Packer on the Christian Life by Sam Storms summarizes much of J.I. Packer’s thoughts that answer the question “How now shall we live?” I’ve enjoyed Storms’ works before and have been curious to learn more about Packer, so I was looking forward to this read.
The book starts with some brief biographical information on Packer. Then, we are quickly thrust into core aspects of his theological framework. In particular, Packer emphasized the atonement as central to any Christian understanding of life or doctrine. The Bible is seen as the authority for the Christian life. These early chapters are used to set the stage for a more holistic approach found afterwards.
Packer’s stance is heavily influenced by Puritanism. The Puritans have suffered from a bit of a bad reputation, and some of it has been deserved. However, the insights the Puritans gave into living purely (sorry) are worth reading about, and Packer’s view of the Christian life highlights them throughout. The battle against indwelling sin, the definitions and search for holiness, and the like; all are colored with Puritan lenses, and this provides a different approach than some of the other books in the series.
After the holistic approach found in the middle section of the book, individual topics are addressed. These include the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer, discerning God’s will, and enduring suffering. The chapters on prayer and enduring suffering are particularly edifying. Packer offers biblical answers to perceived unanswered prayers as well as insight into how to pray and why and when (always). His approach to enduring suffering leans heavily towards a Calvinistic response, and Storms presents it in a pastoral, applicable manner.
Storms admirably handles Packer’s view on spiritual gifts. Packer is a cessationist but seems to have a rather moderating position, whereas Storms has been an outspoken continuationist. He fairly presents Packer’s view on the topic of miraculous gifts without criticism–an appropriate stance given the purpose of the book.
Packer on the Christian Life is another good entry into the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series. I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I think the entries on Luther and John Newton were slightly better. It comes recommended.
+Good insight on varied practical topics, including prayer
+Makes accessible, in one place, much of Packer’s work
+Highlights contributions possible from Puritanism
-Could use more exposition in addition to all the quotes
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Sam Storms, Packer on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Cessationism and Defining Miracles
Jon Mark Ruthven’s On the Cessation of the Charismata was recommended to me as one of the premier arguments against the cessationist position–the position which asserts that the spiritual gifts like healing, speaking in tongues, and the like have ended. Having read the book, I’d have to say I found it largely convincing and very thought provoking. I’ve shared a different quote from it elsewhere, but here I want to focus one part of Ruthven’s argument. He notes that:
The validity of cessationism depends upon a clearly discernible and internally consistent model of miracle which can be applied transparently and uniformly to all candidate cases as they appear throughout history, both in the biblical accounts and afterward. (44, cited below)
Then, he argues–I think rightly–that the cessationist has yet to provide just such a model. It seems instead that there is a kind of arbitrary cut-off point at which miracles are said to be untrustworthy occurrences. Ruthven spends a lengthy portion of the book arguing that the cessationist models have failed this consistency test.
What do you think? Have you seen a model that can consistently affirm the miracles in the Bible but then uniformly and without qualification deny those which are extrabiblical and/or modern? What stance do you take on the issue of miraculous gifts?
“Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?”- A look at four views in Christian Theology– I provide a look at four positions on miraculous/spiritual gifts in contemporary theology.
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Jon Mark Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata (Tulsa, OK: Word & Spirit Press, 2011).
I have once more found a number of excellent reads from all over the web before you, dear reader! Check out the list of topics: the continuation (or lack thereof) of spiritual gifts, a famous paleontologist–Mary Anning, gender and theology, wonder of God, and Hell. Oh yes, how’s that for a broad list? Anyway, be sure to drop a comment to let me know what you thought!
Does Cessationism Still Stand?– Cessationism is the view that spiritual gifts like prophecy, healing, and the like “ceased” after the apostolic period. Here, one author responds to a cessationist critique.
Mary Anning, Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs, and the Age of Reptiles– Google recently had a celebration of Mary Anning on the search page. What’s the big deal? Here, Joel Duff explores some of the implications of Mary Anning’s discoveries about the “Age of Reptiles.” Want to read more on big lizards and time scales? Check out my post about dinosaurs, Noah’s Flood, and creationism.
Power, Gender, and Evangelicals: Ideas Have Consequences– What does it mean to say that “ideas have consequences”? Should women rely entirely upon men to shape their identity in Christ? Check out this excellent post exploring some if these and related issues.
Stars, sand, and God (Comic)- How important are you in the grand scheme of things? What does the massive scale of our universe say about God? In this comic, we are invited to bask in God’s glory.
Book Plunge: Rethinking Hell– The book Rethinking Hell asks us to do just that; consider hell as not eternal torment or punishment but rather annihilation. Check out this insightful review of the book.
I have to admit, I think this is one of the most engaging “Really Recommended Posts” I’ve put together. There are multiple views presented on two of these posts, and the others give some good food for thought. Check out opposing views on charismatic/miraculous gifts; delve into the notion of concordism from different sides. Leave comments to share your own thoughts on these issues. Then, archaeology, abortion, the Noah movie, and Hume round out the discussion. I hope you’ll drop some comments to let me know your thoughts.
