Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm still not charismatic, Steve

An old friend – Steve Utley – commented on my re-posted ‘Why I am not a charismatic’.  Here’s my open response to him

Hi, Steve. Glad to hear from you.  Actually, I suspected you’d responded last time I posted this, but anonymously – was I right?

Thanks for taking my post seriously.  I’m always glad for any evidence that someone is actually reading them!  I’ll take opportunity here to respond.  Let me begin by saying that a) we’re in agreement about a lot, as you say; b) the gospel is bigger than this, and I quite understand that your church feels closer to some non-Charismatic churches than to some Charismatic churches who’re soft on the gospel, and c) you only took up one point in my post! 

You write:
Unlike you, I am not convinced by the argument Stuart Olyott makes for 1 Corinthians 13:10. Much as I appreciate his work, I think that his exegesis of verse 10 does not stand comfortably within the passage.

My main objections to this exegesis would be that:
1. The context of the passage is 'the supremacy of love'
2. V.12 seems to qualify V.10 by stating that it will be when we see 'Face to face' we will know in full, until then we continue in part.
3. Immediately following this passage and upholding love as supreme, Paul then enters into a very explicit discourse on the use and administration of gifts without the slightest hint that they will disappear.

OK: one at a time.

1. Yes, the context is ‘the supremacy of love’ but that doesn’t mean that what he says about the gifts is not to be taken seriously.  Love is supreme precisely because it continues when most other gifts have ended.  There will be a time, says Paul, when only ‘faith, hope and love’ remain (verse 13).  That ‘time’ cannot be a reference to heaven: for ‘faith’ is ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1) and is explicitly contrasted with sight – the sight of heaven – in 2 Cor 5:7.  And hope – ‘hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?’ (Romans 8:24).  Remarkable as it seems at first hearing, if we define faith and hope as the New Testament does there is neither faith nor hope in heaven.  But if that ‘time’ is not heaven, when is it?  How can the sign gifts remain right until the end of the age?

2. Indeed, the phrase ‘face to face’ is very important.  But it’s important to remember Paul’s Biblical background – he has not just plucked this phrase out of the air.  He is alluding to Numbers 12:8 where Moses uses both the concept of ‘face to face’ and ‘dark speech’ (it’s translated ‘riddles’ in the NIV, not very helpfully).  ‘Darkly’ or ‘dimly’ is also omitted from the NIV (what a nuisance that translation is at times!) but check in other translations.  The close use of both concepts makes it very clear that Paul is alluding to Numbers: so what does the passage in Numbers speak of?  It speaks of two different earthly revelations, and of the superiority of Moses’ revelation to that of other prophets.  In other words, it not only fits with the idea that 1 Corinthians 13 is comparing the incomplete revelation of the prophets with the complete and clearer revelation of Scripture: it requires it.  Nothing else makes sense of the allusion.  And if you object ‘but he says we will know fully, even as we are known, and that can only refer to heaven’ think about it.  We will never – not even in heaven after an eternity of eternities – know God as fully as he knows us; we don’t have the capacity for that.  He is using the phrase though to contrast the lesser with the greater – NT prophecy (the lesser) with full Scriptural revelation (the greater).

3. As for him entering into an explicit discourse in chapter 14 without the slightest hint that they’ll disappear – he’s just told them that!  What do you want him to do – end every paragraph with ‘and don’t forget – shortly after you’re dead, these gifts will disappear anyway; I just need to keep saying it in case somebody in two millennia misses it’!?

‘The New Testament has much to say on gifts, signs and wonders…’ you say.  Well, no actually.  Not that much.  It has a fair bit to say on circumcision, too.  My position doesn’t negate the passages that are there – it just understands them in the whole NT context.   There’s no authority beyond the New Testament – we’re agreed on that.  And I don’t appeal to any authority other than that – do I?  You may not agree with my understanding of 1 Corinthians 13, but at least we both accept that it’s part of the New Testament!

