Everyone has watershed events in their life; an event that changes you from that moment on. When one has a watershed event, it marks a day where things significantly change for you and is often a day marked by a first. I’ve had quite a few watershed events; my open heart surgery, having my first shower (I think that marked when I became “a big kid”; no more baths and duckies for me!), getting my first job, etc.
Watershed events are also events that can involve significant changes in thinking; not quite a paradigm shift (where you experience an overhaul of worldview), but still involving a significant change. An example of this would be when I was in grade 12 and I realized, for the first time, that God brings suffering. That was a seriously hard pill for an arrogant teenage theologian to swallow; until that point I had thought that Satan was the guy who caused every single occurrence of pain and suffering in my life. Along the path of maturation, I’ve had quite a few more watershed events that marked significant changes in thought. On my journey through the innumerable issues and biblical texts surrounding the huge topic of continuationism and cessationism (or charismatic theology), I can remember 7 watershed events in my thinking (there were probably more, but I can distinctly remember 7); significant events or times in my life where I had an major change of thinking.
In this series, I’m going to talk a bit about what I call the “7 Anvils”; these are biblical convictions that came about from those watershed events. The first anvil is the inspiration of scripture.
Now when I’m talking about inspiration, I’m talking about the belief in the biblical doctrine of inspiration. For the sake of clarity, here’s what I’m meaning by inspiration:
Inspiration is the belief that the 66 books of the Christian scriptures are theopneustos (2 Tim. 3:16); Greek meaning “breathed out by God” or “God breathed”. The idea of theopneustos is not that God has breathed into the Scripture to make it inspiring or inspirational like a piece of art or music, but rather that the Scripture has come out from God’s mouth. For the Scripture to be theopneustos, it means that God is the ultimate and actual source of Scripture. The Scripture is a divinely authored book, and the words of the Scripture are the words of God himself.
I’m not going to go into vast length discussing the various related issues; the extent of inspiration, the propositional nature of revelation, inerrancy, etc. When I’m talking about inspiration, I’m assuming the biblical view of inspiration. If you’re wondering about those issues, I’d advise grabbing the Systematic Theologies from Wayne Grudem or Millard Erickson, and possibly Rene Pache’s The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture if you want a more substantial discussion (I can usually find a copy of Pache in the Abbotsford MCC thrift shop for $2 or $3).
No, when I’m talking about the anvil of the inspiration of scripture, I’m talking about the palpable realization that the Bible is actually God’s book. This is not simply the fact that the Bible is the actual word of God; this is the fear that the Bible is the actual word of God.
The fear that the Bible is the actual word of God? What? Fear?
Fear is the correct emotional response to the intellectual realization that the Bible you hold is the theopneustos word of God.
Allow me to illustrate my point with a story from the scripture:
1 Samuel, chapters 4 to 6, record how the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and then returned it to Israel. I’ll sum up the story very quick:
– 1 Samuel 4:3 – The Israelites were defeated in battle and couldn’t figure out why, so the elders said “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”
(If God won’t give us victory, maybe his box will!)
– 1 Samuel 4:4 – There’s a passing note in the text that is quite significant. It says “And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas , were there with the ark of the covenant of God.” (Read 1 Sam. 2:12-17, 2:22-25, and 2:27-36 for more information about those two wicked chumps)
(Get those two fat priests to bring God’s box, it’s gotta work for priests!)
– 1 Samuel 4:10-11 – Israel is still defeated, Hophni and Phineas die, and the Philistines capture the ark.
(The box didn’t work! First God lets us down and then his box too!)
– 1 Samuel 4:12-22 – People die when they hear the bad news that the Lord got defeated (at least, that’s how it appeared to Israel).
(How did the Philistines steal God’s box? They can’t do that!)
– 1 Samuel 5:1-8 – The men of Ashod learn that this ain’t no regular box as the Lord “terrified and afflicted them” (1 Sam. 5:6). They said “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us” (1 Sam. 5:7) and the sent it to Gath.
(That’s no ordinary box! Get it away! Get it away!).
– 1 Samuel 5:9- Same thing that happened in Ashod happened in Gath, so they sent it to Ekron.
(That’s no ordinary box! Get it away! Get it away!)
– 1 Samuel 5:10-12 – I absolutely love this passage –
“So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.’ They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.”
(That’s no ordinary box! Don’t bring it here! Get it away! Get it away!)
– 1 Samuel 6:1-12 – The Philistines don’t have a clue what to do with it, so they try something and the Lord blesses their frantic and fearful plans.
