[PREFACE: and now, as a break from the controversy... a post about tongues! Bwahhh-hahaha!]
The only thing about which all Pyro readers will agree is that this is a brief book, weighing in at a mere 116 pages. The size of the book, however, attests to the author's focus and conciseness. He has a lot to say, and wastes no words in saying it.
In his introduction, first Waldron concisely sums up the issues and defines terms (p. 11):
Continuationism is the teaching that (at least some of) the miraculous gifts assumed and described in the Bible ought to continue in the church and, in fact, do continue to be given to the church. ... Cessationism is the opposite of Continuationism. It teaches that all the miraculous gifts have ceased to be given to the church today.Aside #1: I'd demur mildly. I would not say miraculous gifts, but rather revelatory and/or attesting gifts. All the Biblical gifts are "miraculous" insofar as they are direct acts of God the Holy Spirit on the soul of man (1 Corinthians 12:11). The subset of gifts under debate are defined by Scripture as revelatory and/or attestational in function (Exodus 4:15-16; 7:1-2; Hebrews 2:1-4, etc.), which also explains their designed obsolescence.
Waldron has an engaging way of dealing out substantial information winsomely and conversationally. After the definitions, he sounds the same note that I've sounded elsewhere; namely, that the leaky-Canon set wins the PR game by its very terminology.
To my Continuationist friends who read this book, let me admit that I fear you have already defeated us Cessationists in the propaganda battle. Continuationism sounds so much more bright and hopeful than the dour and sour sound of Cessationism. In a day where it is so important to be positive (Insert here a smiley-face!) and so bad to be negative (as in "Don't be so negative!"), Continuationism sounds more positive than Cessationism (p. 14).Waldron notes that this applies even to the non-committed, who like to refer to themselves as "open, but cautious"—implying that we Cessationists are closed, and reckless (ibid.).
What struck me right off about this book was that Waldron approaches the issue along exactly the same reasoning that liberated me from Charismaticism.
I had sagely noted that there was no verse in the Bible that said, "Once the Apostle John buys the farm, the following gifts will be taken off the shelf: prophecy, tongues, etc." From that I concluded that the only Biblical position could be that the gifts would all continue until Jesus returned. And of course, I held the (impossible) interpretation that Jesus was "the perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10, so that was that.
But then I realized the very fact that Waldron argues extensively, pointedly, and very effectively:
The New Testament makes clear that Apostles of Christ are not given to the church today; they lived only in the first century. We know for sure, therefore, that one gift, and that the greatest gift, has ceased to be given. This clear New Testament teaching provides a vital premise for the argument against Continuationism. Unless it wishes to contradict the plainest evidence, Continuationism cannot claim that there is no difference in the gifts given to the church today and the gifts given to the church in the first century (p. 15)Like the doctrine of the Trinity, no single verse says this in so many words. The point in each case is to take the germane teaching honestly and seriously, and see how it adds up. As Waldron shows, no one could possibly fulfill the requirements for being an apostle of Christ today (pp. 21-44). Therefore the gift that Paul ranks as the most important and supreme gift to the church (1 Corinthians 12:28) has ceased, has fulfilled its purpose and been withdrawn. This creates an a priori readiness to accept that other gifts might also be designed for a limited shelf-life, like dissolving sutures—though no single verse may say so in so many words.
So Waldron builds what he calls a "cascade" argument, where the fundamental truth of the cessation of the apostles is laid down, and other implications cascade from that fountainhead (pp. 15-16). The apostles were the chief and foundational gift, and they ceased with the first century; NT prophecy was fundamentally identical to OT prophecy, was also a foundational and Canon-creating gift, and also fulfilled its purpose in the first century; tongues are "substantially equivalent" to prophecy, and ceased with it; miracle-workers attested the giving of fresh revelation, which is no longer being given (pp. 15-16).
(Hey—sounds like one of those meta-narrative arguments that are so trendy today!)
To back up: Waldron defends the view of prophecy that all serious students would have today, were they not trying to defend a traditional understanding, and/or a pale imitation: that prophecy is defined by such passages as Exodus 4:10-17 and 7:1-2, and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22 (p. 47ff.). He demonstrates that there is no solid reason for taking New Testament gift as inferior to Old Testament phenomenon. He briefly but tellingly demolishes recent attempts to make up a sort of semi-prophetic gift so as to provide cover for the complete failure of modern "prophecy" to measure up to the Biblical reality.
Aside #2: isn't it rather remarkable to argue that the New Covenant is a better covenant—and yet that its gifts are inferior? Under the inferior, older covenant, prophecy was inerrant, or it was not prophecy. But under the better, New Covenant—without a whisper of warning or note—it's demoted to hit and miss holy guesswork. Silly, silly, silly... unless, I suppose, it's your ox whose goring you're desperate to prevent. Then, the wish is father to the theory.
Waldron shows that this gift was foundational, and formational for the canon. He argues that
The choice for Continuationists is stark. They may maintain their claims to continuing prophecy in the church, or they may have a closed canon. They may have continuing prophecy, or they may have the witness of the New Testament that the principle of canonical authority departed from the church nearly two thousand years ago (p. 78, emphases added)Waldron also discusses the Biblical gift of tongues, and agrees with Luke and Paul that it is the supernatural gift of unlearned human languages. He deals with the attempts to controvert the Biblical data, then argues that translated tongues are the functional equivalent of prophecy (pp. 88ff.). He points out that Acts 2:14-18 quotes Joel's prophecy about, well, prophecy, as applying to the outburst of tongues—which makes no sense if tongues are unrelated to prophecy (p. 89). Waldron also notes Paul's statement that "The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets" (1 Corinthians 14:5; p. 89). Paul's implication is that translated tongues are equivalent to prophecy. Waldron also points to the parallel between prophetic knowledge of mysteries in 1 Corinthians 13:2, and speaking mysteries by tongues in 14:2 (pp. 89-90).
Tongues are related to prophecy, and prophecy has ceased; therefore tongues have ceased (p. 90). This makes fact of the silence of Bible-level prophecy and tongues from the first century until our own; as a bonus, it doesn't require us to torture and mangle perfectly innocent texts to "define down" modern imitations.
The book closes with some very powerful remarks and applications from Luke 16:19-26, contrasting Scriptural sufficiency with its competitors: Roman Catholicism and Charismaticism (pp. 109-115).
Evaluation. Waldron has made a worthy, emphatically-Biblical contribution to the discussion. I could wish it were twice the size; I could also wish that the endnotes (A) had been footnotes, and (B) had been much more carefully proof-read, to weed out the numerous, largely-typographical errors. I'm also not convinced by his position on 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, but that is hardly a pivotal single consideration.
On balance, I can gladly recommend To Be Continued? as a helpful and useful voice for Biblical sufficiency in the face of the traditionalistic, leaky-Canon shoddiness that defines modern Charismaticism.
Pyro rating: 4.5 matches out of 5.