belief

be careful in polemics . . .

because (apparently) it might cause forgetfulness, misrepresentation or an uncontrollable urge to speak untruths. One example comes from the always feisty Thomas Ice, an ardent mouthpiece for (Classical) Dispensationalism.

The topic of discussion is the (rather untenable) notion of a secret pre-tribulation rapture of the saints as the first stage of Christ’s second coming–i.e. what Classical Dispensationalists (mis)label the parousia.[1] Ice’s beef is not necessarily with the teaching itself but with the qualifying term “secret” being attached to it.[2] Expressing his angst with those who (wrongly–in his view) describe the pre-tribulation as “secret”, Ice says the following:

Sorry, but this is another mistake, another myth. In all my reading of pretribulationism and discussion with pretribulationists, I have never, that I can recall, heard a pre-trib rapturist use the nomenclature of “secret” to describe our view. I have only heard the phrase “secret” rapture as a pejorative term used exclusively by anti-pretribulationists. Why. Apparently they enjoy fighting a straw man.

T. Ice, “Rapture Myths” (accessed, 25-Dec-12);
cf. also the same article, yet posted here.[3]

Ice then pins the blame for this “myth” on Dave MacPherson, a staunch critic of both Ice and (Classical) Dispensationalism, and asserts that MacPherson misrepresented the truth in order to fuel his criticisms. However, it is in voicing his animosity against using “secret” and his railing against MacPherson that Ice slides into trouble in a number of ways.

First, it is simply not the case that MacPherson (or anyone else) created the description for (Classical) Dispensationalism’s understanding of the (supposed) first-stage in order to mock it. Dispensationalists long before and after MacPherson’s book (The Rapture Plot [1994]) regularly employed the term. For example:

  • Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth (1918), 13-14
  • Michael Baxter, Forty Prophetic Wonders (1918), 153
  • Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth (1970), 142-43
  • Robert Gundry, Church and the Tribulation (1974), 104
  • Warren Wiersbe, Be Ready (1984), 19, 144
  • Tim LaHaye, Prophecy Study Bible (2004), note on 1Thess 4.13
  • Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (2005), 4:623
  • cf. also Charles Feinberg, Millennialism: Two Major Views (1985), 287

This raises the second problem: not one of the sources just listed uses the term “secret” in a negative way–contrary to what Ice boldly claims. In fact, not once in these works is “secret” used in any way other than an axiomatic description for the (so-called) pretribulation rapture. Thus, in this case, it would seem that it is Ice who has created the straw man argument, not the so-called anti-pretribulationists (e.g. MacPherson, Ken Gentry).

Third, Ice’s adamant assertion that in all his reading he has not encountered the term “secret” used for the pretribulation view of the rapture is untenable. (Admittedly, he supplies his own escape-hatch with the qualifier: “that I can recall”). With someone as entrenched in Dispensationalism as Ice is, one would think that he’s read the likes of Larkin, Lindsey, Feinberg; and with LaHaye being his colleague at the “Pre-Trib Research Center”, it would safe to assume that Ice has read LaHaye’s stuff.

Even if we can’t assume that, let’s go on what we can know. In his 1990 article, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulation Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret MacDonald,” Ice quotes directly from John Walvoord’s book, The Blessed Hope and Tribulation (1979). I mention this because Ice’s quotation ends on the same page where Walvoord mentions the secret rapture (i.e. p. 43). And since Ice later quotes from p. 44 of Walvoord’s book, we can be reasonably sure he noticed the reference to a “secret” rapture–that is unless Ice is reading selectively.

This is not just a one-off. In the same 1990 article, Ice refers to two other works that make explicit mention of a “secret rapture” (Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming  [1984], 21; Harold Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren 1825-1850 [1967], 231-32), and in both cases the tone is no where close to being pejorative. I have not had the opportunity to check other Ice articles to see if a similar phenomenon occurs. But on the basis of this 1990 article alone, I’m having a hard time believing Ice when he says he’s never heard or read pre-trib rapturists use the term “secret” to describe the event in question.

