Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Cessationist View of Scripture: Refuting the Unorthodox Views of Steve Hays
In my last post, I pointed out that all knowledge is revelational in nature. In addition, I made a distinction not only between natural revelation and special revelation, but also between how regenerate and unregenerate men receive natural revelation. I stated that the Christian teaching known as total depravity asserts that unregenerate men uniformly and without exception, willfully suppress the knowledge of God they have within and about them. Paul’s teaching on this subject is unencumbered. That some men hold to a different interpretation of that text is no proof that Paul was ambiguous. If that reasoning were employed consistently to the whole text, the entire doctrine of perspicuity would be eclipsed by postmodern agnosticism. Orthodoxy has always had competing interpretations and she always will. However, Christians can fully rely on the work of the Holy Spirit to guide them into the revealed truths of Scripture. That is a primary function of His work.
What is the nature of this book we have called the Bible? What is Scripture? Why do we have Scripture? How should we view Scripture? How should we see the historical events in Scripture? Is the Bible different? Are the acts of God as recorded in Scripture different? Was God acting in typical fashion or is there a sense in which the acts of God in Scripture were special? When God spoke to Moses, was it a special event? By special, I mean can we or should we expect God to do the same thing with us? According to bloggers like Adam Hays and others, the answer is no. The events we read about in Scripture are not special in any sense. We should all expect God to visit us the same way He visited the prophets, the disciples, and others in Scripture. What happens if we accept such postulations? Does it even matter? I think it does.
The Scripture and the Spirit
A primary role of the Holy Spirit is to apply the word of God to the human heart. He is the great Teacher. Jesus said He will teach you (the disciples) all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (Jn. 14:26) Again, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” (Jn. 16:13-15) “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.” (1 Jn. 2:20) “As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” (1 Jn. 2:27) Clearly there is a clear relationship between the Spirit and the Word. The Word is called truth in John 17:17. The Spirit is called the Spirit of truth in Jn. 16:13. The Spirit’s role is to take that which has already been given and to proclaim it to us. He did this with the disciples directly and He takes the same information given to the disciples, which has been encapsulated on the page, and illumines our understanding. The role of the Holy Spirit is indispensable to understanding Scripture. And the role of the Word is indispensable to discerning the spirits. They are inseparable. It is right to call Him the Spirit of the Word!
The Concept of A Sufficient Word from God
We toss around the phrase “sufficiency of Scripture” all the time and I fear without much regard for all that it implies. The view of that God has given us what is sufficient for faith, life, and godliness is as old as the Church. The Sacred Writings have always carried a prominent place in Christianity, at least until recently. In recent times many in the Church have felt quite at home handling the Scripture with no more fear than they do a pile of dung. There is no pause, no second or third thought about what it is they are actually touching. There is little to no consideration for the potential judgment they place themselves in when they take up the Holy Writ and mangle it to suit their own unbridled, undisciplined otiose speculations. We walk under the banner of a disfigured, manufactured, and humanistic view of grace and do as we please with the hallowed Documents. It as is if the Word of God was given to satisfy our intellectual lust for vain arguments designed to show off our debate skills rather than to transform our wicked hearts and lives into the image of the God we are sworn to serve! We smash the hearts of others without regard for the damage we do all in the name of “defending the faith” or of “doing apologetics.” The Word of God was given to change us, not so that we could have something to debate.
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture means that we have all we need in Scripture in order to walk in the perfect will of God. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 could not be any clearer. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. The Greek word adequate means to be proficient and complete to perform some function. What function would that be? It would be the function of performing the good works of righteousness that result in the glory and honor of God the Father.
Now, let’s test this against the modern Pentecostal view. First of all, I am talking to the broad Pentecostal audience. This audience holds to a view known as the libertarian freedom of the will. The Pentecostal believes that God’s perfect will can be thwarted. The Pentecostal, for all intents and purpsoses, denies that God is absolutely sovereign over the state of affairs that have obtained. God has given to man the freedom to go his own way and to effectively resist His will. Moreover, men do this all the time according to the Pentecostal.
