There are, of course, many positions on modern charismatic gifts in the church. In my previous post, I quoted Robert Mullin who listed four possible kinds of approaches. One of the most popular in the history of Protestantism has been cessationism, which argues that miraculous gifts were limited to the age of the apostles. However, this general approach has contained within it several strategies, rather than just one. More concretely, when the cessationist position came up against claims of contemporary miracles, as in the Roman Catholic apologists, it had at least two possible responses (though in reality, there was at least one other, which I think they overlooked): they could claim the miracles were demonically inspired, or they could question the veracity of the miracle claims.
Earlier on Protestants like Increase Mather opted for the first approach in their response to Catholics; later on, though, the latter approach gained more popularity, with writers like John Locke and Conyers Middleton arguing against the reliability of modern miracle claims. This was useful for Protestants in the dawning age of the Enlightenment, but it’s worth asking if, in retrospect, it might have been a devil’s bargain.
Robert Mullin notes the effects of this position:
The idea of a radically limited age of miracles, and the marriage of a Protestantism and the Enlightenment that it reflected rested, however, on a precarious base, namely the willingness to distinguish between the plausibility of biblical events and that of nonbiblical events. It was precisely this point that David Hume challenged in his famous discussion of miracles in his Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). As is well known, Hume’s essay has two parts. In the first he argues against miracles from probability. Because miracles were violations of a law of nature established by the “uniform experience” of humanity, he explained, no testimony is ever sufficient to establish a miracle “unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.” It is his second argument, however, that is more important for our purposes. In order to illustrate his assertion about the improbability of miracles, Hume proceeded to put the Protestant argument for a limited age of miracles on its head. He offered three postbiblical miracle stories: healings associated with the Roman emperor Vespasian, the regeneration of the leg of the doorkeeper of the cathedral of Sargossa (Spain), and healings associated with the tomb of the Jansenist Abbé Pâris in early-eighteenth-century France. Middleton had also appealed to the case of Abbé Pâris, for it was widely discussed in eighteenth-century England; but he had used it to discredit the claims of postbiblical miracles. Hume, however, argued that the “evidences and authority” of the accounts of the French miracles surpassed that of any biblical miracle. The evidence was particularly impressive because it included testimony from some Jesuit authorities who were the arch enemies of the Jansenists. Hume’s implication was clear: if the better attested postbiblical miracles were to be rejected, then the biblical ones should be jettisoned. 1
To put a point on it: is cessationism responsible for David Hume?
Here are two incredible Desiring God interviews with John Piper on his view of the charismatic gifts. Much to John MacArthur’s chagrin, Piper ain’t no cessationist. What I found especially noteworthy was Piper’s earnest desire to speak in tongues and some of the personal experiences that he’s had with prophecy.
But, I guess you’ll just have to watch both videos. They’re only 10 minutes each. Don’t be a baby.
In (2 Corinthians) 8 Paul invokes the example of Christ’s self-giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that through his poverty might become rich” (8:9). Here in chapter 9 Paul says that, if the Corinthians come through with their promised gift, people “will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity” (9:13). In any case Paul never lets Christians forget that all our giving is but a pale reflection of God’s “indescribable gift” (9:15), which of course lies at the heart of the Gospel.
So much of basic Christian ethics is tied in one way or another to the Gospel. When husbands need instruction on how to treat their wives, Paul does not introduce special marriage therapy or appeal to a mystical experience. Rather, he grounds conduct in the Gospel: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). If you are looking for maturity, beware of any “deeper life” approach that sidesteps the Gospel, for Paul writes, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6-7). Of course, there is “deeper life” in the sense that Christians are exhorted to press on toward greater conformity to Christ Jesus and not to be satisfied with their present level of obedience (e.g. Phil. 3). But none of this is an appeal to something that leaves the Gospel behind or that adds something to the Gospel.
