Yesterday I discussed the five different views held by Christians on the modern relevance of the so-called charismatic gifts (see Charismata: five views). Obviously, this list presents common generalizations. Also, it ignores the less common view of say some liberal/progressive Christians who might argue that there has never been any such thing as charismatic gifts, now or among the earliest Christians. For those of us who entertain the idea that Christians have experienced and/or do experience the charismata let me present three areas of discussion that I think we may want to reframe.
Many Cessationists will affirm the idea that someone might be praying for healing and that while that person is praying God answers their prayer and heals. I don’t know any Cessationists who are outright anti-supernatural as if there was a time when God intervened in the cosmos, but now God has been completely shut out of the system. Their disagreement with Continuationists of various stripes is that while Charismatics (usually) understand these gifts to be given to the recipient either permanently or for a very long time Cessationists see each and every miracle as a one time event determined by God. Could it be that this differentiation is a misleading one?
I know Charismatics often quote Romans 11:29 (“the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”) to indicate that God doesn’t give someone the gift of healing, then take it back later, but the context of that passage doesn’t have anything to do with the Charismata and the implications of this idea are problematic (see below). It maybe be that Charismatics need to recognize that God is under no obligation to make magicians of people. Christianity isn’t Hogwarts and Christians aren’t trained the art of good magic. Even if one maintains the stance that God doesn’t revoke gifts, who is to say that gifts have to last until someone dies. I may give someone a three day pass to use a tour bus around San Francisco as a gift and while I don’t take it back that doesn’t mean it isn’t a temporal gift. Also, maybe Cessationists need to recognize that there are some people who for whatever reason are used frequently in a particular Charismata, whether prophecy, healing, or whatever. It seems to me that this idea of “one and done” v. “permanent endowment” is a false dichotomy.
Another problem I have with both Charismatic and Cessationists types is this: it seems as if both groups agree that the Charismata are things limited to a list by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Why is it impossible to suggest that God is the same gift-giving God as always, and that the list presented by Paul is representative, not exhaustive, therefore, it is possible that at various times and in various places God may give some gifts that are not available at other times and places, but this doesn’t mean God hasn’t stopped giving gifts. Sometimes it seems as if both Charismatic and Cessationist types agree that God is a set principle in the universe rather than a personal being, as if God either has to always function one way or another when in fact God is free to do as God wills whenever God wants. If God wants to give someone the ability to pray for and see people healed for several years then fine. If God wants to give another sort of gift—not listed by Paul, but essential for some aspect of mission at a certain place and time—then why can’t God do that? Could God give people the opportunity to experience glossolalia at some points and not others? Could God give gifts that at certain points in time enhance the spread of the Gospel while not giving those gifts if at other points in time they inhibited the spread of the Gospel?
Cessationists need to consider the possibility that God continues to give gifts and not all of God’s gifts are listed in Scripture. Charismatics need to consider that some gifts are not for all times and places and that just because a gift is listed in Scripture this doesn’t mean God is obligated to give it to people.
Both groups seem to think that when God gives gifts this makes the receiver of the gift sovereign. So when the Apostle Paul was enabled to heal he could heal anyone he wanted even if God didn’t want that person to be healed for some reason. For Charismatics this idea might make some into demi-gods and for Cessationists this is a horrifying idea, especially when they watch Benny Hinn on television. But just because God empowers someone to do a certain thing for a certain period of time this doesn’t mean God is now stuck. “It was time for Joey to pass away because he was suffering from cancer, and he was ready to go peacefully, but unfortunately I gave the gift of healing to Jimmy and Jimmy healed Joey, so now Joey has to reengage the land of the living although it should have been his time to go. Dagnabbit!” Whatever our theological perspective on the Charismata might be it cannot entertain the idea that God is somehow subject to human authority once a gift is given (and yes, I’ve heard this sort of thing taught).
It wasn’t until a cessationist (via blog comments) walked me through what cessationists were really saying and not saying that I understood. Ironically I went from thinking I was not cessationist because I believe that God and the power of the Holy Spirit was at work in the world (but now understanding that cessationists are not saying God does not continue to work) to now not being cessationist because I don’t believe that prophets and miracle working apostles were soverign (your third point.)
My main biblical problem with the sovereignty concept is Elisha’s bear mauling the children story. If that was Elisha acting out of malice and/or anger then that would seem to be a level of sovereignty. (Moses striking the rock is also used, but that seems to be different and more an intentional sin that God allow than sovereign power working.)
