a column of the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1990, page 36. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
A Summary Critique
The Gift of Prophecy In the New Testament and Today by Wayne Grudem (Crossway Books, 1988)
Prophecy. In almost any church where the word comes up, controversy exists. What is the gift of prophecy referred to in the New Testament? Is it available to the church today? If so, how is it to be exercised? These are some of the basic questions dealt with in Wayne Grudem's The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.
Dr. Wayne Grudem is a well-respected evangelical scholar, currently Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Building on the work he did for his doctoral dissertation, he has prepared a readable discussion of the gift of prophecy. In an open, frank way, he deals with the questions surrounding the controversy and offers some fresh insight.
THE BASIC PREMISE
The foundational premise of Grudem's work is that the exercise of the gift of prophecy in the New Testament church entails reporting in human words something that God spontaneously brings to the mind of the believer. He distinguishes the exercise of this gift from the activity of both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles -- attributing to these two groups a unique authority as those who brought "God's very words." Basically, his view is that
there can be a "revelation" from the Holy Spirit to a person or persons, and also a spoken response to that revelation which can have "impaired validity" and "unreliability." That is really the essence of what I am arguing for in this book, and what -- it seems to me -- the New Testament usually calls "prophecy." But if the concept be admitted even if it is called not "prophecy" but "an unreliable human speech-act in response to a revelation from the Holy Spirit," there does not seem to be much difference in our understanding at this point (p. 95).
Grudem therefore advocates two levels of inspiration and authority. He is clear -- at least in his mind -- that he is not advocating two kinds of prophecy, but rather differences in "the type of authority which attaches to the words spoken in the prophecy."
He builds his case on a few well-defined themes. These core concepts are: (1) the New Testament apostles and the Old Testament prophets are counterparts, sharing the same status and authority. (2) These two inspired groups spoke "the very words of God" and provided us with the Scriptures. (3) Those who exercised the gift of prophecy as described in the New Testament spoke something less than "the very words of God."
The first two chapters rally the evidence to prove his first two points -- and the case is well made. Chapters three through five offer the grounds for the third concept, but here the case is not made quite as well. Although he succeeds to a large degree in substantiating his position, his argumentation is sometimes weak. This is seen in his failing to consider other interpretations of the passages he uses to prove his point.
SOME WEAKNESSES IN APPROACH
For example, one would-be proof that prophecy in the New Testament church was less than fully authoritative is built on 1 Corinthians 14:30 -- "If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent" (RSV). After explaining his understanding of how the "mechanics" of this command would be carried out, he states that "the first prophecy might be lost for ever and never heard by the church." From this he concludes: "If prophets had been thought to speak the very words of God, we would have expected Paul to show more concern for the preservation of these words and their proclamation. If God actually were speaking his words through a prophet to the church, it would be important for the church to hear those words!" (p. 80).
Yet, challenges to this view are not even considered. If the premise of this argument is left to stand as it is -- namely, that if "prophecy" is lost it could not have been authoritative - - we would have to conclude that only the words of Paul or the Old Testament prophets or even Jesus that were recorded were authoritative. Were the words of Jesus that were not recorded any less authoritative than those we have in the Gospel records?
Additionally, why must we conclude that the portion of the prophecy left unspoken by the first prophet -- the one required to sit -- was hopelessly lost? Is it not possible that God could complete the thought of the first prophet who spoke through the words of the second? It is clear that Grudem's conclusion is not the only way to understand Paul's words here.
Besides discussing Paul's instructions regarding prophecy as found in 1 Corinthians, Grudem also looks at some actual prophecies from the Book of Acts to build his case. And, again, he sometimes falls short of building his case completely. One such instance is in his discussion of Acts 21:10-11, which Grudem entitles: "A prophecy with two small mistakes." His argument centers on the prophet Agabus's words, where he tells Paul: "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"
According to Grudem, there are two errors in this prophecy. And because of these, he determines that Agabus's "prophecy" was "a 'revelation' from the Holy Spirit concerning what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem, and [that Agabus] gave a prophecy which included his own interpretation of this revelation (and therefore some mistakes in exact detail)" (p. 100).
