Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief

Bring my cloak

I was shocked by Waldron’s answer to Brown’s question, “Can you point to any text of the New Testament where we’re told to stop prophesying?” He replied honestly something like, “I don’t need to. Because we don’t only base doctrine on the explicit teaching of Scripture, but on reasonable deductions from Scripture.” I feel once we get to pick and chose which bits of the New Testament we are going to obey, we have undermined fatally the Sufficiency of Scripture.

Although I disagree with Waldron's overall position (just as I disagree with Brown's overall position), this is a ludicrous distortion of Waldron's position. Instead of relying on Warnock's paraphrased snippet, let's begin by giving a verbatim quote of the question and answer. I realize it's tedious to manually transcribe an oral debate, and it's possible that my own transcription isn't word-perfect, but since Warnock is commenting on just one answer, it isn't asking too much to write out the question and answer in full. Here's what I heard:

Brown: Could you just give me one explicit NT verse that says stop prophesying. We have verses that say seek prophecy, don't put out the Spirit's fire, don't forbid speaking in tongues. Those are explicit commands. Can you give me one explicit verse that says stop doing this, this is now reversed. 
Waldron: And my answer is I don't need to because I don't believe that we base all of doctrine on the explicit testimony of Scripture. The Westminster Confession says that we may base genuine doctrine on good and necessary consequence inferred from Scripture. And I infer that the commands of 1 Cor 14:1 assume the existence of prophecy, and when that prophecy faded out, as those who had been given it passed away, and as the canon was closed, that since the canonical character of prophesy is clear, that therefore the commands of 1 Cor 14:1, like many other commands of the NT and of OT, have now become, not false, but passé, because the situation they were given in light of has passed away.

Compare that to Warnock's interpretation. 

i) Waldron doesn't think the NT teaches the explicit continuation of prophecy. So it's not like he's opposing inferences to explicit NT teaching in that respect.

ii) Since he thinks the NT implicitly teaches the cessation of prophecy at the death of the apostles, he thinks the corresponding commands became moot. 

Now, one may disagree with the inferences he draws, but he's not "picking and choosing" which bits of the NT to obey. And his theological method in no way undermines–much less fatally undermines, the sufficiency of Scripture. 

Consider this NT command. Indeed, Pauline command:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments (2 Tim 4:13). 
Does Warnock obey that command? Is his guilty of picking and choosing which bits of the NT to obey if he fails to obey that particular command? Has he fatally undermined the sufficiency of Scripture by his noncompliance? 
Of course not. He couldn't obey that command even if he tried to. It's a topical, timebound command that's been rendered obsolete by the passage of time. The situation that occasioned that command has come and gone. It's impossible for a modern-day Christian to obey that command. And it was never a universal command in the first place. Never a command to the church, but to a single individual. 
Now, admittedly, that's quite different from 1 Cor 14:1, but the contrast is deliberate. There's nothing inherently wrong with Waldron's position. He may still be wrong, but not in principle. Not in terms of how he framed his answer. Waldron doesn't think it's even possible for a contemporary Christian to obey that command. 

These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me

Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.” To a Reformational Catholic, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s a billion-member Church of Jesus Christ centered in Rome. Because it regards the Roman Catholic Church as barely Christian, Protestantism leaves Roman Catholicism to its own devices. “They” had a pedophilia scandal, and “they” have a controversial pope. A Reformational Catholic recognizes that turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is turmoil in his own family.

So does Leithart think the pope is his pope? Some people formally convert to Roman Catholicism, but Leithart illustrates the fact you can cross the Tiber in your heart. In his heart, he's already a child of Rome. So what's he still doing in the PCA? 

Dreaming of Jesus

Lately I've been running across references to dreams and visions that Muslims allegedly have of Jesus. Since I haven't read these accounts, I don't have an informed opinion on the particulars. But I will make a general observation.

In the case of someone who's already a born-again Christian, he's prepared to pay the cost of discipleship. He knows the promises of eschatological reward are true, as well as threats of eschatological punishment for apostasy. He knows the tradeoffs between winning in this life and losing in the next, or losing in this life and winning in the next.

But a Muslim in a Muslim country faces a dilemma. Because the social sanctions for conversion are so terrifying, there's an overwhelming disincentive to putting himself in such a risky position before he knows if it's true. He's got too much to lose if it's not. So he cannot or will not count the cost in advance. 

