Authentic Fire (Michael L. Brown)

Brown, Michael L. Authentic Fire: A Response to John Macarthur’s Strange Fire.

The Strange Fire conference was fiery but not in a way people on both sides realize.  It had a high flash point and for that reason illustrated why cessationism is on the wane.

Michael Brown first addresses the common criticism of him: why doesn’t he rebuke x, y, and z?  (Phil Johnson makes this criticism).  For one, Brown has written several books condemning these wacky charismatic abuses. Does that not count?  Secondly, most charismatics don’t “bark in the Spirit,” so why call unnecessary attention to it?

As to the extreme emotionalism, is that always the case?  Brown quotes John Wimber where Wimber encourages people to “dial it down” (Wimber, Power Healing).  J. P. Moreland, a charismatic, wrote a book called Finding Quiet where he lists a number of calming practices.

One of Macarthur’s criticisms is that any good the charismatics have produced has been in spite of themselves, not because of it.  Not only is this is wrong, this is just bitter-spirited.  Let’s look at it:

Ben Witherington: leading New Testament scholar.  Can he separate his faith from his theology? Indeed, he mentions going to a healing and exorcism service.  

Craig Keener: written the leading (and largest) commentary on Acts.  Acts is about miracles.  Keener gives testimony in his own life of experiencing miracles.  Can he really separate his faith from his scholarship.

J. P. Moreland is an outspoken charismatic and leading philosopher.  He wrote a book specifically integrating a charismatic view on prophecy and healing with his epistemology.

Other criticisms include asking where the charismatic hospitals are, to which Brown documents numerous ministries that feed and care for thousands of starving people in the Global South.

Chapter 4 details all of Macarthur’s guilt-by-association fallacies.  This chapter should be in all rhetoric textbooks as an example of counter-arguments.  If x is guilty of a position because he had some degree of previous association with y, then that same argument can be used against you.  Look at it this way.  Macarthur is a dispensationalist.   John Gerstner said dispensationalism was borderline heresy and a deviation from orthodoxy, yet Macarthur had RC Sproul, Gerstner’s student, speak at Strange Fire.  Is not Macarthur endorsing Gerstner’s attacks on dispensationalism?

Let’s look at it another way.  Michael Brown said Cindy Jacobs was a friend.  Not endorsing her theology, just a friend.  Well, Brown has also spoken at Southern Evangelical Seminary of the late Norm Geisler.  Was Geisler then promoting Jacobs’ theology?  See how silly this is?

Chapters 5ff deal with some of the more problematic (and alleged) Pentecostal practices. This is in the context of Macarthur’s rhetorical question, “Does it oppose worldliness” (Implied answer no).  Don’t Pentecostals in the Global South hold to a prosperity gospel?  Not exactly.  Let’s take the question: “Does God want his people to have material prosperity?” In the jungle of Africa that means “Not starve to death tomorrow.”  And in some sense we can say, “Correct, God doesn’t want you to starve to death.”  These people aren’t thinking of buying a BMW.  They want a bicycle to be able to preach the Gospel in another village.

In other places like Brazil where Pentecostals did give more carnal answers, their answers really weren’t different from the non-charismatics.

Brown asks a rather pointed question: how is it right for members and preachers in a lavish megachurch, some having flown there on planes, in air-conditioning, no doubt well-fed, condemning starving believers in other parts of the world simply because the latter said God wants to meet their needs?

And as to theological worldliness–how is American Protestantism doing these days?  Many of the major conservative denominations are in an existential fight against Marxism and liberalism.  It’s not Pentecostalism that is lurching to the left.

Brown’s Positive Case

1. The NT states these gifts will continue until Christ returns (1 Cor. 1:7-8; 13:8ff).

2.  The NT encourages use of these gifts.
3. The NT never states these gifts will cease.

Were Jesus’s miracles confirmation miracles?  Some were but not all. Many healings happened because he had compassion, not because he had to prove he was God. Others proved the messianic age had begun (and the NT makes a correlation between the outpouring of the Spirit and the beginning of the Messianic age).

Raymond Brown goes so far to say that the miracle wasn’t the external confirmation of the message; rather, it was the vehicle of the message.