The first mistake Grudem cites is that (according to Luke's account later in Acts) the Romans, not the Jews, bound Paul (p. 96; cf. Acts 21:33; 22:29). The second has to do with his determination that the Jews did not deliver Paul over to the Gentiles but that he was, in fact, rescued from the Jews by Roman soldiers (p. 97; Acts 21:32-35).
Though Grudem spends many pages discussing how to deal with the "inaccuracies" of Agabus's prophecy, he overlooks some very crucial data. Acts does contain other pertinent information about the fulfillment of this prophecy -- including some comments by Paul himself.
In Paul's personal comments about his experience, he seems to indicate that he was, in fact, a prisoner of the Jews and was delivered over to the Romans by them (28:17; cf. 27:21). Additionally, the centurion who "rescued" Paul wrote to Felix the governor saying that Paul "was arrested by the Jews" (23:26-30). Seeing that Paul himself says he had been "delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans" and the centurion's letter confirms Paul's arrest by the Jews, it will hardly do to say that Agabus's prophecy was in error. Clearly, "the Jews were responsible for his being in the hands of the Romans."
It is such less-than-thorough argumentation that mars Grudem's work. Nevertheless, even with these weak links, he forges a chain of thought that is persuasive. Although the argumentation has some flaws, the argument is not lost.
The remainder of his book deals with some of the issues that naturally follow from his premise -- such as the difference between teaching and prophecy, the content of prophecies, the leadership role of prophets in the church, and so forth.
As a whole, the thoughts that Grudem offers in these latter chapters are challenging and insightful. Yet, there are occasions when he makes assertions that are not well substantiated. One example will suffice.
In discussing whether all believers could prophesy, the author states that "gifts such as administration, teaching, helping, giving aid and (probably) speaking in tongues could be used at will. The believer who had one of these gifts could put it to use at any time. But prophecy was more spontaneous and could only be used when the prophet received a revelation. It seems that no one had the ability to prophesy at will" (p. 210).
This distinction between the exercise of certain gifts does not appear to be as clear as Grudem implies. Different believers would come to a service with different contributions to make (1 Cor. 14:26) -- whether it was a teaching, a tongue, or a revelation. Apparently, each had received something from the Lord that was to be offered for the edification of the body. Does Grudem want to suggest that it would be acceptable to offer a teaching or a prayer in tongues that was not Spirit-directed? If not, then how is the work of the Spirit that directs the exercise of these gifts different from that which directs the exercise of the gift of prophecy?
One additional concern arises from Grudem's treatment. He appears to group together all the "revelatory" gifts; he fails to make any distinctions between the word of wisdom, word of knowledge, or exhortation on the one hand, and the gift of prophecy on the other. Considering the practical and application-oriented approach he has taken, it is unfortunate that he did not apply himself to the task of delineating the relationships between these gifts and prophecy, as he did with the gift of teaching with respect to prophecy.
WELL WORTH READING
The book does have several very helpful features that should be pointed out. It was wonderful to find a section dealing with application at the end of every chapter. In these sections Grudem attempts to apply his insight to practical church life -- something that is often lacking in treatments of the theology of gifts. His discussion of the duration of the gift of prophecy beyond New Testament times was excellent; he offers a clear argument for the perpetuity of the gifts. Also, his three appendices -- dealing with apostleship, the canon, and the sufficiency of Scripture -- are all helpful.
In drawing attention to the shortcomings of this work, there is no intent to discount its value. Dr. Grudem has done the body of Christ a great service by providing an honest look at a controversial subject. The Gift of Prophecy is a biblical, readable, and practical treatment of the subject. He offers evangelical Christians who believe in the perpetuity of the gifts a fine resource for developing a sound and workable view of prophecy that preserves the authority of Scripture and avoids the snare of subjectivism. His work will undoubtedly help the church obey Paul's injunction: "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:19-21).
