The state of prophecy for our times

Wayne Grudem and Ian Hamilton:

The state of prophecy today

A debate between Ian Hamilton (Cambridge Presbyterian Church and formerly a minister in the Church of Scotland) and Wayne Grudem (Phoeniz Seminary, Arizona, formerly at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois) about the role of prophecy in the church today. Chaired by Adrian Reynolds. Recorded at the 2010 EMA. From The Proclamation Trust on Vimeo. From 2010, Phoenix, Arizona.

Ian Hamilton is currently teaching at Cambridge and Wayne Grudem did his doctoral studies there. The aim is to talk about some of the things we know we don’t agree about, but, we think that it’s mature and the time is right as Evangelical Christians who love Christ, who love His word and believe firmly in His word and hold firmly to it; to be able to talk about some of the things we disagree about in a constructive mature way; to gently challenge one another. To think about some of the implications about how these things affect church life. That’s the reason for having these two dear brothers here with us.

I managed to transcribe notes from the first 38 minutes of a 76 minute discussion; the first of its kind (videotaped and publicly posted) between two  Godly men, who are also widely respected theologians, and who both believe in the continuationist position on the gifts of the Spirit, however, Ian Hamilton believes prophecy is not one of those gifts that continued after the New testament canon was closed.

Wayne Grudem:

I have not spoken much about this gift of prophecy question or taught much about it for several years… As I came back to the discussion, I thought it might be helpful to start out with an overview of the whole Bible, Genesis to Revelation.

There is a view that I am going to call cessationsim. A cessationist position that with regard to the gift of prophecy would argue that God doesn’t communicate information directly to us today, apart from the words of the Bible or in addition to the words of the Bible and that’s the viewpoint I’m going to be disagreeing with.

I think what strikes me the most as I look from Genesis to Revelation on this question, is what seems to me the absence of any clear biblical evidence to prove the heart of the cessationist position. I don’t think there’s any passage in scripture, or any combination of passages that should lead us to think that God doesn’t communicate directly with His people throughout all of history, in individual, personal ways that occur, in addition to in and through the written words of scripture. If we look at the whole scope of biblical history, we see that from beginning to end, God had a personal relationship with his people; a relationship in which he communicated directly and personally with them. And, this communication was never limited to the words that He gave all of His people in the book of the covenant, or the writings of the canon of scriptures.  God had a personal relationship and a direct communication with people from the beginning of the Bible and throughout its history.

So, think of his personal relationship and communication with Adam & Eve,  with Cain & Abel, with Enoch, who walked with God (Genesis 5:24), with Noah, with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob; the narratives of which are filled with discussions of God appearing to them and speaking to them, personally. With Moses, and David, with Solomon, and with many old testament prophets and kings to whom God communicated directly, individually and personally.

And then, in the New Testament, in the person of Jesus, God the Son, communicated individually  and personally with many people while he was on earth. And then the New Testament promises a personal relationship that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will have with each individual believer. Here are some verses:

  • John 14:23 „If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him”. The imagery of making the home of the Father and Son with us, that imagery implies personal fellowship.
  • Revelation 3:20 „If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me”. The imagery of eating with one another implies ongoing personal fellowship.
  • Paul in Philippians 3:20 „Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that to you also”. That implies personal communication from God, revealing sin in the lives of individual Philippian Christians.
  • Romans 8:14 „For all who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God”. The present indicative verb for „all who are led”, indicates that this leading is a regular or ongoing process; being led by the spirit of God.
  • Galatians 5:16,18 „But I say, walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law”. Again the verb (in Greek) indicates ongoing activity- being led by the spirit of God.

My point is that from the beginning to the end, the Bible tells us of a God who relates individually and personally to His people. And now, it seems to me that some in the cessationist position are coming and telling us: Contrary to the experience of all of God’s people throughout all the books of the Bible, that God no longer communicates personally and individually with any of his people except through the written words of the canon of Scripture. So it seems to me that a cessationist position asks us to believe

  1. that throughout the Bible, God communicated to His people both through written scripture, as much as they had at any point, and through additional, direct, personal interaction with people.
  2. But then it asks us to believe that God now only communicates through the written words of the canon and no longer with direct, personal fellowship and interaction with people. This is quite strange in light of the fact that the new covenant seems to be better in every way, but how can it be better if we’ve lost that element of personal relationship with God and personal communication with God in addition to the words of the canon. That element that characterized all periods of history that the Bible talks about. Where is anything in the Bible that would lead us to believe that?

Of course, I understand that cessationists believe that the canon is closed and I agree with that. But the question is not that of the canon. The question is what about communication, from God to specific individuals that is not part of the canon? If the Bible is the book of the covenant, that stipulates the terms of the relationship between God as king and us as His covenant people. Then, are we to say that the king can never communicate with His people in any additional ways, besides the covenant document? Can he who created speech, and loves His people,  never speak to them  directly and personally? A cessationist view, if I understand it correctly, allows no element for individual, personal guidance from the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, ever. Our guidance is simply to be taken from reading the Bible and using mature wisdom to apply it to our lives. But surely, the vast majority of Christians, throughout history have known and experienced the guidance of the Holy Spirit in making decisions, especially while they are praying and reading the words of scripture, but in other times as well. Apart from the concentrated times of reading scripture and prayer. And, they have known that this guidance includes not only the direction and commands and principles of scripture, but also subjective impressions of God’s will and additional thoughts and specific memories the Lord brings to mind. It seems to me that a position that rules out personal guidance from the Holy Spirit today is so completely different from the whole course of Biblical history and from the New Testament teaching on personal fellowship that we have with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Specifically with regard to the gift of prophecy, we have … and I think it is a sub category of that broader category of personal fellowship and communication from God to believers and so I would look at passages like 1 Thessalonians 5 19-21, and in that passage Paul says, „Do not despise prophecies, but test everything, hold fast to what is good”. And, so I think that he is implying here and in 1 Corinthians 14, when he says, „Let two or three prophets speak and let the others way what is said”, that God can bring things to mind, and when we report something that God has suddenly brought to mind, that Paul would call that the gift of prophecy functioning in the church. But it is always to be tested by Scripture. Paul says, „Do not despise prophecies, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good”. It is to be tested by scripture and by what we know about our lives and the word in general and we may be mistaken by those kinds of things, but of course , sermons can also be mistaken and advice from others can also be mistaken, but they have a useful role in the Christian life.

I think this element of prophecy, as well, is something that the New Testament talks about; views as commonly functioning, in the churches in Rome, in Corinth, Ephesus and Thessaloniki and is something that ought to be appreciated and valued today.

Click below for the rest of the notes…….

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