We must avoid the view that, while the Gospel provides a sort of escape ticket from judgment and hell, all the real life-transforming power comes from something else – an esoteric doctrine, a mystical experience, a therapeutic technique, a discipleship course. That is too narrow a view of the Gospel. Worse, it ends up relativizing and marginalizing the Gospel, stripping it of its power while it directs the attention of people away from the Gospel and toward something less helpful.
This is old news but the lads at TeamPyro have taken Driscoll to task here. If you’re interested in why they’re upset watch the video. I’m a little wary getting involved with this as I don’t want to face the wrath of the Pyromaniacs in the comments section but I just can’t resist. Phil Johnson says that Driscoll makes preposterous claims? Hardly. I hope to show that TeamPyro’s arguments are seriously wanting. Hopefully some might find this helpful until someone like Dr. Sam Storms weighs in.
Let the fisking begin! My comments will be in red.
This is bad teaching. The biblical “Gift of discernment” has nothing to do with soothsaying and everything to do with maturity, clear understanding, the ability to make wise and careful distinctions, and (especially) skill in differentiating between holy and profane, clean and unclean, truth and falsehood (Ezekiel 44:23; Hebrews 5:14).
This is just proof texting. Fine. I can proof text too. If you don’t want to call it discernment let’s call it prophesying. Wayne Grudem defines prophesying as “sharing something that God spontaneously brings to mind.” This fits perfectly with what Driscoll has done. Now before we have a hissy fit about this destroying the normativity of Scripture we need to remember that the New Testament counterparts to Old Testament prophets are New Testament apostles, not New Testament prophets. Old Testament prophets spoke with absolute divine authority. To disobey a prophet’s words was to disobey God. In the New Testament Jesus refers to those who had this same function as apostles, not prophets. It must also be noted that when the apostles wanted to establish their unique authority, they never appealed to being prophets but always to being apostles (cf. Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1).
Grudem also notes that Paul probably used the word ‘apostle’ instead of ‘prophet’ to designate those who wrote with absolute authority because the word ‘prophet’ had a broad range of meaning at the time of the New Testament. Grudem says “it generally did not have the sense ‘one who speaks God’s very words’ but rather ‘one who speaks on the basis of some external influence.’” The Bible uses the word ‘prophet’ this way in Titus 1:12. We also see non-biblical writers referring to ‘prophet’ in this way, notably by Plutarch.
The counsel Driscoll gives is bad counsel. If by his own admission Driscoll’s divinations are not “a hundred percent always right,” he has no business accusing people of serious sins—including felony crimes—based on what he “sees” in his own imagination. Much less should he encourage his congregants to dream that they have such an ability and urge them to “use that gift.”
Well, since NT prophecy was never intended to be 100% accurate, Phil Johnson has no business accusing Driscoll of the serious sin of divination! Clear proof of this is found in Acts 21:4. Paul is told through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem. And what does Paul do? He disobeys! This doesn’t seem likely if Paul believed that the prophet spoke with the same infallible authority of Scripture. Do we really want to impute such gross negligence to the apostle Paul? There is no hint by Luke that Paul did anything wrong here.
Even stronger evidence is found with 1 Thess. 5:19-21 and 1 Cor. 14:29-38. In both cases Paul exhorts the church to test prophecies. In 1 Thessalonians this implies that prophecies contain some good things and some not so good things. It is inconceivable that if Paul believed NT prophecy carried the authority of God’s very words that he would encourage people to test it in the way that he did. As John Piper writes, Paul desires that the church “not take prophecy as a word of Scripture but as a Spirit-prompted word to be weighed by Scripture.”
The salacious details he recounts are totally unnecessary. They serve only to reinforce the concern some of us have raised: Why does Driscoll have such a fixation with obscene subject matter, ribald stories, and racy talk? The smutty particulars regarding a counselee’s tryst in a cheap hotel are not merely unnecessary; “it is disgraceful even to speak of [such] things” (Ephesians 5:12).
