Archive | Pneumatology

Have I Committed the Unforgivable Sin?

Have I committed the unforgivable sin?

Some of you will be surprised, but this is a terrifying feeling of panic, doubt, and spiritual fatigue expressed by some Christians. I receive email after email from scared Christians who cannot relieve the anxiety of their feeling that they have committed a sin that cannot be forgiven by God. Because of this, they feel hopeless, without an advocate in this world that can rescue them from the fires of hell.

Where does anyone get such an idea? Well, from the Bible. Mark 3:28-29 says:

Mark 3:28-29
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

This fearful passage is repeated in all three synoptics (Matt. 12:31-32; Luke 12:10).

The difficulty is obvious: the Gospel of Jesus Christ presents unqualified forgiveness to all who repent of their sins (1 John 1:9; Rom. 10:13; John 3:16; et al). This is why the Gospel is so easy to preach. There are no reservations for those who tell of God’s love and hope. No matter what a person has done or thought in the past, God offers hope through the cross of Christ. John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” It does not say, “I will certainly not cast out…unless they have committed a sin that is beyond hope of repentance.”

So how do we reconcile this “unforgivable sin” with the clear message of forgiveness found throughout the Bible? I will try to answer this, but more importantly, I want to answer the question of whether or not you have committed this sin and are beyond hope.

What is blasphemy?

The word “blasphemy” is not an easy word to define. It is used many ways in many contexts. Today, many people think that saying certain curse words such as G-D constitutes blasphemy. Others see it as accepting divine acclamation and authority. I have many people who believe that it is thinking a bad thought about God, like “I hate God” or “Get out of my life!” None of these are true.

Almost all lexicons define this word as having to do with speech. It is something uttered or spoken. BADG says that it is “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns.”

What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus says that people can be forgiven of any sin, even blasphemy against him. But for some reason, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a distinct type of sin. Continue Reading →

Why Jesus is Greater than the Holy Spirit

I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is how I would formulate this doctrine:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Since there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos.

Confused? Good. Anytime you have an “aha!” moment with regard to the Trinity, it is a good sign you have just entered into the world of heresy.

While I don’t believe there is an ontological hierarchy (gradation of essence, or all that stuff I said above), I do believe there can be a hierarchy in person. In other words, one member of the Trinity can take on a different rank than another. I think we can all agree that at the incarnation, this hierarchy presented itself as Father, then Son, then Spirit. After all, even Christ said that the Father was greater than he was (John 14:28). This is sometimes called a “functional hierarchy.” This should not be too difficult to process, as we can see many analogies to this in our own world. For example, President Obama is greater than I am in one respect. He is the President of the United States. Therefore, his position and authority are greater than mine. But he is not greater in essence. Similarly, parents are greater than children in rank. But they are not greater in their being. And (cover your eyes, egalitarians) I believe the Bible presents the husband as having greater authority than his wife. However, he is not greater in his ontos or humanity. Continue Reading →

Surprised by the Deficiency of the Spirit

(Lisa Robinson)

In my first semester of seminary, I had to read Surprised by the Voice of God  by Jack Deere to complete a theological method paper for my Intro to Theology class.  I’ve been re-reading it in preparation to grade the same assignment. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances. He is a former DTS professor turned Charismatic and encourages a vibrant relationship with the Lord through the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t intend to do a review of the book here. I can only recommend that you read it for yourself to make up your own mind about his proposals. But there’s a few things that bother me that I have issues with, especially as it relates to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Bible and our Christian walk.

Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself.  He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.

Now I’m not going to quibble about the continuation of gifts vs cessationism. Michael and Sam Storms have a pretty extensive exchange on the that subject. But Deere’s proposal exposes a festering concern that I’ve had and that I hear frequently from many believers. To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the bible to “hear the voice of God”. Continue Reading →

My Back Has Been Healed – Am I Charismatic Now?

Wonderful news. My back has been healed.

Wait. Shelf that. I need to back up.