As such, there's almost no natural prospect that a Muslim in a Muslim country will expose himself to the Gospel or give it a fair hearing. He avoids putting himself in a position where he'd have to make that momentous choice. If he knew in advance what he had to gain or lose, that would be worth it. But, in a sense, that's too late. That's foreseeing the outcome of something contingent on doing it. But you can't know the result unless you do it. If he knew it was true, that would steel his heart against the hardships which lie ahead. But that's the effect of conversion. 

It's so hard to get over that initial psychological hurdle. As long as they are Muslims, they are not prepared to find out where the truth lies, for the prospects of conversion are too forbidding from their Muslim viewpoint. If they could see over the hill, that would be different, but that's not something they can normally glimpse in advance. If you know what lies ahead, you can afford to burn your bridges, but you can't arrive at the destination before you start the journey. You can't know what you will discover until you leave something behind and take the the first few steps. For a Muslim in a Muslim country, the dire consequences of conversion are more real to him than Christian rewards. For at that preconversion stage, the Christian rewards are hypothetical. It's not something he knows in his heart. 

And isn't that a primary reason the Gospel never caught on in Judaism? Consider what it took to convert St. Paul. Paul was in a similar situation to many Muslims. 

So I can imagine God giving Muslims whom he intends to save a jump-start. Something extra to overcome their paralyzing fears and oppressive social conditioning. The way God prepared Cornelius for the Gospel. Pre-evangelism. 

"The End of Protestantism"

I'm going to comment on this post:

When I studied at Cambridge, I discovered that English Evangelicals define themselves over against the Church of England. Whatever the C of E is, they ain’t.

Since most English Evangelicals are Evangelical Anglicans, his statement is demonstrably false.

What I’m calling “Protestantism” does the same with Roman Catholicism. Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can.

That wasn't even true of the Protestant Reformers, who were ex-Catholics. They had a positive identity. They defined themselves in reference to the faith of the Old and New Testaments. And, with due qualifications, they identified with certain church fathers. 

Leithart's statement is even more inaccurate this far down the pike. Protestant theology has continued to develop internally. It's focus on Scripture has meant continuous engagement and reengagement with the text of Scripture. To pick some names at random, it's preposterous to say Tom Schreiner, Darrell Bock, Bruce Waltke, Desi Alexander, Jim Hamilton, Daniel Block, D. A. Carson, John Currid, Gregory Beale, Frank Thielman, Peter O'Brien, J. A. Motyer, and O. Palmer Robertson are defined by their opposition to Roman Catholicism.  

A Protestant exaggerates his distance from Roman Catholicism on every point of theology and practice, and is skeptical of Roman Catholics who say that they believe in salvation by grace. 

That's because, when Roman Catholics say they are saved by grace, we read the fine print. The riders.  

A Protestant believes (old-fashioned) Roman Catholic claims about its changeless stability. A Reformational Catholic knows that the Roman Catholicism has changed and is changing.

Which doesn't mean it's changing for the better.

Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. 

For good reason. 

A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.”

Leithard is unwittingly giving us reasons not to be Reformational Catholics. 

 To a Reformational Catholic, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s a billion-member Church of Jesus Christ centered in Rome. 

Which says everything about Leithart's values, and nothing about the church of Rome. 

Because it regards the Roman Catholic Church as barely Christian, Protestantism leaves Roman Catholicism to its own devices. “They” had a pedophilia scandal, and “they” have a controversial pope. A Reformational Catholic recognizes that turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is turmoil in his own family.

First of all, why the past tense. They had a pedophilia scandal? That's not a thing of the past.

They have it, in part due to their policy of mandatory priestly celibacy, and in part due to a permissive theology that's all about unconditional forgiveness. 

That's not a case of turmoil in the Protestant family unless your denomination has the same theology and/or policy. 

A Protestant views the Church as an instrument for individual salvation. A Reformational Catholic believes salvation is inherently social.

Societies aren't justified by faith. Individuals are. Societies aren't redeemed by the penal substitution of Christ. Individuals are. Societies don't go to heaven or hell when they pass away. Individuals do. 

A Protestant’s heroes are Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their heirs.

To the extent that I have a "hero," that would be Jesus. 

 If he acknowledges any ancestry before the Reformation, they are proto-Protestants like Hus and Wycliffe. A Reformational Catholic gratefully receives the history of the entire Church as his history, and, along with the Reformers, he honors Augustine and Gregory the Great and the Cappadocians, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus, Thomas and Bonaventure, Dominic and Francis and Dante, Ignatius and Teresa of Avila, Chesterton, de Lubac and Congar as fathers, brothers, and sisters. A Reformational Catholic knows some of his ancestors were deeply flawed but won’t delete them from the family tree. He knows every family has its embarrassments.

