21 May 2009

Misusing God's immutability as a continuationist dodge (NEXT! #13)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: The Bible says God doesn't change, so we should expect Him to [give revelation, semi-revelation, revelatory/attesting sign-gifts, do exactly as He did in the days of ____, etc.].

Response: Yeah.... Oh and say, can I have a bite of that ham sandwich? Cool shirt, by the way. And hey... where's your lamb? Well, see you in church Sunday, when you draw near to God to bring your spiritual offerings directly to Him through Christ, wherever you decide to worship.

(Proverbs 21:22)

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

BTW, this might also be useful in responding to some of the Blackabys' wretchedly muddled teaching.

Frank Turk said...


That's going to leave a mark.

lee n. field said...


As I'm sure you're aware, there are folks out there that advocate Sabbath observance and the keeping of the Torah.

None of those I've interacted with strike me as terribly orthodox. Make that remotely orthodox.

DJP said...

TurkThat's going to leave a mark.

And in six words, you have isolated my post strategy, my blogging strategy, and my life strategy... if only one is permitted to add "for the glory of God and the blessing of His people."


stratagem said...

Well it's not nearly as snappy as some of yours, to be honest. I'll have to follow the links to fully "get it" on some of the points, when I get time. But I'm sure once I do, it will be worth it.

deekdubberly said...

Love your "NEXT" stuff. Never commented before, but read them every time. Figured us was time to reveal my patronage. Really liked #'s 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, and 13. Thanks!

DJP said...

I appreciate that; thank you.

(What I take from it is: the less I write, the more people like it.)


Merlin said...

I have had a close encounter with a group that advocates the keeping of the Torah and Sabbath observance. I have challenged them frequently on the issues of where they draw the line as to which laws to obey. Leviticus is an absolute mess for them. It is almost comical to watch this attempt. I wonder how they deal with the end of animal sacrifice in historic, ethnic Israel. I'm not aware of the Torah dealing with this issue. But I am going to check the tags on my friend's shirt next time I see him.

Tim Bertolet said...

Another example is: "Oh yeah, and Jesus was God incarnate from all eternity past".

I recognize God's nature doesn't change, "Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever". But his relationship to his people by way of covenants does change. The OT looked forward to Christ incarnate, we look back. There is a definitive point that Christ became incarnate and so the way God related in redemptive history changes from anticipation to fulfillment. But in the same way, as Christ's role in relating changes [incarnation plus its two stage, first stage humiliation second stage exaltation] so also the Spirit's role can change: first inspiring prophets and giving new revelation, now not doing that. God may not change but the flow of redemptive history certainly does.

Ok, once you have to explain it, maybe it doesn't leave quite the mark... but its true nonetheless.

Gary said...

"I have challenged them frequently on the issues of where they draw the line as to which laws to obey."

Read Ezek 20:25 to them and watch them squirm...

Solameanie said...

Incoming tent spike. . . . .

Aric said...

As a recovering Charismatic continually wrestle with this topic (accidental pun), I have enjoyed the NEXT!'s dealing with the cease/continue issue. Thanks.

DJP said...


(But not all do!)


Anonymous said...

Sorry Dan...it doesn't work. Every example you gave demonstrates a difference between the new covenant & the old. Considering that one of the demonstrations of the new covenant was given at *Pentecost*, we can expect charismatic gifts to continue.

I love teampyro, by the way. I don't always agree with you guys, but you always give me a lot to think about & I most often come away edified & challenged. God bless you guys!

DJP said...

Oh... so the same God did things differently, and had different expectations, at different times, but remains the same?


It works.

Anonymous said...

So when you find that example of God changing the way He acts inside of a particular covenant (or dispensation, depending on your theology), you let me know. :)

It doesn't work, but I sure appreciate your stuff.

DJP said...

As i think I mentioned, it works fine.

I'd like to try to help you, though. Perhaps you don't understand the intent? Each post in the Next! series is, as a rule, tightly focused. What do you think the objective of this post is?

Rick Frueh said...

So when you find that example of God changing the way He acts inside of a particular covenant you let me know.

God reserves the right to operate differently within any covenant. I haven't seen him strike a king/president with leprosy recently, and shadows don't normally heal today. Handkerchiefs are now used differently as well.

I guess we will have to allow God some wiggle room. :)

Doug Hibbard said...

I shall think on these things, as I eat a bacon cheeseburger at a church picnic Sunday night, while wearing a poly-cotton blend shirt.

And, no, I will not be making a burnt offering. Just well-done one.

We should expect God to be the same. It's not the same as expecting God to do the same.

Jugulum said...


Dan's responding to the argument that "God doesn't change, so we should expect him to continue ____". You're agreeing with Dan--"God doesn't change, but sometimes he does change the way he interacts with us."

