December 18, 2017

New Calvinism and Continuationism

New Evangelicalism and New Calvinism: The Same Disaster: Part 2

Matt Recker

Part 1 ♦ This is  Part 2 ♦ Part 3 ♦ Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 ♦ Part 7

In his final book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, Francis Schaeffer, with tears, passionately pled with evangelicals of his day to repent, saying, “in the most basic sense, the evangelical establishment has become deeply worldly.”[1] In this second article in our series comparing the tenets of the New Evangelicalism of the 1940’s and 1950’s with the New Calvinism of this present generation, my premise is that the same disaster is being repeated.

In 1956, in a Christian Life magazine article, “Is Evangelical Theology Changing,” the principles of the New Evangelicalism were enumerated. Here is a summary of those points:

  1. “A friendly attitude toward secular science”
  2. “A willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit” [this emphasis contributed to a surge of charismatic teaching]
  3. “A more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology”
  4. “A shift away from so-called extreme Dispensationalism” [the New Evangelicals objected to Dispensationalism’s pessimistic view of world history]
  5. “An increased emphasis on scholarship” [part of an attitude viewing fundamentalists as anti-intellectual]
  6. “A more definite recognition of social responsibility” [viewing fundamentalists as retreating from social and political involvement]
  7. “A re-opening of the subject of biblical inspiration” [a change which opened the door to question Biblical inerrancy]
  8. “A growing willingness of evangelical theologians to converse with liberal theologians” [finally resulting in evangelicals not seeing theological liberals as lost souls but merely misguided but well-meaning Christians][2]

In this article, let’s especially take a look at how the New Calvinists like the New Evangelicals of old are characterized by a willingness to “re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.” The New Calvinism continues to trend heavily charismatic, and even seems to outdo the old New Evangelicals by a wide margin. The common New Calvinist view of “continuationism” says that at least some of the miraculous gifts described in the Bible such as miracles, healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues continue in the church. The opposing view, “cessationism,” which says that the miraculous gifts have ceased for the church in this present era, often draws derision.

Many leaders of the New Calvinism have espoused continuationism. John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson are continuationists. Mark Driscoll (who has worn “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts while preaching) has described cessationism as worldliness. C.J. Mahaney holds that the office of apostle continues. Matt Chandler, president of the Acts 29 Network calls himself a “reformed charismatic” who was drawn to a continuationist view through a missions trip to India. Francis Chan (who has spoken with Piper at Louie Giglio Passion Conferences) was a keynote speaker at the wildly charismatic International House of Prayer (IHOP) where he publicly proclaimed that he “loves Mike Bickle.” Mike Bickle was formerly with The Vineyard and was the pastor of the now discredited and immoral “Kansas City Prophets.” Bickle now leads IHOP, which some would call very cult-like in its emphasis upon modern prophecies.

The continuationist views of these leaders are strong influences on young preachers developing their theology, leading some to accept the continuationist outlook. This is a vital point of doctrine that affects our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture, the gifts of the Spirit, the Biblical offices of the church, our worship, our outreach and service for the Lord. If the gifts of the Spirit are active, is new revelation still being given in vision, prophecies and tongues? Do we conduct our public and private worship by speaking in tongues? Do we minister by healing in the highways and hospitals? Are there still prophets and apostles? Is experience a driving point in my interpretation of Scripture?

The scope of this article will not allow me to carefully survey all the above mentioned men or their ministries. Thus, for this article, I would like to focus briefly on two key New Calvinist leaders, state their views, offer a counter position rooted in Scripture, and I will close by affirming a Biblical reason for cessationism regarding the gift of tongues speaking.

John Piper has Prayed Eagerly to Speak in Tongues

John Piper is a beloved figure in the New Calvinist movement. He was long time pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church and is the founder of Desiring God Ministries. Interestingly, he has spoken at Louie Giglio’s Passion Conference along with Judah Smith, Francis Chan and Beth Moore, a sympathizer of Roman Catholics. At one Passion Conference, Piper participated in Lectio Divina, a Roman Catholic method of Bible reading that has a mystical and contemplative spirituality focus. He has since retracted his initial endorsement of Lectio Divina, but he still continues to speak with Moore, Chan, and others who compromise the Gospel. He has also endorsed Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll.[3]

John Piper has expressed such eagerness to speak in tongues that he has prayed earnestly for the gift. In his confusion, he sang privately in gibberish hoping to receive the gift. He confesses that he knew what he was doing was not the true gift of tongues. Clearly, Piper is unclear about the purpose and practice of tongues speaking. Apparently, the pressure to speak in tongues led Piper to seek this experience in an unbiblical way, singing in non-syllabic utterances.

Piper believes that 1 Corinthians 12 relates to ecstatic utterances that have no ordinary human meaning, as they are described as “tongues of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1). To call the tongues of angels ecstatic speech is careless exegesis. We can track the speech of angels in Scripture, for they regularly speak. Did they ever speak in ecstatic, non-syllabic speech? No, of course not. From Genesis to Revelation, angels speak in the language of men so they could be understood. Whenever any holy angel speaks in the Bible, they speak as faithful and authoritative ministers of God, they are clearly understood, and they speak with great eloquence and beauty. One example is when the angels praised God on that Bethlehem hillside speaking to the shepherds in a language those shepherds could understand. With power they cried, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14) Authoritative, clear, eloquent, faithful speech is the tongues of angels, not ecstatic speech![4]

D.A. Carson and Private Prayer

Dr. D.A. Carson, who founded the Gospel Coalition along with Tim Keller, writes a generally helpful exposition on 1 Corinthians 12-14 entitled, Showing the Spirit. While Carson says, “I think it extremely dangerous to pursue a second blessing attested by tongues” he nevertheless bends over backwards to keep the door open for their private use when he says that “tongues in 1 Corinthians … may be used in private.”[5] He says that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:19 give a strong defense of the private use of tongues: “In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Carson says that “the only possible conclusion is that Paul exercised this remarkable tongues gift in private.”[6].

