Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Practical Cessationism

I have been writing for a while now on the subject of the Charismata in support of John MacArthur’s conference and soon-to-be-published book, Strange Fire. The debate that has raged over this issue has been confused and convoluted on many points from my perspective. Recently, while reading Thomas Schreiner’s review of the book, Strange Fire, someone in the comments section of the review used the expression “practical cessationist” to characterize they’re position. I liked that term so much and felt like it did such a good job of capturing my own view that I thought it fitting to write a few things about it.

First of all, I continue to hear charismatics and continuationists miss a very basic point in our argument. Namely, they continue to presume that what they call supernatural gifts are the same gifts experienced by Jesus, His disciples, and the early church. Men like Steve Hays continuously extend to Charismatics the courtesy of that assumption. I, on the other hand, respectfully disagree with the view that the modern phenomena witnessed among Charismatics are in fact the very same supernatural gifts we see in the NT Church. In order for the Charismatic claim to prove true, it must be verified that what is actually being claimed today is true, and that it actually corresponds with the amazing, indisputable miracles of the first century church.

It is astonishingly easy for Charismatic claims of miracles to be defended as legitimate. First of all, there are literally thousands of people supposedly being cured of all kinds of diseases if we are to believe the Charismatic movement. These healings are purported to be the result of miracle workers and faith healings exercising the very same gifts of the apostles and they’re associates in the first century church. Since these claims are being published in the name of Jesus Christ, a name we all care deeply about, and since there are skeptics who deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, it is only prudent for us to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt, that these miracles are authentic. It would be absurd for anyone to expect any intelligent person to simply take our word for it. After all, if we are claiming that Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit into the world and that the Holy Spirit is present in the body of Christ, performing miraculous deeds, then we should be able to provide certified documentation sufficient to prove our claims. Moreover, supplying such proof in an age such as ours with all the technology we have at our fingertips should be incredibly easy. Why would any reasonable person think it perverse in our day and our culture for someone to investigate the kind of miraculous claims being propagated in Charismania? The very suggestion that such behavior is related to atheism or skepticism or is somehow not in keeping with biblical faith or the Christian ethic is utterly ridiculous. Yet, men like Steve Hays continue to accuse cessationists of adopting a method of reasoning aligned with atheistic or skeptical thinking. There is no place in the Christian community for such nonsense.

I continue to be amazed that non-cessation adherents accuse the cessation view of not remaining faithful to the principle of sola scriptura. The argument is rather elementary and if framed in the wrong way, I can see how they might arrive at their conclusion. The first thing we have to understand is that Scripture is what defines the phenomena in question. When we allow Scripture to set the definition we are then in a much better place to evaluate the modern claims of Charismatics. Are the miracles we see in the New Testament the same kind of phenomena we see among Charismatics? As I said above, it would seem to me that modern conditions, with Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, etc. would make authentic miracles impossible to hide, let alone hard to find. When was the last time you heard about someone losing their disability because they failed the doctor’s certification? If Jesus healed you in that way, wouldn’t you plaster it all over Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube? Wouldn’t you go on Fox News to show the world what the Holy Spirit has done? Where are all the certifications? If I were a miracle worker I would demand validation for that very reason. I would want people to know that I am not a hoax. I would want nothing left to question. But apparently the Charismatic miracle workers prefer to be insulted by examination than glorify Christ by taking the initiative to offer such proof.

The truth is that modern claims of the miraculous seem to be either nebulous, generic, or in one way or another, unverifiable. This does not ipso facto prove that they are not happening. But that burden of proof is not on the cessationist. The counter-claim to the argument that miracles seemed to have ceased requires empirical proof to the contrary. After all, it is the absence of empirical evidence upon which the cessationist rests their argument. Abstract arguments only serve to muddy the waters and cloud the issue. If you don’t think this is so, check out the haze manufactured by Steve Hays over at Triablogue. Steve offers nothing of any substance to support the claim that genuine miracles are still taking place in the church. Instead, he has latched onto what he considers to be an inferior argument from cessationism and like a Pit Bull, he refuses to let go. Somehow, Hays thinks this argument is confined to the abstract. It seems to slip his notice entirely that even if he were to construct a superior argument in the abstract, he still faces the uncomfortable and in my opinion, the unsurmountable burden of authentic documentation and evidence in support of his claim.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument that the non-cessation argument is correct. Let’s suppose that miracles, according to Scripture should continue until Christ returns. It seems to me then, for the sake of the credibility of Scripture, that our non-cessation friends should be eager to validate their claims in an effort to vindicate Scripture. The argument goes like this: the Bible says that miracles will continue until Christ returns. Here are those miracles! Therefore, the Bible is true. But what happens if we are unable to validate such miraculous claims? It seems to me that the Bible would experience an extreme crisis of credibility. If the Charismatic exegete is correct, however, and the Bible teaches that miracles will continue to the end of the Church age, we must ask what are the consequences for the credibility of Scripture if we are unable validate these miracles, and vindicate the claims of Scripture. This would lead us to believe that the Bible is not true after all. Therefore, if we are to accept the hermeneutics of the Charismatic, then had better provide concrete empirical evidence for miracles. Christianity depends upon it.

The miracles of Scripture were beyond reasonable doubt and were all verified or verifiable. There was never a question about whether or not someone had been healed, cured, delivered, or raised from the dead. Modern claims dodge verification better than the national dodge-ball champion. Ancient tongues were real languages while modern tongues are not. Modern tongues are gibberish. Can God understand gibberish? Let’s examine this idea. Supposedly, the Holy Spirit prays gibberish through us back to God for us and somehow, even though we have no idea what is being said, we are edified. And there is supposedly something miraculous about it all. Really? What is miraculous about it? Why is it such a sign? Anyone can do it. Anyone can fake it and you can’t tell the difference. This means we have no mechanism for being able to know what is a true tongue and what is a false one. Does this sound like the work or mark of God? If the devil can copy it, how can we be sure that what we have is God’s genuine gift and not the fake copy offered up by Satan? Would Simon offer up boatloads of money in order to speak gibberish? He could do that without offering up big bucks. This makes no sense whatever. What, do we test it by some feeling or sensation inside us? Is that what it comes down to? Even if this made sense, it would mean we could only know that our personal gift of tongues was real and we could never ever know if the other person had the real thing or the fake gift. Paul Cain comes to mind, along with all the other charlatans. The Catholics, Oneness, Word-Faith, and other heretics sound exactly the same when they speak in tongues. Are they really Spirit-Filled? Does the Spirit fill men who deny the trinity? Are Catholics who deny the gospel really Spirit-Filled? Is Benny Hinn really filled with the Spirit? He speaks in tongues and claims to work miracles. He offers us the same evidence that every other charismatic holds up as authentic. How are we supposed to know?

Practical cessationism argues that the miracles of Scripture were radically superior to what we see in modern claims. They were and are indisputable. Their credibility is beyond any reasonable doubt. The tongues of Scripture were real languages. All one has to do is read Acts 2 and interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that very clear text. That is the hinge upon which biblical interpretation turns. The idea that prophets can speak for God but be wrong a certain percentage of the time is totally foreign to Scripture. There is nothing remotely resembling such irresponsible teaching anywhere in Scripture. Therefore, based on what Scripture teaches regarding revelation, healings, miracles, tongues and prophecy, we must conclude that God is no longer working like this. Moreover, this should come as no surprise to us. God has never, in redemptive history worked in creation for an extended period of time in such a fashion contrary to modern Charismatic claims. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Steve Hays on MacArthrite Cessationism

Steve Hays' Criticism of the Cessationist Position on Miracles

Steve Hays continues his fascinating attempt to convince us that the Pentecostal-Charismatic miracles today are genuine. He has implied on numerous occasions that we are wrong not to take them at their word. According to Hays, if we dare not question the miracles of Scripture, then we must extend the same respect to the "Benny Hinns" of the world today and resist the evil temptation to examine modern claims of miracle workers. Steve Hays' argument continues to place modern phenomena on par with the divine revelation of Scripture. Whatever principle I have for doubting modern claims of miracle workers and faith healers, I must also apply to Scripture, according to Hays. If I doubt the claims of Benny Hinn, then for consistency's sake, I must also doubt the claims of Jesus. If I doubt that Oral Roberts actually raised people from the dead, something he claimed to have done, then I must be soul mates with the skeptic Gotthold Lessing.

