Does Waldron's position require Agabus to be an Apostle by his tightly coupling prophecy and Apostleship?"

      Oops, my thought didn't transition from my head to my phone keyboard well there. I meant to ask if the authority of Agabus was that equal to the Apostle in Waldron's view.

    2. It was also meant to lead up to asking about Philip's daughters but I cited Anna instead.... *sigh* Either will probably do for the question at hand I guess. So much for infallibility of comments. ;-)

    3. You might try asking him directly:

    4. Ah, thanks! I did not know about that.


      Thanks for the link Steve. Thought I would post this here in case anyone else was interested.

  4. I want to see the same debate with a Reformed Continuationist. The apologetic for the hermeneutic that Dr. Brown's uses to justify his soteriology is similar to the apologetic for the hermeneutic that he uses to justify his charismatic position. (I note he doesn't make a distinction between charismaticism and continuationism, at least rhetorically.) he seems to have trouble answering some of Dr. Waldron's questions because of it.