Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #5, & last:

My life is going to be filled with family responsibilities any time now, so I need to finish this flurry of blogging activity brought on my by recent attendance at the annual meeting of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

So I'll just give a couple of bullet points.  Before I do, though, I would encourage the reading of the presenters' papers.  Most are thought provoking and contribute to a conversation that needs to be ongoing.


  • One paper that intrigued me is one I can point you to, now (You have to wait for the others to be revised and posted).  Dr. Rodney Decker posted his paper on the ending of Mark at his blog, http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=3611.  Rod did his doctoral work on the Gospel of Mark and has just written a two volume handbook on Mark, http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=3577, so he is thoroughly familiar with this Gospel.
    The paper takes the conclusion that most of us have, that the long ending of Mark is not canonical, but then goes on to ask a question, or two.  What does this writing from some early Second Century author tell us about signs and miracles?  Or at least how some (presumably this guy was not isolated) did.
    Even for those of us who have to jump over some of the more technical stuff it is a good read.
  • It appears to me that there is a great need for clearer definitions in this discussion.
    It is obvious that when talk about cessationism we don't necessarily agree on what has, or has not ceased.
    I thought I knew what Spiritual gifts are.  Now, I'm not so sure, and I am sure that when we talk about them that not everyone brings the same definition to the table.
  • I need to read Grudem's book.  He was by far the most talked about absent person at the conference.  If anyone wants to show gratitude for my exceptionally perceptive reporting in this blog, by giving me a copy, it would be a clear sign of gratitude.  I would even wonder at it.
  • Thanks to those who labored to put this conference on.  Thanks for allowing we observers to observe.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #4:

I was privileged to attend the 2013 gathering of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.  To help clarify my thinking, and to encourage further discussion, I've been commenting on what I heard there.  Since the papers that were presented at the conference will be published, this is a discussion that will be open to all.
While this year's papers are not yet published, one can find the topics and presenters at the Council's website.  http://www.bbc.edu/council/
Since my first post following the conference was mostly personal.  This is really the 3rd post in which I discuss the discussion about cessationism.  Look here and scroll down: http://howardmerrell.blogspot.com/


Often looking at things in a fresh way helps bring clarity.  Even when I end up not agreeing with a different perspective, I often find that looking at the same old thing from a different angle helps me gain a better understanding.  A couple of the papers that were presented did that.

I already mentioned Dr. Arp's paper.  Dr. Arp, in as nearly a literal way as a metaphor can take, took us on a walk around 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.  He refused to tell us what he saw.  Instead he told us where we need to look.  If my Greek were an automobile it would be banned from the road for being more rust than substance.  Still I found my former teacher's tour compelling.  He took us to various portals and said, "Look here.  Before you can make a clear conclusion you have to decide what this is."
Structure, verb change, voice change, middle voice, the omission of "tongues" in v. 9, the contrast between the "perfect" and the "partial."   It looks like I have some work to do, and so do others who speak before they have taken the whole tour.

Often we speak about things that we haven't adequately defined.  Dr. Ken Gardoski called us out on that one.
In biblical studies we sometimes come across definitions of words and concepts that are
assumed but not defended. This is the case with spiritual gifts. The definition of spiritual
gift as “ability” is frequently offered but rarely defended. This definition is prevalent to the
point of being a default—proponents cite it automatically without discussion or support.
It is simply assumed to be correct.
Related to spiritual gifts is the Greek word often associated with them: χάρισμα. As with
the concept of spiritual gift, so too with the word χάρισμα a particular meaning, namely,
“spiritual gift,” is assumed but not defended. The purpose of this paper is to correct
these misunderstandings about the word χάρισμα and the concept of spiritual gift and to
offer alternate understandings of both word and concept.
At this point I think his case for seeing a more general meaning, at least in some places, for the word χάρισμα (charisma) is pretty convincing.  I see some problems in adopting his proposal that spiritual gifts--especially sign-gifts--are ministries rather than abilities.  I guess I'm open but cautious on that one.