Hays' argument is more than fallacious. It is more than unsound. It is more than poisoning the well, more than ad hominem, more than a straw man. It is not even close to keeping with Christian charity. It is rude, obnoxious, disrespectful, and self-serving. But I have already discussed Hays' methods and tactics before. For some reason, Hays' thinks that when Paul demanded that Christians be kind to one another and when Peter demanded that we treat even outsiders with gentleness and respect, Hays thinks that does not apply him. For some reason, he is allowed to pull out one false analogy after another and associate God-fearing, Jesus loving, truth-embracing believers any way he pleases because they have dared to disagree with him. Sooner or later, Hays will have to give an account for his lack of respect and for associating fellow-believers with atheists and skeptics simply because they disagree with his views.

The problem with Hays' current rebuttal is that he once again thinks Scripture is on par with modern claims of supposed miracle workers. Hays points out that several miracles of Scripture are private events with no outside witnesses. He then says that we have no right to demand that the PC miracle workers perform the sort of miracles that we can verify. Why? Because no one can verify that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush but Moses. So if we take Scripture at face value, we must take Benny Hinn at face value as well. If we demand that Benny Hinn perform the sort of miracles that can be verified, then we must also make the same demand of Scripture. This is the basic thrust of Hays' argument. Now he does not use the name Benny Hinn and for good reason. It would be embarrassing. I use it for good reason: logically it is impossible not to make this conclusion if one accepts Hays' faulty premise. 

Hays thinks that by placing the demand for empirical verification on modern miracles that we undermine our ability to defend the miracles of Scripture, resulting in the entire collapse of any sort of high view of Scripture. Those idiot MacArthurites have destroyed apologetics with their strange fire nonsense, if you listen to Hays' argument. But if Hays is a true presuppositionalist, he knows better than this. He knows we presuppose the truth of Scripture and that the witness of Scripture is the Holy Spirit and therefore our belief in Scripture is a basic commitment. 

Lets take a look at one of those examples that Hays uses to prove his point. God used a burning bush to reveal Himself to Moses and to make known to Moses the high calling He had for him. No one saw it but Moses and God. But when God told Moses to go to His people, Moses reasonably asked God why the people should believe his claim. Did God leave Moses without a witness? He did not. Moses performed three miracles before the Children of Israel: the staff into a serpent, the hand of leprosy, and the water into blood. And they believed he had been sent with a message from God. Now, it seems reasonable to say that when someone performs indisputable public miracles as Moses did, it is safe to say that his version of the burning bush should be accepted as legitimate as well even if the only witness was God. Hays' analogy falls extremely short of its target.

In addition to the short rebuttal on Moses, we should also understand that no miracle of Scripture comes to us without a witness. The events of Scripture did not happen in isolation of a greater concern. They are included in Scripture for all of us. In other words, no miracle of Scripture is private. God has published them to us all. In every single case, the miracles of Scripture come with the witness of the Holy Spirit. There can be no greater witness than that. Perhaps Hays may wish to point out that unbelievers reject such an argument, but they do so upon presuppositions that we Christians reject. So now we are back to talking about presuppositions. Apparently "MacArthurite"cessationism doesn't destroy apologetics after all.

Hays is simply wrong to claim that the miracles of Scripture are private and that they are on par with modern claims of supposed miracle-workers and faith-healers. Modern claims are not the product of divine revelation. They are not witnessed by the Holy Spirit and made known to all believers. Finally, there is no empirical evidence to suggest they are in fact genuine. Additionally, Hays continues to ignore my rebuttal that demands he explain to us why it is wrong for us to scrutinze these modern claims since they stand to do great harm to the Church unless we can prove them to be legitimate.

  • The miracles of Scripture are not private contrary to Steve Hays' claim. They have been published by the Holy Spirit for all believers to see.
  • Unbelievers are obligated to believe the claims of Scripture. Therefore the miracles of Scripture serve as one more indictment upon their unbelief.
  • The Holy Spirit is witness to every miracle of Scripture. Therefore, no miracle of Scripture is private.
  • The miracles of Scripture are not on par with the modern claims of supposed miracle-workers and faith-healers. They are superior in every way.
  • There is no indication anywhere in the NT that the miracles of Christ and His followers were reasonably disputable. There is no contemporary contestation of a Biblical miracle. The Jewish conspiracy concerning the resurrection was not based on genuine doubt.
  • It is not consistent with skepticism to insist that modern claims of miracles be empirically verifiable.
  • To presuppose the truth of Scripture in all it teaches concerning miraculous events does not logically require one to presuppose the truth-claims of modern miracles.
  • To doubt the claims of modern faith-healers does not logically require one to doubt the biblical claims of faith healings.
  • Phenomena within the Biblical revelation is distinguished by the impeccable witness of the Holy Spirit and distinct from all other phenomena by the nature of God's express purpose for that revelation, which is the expression of His truth, His light, His glorious gospel to the world.
  • To claim that skepticism toward modern miraculous claims is logically equivalent to the miraculous claims of Scripture indicates that one does not accept the unique character of the self-attestation of Scripture.
  • Rejection of the self-attesting nature of Scripture is equivalent to rejecting the self-authoritative nature of Scripture. 
To accept the claims of Scripture regarding ANYTHING it says does not require that we accept similar claims of modern charismatics in any way, shape, or form. It is a fallacious argument from top to bottom. But then again, Steve Hays has posted a lot of things regarding paranormal phenomena, so I think we could be dealing with someone whose views may be shifting outside the norm of good reason and Christian orthodoxy. I am monitoring Triablogue for that very purpose. To spill so much digital ink searching for testimonies of people going to heaven and talking to Jesus, as far as I am concerned is a colossal waste of time. Let us turn our attention to the one revelation we have and learn how to handle it better, accurately, and honor God in so doing. Instead of attempting to find ways to allow for the radically subjective, and the undisciplined experiential, let us heed Paul's words to Timothy:

 "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." 2 Ti 1:13–14. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Responding to Steve Hays' Well-Poisoning Arguments Once More


Ed DingessYou will reply that you personally don't know of any faith healers to whom we can turn for healing. Have you ever witnessed an indisputable, certified genuine miracle? One for which there were no natural explanations?
LessingMiracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have the opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another. I live in the eighteenth century, in which miracles no longer happen. The problem is that reports of fulfilled prophecies are not fulfilled prophecies;that reports of miracles are not miracles. 

The purpose of this blog is to provide a very simple and short response to Steve Hays' argument regarding whether or not we cessationists are justified in demanding proof that miracles workers exist before believing the claim that they actually do exist. Perhaps Hays has really misunderstood this assertion. My argument, while it makes the same conclusion as my cessationists friends, takes a somewhat different path. I reject the claim that miracle-workers are continuing to operate in the Church on the ground that no one has offered proof to the contrary. Hays thinks this debate can be confined to exegesis. In truth, so do many cessationists. I respectfully disagree. I think the best argument moves from empirical observation to exegesis and back again. The bottom line really is quite simple. If Steve Hays wants us to believe that there are still miracles workers in the Church, all he needs to do is provide some proof, some sort of evidence. That evidence has to be credible. I have heard and read many charismatics report that miracles are happening but in every case where those reports were actually investigated, the evidence simply did not support the claims in the reports.

I have had my own family members visit these men: men like R.W. Schambach, Ernest Angsley, and R.W. West. They have been prayed for and proclaimed healed at the conference. But the healings never happened. My grandmother passed away with sugar. Another family member passed away before she was 40 with breast cancer after having been proclaimed healed. Fred Price broke his foot and hobbled around for months in a cast just like the rest of us.

So here it is in a nutshell. Reports of miracles contained in Scripture, in fact, any event in Scripture comes to us with impeccable testimony that is irrefutable. We do not test nor question it because it is the witness and testimony of God Himself. Therefore, I accept the testimony of miracles from Scripture. I dare not put God’s word to the test. I think Gotthold might take a fundamentally different approach. So much for being soul mates. Steve’s Christian kindness precedes him. He is such a respectful debater.

