Monday, April 19, 2010

Does James King Trump the King James?

What an amazing story of a miraculous rescue! While every Christian celebrates Nadia Bloom’s rescue there are many within the evangelical world who have their doubts about what James King allegedly heard or experienced this past week in that Florida swamp.

According to Mr. King, in an interview with Meredith Vieira on the Today television program, Nadia’s rescue was the direct result of his hearing and response to the voice of the Almighty.

“It was very rough. I was prepared. I’ve been in swamps,” said King, who took a GPS device, two cell phones, a Bible, a machete, water, trail mix and a nutrition drink with him. “The Lord told me to follow where the sunrise was, so I went directly east — as much as you can go direct in a swamp.

“I would call, ‘Nadia?!’ and then I’d be praying and talking to the Lord, and the Lord would be directing me. And then one time I said, ‘Nadia?’ and I heard, ‘What?’”

As of this writing I have yet to hear or read an interview in which Mr. King explains exactly how he was “told” to find 11 year-old Nadia. Was it a feeling, a prompting, did he have a vision, or did he actually hear the audible voice of God? These are questions that are yet to be answered. Ultimately his explanation of the method of communication would be inconsequential. For no matter how Mr. King explains it people will still ask, “Did it really happen?” and “Does God speak to people today and does He speak outside of His Word?”

Those who would answer, “No, it did not happen.” and “No, God does not do that.” mount their defenses in the stronghold of the Doctrine of Sufficiency and find their support in the Holy Scriptures. Most often the verses that are used as a proof for this position are 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The argument that is offered is as follows: If the inspired Scriptures are profitable for every good work, as Paul tells Timothy, then there is no longer any need for God to speak outside of them; since we now have the Scriptures in their entirety they and they alone are all that is needed to make one wise for salvation and righteous living.

So how do those who hold this position, that the closing of the Canon of Scripture silenced God’s voice, respond to stories like this most recent one? I suppose that one might get a hundred different answers from a hundred people asked, anything from “King is delusional!” to “He was listening to a demon.” but there is one answer (which may assume delusion or the demonic) that I hear quite frequently when this topic comes up and it is this specific objection that I would like to address. Invariably, whenever someone claims to have received a message from God, whether it was an audible voice or they simply felt His leading, a skeptic somewhere down the line will inevitably and sarcastically object, “Well, if you heard God speak then you had better write it down and staple it to the back of Revelation.” The point of the remark, of course, is that if God is still speaking to men today then the Canon of Scripture remains open. That is, at least according to their rendering of 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

So, is this true? Does James King’s claim that God communicated with him directly and outside of the Bible contradict the Doctrine of Sufficiency? I don’t think it does.

What I think is often missed when approaching this topic is that not all things that are received by direct revelation carry equal theological weight. One revelation may bear immense theological significance while another may carry little to none whatsoever. Those revelations which carry the most weight I will call inspired Scripture; they are in a class all by themselves and are no longer given. Those revelations which carry less theological weight could be thought of as a reiteration of Scripture or an expression of a scriptural principle that is encouraging or exhortative in nature. These revelations, I believe, are ongoing and given by the Spirit of Christ, however, they will never present novel theology. Those revelations which are non theological could be considered strategic for one’s personal affairs or for corporate direction. Therefore, (leaving Scripture out of the equation) not all revelation is necessary for the Church Universal.

I believe that the faulty logic of the cessationist’s accusation, that prophecy violates Sola Scriptura, may be demonstrated in a couple of ways. First, we do not have all prophecy ever delivered. Why not? If all divine revelation is to be inscripturated then what does one do with those prophecies that were never written down? And second, we see that some prophecy contained in Scripture was personally specific and strategic in nature; these revelations were intended for one or two people and held no bearing on the rest of the Church.

First Objection:

If all “alleged” prophecies which are delivered in this age must be considered on a level playing field with inspired Scripture, as the cessationist flippantly argues, then what is one to do about the possibility of the many thousands of unrecorded prophecies that were received in ages past and which are assumed by an examination of Scripture? I believe that these are questions that the cessationist must answer. Let me explain, we know for instance that there were numerous prophets both named and unnamed in the Old and New Covenant Scriptures yet we have no record of what they actually prophesied. Here are a few examples: There were 70 elders assembled about the Tabernacle in Numbers 11, what did they prophesy? How about Saul, what utterance did he give as he prophesied amongst a group of prophets at Gibeah in 1 Samuel 10? What did those prophets with whom Saul was assembled say? What about Agabus, what did he prophesy outside of what was recorded by Luke? What about Philip the Evangelist's four daughters who prophesied, what did they share and why do we not have any record of their divine revelation? Or what of all the prophecies that were received by those in the 1st Century church before the Canon was closed? Certainly there was divine revelation given to those prophets who were given to the Church and distributed throughout the Body of Christ? So you see, the person who argues that every revelation or prophesy given by God today must be canonized has to account for a thousand revelations that were not recorded yesterday.

