Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

So apparently Mark Driscoll recently went on a rant that was just silly, ignorant, and flat-out stupid. Frank Turk as usual does a masterful job of dissecting the absurdity. It's worth a read. Pack a lunch.

Now, out of that whole mess, there's one particular argument I'd like to take a closer look at. The discussion regards the issue of cessationism, the idea that miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the end of the apostolic period. After effectively calling the vast multitudes of Christians throughout the ages who've held this position the same as atheists and deists, Driscoll backs it up with this:

"So within that God's not really speaking, God's not really working and the supernatural gifts are not in operation; Healing, revelation, speaking in tongues, those kinds of things they are over in the God-used-to box. Even though I was reading this book that said he was the same yesterday, today and forever."

The 'book' he read that said that is of course Hebrews, specifically 13:8. His argument seems to be that based on this verse, if God has ever done something some way, He must forever keep doing the same thing the same way.

The book of Hebrews has 303 verses. This attempt to use this verse is so spectacularly awful, you have to wonder if he's ever read any of the other 302.

Honestly, if you were going to make this argument, is there a worse book you could possibly use than Hebrews? OK, maybe Revelation might be up there with it, but Hebrews is about as bad as it can get for this position. It's hard to find a portion of the book which doesn't fight against this silly argument. Consider:

Hebrews 8:13 - "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." Though God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, he apparently had no problem replacing the obsolete old covenant with a new, better one.

Hebrews 7:11ff - Remember the Levitical priesthood? The unchanging God gladly replaced it with the superior Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus.

Hebrews 10:1-18 - Based on Driscoll's argument, we should still be worthlessly sacrificing bulls and goats, and verses 9 and 18 are practically atheistic or deistic.

Hebrews 9:11ff - That old tabernacle and associated stuff? Gone. Buh bye. Replaced with the heavenly, better versions. But I thought God was the same yesterday, today, and forever...?

So yeah, the meat of the book is all about the old and obsolete being replaced with the new and better. What else do we find?

Hebrews 10:19-20 - "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh..." Whoa, wait a second, what's all this "new and living way" stuff? I thought God was unchanging!

Hebrews 3:7-11 - "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says..." What does he say? A long scripture quote! Interesting, isn't it? It's almost as if Driscoll's larger argument, that if you don't believe in perpetually ongoing fresh revelation you believe God is silent, is completely and utterly demolished by this single passage. But that would be a silly thought, that God speaks through scripture, AKA His Word.

Oh, how about one more? Let's look at the first couple verses of chapter 2, with my comments in brackets.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels [the Mosaic law, Acts 7:53] proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It [the gospel] was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard [the apostles], while God also bore witness [to what? the gospel proclamation of 'those who heard' Jesus!] by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Folks, this is perhaps the #1 cessationist passage regarding the purpose of the miraculous gifts. It very explicitly ties them to the initial proclamation of the gospel by those who heard it directly from Jesus.

So this book, basically from beginning to end, is opposed to the point Driscoll tried to make from one poorly-applied verse. That leaves us with a couple options.

(1) He simply doesn't know any better. The pastor is so unfamiliar with this magnificent tome of Christology that he has no idea how contrary his point is to the central themes of the book.
(2) He knows better, but is fine with completely misusing scripture to make a minor rhetorical point.
(3) I'm so completely far off in my understanding of these fairly plain and straightforward passages from Hebrews that I should really just give up blogging, teaching, or even commenting on scripture until I get my mind right.
(4) ???? I dunno, help me out here.

I'm fairly sure it's not 3 - otherwise, I wouldn't have written this all. 1 and 2 are both simply ghastly options, completely unfitting for a pastor, and really could disqualify one from eldership at all. So someone please tell me it's 4, and figure out what that could possibly be. 'Coz I'm kinda stumped.


Robert said...