But it seems to me that the weight of biblical evidence is against human control of miracles and instead human submission to God allowing God to work through them with miracles.
That is an interesting observation regarding Elisha and Moses. Of course, these narratives may not be establishing some sort of universal principle regarding charismatic personalities and their empowerment as much as particular events. The story of the bear mauling the children (young men?) is just odd. I don’t know if I can explain it, period. The story of Moses and the rock seems particular to Moses, his authority among the Israelites, and how God used him in that role, which may not parallel the idea of the charismatic empowerment of Christians.
As far as the Charismatic-Cessationist divide is concerned it is very problematic that the differences are misunderstood. While I am no fan of John MacArthur one of the oddities about this last weekend was what seemed to be the assumption that Cessationists argue that the Spirit is done, or that the Spirit is limited to the proclamation of Scripture, which may or may not be MacArthur’s position (I don’t know what he teaches and I don’t care), but it isn’t the classical Cessationist position. Similarly, I don’t think most Charismatics see themselves as mini-gods, sovereign once a charismatic gift has been endowed by the Spirit, but there are some who do teach this and it is troubling (see esp. some stories about Smith Wigglesworth).
Brian this is a helpful. Certainly the first time I’ve seen the point that God is personal and can decide himself which gifts to give and in what measure.
The way I see it, we should not be in the business of pigeon-holing God into positions that only really serve to reduce our anxiety on various issues.
Brian questioned “Could it be that this differentiation is a misleading one?”
Tom Pennington apparently agrees. In his session “A Case for Cessationism” he clarifies how he understands ‘cessationism’ by saying:
“Clearly the label we were stuck with, “Cessationism,” is a negative label. It pictures what we don’t believe. The problem with the label, though, is not that it’s negative but that it’s been easily caricatured as meaning that the Spirit has essentially ceased all of His work. Because of that, we are unfairly accused of putting the Spirit in a box, even of embracing an Enlightenment worldview. But those are distortions. In fact, we believe that the Holy Spirit has not only continued his work, but He is displaying in and through us the power of the resurrected Christ. Nothing eternal happens in an individual believer or in a local church apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.”
This is somewhat helpful because it helps break down the stereotype associated with the ‘label’ to reveal that belief in continued involvement of the Holy Spirit is a belief held by ‘cessationists’ and so constitutes common ground; so the argument appears to be really about what this looks like.
On that, I tend to agree with MacArthur’s point that manifestations of the Spirit are God honouring, Christ directed, inconspicuous acts of a worshipful nature not constituted with confusion, standing starkly in contrast to the worship of heathens.
Brian also wrote “It seems to me that this idea of “one and done” v. “permanent endowment” is a false dichotomy.”
That’s good logic.
Reblogged this on Sunday School on Steroids-The Seminary Experience.
That is a distinction that needs to be made if there hopes to be any constructive conversations between so-called Charismatics and Cessationists. Wherever one’s disagreement may lie with the other it cannot be that one disagrees with a mischaracterization of the other.
Enjoyed the discussion. Re-posted this at normmacdonald.wordpress.com
Reflecting further on this ‘dust up’, and ignoring ‘labels’ for just a moment, there appears to be at least two issues that require (theological) resolution (at the heart of this).
1. What was the nature of Pentecost (meaning that circumstance which presumably included Jesus’ ascension and the re-arrival of the Holy Spirit (The Holy Spirit under the Old Covenant inhabited the tabernacle, the same tabernacle that was removed from Israel/Judah))?
– Was it confined in time?
– Was/is it eschatological (if so, what does that mean)?
-What does the re-establishment of the tabernacle of the Lord (the manifestation of the Holy Spirit) do/mean?
2. Are Charismatics Christians (in orthodoxy/orthopraxy)?
With respect to MacArthur’s apparent purpose, I believe he was trying to assert a particular claim about 2. Agree with him, or not, we shouldn’t fear dialogue. MacArthur is asking very specific theological questions and making specific theological points. Hubris has a tendency to ignore ‘what is being said’ in favour of ‘who is doing the saying’, or ‘how is it being said’. This is fallacious. A survey of the blog sphere shows few people are actually addressing MacArthur’s theological claims – which is unfortunate. We are the poor as a consequence.
However, of the two points, point 1. is actually the far more important (and interesting) issue to be resolved – this because it establishes orthodoxy which is more important than holding people accountable to orthodoxy.
