Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sam Storms and Fallible Prophecy: A Critical Response

Back in November of 2013 Sam Storms came to the defense of the modern fallible prophecy movement in the charismatic churches. In that defense, he lists ten arguments that he is convinced refutes John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” assessment of the practice and Doug Wilson’s criticism of it as well. I am going to provide some condensed posts in response to what I see as a surplus of fallacies in Storms’ arguments. You should keep in mind, however, that my criticism is not necessarily a defense of MacArthur and Wilson’s view as much as it is of my own, which may or may not be slightly nuanced in comparison to the former men.

Mr. Storms begins with the following statement:

First, this view fails to reckon with what would undoubtedly have been thousands of prophetic words circulating in the first century, none of which are part of canonical Scripture and thus none of which are binding on the conscience of Christians throughout history.

Storms makes this statement in response to the view that such prophecies equal divine revelation and as such are the authoritative word of God and should be included in the canon. Storms takes the curious and fallacious position that there is a distinction in the authority of God’s word included in the canon and that word that never made it into the canon.

My mind travels back to that time when Moses was commanded by God to strike the rock once! This word was not part of the canon, the Torah, and yet Moses suffered the judgment of God for not obeying God’s personal word to Him. I am also reminded of Saul, whom Samuel told to destroy everything from the Amalekites. Saul disobeyed and lost the kingdom. These words were not part of the Torah nor were they given to everyone in Israel. They were given to Saul. God’s word is by nature authoritative. God’s word was just as authoritative prior to canonization as it is now that we have the canon. The canon does nothing to make God’s word more or less authoritative. In addition, putting God’s divine communication in writing does not add to its authority, nor does it diminish it in any way. God’s word is authoritative precisely because it is God’s word, not because it takes a particular form.

Since God’s word is by nature authoritative, it only follows that the recipient of that word is under absolute obligation to obey it. Refusal to obey God’s word, regardless of its form, is a serious sin. God’s word is not more or less authoritative depending on its form or its messenger. Storms makes no effort to demonstrate why anyone should think otherwise. He simply assumes we should take his point to be the gospel truth so to speak.

Finally, Storms makes a serious error in his presumption regarding the number and content of NT prophecies. Storms says, “there would undoubtedly have been thousands of prophetic words circulating in the first century.” This may or may not have been the case. The truth is that we do not know how often this gift was engaged in the ancient church. Nevertheless, even if Storms is right in his speculation on this point, he is likely wrong in his speculation on the latter one. Storms presumes that the content of these numerous prophecies during the ancient church never made its way into the canon. How does he know this? Indeed, how could he possibly know this to be the case? The fact of the matter is that he does not. The truth is that these prophecies could have very well been a combination of Old Testament and New Testament Scripture in prophetic form. The ancient church represents the most interesting transition periods in all of human history. That God would be doing unique work during such a unique period should not surprise us in the least.

In summary then, Storms basic presupposition is that canonical revelation is more authoritative and normative than personal, prophetic revelation. This point of view is completely lacking exegetical warrant. Second, Storms view that there were thousands of prophetic words in the NT is based upon sheer conjecture and speculation. Even if it was true, and it may be, it is entirely irrelevant to the argument. Third, Storms’ contention that these prophecies contained divine revelation that is not contained in the Scripture is without exegetical warrant. Moses and Saul were given direct personal revelations from God, they both disobeyed, and they both suffered grave consequences as a result. The fact that these NT prophecies could have contained OT revelation not previously disclosed to Gentile audiences or NT revelation that would eventually make it into the canon is enough to accuse Storms of fallacious reasoning.

I conclude that Storms then must be wrong about his view that these NT prophecies were on a different authority scale than the NT canon and that the content of these prophecies never made it into the canon. On the former there is exegetical proof that Storms is wrong. On the latter, it is far more congruent with Christian theology to presume that whatever these prophetic revelations were in this transition period, they were based on the very same principles and even content that did make it into the canon.

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