In any case, miracle isn’t even the word the NT uses.  It is dunamis or “working of powers.”  Galatians 3:5 says the Spirit works powers among us.  Therefore, if the same Spirit comes upon believers today, why shouldn’t we expect the working of powers?


I believe we should write more books explaining and integrating miracles and charismata in the church today.  We need to focus on positive cases.  This book should serve as the final nail in the cessationist coffin.  Even cessationists are backing away from their earlier claims.  


Carson: Showing the Spirit

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Carson, D. A. Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987.

Carson steers a middle path between deistic cessationism and slappy clappy anything-goes charismania.  He endorses the substance behind Grudem’s thesis while calling particular details into account. This is the best, sane treatment of the charismatic movement.

While there are some nuances between “charismata” and “pneumatikon,” there isn’t enough to warrant a full doctrinal difference or application.

Notes and argument:

* The “perfect” in 1 Cor. 13 cannot refer to the completion of the canon, since that would have been anachronistic for Paul.

* Paul makes no distinction between regular gifts and super gifts (Carson 34).  12:7 links it all: each gift is for the manifestation of the Spirit. Each believer is given some manifestation and rather than divide it into super and regular, Paul’s argument does the exact opposite: don’t think one is better than the other.

* The ordering of the gifts doesn’t matter.  Paul changes the order every time (35ff).

*The chapter on tongues is interesting.  He leans towards their being actual languages, and hypothetically grants they continue today.  He hedges his bets by saying no one does it correctly. He draws upon an interesting article by Poythress and notes that the content of glossalia that tongue-speech is coded language (all languages have codes that repeat). So even if it is “gibberish,” if it has patterns then it still counts as a language.  Poythress gives the following example:

Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.

Remove the vowels to achieve

Prs th lrd fr hs mrc ndrs frvr

This isn’t so strange, since some Semitic languages don’t have vowels.

Now we are going to remove the spaces


This still counts as a language, since most early languages didn’t have spaces.

Now we are going to add an “a” between each consonant.  It might sound gibberish, but it has all the necessary conditions for a language.  You can play with it and it will sound gibberish, but it still fits as a “language.”


Does Grudem’s view mean that each new prophecy means new revelation?  No.

  1. a) It doesn’t seem like Philip’s daughters thought they were adding to the canon.
  2. b) The parallel with OT false prophets really doesn’t work.  In the OT if a prophet were proved true, then he was good to go.  Sort of like tenure. Not so with NT prophets. Their oracles are to be carefully weighed (presumably again and again).

Were Tongues a Covenantal Sign?

It is true that Paul is probably alluding to Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Cor. 14:22ff.  Does this mean that each act of tongue-speaking in the church was a covenantal judgment on Jews for their unbelief?  It’s hard to see how that could be the case. Carson shows some problems:

  1. a) The “unbeliever” for Paul is a Gentile, not a Jew.  There is no way that this can function as a covenantal sign against the Jewish unbeliever.

Carson ends the book with a rather pointed critique of charismatic excesses.  That’s understandable, since he spent the previous 150 pages debunking cessationist exegesis.

Signs of an apostle, a logical hypothetical

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (2 Cor 12:12).

Does this mean that only apostles can do signs and wonders?  In logical form, the argument is this:

If an apostle, then you will see signs and wonders.

It’s a good modus ponens argument (which are the best of arguments).  It looks like this

P: x is an apostle
q: x does miracles

P –> q
Therefore, q.

Simple enough.  The reverse, however doesn’t hold.  You can’t logically say,

If anyone does signs and wonders, then he must be an apostle.

That is the fallacy of asserting the consequence.  It looks like this:

1. P –> q
2. q
3. Ergo, p
4. You, however, are not p [~3].
5. Ergo, ~q.

Do you see where the fallacy was?  It was in step 2.  The argument in normal prose looks like this:

1. If someone is an apostle, then he will do miracles.
2. Someone does miracles.
3. ergo, he is (or would be) an apostle.
4. You, however, are not an apostle.
5. Therefore, signs and wonders aren’t happening.

You can’t assert “q” in a p –> q argument.

Conclusion: whether signs and wonders happen today, the point is they weren’t limited to the apostles, as is evident in Acts.