The moment I proclaim victory over something is the moment it usually comes back with a ferocious force and undermines (to say the least) my victory procession. I remember when I prayed for my sister Angie when she was fighting the war of her depression. It was a very particular time when hope was all but gone. The ultimate defeat seemed immanent. My other sister called me and asked me to pray. I paused on Lebanon Rd., just before I got to HWY 720, and prayed with all my heart that God would heal her. A little bit later I got a call saying that Angie suddenly “snapped out of it.” Excited beyond belief, I immediately asked when this changed occurred. I wanted the exact time, to coordinate it with my prayer on Lebonon. As it turned out, the “snap” came at the exact moment I prayed. Victory in the Lord! Praise God! So be it. Amen. These were all my thoughts as I began to spread the good news about the miracle God pulled off just in the nick of time. However, my excitement was short lived as Angie “snapped” back into it about an hour later. Some spiritual humiliation and embarrassment (spiritual mud in my face?) overwhelmed me as I had to tell all those that I had asked to join our victory dance to stop dancing. Eventually (a few months later), as many of you know, the depression took my sister’s life.

I could tell you a couple more stories exactly like that. That is why I am very tentative about my proclamations of victory. I don’t assume things upon the Lord and am very timid about reading too much into my experiences.

As most of you know, I am not charismatic. What I mean by this is that I don’t believe the supernatural gifts (sometimes called “sign” gifts) of the Spirit are continuing, normative, or should be expected (all three extremely important words). You know, gifts such as tongues, miracles, healings, and the like. As I have argued before, I don’t necessarily have any theological bias against them, I just think that ecclesiastical and personal experience says that they are not normative. As well, most of you know that I have been discussing this with my friend Sam Storms, who is a committed charismatic. Over the last year, we have been in dialogue about this issue. Our dialogue has been published both here on this blog and on the Theology Unplugged Podcast. I have been seeking God during this time, trying to be open to change. In fact, I want to change. I often tell people that I am the most want-to-be-charismatic non-charismatic that they will ever meet. And I am serious about this.

Now to my back. In 2005 I discovered that I had significant disc issues. An MRI revealed “Severe Degenerative Disc Disease.” Since 2005, the pain has become increasingly constant and debilitating. Those of you who have back issues know what I am talking about. For the last seven years, I have been to doctor after doctor, trying medicine after medicine, exercise after exercise, and hope after hope. I could not begin to tell you the number of people who have had “the” solution that I just had not tried yet. Nothing has worked with any degree of significance. The pain is there every day. Some days I am more functional than others, but for the most part, for the last few years, I have had to learn to live with radiating pain down my left leg; it has become a chronic butcher to my soul. I have been functional, yes, but you need to know this back story in order to know my back story. Continue Reading →

Why I Am/Not Charistmatic: History of the Gifts Response – Sam Storms

Michael,

Thanks for your careful approach to this question. I appreciate your desire to properly honor our common heroes of the faith throughout these past 2,000 years of church history. But I have to say that I remain utterly unmoved and altogether unconvinced by your appeal to this argument from the life of the church these past two millennia. I can’t address all your points, and on several occasions I will simply encourage the reader to go back and examine my article and the evidence I cited one more time. But I do have a few important points to make.

(1) First, I don’t think you honestly believe what I’m about to say (at least I hope you don’t), but much of what you wrote in your article, together with several comments in previous entries, suggests that it may be hiding just beneath the surface and I want our readers to reckon with it.

In all your talk of how experience or the lack thereof shapes your beliefs and practices, you’ve made several good points. But a danger lurks when one question is pressed: “What should I do when my experience does not line up with Scripture?” I put it this way because you have conceded on several occasions that the NT does not teach hard cessationism. You have even conceded that the exegetical case for continuationism is stronger than the one for cessationism. Your response has been to rely on the argument of what you call de facto cessation (“How do we know the gifts ceased? We know they have ceased because they in fact ceased”).