Scripture is not merely a historical record of what happened at that time. It is much more than that. Those events are part of God’s revelation for a reason. Our personal experiences are not! The nature of extra-biblical history is fundamentally different from biblical history. If Steve Hays does understand this, then that is would explain his inability to understand our argument.

I want to be clear that I am not arguing that God does not or cannot perform miracles or heal the sick should He will to do so. I am not even arguing that God is not doing this today. If Hays thinks I am, then he sorely misunderstands my position. I am contending that I have no good evidence to believe the Pentecostal Charismatic idea that miracle workers and healers are active in the body of Christ today. That is my argument. My argument is based on empirical and exegetical proofs even though I emphasize the lack of empirical evidence as the greater obstacle for accepting the claims.

Now, let’s follow Steve’s argument to its logical end. If we are under obligation to believe there are miracle workers, where does Steve draw the line? Do we have to believe everyone who claims to be a miracle worker or claims to have the gift of healing? When some guy claims to have raised the dead, over there, far away, are we really supposed to just be amazed and take him at his word? If the answer is yes, then we just surrendered the biblical mandate to test those who claim to be God’s messengers but are not. If the answer is no, then the next question is by what standard can we determine the genuine from the false. Why is it a bad practice for Christians to demand that miracle-workers be tested and verified? After all, they are in the public spotlight professing to represent all that is Christianity. It seems to me that we should want to ensure that their claims are legitimate if for no other reason than the credibility of the Christian community is at stake.

At the end of the day it is really easy to verify legitimate and credible reports of miracles. If I were Pentecostal and I had been diagnosed with an illness or I had been blind and now I was cured, you better believe that I would be providing verifiable documentation of it to anyone who asked without flinching. I would not be offended if someone asked for the evidence. I would be all too happy to prove to them what Christ had done for me. After all, this would be a great opportunity to give them the gospel. But for some reason, Steve Hays and others seem to think we should just naively accept these accounts without question. Hays even places them on par with Scripture. Moreover, they are offended and we are criticized because we think it prudent to examine such incredible claims just to be sure the integrity of the Christian community remains intact. Hays’ position that accepting the miracle claims of Scripture logically means that we cannot question modern miracle claims is just plain silly. There is simply no other way to say it. Why Hays thinks it is a bad practice for us to demand verification for these claims so that the Church may be protected, as far as I am concerned, remains a mystery.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Scandal Behind the Mark Driscoll Scandal

By now you know that Mark Driscoll has done it again. He has pulled one of the most ingenious PR stunts I have seen. From a business perspective, albeit, an unethical one, Mark's visit to the Strange Fire conference was nothing short of genius. For about 3 hours worth of work, Mark has likely added tens of thousands to his book sales, maybe even hundreds of thousands.

Here is a man who claims to know and love Christ. He claims that he engaged in this stunt out of a sincere and pure love for the truth. Mark tells us he only wants to be helpful. He wants to impart the TRUTH to those at the Strange Fire conference that may be struggling to understand how the Holy Spirit moves in modern times. Mark Driscoll is VERY concerned for the TRUTH.

So what does Mark Driscoll, a man VERY concerned about the TRUTH do? He implies that he is in the neighborhood, drives 40 miles up the 5, likely the nation's busiest highway, to take books onto the conference grounds of John MacArthur's Strange Fire event. Why? Well, because Mark Driscoll is concerned about the TRUTH.

What does Driscoll do? He enters the conference grounds and begins, without regard for protocol, without regard or respect for John MacArthur or Grace To You ministries, and proceeds to set up his own little unauthorized booth and distribute his book that he knows contains contrary views to the very conference he is attending.

When security figures out what is going on, they ask him to leave, politely, and to take his books with him. Driscoll, without protest tells GTY to keep his books as a gift and proceeds to his car. But before he can put GTY out of sight of his rear-view-mirror he tweets to nearly half a million people that GTY Security confiscated his books. Why? Well, Mark says he came to the conference because he cares about the TRUTH.

What are we to do with a calculating and deliberate liar like Mark Driscoll? Well, we do three things: first, we make sure the Church knows what he is...a liar. Second, we continue to confront Mark with his sin until he repents according to Matt. 18:15-18. Three, we pray for Mark's salvation. You see, Mark Driscoll deliberately lied to the Church and he deliberately, and in premeditated fashion, committed slander against John MacArthur and GTY Security. Now, I realize to the typical American, easy believism, cheap grace kind of Christianity, this is nothing. In the name of grace, and in the name of "we are all sinners and none of us are perfect" kind of nonsense, Mark's behavior will be downplayed as a mistake, an error in judgment, or even perfectly defensible if you can believe it. May I submit to you that this attitude is the scandal behind the scandal.

I remember a couple in Acts 5 that lied to the Church and to the Holy Spirit. God killed them both. It is a scandal of scandals not that Mark Driscoll would engage in such egregiously wicked behavior. The scandal is actually related to one of the main points of the Strange Fire conference to begin with: the Church's refusal to confront and deal with sin and error in a loving and biblical manner.

This is the "Thyatiran Scandal" of of Rev. 3:20: "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." It wasn't the sexual immorality that so angered God in the case of Thyatira. That wasn't it at all. It was that Church's tolerance of wickedness and her refusal to rebuke, correct, and criticize the immorality in her presence that had God telling her that He had THIS against her.

No decent elder board would allow Mark Driscoll to continue in leadership after this profane and disgraceful act. He has brought open and public shame to Christ, to the Church, and to Christianity. The Church, if she is to maintain an ounce of moral authority must address Driscoll's sin openly, lovingly, and sternly. She must do so for the sake of Christ, for the sake of Christianity, for the sake of Mark Driscoll, and for the sake of the good name of John MacArthur and GTY Ministries.

I ask you a simple question: if you are to judge a tree by its fruit and Mark Driscoll says he did what he did because he is concerned about TRUTH, what kind of tree is Driscoll?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Judging by Behavior: A Response to Steve Hays’ Judging by Appearances

Steve Hays is at it again. One of the tactics employed at John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference was the use of several You Tube clips from Pentecostal-Charismatic (PC) worship services. These clips were used to illustrate the bizarre behavior that goes on in the PC churches and events. Steve Hays has taken exception to the clips and titled his response “Judging by Appearances.” Now, first of all, Hays employs his standard debate technique. This technique seeks, from the start, to poison the well. We all know that we are not to judge by appearances and it is easy to understand that such behavior must be avoided. But when Hays describes Strange Fire leadership as Judging by Appearances, he immediately sets a very negative and unfair tone. These tactics are not only unethical, they represent some of the most fallacious arguments on the Web. The shocking thing is that Hays claims to be a conservative reformed kind of guy. Over the last year or so, I am not so sure what kind of guy Hays is. I know that his arguments seem to lack pastor concern, genuine love, and humility, and are quite totally lacking in gentleness and respect for others. I have prompted Hays several times to change his tone to no avail.

Hays Point One
i) One problem is the fallacious extrapolation from examples like that to charismatics in general, much less charismatic theology in general. When MacArthurites use these YouTube clips to discredit charismatic theology in principle, they are encouraging others to draw a blatantly fallacious inference. They need to demonstrate that this behavior is representative of charismatics. They also need to demonstrate that this behavior is a logical outcome of charismatic theology. 

First of all, Hays assumes that these behaviors are not fair representatives of the PC movement in general. I spent years in the movement and was a licensed minister in the Church of God, the movement’s oldest Pentecostal denomination. I can say that while not everyone in the PC movement behaves in this manner during worship, a high percentage do, and, that percentage has grown over the years, and the ones that do not are afraid to criticize it because they are afraid of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The fact is there are very, very few in the PC movement who actually see these behaviors as a problem.
Secondly, if you are open to dreams, visions, and open revelation in general, by what standard could you ever criticize this behavior? If your entire theological system is built off a radically subjective view of open revelation and you believe that you can feel God and the Holy Spirit, how can you criticize the behavior? Have you ever had someone use the argument that we can’t put God in a box? Take a guess who made that foolish argument so incredibly popular today: that is correct, it was the PC movement telling us that God can do whatever He wants because we can’t put God in a box. If Hays cannot understand how PC theology leads logically to this kind of behavior: it is not the fault of poor argumentation on the part of cessationism.

