Understanding the New Calvinism: Charismatic Gifts

Read the series so far.

If there is one distinguishing mark that separates the New Calvinist from traditional Calvinists it would be the openness of the newer variety toward the charismatic gifts. While many, if not most, would not see themselves as charismatics in the conventional sense, they believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are operational today, including the sign gifts such as miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and prophecy.

While most draw the line at apostleship, seeing it as an office reserved for a handful of appointed New Testament leaders who founded the church (Eph 2:20), strangely they see the gift of prophecy as still viable. Following the leadership of Wayne Grudem, in his landmark book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Today, as well as his Systematic Theology, many have been convinced that New Testament era prophecy is not held to the same standards as Old Testament prophecies and prophets. Whereas Old Testament prophecy was to be without error, with the consequence of the execution of the prophet if one prophesied falsely (Deut 18:20-22), church age prophecies can often be a mixture of truth and error.

Grudem writes, “Prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human—and sometimes partially mistaken—report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.”1 This view of the sign gifts, including prophecy, is known as the continuationist position, as opposed to cessationism, held by those who believe the miraculous sign gifts are no longer operational.2 Grudem quotes favorably the Anglican charismatic leaders Dennis and Rita Bennet who claim,

We are not expected to accept every word spoken through the gifts of utterance…but we are only to accept what is quickened to us by the Holy Spirit and is in agreement with the Bible…one manifestation may be 75% God, but 25% the person’s own thoughts. We must discern between the two.3

Grudem is not alone in his understanding of the continuation of prophecy. Bruce Compton cites some other prominent evangelical leaders and organizations including:

  • C. Samuel Storms, “Third Wave,” a chapter in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, ed. Wayne A. Grudem (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), pp. 207–12.
  • John Piper accepts this view, as can be seen in the following article and video on the Desiring God website, “Signs and Wonders: Then and Now,”  Piper states, “The Bible teaches that spiritual gifts, including prophecy and tongues, will continue until Jesus comes. To neglect them is to risk disobedience.”
  • Sovereign Grace Ministries’ view can be accessed in “What We Believe, A Statement of Faith,”  According to the website, their statement of faith affirms, “All the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first century are available today, are vital for the mission of the church, and are to be earnestly desired and practiced.” Included in “all the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first century [that] are available today” is the gift of prophecy.4

Grudem’s views, while incredibly weak in my opinion, have captured the hearts and minds of an amazing number of conservative evangelicals. In response to Grudem there are at least five excellent published works refuting his understanding of New Testament prophecy:

  • Robert L. Thomas, “Prophecy Rediscovered? A Review of the Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today” (Bibliotheca Sacra #149).
  • F. David Farnell, “Fallible New Testament Prophecy/Prophets? A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Hypothesis” (Master’s Seminary Journal 2:2; Fall 1991).
  • R. Bruce Compton, “The Continuation of New Testament Prophecy and a Closed Canon: A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Two Levels of New Testament Prophecy” (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary).
  • Thomas R. Edgar, Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Kregel: 1996).
  • Michael John Beasely, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, an Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of “Fallible Prophecy,” (Michael John Beasely: 2013). Beasely’s contribution is an excellent full-length book dismantling Grudem’s hypothesis.

Nevertheless strong and influential Calvinist leaders continue to propagate the idea that fallible, errant prophecy is common in the church today, despite the unreliability of such prophecies. A good example is John Piper who is well respected, and rightfully so, for many of his theological views and overall contribution to evangelical faith. He has however held to a continuationist view for much of his ministry. Shortly after the Strange Fire Conference held October 2013 and sponsored by John MacArthur, Piper was questioned as to his position.

At the conference, Piper was characterized as open to the gifts but not advocating for them or encouraging others to pursue the gifts themselves. This is a misunderstanding, says Piper. “I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31, “earnestly desire the higher gifts.” And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might prophesy.” And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39“earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” “I want Christians today to obey those texts.”