Now, Ice might play his “I don’t recall” card on these occasions, and if we’re in a decent mood we might let it slide. Maybe. But there is one final problem for Ice when he blasts “anti-pretribulationists” for misrepresenting his view, and it is a problem that his trusty trump card cannot settle. In 2001, a book misleadingly called, Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Bible Prophecy & Its Fulfillment,[4] asserts the following (p.112):

When examining Scripture, the honest seeker after truth must face the fact that there are 15 differences between the two phases of Christ’s coming that cannot reconciled. This alone makes it impossible for them to be the same event. One is a secret coming, the other is public for all to see. One will cause participants to rejoice, and the other will cause people to mourn. [emphasis added]

Notice that the statement is not pejorative, misrepresenting or even anti-pretribulationist. It specifically refers to a “secret coming” [i.e. rapture] of Christ as nearly axiomatic of “biblical” prophecy, and something that is a positive find for “the honest seeker after truth.” The authors of this book? Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice.

It would seem that in his haste to ridicule those who disagree with him, Ice has wrongly accused his opponents of crimes they did not commit; he has not accurately represented what other Dispensationalists are saying; and he has apparently forgotten his own contribution to the problem he seeks to eradicate. But it is often the case that when anger sets in, the mouth opens and the eyes shut.

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[1] For now I will side-step the discussion on how Classical Dispensationalists argue for a two-stage return of Christ and how the term “parousia” (supposedly) refers to the first stage.
[2] In some ways, Ice’s argument resembles John Walvoord’s attempt to avoid the term “secret” and yet accept the idea (cf. Church in Prophecy [1964], 83, 136-37).
[3] I have taken screenshots of both sites, just in case Ice wants to erase alter retract his original statement.
[4] The sub-title should read, “A Visual Guide to Dispensational Prophecy & Its Fulfillment”.

disparate observations*

One
Last week, the story of a Georgia House Representative’s views on creation hit the news. The underlying tone of the article seems to be one of poking fun at people who happen to hold a “young Earth” view of creation, or at least paint all Christians Broun. The structure of the article and the nature of some of the comments bear this out. However, in all the fun-poking, the writer’s eagerness produced a couple of flaws–one less severe than the other.

The minor flaw is the assertion that “Broun advanced his own theory of life on Earth” (emphasis added), one that adheres to a literal reading of the text. Yet a tad later the same writer claims: “Broun is far from the only believer in a literal, or Biblical, creation.” Well, which is it? Is it Broun’s own theory, or one shared by others? You can’t have it both ways. I guess the escape hatch here is Broun’s 9000-year-old suggestion, which is a bit odd.

The bigger flaw, however, is that in attempting to paint Christians with the same brush, the writer fails to recognize the basic problem of appointing someone with extreme anti-Science views to be the Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. (I owe this observation to Robert Cargill). Hey Stephanie: If you wanted a real opportunity to criticize, or at least focus on something more controversial, you missed it.

Two
Two days ago, I read an article by W.O. Fitch, entitled, “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ” (Theology 74.607 [1971]: 18-24). Anyone with a basic knowledge of NT scholarship in general and the Corinthian letters in particular will conclude the article is about the issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth. In fact, this conclusion would seem to follow from what Fitch argues in the bulk of the article.

However, when we come to the end of the article we discover that dealing with issue of “parties” or “factions” (or “cliques”) in Corinth, and how we might understand them, are not a part of Fitch’s agenda. His final sentence reveals that he has something completely different in mind. Fitch says: “All of this point to the early date for Galatians: and also suggests that Acts, while it is eirenic, is not as tendentious as some current writing assumes” (24).

Three
This morning I started reading B.F. Westcott’s, A General View of the History of the English Bible (1868)–as you do on a Tuesday.  Throughout the first 70 or so pages, I noticed something: there is a striking (and scary) similarity between 1) the opponents of both Wycliffe and Tyndale and 2) the “King James Only” advocates of today.

Particularly, the two groups share the same animosity and  indignation toward their chosen “enemies.” Even the kinds of arguments marshaled (or at least the reasons behind them) have frightening parallels. The only notable difference is that the KJO crowd isn’t burning their “enemies” at the stake–although, I wouldn’t say that option has gone without consideration.

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* A couple of these will likely get me into trouble, or at least ruffle some feathers. Sorry.

transient theological thoughts (3)

Because I appreciate and lean more towards a Molinist view of divine foreknowledge (that’s going to bother some; oh well), this came to mind:

God predetermined that humans would have free-will.