Hays Point Two
ii) It's spiritually hazardous to treat these YouTube clips as an implicit standard of comparison. I'm reminded of obese people who complain that they are one of the few remaining groups it's socially acceptable to make fun of. 

This is one of the silliest analogies I have seen from Hays. It is a perfect exemplar for non-sequiturs if ever there was one. Hays’ tactic is easy to spot even if he thinks it is not. He takes one behavior that is obviously in poor taste and then says the other behavior is the same. The purpose of the PC video clips was not to make fun of anyone. The purpose was to let others see what is really going on in PC worship services and events. Most people who are not PC have no idea that this is the kind of stuff going on in the movement. Moreover, the objective was to show that these behaviors are not out there on the fringe. They are in the mainstream of the movement. Ken Hagin, Ken Copeland and other prominent leaders have led the way. Michael Brown was a tenacious defender of the laughing revival which is still going on. To my knowledge, he has never recanted.

Hays then uses another analogy as if it clarifies his point, but it only serves to introduce more confusion. Hays says, “For instance, I never attended a Mormon service, but I imagine that Mormon services are very staid and respectable. Nothing sensational or embarrassing usually happens. Everyone behaves themselves.” Does Hays really think that PC worship run amok is a mere appearance? If Steve Hays does not understand that these behaviors do not occur in a vacuum, he really should excuse himself from the discussion.

Why do PC people engage in and tolerate these behaviors on the You Tube clips? The answer is very simple: they believe God moves in his church and in His people in precisely this way. They think that their duty as Christians is to focus on God and “enter into His presence, or enter into His Spirit” in order to have the premium worship experience they are supposed to have. They are taught that when they open up and let go and just enter God’s presence that God does things in them that He does not do at other times. They think He heals their marriages, gives them what they need to grow spiritually, and that it will even result in career advancement and material success. This “entering into God’s presence” is common among all those in the PC movement. The enemy of PC worship is often portrayed as rational thought. PC adherents are constantly encouraged not to try and understand God’s moving with your mind. Do not think about what is happening, they are told. Just let go and jump in. Do you feel that urge or tingle? That’s the presence of God. That is the Holy Spirit trying to work on you! Let Him in. Do not quench the Spirit!

Michael Brown states it this way, “What is revival? It is God “stepping down from heaven” and baring His holy arm. He comes and acts and speaks. There is a holy presence and a word on fire. God is in the midst of His people. The Lord is shaking the world. That is revival! It is a time of visitation.” Leaders in the PC movement would say that these clips are people “responding” to the presence of God as He “moves” among His people. If Hays cannot see the theology behind it, that is no fault of the Strange Fire Conference. It is the fault of his own unwillingness to give the conversation the kind of respect and appreciation it deserves. After all, we are talking about the very character and reputation of the Christian religion and even more than that, we are talking about the God of all that is and how He is being represented to an unbelieving world. Finally, we are talking about millions of people who think this is Christianity when it clearly is not!

Hays concludes his criticism saying, “Don't be so quick to judge by appearances. Jesus reminds us that some of the worst sins are sins of the heart.” Thinking he has made his point, he issues a final indictment. The Strange Fire conference is guilty of judging by appearances. Does Hays really think that men of the caliber of Phil Johnson, Steve Lawson, R. C. Sproul, and John MacArthur would not set out to understand both the theology and practices of the PC movement before putting on a conference like this? Does Hays not realize that John MacArthur is a pastor in the middle of where this movement actually started just over 100 years ago? Is Hays oblivious to the fact that Pastor MacArthur is likely to have encountered more PC people than he himself ever will and that these encounters have resulted in a depth of experience with the movement and its people that uniquely qualifies him to address the errors? Apparently all these facts seem to be missed by Hays as he puts on display his morbid interest in abstract, perpetual debates about one subject after another without the slightest display of genuine concern for the Church or for those who are being harmed by a movement whose theology ranges from small error to heresy to overt blasphemy.

Having spent years in the movement and having served as a licensed minister and pastor in the PC movement, I can speak with authority and credibility on the Strange Fire conference. The conference is exactly correct in its assessments. My journey out of the PC movement was due to my willingness to consider that I was wrong about tongues, about “feeling God,” about how God moves, about open revelation, about prosperity and success being tied to faith in Christ. I admit that I rejected certain aspects earlier on, but my shift out of the movement took several years. I can honestly say that from my perspective, Hays’ comments come from what appears to be a serious lack of experience with the movement and a significant lack of interaction with PC theology at any degree of depth. I hope Hays will reconsider his apparent propensity for intellectual pugilism and his desire for what appears to be a life defined by one debate after another. I am all for standing for truth. But there is a difference between seeking to allow the Word of God to perform its work in us and seeking to win an argument. When we become so obsessed with winning the argument that we forget about the edification of the people involved, and we forget that we must seek to represent our Father well before a dark world, then we become the very darkness against which we fight, blinded by our own insatiable lust for intellectual dominance instead of humbled by the life-transforming truths that we proclaim and defend.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Modern Tongues Versus Ancient Tongues – Avoiding Anachronism

It is difficult to miss the current debate surrounding the Pentecostal-Charismatic practice of speaking in tongues. In the interest of transparency, the reader should know that I was regenerated and converted to Christ in 1979 in a Church of God. In case you didn’t know, the Church of God is the oldest Pentecostal denomination in the world. In addition, I was a licensed minister in that denomination. I say this so that no one can accuse me of being inexperienced or uninformed. I am very experienced and informed when it comes to the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement.

In order to understand the New Testament phenomenon of tongues, it is desirable that we do our best to remove our modern experience with the phenomenon. We have to dismiss every single thing that has been written about the experience from modern writers attempting to explain to us exactly what it is. We have to erase the blackboard, if you will. What we have to do is travel back in time to the ancient Mediterranean world, open the Greek New Testament, and do our best to glean our information on the phenomenon of “tongue-speaking” beginning with the Scripture. In order to evaluate the claim of modern Pentecostals that their practice is the very same practice that took place in the early church, we also have to examine the modern practice. But we will save that for last. First we have to examine all the information we have on the ancient practice of speaking in tongues.

The very first mention of tongues in the New Testament is located in Acts 2:3-4. The “other tongues” that these new believers experienced on Pentecost signified the birth of the Church and the ushering in of the end times. Moreover, this event was the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ to His disciples. The Holy Spirit is promised to all who believe into Christ Jesus, placing their faith and truth entirely in Him. The tongues mentioned here by Luke were actual languages. We know this because the crowd was amazed and astonished to hear these Galileans speaking in foreign languages. Indeed, a miracle was taking place before their eyes. In fact, so amazing was this event that the people were utterly perplexed according to Luke. Whatever this ability is, it can only be accounted for by attributing it as a miraculous gift from God.

The next incident of tongues is recorded in Acts 10:46. Peter travelled Caesarea to preach to the centurion, Cornelius. Cornelius was converted to Christ and he spoke in tongues. Peter associated this event with God’s acceptance of the Gentiles. Later, this event proved to be instrumental in demonstrating that God was indeed pouring His Spirit out on all flesh just as Joel had prophesied. The next account of tongues is mentioned in Acts 19 when the disciples of John were converted to Christ and consequently spoke in tongues and prophesied. These are the only three records from history that we have in Scripture of men speaking in tongues. It is likely that the Samaritans also spoke in tongues although we cannot prove it. This phenomenon is indelibly associated with the New Covenant and the birth of the Church of Jesus Christ. In every case, it served as a sign pointing to Jesus Christ as the Messiah, to the fact that God was initiating a new work. But it is clear that Luke’s tongues were real languages. Any attempt to argue otherwise is anachronistic. Since Acts 2 is our first record of tongues and since Luke clearly informs us that foreigners understood them, it is only reasonable that we take his description of tongues and apply it elsewhere to mean the very same thing. It would be exegetically illegitimate not to do so. It would be serious error to redefine tongues based on personal experience.

All remaining references to tongues are located in Paul’s correspondence to the Corinthians. Paul lists kinds of tongues as a gift that God placed in the Church in 1 Cor. 12:10, 28. Note that Paul uses the word genos, which means kind. The word is used to describe different kinds of fishes, races, languages, etc. Tongues are kinds of languages that are apparently understood by men. So far, as we read the Greek Text of Scripture, we have no reason to think otherwise. When we see the word glossa appearing in the text, we immediately recall the experience at Pentecost. That is the grid through which we look in order to understand the meaning of this word in the NT context. The reformation principle that Scripture interprets Scripture is essential to understanding the meaning of tongues. So far then, we have no reason to view tongues as anything other than a gift from God by which men are miraculously enabled to speak in languages they were never taught.