You do not argue that they have ceased because Scripture teaches they have. You concede that Scripture appears to teach otherwise. So, in my opinion, we have one of two available responses: either (1) marginalize Scripture on the subject of our responsibility with regard to spiritual gifts, or (2) do what we can, with God’s help, to alter our experience and repent of what we have believed or done that has led us to fall short of what Scripture truly says and commands. It strikes me that the only legitimate response to the alleged de facto cessation of gifts (which I’m only conceding for the sake of argument; as you can see from my article, I don’t believe they ever altogether ceased) is to admit that this must mean the problem is with us, the people of God, and not the Word of God.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: I struggle to understand how your view can be made consistent with a high view of biblical authority. If you concede that the NT makes a stronger case for continuationism than cessationism, then embrace the former and do everything within your power (as empowered by God) to pursue and facilitate and practice the gifts, regardless of what anyone else in any age of church history may believe or do. Otherwise, I don’t know how the Bible functions authoritatively in your life. Now, as I said above, I don’t believe you deny the functional authority of Scripture (I know you too well for that), but I fear that your arguments betray the subtle and perhaps unconscious influence of a tendency to invest more authority in your and others’ experience than in that of Paul and his precepts.

(2) Second, you write that “the cumulative experience of the historic body of Christ, at this point, is one of the things that keeps me from being charismatic.” In keeping with the previous point, I’m very sad to hear you say that. I would have hoped you had said, “the cumulative evidence from God’s inspired Word, at this point, is the primary thing that prompts me to be a charismatic, the experience or lack thereof in other believers notwithstanding.”

(3) Third, you insist that, subsequent to the first two centuries of church life, spiritual gifts were in decline and were at best infrequent and on the fringe for the next 1,800 years or so. I’m not going to continue to argue that point, but would ask only one question: “Why were they purportedly in decline and infrequent?” I would simply ask that you and our readers consider the several possible explanations for this found in my article. One explanation that you will not find, because Scripture won’t allow it, is that it was God’s design that the gifts only operate during the initial stages of the church’s existence. The Bible simply nowhere says that.

(4) Fourth, I will not respond to your quotations from church history but choose to stand by the evidence cited in my article. I would simply encourage the reader to go back and carefully read the statements from prominent figures and ask if what they believed and saw and experienced is consistent with de facto cessationism. In my opinion, it most certainly isn’t.

(5) Fifth, you argue that “the loss of the [truth] of the Gospel was a loss of an understanding of a doctrine (sola fide), not a loss of the effectiveness of this doctrine,” and thus can’t be compared with the decline or relative loss of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church. You go on to say with regard to tongues that “you never have as a prerequisite a belief in the truthfulness of a doctrine of continuationism before Christians experience their effectiveness.”

I honestly can’t believe you believe this. Are you actually saying that one’s theological convictions about the validity or cessation of tongues and other gifts has no effect on whether or not a person eventually experiences them? I would insist that our beliefs control and shape our zeal, our expectations, our prayer life, and especially how we respond to and interpret claims people make regarding their experience of supernatural phenomena. Let me develop this point at greater length, because I think it is of crucial importance.

I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your understanding of when and why spiritual gifts either are or are not present in the life of the church appears to be influenced by what strikes me as hyper-Calvinism, or at least a somewhat fatalistic approach to the Christian life that undermines both prayer and human responsibility. Can you believe that a committed 5-point Calvinist just wrote that? Well, yes, he (I) did.

You point to the gift of tongues in Acts and argue that in all three instances where it appears it came “sovereignly,” so to speak, without regard to the prayer or spiritual posture of those who received it. I think this is misleading for a couple of reasons.

For one, those present on the Day of Pentecost were there in obedience to the command of Jesus: “But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49: cf. Acts 1:5,8). The reason all received the gift of tongues on that Day is due to at least two factors. First, they were obedient in responding to Jesus’ command. There is no reason to believe, at least in my opinion, that if some had disbelieved Jesus’ promise, disobeyed his command, and had refused to wait with the others in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Spirit that they would have received tongues anyway, irrespective of their response to him. Continue Reading →

Why I Am/Not Charismatic: The Gift of Prophecy Response – C Michael Patton

The following is part of a discussion (not debate) between two friends, Sam Storms and C. Michael Patton, about the charismatic gifts of the Spirit. Sam is a Charismatic. Michael is not. If you have come in late, you can access the entire series here.