I know it sounds simple–remedial, even–but it’s the implications from it that strike me profoundly.  Give it a think and let me know what comes to mind.

Happy Friday to you.

apologies Sir Hoyle …

here’s your ribbon for participation; thanks for trying.

In other words: because scientists have recently verified Einstein’s theory of an expanding universe, which suggests (spatial and temporal) movement away from what Georges-Henri Lemaître dubbed a “singularity”, Fred Hoyle and his “steady-state” theory are given a respectful applause while being quietly ushered off stage.

However, with respect to both men (i.e. Einstein and Hoyle), I have to point out that neither this particular debate nor the respective theories each scientist espouses are either new or novel; both continue a (philosophical) dialogue dating back to at least Thales of Miletus (c. 640-547 BCE), and both merely rehash or reappropriate these older theories. The only real difference is that thinkers like Einstein and Holye merely present their theories in the garb of “modern (empirical) science”,¹ a garb ostensibly not colored by religious or theistic presuppositions.

In particular, Parmenides, the philosopher who was “reverenced and at the same time feared … [because of his] exceedingly wonderful depth of mind” (Plato, Theaetetus 183e), argued for the eternal existence of all finite/tangible elements in creation (see Aristotle, Physics 1.2.15). This presupposes–if not prefigures–the logic behind the famous Carl Sagan quote, “The universe is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” However, Parmenides allowed for the existence of a divine being (however deistic), one who is at least responsible for the eternal existence of creation and at most necessary for right interpretations of it.

Moreover, on the twin assumption that fire represents the cause and is the sustainer of all things (see Hippolytus, Refutation 9.10) and that fire by nature is ethereal, Heraclitus of Ephesus argued that all of creation not only has a finite beginning but also continues to move (or exist) in a state of flux–it is constantly “becoming” (see Plato, Theaetetus 160d; Aristotle, On the Soul 1.2.25; idem, Metaphysics 12.4-12). Heraclitus further argued that the otherwise chaotic state of “becoming” was held in harmonious balance by a divine-like principle which he (abstractly) termed, the λογος.²

It is also worth mentioning that this state of flux, in conjunction with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, provides the groundwork for theories regarding the end of the universe. In particular I have in mind the so-called “Big Crunch”–i.e. when the usable energy necessary for expansion is exhausted and/or “critical density” is reached, everything will simply collapse in on itself and form the largest black hole anyone has ever seen. (However, no one will ever see it [to prove the theory] because no one will be around to see it–not even those at Milliways).

This “Big Crunch” theory, too, is not the sole property of modern scientists relying solely on empirically-based data.³ Last time I checked, the Stoic philosophers, using Heraclitus’ notion of fire as the primeval substance, advocated the idea that cosmology is characterized by a cycle of creation, fiery collapse, and recreation–a cycle that continues ad infinitum (see Dio Cassius, History 52.4.3; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.21). Obviously, the notion of “recreation” in the Stoic model would be a point of difference in Einstein’s model. (If I’m not mistaken, Einstein held: once this universe was done, that’s it. Game over).

What’s the point of all this? In one sense, the sage observation of Ecclesiastes is apropos: “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1.9). In other sense, presenting an idea or theory as “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” when it’s based on earlier ideas seems to marginalize the great thinkers of ages past (simply because they are ancient and not Enlightened).

Moreover, calling it “new” or “innovative” or even “novel” simply because it operates with a-theistic presuppositions does not refute or discredit those who might have theistic presuppositions; it merely exposes the particular stance and method for interpreting the data, one that is not entirely “objective” in the sense that it operates independent of presuppositions.

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¹ Just so that we’re clear: I am not opposed to science; in fact, I’m absolutely fascinated by it–especially cosmology.
² The similarities between this and Einstein’s “cosmological constant” should be obvious, although Einstein would readily reject the “divine” aspect of the Heraclitus’ idea.
³ Just for fun: the belief that all things can be explained empirically without recourse to theories of divine beings is not a revolutionary idea, one originating with Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers. Such empirical and a-theistic beliefs and methodologies were intrinsic to the Atomistic philosophers from the 6th century BCE onward. The Roman philosopher, Lucreitus (1st century BCE) attempts to reinforce an empirical-based interpretation of creation.