And Piper seeks to obey those texts himself. “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak. This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 happens.”5

This understanding of fallible prophecy can lead to sticky situations, as Piper admits.

A lawyer one time prophesied over me when my wife was pregnant and said: “Your fourth child is going to be a girl, and your wife is going to die in childbirth.” And that lawyer with tears told me that she was sorry she had to tell me that. So I went home and I got down on my knees and I said, “Lord, I am trying to do what you said here in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21. And frankly, I despise what that woman just said.” It proved out that my fourth child was a son, and I knew as soon as he came out that that prophecy was not true, and so I stopped having any misgivings about my wife’s life. She is still with me now thirty years later. That’s the sort of thing that makes you despise prophecy.6

Of what value, we would have to ask, are prophecies of this nature? When it is impossible to discern how much of a given prophecy is from the Lord and how much of it is from the imagination of the prophet, such prophecies are worse than useless. In the case of Piper, he spent months agonizing over the possibility that the prophecy concerning his wife was true, only to have the prophecy proven wrong in the end. This scenario is repeated countless times in the lives of lesser known Christians who suffer needlessly because they have accepted the continuationist teachings on New Testament prophecy.

It would appear that many of the Reformed charismatics are simply afraid that the cessationist view of the gifts denies the power and working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. For example, Mark Driscoll said, “Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”7

Popular teacher Beth Moore takes the same position. She says in one of her sermons:

We got a lot of things going in our current religious culture. And we’ve got two extremes I want to address tonight so that we can understand them. First of all I want you to look over to this side. We have the religious culture of the extreme that I’m going to call Cessationism. Now I’m making up a word with that -ism. But you know the word cessation and it’s a word that comes from cease. And this particular extreme teaching in the Body of Christ says all miracles have ceased. For all practical purposes, God no longer works miracles in our day. Now most of them still believe that He will in the end of times.8

She also claims, “Cessationism cheats the believer and undercuts hope.”9

It is this very issue, more than anything else that distinguishes traditional Calvinism from the New Calvinist. Both delight in Calvinistic theology, but historic Calvinists are normally cessationists, while the newer variety are desirous of the sign gifts that are associated with the charismatic movement. It is my opinion that by doing so the New Calvinists are in danger of departing ultimately from the evangelical faith. It might be instructive to listen to a warning from a well-known “old Calvinist,” J. C. Ryle:

Let us beware of the very small beginnings of false doctrine. Every heresy began at one time with some little departure from the truth. There is only a little seed of error needed to create a great tree…It is the omission or addition of one little item in the doctor’s prescription that spoils the whole medicine, and turns it into poison…let us never allow a little false doctrine to ruin us, by thinking it is but a ‘little one,’ and can do no harm.10

Conclusion

The goal of parts 1-3 has been to introduce New Calvinism, identify some of the key leaders and organizations, and begin to examine some of the distinctives of the movement. Having looked at the two major components of New Calvinism, Calvinistic theology and a charismatic understanding of the sign gifts, we will turn to some of the secondary issues such as views on cultural engagement, relevance, pragmatism, and the social agenda.

Notes

1 Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988), p. 14.

2 I have written in support of cessationism in my book Out of Formation (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press: 2014), pp. 135-158.

3 Ibid., p. 110.

4 R. Bruce Compton, “The Continuation of New Testament Prophecy and a Closed Canon: A Critique of Wayne Grudem’s Two Levels of New Testament Prophecy” (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary), p. 1.

6 Ibid. Piper admits that he has been persuaded by Grudem’s understanding of New Testament prophecy in the following short video: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/piper-on-prophecy-and-tongues.

10 As found in Michael John Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, an Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of “Fallible Prophecy,” (Michael John Beasley: 2013), p. 168.

Gary Gilley Bio


Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.