Ignatius Loyola was the spearhead of the Counter-Reformation. He was militantly anti-Protestant. 

Protestants are suspicious of a public, “Constantinian” church. 

That's a matter of definition.

A Protestant mocks patristic and medieval biblical interpretation and finds safety in grammatical-historical exegesis.

Modern Catholic Bible scholars like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, John Meier, John Collins, Luke Timothy Johnson are scarcely any different.    

A Reformational Catholic revels in the riches, even while he puzzles over the oddities, of Augustine and Origen, Bernard and Bede. He knows there are unplumbed depths in Scripture, never dreamt of by Luther and Calvin.

When you adopt the hermeneutics of Origin, Augustine, and Bernard, et al., you're not plumbing the depths of Scripture. At best, your plumbing the depths of Origin, Augustine, and Bernard. What they project onto Scripture. You're exploring their minds rather than the minds of the Bible writers. 

When Leithard turns to the fanciful, allegorical expositions of Origin or Bernard to discover the depths of Scripture, he's inadvertently disclosing that he thinks Scripture is shallow. It has to be supplemented by pious nonsense. 

In addition, life is short. If you spread yourself as thin as Leithard, something has to give. The more time you spend on Bernard or Teresa of Avila, the less time you have for Scripture, or a serious commentary on Scripture. And by looking for direction from the wrong guides, he is missing out on the truly unplumbed deaths of Scripture.

A Protestant wears a jacket and tie, or a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, to lead worship; a Reformational Catholic is vested in cassock and stole. 

Did Jesus wear a cassock and stole at the Last Supper? Or did he wear his ordinary work clothes? 

To a Protestant, a sacrament is an aid to memory. 

Sounds good to me. 

A Reformational Catholic believes that Jesus baptizes and gives himself as food to the faithful, and doesn’t avoid speaking of “Eucharist” or “Mass” just because Roman Catholics use those words.

I don't avoid the word Eucharist. However, the "Mass" is a brand name. No point calling a communion service a "Mass" unless you espouse the theology of the Mass. 

Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.

Well, Jesus warned us to be very particular about our spiritual genealogy:

29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers (Mt 23:29-32).

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. 

Andrew Lincoln's Book Against The Virgin Birth

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Flexibility Of The Terminology
Part 3: The New Testament
Part 4: Extrabiblical Christian Sources
Part 5: Extrabiblical Non-Christian Sources
Part 6: The Evidence For The Virgin Birth

More About Andrew Lincoln's Book On The Virgin Birth

Friday, November 08, 2013

Brown v. Waldron

I'm going to venture some off-the-cuff comments on the debate between Sam Waldron and Michael Brown. It's difficult to comment on a 90 minute oral debate. I'll simply remark on things that stand out in my recollection. 

i) There's a difference in theological method. Brown demands explicit revocations, whereas Waldron operates more like a systematic theologian. Waldron's basic methodology is sounder and more sophisticated. 

On the other hand, he's open to the charge of arbitrarily segregating some gifts from other gifts in 1 Cor 12-14 and Eph 2. 

ii) The eschatological interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-10 is the most plausible. That's a problem for Waldron's position. Of course, you still have to define Pauline prophecy and tongues. 

iii) Waldron's attempt to restrict Acts 2:17-18 to the Apostolate is exegetically hopeless. The promise is demographically universal. And that stands in studied contrast to the OT status quo ante. In addition, the promise is diachronic (v39). For the duration of the church age (the "last days").

Moreover, Acts 2:17-18 is a programmatic statement which is illustrated by subsequent events in the Book of Acts.

iv) Brown is correct to say that Jn 14:12 can't be restricted to the Apostolate. However, that admission creates a potential problem for Brown. Does every Christian perform greater works that Jesus? Does any Christian perform greater works than Jesus? Not even greater. How many Christians perform works equal to Jesus? 