a wee outline for a not-so-wee topic

Scot McKnight ‘swiped’ this from Patrick Mitchel, and I’m swiping it from McKnight. This is a truly wonderful summary on the biblical view of the Spirit, and I am especially pleased to see this sort of discussion happening in the church–specifically in a ‘forum’-type format. (Go here to see more about this format. This is great stuff). My favourite points in this outline are 4 and 6.
Enjoy!
-cs

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Last night in our wee church we had our monthly ‘Forum’ on an issue related to the Christian faith. It was my turn to lead and I proposed 6 things and we had a really good discussion which continued over a pint afterwards. [Here’s] a skeleton summary for what it’s worth.

CONTENTION 1; The blessing of the Spirit is the eschatological fulfillment of God’s promises and includes both Jews and Gentiles

CONTENTION 2: The Christian life begins and continues in and through the Spirit

1.   It is the Spirit who reveals the gospel

2.   The Spirit brings the believer into an objectively new position before God

3.   The Spirit brings the believer into an ongoing relational experience of God

CONTENTION 3 :The church is essentially a fellowship of the Spirit

CONTENTION 4. Christians belong to the new age of the Spirit as opposed to the old age of the flesh (which is not some sort of inner existential struggle between two natures within the believer)

CONTENTION 5: sanctification has  past, present and future aspects

i. A Finished Reality (‘This is who you are’)

ii. Ongoing spiritual and ethical transformation by the Spirit (‘Be who you are’)

iii. Future Glory (‘This is who you will be’)

CONTENTION 6: Perhaps the biggest differences among Christians is how much spiritual progress Christians should make through the empowering presence of the Spirit

And I have to bring in Gordon Fee here [note his wee dig at Luther's 'justified sinner' ( simil iustus et peccator)]

‘Paul expected people to exhibit changed behaviour … because the Spirit empowers this new life, Paul has little patience for the point of view that allows for people to be “justified sinners” without appropriate changes in attitudes and conduct … Nor would Paul understand an appeal to helplessness on the part of those who live in and walk by the Spirit … in which the “flesh” continually proves to be the greater power.’ FeeEmpowering Presence, 879-80

But the last word to Paul

‘And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.’ (Colossians 1:10)

finally, some clarity on the origin of denominations

About three weeks ago, I began leading a six-week discussion at our church on how to study the Bible (theologically). During the most recent session, someone asked about the origins (or cause) of denominations within Christianity.

Because of time constraints, I opted for the simple (and somewhat over-generalised) response: denominations tend to emerge as a result of differing interpretations over certain important passages or specific beliefs.  Connected with this, denominations often form due to the practical outcome of these differences–i.e. people have different views over how the church should operate and/or conduct itself.

My response was either satisfactory (in spite of its brevity) or less than helpful (because of its brevity); it’s hard to know because no follow-up question was asked. However, it appears that I was completely mistaken in my understanding and I now need to go before the dear friends in this study and beg for mercy. How do I know I was wrong? Because Jack Kinsella has shown me why, in his wonderfully insightful ‘Omega Letter.’* About half way through his ‘article,’ Kinsella offers this bit of theological clarity:**

There are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Anabaptists, Brethren, Methodist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Charismatic, African, United, Quakers, Mennonites, Unitarian, Messianic Judaism, and dozens more Christian-themed cults, like British Israelism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on.

In Genesis we read of the Tower of Babel, an effort by Nimrod to unite the world under his authority, and how God dealt with it.

“And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (Genesis 11:6-7)

According to the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn, Nimrod’s effort will be duplicated by the antichrist who sets up a universal government under his authority and unites it via a single religion under his control.

During the Church Age, God divided the Church into denominations to prevent that from happening prematurely.

Human beings are not all born the same type of people.  We are split in profound and fundamental ways and then set radically free to find our own way.   We are born with a sense of God-consciousness, but we are free to seek His face or reject Him altogether.

The Bible is deliberately obscure enough to empower all the various denominations without any one of them growing too powerful – God demands faith in His Son, not faith in a church.

Who knew?! God is the cause for denominations.

(For those taking part in our study [who happen to read this]: this is a decent example of eisegesis).