Paul then implies, quite emphatically, that not everyone has the gift of tongues. Apparently, the gift is given according to the will of the Spirit who is viewed as sovereign over the administration of these gifts. The next mention of tongues is found in 1 Cor. 13:1 where Paul says that even if he has the tongues of men and of angels and does not have love, he is nothing. Paul is concerned that the Corinthian Christians exhibit love in their Christian walk above all else.

Now, we come to an interesting text in Corinthians. Paul tells the Corinthians that the one who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God for no one understands him. Now, before we rush to anachronistic eisgesis, we must remember what I said from the start. We must understand “tongues” in light of Luke’s description in Acts chapter 2. There is no reason for us to take it any other way. Moreover, the difficulty of the passage should not intimidate us into resorting to a lazy man’s way of handling the text. First, this tongue is a language that some men understand and that some men do not understand. The men that Paul refers to are not all men without exception, but the men in the local Church in general. These men do not understand the language that the individual is speaking in, even though God does. While he speaks mysterious revealed by the Spirit, only God understands what he is saying, in the context of the local Church. God understands all languages. Again, the reason we conclude this is because we know from Acts 2 that some men do understand tongues. Therefore, Paul cannot mean that no men understand him. The reason he is not speaking to man is because these men do not understand him. The “for” is epexegetical. The reason the tongue speaker only speaks to God in such circumstances is because his audience does not understand him. In other words, he only speaks to God because only God understands him. But is this how it should be. Based on the remaining exhortations from Paul in this chapter, it seems obvious that it is not as it should be.

The predominant theme in 1 Cor.14 is the edification of the body. Paul is extremely concerned with speech and service that have, as their central concern, the edification of the body of Christ. In fact, if you go back to chapter 12, we see the whole purpose of the gifts was for the edification of the body, not the individual. Paul then tells the Corinthians that prophesy is a superior gift because it immediately edifies the body while tongues does not because it is a foreign language that the body does not understand, unless of course the speaker interprets the language so that the body can understand what was said. Paul then makes the point that it would be useless for someone to come to the Church speaking in a foreign language unless he were to reveal or make known what he was saying. In other words, tongues are useless to the hearer unless they are interpreted. Paul then uses the analogy of a bugle that makes a sound no one recognizes. He makes the point that no one will respond to it because they do not recognize the “charge” sound for example. It is utterly useless, a meaningless noise.

We now come to verses 9-10 and these represent a real problem for the Pentecostal theory regarding tongues. Paul informs the Corinthian believers that unless they speak in a language that is understandable, they are speaking into the air. The phrase “speech that is clear” literally means “readily intelligible.” Verse 2 must be understood in light of verse 11. Paul tells the Church that there are many kinds of languages in the world but none without meaning. However, even though they have meaning, they are useless when employed around someone that does not understand them.

Paul then commands that the Corinthians must seek to edify the Church, something the speaking in tongues does not do unless it is interpreted or unless the person understands the language of course. Paul then says that the person speaking in tongues should pray that he will be able to interpret it. Paul says that praying without understand what you are praying is unfruitful. Paul then says that when he prays in tongues, he will pray also with the interpretation and when he sings in tongues, he will sing with the interpretation also. The point is that he will know what he is saying even when he is speaking in this language. In this way, tongues, at a minimum can edify the speaker. However, to contend that unfruitful understanding is still edifying seems to me to be extremely mystical.

In verse 16 Paul once again reminds the Corinthians that the goal is always the edification of others. Therefore, if we bless in tongues, in this foreign language, how can the one present say amen? You may very well be giving thanks just fine, but the other person is not edified. Paul then says he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians. However, in the Church, where there is one known language, he would rather speak five words with his mind than ten-thousand in a tongue. The reason is clear: so that the Church would be edified. This raises the question as to where Paul might be speaking these foreign languages. It would seem to me that he must have been speaking in foreign languages outside the Church in his evangelistic efforts to spread the gospel.

In 1 Cor. 14:22, Paul gives us the purpose for tongues: it is a sign for unbelievers. The only way we can see how this makes sense is if we go back to Acts 2 where Luke records that these foreigners were utterly amazed and astonished. The sign is that the followers of Christ were supernaturally endowed to speak in foreign languages. Rightfully so, the foreigners were utterly amazed at this miracle. Now, Paul says that if outsiders come in and everyone speaks in these languages, the outsiders will think the Church is insane. Notice that this is the same experience that happened at Pentecost, but with a distinctly differently outcome. How could this be? The answer is easy: the audience is different. At Pentecost, the hearers understood the languages, but here, Paul’s assumption is that they do not.

Paul then forbids the members from speaking in tongues in the Church service unless there is an interpreter present. This word for interpret literally means to translate. There is no reason for us to suppose that this interpreter was supernaturally endowed with this gift. This could be the case but it could just as easily be the case that the speakers were expected to know in advance if there was someone present who could interpret their language naturally or otherwise. If not, they were to keep silent. The point is that translators must be present so that the Church can be edified.

The overarching theme of 1 Corinthians 14 is not the proper use of tongues. Rather, it is the proper edification of the body of Christ. All behavior must be directed toward that goal. Seemingly, there were some in the Corinthian Church that were quite puffed up with themselves due to their gifts. In fact, Paul said that they were not lacking in this department. But he also called the same people carnal because of their ungodly attitudes. The Corinthian Church had a very carnal attitude toward the spiritual gifts and were prone to spiritual pride. It is obvious they viewed tongues in an unhealthy way.

Paul ends his exhortation by instructing the Corinthians to desire prophecy, but he does not encourage the Corinthians to take the same disposition toward this ability to speak in foreign languages. Instead, he merely tells them not to inhibit people from the tongues gift. The central point was that all things should be done for the edification of the body.

This is all the information we have on the subject of tongues in the NT. This information is 2,000 years old. Some things we can say are clear about tongues. Other things are admittedly somewhat obscure. We acknowledge and confess that we do not know all there is to know about the ancient phenomenon of tongues. I admit that my understanding of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians on the subject of tongues is imperfect and clouded by nearly 2,000 years of history, not to mention a significant cultural divide. I leave open the possibility that my explanation in some places could be inaccurate. Indeed, it would be quite arrogant of me to put forth my views with dogmatic certainty under these conditions. However, at a minimum I do think I have been able to point out that we do know some things about the ancient New Testament phenomenon known as tongues. And these things we can know with dogmatic certainty.

·         New Testament tongues were actual languages according to the only detailed description we have of them. Luke described them as such in Acts 2.
·         The gift of tongues was given by the Holy Spirit according to His will and it was the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages.
·         The gift of tongues was not given to every Christian.
·         Untranslated tongues were strictly forbidden in the presence of other Christians, be it worship, or prayer.
·         Untranslated tongues were not edifying to hearers.
·         New Testament tongues were given as a miraculous sign, hence, the only way this could be true was if they were actual languages.

        From what we can say dogmatically about New Testament tongues, it follows that we can also say, dogmatically, that the modern phenomenon witnessed in Pentecostal-Charismatic churches is not the same phenomenon recorded in the historical writings of Luke or Paul. The nature of modern tongues is fundamentally different from the nature of ancient tongues practiced in the early Church.

For an excellent article on this subject, see Nathan Busenitz in TMSJ HERE.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Strange Fire Conference - John MacArthur Initiates Another Battle for Truth

Front Cover

The Strange Fire Conference

Click the link above to visit the "Strange Fire Conference" webpage. There will be live streaming of the event beginning tomorrow.

John MacArthur does it again. He has refused to sit back and say nothing about a movement that routinely displays some of the highest arrogance of any movement I can think of in terms of the movements claiming to be distinctly Christian. I am convinced that Dr. MacArthur's attempt is one of the most loving things he could ever do for the Christian community. Part of the issue with the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is its amazing congruence with the hedonistic, materialistic modern advanced cultures and its wildly successful ability to generate temporal, fleshly hope in cultures where little hope exists. The tactic is about as cruel as one can possibly be. The number of people jumping on the bandwagon and signing up for this movement is very high. But the reasons are as sinful in many cases as they are erroneous. 

