Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wesleyans and Grudem (Miracles)

I've been on a hiatus from reading through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology for some time. It was a lot of work the way I was doing it. I want to keep working through but offer a more selective response.

I think what I would especially like to do is draw attention to ways in which a Wesleyan-Arminian approach to theology might be the same or different from him. Here is a response to his chapter on Miracles (chapter 17).
1. First, I want to say that Wesleyans are on the same page as Grudem for most of the chapter. For example, he respectfully disagrees with B. B. Warfield, D. A. Carson, and Norman Geisler, all of whom believe that miracles done through humans ended with the apostles. They are what are called "cessationists" who do not believe that God uses Christians to heal today or to prophecy, etc. This is decidedly not something Wesleyans believe.

Wesleyans believe that God continues to perform miracles through the hands of his people today and give spiritual gifts, since we are filled with the Spirit today just as in the days of the apostles.

Indeed, hard core Wesleyans would go further than Grudem and say that Jesus played it so much by the human rules when he was on earth that everything he did, he did through the power of the Spirit. That means that there is nothing that Jesus did while he was on earth that we in theory cannot still do today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In general, Wesleyans should be aware that thinkers like Norman Geisler, D. A. Carson, B. B. Warfield, Tom Schreiner, and John MacArthur--all of whom are cessationists (believe the gifts were just for the apostolic age) do not come at theology the way Wesleyans and perhaps even most Christians do. Put them on a theological watch list. They have a particular theological ax to grind against ongoing spiritual gifts.

I am completely dumbfounded that anyone can seriously read the biblical texts and come up with their position. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is obviously not about the end of the age of miracles. It is about the immensely greater value of love when put next to spiritual gifts. Grudem accurately interprets 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:3-4, showing that these words are being made to say things they weren't saying.

2. Grudem sees miracles as characteristic of the new covenant age. Of course there are miracles in the Old Testament as well, but he seems correct in thinking that miracles served to corroborate the truth of the good news of Jesus' resurrection.

Thus, the purpose of miracles was to point to the truth of the gospel, not to bear witness to the truthfulness of Scripture. It wasn't at all just apostles that had spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, etc). At the time the miracles in the NT were happening, the writings about those events largely did not exist. The written word was not primary for the apostles but the spoken word and, even more so, the living Word of Jesus.

The apostles would look at you like you were crazy if you suggested their miracles served to authenticate the writings of the NT. You just can't have any sense of history and even suggest something so insane. It would be like saying that the ultimate purpose of a great worship service was some account of the service written up by the pastor (or even more likely someone who investigated the event) twenty or thirty years after it happened. You have to be some kind of crazy out of touch even to say such a thing, Mr. Warfield.

3. Grudem defines a miracle as "a less common kind of God's activity in which he arouses awe and wonder and bears witness to himself" (355). On the one hand, it's not such a bad definition. He's trying to walk a line between those who would trivialize miracles by seeing every answer to prayer as a miracle and those who would not give God thanks, for example, for recoveries that come from medicine.

While Grudem's definition isn't all bad, Wesleyans should beware that some of the definitions he rejects are rejected because of a non-Wesleyan theology. Wesleyan-Arminian theology holds that God has given some freedom to humanity, even the freedom to disobey him.

By definition, if you believe in any degree of free will, then you cannot believe that everything that happens is part of God's perfect plan.

Grudem is a particular kind of Calvinist. He believes that nothing happens in the world that God did not plan and direct in detail. Wesleyans do not believe this, and Grudem should be on the watch-list for any Wesleyan as someone likely to come from a different perspective than Wesleyan-Arminian theology.

It is not Deist to go with some of the definitions of miracle to which Grudem objects. For example, I would define a miracle technically as an event in which God interrupts the normal cause-effect chain of events in the universe. Grudem would not like this definition, because he is basically not looking at history as a sequence of causes and effects but as God behind the scenes directing everything.

Because my definition is assuming that miracles happen, that God acts in history, then by definition it is not Deist. Good grief!  Lord help me not to completely lambaste the craziness! Christians will never be good historians or scientists or voters if they can't think in terms of cause and effect. Thunderstorms don't usually come from God or demons throwing lightning bolts around... maybe they never do.

4. A deeper critique of Grudem is lurking here. It is not a Wesleyan critique but a scholarly one. The drive to see the teaching of the Bible as self-contained, unified, and distinct from the cultural contexts of the Bible is a "pre-modern" one, a historically unreflective one. Beware of rhetoric about a "biblical worldview." While it is possible to formulate such a view on a deep level, the more typical use of this language comes from a "flat" reading of the biblical text, not one that perceives the rich three dimensional texture of the biblical books.

It is simply beyond dispute that the books of the Bible were written at specific times and places using the "language games" and building off the paradigms of their contexts.

The words of Scripture partake of the definitions of words at the time of each writing, and the thoughts of Scripture were originally expressed from within the paradigms of the original author-audience thought context. We thus do not have to do with one book whose words all mean and teach exactly the same thing. We have different books using words in different ways to express truths using the paradigms of their audiences as a starting point.

Thus, when Grudem says, "The biblical view is such and such," he says it on a very superficial level, one that does not fully engage the underlying paradigms of the biblical authors and audiences. It is not enough simply to point out that many parts of Scripture use deterministic language. Of course they do--the ancient world in which they were written was largely fatalistic and talked in fatalistic terms.

But there are also central parts of Scripture that express the moral culpability of human decisions and the real possibility that humans will do the opposite of what God prefers. Grudem as a Calvinist works out these tensions in one way, while Arminians work them out in another. Both traditions are drawing on biblical traditions but, in order to come up with a systematic theology, they both of necessity have to re-appropriate one set of biblical texts.

In that sense, both Calvinism and Arminianism are biblical, and both reinterpret certain biblical texts. A mature hermeneutic can live with the inevitability of this dynamic, the need to use a certain philosophical or theological framework that is outside the biblical text in order to "pick and choose," identify central and peripheral texts, and finally form a coherent Christian (more accurate than "biblical") perspective on specific issues.


Rick said...

Is there a different between God's perfect plan and God's perfect will?

Isn't part of our freedom part of His will, thus part of His plan?

And is His meta-narrative plan still determined by Him, yet we impact the minor elements?

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, I am not talking about the overall metanarrative or overall plan but the details of our lives and the lives of others.

Susan Moore said...

Having been miraculously healed almost 6 years ago, I have to admit tbat I am still perplexed by the tenacity of some 'Christians' in their resolve to continue to think cessationistically.
But I have also met another tenacity in tbe thinking of some that all miracles have a scientific basis that one day will be understood. I tell them the scientific basis is that God is the creator and can do what He choses with that which He made...
The biggest problem still seems to be human rebellion against God, because everybody knows the truth about God by seeing what He has made...(Romans 1:18-20), and He made me new.
Great blog, thanks!! Go team Wesleyan!

Ken Schenck said...

Good to hear from you... was thinking about you the other day.

Susan Moore said...

Likewise! Good thoughts, I hope!
I start graduate school in 12 days. Theology. Took a Latin Intensive this summer, will be studying Hebrew and Greek this fall plus some prereqs.
Very excited.

Ken Schenck said...

Sounds delightful!