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* Said with tongue nearly burst through my cheek.
** I’m ignoring the multitude of problems with Kinsella’s argument.

rather instructive

While searching for something completely different, I found this article on ‘speaking in tongues‘ by Philip Mauro (1859-1952). The opening section provides a useful summary for how ‘tongues’ is best understood in the early portions of Acts. He raises a few points worth pondering in a serious fashion.

The second section is a bit brief, and I wish Mauro would have developed a couple of ideas further, but it is still worth considering. For me, the key point to recognise is the closing statement for that section, which becomes a segue for the third.

While I would contend that Paul’s argument includes chapter 13 (which Mauro does not [seem to] contend), Mauro’s comments here are rather instructive. My only question would be: is Mauro assigning the benefit of the miracle only to unbelieving Jews at Pentecost, thus making Paul’s Corinthian audience predominantly Jewish; or is Mauro using the state of unbelieving Jews at Pentecost as a specific example of the wider application of Paul’s argument (i.e. miracle of tongues is for the benefit of unbelieving Gentiles, too)?

The fourth section is about as simple as one could make it, while at the same time saying what needed to be said. Some could assert that the final paragraph is a bit forced, and in some ways I would agree with that.  However, I think Mauro’s overall point is valid (especially the last sentence).

The fifth section comes across rather abruptly and concludes in a similar fashion. I agree with the general substance of his argument (mainly because [I think] I know where he’s going with it), but I think he should have developed his case a bit more. My big concern in this section is the use of Mark 16.14-20, which might not originate from Jesus but most likely stems from an amalgamation of teachings, historical events and traditions inserted by a well-meaning scribe.* My only other concern is that his argument also takes on a kind of ad hominem tone; but then again, I may have misread how he stated things.

The final section is what leads me to read Mauro’s argument as a bit ad hominem. I do not agree with the idea that the teaching of which Mauro speaks ‘is one of the most dangerous of these last days’ (either Mauro’s or ours); there are teachings that are far more problematic and dangerous than tongues. However, I am sympathetic to the comparison of certain manifestations of the charismatic experience to various types of experiences found in spiritualism/mysticism outside of Christianity. (Go here for a video clip on this comparison, and go here for a brief take on some ‘charismatic’ experiences and hypnosis). I would only add that this potential point of overlap requires faithful and humble discernment on the part of Christians; not exercising this discernment has the potential of leading one into dangerous ideas/teachings.

What are your thoughts (on either Mauro’s argument or my response)?

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* I realise in saying this without much more ado I am guilty of the previous criticism–i.e. stating a point and not developing it. My sincerest apologies.

what to believe (4b)

This is part two of a discussion on James Melton’s views of the Holy Spirit. For part one, go here. If you’re new to this ‘what to believe’ series: welcome. To catch up on how things have progressed, go hereherehere and here.

10. Do you believe that the apostolic sign gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and the gift of healing, are not for today, since they were for the purpose of confirming the preached word of God to Israel in the first century?
In the words of Frank Barone: ‘Holy crap!’ Before getting into the details, I need to point out one bit of curiosity. As should be obvious from this question, Melton is not a charismatic; in fact, he is adamantly opposed to charismatic/pentecostal theology.[1] Here’s the curiosity: question 9 (see here) is one that Melton believes must be answered with an unequivocal ‘yes’, yet the essence of question 9 is one of the foundation stones in charismatic/pentecostal theology (i.e. baptism in/by the Spirit)–and both use the same passages to support their case.

This means: the lack of clarity in meaning for question 9 allows for an affirmative response to be given to what he promotes as well as what he reject. To say it differently: in his attempt to distinguish what he considers biblical truth from heresy, the ambiguity of question 9 blurs his line between truth and heresy, thus making it difficult to provide an unequivocal ‘yes’ to this question. If Melton wants me to read the text as he reads it and respond in a way that agrees with that reading, he’s going to need to give me solid reasons for how to understand the text(s) in question. But I must confess that I have other reasons for not being able to agree with the implicit theology of this question.

Now to the details . . . sort of.[2] I’m a bit confused about a number of items in this question: his use of the phrase, ‘apostolic sign gifts’, what he means by ‘speaking in tongues’, why he includes ‘the gift of healing’ as things no longer relevant, and his one-to-one connection between these gifts and their specific significance for ‘confirming the preach word of God to Israel in the first century.’ Since there is some ambiguity in the first two items, I will limit my remarks to the the third and the implicit logic and theology at work in Melton’s question.

