Gospel-Driven Prophecy: Understanding the Differences Between OT and NT Prophecy, Part 7 (Final)Saturday, October 28, 2006
The primary objection to NT prophecy today by cessationists is that such a view undermines the sufficiency of Scripture. What they intend by such an objection is that NT prophecy could and possibly does supplant the authority and place of the Scriptures in the life of a believer. In their minds, and in mine as well, the Scriptures are the sole authority in all matters for every believer and every local church.
However, the objection has been based on several misunderstandings. First, a misunderstanding of OT prophecy has contributed to this problem. I have attempted to make basic exegetical observations about the two key texts in Deuteronomy which cessationism holds as key texts to their objections. These texts as read in their contexts, however, do not provide any foundation for the objection.
Second, a misunderstanding of NT prophecy has also contributed. I also attempted to make a basic observation of the purpose of NT prophecy according to 1 Corinthians 14:3. And if this is the express NT purpose for prophecy, then it can no more compete or supplant or undermine Scripture today than it did when it was in operation in the early church. Further, the prophecies delivered in line with these purposes do not purport to equate themselves with the Scriptures, but instead come alongside them and seek to assist in application of those Scriptures.
Third, the fact that thousands upon thousands of biblical prophetic words delivered throughout redemptive history are not recorded in Scripture should be ample evidence enough to conclude that just because a prophetic word is received and given doesn't necessarily make it equal with Scripture. And neither, then, should the prophet who delivered it be viewed as equal in status or authority with the prophets or apostles of the OT and NT. Therefore, if biblically-based prophets and their prophecies today do not intend to compete with Scripture but support and apply it, they cannot and should not be represented as supplanting orr undermining the Bible, except of course, where a person loses sight of the nature and purpose of NT prophecy.
In the past I’ve issued a public challenge to cessationist friends, and it’s one that bears repeating here. It is a worthy consideration, especially for reformed cessationists who hold so dearly to the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit during the First and Second Great Awakenings. Here’s the challenge.
Read through A Narrative of Surprising Conversions by Jonathan Edwards (available online at http://jonathanedwards.com/text/narrative.htm), as well as the other two corresponding works, The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God, and An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740-1742. All three titles are published by Banner of Truth Trust under the title Jonathan Edwards on Revival. I’ve yet to meet a reformed cessationist who does not appreciate Edwards and his revivals. But let’s face the honest truth: there was a significant amount of the unexplainable that went on during these years. I understand the primary conclusions Edwards made concerning the many strange manifestations that took place under his preaching, though little if any of it was prophetic in nature: we cannot always tell a true work of the Spirit of God by the manifestations. Yet I also know the analyses he made of some of it. And the bottom line is that much of it was unexplained in the mystery and sovereignty of God. God was most certainly at work even though it could not be theologically explained.
The second part of the challenge is to read the oft-criticized work by Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, as well as his more recent work A Beginner's Guide to the Gift of Prophecy. While I highly recommend the entire book and do not agree with everything in it, of particular interest are chapters five entitled “Presbyterian Prophets?” and chapter six entitled “A Conspiracy Against the Supernatural.” These chapters were challenging for me as a reformed cessationist. And in the end I was very surprised that these godly, sound men and their charismatic experiences have been seemingly excised from reformed history, much like Iain Murray excised most of the charismatic beliefs of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his biography. (An excellent review of Lloyd-Jones and his charismatic beliefs can be heard on a biographical lecture delivered by John Piper). To be sure, the experiences of a few godly men do not necessitate the truth of any of it. But the reason for the challenge to read it is at least to stimulate serious conversation about the fact that it did happen to reformers whom we love and respect, and in some cases, prophetic predictions were shockingly fulfilled in detail.
If any serious student of the Bible is honest, he is wary of exegetical ballets. I am particularly perceptive to them because I used to perform in them, just like all of us have. It is next to impossible to escape the presuppositions with which we all come to almost every text in Scripture. But the differences between OT and NT prophecy presented here, though not exhaustive, are obvious enough so as to warrant our notice and attention in sorting them out. There was no fancy footwork taking place in these observations. My hope is that cessationist theologians from beginning student to mature scholar may at least acknowledge the differences as a very legitimate beginning point in the discussion, despite where they may think they have already landed in their conclusions.
The differentiation I make as a continuationist regarding OT and NT prophecy is not an altogether unusual or inconsistent one as if often the criticism. The differences are plain enough for all to see. And I trust that the application of these differences to common criticisms, as simplistic as my responses have been, may be taken a bit more seriously so that they are not so quickly leveled against continuationists. In other words, well-meaning cessationists should take these differences, observations, and responses as seriously as I take theirs. And I can say that with honesty as one having lived in both camps. May the Lord use these challenges as He wills in the lives of His people, cessationist and continuationist alike.
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Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6