Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cessationism and continuationism, never mind the Torah, what do we think happened in the golden age when the canon was forming?

The debate between cessationists and continuationists within Protestantism is likely going to remain a permanent one.  The reason why can be approached from an ostensibly different direction.

In Mark Noll's book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis he points out when the United States could be identified as dominantly Protestant and evangelical in which the parties at least nominally all agreed to the authority and veracity of Scripture, the debate about race-based slavery was intransigent.  Noll, however, adds that what is important to notice about this time period was that it was not as though there were no answers. 

Evangelicals were able to make the case that while on textual and hermeneutical grounds slavery was permitted in biblical texts and all but universally accepted as an economic reality of ancient life there were not defensible exegetical grounds to employ this as a defense of race-based slavery in the United States.  Noll elucidates further that in rabbinical and Catholic intellectual traditions it was stated by a number of clerics that despite the fact that slavery was acceptable within the biblical texts nothing about American slavery was defensible on the basis of such an appeal.  Noll pointed out in his book, perhaps a bit dryly, that these voices regarding biblical interpretation and application were sidelined by American evangelical Protestants in the 19th century.

The bluntest way of putting it is that the average American evangelical Protestant wasn't going to accept any proposals from apostate Papists and Jews about what the Bible said about slavery. 

Which gets us conveniently right back into cessationism and charismatic theological debate.  You see, dear reader, it can sure look as though a comparable impasse will remain within Protestantism in the United States on this issue because while cessationists will appeal to sola scriptura, so will the charismatics.  Cessationists often seem determined to anchor their appeals to scripture itself and to the importance of sola scriptura as an end point to be affirmed in the process of fielding these debates at all.

The trouble is that there is no exegetically viable way of getting cessationism into canonical texts.  For another matter the issue becomes even more intractable if a cessationist is a complementarian who would defining "prophecy" as bound to anything like preaching and teaching.  Why would Paul provide instructions to women regarding prophecy if they were barred from prophecy simply for being women?  A charismatic who is complementarian could propose a number of ways this would work and the simplest textual explanation would be that because prophecy is not what is now identified as preaching or teaching (which were priestly roles in most cases anyway) that women prophecying in gatherings is simple enough. 

But if prophecy is "preaching" what about the daughters of Phillip the evangelist?  How could their gifts in prophecy have been recognized if by "prophecy" what was meant was authoritative teaching or preaching in some expository fashion?  One possible explanation is that the entire working definition of what prophecy was and what prophets did has been so constrained by debates about the veracity and authority of the canon that that debate shoves the very square peg of a sola scriptura concern into the round hole of what the real aim of prophecy was as described in the canonical texts that in many cases seem to be nothing more than a footnote to what charismatics and cessationists are probably really debating about, the nature and scope of institutional authority in religious movements.

Let's remind ourselves that these debates are settled, comparatively speaking, in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. 

As I've been writing for a few years now, if we anchor any definition and debate about the nature and role of prophets and prophecy in the canonical texts we may begin to find that the categories used by charismatics and cessationists turn out to be red herrings.  What if prophecy presupposed that accepted divine revelation, though sufficient and complete enough for a religious community to form and for individuals to have some understanding of the divine, was in itself considered insufficient enough in terms of comprehensive precepts to require supplements? 

To be more blunt still, Deuteronomy 16-18 presents us with what looks like a judicial precedent pattern.  The prophet is the end of the line after all other more readily available options are considered.  Let's also keep in mind that scholars like Frank Crusemann and Barry Webb have pointed out that prophecy did not initially include an eschatological component or even a predictive function.  What we did see, significantly in Judges, is a prophetic role that rebukes Israel for failing to be obedient to the divine revelation they already have.  And if we cast the net broader from Judges into the Samuel/Kings narrative we begin to see that Deborah was not the only prophet/judge, Samuel was, too.  The conflation of the prophetic office and activity with a judicial role in Israel is something that neither charismatics nor cessationists seem to have taken as seriously as they could.  The existence of a prophet within the OT granted that the case law and narrative of the Pentateuch was not so comprehensive as to preclude the necessity of divine consultation.  For that matter within the Torah itself cases emerged that could not be adjudicated without divine consultation via prophets.

And in the New Testament canon it is not a foregone conclusion that the teaching of Jesus would have accounted for the onset of a drought or a famine.  Enter Agabus.  Enter the daughters of Phillip the evangelist.  Enter Paul's instructions that desiring to prophecy was a good thing and that teaching prophecy should not be despised in the pastoral epistles.  So what was it?