Dr.Mark Soto, another former schoolmate of mine, surprised me.  The topic of his paper had come up a couple of times in the discussion periods.  I wasn't impressed.  When he read his paper, however, I found his idea to have merit.  It makes sense.  At this conference it definitely had the advantage of fitting in a dispensational paradigm.  This paragraph gives the gist of the idea, not new, but one I hadn't heard for a while:
In 1 Corinthians 1:22 Paul while Paul is making an argument about the Gospel and the Wisdom of God, he says that “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;” Gordon Fee has a wonderful treatment of these two general axioms in his commentary and while the argument of Paul is not to dwell on these axiomatic truths they are true none the less. This reality further outlines the distinction of the nature of the Church in Acts. We observe numerous signs and wonders in the first 12 chapters of Acts but there is a waning of those signs and wonders in chapters 13 to 28. Here we see Paul emerge as the predominant character in the book and his gifts are used to logically present the gospel to Greeks and show the gospel not the way that Gentile scholars did but to provide an understanding to the Gentiles who would listen and believe.
His other idea is another one that I'm open but cautious about.  He observes a distinction between tongues and tongue.
It appears to this writer that when Paul uses the singular γλώσσῃ [tongue] it always is accompanied by some restriction by the apostle Paul and the plural uses γλώσσαις [tongues] except 1 Corinthians 14:23 which does not conform to either observation. Where the plural us used Paul admonishes the church not to restrict tongues. This writer believes that 1 Corinthians 14:23 uses the plural to describe a different event and that is the entire church is speaking ecstatically together so the plural is appropriate but referencing human languages but ecstatic speech. . . . The conclusion of this writer is that in the singular use of tongue in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is referring to ecstatic speech and in the plural use of tongues except vs. 23, Paul is referring to the Biblical gift of languages. . . . Interestingly the plural use γλώσσαις is seen in Acts 2,10,19, Mark 16, and 1 Corinthians 12 when the spiritual gift of the Spirit is referenced. 1 Corinthians 14 appears to this writer to be about revelation and instruction to the church for growth and maturity not a treatise on the spiritual gifts.
I'm sure that there were some other new--at least to me--thoughts that were presented.  I mention these because they caught my attention, and they illustrate the reality that there is need for further study and discussion.  I look forward to rereading the revised papers and further work on these matters.  I'm hoping there will be some vigorous interaction both within the Council, and from without.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, #3, Some observations from an Observer:

From the schedule of this year's CDH, which focused on issues involved in the discussion of secession or continuation of sign gifts you can see that there were over a dozen papers that were presented at the conference (Dr. Emory Johnson of Dallas Theological Seminary presented a paper at the Chapel session, 9:00 on Wednesday).  As one would expect, the presentations varied in viewpoint, clarity, and persuasive content. As I indicated in the last post, these papers are currently undergoing revision and will be posted on the Council's website in the near future.  I will honor the desire of the presenters and the CDH, and not share the papers which were provided to us.  I will, however, share some of my observations about several of the papers, including some brief quotations, and the discussion which flowed from them.

