Tuesday, August 13, 2013
A Final Word on Steve Hays's Defense of Pentecostal Theology
At this point, it seems to me that Steve Hays over at Triablogue is determined to defend his non-cessationist view regardless of the lack of evidence, exegetical or otherwise, he has to offer for it. Hays has posted a few more points which I wish to address before moving on.
First, Hays says that I chose to make tongues the centerpiece of my argument. I did nothing of the sort. I used tongues as an example because it is the most visible and from what I can tell, the most talked about gift in PT. Hays then accuses me of committing the word-concept fallacy, and this is also patently false. I clearly state that “While it does not always mean languages that is its predominant sense.” The word is not only used to describe languages. Contrary to Hays’s hopes, I am not guilty of such an elementary, exegetical blunder as committing the word-concept fallacy.
I point out that if PT is correct then a lot of us are not filled with the Spirit, to include Hays. He retorts that this point is “just a dare.” That is an interesting response. It could mean that Hays does not understand the very system he is defending. But Hays has done this before, for example, his defense of AHA, yet another subject he admittedly knew little about. Apparently, being informed on a subject is not a prerequisite to provide an adequate defense of it in Hays’s thinking. The fact is that PT teaches that you MUST speak in tongues if you are to be filled with the Spirit. I point you to the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God website or the world’s oldest Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God.
Hays then says that it is pejorative on my part to characterize tongues as gibberish. Merriam-Webster defines gibberish as unintelligible or meaningless language. Modern tongues is unintelligible and meaningless language, empty of rational significance. If you do not believe me, click on any of my links to hear people “speaking in tongues.” Hays could not be more wrong. Moreover, to compare a sunset or music with throwing together a bunch of broken syllables in a heightened state of self-induced emotions is utterly ridiculous. For example, compare these human experiences below and tell me that they all provide for equivalent or similar edification.
You can judge for yourself. From my perspective, there is absolutely no comparison between how these experiences do and do not edify. Perhaps we could also claim that hallucinations induced by illicit drug use edifies the drug addict. The comparison, with all due respect to Steve Hays, is ridiculous.
Hays alludes to some sort of evidence in Church history that the gifts never ceased, but he is strangely silent on providing that evidence. Perhaps he knows that the evidence is flimsy and has been debated ad nausea for years now, with no success on the part of those who want to maintain his position.
Hays implies that Acts 10 and 19 may not have been actual languages. After all, Luke does not use certain words in those texts that he does use in Acts 2. First of all, Luke’s writing is directed to one individual with a very specific purpose. Are we to think that he wrote about the same phenomenon in four different places but that he did not mean for Theophilus to identify it as such? If that were the case, wouldn’t we be right to expect Luke to explain that this (Acts 2) is not that (Acts 10, 19, and 8)? Moreover, Acts 10 is identical to Acts 2 and we know this without question. First of all, in 10:45, the Jews that were with Peter were amazed! Why? They saw the same thing taking place with the Gentiles that took place with them. If Cornelius’s household had not been given the same sign, the significance of that would have been devastating. The Jews would have said it was phony. Or at best, it was not what we got because our tongues are genuine languages and yours are gibberish. You are still inferior to us! But some of these Jews understood the languages because Luke tells us they heard them exalting God in those languages. Finally, Peter reasons that no one can forbid baptism because the Gentiles received the very same sign we did. Hence, there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile. We both have the same gift of the same Holy Spirit. And that is Luke's point! And it is the point that Joel was making in his prophecy.
Hays says that Paul confines tongues to Church services. This is one of the most baffling things Hays has said. Paul forbids tongues in the Church services UNLESS the speaker provides an interpretation of what he said. To use this gift as a way of bragging and showing off your gifts is not spiritual. It is not edifying. This seems to be the point. In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians in v. 10 that there are a lot of languages in the world, and none without meaning. This is in the middle of his correction of the Corinthian abuses of this gift. Hays would disagree apparently, arguing that the tongues Paul is talking about could quite possibly be meaningless, unbroken syllables that somehow God uses to edify the speaker. I confess this position is nothing short of stunning. In addition, in v. 18 Paul clearly says that I speaks in tongues more than all of them, but in Church, he would rather speak five words in the congregation’s language than 10,000 in an unknown language.
Again, Paul tells us that tongues are a sign for unbelievers. How is speaking in gibberish a sign? Paul already denied that tongues are universally unknown back in v. 10. Paul issues the command that tongues spoken in the Church service must always be interpreted. Otherwise, the gifted one should not employ their gift.
Hays then misrepresents my position when he implies that I think all New Testament Christians spoke in tongues. I have not made any assertions like that. What I have observed is that every instance of Spirit baptism in Acts is accompanied by the sign of tongues, even the Samaritan event where tongues are not specifically mentioned. In addition, I have said that PT in fact teaches that everyone who is filled with the Spirit speaks in tongues.
Hays tells us there are “credible” reported cases of modern tongues. Yes, I have heard about these reported cases. I think most of us have. What is fascinating is that while we have all heard about them, I can’t find anyone who has actually, directly witnessed it for themselves. Keener’s work has been vetted and criticized enough for us to know that this work, while filled with lots and lots of stories, is lacking in detailed support and verifiable sources.
In short, NT evidence for tongues leaves us no reason whatever to think that this phenomenon was not actual languages. If we were to remove modern Pentecostal experiences and claims from the equation, we would have no exegetical reason for concluding that the tongues in the NT were not actual languages. This is a case of anachronistic interpretation. Hays and the Pentecostals are reading modern phenomenon back into NT phenomenon. This is the only way to keep the debate alive. If one reduces the discussion to a purely exegetical reading of the text, we have no reason to conclude that the Corinthian Church was not speaking in actual languages. The only reason we introduce empirical testing is to see if what moderns are doing is what the ancients were doing.
My concern is for Christ, for the truth, for the gospel, for the Christian Church. When PT tells us that what they do is exactly what the Church did in the first century, they are teaching error. That sign was a significant event in the Christian Church. The error of PT is serious. When PT teaches that you must speak in modern tongues in order to be filled with the Spirit, they are teaching lies. When PT teaches us that healing was provided for in the atonement and that we all have a right to be healed, they are teaching cruel lies. When PT tells us that God is giving prophets new revelations of inspired utterances, they are guilty of speaking presumptuously in the name of the Lord. These are not small errors. When we add to this the idea of the prosperity gospel, a denial of eternal security, and the complete destruction of male leadership in the Church, you end up with something far different from the ancient Church.
I am not saying that Pentecostal Theology is ipso facto heretical. I am saying that both the number of errors and the degree of error are serious. Anyone that takes up the task to defend this system of theology should be intimately informed about all the teachings subscribed to in that system. A defense of error is an endorsement of error. All of us who endorse error will be held accountable as if we taught the error ourselves.