Whatever it was, in light of the canonical body of literature, it was not "writing books of the Bible" even if it could eventually include that.  We must remember that within the times of prophets someone like Jeremiah was accused of being a false prophet and a traitor because of things said about the Temple and Jerusalem.  We must also bear in mind that Jeremiah wrote that claiming to rest on the scriptures is worthless when the scribes and teachers of the law have perverted the scriptures themselves into lies. 

Complementarians don't have a strong case that women serving as prophets were somehow defying a natural order.  There's nothing in the narrative of Judges about Deborah or about Huldah's role in Josiah's reforms that suggest either woman was arrogating some role that was inappropriate to their gender.  Even if we take as given the narrative arc in Judges having to be Israelite decline into Canaanite customs there is still no condemnation of Deborah as prophetess and judge.  And the combination of prophet with judge, if we look at Deuteronomy 16-18, makes a great deal of sense.  After all, what was the Mosaic law for?  Yes, Christians can talk about how it points to Jesus but let's not forget that it was also considered a foundation for case law in a civil society as well as a religious text.

Furthermore, what we can see in Deuteronomy 16-18 is that the trajectory is to rely on case law at the level of the clan or tribe first; to consult chieftains and judges when cases are difficult; to go to the judge of the nation or the priest when cases are too difficult even then; and that if the priest cannot divine the solution to not resort to divination but to consult a prophet.  To be sure we're told of priests who also had prophetic abilities but to give it a deliberately and overly American spin here, what we see is a recognition that there were going to be separations of powers and offices more often than not.  Consolidating the prophetic and priestly role, or consolidating the prophetic and judicial role, was unusual enough that we get mention of those unusual cases in canonical texts rather than an attempt to name the names of people who may have had just one role or the other and not both. 

If the nature and scope of prophecy was as an ultimate ad hoc committee dealing with a situation that was not directly or even indirectly addressed in accepted divine revelation available up to the time then it would make sense why prophecy would continue even after a canon was closed.  After all, Deuteronomy 29:29 didn't preclude the writing of psalms any more than early Christian authors thought it precluded the writing of pastoral epistles.  While a cessationist might say the apostles knew they were writing scripture that's immaterial to the fact that the scriptures accepted up to that point, whatever those were, were considered to point to Jesus within a truly Christian understanding, and yet epistles were getting written anyway.  Whatever was revealed was incomplete.

And if Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever then two different closed canons still include instructions on how to field prophetic activity.  Even if the canon of the New Testament is closed instructions about women prophesying with an uncovered head remain.  If prophecy is grounded in a judicial/civil/community role that fields gaps in case law in the Torah then by extension prophecy in the New Testament would take the form of Agabus anticipating drought and famine that would not be mentioned in teaching from Jesus or in apostolic transmission of early Christian doctrine. 

If we keep this in mind that the aim of prophecy is not really to "create" scripture or to supplant existing scriptures but to supplement them while being subordinate to them.  And if that is the case then neither the charismatic nor the cessationist are necessarily getting anywhere trying to focus on the canon being open or closed.  The relationship of prophetic activity to the canon seems to have changed.  The books of the prophets began to emerge, let's say, as the tilt toward exile became more and more inevitable.  Israel was nearly always flirting with if not outright practicing polytheism for much of its history and in a way this doesn't seem to have ended until after the exile kicked in, at the risk of casting the portrait in terms that are way too simple.

Again, let's consider that as scholars of Judges have pointed out, what prophecy looked like in the time of the Judges isn't precisely the same thing as what it looked like in the monarchy or in exile.  If charismatics and cessationists just debate what is supposed to be happening now in light of what people would claim was normative in the apostolic period that is very probably missing the boat.  What, if this is even possible to discover, would have authors from the apostolic period have understood the role and activity of the prophet to be?  It may have been considerably more and considerably less than charismatics and cessationists might insist it must be.    If as yet no cessationist has come up with a particularly exegetical case for cessationism from NT canon the charismatic has seemed too uninterested in grounding definitions of prophetic or apostolic activity in the canon.  Not all apostles had the same role as the Twelve and it may be worth noting that several of the churches founded by Paul don't exist and didn't exist.  Let's playfully propose that while Paul wrote documents that became canonized the churches he founded did not necessarily survive while, if we're going to heed traditions, that churches reputed to have been founded by the Twelve made it far enough to let us witness debates about which one of them is greatest.  :)

Chris Rosebrough at Fighting for the Faith recaps the Act Like Men Conference, describes Mark Driscoll as a preacher of Law rather than Gospel

Warning, unless you're already familiar with Lutheran terminology and discussion of homiletics there is a good chance you've already misinterpreted and misread the title of the blog post.   For the rest of you, that's the summation of something Rosebrough gets to in the first half hour of this podcast.
The aim here is not to do too much summarizing of what Rosebrough was perfectly articulate about.  This post is going to be a few running thoughts of the moment about what Rosebrough had to say, and most particularly about the Law/Gospel distinction as he's applied it to Driscoll.