Cessation & the Miraculous:
Dr. Johnson's, DTS presentation was not only significant for it's content--he chose to center his thoughts in the book of Hebrews--but for it's location in the Council's program.  His was the first presentation of the conference.  He appropriately opened his remarks with these words, "Since this is a Chapel message, I would like to challenge us in our ministry as well as to address the subject of cessation of sign gifts."
While the rest of his presentation was well done, I was particularly intrigued with the following comments at the end of his message.
As sign gifts were given according to the will of God, so God’s will could change where His purposes are served again by signs. It is a question of God’s purposes and not any imposed necessity. So when the two Witnesses will prophesy concerning Christ’s appearance a
second time for salvation, their message will be validated by signs and wonders (Revelation 11: 3-6).
While the progress in revelation is determinative in recognizing any change in God’s purposes, Scripture is not necessarily explicit declaring all instances of change. There may be circumstances within the dispensation of grace in which God’s purposes may change. We suggest such possible circumstances in which a change in purpose appears to be plausible:
  • a population which has never heard of the truth of the historical Jesus confirmed --- would God provide sign gifts to validate the Gospel message as true from God? (Muslim ministry, ministry among unreached peoples).
  • a post-Christian generation who have rejected the confirmation of truth present in Scripture. . . . 
It appeared to me that Dr. Johnson was seeking to raise a point of discussion.  He added some anecdotal comments to the above words, copied from the print version of his paper.
It was clear at the outset of the conference that at least one Council member was open to the possibility that the reports of miraculous phenomena among Muslims, for example, might very well be Divine.  I was concerned that Dr. Johnson's gauntlet was going to remain on the carpet of the meeting room.  I actually looked for an opportunity to raise the matter in the discussion times.  Toward the end of the conference someone else did.  As I remember there were three presenters on the platform at the time the question was raised.  Memory might fail me here, so I'll simply say that one of the three said something to the effect, that he saw no reason to call these reports into question, that certainly we should not be found questioning God's ability or His sovereignty.
It struck me that a conference that obviously was defending cessationism (as a reminder, that is my position) had just gone on record that cessation does not mean all things miraculous had ceased.  According to the straw-man definition of cessationism that many continuationists seek to hang on us, this group had just denied cessationsim.
Take note of something that this council did not say, and they did not say it quite loudly.  Cessationsim--at least the variety represented at the CDH does not deny the supernatural.  At this point these are my words (If any of the Council members are observing this observer they are certainly welcome to weigh in.):
Believing that the sign-gifts are not for the church today does not mean that one denies the possibility of the miraculous.  The fact is, I prayed today that God would heal one of the members of this Council who is currently dealing with a life-threatening disease.  I believe God heals.  I agree with Dr. Johnson's words quoted above.  I don't see any contradiction between what I just said and saying that I am a cessationist.  I believe God heals.  I am open to the possibility of His communicating in supernatural ways in extraordinary circumstances (and He judges what is ordinary).  I don't believe God is specifically gifting individuals with the sign gifts today.  I find my situation like what I observe at the chronological end of the New Testament.  Now I have several Doctors who say I'm not necessarily a schizophrenic for holding those beliefs.

1 Corinthians 13 & Cessationism:
Several of the papers dealt with 1 Corinthians 13, in particular verses 8-12.  Many regard this passage as the Holy Grail of cessationism.  Dr. Robert Dean, West Houston Bible Church, did a credible job presenting the evidence for, and arguing the conclusion that the reference to "the perfect," in 1 Cor. 13:10 refers to completed canon.  While his argument was much better, he essentially presented the view that I grew up on.  Of the choices available for identifying "the perfect," I may agree with Dr. Dean.  I was not, and am not convinced that it is convincing argument to use in persuading the unpersuaded.  When the paper is published I do encourage reading it.
Dr. William Arp, BBS presented a paper in which he studiously, and somewhat annoyingly to one fellow Council member, avoided drawing any conclusions.  What he did share, rather convincingly, are the questions that have to be asked and answered in order to draw a clear interpretation of the 1 Cor. 13 passage.  If I were dealing with 1 Corinthians in a message, I'd use Dr. Arps paper as a checklist.
The longest paper of the conference is one presented by Dr, Rodney Decker, BBS.  This was a paper that Dr. Decker had previously written which is germane to the issue at hand.  I'll content myself with giving the title and a few lines from the conclusion.  They speak clearly.
A History of Interpretation of “That Which Is Perfect” (1 Cor 13:10)
With Special Attention to the Origin of the “Canon View”
The preceding survey [about 66 pages containing 238 footnotes]  has demonstrated that the vast majority of biblical commentators throughout the history of the church have understood the expression τὸ τέλειον [the perfect] to be related in some way to the eschaton [The second coming of Christ]. Both the canon view and the mature body view are relatively recent interpretations that have developed out of the controversy over contemporary manifestations of the miraculous gifts. Both can be traced only to the mid or early twentieth century, though there were apparently some antecedents to both in the nineteenth century.  The recency of a view does not necessarily disprove its hermeneutical legitimacy, but it should serve as a caution to the interpreter to be sure that there is an adequate and valid exegetical basis for it. Too often views have been adopted because they provide the “right answer” to controversial issues.
 Obviously, the Council reflected the divergent views found in the Evangelical community concerning 1 Corinthians 13 and cessationism.  I came away with a strengthened confidence that one need not maintain a strained exegesis of 1 Corinthians 13:10 in order to maintain a cessationist position.  Or to put it in another way, the fact that some continuationists turn to 1 Corinthians 13 to support their position doesn't concern me.

