- In Carson's view, Paul is trying to settle a dispute between people we might call "charismatic" and people we might call "cessationist" -- though Carson himself thinks those categories are not really helpful. The dispute, he says, is between those who seem to place a great deal on the acts of signs and wonders and those who don't have the time of day for them. In that, Carson sees the dispute Paul is trying to settle as one between those who think the miraculous are a necessary part of every Christian's life and those who think, frankly, that those things are humbug.
- In seeking to settle the dispute, it's clear (to Carson) that the miraculous camp are the ones in Corinth who are overplaying their hand. That's what Carson means when he starts talking about how, in Paul's view, healing and prophecy are the same kind of things as joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and so on. That is: if we're going to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we should talk about all of them, and not merely the ones which are the most spectacular. That's the point, in Carson's view, of making the case that the whole body works together: to point out that if the miraculous stuff is a gift, surely the more mundane stuff are also gifts.
- Carson's own words to sum up 1 Cor 12 point us in the direction he is headed:
- "It would be premature to try to draw together many theological and practical strands; moreover, I have not yet attempted to identify the admirable features in the charismatic movement. But I must offer at least one suggestion. If the charismatic movement would firmly renounce, on biblical grounds, not the gift of tongues but the idea that tongues constitute a special sign of a second blessing, a very substantial part of the wall between charismatics and noncharismatics would come crashing down. Does 1 Corinthians 12 demand any less? Thank God that, beyond all the χαíσµατα (charismata), there remains a more excellent way." (Kindle Locations 770-774)
- Carson doesn't give is a lot of help understanding the transition from 12:31 to 13:1. He surveys what was at the time all the sides of the arguments ranging from versions of the indicative to versions of the imperative, but in spite of saying, "The one question regarding the setting that we cannot avoid discussing in detail, however, is the meaning of 12: 31," Carson doesn't settle the meaning of this phrase at all. He merely shows it has a range of meanings which may or may not cause the reader to take sides in the discussion Paul is having -- even if he seems to have more sympathy for the idea that it is an imperative to earnestly desire the spiritual things. That's a huge disappointment.
- Carson gets not only the meaning of 13:1-13 (mostly) right, he also gets the reason for Paul's excursis on Love exactly right -- which is, it's function as a validator of the spiritual gifts. Paul's view is that without love the rest is trash -- but equally, that in the context of the problems in Corinth, love is actually the part they all lack. Love is the solution to the problems they are facing -- not more miracles or signs. Carson says it this way:
- "By now you may be wondering if I have forgotten what this volume is about. I might be better occupied wrestling with the nature of prophecy and tongues, rather than chasing themes through the Scriptures, however interesting such themes may be. In fact, the point is immediately relevant. If this is the character of the love described in this chapter, we immediately understand not only how love can serve as the “more excellent way,” but also how the presence of such love is an infallible test of the Spirit’s presence. The various spiritual gifts, as important as they are and as highly as Paul values them, can all be duplicated by pagans. This quality of love cannot be. That is why Jesus himself declares it to be the distinguishing characteristic of his followers; for it is this quality of love he presupposes when he declares, “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13: 35). Whatever theological and exegetical chasms divide charismatic from noncharismatic, none of us can afford to ignore what is central, characteristic, and irreplaceable in biblical Christianity." (Kindle Locations 1029-1037)
- The last hope for the modern Charismatic is Carson's treatment of what Paul means by the relationship between "perfection" and the "imperfect." Carson concludes that Paul must mean that all things will be made perfect at the parousia -- that is, the return of Christ. Therefore, Carson is saying, the sign gifts will not cease until the return of Christ. He says it this way:
- "Two conclusions follow from this exposition. The first is obvious: there does not appear to be biblical warrant, at least from this chapter, for banning contemporary tongues and prophecies on the grounds that Scripture anticipates their early demise. This does not mean, of course, that everything that passes for prophecy or the gift of tongues is genuine. I shall say more about the nature of these gifts in the next chapter.
"Second, there is a more startling implication. In the words of one commentator, “Now ... love and the charismata are set in antithesis to each other, and we have the eschatological argument that the latter will cease. They are accordingly, unlike love, not the appearance of the eternal in time, but the manifesting of the Spirit in a provisional way. Thus these very gifts hold us fast in the ‘not yet.’ ”(Kindle Locations 1207-1213)
- Having said it that way, I have still a quibble with his reasoning there -- which I may get to on another day.