Parsing what a “sign-gift” is

This is the most common argument against continuationism: the miracles/super gifts were indexed to the apostles and they functioned to confirm the apostolic message.  It’s an impressive argument, but it fails completely. Consider (and I take my musings from Steve Hays).

See Steve’s larger discussions here.

1.  The gifts are always indexed to the Spirit, not to the Apostles.

2. A biblical miracle is not limited to simply confirming a message.

3. The miracles and confirmations referenced in Hebrews 1 were not to validate the apostles’ ministry.  It was to confirm the sufficiency of the New Covenant.  The readers never doubted that the Apostles were correct.

4. Acts 8:26ff; 10:9-13; 16:9-10; and 18:9-10 are prophetic revelations in a dream.  There is no understanding that this is a miracle confirming a message.  For whom are these signs?  They are private revelations, not public.

5. Acts 2:17ff explicitly says the signs are universal, not indexed to the Apostolate.

6. Miracles aren’t attributed to all the apostles nor are all who do miracles apostles.  The cessationist could respond that miracles are simply limited to the apostolic age.  But that’s ad hoc and arbitrary and precisely the thing that needs to be proven.  And without the “sign-gift” argument, which I am showing to be flawed, it can’t be proven.

7. James and Jude connect themselves with Jesus, not with the apostles (and I make no assumptions about their identity).

8. You can’t say the purpose of a sign-gift is to verify a prophecy or an apostle and simultaneously define prophecy and apostles as gifts.

8a.  If prophecy is a sign-gift, then it should be self-attesting.  Yet Paul commands us to evaluate a prophecy, which assumes it isn’t self-attesting.

9. If a Christian has a revelatory dream, is that a gift?  In what way?

9. If the cessationist view of sign-gifts is true, then they temporarily abandon the sufficiency of Scripture.  If the point of a gift is to confirm the apostolic message, then the message itself was inadequate.

10. Sign-gifts have to be public on anyone’s gloss.  This rules out dreams, visions, and most forms of prophecy (and much answered prayer), since those are usually private.

11. If the charismata aren’t limited to the apostles (as Warfield admits, Counterfeit Miracles 21), then it’s hard to see how they demarcate the apostolate.

12. We have no reason to think that Joel’s prophecy is temporary.  In biblical revelation, it is the old covenant that is temporary.  It doesn’t make sense to replace the temporary with the temporary.

13.  It isn’t true that the “power gifts” came from the laying on of hands (cf Acts 8).  Cornelius didn’t receive laying on of hands.  He simply heard the word.

Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Storms)

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Thesis: Spiritual gifts aren’t “stuff” but God himself working in us.

NT terminology:

Charisma(ta): it is a gracious work God has bestowed.

Pneumatikon: spirituals/spiritual things

Diakoinia: the purpose for spiritual gifts.

Energema: effects; gifts are concrete operations.

The prophecy of Joel says that the gifts would be given to all, not simply to those who hold an office or specific gift of x.

Gifts are not given to authenticate a message (at least not primarily).  Gifts are other-directed. They are for service.

>>Spiritual gifts vary in intensity and accuracy (1 Cor. 14:18; 2 Tim. 1:6).

Words of Wisdom:  to what degree is supernatural knowledge different from regular prophesy?  The NT isn’t quite clear but we have some precedents. Jesus knew the thoughts of scribes.  Words of wisdom seem to be knowing the thoughts of others, whereas prophecy is a revelation from God.

James’s use of Elijah counters the argument that miracles are “clustered.”  The point from quoting Elijah is that this is what you are supposed to do.

As to the Trophimus argument, even if the canon was completed and the gift had ceased (which doesn’t work in the cessationist timeline), the cessationist has to explain why Epaphroditus and Timothy weren’t healed.  In fact, Storms argues that if Paul were so distressed that he couldn’t heal Epaphroditus, he wouldn’t have drawn the same conclusion that cessationists do.

Healing is a divine mercy (Phil. 2:27).  It shouldn’t be viewed as a right. Those cessationists who say that healers should go into hospitals simply don’t know what they are talking about.