Again I need to respect the time-limit.
Go get some coffee.  I'll be back with some Apostles and Prophets--or not.  It depends on your view..

Monday, September 23, 2013

My foray into the world of scholars--The 2013 Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

The subject up for consideration at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, that I attended last week, is "Has Cessationism Ceased? (or Do the Sign Gifts Continue?)."  I say "is," because the discussion is still ongoing.  In spite of the impression my rather cavalier decision making process (see last post) that led to my attendance at this event might have given the reader, the subject is one in which I am interested.  In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say for the record that I consider myself a cessationist.  To those of you who immediately have a negative reaction to that, I issue an invitation to stay tuned.  Here are two reasons for hanging in there with me:  I've been convinced for some time that cessationsits are a misunderstood breed.  Listening to my scholarly brethren, who read their papers at the conference, confirmed that.  Furthermore, as is often the case, many of the ideas put forth in the meetings are of value beyond the realm of the cessationist - continuation discussion.  Bottom line, these are people who think the Bible really has something to say.  They have devoted their lives to understanding what the Bible says, and helping others to do so.  That ain't bad.

You can look at the schedule to see who is involved in this current project.  As I mentioned in the last post, I know a couple of these men.  Rodney Decker and I together attended Baptist Bible College, and Osterhout Bible Church, where his dad was my pastor.  Bill Arp taught a class I took at BBC.  Mark Soto is a graduate of Appalachian Bible College, as am I; he and I took a couple of classes together at Liberty Seminary.  A couple of the institutions these men represent have influenced my life.  I spent two years at Baptist Bible College.  Though I didn't attend Dallas Theological Seminary, graduates of the school, 
through books they have written, classes they have taught, and movements they have championed, have had a major impact on me, .  Generically these guys take a high view of scripture.  In the sane sense of the word, they are Fundamentalists.  (For example King James Only-ism came up in discussion.  It didn't get a good press.)  They are Dispensationalists.  At least some of them describe themselves as "Classic Dispensationalists."   It is a narrow--I don't mean to say narrow-minded--group.  The names and topics that brought "cheers" and "jeers" (Offered in a gentlemanly sort of way) revealed the pedigree of the group.  As to the level of scholarship of the participants, I will refer you to my friend, Dr. Decker's credentials, here, & here.  

As I understand it, the procedure at the CDH meeting is similar to other scholarly gatherings.  Official delegates write papers.  (I got the idea that some of the topics were more or less assigned, at least the writer was urged to write on a particular aspect of the subject at hand.  It was obvious from the response of the rest of the council that some of the papers were rather a surprise.  At least one of the papers was one that had been written some time ago, but which was judged to be germane to the topic at hand.)  The author of a paper would "read" his paper at the assigned time.  There was a thirty minute time limit.  One of the papers was near a hundred pages, so the reading consisted mainly of the introduction and conclusion.  Most of the readers read a truncated version of their paper.  At least one choose to talk through his paper rather than read it.  The full text of all the papers was made available to all the council, and even to "observers" like me.  As is true about readers of bedtime stories, some readers were better than others.  If there is a revival of Ferris Beuller some of the presenters might be able to supplement their income.  Some, however, presented their papers in a very effective manner.