But first, the suggestion that having James MacDonald as the final speaker at the conference was disastrously ill-advised and that MacDonald seems too enervated by controversy around the fiscal problems and morale decline in Harvest Bible Chapel to have been useful is something I'm simply going to accept as Rosebrough's probably decently informed opinion.

Rosebrough's observations about Driscoll are striking, particularly that Driscoll is a great preacher if we restrict the definition to a great preacher of Law who never gets around to Gospel.  This is, to be blunt, a point Wenatchee The Hatchet has been circling around for quite some time.  Driscoll's most potent tools for inspiring action can be summed up as appealing to precisely two imperatives. anger and shame.  That Driscoll knows this may well be tipped off in how he's choosing to promote his new book A Call to Resurgence, making the appeal that stirring things up and getting people angry enough to do something is part of the aim in the new book and its appeal.  As for shame ... how dare you!

Those two isolated points of speech alone could be provided as emblematic of Driscoll's entire approach from the pulpit.  Driscoll doesn't have it in him to be a Fred Rogers (not that there was going to ever be more than one Mr. Rogers anyway). 

Now for the sake of throwing a considerably big bone to the history of preaching there are a variety of settings in which appealing to anger and shame not only makes sense, it works.  There are things to be ashamed of and things to be angry about.  It might be worth noting that anger at injustice done to others presupposes empathy and sympathy for the wounded rather than justifying anger in the bosom of the angry person who is not himself necessarily a victim.  And an appeal to shame only works if the person who is supposed to feel shame is even capable of remorse and regret at having taken advantage of someone else.  If Driscoll has gone his whole pastoral career attempting to make frat boys feel guilty for behaving like frat boys only time will tell if he has succeeded or if this is necessarily the most accurate way to describe how he teaches and preaches. 

Years ago Driscoll wrote and spoke as though the death of Christendom was a wonderful opportunity for missional communities to engage culture.  And for that matter Christendom, Driscoll used to say, was marred by a propensity to encourage nominalism and the conflation of genuine Christianity with merely nationalistic interests.  Go see pages 16-18 of Confessions of a Reformission Rev on that score.  So ... what happened in the last seven years? 

Whatever happened Driscoll as a preacher, that Chris Rosebrough has described as specializing in Law without getting to the Gospel, has remained steady.  This uniquely Lutheran critique of Driscoll's strengths and weaknesses is arguably the simplest and most informative distillation of Mark Driscoll's entire homiletic approach out there.  Driscoll himself, if he were attempting to boil everything about a person's life and doctrine, could not possibly have done better than Chris Rosebrough's assessment of Mark Driscoll as a preacher. 

And if it is true then Mark Driscoll's entire pastoral career is one of Law with virtually no Gospel. 

Something else that's new on the timeline at Joyful Exiles

The above looks to be an excerpt from dormant/removed blog The Rise and Fall of Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church).  For whatever reason the blog The Rise and Fall of Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church) has been down for years.  At this point if Joshua Ball were to revive the blog it might contain helpful from-the-time accounts of what was going on. 

For that matter, Joshua Ball probably did not know, as Wenatchee The Hatchet certainly did not know, that when Scott Thomas explained on October 11, 2007 that "we just completed a conciliatory process with these two men" that this was not true.  It's worth repeating that Thomas referred to an already completed conciliatory process days before the trial in which the case was made that Petry needed to be removed.  Driscoll's address at an Acts 29 event at the start of October does not give the  impression that the termination and ejection of Petry and Meyer was seen as anything other than a foregone conclusion by Mark Driscoll.  As then President of Acts 29 it's not as though Scott Thomas wasn't in any position to have heard the audio.

There's nothing about what happened to Petry and Meyer that could be described as a conciliatory process so far.  If anything there appears to be evidence that Scott Thomas, the executive elder tasked with heading up the EIT, simply lied to a member about what was going on, used his Acts 29 Network email to disseminate the lie, and hid behind procedure and protocol to preclude the possibility of any further enquiry being made.  That's how it looks, others are welcome to provide better or more informed explanations if those exist.

Which is to suggest that if Joshua Ball was asked by Mars Hill elders to take down the old blog The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill Church, new details have come to light since 2012. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mars Hill Pastor Scott Harris informs Ballard that Jon Krombein has resigned his membership and elder at Mars Hill.