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There are 15 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

....is that confronted with false prophecy, more don't point out what the Biblical penalty for the same is.  For example, if I were Piper given such a prediction, why not ask "ma'am, your name and your church--if your prophecy turns out to be false, this will be reported to church leadership and you will be disciplined."  I don't advocate stoning, but I think that if anyone wants to hold to a continuationist position, you've got to keep it Biblical.

(cheap shot; and this will tend to push people to the cessationist position.....)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Good, helpful article.

It would be interesting for someone to write an article on this subject and compare it with the beliefs and positions of John R. Rice.

Also, it seems that some would classify many as either on one extreme or the other in this issue.
Wouldn’t many incorporate a little of both views in their personal beliefs?
In other words, instead of two opposing views on this subject, aren’t there more like a couple of dozen shades of views?

David R. Brumbelow

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

What would the couple of dozen shades be? Much as I strive to avoid binary thinking, either one believes all the gifts continue or they don't believe all of them continue. But yes, there are variants under those headings.

As for NT prophecy, I have seen a few different views on this as well, but they also fall under a couple of clear headings: 

  • a. views that see NT prophecy as the same thing as OT prophecy
  • b. views that see NT prophecy as something different

Under b, there are some substantial differences, though, I'll grant that. Oddly enough, I think Grudem's view is one of the stronger "b" options.

But all of them must carry the burden of proving that (a) NT prophecy really is fundamentally different and (b) that the proposed differences make sense.

Grudem's view suffers on both counts, but I think he does better in general than the view that tries to simply turn NT prophecy into "preaching." Though this idea might be less damaging (maybe), it's even harder to support, since it confuses a mode of delivery with a completely different sort of content.

(Keep in mind that OT prophecy wasn't even always verbal... Ezekiel spent many, many hours delivering prophetic object lessons--arguably "performance art." The key distinction between prophecy and everything else is that it is infallible revelation directly from God... and nothing else is.)

JohnBrian's picture

Gilley quoting Piper wrote:

And Piper seeks to obey those texts himself. “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak. This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 happens.”5

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

It would be interesting for someone to write an article on this subject and compare it with the beliefs and positions of John R. Rice.

How about Rice's successor at SOTL, Curtis Hutson!

When I was an impressionable 21 year old and a student at Temple, I first heard Hutson preach. He began his sermons with a prayer similar to Piper's in the above quote. He asked God to give him words so that everything he said was from God. I realized that I needed to pay attention to every word so that I would not miss God speaking. 

Unfortunately Hutson had no theological training but was good at using a verse, or even a phrase from a verse as a jumping off place for his sermons (like most preachers from that camp). There was no exegesis of the text, so we never actually heard God speaking, although the preaching resulted in numbers of folks walking the #OldPaths aisle.

It was some years later that I realized that after his prayer, Hutson could say anything he wanted and it would have the imprimatur of God, because he had prayed thusly. That experience is why, even today,  I do NOT pray at the beginning of my preaching. I also am seriously considering preaching from a manuscript so as to not add anything that comes to mind while speaking.

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pvawter's picture

JohnBrian,
I agree with you. If God can speak through Hutson or Piper in impromptu format, why can't he speak to them as they study and prepare to preach? Is it less inspired if it's not spur-of-the-moment?

Mark_Smith's picture

I have been preaching (or teaching physics for that matter), and I had forgotten some verse or key idea that I was going to include (or maybe I hadn't even thought about this verse in a while), and during the message (or class) that verse popped into my head. That is the Spirit's job, to remind us of what the Word has taught us (John 14:25-26). 

Of course, that is not an excuse to not study.

But, I think we need to be careful about ridiculing the Holy Spirit's job to teach us and remind us what the Word of God says.

There is a ditch on each side of the road. On the right is the "I study and the Spirit is a totally silent Shepherd" who is practically irrelevant and unrecognized. The left side is "I don't need to study, I'll just pray up a sermon". That is wrong too.

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

I have been preaching (or teaching physics for that matter), and I had forgotten some verse or key idea that I was going to include (or maybe I hadn't even thought about this verse in a while), and during the message (or class) that verse popped into my head. That is the Spirit's job, to remind us of what the Word has taught us (John 14:25-26). 