Sam,

Thanks much for detailing your argument in such a way. I know this is something you have to do often for people like me, so I pray this conversation is not redundant. While I am desperately committed to this remaining a discussion and not a debate, this is the first response in the series where I find we have significant points of disagreement. I pray you will bear with me while I respond. And please know that while my response will cover some major points of disagreement, I do love you and hold you in the highest regard, seeing you as a great mentor in my life.

Let’s begin with your Charles Spurgeon quote. It is very interesting and often used among charismatics. First, let me say this. My current position of “soft cessationist,” or more simply, “non-charismatic,” is not a position against prophecy. I know that some people are. Some believe that any prophecy given today puts the “closing” of the canon of Scripture in jeopardy. But as I expressed before, this argument is not strong. I have read a lot of Spurgeon. As a matter of fact, after my wife and I got married, we would read a sermon of Spurgeon every night. I am not kidding – every night! When I told a mentor/professor about this, he responded, “As a newlywed couple, can’t you find something better to do at night?!” Wisdom or folly? Who knows. But back to my point: In all my reading of Spurgeon, I would not dare to say he was a charismatic (and I know you would not either), even if he had a prophetic experience here and there. Why? Because, as we defined at the beginning, the key points we are arguing are that God wants gifts such as prophecy to be 1) continuing, 2) normative, and 3) actively sought out. Having some divine revelation a few times does not qualify as evidence of any of the three, in my opinion. Although I am open to correction here, I think the following quote, from a sermon called “Receiving the Holy Ghost” (#1790 Vol 30, Year 1884, pg. 386, Acts 19:2), evidences that Spurgeon was at least a soft cessationist. (This probably is better placed in our coming discussion about the history of the charismatic gifts, but since you brought Spurgeon into the discussion, I think this is proper):

You know, dear friends, when the Holy Spirit was given in the earliest ages, He showed His presence by certain miraculous signs. Some of those who received the Holy Spirit spake with tongues, others began to prophesy, and a third class received the gifts of healing. I am sure that if these powers were given now you would all be anxious to possess them. You would want to be healing or to be speaking in tongues, or to be working miracles by which you would benefit your fellow men and glorify God. Now be it never forgotten that those works of the Holy Spirit which are permanent must assuredly be of greater value than those which were transitory. We cannot suppose that the Holy Ghost brought forth the best wine at first and that His operations gradually deteriorated. It is a rule of the kingdom to keep the best wine to the last; and therefore, I conclude that you and I are not left to partake of the dregs, but that those gifts of the Holy Spirit which are at this time vouchsafed to the church of God are every way as valuable as those earlier miraculous gifts which are departed from us.

As well, when I look at Spurgeon’s first revelation, frankly, it seems to take a rather legalistic cultural bent.  He condemned a man for having his shop open on Sunday? To me this is not unlike the people who claim to have near death experiences and go meet God in heaven. Their description of heaven – streets of gold, gates of pearls, wings on people, etc. – are not biblical (in my opinion). Most of what they describe is nothing more than a representation of the unbiblical folk theology of their culture. I could be wrong here, but I tend to think Spurgeon’s culture believed that leaving your place of business open on Sunday was a terrible sin. However, Paul said let no one judge a person with regard to the Sabbath (Col. 2:6).

Concerning your third point, we agree in a very important way. You distinguish between prophecy and teaching God’s word. Many people will combine the two, believing they are essentially the same. Prophecy, as I said in my post, is supernatural and direct divine revelation that comes by various means.

You make a point to say prophecy is a “report” of divine revelation. I am fine with that – to a point. Where I can’t follow you right now is where you allow for the short-circuiting between the revelation and the report. You say, “prophecy is occasionally fallible.” That is a hard thing to wrestle with. Part of me says you are right. It is fallible. That is why God instructs us, in both the Old and New Testaments, to test the prophets (Deut 13:1-3; Deut 18:20-22; 1 Cor 14:32). Where I can’t follow you is when you say that a prophet can be wrong (i.e., deliver a false prophecy), yet this not be seen as sinful or destructive to the community of God. This is God’s word we are dealing with. Sam, you are in no way frivolous with God’s word. I know you well enough to see this. However, I don’t see how encouraging the church to embrace claims to divine revelation (contingent or not), which may or may not be from God, can be seen as anything other than frivolous. I can’t get over the idea that adopting this acceptance of failed prophecy is a dangerous carefree lack of seriousness concerning those who speak on behalf of the Creator of the universe. Continue Reading →

Have We Made the Holy Spirit the Odd Man Out?