I strongly disagree with Carson’s conclusion that tongues are anywhere to be used in private, and this verse in particular teaches nothing of the sort. First, Paul does not say, “In PRIVATE I had rather speak five words…” but he clearly says, “In the church.” In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is dealing with tongues speaking in public worship services and the uselessness of uninterpreted tongues in those services. Second, Paul is using sarcasm and hyperbole in showing the uselessness of uninterpreted tongues in the public service of the church. Five words spoken that everyone understands are of more value than 10,000 words no one understands. If the passage is the clearest defense for the private use of tongues, then there is no clear defense! In fact, Paul argues against any sort of private tongues speaking when he gives the principle, “if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:28). Paul is only talking about what happens in the public service and nowhere in 1 Corinthians 14 is he discussing our private prayer closet. Who has a private interpreter tag along with them for their private devotions? The only place in the New Testament where praying in tongues is explicitly referenced is 1 Corinthians 14:14-17, and the context is clearly a public church service:

“For if I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful … Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?”

It is very clear that the one praying is not alone but in the public service of the church. All that Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians14 fits into the template of his major theme of this chapter that tongues spoken in public are useless without interpretation. There is absolutely no example of private tongues in the Bible. In Matthew 6:7, Jesus is teaching us not to pray in meaningless babble as Jesus said, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” The word translated “vain repetition” (battalogeo) is an onomatopoeia and speaks of mechanical, repeated phrases to which one praying in tongues often reverts. Jesus instructs us never to pray in an unknown gibberish by putting together random, repeated syllables. Speaking in a non-syllabic language and repeating the same random syllables over and over is not a miraculous sign, it is something anyone can do, it is actually dangerous, and it is what Jesus could be warning God’s people from engaging in Matthew 6:7.

A Stand for Cessationism

Taking a view that the gift of tongues can be Biblically practiced today fundamentally misunderstands the purpose and practice of tongues speaking in the days of the Apostles. The purpose of tongues is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22:

“In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that they will not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe.”

Paul is quoting Isaiah 28:11-12 which rests on the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28:46-50. From these passages, we can establish vital foundational aspects of tongues. First, the gift of tongues was a sign gift to the unbelieving nation of Israel. “This people” is Israel. Deuteronomy 28:46, speaking of the curses for Israel’s disobedience, states, “And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed forever.” The passage clearly references National Israel.

Second, the tongues were actual languages. In Deuteronomy 28:49 they speak of the languages of the nations invading Israel at a time of their disobedience: “The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand.” In Isaiah 28:11 the tongue relates to the languages of the Assyrian people invading Israel. The word for “tongues” in the Bible always refers either of the physical organ in our mouth (James 3:5-8), or an actual language someone spoke (Revelation 5:9). In the New Testament, tongues were actual languages miraculously spoken by God’s people. In Acts 2, the first and foundational passage for tongues speaking, the apostles were speaking in foreign languages not previously spoken by them, but languages spoken by those gathered from other parts of the world. What made tongues a miraculous sign gift? They were actual languages that had never been learned but the Holy Spirit gave the ability to speak languages never before learned or spoken. To speak a language one had never studied is indeed an impressive miracle. There is no exegetical reason to say that the tongues in 1 Corinthians was anything other than actual languages. The issue at stake was not what they were saying, but that what they were saying was not being interpreted.

Third, the tongues was a sign of judgment. Both passages above clearly describe God’s visitation of judgment upon His people, Israel. Because they refused to listen to God’s clear Word, He promised to visit them through the invading nations. God says He will speak to Israel through the languages of those invaders, although they would not understand. In a spiritual sense, the New Testament church was an invading army, wielding the sword of the Spirit and preaching the Gospel of salvation to Jews and Gentiles across the ancient world. Tongues were a sign to National Israel of a real coming judgment, which came swiftly in AD 70 when Rome destroyed Jerusalem, fulfilling Jesus’s word that not one stone of the temple would stand. That judgment destroyed the Jewish temple and ended the sacrificial system to this present day. Tongues ceased in and of themselves when that judgment occurred. A sign points to a destination, and once the destination is reached, the sign ceases to be needed. Once the judgment of AD 70 occurred, the sign gift of tongues to National Israel ceased in and of themselves (1 Corinthians 13:8).

In the three times in Acts where tongues occur, this purpose is fulfilled in that the tongues were a sign to Jewish people of God’s coming judgment. In Acts 2, the Jewish nation that did not believed in Christ gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and heard the apostles speak their languages. In Acts 10, the Jews that did not believe that the Gospel was for Gentiles on an equal basis for the Jews, heard Cornelius and those with him speak with tongues and magnify God. In Acts 19, the Jews loyal to John the Baptist who had not believed that Jesus was the Messiah spoke with tongues as a sign to others.

While many of the key leaders of the New Calvinism promote a continuationist view of the miraculous sign gifts, a disastrous direction is in motion that leads to confusion for the people of God. This willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit among the New Calvinists parallels the emphasis of the New Evangelicals of an earlier generation.

Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

  1. 1. The Great Evangelical Disaster, p. 142 []
  2. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. []
  3. []
  4. []
  5. DA Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 160, 157 []
  6. Ibid, p. 105 []

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