A Brief, Personal Response to Tim Challie's Review of "Practicing the Power"5
Let me begin by saying thanks for taking the time to read and review my new book on your blog (www.challies.com). I’m extremely blessed that you would consider it worth your time and effort to do so. I’m also grateful for the many times you have linked to my blog, especially the “10 Things You Should Know” series of articles. Continue reading . . .
Let me begin by saying thanks for taking the time to read and review my new book on your blog (www.challies.com). I’m extremely blessed that you would consider it worth your time and effort to do so. I’m also grateful for the many times you have linked to my blog, especially the “10 Things You Should Know” series of articles.
I appreciate the generous and fair manner in which you reviewed my book. Needless to say, I wouldn’t expect a theological cessationist to agree with it, but I am grateful for the many kind and affirming things you said about it.
I thought it might be helpful for all concerned for me to respond briefly to some of your criticisms. I’ll take them one at a time.
First, you say that I don’t “accurately describe the cessationist position, which makes me think he must not understand it.” Being a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and having been a thorough-going cessationist for the first fifteen years of my ministry (and having spoken and written on it extensively), I do think I understand the position. Obviously, not all cessationists agree among themselves on every issue, any more than do all continuationists. So it is to be expected that the way I might portray my understanding of what many/most cessationists believe on any particular topic will differ from your own (or from that of others). But I strive to be fair and objective in my portrayal of what most cessationists believe. If you think I’ve failed in this, please let me know in what particular regard this might have occurred and I’ll make any corrections or apologies that I feel are warranted.
Second, you say that “Sometimes key passages on a topic are conspicuously absent.” You cite as an example James 5:14. There are two reasons why I didn’t go into detail on this text. First, I have addressed this passage in considerable detail in my book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, chapter 4. I didn’t see any need to repeat in detail what I had explained in that earlier book. Second, Practicing the Power wasn’t written to provide a biblical and theological defense of the validity of healing today. This book was specifically designed to provide some practical guidelines for those who are already on board with that belief. Had I written this book to demonstrate to cessationists the nature and relevance of healing for the church today I might have expounded James 5. But that simply wasn’t the aim of this book. There is a sense in which this book is an example of “preaching to the choir” (i.e., to those already committed to continuationism who simply need some guidance on what practical steps can be taken to facilitate healing prayer ministry in their local church).
Third, you say that my “understanding of prophecy hangs on a fatally flawed interpretation of those key passages in Acts. It ignores all the Old Testament restrictions on prophecy and its requirement that prophets be without error. It makes no distinction between the necessity of prophecy before God revealed the Scriptures and after the biblical canon was closed.” Again, I wrote the book for people who already agree with me on the nature of NT prophecy. I never intended to write for cessationists to try to persuade them from the text that congregational NT prophecy is a mixture of infallible divine revelation and fallible human interpretation and application. I didn’t write this book to demonstrate that NT prophecy is of a different nature and lesser authority than OT prophecy. I know that we have different views on that subject, and I’ve written extensively elsewhere on the subject. Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I’ve written much on that topic in the past. So, again, I completely understand your frustration with what I didn’t do in Practicing the Power. But, without wanting to sound like a broken record, I didn’t write the book for those who are looking for a defense of my view of prophecy. I wrote it to those who already agree with me on this topic and are looking for helpful ways to implement it in the life of the local church while remaining rooted in the functional authority of Scripture.
Fourth, let me be crystal clear about this: I most emphatically do not believe that a born-again Christian can be “possessed” by demons. Neither Satan nor demons can “possess” anything relating to the spiritual life of the believer. We have been “bought with a price” and are owned entirely by God. The language of “demon possession” isn’t even biblical. It nowhere appears in the NT. It has crept into our language largely because of its presence in the KJV. The language of the NT is daimonizomai, or to be “demonized.” I wrote an entire chapter on this in my book Tough Topics (Crossway). As you will see from reading that chapter, I try to address every biblical text and theological argument both for and against the possibility of a Christian being “indwelt” by a demon. My opinion is that the NT doesn’t explicitly answer that question. I trust you’ll take a look at that chapter and you’ll see where I’m coming from. I am not in the least dogmatic or rigid on this point, and could easily be persuaded to conclude that a Christian cannot be influenced by an “indwelling” demonic spirit. If you or anyone else has evidence to that effect, or an argument I haven’t considered, I would love to see it.
Fifth, you write: “He so lauds the practice of the miraculous gifts that readers who have not experienced them could easily become discouraged with their church and convinced they are missing out on tremendous spiritual experiences.” Well, yes! I do hope and pray that those who have never given serious consideration to the contemporary validity of the miraculous charismata would feel a bit discouraged and would take steps to understand them better and devote themselves to prayer and the pursuit of such gifts. And yes, I do believe that my cessationist friends (and I have as many cessationist friends as continuationist ones!) are “missing out” on an important and extremely helpful dimension of Christian living. No apologies on this one!
Sixth, you write: “The book is at times pastorally insufficient. For example, there is little guidance for people who become convinced the miraculous gifts are operational, but who attend a church that does not. Should they leave their church? Should they confront their leaders? Should they begin to practice these gifts in their small groups? Likewise, there is little guidance for leaders who become convinced that the miraculous gifts remain operational. Should they necessarily lead their churches to begin practicing the gifts? What if the members disagree? Without addressing such concerns, this book has the potential to bring division.”
You are correct in every way on this point. But I had to draw the line somewhere on how long the book should be. My publisher insisted on that! I would say in response to your series of questions: “Should they leave their church? Sometimes, but not always. Should they confront their leaders? No, don’t confront them, but do pray for them, and if possible engage in humble, private dialogue. Yes, by all means practice them in your small group if you can do so without creating unnecessary division and confusion. But if your small group leader is opposed, honor his authority and keep your mouth shut! Yes, I believe pastors should lead their churches to begin practicing the gifts. This is what I did back in 1988 when I embraced continuationism. But I took five years to do so! I taught through Acts, 1 Corinthians, spiritual warfare, and numerous other texts and topics related to the subject. And it takes a lot of time, patience, and love for those who disagree with you. Finally, you ask, “what if the members disagree?” Well, I’m sure you are aware of the fact that members often disagree on any number of subjects. The pastoral strategy in such cases is to be humble, gentle, clear in one’s exposition of the text, and very, very patient. Of course, I have a lot more to say on this point, but this response is already much too long.
You conclude your review by saying that you find the book “concerning and unconvincing.” Well, yes, I would have expected that, especially since I made no effort at all to “convince” cessationists that continutionism is true. My purpose, once again (and finally), was to write to and on behalf of convinced continuationists. I would never have expected a cessationist to find what I wrote “convincing.” And given the disparity between the two views, I can fully understand why a cessationist would be “concerned” with what I wrote.
So, to conclude, the only thing I know to do is to remind those who choose to read my book that it was written for continuationists who share my theological belief about the validity and operation of all spiritual gifts but are still in the dark about how to implement these realities in the life of the local church. I’m quite sure that virtually all cessationists who read it will respond as you did. As you know, the only thing I wrote that was directly addressed to cessationists was the appendix where I briefly outlined my views on that issue. Of course, interested readers can also read my contribution to Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan) and my book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Chosen/Baker).
Sincerely, Tim, I am truly grateful for the challenge you present to me regarding my views. I hope I’ve been both fair and clear in my brief response. I thank God for your ministry and the tremendous blessing your blog is to the body of Christ. Let’s plan on sitting down together at a conference soon and talking face-to-face about these and other issues.
Blessings in Christ!