This "NEXT" isn't supposed to demonstrate anything other than the silliness of the "God doesn't change!" argument.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand the point of this series (which I've greatly enjoyed, by the way). From what I understand, it's a pithy (yet theologically accurate) response to common objections. Kind of an apologetics pocket-knife sort of thing. You may not have time for a fuller answer, but just enough for a quick answer to make the point.

In this response, you make the point that God *did* indeed change. My contention is that your comparing apples & oranges. (But considering I have a charismatic bent, I guess I've got a bit more invested in this posting than in other ones in the past...so maybe I'm going deeper in it than your intent.)

Anonymous said...

whoops... "your" = "you're"

Be careful of answering the phone in the middle of a blog posting.

Jugulum said...

"So when you find that example of God changing the way He acts inside of a particular covenant (or dispensation, depending on your theology), you let me know. :)"

To answer your question--even though it's actually off-topic, because you misunderstood the point of the post--you should look at the previous "NEXT" on continuation.

God was adding new Scriptures during the New Covenant, then he stopped. He related to the Body of Christ through living apostolic authority, and now he doesn't.

DJP said...

Thanks, truly, but no. My point really isn't that God does change. God does not change. If it changes, it isn't God; if it's God, it doesn't change.

The Squirrel said...

I used something similar with the same "God never changes" argument from some SDA's. I said, "So, when're you going to sacrifice your next lamb?"

This really is a great apologetics series, Dan. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Dan -
Sorry...I should have realized my error when I typed that. (And thanks for pointing it out.)

God does not change. Ever. For all time.

But your argument was that the immutability of God does not apply to charismatic thinking. To which I still disagree in the application...but before I comment any further, I'm going to get more coffee. It's apparently dangerous for me to type without it.

Blessings to you guys!

Jugulum said...


I said this a few minutes ago:

"Dan's responding to the argument that "God doesn't change, so we should expect him to continue ____". You're agreeing with Dan--"God doesn't change, but sometimes he does change the way he interacts with us."

I'd like to add: The point of these pithy NEXT's is not to prove Dan's overall conclusions. A major point is to redirect the argument to where it should really be.

You're bringing up an entirely reasonable question. The next question to talk about, after the Challenge. You're asking, "Sure, God sometimes changes the way he interacts with us, but when does he do so? Is it only when a covenant changes?"

Your version of the Challenge would be, "God doesn't seem to change the way he interacts with us except in changes of covenant/dispensation, so we should expect him to..."

And that's a different argument.

DJP said...

Thank you, Tim, and you too.

But you still haven't answered my question, and I think it's the crux of your misunderstanding: what was the very specific focus of this post?

(Hint: the mercurial Jugulum well-nigh nailed it.)

Jugulum said...


Hmm. I'll choose to interpret that as "having the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness". :)

DJP said...

J and I tied, in the last comment; I was referring to his previous comment.

And J is right again in his 7:32 comment. His reworded challenge is different from the one I'm addressing. Also, it is a form I have virtually never heard, though I have heard the one I am addressing literally countless times. For instance, it is indeed the very "argument" the Blackabys make. "Nothing says that anything will change, so we should expect things to be exactly the same" — then they go on to make up intricate ways of dealing with the fact that, as they know perfectly well, things are not exactly the same.

Anonymous said...

Good argument. Not knock-down against the continuationist case of course but is a good way of ruling that argument out.

Ignore this if you like, it is heading off topic, but doesn't Eph 4 say that it is the ascended Christ who gives gifts to the church? Wouldn't that imply some discontinuity between pre-ascension prophets etc and post-ascension gifts?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dan, you're wrong.

I cut the grass yesterday and I'm sure I'm not the same guy now that I'm typing as I was while cutting the grass.

I've changed and the silent mower in the shed proves it.

It doesn't? Well what if I move into a condo and never cut grass again. Would that work?

I figure if it works for God, it must work for me.

Great post BTW, love this series.

Anonymous said...

God does not change, but He is not static (in the sense that my car doesn't change, but it does change speeds, moves in its location, or operates in different roles depending on whether it's hauling groceries home or ferrying us for a day at the beach). Yeah, crummy metaphor, but it illustrates the concept. A little.

He does not change, but His revelation of Himself to us through the course of history is progressive - just as a child is taught things in a basic way in the second grade, and then is taught in a more developed way in the eighth grade, and by different methods. His revelation of Himself in the days of David built upon what He had already revealed about himself in the days of Moses, and so on through history until we had a completed Bible and the canon was closed. Hence Hebrews 1:1-2 and 2 Peter 1:19-21.

David said...

Was it the Holy Spirit that revealed the system of dispensationalism in the 1830's?


Aaron Snell said...

Best NEXT! yet, Dan.

Admin2 said...

Isn't it a slippery slope to take a "that was then this is now" approach to the Bible?

DJP said...

Is there something in the actual post that you'd like to object to, or find untrue, Admin2?