Of course, that is not an excuse to not study.

But, I think we need to be careful about ridiculing the Holy Spirit's job to teach us and remind us what the Word of God says.

There is a ditch on each side of the road. On the right is the "I study and the Spirit is a totally silent Shepherd" who is practically irrelevant and unrecognized. The left side is "I don't need to study, I'll just pray up a sermon". That is wrong too.


Not to start an argument here, Mark, but I don't think anyone is saying that the Holy Spirit does not play a role in the preparation and delivery of a sermon. My point is just to question whether his input is only recognized when it happens spontaneously. Isn't the Holy Spirit's influence during sermon prep just as likely, if not more so, than during the delivery?

Mark_Smith's picture

Why do assume one way or the other? Why are you so interested in emphasizing your effort? That is what strikes me. 

I think preparation is critical. Absolutely so. But why are you so hesitant about the Holy Spirit helping you at actual delivery time? That is when I need the most help. I can prepare constantly. But when you are standing in front of people, that is when it matters most. Are you relying on yourself only at that time?

Bert Perry's picture

One distinction I've heard is that some will say that "I believe I felt the Spirit's leading" instead of "God talked to me" as a way of admitting that they could be wrong about exactly who was leading/speaking to them.  Not quite sure that lets us off the hook, though.

But that said, point well taken on the criticality of not blaming the Holy Spirit for our mistakes in exegesis, for our bad dreams we have after pizza, and the like.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Mark Smith wrote:

Why do assume one way or the other?

I have struggled with the issue of prophecy and still consider myself unsettled.  Grudem's book has much to offer -- the idea tha NT prophecy is more like, "I think God is laying this on my heart to tell you" vs. "Thus saith the Lord."  There may be a fine line between feeling led (a subjective term, I know) and prophecy.

Have you never had the conviction that God wants you to talk to someone and tell them something?  If so, according to Grudem, that would be an example of prophecy.

Let's postulate this and see if it works: the early church had authoritative prophets who were recognized as such and foundational to the church (Eph. 2:20).  A lesser gift of prophecy (I Corinthians 12:4-6 suggest different levels of gifting), however, was so commonly given that perhaps most Christians had it, and it could be this second aspect (a low level gift of prophesy) that remained after the church was founded.

Paul says that all could prophesy one by one (I Corinthians 14:31) suggesting something more common and different from the recognized prophets.  The "almost every believer can do it" prophesy might simply mean sharing what the person believes God has placed on his/her heart. 

Perhaps we are INFLATING the common gift of prophecy in both its authority and nature?  If so, Christians of all persuasions have always prophesied, but just did not call it that.

Does this sound plausible?  

Second, there is another middle viewpoint that suggests some of the more miraculous gifts are truly given on the mission field where the Gospel and the church are being established and then taper off as the church is rooted.  I have heard of accounts of non-charismatic missionaries giving accounts of (Acts-like) spiritual gifts on the field involving people not of the charismatic persuasion (speaking in a real foreign language, miracles, genuine clearly supernatural healings, etc.).

Anyone else here of such things?  Anything to that?

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David R. Brumbelow's picture

For example:
Some do not believe tongues have necessarily ceased but,
Some of these believe in an ecstatic utterance or unknown tongues.
Others believe biblical tongues are only other human languages. May mean God sometimes supernaturally enables one to understand, or speak, a language they did not learn. Some even wonder whether part of this gift could be those who can easily and quickly learn multiple languages.

Some believe in modern day miracles but,
Some of these make a three-ring circus out of it and make questionable claims of miracles.
Others who believe this simply mean God can do anything and sometimes works miracles in our lives today, but it is totally in God’s hands whether and when He chooses to work a miracle.