 It is worth noting that Graham Houston has also written a book advocating a "two level" approach to understanding prophecy. Unlike Grudem, Houston finds both levels in the Old Testament as well. (cf. Prophecy -- A Gift for Today? [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989] 27-41.)  A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1932), 486.
Brian Onken, former Senior Research Consultant for Christian Research Institute, currently serves as Associate Pastor at Church of the Woods, Lake Arrowhead, California.
Evangelizing the Cults by Ronald Enroth, Editor (Servant Publications, 1990)
Ronald Enroth -- Professor of Sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California and author of The Lure of the Cults and Youth, Brain-washing, and the Extremist Cults -- has put together a practical tool designed to help lay people "share Jesus with children, parents, neighbors, and friends who are involved in a cult."
One reason I appreciate this book is that I -- like my colleagues at Christian Research Institute -- believe the equipping of lay people for the work of cult evangelism is the only way the Christian church stands a chance of successfully reaching the cults for Christ. Christian professionals cannot possibly evangelize the cults alone. Enroth is therefore to be commended for his efforts in this area.
To accomplish his task, Enroth has assembled a group of cult experts and has pooled their efforts to produce a nontechnical, easy-to-understand volume. Following an introduction by Enroth are ten chapters on cults and world religions: "Hinduism," by Mark Albrecht; "Buddhism," by J. Isamu Yamamoto; "The New Age," by Gordon Lewis; "The Unification Church," by James A. Beverley; "Mormonism," by Wesley P. Walters; "The Occult," by Karen Winterburn; "Jehovah's Witnesses," by Robert Passantino; "The Unity School of Christianity," by Kurt Van Gorden; "Scientology," also by Van Gorden; and "Confronting Cults Cross-Culturally," by Ruth Tucker.
In the introduction, Enroth is careful to point out what this book is not attempting to do: "This is not an encyclopedic handbook on religious cults. It is not an exhaustive, in-depth survey of the beliefs and practices of all the cults and new religions that can be found in North America at the end of this century. It is not aimed primarily at the Christian cult-watchers who are actively engaged in commendable apologetic and educational ministries. They are already familiar with most of the content of this book" (p.10; review manuscript).
Rather, the purpose of the book, Enroth tells us, is "to assist serious, caring Christians to achieve a compassionate understanding of a sampling of contemporary cults in order to be better able to introduce people in those groups to Jesus our Lord. Whether across the sea or across the backyard fence, we must never forget that the gospel presentation is about a person; it is a message that proclaims that Jesus was God become a man, who was crucified, then rose from the grave and now reigns" (p. 11).
Keeping this purpose in mind, I especially appreciate Enroth's comments on the nature of cult evangelism. He suggests that too often the Christian's zeal to convert cultists takes on the appearance of an anticult crusade. Enroth notes that we are not called to be "cult-busters" but agents of reconciliation -- "bearers of good news to those who do not know Jesus our Lord" (p. 18). He therefore suggests that when we approach cult members for purposes of evangelism, we should view them not as individuals who embody the full character of evil, but rather as people who are reaching toward God: "Like Paul, we should affirm their search but not where it has taken them" (p. 25).
All the chapters that follow Enroth's introduction are well written and insightful, and all will no doubt help lay people evangelize specific cults. But as is the case with many edited works, some chapters are noticeably better than others.
While some of the chapters are thoroughly evangelism-oriented, others seem long on exposition and short on evangelism. (By exposition, I refer to describing the history and belief-system of the cult and how it compares to Christianity.) Now, to be fair, witnessing to cultists does involve advancing a polemic against the truth claims of the cult in question. Exposition is therefore important and necessary. However, some contributors to the book were more successful than others in achieving a balance between examining truth claims and offering practical evangelistic strategies and witnessing tips.
Highest praise goes to Gordon Lewis for his chapter on evangelizing New Agers, and Wesley P. Walters for his chapter on evangelizing Mormons. These chapters are exceptional and are well worth the price of the book. One gets the distinct feeling that Lewis and Walters have had many evangelistic encounters with New Agers and Mormons. Their witnessing tips are specific, well-conceived, and immensely practical.