At the conclusion of the reading (in some cases readings were grouped together because they dealt with similar topics) there was time for questions and comments.  As is appropriate, council members were given priority.  The plan is for the presenters to consider the input of the council, as they prepare their papers for final publication on the council's website.   (Papers from past councils are posted on the site.)  This process is to be completed in thirty days.  I was surprised that the question and comment time was not more vigorous and cut-throat.  Maybe the heavy-duty criticism takes place behind the scenes.

Listening to, or reading, any one of the papers is a bit like looking at a part of an automobile.  Unless you are a real aficionado you probably don't have much interest in examining a transmission or a fuel-injection array.  You just want to get behind the wheel of a high-performance vehicle.  These papers mostly correspond to components.  They have to be assembled before they have much practical value.  Since I am interested in the overall system--both Dispensationalism, and Cessationism--and I regard sound Bible interpretation as absolutely essential, I was interested in most of the papers.  I look forward to reading the revised version of several of them.

Before I exceed the thirty minute time limit, I need to bring this post to a close.   I am planning to share a couple more posts about the Council.  I hope to comment on:

  • I was looking for consensus on some broad themes.  At least in part, I observed that.
  • While there is no official doctrinal statement that one needs to sign in order to call one's self a "Cessationist," I am assuming at this point that this group is representative of the position, or maybe I should say they "represent the thinking wing of those who self-identify as believing that certain of the New Testament gifts were temporary in nature."  It is important to hear what they did not say.  In some cases they didn't say it rather loudly.
  • A couple of the papers clearly have implications beyond the discussion related to the continuation of sign-gifts.
Stay tuned.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I just returned from an interesting couple of days.  Pastor Doug and I attended the meeting of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, held at Baptist Bible Seminary.  The particular topic of discussion this year was "Has Cessationism Ceased?"  I'm sure those titles make little sense to most of my readers.  I would say most of you will still have many questions even after you look at the CDH website.  Probably high on the list of questions is, "Why would you go there?"  The question has already been asked.  Here is the basic answer:
Doug noticed the event online.  He was interested--though, I don't think he knew exactly what we were getting into--in attending.  It was free.  It offered the opportunity to say hi to some old friends, and gave Doug and I an opportunity to spend time together, so I said, "Sign us up."  Careful analysis, huh?  The answer to the obvious follow-up question is, "I'm glad we went."  I'll share why over the course of several posts.

First, a non-academic report:

David and Luann Sverduk, part of the CBC extended family live thirty-six minutes away from BBS.  They graciously allowed us to stay, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, at their lovely home in lake Ariel PA.  Yes, there are Buffalo.  It was great to catch up with them.  They are well, and busy, and their kids are all on their own and doing well.

  • Their youngest, Victoria, https://www.facebook.com/victoria.sverduk?fref=ts, is finishing up her work at a veterinary school in St. Kitts.  She will soon move to Blacksburg where she will complete her preparation for veterinary medicine.  
  • Ginger and her family live near David and Luann.  We were able to see them briefly.  Lovely family.
  • We were also able to see Tupper.  He lives and farms near York, PA. 
  • Lee and his family live in Delaware.
One of the members of  the Council is Dr. Rodney Decker.  I attended school and church with Rodney while at Baptist Bible.  It was good to see Rod.  Please pray for him.  He is battling cancer.