(That’s no ordinary box! Send it back to Israel and let it kill them! But don’t tick Israel’s god off anymore! Give him some stuff to appease him…uh, what stuff? Erm…uh…oh! The box is covered in gold so maybe Israel’s god likes gold! Yeah! Give him some gold stuff! NOW GET RID OF THAT BOX!)
– 1 Samuel 6:13-18 – The ark of the covenant returns to Israel.
(Yay! God’s box is back!)
– 1 Samuel 6:19-20 – Israel treats the ark of the covenant like an ordinary box. People die. The Philistines laugh.
(NO! The box killed 70 people! Get it away! Get it away!)
– 1 Samuel 6:21 – The men of Beth-shemesh freak out and call the men of Kiriath-jearim to come and take the ark to Kiriath-jearim.
(That’s no ordinary box! Don’t bring it here! Get it away! Get it away!)
The big idea of the story is that those who treat the Lord as common end up dead.
Both the Israelites and the Philistines feared the ark of the covenant once they realized that it wasn’t just an ordinary box. Israel needed to treat the ark of the covenant in proper accord with the one who owned it; Israel needed to treat the ark as holy and fear it. There was a right way to handle, transport, and treat it…and any other ways lead to a bunch of graves. The ark was that dangerous.
That same lesson applies to the scripture.
Believers need to fear the Scripture because the Scripture is God’s book; to mess around with it or treat it trivially is to mess around with God and treat him trivially.
The Scripture is actually God’s theopneustos word, it must be feared. It must be treated with the same level of fear that one would treat an armed nuclear weapon; it’s safe if handled appropriately but if not, it could wipe out a city.
So how does this all relate to the continuationism and charismatic theology?
I would even go so far as to say that the continuationist movement, in as much as I’ve experienced it, has a foundational disbelief in the inspiration of Scripture. They definitely treat it with respect and honor, and they definitely treat it as generally authoritative (though not divinely authoritative since personal experience is the final arbitrator of truth in 98% of the continuationist movement). I cannot think of too many people I know of in the continuationist movement who seem to treat the word of God with fear.
Them’s fighting words, I know.
That being said, I cannot avoid but admit that I see the word of God being casually mishandled and treated as shallow by 98% of the continuationist movement, including many reformed charismatics. I’m talking about:
Little to no application of any consistent hermeneutics – Most charismatic people I know basically approach the scripture in the following way; pray, study, and then ask God to tell them what a passage means…and there’s as many legitimate “meanings” to a passage as there are people.
Lazy exegesis – How many times have I heard that tongues is an angelic language that people can speak? 1 Cor. 13:1 contains a third class conditional clause and the “tongues of men and of angels” is an obvious hendiadys. 1 Corinthians 13:1 does not teach that there is an angelic language and people who suggest so are simply wrong…and besides that, I always hear people claiming 1 Cor. 13:1 for themselves, but never 13:2 or 13:3. Why is that? That goes back to the charismatic allergy to hermeneutics…
No lexicographical work, ever –See my word study on apostles. After doing that research (which took me around 3 hours with my laptop and the internet) and learning what the Bible actually says about the topic, I have no hesitation in suggesting that anyone out there who calls themselves an apostle should be ashamed.
Constantly shallow proof-texting – Jeremiah 29:11 anyone? 2 Samuel 7:14? Matt. 3:11? John 16:13? John 10:10? John 10:27? The list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on…
Allegorizing scripture – I’ve heard so many bad sermons in charismatic churches, I cannot even keep track of them. I’ve heard a sermon where Genesis 26:17-22 was used as the text and the topic was sexual purity. If that’s not allegorizing scripture, I don’t know what is.
Constantly seeking revelation anywhere but the scripture. The majority of the people in various continuationist streams claim to believe that the Bible is the word of God, but when there’s a new outpouring/revival/prophecy/movement/word from the Lord, almost everyone runs after it recklessly, abandons the Bible (short of checking for only the most minimal and shallow biblical possibility of utterly vague and ambiguously thematic support) and eagerly swallows whatever new and bizarre teachings come from it and judges it as obviously authentic “by it’s fruits”, which usually means that people (a) make shallow professions of faith in response to it, (b) claim to be healed at it, (c) experience vast euphoria/happiness at it, or (d) don’t see “lowest common denominator heresy” related to it (i.e. nobody there is yelling “Jesus is accursed!”).
When I was in the charismatic movement for around a decade, I kept running into all those things constantly. As I kept on studying the scripture, I couldn’t escape the implications of inspiration. If the Bible is actually God’s theopneustos word, it speaks with the authority and character of it’s author, and this point necessarily leads us to the next anvil; the character of God.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “God Has Actually Spoken” Unger