Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Josiah Batten0
Why Debate Prophecy?
As most of you are well aware, last Friday fellow WV4G contributor Seth Campbell and I released our book, Cease or Persist: Does Prophecy Continue in the Present Age? A Debate. And with a book like this comes questions, why a debate on prophecy, and why now? I want to explain some of the reasons this topic is important, and why we thought we should have this debate.
- Truth Matters: The debate about the continuation of biblical gifts like prophecy is one much larger than Seth and I. Our debate is simply a microcosm of a much larger debate taking place across the Evangelical world. And this larger debate is one of truth. Either the Bible teaches gifts like prophecy continue, or it does not. If it does not, we would be foolish to encourage their practice. If it does, we would be disobedient to forbid it. We cannot be neutral on this topic. Your church will teach and allow the practice of biblical gifts such as prophecy, or it will forbid them. Given the pastoral implications, we need to have clear answers and know the biblical theology behind our position. As much as Seth and I enjoy debating for fun, we wanted to provide a resource to the church for addressing this issue. The truth on this is too important to ignore.
- People Don’t Listen Well: When John MacArthur hosted the Strange Fire Conference (and published a book by the same name) two and a half years ago, I noticed something interesting. I noticed that otherwise good theologians are not listening to each other. Those who believe the gifts continue are not listening to those who deny they continue and vice versa. In many ways, the two sides are talking past each other, and the debate sounds like a broken record playing on a loop. There is a difference between dialogue, and two monologues happening simultaneously. I wanted this debate to break that gridlock, and in some ways I think we succeeded in that.
- Some of Our Differences are Merely Verbal: There is not nearly as much dividing continuationists and cessationists as some people believe. Much of the debate centers around unclear definitions of terms. When many continuationists affirm “prophecy” continues, they do not mean by “prophecy” what most cessationists mean by it. If cessationism is the position that the giving of Scriptural revelation from God has ceased, then I am a cessationist. But if the continuationist position is that God remains supernaturally active in the world today, that the world as we know it is well beyond merely mechanical, then many cessationists are closet continuationists. When continuationists say “prophecy has continued” they do not mean there is Scripture-level revelation from God; and when cessationists deny prophecy has continued they do not mean God is not supernaturally active in the world today.
- There are Some Angles Not Yet Explored in the Debate: The broader debate tends to focus on whether New Testament prophecy is equal to Old Testament prophecy. If it is equal, then it must be infallible and would be equal to Scripture. Or so people on both sides assume. I question this assumption. There are plenty of infallible things that are not equal to Scripture. The laws of logic, for example, are infallible but are not Scripture. Seth and I really hash this point out, in fact it is the center of our debate. And I think this point has been missed in the broader Evangelical debate on this topic.
- There are Far too Many Abuses: Suppose, for just a moment, that we assume the gifts have continued. Even holding to continuationism (as I do), there are far too many abuses and far too little discernment. If the gifts have continued, we need to understand them biblically, and we need to hold one another to the highest standards in practicing them. We need greater clarity, and hopefully our debate offers that.
Those are a few reasons, from my perspective, Seth and I thought this was a worthwhile debate. Ultimately, we want God to be glorified, and the church to be edified through our pursuit of biblical truth.
Soli Deo Gloria,