  • People feel very special when God talks to them directly. They want what the early Church and the prophets had: direct, divine revelation from God. In fact, they demand it. This movement gives them dreams, visions, and personal prophecy.
  • People want a life of material gain. This movement promises that they can have it.
  • People do not want deal with being sick or getting a disease. This movement teaches that healing was provided for in the atonement.
  • People want to see God's miraculous power. This movement claims to have miracle workers.
  • People want their best life right now. This movement tells them that God wants the same thing for them.
  • People want success in marriage and career, fulfillment, personal happiness, to be elevated. This movement promises them all their hearts desires.
  • People do not want to suffer or do without. This movement promises them they do not have to.
The Strange Fire Conference is not a conference strictly dealing with abstract theological disputes over cessationism. It is much more than that. It goes to the very heartbeat of why continuationism is such a problem. This conference has at its core, pastoral concerns. People are living in error and being taking advantage of. The Christian message has been contorted into something very dark and demonic in many cases. The range of teaching in Pentecostal-Charismatic movement moves from simple error to insidious blasphemy. Someone has to say something! Thank God Dr. MacArthur sees the true threat and danger of a movement that for the most part, and with few exceptions here and there, is a blight on the Christian community.

We are kidding ourselves if we think for a minute that the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement would be what it is today if you took away the above promises and paced the gifts in a much more conservative environment. If we removed the prosperity gospel, the promises of career advancement and personal fulfillment, and we removed the personal prophecy, the dreams, and visions, and we placed the gifts in an environment that taught the truth, the movement would be unnoticeable. It is not the gifts themselves that motivate people to be in this movement, but the sensations they get, the hope they experience, and the lifestyle they think they can achieve that makes it so very attractive. It leads to ungodly desires for wealth that somehow become sanctified and right. It makes promises it cannot and does not keep. But hope is a funny thing. Hope will deceive you. Take a failed relationship for example. If a person has hope that the relationship can be restored, that hope, even if it is false, will cause them to continue to yearn for something that will never be realized. This false hope keeps the PC adherent in the movement, hoping that eventually their ship will come in. But the only hope that matters is that blessed hope that we have in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, to be satisfied by the hope that He offers, by the experience of knowing Him even if nothing else goes as we had hoped, that hope will sustain our joy more than anything man could ever hope to conjure up. I hope you will be stirred to avoid misplaced hope, and discover the faith and hope that is Christ Jesus.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Steve Hays on Miracles: Exploding The Tactics and Underpinnings Of A Most Fallacious Argument

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

Before I comment further, I want to point out the different arguments, accusations, and tactics that Steve Hays has used to defend the theoretical idea that miracle workers are still among us working miracles as God directs them. First, Hays has accused those of us in the “MacArthur” camp of using the very same skepticism employed by David Hume. I have pointed out that there is a world of difference between the biblical command to test the spirits, to pay careful attention to yourselves, to our teaching, and the skepticism of David Hume. Hays’ argument is more than a little silly. It is confusing why he would draw such a silly comparison. Few people would deny that John MacArthur has done tremendous good for the kingdom and the Church. His loyalty to Scripture has been steadfast. His credibility and character should garner only the highest respect even when we disagree with him. Hays doesn’t seem to operate with those kind of values. More about that latter.

Hays’ second argument was to accuse MacArthur folks of being guilty of circular reasoning. We believe in the Bible because of miracles and we believe in miracles because they are in Scripture, or so goes Hays’ portrayal of our approach. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on Hays’ part. Framed this way, it is not difficult to see the problem with the argument. But Hays is wrong in how he frames our argument, and I think he should have known better. Most MacArthur folks are presuppositional in their approach. No one came along, told us the Bible is the Word of God, and then performed miracles to authenticate their statement. Moreover, I don’t know of anyone who reads the Bible, sees its miraculous claims, and concludes, well then, it must be true because it claims to have miracles in it. Again, this is an absolutely absurd and ridiculous argument and it is a little less than charitable for Hays to paint us in this light. Then again, is there any indication that Steve Hays cares, really, truly cares about the people he disagrees with? If we are to go on his actions, how he deliberately misrepresents their positions to make his argument look superior and that he does this with the highest degree of consistently, one would have no choice but to doubt that he really does care about the person behind the opposing argument.

Hays continues by accusing me of using the same methods an atheist uses to argue against God. What Hays refuses to acknowledge, even though he knows it is true, is that my presuppositions are fundamentally different from the atheist and therefore, my conclusions are radically different. The truth is that human reasoning will use similar methods along the way. Those of us who are presuppositional in our thinking know this. But we also know that the fundamental different is in the fundamentals. That is to say, our real disagreement rests in our radically opposing presuppositions, our basic commitments about reality, knowledge, and ethics. Hays know this as well.

What Hays has repeatedly attempted to do is poison the well. He began by attempting to associate us with Hume. Then he attempted to frame up our argument in the most absurd manner, accusing us of circular reasoning. He then placed us in the Evidentialist camp. Finally, he claims that we employ atheistic tactics. All of this kind of argumentation is not really offering counter points to the claims that we make for our position. It is a tactic to smear, to discredit, even to slander, and to distract others from the real problem of his own argument. What is that problem, you ask? The real problem for Hays’ argument is that he can offer no tangible evidence that miracle-workers exist today. Therefore, he keeps the argument theoretical. He desperately needs to reject the empirical argument that asserts that we lack any good and credible evidence showing that miracle-workers actually are active today. He would prefer that we be forced to prove there are no miracle-workers. That is a fallacious approach even if it is a clever tactic. We cannot prove there are no unicorns in the universe. We could spend lots of energy attempting to prove it, but such an endeavor would be fruitless. We could travel to country A, and examine everyone there and find no miracle-worker. We could then move to country B and find the same, only to have Hays retort that the miracle-worker was in B when you examined A, and A when you examined B. If Hays is going to argue that miracle-workers are present today, then he needs to produce one. If he cannot produce one and no one else can produce one, why should we believe him? What evidence can he offer, other than empirical evidence, to prove his point?

Hays will retort that he can offer Scripture as sufficient evidence or the historical method. No he cannot! There is nothing in Scripture that affirms that miracle-workers will be present in the Church until the return of Christ. But, he may say, there is nothing in Scripture that says they will not be present either. However, that does not qualify as proof that they are present. It only gets him to the state of possibility. Is that what Hays is really arguing? Is Hays spending all this intellectual energy to argue that it is possible that miracle-workers exist today. Okay, I will play Hays’ game. I do think it is possible that miracle-workers could exist today. But I also think, based on that same methodology that it is possible the universe could contain unicorns. But I also think that possibility is infinitesimally small. And the only reason I think it is possible is not because of the claims of these charlatans. It is because I think it is possible that I could be wrong in my view about the purpose for miracles in the NT era. The construction of my theological system is by inference from one exegetical examination to another and then to historical phenomena. I think my position is exceptionally strong. But because I am finite, fallible, and sinful, my knowledge is imperfect. Revelation is not as clear on the subject as it is on other subjects, like the resurrection for example. Therefore, I have to leave open the possibility that I could be mistaken.

The final argument Hays makes is that MacArthur accuses the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement of being purveyors of a false gospel. Hays then says that MacArthur himself might have been guilty of this very thing…20 years ago. This is an utterly ridiculous objection and seems to be more of an attempt out of desperation, and a desire to smear and slander John than it is to get at genuine truth. MacArthur was corrected in his error; he recognized it by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit and repented, uh, 20 years ago. Yet Hays thinks it is relevant to the discussion. Does Hays care that a brother was caught up in a sin 20 years ago, was confronted, repented, and as a result has grown in Christ since that time? Who among us can claim that we were born again with a perfect and mature understanding of the gospel? Apparently, Hays does not care that MacArthur is a human being, a sinner saved by grace! What Hays seems to be more interested in than anything is winning this argument. And that is Hays’ signature. It is his burning passion. He must win, at all costs. I have experienced it personally with him. MacArthur has experienced it. James White has experienced it. Fred Butler has experienced it. Dan Phillips and Frank Turk have experienced it. Others on the internet have experienced it. It seems to me that Hays has no regard for the biblical mandate NOT to slander others. He plows ahead thinking that slander is permitted when it is committed against people with whom he disagrees. This is a very bad reflection on Christianity, on Christian unity, on love. But it seems to be common practice over at Triablogue. What’s more, any attempt to point it out this ungodly practice is only met with additional slander. Moreover, it is one of the topics that Hays absolutely refuses to debate. Apparently, Hays thinks himself above such nonsense. Any discussion at all about godly behavior is met with derision and anyone attempting to raise the issue is attacked as a self-righteous hypocrite just for bringing it up.