Debate: Have the New Testament Charismatic Gifts Ceased?– The “Strange Fire” book and conference have caused a huge amount of discussion to arise within evangelical circles regarding miraculous/charismatic gifts. Do these gifts continue past the New Testament times? Here, Michael Brown debates Sam Waldron on this topic. I have also written presenting four major views on this topic should you like to explore the topic more deeply. Which side do you think is correct? Why? Leave a comment!
Defending Concordism: Response to The Lost World of Genesis One– Concordism is the view that science will line up with biblical teaching about origins and other scientific aspects of reality. One major challenge to the position is the notion that the Bible simply doesn’t address such things. Here, Reasons to Believe, a major concordist group, answers several objections posed against concordism. William Lane Craig has recently answered a question about concordism himself, in which he raises a few objections to the position and explains why he is not a concordist. What are your thoughts on this debate? Leave a comment!
A Brief Sample of Old Testament Archaeological Corroboration– The Old Testament clearly makes a number of claims about the actual historical events of the Bible. Here, J. Warner Wallace addresses some of these claims and notes how we have archaeological research to back them up.
How the ADF kept nurses who wouldn’t perform abortions from being fired– The ADF–Alliance Defending Freedom–successfully reached a settlement regarding a hospital that was going to force nurses with moral objections to abortion to perform them. I find this a particularly stunning case, because so often the pro-choice side says things like “Don’t want an abortion, don’t get one!” But this is shown to be mere lip service, because now the attempt is being made to force even those with moral objections not to get abortions, but to actually carry them out. I am very pleased to see that sound reasoning prevailed and the nurses were not forced to do this or lose their jobs. It remains troubling to me that anyone would even think this could be okay. Check out the post.
How Should Christians Respond to Noah the Movie?– Greg West over at The Poached Egg (an amazing site you should follow if you don’t already!) found this gem of a post regarding the “Noah” movie. Check out my own thoughts on the trailer and upcoming film.
David Hume’s Genuine Theism– A provocative title, to be sure! In this brief post, the author argues that one of Hume’s aims was to restore “genuine theism” over and against rationalistic deism. It’s a quick read, but very thought-provoking.
I want to preface the following discussion by expressing the fact that I am by no means an expert in this area. I only recently finished reading Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, which presents four views on the issue of miraculous gifts in the church now. The book is the only work I have read on the topic, and so my opinion should not be taken as that of an expert or even a moderately person. I am an interested party with virtually no backgruond in this area. I also want to note that I wish to express a desire to learn more and any interested readers should please comment and provide insights/corrections/concerns as they see fit.
Here, I will outline what I understand to be the four views on the topic (as outlined in the book–I am more than willing to concede there are likely more views), along with a few arguments and against each. After that, I will offer a brief analysis. I’m hoping that you, the reader, will help spur the discussion.
Before progressing, it is important to know what is meant by miraculous gifts. Essentially, these are the gifts outlined in various passages of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 12 is illustrative. It lists as spiritual gifts the following: speaking in tongues, prophecy, the gift of wisdom, etc.
One must note the issue of the “gift of healing.” What is the “gift of healing” and does it exist today? James 5:14-16 is integral to understanding what is meant by this gift.
Perhaps the most central issue regarding miraculous gifts is this: do they continue into today? A secondary, but still very important question is: if these gifts do continue, in what way?
Cessationism is the view that miraculous gifts essentially ended after the formation of the Apostolic Church. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. defends this view. He clarifies his position by noting that he is not arguing that all gifts of the Spirit have ceased. Rather, the question is “not whether but which spiritual gifts continue today” (41). He notes that God may choose to miraculously heal persons, but expresses doubt over people being granted a specific gift of healing. His greatest difficulty lies with the “word” gifts such as prophecy, speaking in and interpreting tongues, and the like.
The problem with these sorts of gifts, argues Gaffin, lies in the question of the sufficiency and closedness of the canon. Suppose that prophecy does continue today. What level of authority should be ascribed to it? If it is truly the utterances of the prophet guided by God, he reasons, should we not grant such utterances the same authority as the Scriptures (47)? Gaffin notes that those who hold to the continuation of these gifts generally assert that prophecy may be fallible and thus should not be given the same authority as the canon. Gaffin responds by countering that the Bible does not seem to support the notion of fallible prophecy as a possibility (48-52).
Moreover, the gifts of the Spirit were intended for the Apostolic Church as signs of God’s special activity during that period (56-58).
Open but Cautious
The “Open but Cautious” view is championed by Robert Saucy. He expresses the view that the Bible does not make clear whether specific miraculous gifts continue today or not. Thus, he remains open to continuation of these gifts, but cautious in their application and use.