- The extent to which Carson labors to justify the modern practice of tongues when he is open to admit it has no resemblance to either what happened at Pentecost nor to what was happening in Corinth is, frankly, painful to read. His generalizations about it are all ipse dixit, based on a plausibility argument regarding whether or not these tongues -- in spite of (footnoted) linguistic analysis demonstrating they have no meaning or pattern -- might be somehow secretly loaded with information. This is itself incredibly glib given the amount of documentation and academic cross-talk he devotes to items less central to the objectives of this book.
- This is also true, btw, of his extensive review of what it means to have these gifts today which occurs in his final chapter.
- Carson wraps up his analysis of 1 Cor 14 with this tale:
- "Some time ago, a pastor in England discussed some of these matters with a well-known charismatic clergyman. The charismatic, doubtless thinking of Paul’s words, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues,” asked my friend what he would do if someone began to speak in tongues at one of the meetings of the church he served.The pastor replied, “I’d allow the tongues-speaker to finish, and if there were an interpretation immediately forthcoming, and no proselytizing in the ensuing weeks, I’d have no objection.” Then he paused, and asked in return, “But what would you do if there were no public tongues-speaking in your church for six months or so?”
“Ah,” replied the charismatic, “I’d be devastated.”
“There is the difference between us,” the pastor replied; “for you think tongues-speaking is indispensable. I see it as dispensable, but not forbidden.” And that, surely, is Paul’s distinction.(Kindle Locations 2201-2208)
- He says further: "It is enough to remark that Paul’s chief aim in these verses is not to lay out an exhaustive list of necessary ingredients in corporate worship, but to insist that the unleashed power of the Holy Spirit characteristic of this new age must be exercised in a framework of order, intelligibility, appropriateness, seemliness, dignity, peace. For that is the nature of the God whom we worship. (Kindle Locations 2241-2244)
- My concern here is whether or not these two warnings have their full effect on those who use this book as some sort of cover for modern charismatic practices.
- After all his justifications of so-called spirit gifts today, Carson lays out quite a devastating historical critique of such a thing:
- "What can be safely concluded from the historical evidence? First, there is enough evidence that some form of “charismatic” gifts continued sporadically across the centuries of church history that it is futile to insist on doctrinaire grounds that every report is spurious or the fruit of demonic activity or psychological aberration. Second, from the death of Montanism until the turn of the present century, such phenomena were never part of a major movement. In each instance, the group involved was small and generally on the fringe of Christianity. Third, the great movements of piety and reformation that have in God’s mercy occasionally refreshed and renewed the church were not demonstrably crippled because their leaders did not, say, speak in tongues. Those who have thoughtfully read the devotional and theological literature of the English Puritans will not be easily convinced that their spirituality was less deep, holy, powerful, Spirit-prompted than what obtains in the contemporary charismatic movement. The transformation of society under the Spirit-anointed preaching of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and others finds no parallel in the contemporary charismatic movement. It would be a strange calculus which concluded that a modern charismatic lives on a higher spiritual plane than did, say, Augustine, Balthasar Hubmaier, Jonathan Edwards, Count von Zinzendorf, or Charles Spurgeon, since none of these spoke in tongues. Fourth, very often the groups that did emphasize what today would be called charismatic gifts were either heretical or quickly pushed their “gifts” to such extremes that their praxis proved dangerous to the church. For instance, with varying degrees of rapidity, the leaders of the Evangelical Awakening came to warn people against the dangers of the so-called French Prophets. Even those leaders who at first hoped that they displayed the Spirit’s presence eventually concluded that at very least they were so unbalanced in their views, so desperately fixated on their cherished experiences, so profoundly unteachable, that young believers had to be diverted from them." (Kindle Locations 2780-2795)
- Last, as I will review what this book says, Carson's "pastoral reflections" on this matter are also muddled. On the one hand, he will have no part in saying that those today seeking so-called spiritual gifts are somehow misguided or self-deceived; on the other, his account of walking a local church through a crisis where the gifts were about to split the church is telling in the accounts he attributes to others regarding what real spiritual maturity looks like.