Did you know I was present when Wendy was healed of epilepsy?  I remember that Sunday morning so very clearly.  I wouldn’t want to doubt that it was a most remarkable answer to prayer.  Was it a miracle?  I don’t know; I remember too that she had at least one further attack after that morning before they disappeared completely.  And I know too that some forms of epilepsy do pass eventually.  So I’m hesitant to use the word ‘miracle’ (which I think has a very narrow definition); but not remotely hesitant to say that it is one of the most remarkable answers to prayer I’ve ever seen.  And yes, I’ve seen other, similar, answers.  My position on healing is, I think, roughly the same as Lloyd-Jones’: God still heals, but there are no healers.  (And I remember that Lloyd-Jones always insisted that he had never seen a genuine miracle).  As for ‘real, tangible healings at Citygate’ I’ve no reason to deny it – my theology doesn’t require it!  BUT I would caution you: be sure the people who seem to have been healed were actually sick with an organic – rather than psycho-somatic - illness, and had been properly and reliably diagnosed as such.  Then be sure that they’re actually healed, and healed without medical intervention.  Only then can you even begin to think of using the word ‘miracle’; the Roman Catholic Church, to its credit, examines all of Lourdes’ ‘healings’ in this scrupulous way.  Such caution IS necessary; twenty years or so ago a well-known Christian woman hit the secular press with accounts of her miraculous healing and, sure enough, all tests revealed no trace of the disease she said she had had.  It was only when a sceptical evangelical doctor eventually gained access to her medical records that it was shown she never had had the disease; she had self-diagnosed, and been mistaken.

Finally (for now!) you say
  • I find that most rejection comes down to a personal experience (as did I) which we just know in our bones is not authentic. But is that the right thing to do?

Well, no it’s not.  But my reply would be that it’s the other way round: most people come to the Bible convinced that they’ve seen healings/tongues/prophecies etc and are therefore insistent that the Bible can’t mean what it says – and what Bible believers have believed it to say for most of the last two millennia.

Where, Steve, are the tongues that are not ‘angelish’?  Where are the organic healings that make the medical profession and the world sit up and take notice?  Why did no-one respond to the Pyromaniacs’ challenge for a well-attested, significant and accurate prophecy?  Why did John Wimber – the most remarkable and famous charismatic of his day – promise David Watson (the most remarkable, famous British charismatic of his day) that his cancer would be healed (just before he died of it!)  Why did people all over the world write to Watson with the same prophecy?  Why was there not a single voice saying ‘I have heard from the Lord, and this sickness is to death’?  Is it possible that the supreme and sovereign Lord allowed this so that we could face the facts – there are no true prophets today?

Well, blessings to you.  We’ll have to meet up some time and have a coffee, instead of bumping into one another by accident.  Give my love to your Mum and Dad.


Steve Utley said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for your reply -and so promptly too.

Firstly, I wanted to say that I had to edit about 1000 characters out of my comment before I was allowed to post it, therefore some of the things I said have been somewhat truncated and they probably don't read as well as they should have.

Sorry you thought I didn't respond fully to all your points. I guess a0 I was following one particular tack and b) I ran out of characters and time.

I would like to respond more fully to some of your counterpoints, but I need a little more time than I have at this moment.

I am thinking about what we agree on and where we part company regarding this passage.

We both at least agree (Correct me if I am wrong):
1. It's divine revelation.
2. It refers to gifts.
3. There will be a future point from the writers perspective where these gift cease and/or pass away.
4. This will happen at a definite future point or event that the writer calls 'perfection' (telos)

(I am sure that's not entirely exhaustive.)

Where I think we part is:
1. What perfection is or means.
2. When perfection occurs.

I am thinking about your comments on face to face (As well as some of the others you raise) and also how Paul uses telos or telion elsewhere.

I will get back shortly, but in the mean-time, coffee sounds like a jolly good idea. I'd appreciate that.


PS. Yes it was me!

Paul Brown said...


I've put a comment on my own blog.