I'm saying it has to be 1 or 2 and that he is disqualified. Although I have stated that I believe so for other reasons many times before and probably sound a bit biased. Yes, we should show grace to believers, but there are qualifications in the Bible for the office of elder (which a pastor is) and he clearly doesn't meet them. Of course, he can fall back on hearing the audible voice of God calling him into the ministry, I guess. Although I am apt to believe that God does not and can not contradict the Bible.

DJP said...

Splendid, better than I'd been thinking in my own head (which simply stopped with their "argument" from Heb. 13:8 necessarily requiring that God would have been writing new Scripture for 2000 years, parting seas, raising LOTS of dead people, and so forth. Going in HT and Twitter.

Anonymous said...

Great post. To make another point: Even Driscoll is a cessationist! Or would he say that the gift of apostleship is active today? Your post makes a great point. Thanks.

Joe Meyer said...


Robert said...

Have you had any luck picking an option...or was that just a rhetorical point?

trogdor said...

If I had to pick, I'd go with 2. It's far too similar to his infamous Ecclesiastes joke which I won't repeat here, and if you don't know it please don't look it up. Trust me.

Of all the things Driscoll has ever been accused of, Biblical ignorance is not one of them. Dude knows his stuff. Which is why this whole thing is such an issue.

Look, if someone like Rob Bell had called cessationists a bunch of functional atheists, nary an eyebrow would have been raised. It's the kind of idiotic thing he does continually, he's never proven himself capable of anything better. [Actually, the more I think about it, this is extremely Bell-esque use of a verse. Find words in the Bible that could make the rhetorical point I want, and don't care in the least what they actually mean. Use the phrase as if it should silence all opposition, as if it makes it so clear that only a dullard could possibly object. Instead of treating scripture as God's divine revelation, it's reducing it to a rhetorical hammer, purely there to win an argument.]

With Driscoll, he clearly knows better. He's probably the single most frustrating person in American evangelicalism today. At any moment, he's capable of producing a powerful, eloquent, penetrating, Christ-exalting message the likes of which most pastors could never even dream of delivering. And the next moment he can say something so incomprehensibly stupid that you wonder if he's familiar with this 'Christianity' thing, and if maybe he could learn some maturity from my 15-month-old.

So no, I don't think he's ignorant of Hebrews. I think he figured it would be a good laugh line and put his opponents on the defensive, and that was more important to him than being faithful to scripture.

Robert said...

Thanks...I just sometimes feel like I may not give him enough of a leash, but I also know from the little I have read from his sermons/seminars that there is too much bad in there for me to think he should not be a pastor. In fact, I just read a blog post on Here I Blog that just raised all kinds of new concerns over Driscoll. I never knew he claimed to have visions of the past and future.

Lockheed said...

What do you expect from a self-ordained pseudo-hipster? Yet another good reason to join a confessional, Reformed, church.

Tim Bertolet said...

This is great.

If you wanted to boil it down to a quip you could just ask: "So...Jesus Christ was incarnate for all eternity past?"

The point being exactly what you make on other issues: the sameness of Jesus (and God)'s person does not equate to a lack to distinct and differing interactions in the flow of redemptive history that are temporally conditioned. e.g. "if God has ever done something some way, He must forever keep doing the same thing the same way."

trogdor said...

Indeed. No doubt Driscoll and other faux-continuationists acknowledge progressive revelation. I think they would agree that at every stage, the revelation becomes more complete, and if anything becomes obsolete, it's because it's been replaced by something better.

That's the difference on this issue in a nutshell. We maintain that the miraculous/revelatory signs have ceased now that scripture is complete. That is, we believe having God's written word is better than having a prophet with an occasional fresh word from God. The obsolete gifts were replaced by the better, complete word.

Bible > prophets

Could they honestly say the same?

Frank Turk said...

Choice 5: he's immune to criticism.

Phil said...

I can't remember who it was that said that all sin is irrational. That's what's going on here.
You try to analyze his position logically and it's total madness, so you can't. Either he's doing it on purpose and he's a rebel, or he's ignorant of his mistake and he's foolish. But it seems more likely that his position is merely the sinful one, which is the irrational one.
There are ways of dealing with the theological dullard, Frank already did it.