19 July 2007

The Gift of Hiatus (Hez 9:11) [Part 1]

by [Name Withheld on account of Hiatus]

Yeah, don't say anything. My hiatus is on hiatus.
| Before I say anything further, let's
| establish some boundaries on proper
| exegesis of the Scriptures:
| 1. Scripture interprets Scripture - I'm
| certain we both agree on that.
I agree that Scripture is the –context- of Scripture, and that when Scripture plainly tells us how to interpret another passage, we have to abide by that.
| 2. Scripture says what it must say and
| omits what it omits - Proper exegesis
| of the Scriptures relies on addressing
| what is said, not speculating about
| what is not said. Speculation is
| exactly that, and for that reason, we
| do not create or destroy foundational
| doctirnes within the Church as
| espoused in the Scriptures based on
| speculation. I certainly hope we both
| agree on that issue, too.
An argument from silence is always a bad way to argue – affirming something which is not addressed or not substantiated is always a mistake. The question, as I have pointed out already, is what you do with some text when what is said speaks –against- something which one would expect the text to say, given certain presuppositions.

It is you who brings conjectural presuppositions to the text. The idea that charismatic gifts are a –given-, and a –necessity-, is a -presupposition- which you are trying to substantiate with various passages, but you ignore or retreat when passages that an alert reader would seek to find some sign of the presupposition show no sign of your assumption.

It is you who have elevated the charismata into the "lifeblood of the church" – in many ways, like a Catholic advocate elevates the Magisterium or the Sacraments. And the methodology for either proving or disproving these things is the same: does the subject in question turn up to do what the advocate says it should and ought to do, or are other means provided by the writers of Scripture to do the work in question?

This is not an argument from silence: it is a demonstration that the charismata are not lifted up in Scripture the way you say they should be lifted up today, and in that there are other normative means lifted up in Scripture to do the things you say the charismata ought to be doing.

| 3. We do not form doctrines based on
| a single Scripture verse. The
| Scriptures are rich and they
| continually reinforce themselves. All
| sound doctrine within the Church is
| based on a complete understanding of
| the Scriptures, not on a lone verse.
| Throughout history, error has crept in
| when we create and destroy doctrine
| on stand-alone verses. Again, Biblical
| scholars agree on this concept, and I
| hope you do as well.
We will see how well you abide by this maxim. I would agree that the AWANA method of understanding any particular verse is not very productive or useful, and that reading Scripture is a more robust activity than merely citing verse numbers.
| Let me also add this:
| 4. As we have both agreed, the New
| Testament clearly shows the
| charismatic gifts bestowed on the
| Church. It shows them in action. It
| provides doctrinal reality as to how
| they function and must be
| administrated. It includes narratives
| showing the gifts at work. It explains
| why they have been given. The Bible
| shows the gifts operating throughout
| the whole of the New Testament after
| the point at which the Spirit came
| upon the Church. For this reason, the
| burden of proof to believe the gifts
| have passed is not on the
| charismatic/continualist, but on the
| cessationist. The gifts are a
| foundational reality of the Church. To
| make any changes at all to this
| position is to provide multiple
| Scriptures and compelling arguments
| based on Scripture against that
| doctrinal position. Not speculation (as
| in #2 above), but compelling reality
| that anyone can see stated explicitly
| in the Scriptures. Therefore, the
| burden of proof on the cessationist
| position is not something attended to
| lightly. It must be compelling in order
| to overturn the majority of revelation.
We do not agree on this. I was very clear that I do not contend against the idea that the Apostles were gifted with miraculous gifts, but those gifts were specifically for the fulfillment of Joel 2.

We can agree that they existed in the church for a time – not that they are given to the Church (big "C", all believers at all times) as a right or a "key".

As for the burden of proof being on the cessationist to say, "look: they will cease and in fact have ceased," all I have to do is open a history book and point out the fact that the gifts did, in fact, cease. The earliest apologists for the church never once pointed to on-going miracles and signs as a substantiation of the church's connection to God or for their authority.