The reason I point this out is because I believe it has everything to do with Hays’ participation in this particular discussion. Some guys just like the argument. They love the debate. They really aren’t interested in the word of God working in hearts to sanctify people by the truth it imparts. They just like the rush of winning an argument. Not so long ago, Chris Pinto was caught up in a well-known controversy. He engaged in what many called slanderous behavior. I compared several blogs with Triablogue on the subject because I was curious about my suspicions. Every other blogger was concerned about the sinful behavior involved and spoke to the need for repentance, for obedience, for proper treatment among brothers and for reconciliation. This was not the case with Triablogue. They were more interested in the poor form of Pinto’s argument. That is where they spent their time. What is more important? The form of one’s argument, or the fact that they are in sin? When we care about one another, we are more interested in their sanctification than we are in the fact that their argumentation is a little off.

The reason we care about this topic has nothing to do with winning the argument or carrying the day. We do not live in the world of ideas and possibilities, which is where it seems to me, Hays loves to spend his time. We see the real effects of the theology behind the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. We hear people claiming to speak for God. We see people claiming to be faith-healers and miracle-workers. We observe what they do with Scripture and how that impacts their followers. We see the confusion these charlatans bring into the body of Christ simply because they are so visible in our culture. We recognize the harm they do to the gospel, to the character of our Lord, to the reputation of the Church, to their followers and we raise our voice in hopes that we can reach some who will benefit from what we have to say. We stand for the truth of Scripture because we care. We care about our Lord, about the Church, about the gospel, about those who are being duped by these wolves. We acre about the kind of message the world hears from the visible Church.

There are less than 100 incidents of miracles recorded in the Old Testament. For 400 years there was none. And then all of the sudden, Christ appeared via a miracle. And during a very short window of time, there were miracles once again. In the NT we have less than 50 incidents. Now an incident could include numerous miracles at that time. There has never been a time in history when miracles were as commonplace as most in the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement claim. Think about this, we have less than 100 miracles recorded over a 4,000 year period. That is less than one miracle every 40 years. In the NT we cover a period of around 40 years. In this case we see incidents of miracles dramatically increase to more than one per year. Now, keep in mind that many of these miracles in the Old and New Testament were squeezed together in blocks. The plagues, the wanderings of the Israelites, Elijah, Elisha, etc. In addition, most of the NT incidents were performed by Christ Himself over a 3 ½ year span. One needs to examine the significance of these blocks of miracles to see what else was going on in redemptive history in order to understand and appreciate the miracles.

Today, the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement makes claims that miracles and healings occur like they have never occurred at any other time in history to include redemptive history. If we multiply the number of claimers by the number of crusades, we end up with claims of tens, no hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of miracles every year. That is staggering. One would think that in our age, with our technology, if these miracles were legitimate, and if there were authentic miracle-workers active today, not only would we know it and be able to prove it, I submit that no one would be to hide it even if they wanted to. But for some bizarre and strange reason, these miracle workers who can heal the worst of human diseases with their great power from God remain unable to provide solid proof that they can do these things. They have the power to heal the sick and raise the dead, just not the power to be able to prove they can do these things. How strangely fascinating is that?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Responding to Hays' Fallacious Poisoning the Well Argument

Some typically confused comments from Ed Dingess:Steve Hays is at it again with his at-a-distance pie-in-the-sky non-falsifiable theory that God continues to work miracles in a manner not at all materially different from how He has always worked miracles. Hays’ argument is really an argument from silence. What I mean by that is that Hays’ argument appeals to claims of miracles far, far away, in a distant land in order to defend his position.
 i) I've never said modern miracles only occur in Third World countries. Rather, I've objected to how MacArthurites dismiss reports from Third World Christians out of hand. ii) Notice, though, how Ed's argument is indistinguishable from how atheists attack Biblical miracles:  at-a-distance pie-in-the-sky non-falsifiable theory...claims of miracles far, far away, in a distant land
 Isn't that exactly how secular debunkers discount Biblical miracles? "You Christians appeal to conveniently unfalsifiable miracles from the distant past."  If someone claims to be a miracle worker, we simply demand some form of clear and acceptable proof. Had someone been able to supply such a certification, perhaps the contours of the debate would shift.
 Even when medical corroboration is provided, MacArthurites fold their arms say that's not "on the level of undeniable miracles in the NT." 

I offer just a brief response because that is really all that is required. First of all, note that Hays engages in the logical fallacy of poisoning the well by interjecting Hume and attempting to claim that cessationist borrow from Hume's skepticism. He also accuses my of using atheist tactics, which I think is a real howler. No one should be able to read what I have said or how I have argued and conclude that there is any hint of atheistic or Humean tactics or doctrine.

i) I never said that Hays only points to third world countries. What Hays needs to do, quite simply is offer some proof. If miracle workers exist, produce one. Give us a name and let us carefully examine him. That is the very best way to end this debate. If Hays is so confident that we are wrong and that this argument is not one of theory and abstractions, give us a real, flesh and blood miracle worker here in THIS country then or any country as far as that goes, and let us move the debate down the road. I am willing to admit that I could be wrong about this. But, you see, I just have not been given a single solitary reason at this point, to think I am. The burden of proof on those who claim miracle workers are real and still moving around in society is squarely on them.

ii) This challenge stands. I will not back off from it. It is nothing like how atheists attack the Bible because they begin with a God-less presupposition and without good reason (anti-supernatural viciously circular reasoning) they reject solid historical claims while accepting others. In other words, the atheist method is violently inconsistent. They pick and choose what they will accept from history based on their anti God bias. They allow their atheism to set the standard for what is historical and what is not.

It is true that we cannot show the miracle claims of Scripture to be empirically verifiable. But not everything that is true can be empirically verified. I feel no obligation whatever to accept such silly nonsense. The claim that everything should be empirically verifiable is not itself empirically verifiable. Do we really need to go down this road? Is this the same as modern miracles? Not at all. We do not place the claims of Scripture in the dock of human reason. But we can, we do, and we should place modern claims of men who say they speak for God in the dock and test them with both Scripture and human reason. Can we test these modern claims empirically? You better believe we can. Should we? We most certainly should. Were the miracles of Scripture empirically verifiable at the time? The most certainly were. The way in which Jesus and the early Christian leaders performed miracles left no doubt whatever that a miracle took place. The miraculous phenomena of the ushering in of the New Covenant message and gospel was undeniable and indisputable. Hays seems to equivocate and confuse methods for testing truth claims. He seems to want to apply empirical testing to ancient claims and historical testing to modern claims when he should be doing it the other way around. I know that Hays realizes this. I just don't understand why he argues the way he does. It really is pretty simple how those of us in this camp argue.

