Thursday, October 10, 2013
Responding to Hays Responding to Butler
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. From my perspective, it seems that Hays is more interested in a debate than he is in settling the truth of the matter. His strategy, if accepted, keeps adding fuel to the fire, keeping the debate open indefinitely. Perhaps this is what Hays really seeks in the first place. Hays’ wants a debate of the theoretical when the issue that John MacArthur is dealing with is one of reality, one of theology, one of actual consequences. In his response to Butler, Hays accuses those of us in the opponent’s camp of having something in common with the skepticism of Hume, saying,
“I never used that argument. Rather, I've pointed out that MacArthurites often resort skeptical tactics to dismiss modern miracles which are indistinguishable from the tactics of Hume and secular debunkers. That doesn't suggest or imply that MacArthurites have to be influenced by Hume.”
Can Hays sustain this argument? I don’t think so. In the first place, we have never said that God cannot or does not heal or perform miracles today. Hume’s form of skepticism is fundamentally different. Hays is an educated philosopher and he knows better. What we object to is the view that the “gifts” of healing and miracles as they operated in the early Church are present today. That is a fundamentally different question. In addition, it is not a commitment to philosophical skepticism or any component of if that leads us to this conclusion but rather, our observation that they simply are not occurring. 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. To date, all we have so far are vague stories about unverifiable reports of supernatural events in distant lands far, far away.
Hays goes on to accuse Butler of circular reasoning:
What about Fred's digression? His response is circular. Remember that MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts whose function is to certify the messenger. So although Fred believes in Biblical miracles because he believes in the Bible, his position also commits him to believing in the Bible because the Bible was attested by sign-gifts. Therefore, he can't simply exempt Scripture from testimonial evidence in general. On the one hand he believes in Biblical miracles because the Bible attests them. On the the hand, he believes in the Bible due to miraculous attestation. So his cessationism ironically creates some parity between the case for Biblical miracles and the case for modern miracles, given the function which cessationism assigns to miracles (i.e. to accredit the messenger). Given that paradigm, you can't discount the one without discounting the other.
It seems to me that Hays misses the point. It is not our position that Christians believe the Bible because it contains miracles. We believe that miracles occurred because they are contained in the Bible. Moreover, we know that miracles are real because we know that God exists and that we are His creation. Now, did God use miracles to usher in the unique nature of the Christian message to those living at the time of that event? I think Scripture has something to say about that. Peter preached the following: “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.” That word attested means “to cause something to be known as genuine, with possible focus upon the source of such knowledge—‘to demonstrate, to show, to make clearly known.” Clearly, NT miracles were designed for a very specific purpose. The resurrection from the dead was a miraculous sign given by the prophets and fulfilled by Christ. These miracles demonstrated that Christ was the messiah and that the message of His apostles was divine. They operated with the authority of the Son of God Himself. Paul said, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Moreover, Paul said that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.
To the philosophers at Mars Hill Paul thundered that God was going to judge the world by one man, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. Clearly, the NT gift of miracles in Scripture served a very specific and high purpose. Why Hays doesn’t seem to recognize this fact is puzzling. It does not seem to me to be a stretch to assert that inspired history really is quite different from uninspired history. Events that are part of divine revelation really are special events that deserve their own category. They are special events in redemptive history given to the Church for very specific reasons. To place these events in the same category as obscure claims to the same phenomena in modern times seems to me to be driven by desperate bias on the one hand, or extreme naiveté on the other.
Hays then launches into some fairly sympathetic remarks concerning Amie Semple McPherson, John Wimber, and the Catholic claims to miracles. McPherson was a first-rate charlatan. To begin with, she was a female preacher, something Scripture explicitly prohibits. She faked her own kidnapping in order to carry on an adulterous affair. She claimed to hear directly from God. She was obsessed with the “slain in the Spirit” phenomenon that has become very popular in PC circles. She died of a drug overdose in 1944. If you can believe it, John Wimber was even worse. He began his ministry by pulling a group of people together and announcing himself as pastor. He talked about a new breed of manifest sons of God. He was a strong proponent of the laughing movement and called it the third wave move of God. He taught dominion theology and that without His body, the Church, Christ was incomplete. Wimber even believed that Christians could be demon possessed. Wimber’s teachings were deceptive, his methods were a disgrace because of their repeated failures coupled with his claim to serve Christ, Who never fails. Moreover, his anti-intellectual, check your brain at the door kind of rhetoric destroys the very idea of critical thinking.
If I follow Hays’ logic, I am left with some pretty serious problems. First, what basis do I have for rejecting the miracles claimed by Islam? If I must accept obscure and vague testimony from people in distant lands without question, then on what basis can I reject other miracle claims of competing belief systems? Second, Hays’ view that we accept the Bible because of the miracles has it exactly backwards. We believe in miracles because God reveals to us in Scripture that they happened. In addition, all men know that they are the product of the miracle of God’s handiwork. We also know that God lies in back of creation, another fantastic miracle. The miracles contained in Scripture are special events attached to a very special purpose, not only for the sake of that audience at that place and time but also for our sake, for the purpose of spiritual growth and edification. Such historical phenomena are in a category distinctly different from historical phenomena that is not part of God’s miraculous and special revelation. If Hays refuses to acknowledge that such a material difference exists between experiences in Scripture and claims of similar experiences outside of Scripture, what can we say but that the problem must be located somewhere in Hays’ theology.
Hays and others sympathetic approach is detrimental to the testimony of the Christian community. After all, we have charlatans moving around within the visible Christian community making outrageous claims that God speaks to them, that God is healing and working miracles through them, building empires, teaching heresy and doing tremendous harm to the Church, to her position as light in the world, and to countless souls the world over. For some reason, we are more concerned to protect such practices and we are more interested in debating the subject than we are in protecting the flock, protecting the truth, and purging these wolves from the pastures of God’s sheep.
Finally, when Hays and others compare our acceptance of miracles in Scripture with our rejection of miracle claims in modern times, he says we are being inconsistent. If we accept the miracles of Scripture, it seems, we must accept modern claims on the same basis. Otherwise, we are being logically inconsistent. Hays’ reasoning contains a very fundamental flaw. The basis for our belief in the miracles of Scripture is the testimony of God Himself. God the Holy Spirit has made it known to us. The writer to the Hebrews says that we intellectually grasp that the world was made by God from nothing, by faith. That is to say that we possess this knowledge by faith. We know the testimony of Scripture is true, by faith. The activity of God is involved, not only in bringing a revelation, or in giving a revelation, but in our receiving it. If Hays thinks that this process is no different from everyday experiences we have now, he is sorely mistaken. The problem, it seems to me, is not just one of argumentation, it is one of serious theological error. I do not know what kind of theology concludes that modern claims from the PC movement are not materially different from those found in Scripture, but I DO know that it is not the product of sound biblical exegesis. And that is enough for me to say that it should be avoided.