But, because that rebuttal is open to all kinds of random responses, I am more than willing to stick to the Scriptural case which cannot be avoided. That is, if the word of God says something must be true, we are called as believers to believe that and not what we'd like to believe or what we'd hope could be true.
| Now, let me address your reply:
| 1. To the lack of discussion of
| charismata in Paul's pastoral letters to
| Timothy and Titus
| We have the canon of Scripture as a
| means by which God tells us the
| Gospel story, equips us for the work
| of the Kingdom, and provides us
| correction. The books are broad and
| cover many topics. Each book has its
| emphases, and God in His wisdom
| alone has chosen them to be what they
| are.
| For our benefit, God gave us answers
| in the canon. In 1st Corinthians, Paul
| develops a healthy doctrine of the
| charismata because that church had
| some lack of understanding in that
| area. He didn't address that with
| Timothy and Titus.
I would agree, in one sense, that 1Cor offers us guidance on this issue. The question is whether Paul offers us "a healthy doctrine of charismata", or if Paul instead is speaking to what a healthy, well-rounded spiritual life is in light of the Gospel.

This goes specifically to your point regarding quoting one verse in a vacuum. If you will excuse me for speaking this way, what is the over-arching motive of Paul in writing 1Cor? Why does he write to these people? Is this letter a series of blog entries not related to each other, or is it a letter with one objective broken down into specific categories under that objective?

That is to ask: is Paul offering a menu of unrelated corrections to the Corinthians, or is he offering one category of correction, and in that category is he demonstrating all the applications of that specific problem?

Think carefully – because the wrong answer can be demonstrated to be wrong in very short order.

| If we ask why, we have moved into
| the realm of speculation. Paul didn't
| feel the need to address the gifts with
| Timothy and Titus. Perhaps he had
| addressed it in other letters to
| Timothy and Titus we do not have.
| Perhaps he addressed them in person
| or through others. Perhaps neither
| Timothy nor Titus had problems in
| this area, so they needed direction.
| Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
No – the question of "why" is apparent immediately, given the reasons for each letter, and it offers significant difficulty to the continualist. In the continualist view, the gifts are the way the church at any given point in time demonstrates and exercises its connection to the Holy Spirit, right? And the application of that simply gets wider and wider if one allows a continualist to ponder the matter and express his thoughts. Your latest post, for example, about the role of the Holy Spirit in the church – if we used it here as supporting material – proposes a church in which the application of the charismatic doctrine of the Holy Spirit should be served up in every situation imaginable.

If the charismatic doctrine is actually that deep and wide, why is it so far from being present in that form in the NT? For example, why is church unity not subject to charismatic outpouring but instead to truth in love? Why is false teaching not subject to charismatic outpouring but instead to rebuke of faithful teachers? When Paul speaks of the power of the church in Jesus Christ in 1 Cor, why does he mean the authority to remove a sinful man rather than the power to manifest the Holy Spirit as a warning (cf. Acts 5)?

See: if the charismatic gifts are the sign, seal and way the Holy Spirit is present in the church, and the doctrine means that's how we know God is working, why does the NT not tell us to follow the gifts around rather than what it does tell us to do – which is follow the healthy teaching of doctrine?

The speculation is how you can come to the broad conclusion you do when what the NT presents is a far narrower conclusion about the miraculous signs of the apostolic age. I ask why – any cessationist asks why – because what you affirm isn’t found, and instead something far more demanding and frankly useful is found in the place of the ideas you think are in Scripture.

| The Scriptures develop a rich
| theology of the gifts. We have that
| rich theology. To speculate as to why
| God did not move Paul to write on
| that topic to Timothy and Titus is to
| also speculate why He did not advise
| on the proper administration of the
| Lord's Supper or the doctrine of the
| Trinity, both foundational realities
| within the Church.
I have never encountered a "rich theology" of gifts except in cessationist systematics. I find Grudem's treatment of the subject, in the best case, optimistic; and for the record, the weakest, least-compelling aspect of John Piper's theology – Dr. Piper being someone I greatly admire – is his cautious expression of the necessity of the practice of the miraculous gifts today.

But I admit that the subject doesn’t interest me – so it might do me some good to have someone like you recommend a book on the rich theology of charismatic gifts. I'd be willing to read the book and talk about it publicly any time, in spite of my (ahem) hiatus.