J. Ramsey Michaels thinks the contrast is not between Christ and Christians, but between what Jesus could do up until then, and what the Ascended Christ will do (through others). That makes more sense, both exegetically and historically. 

v) Waldron's cascade argument proves too much. Problem is, if the cessation of the greater entails the cessation of the lesser, then that wouldn't be confined to the cessation of miraculous gifts, but the cessation of all spiritual gifts. 

vi) Waldron employs Pauline usage as an interpretive grid for Luke. But that's dubious. Paul speaks of the gifts of the Spirit whereas Luke speaks of the gift of the Spirit. In Acts, every Christian receives the gift of the Spirit. And the gifts of the Spirit are latent in the gift of the Spirit.

vii) Waldron tries to tightly correlate miracles with Apostles, but that doesn't quite match up with the NT. On the one hand, miracles aren't attributed to all apostles. On the other hand, all miracles aren't attributed to apostles. 

viii) Waldron tries to tightly correlate NT writers with Apostles, but that doesn't quite match up with the NT. On the one hand, not all NT writers are apostles. On the other hand, not all apostles are NT writers.

ix) Moreover, there's no reason to assume that James and Jude are canonical because the authors were connected to the apostles. Rather, the authors were stepbrothers of Jesus. The connection is with Jesus rather than the apostles. 

ix) Waldron uses Deut 13 & 18 as a benchmark. However, it's unclear why even every OT writer (much less NT writer) should be classified as prophetic under that rubric. For instance:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass (Deut 13:1).
But many OT writers don't fit that profile. Not all OT writers are seers. Not all perform miracles. Not all make predictions. 
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him...22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:18-19,22).
But not all OT books consist of God speaking to the writer. Not all books contain divine predictions. Some are historical narratives. Others record images rather than speech. Some contain laws, poems, proverbs, &c. 
It's reductionistic for Waldron to define prophecy that narrowly.
x) Waldron poses a good question. Why is the canon closed? His answer is, the canon is closed because the apostles died. 
There's something to be said for that, but taken by itself, it's a weak principle:
a) At best, it only furnishes de facto closure rather than a de jure closure. 
b) It only pushes the question back a step. If NT scripture ceased because apostles ceased, then why did apostles cease? Why did God cease giving apostles? 
xi) If we retroengineer the NT canon, one feature which stands out is the fact that every NT author either knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus. So that suggests the NT terminated because the NT is a historical witness to the historical Christ. The NT writers are confined to folks who either knew Jesus personally or were at one step removed from Jesus. 
Either firsthand or secondhand testimony. No thirdhand testimony. So you have a historical chain of custody which is confined to one or two links. Eyewitnesses woo link the reader to Jesus. Or confidants of eyewitnesses; they link the reader to eyewitnesses, who in turn link the reader to Jesus. Once that generation dies out, the pool dries up. 
That's assuming the traditional dating and authorship of the NT books. And I think that's eminently defensible.
xii) Waldron's argument for the sign-gifts is contradictory. On the one hand, he contends that the purpose of miracles was to verify an apostle or prophet. On the other hand, he classifies prophecy as one of the miraculous sign-gifts.
If, however, prophecy itself is miraculous, then prophecy is miraculously self-attesting. A prophet doesn't need miraculous attestation over and above his prophecies, given that his prophecies are miraculous sign-gifts in their own right (according to cessationists like Waldron). 
xiii) Brown makes an interesting claim about a difference in the authority between OT and NT prophets. He says that because OT Jews in general didn't have the gift of the Spirit, they were not in the same position as Christians to judge prophetic claims or claimants. They didn't have that particular qualification (i.e. the gift of the Spirit). They lacked that spiritual discernment. 
What he says about the distribution of the gift of the Spirit is true.  However, you have both true and false prophets in OT times. So ordinary Jews had to "test" prophetic claimants even in OT times. And the OT lays down some criteria. So even though there's an element of truth to Brown's statement, I don't think it really distinguishes the authority of OT prophecy from the authority (or not) of NT prophecy.
xiv) If a Christian has a revelatory dream, should we classify that under the "gift of prophecy"? In what sense is that a gift? A dreamer is the passive recipient of the dream. He didn't will himself to have a revelatory dream. He doesn't control the process. Whether or not he has a revelatory dream is out of his hands. 
xv) Is prophecy infallible? Authoritative? Depends on what phenomena we classify as prophecy. Let's take the case of premonitions. In his autobiography, John Ruskin relates the dream of a relative. 
Before her illness took its fatal form, before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself – my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone's interpretation; – that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having had no care after her mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might go to them.  
John Ruskin, Praeterita: And, Dilecta (Borzoi Book, 2005), 63.