Lewis begins by examining the appeal of New Age spirituality. He then helps readers understand what New Agers seek, and summarizes distinctive problems in evangelizing New Agers. Following this, he builds an evangelistic foundation on Paul's sermon to the Athenian pagans in Acts 17, drawing applications such as: be observant, be concerned, be conversational, be tactful, set apart ideas from the persons who hold them, and find something to commend. He relates each of these applications in a very specific way to evangelizing New Agers. Having witnessed to New Agers myself, I can attest to the relevance of his suggestions.
Wesley Walters provides three excellent strategies for witnessing to Mormons (maximum impact is obtained by combining the three): (1) witnessing with the Bible; (2) witnessing with the Book of Mormon (pointing to how the Book of Mormon is at odds with present-day Mormon teaching); and (3) witnessing through contradictions (for example, pointing to changes Joseph Smith made in his own "revelations"). Each strategy is thoughtfully developed and is based on thorough field-testing. Walters also provides a helpful glossary of terminology differences between Christianity and Mormonism. This chapter is one of the best summaries on witnessing to Mormons I have read.
Karen Winterburn's chapter is also noteworthy. She offers a unique discussion of occultism that is a mix of personal testimony, exposition, and witnessing tips. Karen's testimony as a former occultist is an exciting one, and her testimonial approach in this chapter enables one to "get inside" a former occultist's head.
Chapters that are more expositional but still include some helpful witnessing tips are those on Hinduism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and Scientology. These chapters evenly blend historical background, doctrinal summary, Christian polemic against these doctrines, and evangelistic advice. Each chapter has unique strengths. Albrecht, for example, provides some helpful tips on debunking "Hinduized Christianity" -- a form of Christianity that offers an esoteric reinterpretation of the life and teachings of Jesus. Passantino zeroes in on problem passages such as Colossians 1:15 -- a verse often used by Jehovah's Witnesses to argue that Jesus was a created being. From a doctrinal perspective, Van Gorden offers a solid apologetic against Scientology's view of God, man, Jesus Christ, and salvation/reincarnation.
Chapters that are primarily expositional with minimal witnessing tips include those on Buddhism, the Unity School of Christianity, and the Unification Church. Overall, these chapters are helpful as far as they go. Each describes the belief system of the cult in question and each points to some major differences with Christianity. But in varying degrees they all fall short of the high standard set by Lewis and Walters in achieving a balance between exposition and evangelism.
The last chapter in the book -- "Confronting Cults Cross-Culturally," by Ruth Tucker -- is included because, as Enroth notes, "evangelizing the cults does not stop at our own borders" (p. 12). By the title, I was expecting a chapter on how to confront cults cross-culturally. In reality, the chapter points us to the need to confront cults cross-culturally (i.e., by showing how the cults have successfully penetrated other countries). Perhaps the greatest benefit of this chapter is its implicit call to equip Christian missionaries to recognize and counteract cult activities in their respective mission fields.
There are some other minor criticisms, and a few examples will suffice. Ruth Tucker seems to assume that where there is occultism or astrology, there is the New Age movement. It is inaccurate, however, to treat these as belonging exclusively within the confines of the New Age movement.
In arguing against the "divine within," Mark Albrecht says that "although many Hindus like to cite Luke 17:21 -- 'The Kingdom of God is within you' -- this is an inadequate translation of the Greek and is found only in the Old King James Version" (p. 45). But my "new" New International Version has the same translation.
In several chapters, some of the arguments seem to lack the substance necessary to be thoroughly convincing in an evangelistic encounter. For example, just two short paragraphs (about 85 words) are devoted to debunking reincarnation in Yamamoto's chapter on Buddhism. His point that "the New Testament denies the doctrine of reincarnation" is correct -- but the evidence to substantiate this point is slim. So much more could be said on this issue.
Despite small problems such as those cited above, all the contributors offer a broad range of helpful insights on evangelizing specific cults. Enroth and his colleagues have provided a more-than-adequate foundation for cult evangelism -- a witnessing aid that will assist lay people for many years to come.
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