Sunday, April 13, 2014

Raising the dead

One popular cessationist argument is that modern "faith-healers" don't perform the kinds of miracles we see in the NT. If they really had the gift of healing, they could raise the dead. We'd expect them to do so on a regular basis. And they'd become famous for raising the dead. 

Now, it may well be the case that many or most faith-healers are frauds. But this objection cuts both ways. 

Problem with this argument is that it undercuts apostolic miracles. In the NT, there's only one clear-cut example of an apostle raising the dead (the case of Peter raising Dorcus). Paul reviving Euthychus might be another instance, although that's more ambiguous.

There's no record of most of the apostles raising the dead. And even in the case of Peter, he only did that once. 

Now, a cessationist might counter that the NT record is selective. But in this context, that's a problematic defense. For one thing, we'd expect a selective account to selectively include the most impressive miracles. If you're going to be selective, that's what you select for.  

Moreover, if we postulate that all the apostles regularly raised the dead, even though that went unreported, a continuationist could invoke the same defense where church history is silent. You could do it, but not be famous for it. 

Perhaps a cessationist would contend that the apostles were able, but unwilling, to raise the dead on a regular basis. But is that plausible?

To begin with, if the apostles could raise the dead at will, there'd be a tremendous demand for that service. Why would they be willing heal the sick, but be unwilling to raise the dead?

Indeed, the death of Christians precipitated a theological crisis (1 Thes 4:13ff.; cf. 1 Cor 15:6). That could be solved by raising the dead. 

If, moreover, few decedents were revived because the apostles were able, but unwilling, to restore them to life, then a faith-healer could resort to the same excuse.  


  1. I follow the logic of this particular post.

    But in general, for a blog to dedicate itself to apologetics, and yet not smash the prosperity gospel regularly is irresponsible. I live within earshot of constant "crusades" shouting out promises that givers will get amazing earthly wealth. This message is consistently and necessarily upheld by charismatic theology.

    The most vulnerable in the world are those living in poor villages like ours (Makhongele, South Africa about an hour from Zimbabwe). These charlatans know nothing of Sam Storm's attempts at careful exegesis, but they use his conclusions to aid and abet the damnation of the majority "Christian" population.

    Where are the public rebukes for these children of Satan? No, more so, where is the undiluted, imprecatory-Psalm, temple-cleansing anger? The great majority of Africans below the Sahara who call themselves Christian are deceived.

    We cessationists would have a far smaller problem with the continuationists, if there were some genuine prophets among them who publicly, repeatedly, and angrily denounced heresy.

    You've got a platform, and you're clever, Steve: take a swing at the world's most common doctrine of devils.

    1. i) How often are we required to disprove the same mistake?

      ii) Apropos (i), there are basically two ways to disprove the prosperity gospel One way is exegetical. Take Gordon Fee's classic The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels? Didn't that cover the bases? Is the prosperity gospel a subtle heresy that requires hundreds of pages of patient analysis to untanble? Has it evolved significantly since Fee's 1985 classic? Do we need to keep reinventing the wheel?

      iii) The other way to disprove the prosperity gospel is to practice it. Of course, I'm not recommending that method. My point is simply that, at a pragmatic level, name-it-and-claim is self-refuting. You can name it and claim it all day long, but you will quickly discover that God is not a vending machine.

      iv) People who hang on every word of Benny Hinn, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes et al. aren't going to listen to reason. Working-class fans who dig into their pockets so that Creflo Dollar can dress like the CEO of Goldman Sachs are willing dupes.

      v) You can't protect some people against their inveterate folly. To begin with, you have people who disdain reason and argument. That's too abstract. Nothing is real to them unless they personally experience it.
      By the same token, they can never learn from someone else's sorry experience. They have to repeat the same mistakes their parents made before the lightbulb goes on. Unless it happens to them, it isn't real. They go through life learning the hard way. Everything is new to them. They act like they're the first person who ever lived.

      Likewise, you have people who can't spot a con artist when they see one. They are incorrigibly gullible.
      The problem isn't confined to charlatans. The problem is with credulous followers who allow themselves to be suckered by charlatans. I'm sorry that people voted for Obama. He played them for chumps. But I'm not responsible for their folly. And, unfortunately, there's not much I can do about it.

    2. How is the prosperity gospel "necessarily upheld by charismatic theology"?

      You don't even have to be charismatic to be a prosperity preacher. Take the old Baptist minister Russell Conwell and his "Acres of Diamonds" stump speech.

    3. In response to your points above:
      1. As often as it resurfaces and in direct proportion to its popularity. Thus, there is a lot of ongoing discussion about Catholicism with no one saying, "Hey, Luther nailed this issue long ago. Just ignore them now."
      2. Fee wrote a 45 page booklet that does not document the extreme statements of deification, positive confession, and anti-intellectualism rife in the prosperity movement. Charismatic Chaos does a far better job with useful examples.
      3. You can say that, but how often do you minister to those ensnared in this cult? I agree that your third point should work. But it doesn't.
      4. True. But then neither will Dawkins or Catholic Answers or Saul of Tarsus.
      5. True. Unless God blesses the proclamation of His Word (and all the good and necessary consequences derived from it).

      To your second reply: I have lived in Makhongele village for two months shy of 10 years. Our ministry is entirely in 1-3 of the African languages (Tsonga, Venda, and Shona) that are common in our area. There are scores of churches in the poor villages that dot these provinces. I have interviewed dozens of pastors in their languages, and overwhelmingly, they think that the ongoing presence of miracles means that they can get jobs, money, health, conception, "breakthroughs," etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The Africans of Mozambique (where I have stayed for only a few weeks), Zimbabwe, and South Africa intuitively connect modern miracles with prosperity theology. Miracle crusades are more common here than questionable practices in the Obama administration.

      Mbewe is right. The poor villages of the world use charismatic miracles to support prosperity.

      Maybe you can prove that other prosperity preachers have not been charismatic. I'm saying that you can't find one here that isn't. And furthermore, they cling tenaciously to miracles as the very means that amazing wealth will come to them.

      Just Tuesday, I had another lengthy conversation with a man who had gone through several months of pastoral training where he addressed the entire class to say in Tsonga, "You all [pastoral candidates] know that we have never heard anything like this before [a simple exposition of Romans 1-8], and it is not in our churches." A few weeks later, when we started talking about prosperity theology, he quit the class.

      I asked Tuesday why he quit: Wasn't he hearing the gospel for the first time? Yes, he admitted, but he had to believe in modern miracles in order to support prosperity. He would rather take continuationism than the Five Solas. That is modern African Christianity.

      Attack that with all the resources you have providentially been given, brother!