Seems to me that's consistent with Acts 2:17-18. But is that authoritative? In what sense? It's not a command.
Moreover, it has no bearing on Christians in general. At most, it's a prevision about the impending death of three of Ruskin's relatives. That doesn't impose any sort of obligation on the rest of us. It's not even relevant to the rest of us. His relatives aren't my relatives. 
It addition, it's not a speech, but a scene. His aunt saw something in her dream. No one spoke to her.
Furthermore, it's allegorical. The river represents death. One bank represents life while the other bank represents the afterlife. The sequence in which the characters cross the river represents the order of their impending death. 
Is that "infallible"? Well, if it came true, then it was true. It happened. However, it wasn't a propositional truth. It's metaphorically true. 
Assuming it was a revelatory dream, this doesn't entail that his aunt had an infallible recollection of the dream. Or that she was speaking under verbal inspiration when she shared her dream. The only supernatural element would be the dream itself. Beyond that, she relies on her fallible memory of the dream, which she relates in her own words. Fallible words. Likewise, the interpretation is fallible.
Let's take another kind of example:
He also mentioned  the sermon at Exeter Hall, in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said, "Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer." At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room, which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, "It's the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won't expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief'."  
The ‎H.J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (American Baptist Publication Society 1878), 3:88-89. 

Seems to me that dovetails with 1 Cor 14:24-25. But is it infallible? Authoritative?
If you were the thief, it's not a question of taking Spurgeon's word for it. You know for yourself if it's true or false. So this isn't a matter of trusting the speaker or submitting to his authority. 
Likewise, these aren't "words from God." Spurgeon is using his own words. It reflects inspired insight or hindsight (rather than foresight). Extrasensory knowledge. But it's not a "word from the Lord." And it's not a divine command. Rather, it's a revelation about something in the thief's recent past. 
BTW, does this have to be a "gift of prophecy." Suppose it was a one-time event. It would still be revelatory. 
xvi) Let's compare this to some cases of canonical visionary revelation.
Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar have revelatory dreams. Joseph and Daniel interpret their dreams. In this case, both the dream and the interpretation are inspired.
Ezekiel has visions. And he records these for posterity. But the vision and the account are inspired. 
Some of his visions include auditions. God can speak to the seer in a vision. Or there can be an angelic speaker who functions as a tour-guide an interpreter.
In this case, the visions contain inspired words as well as inspired images. They may contain divine commands.

Here's my follow-up post:

Meyer contra Marshall 5

"The Letter that Science Refused to Publish"

Andrew Lincoln's Book Against The Virgin Birth (Part 6)

(Go to the following links for previous parts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.)

Lincoln often compares the gospels to ancient accounts of pagan gods, emperors, and other figures whose lives are commonly thought to have been recorded unreliably (in part or in whole). The frequent paralleling of the gospels with such accounts is accompanied by a lack of discussion of the most significant evidence that distinguishes the gospels from those other sources. Lincoln sometimes makes comments such as:

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Have the charismata ceased?

I listened to the debate between Sam Waldron and Michael Brown on the charismata. Unless someone produces a transcript, I don't intend to offer a detailed commentary. 

There are different kinds of debates. In some debates, the event is scheduled weeks or months in advance. In some cases, both debaters use the lead-time to carefully prep for the debate by boning up on their opponent's positions and supporting arguments. In other cases, only one of the debaters takes advantage of the lead-time. That usually turns out badly for his unprepared opponent, who thought he could wing it.

In this case, the debate was arranged so recently that I doubt either Brown or Waldron had much time, if any, to study in each other's specific positions and supporting arguments. So both of then opened with their standard arguments. They didn't know what to expect from each other in anticipation of the rebuttals and cross-examinations. That made the debate less predictable.

Dan Phillips was worried about whether Waldron could hold his own against Brown. I think Brown was a somewhat better debater. Quicker on his feet.

I don't know if Waldron is a practiced debater. He does, however, have a practiced position (his cascade argument). So I think the contenders were more evenly matched that some had feared.

To the extent that one lost and the other won, I think that had less to do with the ability of the respective debater and more to do with the hand he dealt himself. Is one position harder to argue for than another? 

In general, I think cessationists will say Waldron won while charismatics will say Brown won. Who won or lost is frequently a reflection of where your sympathies lie. Usually, one debater has to bomb before supporters of his position concede that he blew it. Because both men turned in strong performances tonight, that won't happen. 

Within the inherent limitations of a 90 minute debate on a complex issue, I think it was a usefull exposition of the rival positions by two fairly skilled exponents. 

When I hear a debate like this, I mentally compare and contrast it to some of my own arguments and formulations. So I judge it, not merely by how they respond to each other, but in relation to me, the listener.

BTW, I believe Evan May had a hand in arranging the debate.