But that said, I wouldn’t advocate for a deep and wide theology of the Eucharist because Scripture doesn't express such a thing. That doesn’t make it unimportant, but it also means that I wouldn’t try to lift up an ordinance to something more than it is intended to do.

As for the Trinity, I affirm the Trinity. I think Paul affirms Trinitarian theology. But He doesn’t make the truth of the Trinity supercede the core of the Gospel, which is not about some philosophical expression of the incomprehensibility of God, but about how God seeks to glorify Himself and somehow, inexplicably, include us in His glory. In that, it would also be wrong to try to make the doctrine of the Trinity as far-reaching as you would make the charismatic doctrine. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity does not explain to us how to call and establish elders; it does not explain how to preach from Scripture effectively; it does not teach us how to deal with grief. Anyone trying to make it do those things has gone too far with that doctrine.

My suggestion is that you, and those like you, do this sort of thing with charismatic doctrine.
| We can speculate all we wish, but we
| cannot overturn a foundational truth
| based on speculation. You know that.
| I don't understand why you pepper
| nearly every question and statement
| you make with speculation.
The speculation is an expression of your own view of the charismatic doctrine, dude. Go back and read your own writings on this subject. It is your view that the charismatic gifts are necessary and sort of ubiquitous, meaning they apply to almost everything and make church life meaningful.

Listen: the person and work of Christ is that necessary and meaningful, and that's how Paul treats these doctrines in all his letters. The charismatic gifts don't get 5% of the play they ought to if they are as extremely important as you affirm in your own writing.

That's not speculation: that's simple comparison. If Paul thought what you think about daGifts, Paul would talk about them in some way which resembles how you talk about them. He doesn't. That's a significant problem.
| Speculation does not make for sound
| exegesis. Let's stick with what the
| Scriptures plainly say and not go off
| into speculation.
| The burden of proof, again, is on the
| cessationist position. But it cannot be
| fulfilled by speculation.

The cessationist doesn’t make a positive affirmation; he doesn’t demand the presence of something and call it a doctrine. The cessationist takes the position that Scripture spells out the life of the church sufficiently, that the description in Scripture lacks significant references to on-going charismata, and that history bears out the fact that the post-apostolic church did not rely on signs and wonders to spread the Gospel – but relied on what Paul calls in Titus behavior which "may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior".

There's no speculation that, for example, the letter of Mathetes to Diognetus talks extensively about how the second-century church lived – and in a bizarre turn of events for the charismatic, there is categorically no mention of supernatural events attracting the attention of non-believers and securing the faith of those in the Body. Now, why is that? Because it was so obvious to Mathetes that he didn’t bother to mention it? Dude.

... to be continued ...

[NOTE: Some places where I stuck in "continualist" but meant "cessationist" have been corrected in this post, and I thank the legion of dedicated proof-readers we have for making up for my lack of editorial charismata]


FX Turk said...

Comments are closed until I have all the parts of this post posted. When all the parts are up, I'll open the comments in each post so that the discussion can take on a life of its own.


FX Turk said...

Comments are now open. Have at it.

Ali said...

The earliest apologists for the church never once pointed to on-going miracles and signs as a substantiation of the church's connection to God or for their authority.

Wondering if you have read an article called, Christian Prophecy and Canon in the Second Century: A Response to B.B.Warfield by Gary Steven Shogren. I have a couple of links on my blog to it - the most reliable link cuts the article short but has at least one example where Justin Martyr used the presence of gifts - including at least prophecy - to argue with a rabbi. In part it says:

"For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that [the gifts] formerly among your nation have been transferred to us."

Your comment above, therefore, may not be totally accurate.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reference, Ali. I'm happy to email this article and also several others I've written on the charismata.

My formation is in New Testament exegesis, and I've spent many years writing a commentary on 1 Corinthians for Latin America. As an evangelical, my theology is derived from the Scripture, period; but like the Reformers and other leaders such as John Wesley, we should also pay attention to the voice of history - not as a final authority, but as a description of God's ongoing work. Therefore, I can say that, my exegesis of "the perfect" in 1 Cor 13 is the perfection of meeting Christ at death or the parousia; and that view is supported (NOT proven) by the unanimous consent of the Fathers through John Chrysostom.