This is a very weak argument. If you want to look for ribald stories and racy talk you need to go no further than the Scriptures. Has no one read Ezekiel 16? It makes Driscoll’s story look like something from Sesame Street. Sure, Driscoll’s story is obscene, but the purpose of it was to bring someone to repentance. And in that sense Driscoll’s prophetic impression is akin to a passage like Ezekiel 16.
Doug Wilson discusses the righteousness of God’s speech in these situations: “Ezekiel rails against the adulterous idolatry of the Israelites by using sexual imagery of the most graphic sort. He uses obscenity to reveal the real obscenity of doing such things in defiance of God’s law . . . Ezekiel was more concerned about the obscenity he was exposing than the obscenity he was using . . . Phineas certainly observed a man and a woman copulating, but he was not doing so as a voyeur. His interest was ethical; he was taking aim” (Fidelity, pp. 15-16).
For that same reason (among others), these yarns aren’t even believable. The Holy Spirit’s own eyes are too pure to behold evil, and He cannot look on wickedness (Habakkuk 1:13). So why would He display pornographic visions to Mark Driscoll, whose mind and mouth are already too lewd anyway?
Ummmm …. Ezekiel 16? Rinse, wash, repeat. And by the way, that’s a silly examination of Habbakuk. Remember, the book of Habbakuk is filled with punishments meted out on Judah and the countries who were used by God to punish her. The text indicates that these punishments included grotesque pillaging caused by the sovereign hand of the Father. We’re going to need to go a little deeper than prooftexting a verse from Habbakuk.
This proves that cessationists’ concerns are not far-fetched. Reformed charismatics frequently complain that it’s unfair for cessationists not to expressly exempt themwhen we criticize the eccentricities of the wacko fringemainstream of the larger charismatic movement. But Reformed charismatics themselves aren’t careful to distance themselves from charismatic nuttiness. John Piper was openly intrigued with the Toronto Blessing when it was at its peak. (If he ever denounced it as a fraud, I never heard or read where he stated that fact publicly.) Wayne Grudem to this day endorses Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, despite the way Deere lionizes Paul Cain. Sam Storms aligned himself with the Kansas City Prophets’ cultfor almost a decade. I can’t imagine how anyone holding Grudem’s view of modern prophecy could possibly repudiate what Driscoll insists he has experienced. Does anyone really expect a thoughtful analysis or critique of Driscoll’s view of the “gift of discernment” (much less a collective repudiation of this kind of pornographic divination) from Reformed charismatics? I certainly don’t.
First of all, if John Piper was openly intrigued with the Toronto Blessing than I would certainly hope that the Reformed world would stop and listen to what he had to say. If we’ve gotten to the place where we’re openly questioning the Reformed bona fides of someone like Piper than we’re in real trouble. I’ll take John Piper over Phil Johnson any and every day of the week. And so what? Grudem endorses Deere’s book. Unlike most of the Reformed fanboys who comment on Teampyro’s blog I’ve actually read Surprised by the Voice of God. If you do read it, you will have to grapple with the eerily accurate prophecies that Paul Cain has made over the years. And in the cases that I’ve read they have all lead to God being glorified through his people being drawn back to Him. So, it’s implausible then that Satan is behind these claims. The only option must be that Cain and company are lying. But, do we really want to get ourselves to the place where we’re openly accusing someone with Sam Storms pedigree of lying?
In recent history there has been a revival among Reformed denominations of charismatic phenomena, and due to the strongly Protestant character of these traditions some sophistication has been needed in synthesizing the sola scriptura grounding of the traditions with a belief in a kind of continuing revelation. The functioning paradigm that many both popular and highly educated Reformed charismatics (in the latter category, Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson, along with Sam Storms and John Piper) have adopted is that there are two kinds of revelation: one of the ultimately authoritative, scriptural kind, and another of less authority, which was functioning in the manner described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and elsewhere in the NT. (more…)