Once again, my hope is that some readers will take these comments and carefully examine them. That they will look at these modern claims differently or at least launch an objective investigation of the matter in search for the truth. I hope the result is a new and fresh appreciation for what it means to publicly stand in Christ's place, claiming to represent Him, and how what we say and do everywhere, to include on the internet, is a reflection on Him. When we claim to be a mirror of Christ and we slander one another, we tell others that slander is ok. We tell others that Christians slander each other when they cannot agree on these issues. I hope we grow to the place where we can passionately defend the truth and call a lie a lie without calling each other names or engaging in obvious fallacies designed to paint our detractors in the worse possible light.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Responding to Hays' Argument While Ignoring His Ad Hominem and Slander

Some MacArthurites seem to be confused about the relationship between cessationism and the argument from miracles. Of course, Ed Dingess is incapable of honesty. But let's spell out the relationship:
i) From what I've read, MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts. The function of sign-gifts is to attest the message by attesting the messenger. This is divine validation that the messenger speaks for God.
ii) The identity of Biblical miracles as sign-gifts is a key plank in the cessationist argument. Once the message (i.e. the Bible) was complete, there was no further need of messengers (i.e. prophets, apostles). Once there was no further need of messengers, there was no further need of sign-gifts. So miraculous sign-gifts have an expiration date. 
iii) This, in turn, figures in the traditional argument from miracles. According to the structure of the argument, we don't primarily believe in Biblical miracles on the authority of Scripture. Rather, we believe Scripture because miracles authorize the Bible writers. Miraculous sign-gifts are compelling evidence that the Bible writers were divinely commissioned. We believe the reported miracles because miracles certify the reporter. 
Having established the bona fides of Bible writers by the argument from miracles, we can now appeal to the authority of Scripture.
iv) This is a classic evidentialist argument. At least some MacArthurites are presuppositionalists. But that generates an unresolved tension between cessationist argument from miracles, which is an evidentialist argument, and presuppositionalism. You can't just graft presuppositionalism onto that preexistent framework. 
For starters, you can decide if it is ethical for one Christian blogger to accuse another Christian blogger of being incapable of honesty or not. I want to make sure everyone understands my primary motive in this discussion. It is not to win an argument with Steve Hays or anybody else as far as that goes. My hope is that someone will hear the truth in what I am communicating and as a result of that truth, they’re life will be affected. My hope is that they will grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ, and become more conformed to the image of Christ. Now, without further delay, I wish to interact with Hays’ argument. But before I do, I want to say clearly that I do not portend in any way shape or form to represent “MacArthurites” in general. I do not claim to speak for John MacArthur. I think we are mostly in agreement, but I leave open the possibility that my position and approach may differ in minor ways from other approaches within this particular brand of theology.

Concerning i), I do think Scripture itself offers this view of the miraculous and I stated that clearly in my most recent post. There is a sense of attestation found in those miracles. But the miracles themselves do not stand alone as the attestation. There is a relationship between those miracles and the inner moving of the Holy Spirit to receive them for what they are. Otherwise, how can we explain that Christ performed so many undeniable miracles and yet ended up with somewhere around 120 followers? It follows then that miracles served as signs of approval from God, validating the message and messenger, but something more is needed. The NT time was a unique period of time compared to all other periods of time in redemptive history. After all, we have the Christ event and the birth of His Church along with God’s final act of special revelation. Indeed, it was a unique period unlike anything before or since.

Now, concerning Hays’ point ii), I must confess that his argument moves from pretty clear water to very murky waters indeed. I do not think we would agree that there was no longer a need for messengers once the message had been delivered. Surely we believe that we are messengers to this day of that one message that has been once for all delivered to the saints. Once the message comes, having been validated with miracles, there is no longer any need for further validation. The authority of God revealed in the message and attested and confirmed with signs, miracles, and wonders was given to validate the “once for all message.” Since we do not have a new message, no further validation is necessary. What has been validated, has been validated. Hays’ creation on this point seems like a straw man from my perspective. It seems that this is what Hays needs us to believe in order to “win an argument” rather than Hays’ actually articulating what we actually believe.

Concerning point iii), we have more of the same from Hays. Hays is very confused as why we believe the Scripture. We do not follow the traditional argument from miracles. We believe in miracles for two very basic reasons: first, we cannot deny that we are creatures of God. This fact alone demonstrates that our very existence is a miracle. Second, we believe God intervenes, that He condescends to interact with and engage His creation and this has involved miracles in the course of redemptive history. The record for this condescension is nothing other than Scripture. Since we presuppose that Scripture is the divine revelation of God Himself, we believe all that it says and this includes what it says about miracles. Since the Bible records miraculous events throughout redemptive history, we believe that miracles can, have, and in fact do happen according to God’s divine plan.

Hays seems to be saying that we accept the Bible on the basis that the Bible itself claims that its messengers performed miracles. If we were to follow this line of reasoning, on what basis could we reject other holy books that lay claim to miracles? The answer is simple: we would have no basis whatever for rejecting any claims to the miraculous. And then we would have no option but to accept the claims that those books make about themselves. However, Hays has it exactly backwards. We accept the miracle claims of the Bible because we presuppose the Bible to be God’s divine revelation. After all, we were not there. We never witnessed those miracles. God chose to validate His new covenant message, His Messiah, and His new covenant messengers through signs, wonders, and miracles. These phenomena served as His megaphone, but more importantly, as judgment. We have no good reason, when we use good reason, to reject the miracle claims of Scripture. The historical testimony along with the more important testimony of the Holy Spirit about the nature of this divine relation known as the Bible is more than sufficient. We receive these claims because we have faith that the Bible itself is the divine Word of God. So why then do we reject competing claims? The answer is simple: we reject competing claims because when we place them under the microscope of rational and epistemic scrutiny, they reduce to absurdity. They end up collapsing in on themselves. 

Only Christian theism provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. But this takes us off into the discipline of apologetics. And we simply have no space for to go there at this time. Hays is simply wrong to accuse us of arguing that we believe the Bible is the Word of God because it has miracles in it. That is a naïve oversimplification at best and a malicious straw man at worse.

Finally, we come to Hays last point, point iv). Hays has tried to frame the argument within the context of an Evidentialist approach. But most people in this camp, as far as I know at least, are not at all evidentialists. We are, for the most part, presuppositional in our approach. We do not begin with miracles and argue for Scripture from miracles. In fact, it is just the opposite. We would claim that miracles exist because Scripture says they exist. We also acknowledge that to deny the miraculous is a denial of God. And this just will not do. All men know that God exists. All men know that God created the universe. Therefore, all men know that miracles exist and testify of God’s glorious work.

God used miracles as a megaphone to usher in the work and ministry of the Messiah. In addition, God used miracles, signs, and wonders to affirm the message of the Messiah and of the Messiah’s messengers. This God did because it was His prerogative to do so. If Hays’ is attempting to deny this function of miracles and if he seeks to deny that this is true, then he must explain to us what Peter meant in Acts 2:22 when he said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.” Paul said the resurrection was proof that God would judge the world by one man in Acts 17:31. He also said that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. Then again Paul referred to the signs of a true apostle in 2 Cor. 12:2. It is very confusing to hear Hays take this line of reasoning. We look back at the miracles, signs, and wonders and acknowledge that they passed off the scene. We mean this in the sense that there were no men moving around operating in these gifts like the apostles did. We recognize that this phenomena of miracles occurred during a time when a new message was being revealed by God to the world. We also recognize that once this message was revealed and in place, for some reason, the miraculous also vanished off the scene, at least at the levels it was operating during this transition period. We examine history just prior to the NT events and shortly after NT events and we discover a small window of time where men in history witnessed something very unusual. Nothing like these miracles before Christ and nothing like them after He and His followers passed off the scene. From this, we draw the inference we have drawn. This historical facts surrounding the miraculous coupled with the exegetical proofs mentioned in the NT serve as solid evidence that miracles served their purpose and that purpose was to validate the message once for all delivered to the saints. Now that the Scriptures have been validated once and for all, what need have we of further validation?

This moves us to the fact that now, when someone comes along claiming to possess that which the NT messengers possessed, the only prudent option is to test it. In addition, since we have been so bombarded with charlatan after charlatan, we have no choice but to listen with a skeptic’s ear until we can validate that we are indeed hearing true testimony of God’s activity. But this is really not hitting the mark at which MacArthur aims. MacArthur is concerned about the claims of continued revelation from God and the subsequent teachings and theology that make up this movement. The claim that God is telling me this or that or that a particular behavior is the power of God’s Spirit working in people’s lives. These are serious claims and if they prove false, they presume upon the Holy and that is simply not something the Church can tolerate. Certain gifts of the Spirit seem to have been especially designed for the ushering in of the New Covenant message of the gospel.

There is much more we could say here but I think we have effective refuted Hays' attempt to place the context of the cessationist argument within the framework of evidentialism. Moreover, I think we have also demonstrated that no legitimate parallel between Hume's skepticism and our desire to carefully examine all things in light of revealed truth exists. Contrary to Hays, I do think I can be honest about at least this much: Hays' argument is fallacious, borders on being uncharitable, has no exegetical support, and therefore is without warrant.

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