Some believe in prophecy but,
Some of those believe in wild predictions that prove false or suspect time and time again.
Some of these simply believe prophecy is faithfully proclaiming God’s Word, with the possibility that God may give someone special insight, but not in the sense of making a big show out of it. Believing God is about to answer a prayer, etc.

Another point, John R. Rice did not seem to fit neatly into either category in this article. I would find it interesting for someone to do a study on this.

Not trying to argue; just some thoughts.
David R. Brumbelow

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

When it comes to analyzing different persepctives, it might help to distinguish some categories. You have different views on what tongues speaking is in the NT, then you have different views on their continuation vs. cessation. So there is still a clear distinction between continues or does not continue, regardless of views on what tongues speaking is. (But on the latter point, some of that is already assumed in the main question: "do all the gifts continue"? The question assumes we are talking about a gift of the Spirit, and that assumption leads to a pretty narrow set of possibilities as far as definition goes.. because have to look at where we see a gift of the Spirit operating in the NT)

On preaching...   It is unfortunate that alot of preachers/pastors have spread confusion on the idea of what "from God" means in relation to preaching. I'm sure most have meant well, but were not clear on the question themselves, so ... their language has spread their own confusion.

A "preacher" (or teacher) does two things in relation to words from God:

  • he quotes/restates what God has said
  • he expands on what that means for a particular audience (I'm including application here for simplicity)

The first is the only thing that is "from God" in the fully authoritative sense. It is not really "prophecy" because he is quoting or restating prophecy that has already occurred.

The second is a very human activity. It is still "from God" in the providential sense, and "from God" in the sense of "an act of service God is pleased to use for His glory." But it is not "from God" in the sense of something God has inspired.

So neither of these activities are prophecy. Preaching and teaching are not prophesying.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

A "preacher" (or teacher) does two things in relation to words from God:

  • he quotes/restates what God has said
  • he expands on what that means for a particular audience (I'm including application here for simplicity)

The first is the only thing that is "from God" in the fully authoritative sense. It is not really "prophecy" because he is quoting or restating prophecy that has already occurred.

The second is a very human activity. It is still "from God" in the providential sense, and "from God" in the sense of "an act of service God is pleased to use for His glory." But it is not "from God" in the sense of something God has inspired.

So neither of these activities are prophecy. Preaching and teaching are not prophesying.

Well, all the gifts are gifts of the Spirit, are they not?

Teaching is a gift from the Spirit.  Not everyone is qualified to teach, but if I am spiritually gifted to teach, that does not mean my teaching is infallible just because I am gifted.  Since no two teachers agree on every single fine point, if giftedness = infallibility, then perhaps one person on planet earth has the real gift of teaching.  The whole concept of different MEASURES of gifts seems to be lost in this entire conversation.  One person, for example, has a greater gift of teaching than another.  This suggests that all the spiritual gifts could be given in varying degrees.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Why do assume one way or the other? Why are you so interested in emphasizing your effort? That is what strikes me. 

I think preparation is critical. Absolutely so. But why are you so hesitant about the Holy Spirit helping you at actual delivery time? That is when I need the most help. I can prepare constantly. But when you are standing in front of people, that is when it matters most. Are you relying on yourself only at that time?


Mark,
Are you responding to me? Because I didn't say anything about relying on my own effort, either in the preparation or the delivery of sermons. It seems like you are suggesting that the Holy Spirit helps you preach but not prepare sermons, but I don't think that distinction can be maintained.
Diligent preparation is being obedient to a direct command of scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), but I can't find a command to preach extemporaneously anywhere.
Paul

Ed Vasicek's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

... I didn't say anything about relying on my own effort, either in the preparation or the delivery of sermons. It seems like you are suggesting that the Holy Spirit helps you preach but not prepare sermons, but I don't think that distinction can be maintained.

Diligent preparation is being obedient to a direct command of scripture (2 Tim. 2:15), but I can't find a command to preach extemporaneously anywhere.
Paul 

Yes, this is a good point.  This is one reason I have trouble equating preaching with prophecy.

"The Midrash Detective"

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