Ballard | New Discussion Topic

Pastor Scott Harris
From Pastor Scott Harris:
Ballard Members,
What an incredible week for Jesus and his church. We have a lot going on, and a lot of great opportunities before us. It is a pleasure to serve with you as we seek to make disciples and plant churches in his name.
With growth and progress always comes change. Today I wanted to inform you that Pastor Jon Krombein has resigned his membership and eldership at Mars Hill. The Ballard elders and I have met with Jon and accepted his resignation yesterday. 
We want to thank Jon and his family for serving so faithfully for many years here at Mars Hill, and we ask that you join us in praying for them and whatever future God has in store for them.
For his glory,
Pastor Scott

  View this topic on The City »

For those who may not know the history of MH Ballard in 2012 Scott Harris took over when Alex Early left after being lead pastor at Ballard for just a few months in the wake of Bill Clem's resignation.  More recently at Mars Hill Ballard Nathan Burke departed in August 2013.  That resignation may or may not have gotten announced by Scott Harris but Nathan Burke was replaced by Adam Christiansen from the look of things.

Ballard has had some impressive turnover in 2013 since Bill Clem left.  Not quite as impressive as no less than three pastors at Mars Hill Downtown all resigning for various reasons within the same month but let's let Event Horizon explain that stuff in more detail since the blogger at Event Horizon appears to have actually been at the meeting in which Tim Gaydos' resignation was announced.  It may be advisable to take some of the statements with a grain of salt as one should for things reported. 

In any event, Krombein has been announced as on his way out. 

The Elephant's Debt reports that amid reports of decreased attendance and giving Harvest Bible Chapel adopting austerity measures

For the uninitiated, one of Mark Driscoll's good friends who has the spiritual gift of real estate acquisition and who would be on a board that would assess the validity of any charges of wrongdoing against Driscoll. Or at least, would have been if the governance statements of MH hadn't been drastically altered between 2012 and 2013 so that, now, who knows what role MacDonald would actually have in a board assessing any claims made against Driscoll.

Practical Theology for Women on rogue mega-church pastors

It is a custom at Wenatchee The Hatchet to link to things Wendy writes from time to time and this is another case in which Wendy has written in such a way that Wenatchee sees no reason to add more to what she has presented. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mars Hill is looking for a Software Development Engineer to create a next generation communication platform

For those who swing by to check on job listings it's clear that a bevy of new jobs at Mars Hill Church have opened up.

Take the Executive Pastor at the University District campus.

Almost two weeks ago there was this job

Inside Sales and Customer Service Representive

Mars Hill Church, the Resurgence (a ministry of Mars Hill Church) and our Global Audience have placed a high emphasis on Connect Accounts for our audience members. We don’t want to meet our Connect Account expectations, we want to exceed them. To accomplish this, we are hiring for an Inside Sales & Customer Service to steward this ministry channel well.

This role will place a high emphasis on relational skills and data management to capture information accordingly for our Accounts Team to serve these connect accounts with the highest regard. 
The Software Development Engineer will be part of a dedicated team to build a next generation communication platform through a variety of web technologies. This role will entail collaboration with many stakeholders and requires strong communication skills and a desire to delight your users is essential. You will need to be at the top of your game producing extremely high quality and performant code. 


  • Build a new communications platform from the ground up in a highly performant & maintainable way. 
  • Collaborate with a small dedicated team of designers and developers.
  • Interact with a developer ecosystem to multiply your fruitfulness.
Now this is a bit of speculation on the part of Wenatchee The Hatchet but why would Mars Hill be looking for a Software Development Engineer to be part of a dedicated team to build a next generation communications platform?  Is The City already completely outdated?  Wasn't The City hailed as the most creative, dynamic church-building resource Moe Girkins,president and CEO of Zondervan, had ever seen?  Didn't Mars Hill share how Zack Hubert built The City that was sold to Zondervan?  Hubert was once Pastor of Technology at Mars Hill and the sale of The City was a boon for Mars Hill though whether or not Hubert got paid any compensation for developing The City has never been answered.  Hubert isn't anywhere near Mars Hill these days, though, and doesn't list it as part of his professional history over at his LinkedIn profile now (though in the past it was relevant to his professional background enough to get mentioned).
So ... if The City was and is as fantastic as Mars Hill leaders have said it is why would Mars Hill even bother putting in a job notice for a Software Development Engineer specifically for the task of building a next generation communication platform?
The days of Mars Hill on The City are probably numbered.