David said...

BTW, Dan, I agree that this continuationist dodge is internally inconsistent, even considering a totally post-Acts examples. Most charismania is totally unjustifiable from any sort of biblical standpoint.

I'm just saying that dispensationalism is in the same boat.

DJP said...

It was completely irrelevant and off-topic the first time you said it.

Do you think it's better now, the second time?

David said...

Well, you opened the door up by arguing about Blackaby's (arguably) wretchedly muddled teaching.

DJP said...

No, David, I really didn't, not at all.

Read the post. It specifically marks the target of anyone who bases his position on the argument that since God doesn't change, He is bound to do A exactly as He did at redemptive history point X.

By contrast the very name "dispensationalism" notes that adherents of that approach recognize (as do all Christians, to some degree) that God has had distinctive revealed expectations of man's stewardship as revelation unfolds.

So no, totally off-topic, and totally irrelevant.

David said...

Sorry! Have a nice day!

DJP said...

You too.

< waves Larkin chart [he doesn't own] >

Scott said...


Another excellent NEXT. This one had me really thinking. I'm trying to stop listening to my "hunches" and "feelings" because, well, that's all they are, no matter how strong they are.

Out of curiosity, are going to do a NEXT on such wonderfully popular evangelical phrases such as "I feel let" or "I feel that God is telling me to do X." I would love to know how to refocus the discussion because I hear this a lot.

I love coming to the fire here. It burns most of the time, but man do I need it most of the time.

DJP said...

Good suggestion, Scott. I'll pray and ponder.

Jugulum said...

"I'm trying to stop listening to my "hunches" and "feelings" because, well, that's all they are, no matter how strong they are."

Not... exactly.

We call it a hunch or feeling when we can't put our fingers on precisely why we're thinking something. When we can't articulate what's going on in our heads. The proper response isn't, "Meh, it's just a feeling." It's, "Why am I feeling this?"

Our minds are complex. It might not be "just a feeling". It might be a random thought that meant nothing, or it might be your preferences & desires. Or it might be your Spirit-infused conscience, or Spirit-assisted intuitive wisdom. You should pay attention, and think it through, and examine your heart & mind. You should be ready or willing to dismiss it, but you shouldn't dismiss it automatically.

You're probably coming from a background where you expected, "This is how God communicates his will to us." And yea, that's a problem. You shouldn't put the Divine Stamp of Approval in the hands of your intuitions--but neither are they necessarily meaningless, or divorced from the work of God.

As for "I'm feeling led," there should probably be a different answer, based on what's meant.

If it's, "I've gotten this idea in my head, and if you disagree or challenge or question me, then I'll accuse you of quenching the Spirit or standing in God's way," then it will require one answer.

If it's, "I've got this idea, and I think it's from God, and I can't quite articulate why--I might be wrong, what do you think?", then it will require another.

Eric Kaminsky said...

I'm still a little confused about this term continuationist. John Piper is often labeled as a continuationist. If he is then I would label him a cessationist with a charismatic bent, or vice-versa. The Blackaby's would rather classify themselves as tradional Baptists but seem to have mystical/charismatic, possibly Christian divination bent.

DJP said...

Absolutely right — it isn't as monochromatic a term as some users seem to think.

It fits my usage in this post perfectly, though. Countless charismatics I've heard or read have tried precisely this lame red herring; plus, the Blackabys make much of their assumption that God must continue to do what He did in Biblical times.

Though, since He doesn't, they have to invent a lot of peradventures and provisos.

Eric Kaminsky said...

I think it is mistake to think that these phenonomenon do not occur, or that they don't come in power, conviction, and perhaps healing. To clarify, these experiences are real but don't fit with a biblical pattern, nor do they require transformation of the mind by filling our minds with The Holy Scriptures. "Divination does not require transformation" Satan and his demons are powerful enough to tell us the future and heal us of physical infirmities, but they are enemies of Christ and will not conform to the written word. We don not approach our Sovereign King any way we want to, but by the prescribed way laid out in scripture (particularly in the New Testament epistles) since it is the most recent authority and has the greatest amount of clarity when it comes to interpretation

Sir Brass said...

I must confess that while I've gotten every single one of your NEXT! posts, and have greatly enjoyed them, the pity response to this one has completely eluded me.

If I was the person to give that dodge (and I wouldn't, b/c I'm a cessationist), the answer given would make me say, "Um, are you...um....responding to me, or to someone else?"

Care to help a befuddled brother out?

DJP said...


The person's argument is, "God never changes, so He must be doing and expecting the exact same things today that he did in Abraham's, Moses', and the apostles' days."

In my response, did you click the link?

Does the Bible itself give evidence that, while God Himself never changes, His dealings with men have been marked by change as His revelation and plan are unfolded (Hebrews 1:1-2)?

donsands said...