(by Lisa Robinson)

I recall my Trinitarianism class in Spring 2009, and when we got to the discussion regarding the Holy Spirit, my professor made some comical remark about how we tend to neglect the Holy Spirit in discussions involving trinitarianism.  “Poor Holy Spirit”, he said.  While the remark garnered some chuckles from the class, as I observe the landscape of Christianly activity, I often ponder if we have indeed confined the Holy Spirit and neglected the vital function as he works in accordance with a proper Trinitarianism functioning.

The Holy Spirit serves as the sending agent for the will of the Father, accomplished through the son.  He reflects the thoughts and will of the Father (John 16:13) and conveys that to the spirit of man  (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).   He provides the  illumination that is required to see the will of the Father and the testimony of his son and convicts accordingly (John 16:8-11).  His presence indwells every believer (1 Corinthians 6:19) and should be relied on to the fullest extent by those He indwells (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 8:26-27)

I think we can neglect the Spirit’s role in a number of ways.  Most notably, it is the Holy Spirit who enables the response of the non-believer to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.  No one comes to the Father to believe in His Son unless the Spirit draws Him (John 6:44).  Yet I find that we can place great emphasis on our methodology and efforts at conversion. I wonder if we place more emphasis on the right packaging, than understanding the product as only being accepted through the work of the Spirit.

Yes, we must proclaim the truth of the gospel, especially in light of competing and troublesome concepts that would seek to undermine it.  But when I look through the pages of the New Testament, there are varying degrees of engagement.   I consider Paul’s speech in Acts 17.  He uses the idols of pagans to proclaim the good news and then left the rest up to the Holy Spirit to do the work.  This is the same with Peters speech in Acts 2, whereby 3,000 hearts were pricked and wooed by the gospel to accept what God did through his Son.  But it is significant to note that it was the Lord who added to the church that day.  This is specifically because of the work of the Spirit. Continue Reading →

If God Has Stopped Speaking Then Why Do I Still Hear Him?

(by Lisa Robinson)

It has been five years since my ‘conversion’ from being a somewhat radical charismatic to embrace a soft-cessationist position…I think.  The reason I say put that qualifier on there is because I have had to wrestle through not only some doctrinal dilemmas concerning the cessation of gifts, but also some more pragmatic concerns – that of experience.  That is not to say experience is the qualifier to determine what is or is not a legitimate spiritual expression, but it does challenge some cessationist positions or rather some allegations concerning cessationism.

Most notably, it is the idea that cessationism means that God has stopped speaking.  This has been a common statement I have heard, most often in the form of a question, as noted by the title of this post. The statement presumes that cessationism means God has stopped speaking, except through scripture.  This is a position that hard cessationists take, but not all.

However,  I have come to conclude that this question misses what cessationism espouses vs. how God communicates today.  Let me explain.  The premise of cessationism is that revelation is complete.  We see that God has revealed himself progressively through scripture and ultimately through his Son.

“God after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of his power.  When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Here, God speaking and his revelation are inextricably  linked, so that his final expression is found in Christ, who reveals God.  The significance of the apostolic witness is related to the testimony of Christ as the ultimate revelation of God.  Since the testimony of Christ is transmitted through the apostolic witness, the apostles teaching provide the same authority as the word of the Lord, which would ultimately become scripture.  Thus, since God has already spoken in His Son, and Christ’s work is complete, this presumes that God has nothing further to say.  While the continuation of all spiritual gifts is not the topic of this post, I do believe that certain gifts were to authenticate the apostolic message during the apostolic age.  This is why scripture does not indicate that certain gifts have ceased because the apostles were still alive when the letters were penned. But let’s not go there. Continue Reading →