In view of Melton’s non-charismatic/pentecostal stance, his belief that tongues and healings ‘are not for today’ is rooted in his reading of 1 Cor 13.8 (as noted on his clarifying site). What strikes me is that 1 Cor 13.8 says nothing about healings becoming irrelevant or no longer necessary (or even possible), and yet he employs that text to support his argument. Instead, that passage includes two items that Melton ignores: prophecy and complete knowledge, both of which the text says will cease and will be done away (respectively). Thus, why does he not say prophecy and complete knowledge ‘are not for today’, which would seem to have the support of 1 Cor 13.8? Why say tongues are no longer relevant, which would also seem to have biblical support, and yet say healings are no longer relevant, which does not have the support of 1 Cor 13.8 (or any passage, for that matter)?

My only assumption, and I invite him to correct me, is his reading of 1 Cor 14.22: ‘Tongues are for a sign not for those believing but for those in unbelief, but prophecy is not for those in unbelief but for those believing’ (my translation). My assumption is that because this text says prophecy is for the believer and not the unbeliever, it would seem that prophecy still has relevance for today. (Although, Melton does not clearly define what he means by ‘prophecy,’ and how his definition is to be distinguished from what he opposes–i.e. charismatic/pentecostal theology). However, while this assumption might be true, this implications of this text would seem to create more difficulties for Melton than solve. Specifically, tongues are a sign for ‘those in unbelief’, yet that state of being is not limited to 1st century Israel; it is a state that is quite timeless and timelessly applicable. Thus, if tongues are a sign for those in unbelief, and since unbelief is not a 1st century problem, 1 Cor 14.22 does not promote that gift’s demise but seems to proclaim its necessary continued existence.[3]

Moreover, to support the idea that the so-called ‘apostolic sign gifts’ (especially tongues and healings) were not limited to 1st century Israel, we need only consider the biblical texts to see how Melton’s assertion does not consistently fit the evidence. The first instance of ‘tongues’ is Acts 2: the sermon at Pentecost. (NB: the ‘speaking in tongues’ here is known, human languages/dialects; it was not some mysterious, spiritual language–see Acts 2.7-8). Here the context certainly points to a Jewish audience, both local (i.e. Jerusalem) and those from other regions (see the list in 2.9-11). The first healing, and I’m operating on the assumption that by ‘apostolic sign gifts’ Melton means things performed during the time of the apostles, is Acts 3.1-10: the healing of the man born crippled. We might safely infer that the crippled man was Jewish and that those who witnessed the healing were also Jewish. The second instance of healing is the passing reference in Acts 5.14-16. Recipients of this? Most likely Jewish. So far, Melton’s theory is doing all right.

Following the outbreak of the persecution of the early church, the next mention of a healing (in connection with the preaching of the gospel) is Acts 8.4-8. It is this account that makes me think Melton has in mind the apostolic period rather than the apostles themselves. Why? Because Philip is not an apostle (see Acts 6.5).[4] Recipients? Samaritans (i.e. neither Jews nor Gentiles).[5] Next healing? It’s a two-parter: Acts 9.32-35 and Acts 9.36-42. Recipients in both parts? Most likely Jewish. This double account is followed by the second mention of tongues (in connection with the preaching of the gospel): Acts 10.34-48. Recipients? Gentiles in Caesarea. Next healing? Acts 14.8-10. Recipients? Gentiles in Lystra. Next (and final) mention of tongues (in Acts)? Acts 19.1-7. Recipients? Gentiles in Ephesus. Next healing? Acts 19.9-12. Recipients? Gentiles in Ephesus. Next healing, though not necessarily connected with preaching the gospel? The humorous story in Acts 20.7-12. Recipients? Gentiles in Troas. Last healing (in Acts), again not linked with the gospel? Acts 28.7-10. Recipients? Gentiles in Malta.