"The Bible says God doesn't change, so...."

"AMEN! Sorry to interupt you, but your so right. That remins me a great stanza from a glorious hymn:

"Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be."

Amen again. Sorry i got carried away.

You were going to say something else."

Aaron Snell said...

Sir Brass -

Dan's response in the post is sarcastic. Maybe that's what threw you.

DJP said...



Jugulum said...

Actually, Dan, I've detected sarcasm from you on at least two or three occasions.

I think I tweeted about it at the time.

David said...

Dan, you know why we guitarists can't be dispensationalists, don't you?

We can't read charts.

Sir Brass said...

Not really aaron, I was expecting the sarcasm. That's what has made these NEXT! posts so fun.

Sir Aaron said...

Love this series, Dan. This particular dodge seems to be one of the weakest. It's pretty clear in the very first book in the Bible that God changes how he deals with us...Isn't that the point of the rainbow?

C.B. Shearer said...

Great point. To go way off topic (last Next about hanging out with sinners and prostitutes...which no longer allows comments), I was reading Acts yesterday and saw that Peter was hanging out with a tanner (Acts 9:43)...and yet nobody ever wants to hang out in places like that...

Steve B said...

Do you treat your children differently when they are two, than when they are 10? When they are 15 vs. when they are 25? Do you treat them differently when they are in obedience, than when they are disobeying you or doing something stupid?

Have you really changed during any of those encounters? You may be perceived differently, but your fundamental character remains the same.

DJP said...

Yes, Sir Aaron, you're right. Yet it is a surprisingly common dodge.

Mark B. Hanson said...

DJP wrote: "Sarcastic"? Inconceivable.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

DJP said...

Finally! The correct counter-sign!

Thanks, Mark.


Eric Kaminsky said...

I think we are getting into the realm of unknowables perhaps. While I do believe the new covenant encompasses in some ways all of the old covenants. Romans and Galatians clearly take us back to Abraham for justification by faith alone. Then there is this strange verse
2 Cor 1:20 "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him"

There is a boldness to the letter of 2Corinthians. In chapter 3 Paul explains the ministry of the new covenant
2Cor3:4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

If God is dealing the same with us now, why the sudden boldness and lack of confidence in the law?

Mike Riccardi said...

I for one am appalled that Phil is not posting on a Friday in which he's in another country teaching 8-hour classes for 5 days in a row.

How dare he neglect the weightier matters of the blogosphere to do something like ministry!

< /tongue in cheek>
< /gratuitous off-topic post>

Phil Johnson said...

Mike:I've corrected that now. Sorry for the time-zone difficulties.

Sir Brass said...

"If God is dealing the same with us now, why the sudden boldness and lack of confidence in the law?"

Because grace is how God has ALWAYS dealt with His people after the Fall. That is why righteousness was reckoned to Abraham, because he believed God.

The purpose of the law has ALWAYS been to show sinful man his total inability to save himself and rely totally upon God for forgiveness. Thus the sacrifices. They were always a foreshadowing of Christ.

Abraham was reckoned righteousness because Christ died for him on the tree at Calvary. Moses was declared a friend of God because Christ died for him on the tree at Calvary. King David was declared to be a man after God's own heart instead of a mudering adulterous wretch because Christ died for him on the tree at Calvary.

It's not that people were saved by obedience to the law during the OT times. That's rubbish! God has ALWAYS since the Fall saved His elect people by Grace through Faith alone.

Mike Riccardi said...

Thanks Phil! ;o)

I really hope you're enjoying your time in Italy. As an Italian American who teaches the language to middle schoolers, I really have a heart for Italy and am very grateful to God for the work you're doing there, along with other GCC/TMS folks.

Jim Pemberton said...

Good point here.

To be sure, I'm not a true cessationist, but I'm not a full-blown continuationist either. I believe God does work in some ways as he did in the times where he provided appropriate context to mark his revelation as such, but he doesn't do so to provide the context to mark his new revelation to us because his canon is closed and we now have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

But the logic of a continuationist who offers such an argument is sorely in error. For if God acts as he does now because he doesn't change, then there is no reason to have given new revelation in the days of Christ, much less today. They are actually arguing AGAINST new revelation. Therefore, the argument doesn't have anything to do with God's immutability.

Eric Kaminsky said...

Sir Brass,

Perhaps I used a bad choice of words with "God dealing with us differently, but to say that the idea is rubbish is going a little too far.

As far as I know, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was rare amongst his people before the day of pentecost. They simply had to believe, and put their faith in the law given by Moses, not the ceremonial law, but the law given by God himself.

Now all believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and have unprecedented boldness(all for a purpose); To proclaim Christ to all the nations, and face unprecedented opposition and hardship. We are preparing the way for our coming Lord. We all share the heritage of John Baptist, preparing the way of Lord and making his path straight.

Anonymous said...