Now, to keep it simple, how does the Pentecostal idea of open revelation impugn the Sufficiency of Scripture? I am going to create a typical Pentecostal. Let’s call him Adam, well, because Adam is a common name. I have a son named Adam. I like that name. Let’s say that Adam, like nearly every other Pentecostal believes that God has a plan for his life. In fact, God has a perfect will for his life. If Adam could discover this perfect will for his life, this would mean he would be really doing more than the average Christian to honor and glorify God. He would be super close to God. He would be walking in nearly perfect obedience to God. When you reach this state in your Christian walk, God does special things in, through, and with you. But how can Adam get to that special place? How can Adam know the perfect will of God? Well, he has to pray, to fast, to give, and whatever else he can sacrifice to show God just how much he really loves him. God will help Adam get to this place by giving him dreams, visions, and prophecies and even speak to him directly.
Suppose Adam is thinking about getting married. Suppose he notices this very intelligent and attractive young lady that he thinks would make a great wife. Now suppose Adam wants to know if this is the woman God has for him. Adam will pray, and maybe even fast to get an answer. Adam may think that God has given him a dream that she is the one or not. Someone may prophesy that Adam should marry the girl. What happens if Adam does not marry the girl? What if Adam marries someone else? As far as the Pentecostal is concerned, God had another wife appointed for Adam, planned for Adam and now Adam has ruined God’s perfect plan. Adam is now not walking in God’s perfect will. In addition, what if God tells Adam that he is supposed to be a missionary but Adam refuses? Is Adam living in rebellion?
Pentecostal theology is based upon Arminianism theology. The reason the Pentecostal needs continued revelation is because they do not think the Bible in and of itself is enough. They need direction for their lives specifically that is not found in Scripture. It is not enough that God gave His word to the Church and therefore to us because we are the Church. The Pentecostal has an insatiable appetite to make everything about the individual. They want to know who to marry, where to live, which job to take. They believe that spiritual growth is based on experience. The closer they get to God, the more they will hear from Him outside of the Word. These ecstatic experiences will continually increase and this will show everyone else just how spiritual they are and how close to God they are, and how full of the Holy Spirit they are. They reject the orthodox teaching of sovereignty. They deny that God controls all things. They insist that man must find his way to God in addition to what Scripture teaches. The Bible is just the basics as far as the Pentecostal is concerned. It gets you moving toward a loftier goal. If you do things correctly (in the Spirit), God will talk to you directly, give you dreams, visions, and prophecies. You will find God’s perfect will and become a super saint.
In other words, since the Bible does not reveal to me God’s perfect will for my life, it isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient to move me along to those deeper levels of walking in the Spirit. The Pentecostal may admit that the Bible is sufficient to save and maybe sufficient to get you into heaven. But the Bible, through these gifts, points one to a deeper, closer, more perfect walk with God. And this idea is a direct contradiction of 2 Tim. 3:16-17. The Scriptures are sufficient to bring the Christian to the place where they need to be spiritually. Nothing more is needed. Either the Scriptures adequately equip the believer to do all that God requires of them or they do not. Either God has revealed all we need to know in His word or He has not.
John Webster wrote, "What Scripture is as sanctified and inspired is a function of divine revelatory activity, and divine revelatory activity is God's triune being in its external orientation, its gracious and self-bestowing turn to the creation." [Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. 9]
As for bloggers like Steve Hays, perhaps he is struggling because he has fallen on his own sword of contradictions or maybe he just has a propensity to one up everyone else. That his arguments have become wildly incongruent is obvious for all but his most biased fans to see. Webster says it like this, "If the doctrine of revelation has stumbled and fallen, it has not only been because Christian theology was tongue-tied in trying to answer its critics to their satisfaction; it has also been because Christian theology found itself largely incapable of following and deploying the inner logic of Christian conviction in its apologetic and polemical undertakings." [Ibid. 11]
Finally, to end the post, one more excellent quote from Webster: "In these form, the argument to be out here may be stated thus: revelation is the self-presentation of the triune God, the free work of sovereign mercy in which God wills, establishes and perfects saving fellowship with himself in which humankind comes to know, love and fear him above all things." [Ibid. 13]