If it were true that the ‘apostolic sign gifts’ of ‘speaking in tongues and the gift of healing . . . were for the purpose of confirming the preached word of God to Israel,’ then it is certainly odd to see the majority of references to such things being associated with preaching the gospel to Gentiles (i.e. not Israel). Thus it would seem that Melton’s necessary condition in this question (i.e. sign gifts are only relevant proofs for [1st century] Israel) does not align with the biblical evidence. On those grounds, I cannot supply a ‘yes’ answer to this question because I cannot agree with the premiss. Also, before answering Melton’s question, I would have to pose one of my own: ‘Mr Melton, in saying that the “apostolic sign gifts” of speaking in tongues–whatever you mean by that–and healing “are not for today”; are you asking me to say such things do not and cannot happen today because their role was fulfilled in the 1st century?’

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[1] It should be mentioned that Melton sees much of charismatic/pentecostal theology as heresy. His reasons for doing so, and the methodology he employs to make such a conclusion, are not entirely clear.
[2] I might need to do an extra post on this particular subject, seeing that my response here will have to be rather limited.  We’ll see how it goes.
[3] Admittedly, all of this is forgoing a detailed discussion and analysis of biblical passages about tongues–i.e. what that means, what it looks/sounds like, and/or what it is.
[4] If, however, Melton means gifts or wonders performed by the apostles, then he needs to explain the Acts 8.4-8 passage.
[5] Per C.K. Barrett, The Acts of the Apostles: A Shorter Commentary (2002), 118; see also C.K. Barrett, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (2004), 396.

what to believe (4a)

It’s time to carry on with the series of posts on the nature and merits of James Melton’s ‘statement-of-faith-via-20-questions’. (For earlier posts on this series, go here, here, and here). As was mentioned in the first post, it appears that Melton’s view of ‘the best church for you’ is quite specific. The specificity of his view reveals that he is promoting an exclusive type of church that holds to exclusive traditions/beliefs–namely, things which support his specific view. (Aren’t circles fun?). The three questions considered in this two-part post can be seen as further evidence for what Melton is doing. (I’m doing a two-parter because comments on the third question were longer than the comments on these first two).

8. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment?
Caveat: I haven’t mentioned this in a while, so it might be useful to restate it now. One of the big concerns that I have with Melton’s presentation is the automatic assumption that people know the meaning (and nuances) of specific theological ideas or concepts. Moreover, it seems as though Melton would require definite responses to the questions asked in spite of not having a fair understanding of the terms. That sort of thing is unacceptable. I would hope that before answering any of these 20 questions, people would not be afraid to ask, ‘What do you mean by . . .?’ That type of question is certainly beneficial with this particular statement. Melton: what do you mean by ‘divine person’?  What do you mean by, ‘convicts to world of sin’, ‘convicts the world of righteousness’, and ‘convicts the world of judgment’? Answers to those sorts of questions might affect the answer given to the one being asked.

Back to this question. Well, seeing that I only implicitly acknowledged the divinity of the Spirit by answering ‘yes’ to question 3, I guess it makes sense to state it explicitly here with this question. So, ‘yes’ to the first half of the question. ‘Wait a minute: “first half“?!’ you might be asking, while searching for the nearest shoe or other blunt object with good aerodynamics. The only reason I slightly hesitate with the second half is that I firmly believe that the Spirit does so much more than this. I unashamedly believe that this threefold description is a vital part of what the Spirit does, but I also believe that to leave the role of the Spirit at this threefold description is to offer a rather limited (if not, one-sided) view of the Spirit. So, to answer this question, I would have to say: ‘Yes, but . . .’

9. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is the Supernatural Agent in regeneration, baptizing all believers into the body of Christ?
While this begins to respond to the ‘but’ portion of my last answer, we’re once again faced with a string of theological ideas and terms that are not clearly explained. This is especially the case with the idea of ‘regeneration’, which is definitely a vital role of the Spirit, and it is also the case with the notion of the Spirit ‘baptizing all believers into the body of Christ.’ This latter statement needs a lot of explanation from Melton, partly because of how it has been understood across denominational lines. (Some see it as contemporaneous–if not synonymous–with water baptism. Others see it as a post-water baptism experience. Not a few other see it as a second work of divine grace). However, I have a fear that Melton would explain his meaning in way that only supports his reading of the text (and his denominational tradition) rather than seriously engage with text and not allow preconceptions to determine the meaning and application. So, my answer to this question would have to be: ‘Initially, yes; but you’re going to need to explain some things before I say anything more.’

On to part two of this post (go here).