21 August 2013
by Frank Turk
1996 was a
very pretty good year for the Charismatic, since that is the year Wayne Grudem came out with his book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? However: I have been recently told that this book is actually far inferior to D.A. Carson's book, and refuting it is rather a pedestrian effort. The real academic cherry is to prove that Carson may be toppled from his as yet unassailable position because let's face it: D.A. Carson.
1996 1987, Carson also published a lengthy treatise on 1 Cor 12-14, entitled Showing the Spirit. Over the last 3 weeks, it has found new life among those who demand the necessity of the apostolic spiritual gifts, and the word on the street is that this book has never properly been reviewed or refuted by anyone of a Cessationist disposition, therefore Check and Mate: start speaking in tongues. Roll into that the fact that the book is still in print (in Kindle format no less), and that Carson has never offered a revision, and perhaps the rest of us -- the ones who think that miraculous signs and wonders are not pedestrian but exceptional, and that God is not a blatherer who predates Twitter with his affinity for daily murmurings but in fact speaks first through the Prophets and then through His Son -- ought to simply apologize for our impertinence for raising an eyebrow, and the occasional meat chub.
Well, we do take requests here at TeamPyro -- and because my personal reputation among the people I am talking about here is already unquestionable (that is: I am unquestionably a "bomb-throwing waste of time"), this one seems also as good to me as doing another interview on this subject. However, I think what follows is going to cause more mayhem than if I came out and panned this book for being virtually illiterate and unbiblical -- because I think what Carson does for/to charismaticism in this book is far worse for them than the people waving this book around would admit (methinks: if they had read it themselves).
Pack a lunch: this is a one-time event as I have a self-imposed deadline at the end of this month which I am not going to violate.
Usually, when I bring a book to this blog, I don't write a book report on it -- because usually I'm recommending it, not trying to prove to you I have read it, and certainly not to give you everything you need to know about that book so you don't have to read it. In this case, however, because this book weighs in at 230 pages of contemplation and exposition of the barely 4 pages of Scripture it is based on, it deserves more than a wave of the hand.
Carson, of course, does his homework for this book, and if I can be so bold as to recommend at least one thing for a revised edition, he could probably cut 30% of this book as it is not about the passage directly. Sure: it's published by Baker Academic, and therefore it's got to tie and untie all the academic Gordian knots here. Can we say why Paul wrote this passage in the larger historical context? Can we determine where, if at all, Paul is quoting a previous letter from Corinth in order that he may answer specific questions or statements from these people? Is the phrase "spiritual [things]" a highly-technical term or a broad term Paul applies to certain practices and ideas in this letter? Some of these have some relevance in answering the question of how to "show the Spirit," and some of them, as Carson admits in his preface, are sort of meant for a more limited audience. I think that maybe it would have been worthwhile to publish some of the more esoteric notions separately as individual papers and to boil this book down to something which, let's face it, would be a good service to the church at large, given its subject.
One thing Carson refuses to do is to settle the question of continuation vs. cessation. Some people will deny that as Carson, in his reflections on the Charismatic movement, says specifically, "At the exegetical level, the charismatic movement is surely right to argue that the χαρσµατα (charismata), including the more spectacular of them, have not been permanently withdrawn." But this statement is buried between mountains of warnings and pastoral advice against the fantastic and expansive errors and mistakes of those seeking spectacular outpourings of all manner of things. What Carson does instead of seeking to settle the question -- and this is his trademark move, of course, because he's nobody to settle anything but simply to point at Scripture -- is to sort of work out the form of Paul's argument regarding the situation in Corinth and then offer those (in his view) wide boundaries to the situation today.
In that, here's a synopsis of where Carson goes:
Here's my rebuttal: if this is the best you can do -- that is, a book that agrees with any tenable natural reading of 1 Cor 12-14, leaves open the door to the possibility that daGifts still exist, but somehow downplays the entire operation for the sake of good order, maturity, and the defining virtue of Love -- then you had better reassess what you think you're trying to convince the rest of us to agree with.
If this is your go-to book, explain to me how it justifies any of the things Dan and I have been objecting to for the last 8 weeks.
And: keep it civil. Those who simply want to cast me off as a bomb-throwing waste of time should simply go do something else rather than waste their time, and mine.