As to working miracles:  Paul’s actual word is “powers,” which has a very different nuance.  It’s also why the Eastern fathers called miracle workers “thaumaturge,” which is much closer in concept to the original.


Prophecy has three elements: 1) the revelation itself; 2) the interpretation of what has been disclosed; 3) application of that interpretation.  This reframes the problem of fallible prophecy. This is no more problematic than preaching an infallible word.

Some notes on tongues:

>If tongues are a sign to unbelievers, as some who reference Isaiah argue, then why does Paul counsel against their use when unbelievers are present?

>If tongues were always in a human language, then why would there need to be the gift of interpretation?  Anyone who was multilingual could suffice.  

>If someone who speaks in a tongue speaks to God and not men (1 Cor. 14:2), then why does it need to be in a foreign language?

>>And if they were in a foreign language, then an unbeliever who entered would not conclude they were mad, but highly educated.

Another PB debate on miracles

I don’t know if God gave me a word of knowledge saying “don’t get tangled up in cessationist debates.”  I think he did.  I did post some on Puritanboard pushing back against some pretty bad reasoning.  I’ll let it go, though.  Ye can judge of yourself.  I do think the little bit I did was okay, since it let me access Steve Hays’ stuff on miracles.

There is nothing new in these debates.  Nothing.  Cessationists simply say, “Oh yeah, if he can heal today then why isn’t he?”  That’s it.  That’s the argument.  Zero exegesis.  Zero discussion of why and how (and if) the canon closed. Nothing.

Me, in response to a criticism of John Wimber. Depends on what exactly he is doing. Power Evangelism is pretty broad. And even from a charismatic perspective, not every evangelistic encounter will be a power-encounter.

But to answer your question, any cessationist response to this is basically going to be the standard cessationist response to continuationism.

If he can work miracles, great. Even John Wimber says you can’t “force God” to work a miracle in you in a power encounter. Normally, though, power evangelism seeks to recognize that some people might have “demonic blocks” that prevent them from hearing the gospel. Not always, but sometimes. The early church recognized this (which is why all early church baptisms had exorcism rituals).

Me: Whenever I hear cessationists or charismatics talk about this stuff, I try to get them for the next 10 minutes to define their terms. Most scholarly charismatics don’t believe we got the Holy Ghost on tap and can heal at will (something the apostles couldn’t even do) And most cessationists believe that, yes, God still can do stuff if he wants to.

When I read Wimber I didn’t see Wimber saying every evangelistic encounter will call down lightning from heaven. Quite the opposite. He is noting that there are sometimes “blocks” in conversion that the apologist must remove. We do that all the time in normal apologetics. Wimber’s point is that some of these blocks are demonic. Like a Hollywood actress who sold her soul to Satan and does Eyes Wide Shut type rituals.

You are conflating two different issues. It’s one thing to say that miracles aren’t normative, if you mean that the Christian shouldn’t actively seek them. Fair enough. But to say that they do not happen today (something the Scripture never says, nor does it mention a completed canon of table of contents page of the bible) is simply to go beyond the evidence.

Me: Reformed blogger Steve Hays is the best resource on this. Some of these miracles deal with skeptic claims to the Bible, but others deal with modern miracles.

That’s really cheapening the work of Christ. Let’s say, ex hypothesi, that a miracle were performed. And it was done by a godly saint. He by definition wouldn’t claim the money.

Well I guess that wraps up all the scholarship on cessationism vs. continuationism. Conrad’s phone call.

Why is God obligated to do that? The same Paul who raised the dead couldn’t heal Trophimus.

Fallacy of False Alternative.

I note that no one has dealt with any of Steve Hays’ material. I don’t really expect anyone to. It is a lot easier to simply say strange fire talking points.

I am not saying we should believe early church miracle claims just because. I am saying there is rigorous scholarship that evaluates the nature of epistemological warrant, the epistemology of testimonies (and their defeaters and even the defeaters of defeaters), and the like. I’m not seeing any of that analysis here. I am seeing repeats of talking points, very little exegesis, very little discussion on which Bible verse talks about the closing of the canon (or even the contents of the NT canon).