Stay tuned for a non-academic's look at what goes on at a gathering of PhDs.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Marrying folk who are living together:

I suppose it is the pastoral equivalent of lady hearing someone say, "Have you lost weight?  You look great!"  Someone recently commended me for "speaking the truth in love."  The conversation this friend spoke of was one that took place some years ago.  Two adults were living together without being married.  They had plans to be married--some five months in the future--and without thinking about it very much, they thought that made their present cohabitation OK.
I need to make known that I wasn't an outsider sticking my nose into somebody else's business.  On two levels (maybe more) I was being asked to be a part of the live-together now, marry later arrangement.  I remember swallowing hard just before I said, "I have a problem with that."
After I turned on the flashing red light in the room, I gave the couple an opportunity to end the conversation.  I know that the fact that I have a problem does not necessarily mean that I have a right to impose my standard on others.  The couple said little, but their eyes, and more the fact that they stayed seated, said, "Go on."  It's not a time for a complicated, long-winded, hard to follow tirade.  I used a one-verse observation to, as my friend said, "Speak the truth in love."
There is nothing complex here, but it might be something that will help others who desire to lovingly speak the truth about a difficult problem in our culture.

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."  (Hebrews 13:4)

Use the semicolon in the verse above as the dividing line.  Before the semicolon the verse is marked by honor.  God says that what is going on here is to be held in honor.  Whatever is going on after the semicolon is something that makes one subject to God's judgment--hardly honorable.  The mention of the "marriage bed" is a tip-off.  If one were to make a video of what is going on in the marriage bed--something I very much don't recommend) and if a video were made of the activity that is described as fornication and adultery, the content of the videos would be identical.  So here the very same activity that in the front end of the verse is honorable, in the back end of the verse places one in the uncomfortable position of being the subject of God's judgment.
"So," I asked my friends, "what makes the difference between the two ends of the verse?  What has changed?"
The obvious answer is marriage.  At the beginning of the verse a married couple is being contemplated.  At the end a couple who are unwed.

Generally this scriptural observation/exhortation doesn't have the positive result that it had on this day.  I've been told that such matters are none of my business.  Frequently, I'm met with a look incredulity, that eloquently says something like, "I can't believe that you believe (or "still believe") that."

I do believe it.  Further I don't believe it is just an arbitrary standard that God sent down from on high.  The sexual standard of the Bible is really rather simple.  Sex is to take place only between a man and a woman who are married to one another.  God gave us this standard because it is in line with the way that He made us.  Adhering to this standard leads to the greatest possible human flourishing.  Allowing it to erode does no one any favors, and for those of us who are given the responsibility to speak for the Lord, to fail to uphold this standard is sinful.

Here is where I have problem with some of my colleagues.  For too many of my fellow-pastors, this is the elephant that fills the room yet is politely ignored.   I'm  asking you to acknowledge pachyderm.  It is tough, very tough, but I am convinced that if we are going to maintain our integrity we have to deal with it.
I appreciate the position that some pastors I know have taken:

  • The pastor of mega-church in California says, "If I am going to work with you in doing this wedding you need to enter into this commitment of purity.  I'm not going to judge you about the past, but I need for your to commit to a standard of purity (chastity) from this point until your marriage.
  • When confronted with the usual "problem," "We can't get married now, we have to book a DJ, buy a dress, schedule a venue, etc. etc. etc."  Sometimes complicated by the claim that we can't afford to live apart."  Leaving aside for a moment the fact that a family of six could live for a year on all they money they are proposing to spend on the big wedding, my friend offers the couple two alternatives:  Somebody needs to move out, or our church will help you put together a wedding.  It has to take place within two weeks.  (To those who would say that one more night is no different than another year, I would say, "There is a difference.  My friend is pushing the couple a commitment to do what is right, rather than what looks fabulous.")
  • Another uses a questionnaire to begin a conversation about the couple really wants.  If what they really, really want is to do as they jolly well please in spite of what the Word of God says, what business do we as "Men of God" have in being involved?
Guys, we can help one another here.  If a couple says, in essence, "We really don't think that what the Bible says about marriage has anything to do with us."  Why should we be involved.  I tell couples, "I'm not in the marrying business.  I am, however, glad to help people build Biblical homes.  If we are going to do that, we need to start right now.

I'd love to hear from you.  I think a discussion--even an argument--could be helpful.


Here is a god article about speaking the truth in an understanding, compassionate way: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/169778-stephen-altrogge-westboro-baptist-and-rob-bell.html?p=2