Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

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..

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