Central to Saucy’s caution is the argument that miraculous gifts are centered around specific times and purposes within salvation history. Thus, according to Saucy, miraculous gifts act as signs of God’s activity within very specific contexts. The Apostolic Era is to be considered unique, and the expression of spiritual gifts during this time should not be read verbatim onto the present era (100-102). Moreover, the Biblical evidence for periods of miraculous activity is “uneven” and “particularly concentrated at certain times,” specifically “that of Moses and the Exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, and Christ and the apostles” (103). Miracles are thus to be understood explicitly as a “sign” with a specific purpose in mind to “give credibility to something” (105). Miracles are used to “authenticate” specific individuals in times of need (108).
Saucy appeals to the history of the church to make his point. He argues that throughout the history of the church, there is little miraculous activity noted. Thus, although we should be open to the possibility that such gifts may manifest themselves, we should remain cautious of claims to that effect. Saucy concludes with a discussion of individual gifts and what the Bible teaches about them. Representative is his discussion of prophecy, which notes several clarifications regarding how it should be used and understood (including that it is to be done in an “orderly fashion” and that the content will be “edifying to the community”) (128).
C. Samuel Storms argues that miraculous gifts do continue today, but that the doctrine of “subsequence” should be rejected. Subsequence is the notion that after conversion, there is a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” which is initially experienced by speaking in tongues and manifests itself in various spiritual gifts (176).
Storms argues that cessationists misrepresent those who argue for continuation, for cessationists often appeal to the “infrequency” of the miraculous in order to argue against the notion of miraculous gifts. They argue that this demonstrates that such events are purely the actions of a sovereign God acting whenever God chooses. In contrast, Storms notes that God’s spontaneous action may indeed empower individuals and indeed that the intermittent nature of the practice of such gifts does not undermine their classification as spiritual gifts.
Storms further asserts that although miracles have indeed been used as signs, this fact does not allow one to reduce the miraculous gifts to being only signs and nothing else (188-189). Storms analyzes a number of major arguments for cessationism and finds them all wanting. In particular, Storms presses the notion that the Bible nowhere declares that the gifts found in the Apostolic period would have some cutoff time period.
Douglas Oss argues that defining Pentecostalism as a “second blessing” theology must clarify what they mean by “second blessing.” He notes that Pentecostals do believe that believers receive the Holy Spirit post-conversion as an empowerment for charismatic gifts. However, this filling is not part of salvation nor is it required for salvation. Instead it is part of sanctification: it is empowerment by the Spirit. Moreover, Oss notes that there may be several empowerments or “refillings” of the Holy Spirit, for there is diversity in the “manifestations” of the Spirit (242-243).
Oss traces the Biblical data and concludes that the Old Testament shows that there is both the “inner-transforming” work of the Holy Spirit and the “empowering” work located therein. In the New Testament, Oss notes that the Holy Spirit works to empower the believers with various manifestations of miraculous gifts.
The gifting of the Holy Spirit is initially observable through speaking in tongues, but again this is not required for salvation. It is merely the pattern of God’s gifting. First tongues, later other gifts, though this is not always the case or even a requirement (260-263). Oss appeals to Joel 2:28-32 to note that the last days will not conclude until Christ’s second coming and so we should expect giftings of the Spirit throughout the present era (266ff).
It seems to me that there is little warrant for arguing negatively that the miraculous gifts do not continue today. Gaffin provided no textual basis that I could discern for holding that when the NT authors speak of these gifts within the church, they intended to limit the gifting in their own era. Moreover, I think that Joel 2:28ff does speak of the current age, though some of it seems to be yet future. The future fulfillment left for some of the passage does not seem to imply that it should all be taken is “not yet,” however.
That said, Gaffin’s concerns regarding the authority and inspiration of prophecy should be rightly noted. The issue of the nature and authority of prophecy in the modern period is one which the other offers attempted to address, but it seemed to me they came up short in virtually every case. Moreover, some of the Pentecostal position seemed to be a bit off to me. Why even argue that speaking in tongues comes first, but then qualify that by saying that it doesn’t need to or that it may not always be the case? Would that not suggest that the pattern isn’t much of a pattern after all?
Storms in particular did an excellent job of showing the error of arguing that miracles in the Bible centered only around certain periods of time in which “signs” were needed. Although it seems clear that the Bible is a selection of time periods and parts of history, God’s miraculous activity is observable throughout much of the Bible. To argue otherwise, and to then build a framework for interpreting miraculous gifts for today (as both Saucy and Gaffin did to an extent) seems to be an overreach given the data.
Thus, I would say my position seems to be closest to a synthesis of Storms and Saucy. I think Saucy does not go far enough in his allowing for gifts of the spirit, but I think that Storms struggles with the notion of the authority of such continuing prophecy.
So what do you think of this issue? What is your position? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Stanley Gundry and Wayne Grudem, editors, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? with Richard Gaffin, Robert Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, and Douglas Oss (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996). (Image credit to this work as well.)
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.