Second Objection:

Not all prophetic utterances that we see in Scripture are theological. For instance, what were the theological implications from Agabus' prophecy that there would be a famine in the Roman Empire? How did such a strategic revelation of a famine confirm or expand previous understanding of established doctrine? What about Agabus’ prophecy that Paul would be arrested in Jerusalem? What does that revelation have to do with me living in Tacoma, Washington today? Nothing…it has nothing at all to do with me. These prophecies, while they inform our theology on how the Spirit dealt with and directed the burgeoning Church, contain no theology themselves and are relevant only to those who received them. While one never wishes to argue from what is not written, it is hard to imagine that these prophecies recorded in Acts are all that were ever received by those who were given a prophetic grace.

Okay, considering all that I have written about unaccounted for prophecies, revelation of varying theological degree, and utterances of a strategic nature one needs only to ask themselves if there is room in their Doctrine of Sufficiency for the presence of God’s extra-biblical voice today. I think that it is clear that God speaking to men today, no matter the form of communication, does not encroach upon the sufficiency of God’s Word. We absolutely have everything we need for life and godliness in the Bible. However, it remains the prerogative of the Spirit to speak to whom He wishes to speak, when He wishes to say it, how He decides to deliver it, and to do it without contradiction.

It is for these reasons that I absolutely believe that God responded to James King’s request to direct him to Nadia Bloom. If you disagree and you believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 limits God’s children to receiving absolutely everything we need from the Bible, then I’d like to know which verse you might have chosen to navigate that swamp?


Layne Rogers said...

The biggest problem with the Doctrine of Sufficiency and Sola Scriptura is that they are self contradictory. The scriptures point outside of themselves to an intimate conversational relationship with God. The doctrines also reduce the role of the Holy Spirit to little more than our personal Bible interpreter. To choose the Bible over the Author of the Bible is an exercise in futility and arrogance. Just because all scripture is God-breathed and useful doesn't mean it's the sum-total of our pursuit. Biblically, according to Romans 1, nature is "sufficient" enough for us to be held fully responsible for the truth of God, but our pursuit is not sufficiency, our pursuit is fullness.

Add to this the sketchy idea of canonization and the reactionary basis for Sola Scriptura and I can't figure out how Protestants haven't rethought this stuff long ago. For Protestants to hold to this high view of the canon when they absolutely reject the authority of the very men who created the idea of the canon is silly. On top of that, we don't include the deutero-canonical texts (although they were included by the same people who chose the rest), thus indicating we don't put much stock in the canonization process, but we'll rail all day about the canon being closed. Who closed it? Luther? Calvin? Goo.

The modernistic doctrines of sufficiency, inerrancy, sola scriptura, and the like boil down to a genuine lack of faith in the God who inspired the scriptures, coupled with an overwhelming need to have control over our faith, effectively making it not a faith at all but a set of beliefs - a theology if you will - that relies more upon our understanding and ability to grasp ideas than it does on a humble posture before the living Christ.... See More

I don't create a false dichotomy between canonical revelation and modern revelation, except that I believe God will not contradict Himself and everything should be weighed against scripture (I also lend more weight to the OT, since the early church did as well). The "canon" of scripture is trustworthy and has the discernment and testimony of thousands of years of faith, and as such, we are fools if we do not humble ourselves before it. We are also fools if we think it is not pride and arrogance to define and prescribe how God has spoken, does speak, and will continue to speak. To say that the canon is closed is arrogance of the highest order. I believe God could inspire plenty of infallible writings, and we would be just as beholden to the truth within as we are to the Bible. All truth is God's truth, so it doesn't matter where it comes from, because we are responsible for it. He has revealed Himself through creation and we are accountable to the revealed Logos, whether the Logos Grafis (the written revelation of Christ) or the Logos as revealed elsewhere and everywhere. We do not get a pass on conforming to the material norm of Christ just because we lack a sufficient exposure to and understanding of the scriptures. Neither does a high view of scripture and an airtight systematic theology in any way automatically mean humility before God.

As to whether or not God still speaks, for anyone who wrestles with this, I'd highly recommend Dallas Willard's "Hearing God". Very wise and very balanced. Challenged me in both directions.

Your Favorite Neighbour said...

Ok, I only read part of this because I'm sort of pressed for time... but I liked what I read.
I had a thoguht while reading this, maybe there's something to it? It seems to me the problem is people seem to think that since scripture = God speaking, therefore God speaking = scripture. However, I don't think that's an accurate equasion. While God's speaking to people should always harmonize with the Bible, it doesn't necessarily have to be "added to" the Bible in the sense of tacking it on as part of my daily Bible reading or whatever.
In other words, if I was to say that God told me to do something contrary to the Bible (i.e. that God told me to go commit adultry) that would be adding to the Bible in the sense that God forbids. But if it's something that's in the Bible (i.e. God told me to go buy a sandwich for the homeless guy) that's not "adding to the scripture". Hopefully I'm making sense here?
Basically, every word God has ever spoken to man in history is not necessarily written in the cannonical Bible for all to see; in the same way, God speaking by direct revelation to individuals today is not some sort of addition to or replacement for cannonized Scripture. It's the eternal, living, powerful, ACTIVE (etc.) properties of the Word of God played out in everyday life.
L.E. Neighbour