As I think I implied in comments under your last post, I am a “charismatic” of sorts. However, a “universalist” Charismatic, if I may make up what may be a new term (at least I’ve not heard it). I really don’t see a basis (with a pretty extensive knowledge of the Bible for those who don’t know me) for saying that only Christians can/do operate using charismatic “gifts”, whether tongues-speaking, “prophesy”, hands-on-healing or similar phenomena. At least such a claim flies in the face of all kinds of instances (not just one hear or there, or one culture/group here or there) to the contrary. And a mere claim of the need to “discern the spirits” to ascertain the real source is of no substantive help except in very extreme cases. (For example, I do believe in malevolent spirits, or “demons” as often labeled, and that they can prompt extraordinary strength or other phenomena in those under their effective “control”… a position most of my progressive friends do not hold, out of THEIR ignorance, IMO, related to their common dismissal of charismatic phenomena.)
Anthropologically, no, there is little difference. I think a book like Harvey Cox’s Fire from Heaven shows that the success of global Charismatic Christianity is due, in part, to how it connects to ideologies already embedded in the religions of the world. That said, theologically, there is one point of differentiation that needs to be made. Whatever the source of these charismatic events might be globally there is a precise and concentrated effort by Charismatic Christian to name the source, which would be the Spirit of God as made known in correspondence to the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Christ. In other words, Charismatic Christians usually don’t settle for the Charismata being valuable in and of itself, nor do they ignore or deny what they perceive the be the source of their experience. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t act when we see other religious people performing what might be considered Charismata, but there remains one very important difference between Charismatic Christians and others in that the Christian version attempt to name the source of these events and name the source precisely. To blur that line is to risk devaluing the experience of both Charismatic Christians as well as those who would not attribute their experiences to the Christian Deity.
I really appreciate these added thoughts. I know I’m beginning to take this all beyond your 5-point description so if you choose to move on, I’ll understand, but I do think this will be closely relevant. And you’re helping me formulate my own position more precisely, on what I consider a crucial area that NEEDS more deep analysis across the religious/Christian spectrum… not just among charismatics or “anti-charismatics”. In fact, I’d say that either “charismata” or “parapsychological” phenomena, group ecstasy, and such topics are pivotal areas to examine in understanding (and further describing) any major worldview paradigm.
To be specific, of course, pure naturalism, as predominant among scientists, will “explain away” the whole area as psychological, cultural, etc., denying ANY spiritual source, whether God, demons, etc. Most Christians, as you rightly point out, will ID the source as not only “God” but God as they believe “him” to be described in the Bible, including the deity of Christ and the indwelling of God’s/Christ’s Spirit. I don’t know if I’d go quite as far as “… risk devaluing the experience…” if we don’t name the source. This “God is the source” of most X’ns I’d say falls within a “supernaturalist” paradigm as a sort of opposite of a “naturalist” one (a perceived either-or choice we are not really forced into if more flexible language and categories are used).
This “two opposing explanations” situation I don’t see as very helpful toward actually, helpfully naming the source. It still leaves us with both the differences within X’n theology and the tough-to-understand situation of God presumably making SOME kind of distinction (almost impossible to describe) between charismata through true believers and something at least very similar in either non-Christians or Christians using gifts for personal gain, fame, etc. rather than the good of others or glory of God. So, enter a third paradigm which, I find, creates more flexibility not only on this subject, but more broadly as well: Process theology or “panentheism” (its main mechanism, relevant here, is sometimes been called “panpsychism”). If one knows its basic premises and structure and doesn’t find it fitting to reality, then I’d encourage that person to also try to modify “standard” theism/Christian orthodoxy as Process has, so that ones view of reality/God/humanity CAN accommodate more of what we actually observe of natural-yet-spiritual phenomena, that including charismata as well as NDE’s, connections with the departed, possible (I think highly probably) reincarnation, the likelihood of non-human intelligent life elsewhere, etc.
Now, it’s not only a perceived need to “accommodate” observed phenomena that I lean on, by any means, to validate a modified “supernaturalist” paradigm… there are plenty of other biblical, philosophical, etc. reasons I’ve moved toward panentheism. But that motivation is pertinent to our current topic. It also connects to the point that I believe a more “curious”, exploratory stance toward charismatic phenomena and its related, other “transrational” phenomena is vital, among BOTH supernaturalists and naturalists (i.e., both “religion” and “science”). The book “Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality” by David R. Griffin lays out the situation better than any single book I know of, aimed mainly at confronting naturalists (more than supernaturalists), and from a panentheist perspective.
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