And Strange Fire really wasn’t a good moment for cessationists. It got a lot of traction because everyone was high fiving each other, but NT scholarship (Carson, Keener, etc) really wasn’t impressed.

Some more analysis of Hays. (this one basically destroys the argument that all legitimate miracles were instantaneous zap juice)

Wayne Grudem: On Prophecy

Argument:  NT “prophets” are not equivalent to OT “prophets.”  This is so because the latter could claim divine infallibility and are always compared with NT apostles.

    1. Old Testament Prophets: Speaking God’s Very Words
      1. The Prophets are Messengers of God
      2. The Prophets Words ar Words of God
      3. The Absolute Divine Authority of Prophetic Words
        1. To disbelieve or disobey a prophet is to disbelieve and disobey God.
        2. The words of a prophet are beyond challenge (Grudem 24).
      4. Application for Today
    2. New Testament Apostles
      Argument: there is “little if any evidence for a group of prophets in the NT churches who could speak with God’s very words and who had the ability to write books of Scripture” (27)

      1. The NT apostles are messengers of Christ.  
        1. OT prophets are covenant messengers; NT apostles are ministers of the New Covenant.
      2. New Testament Apostles are connected with Old Testament Prophets
        1. The book of Hebrews contrasts Jesus with the OT prophets and calls him an “apostles” (Heb. 3:1).
        2. 2 Pet. 3:2 connects the holy prophets through the apostles.
      3. The Apostles Words are Words of God
      4. Paul distinguishes himself, an apostle, from those who are prophets.
        1. Anyone who disobeyed Paul disobeyed a command from the Lord, yet we do not see this kind of authority given to NT prophets.
      5. The NT uses the language of prophets as someone who can predict the future but not have divine authority (Titus 1:12; Luke 22:64; John 4.19).
    3. New Testament Prophets at Corinth
      Thesis: Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind.

      1. Prophecies need to be sifted (14.29).
      2. Some prophecies were intentionally neglected (14.30).  Contrast this with Jehoikam’s disregard for Jeremiah’s prophecy.  God gave him a death sentence for neglecting it. If NT prophecies were on the same field as OT, then we should make sure that all of this “potential canon” is gathered for the church.  Yet Paul is making sure that isn’t happening. Some prophets won’t even be able to speak (Grudem 63).
      3. “Revelation” doesn’t always imply divine authority.  We have a tendency to important later historical theology into NT concepts.  Revelation doesn’t mean binding communication from God. It means to “unveil” or “reveal.”
        1. God’s wrath is apokalypto against all unrighteousness.  When men would later talk about this, were their words “Bible?”
        2. In Eph. 1.17 we are to pray for a spirit of apokalypsis.  Does that mean what I speak under that is now canon?
      4. NT prophets have less authority than apostles, so they can’t be the same (14.37-38).

New Testament Prophets in the Rest of the NT

      1. Agabus (Acts 11.28).
      2. Acts 13.2.  There are numerous passages where the Lord speaks to someone and it isn’t prophecy: Acts 8.29; 10.19; 18.9; 15.28; 16.6-7; 16.9; 20.23; 23.9.  The common denominator in these passages is a subjective element.
      3. Agabus, again. 21.4.  “Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go.”  Yet Paul specifically disobeys this warning. And Agabus’s prophecy isn’t entirely accurate.  It was the Romans who bound Paul, not the Jews. The Jews didn’t deliver Paul over to the Gentiles.  Rather, the Romans saved Paul from the Jews! This means that Agabus got the gist of it right, but was wrong on the details.  
      4. Philip’s daughters.  Acts 21.9.

The Source of Prophecies

      1. 1 Cor. 14.30.  Must be based on a revelation from God.
        1. The revelation comes spontaneously (96).
        2. The revelation comes to an individual.
        3. The revelation is from god.
      2. The revelation gives insight to God’s perspective.
        1. They are able to see facts in light of God’s perspective.
      3. Prophets don’t know everything (1 Cor. 13.8-13).
        1. We prophecy in part because we are looking into a dim mirror.
        2. A mirror suggests incompleteness and indirectness.
        3. There are “dim” aspects, which is why Agabus was true, though he got a few facts wrong.

Duration of Prophecy

    1. I think we can all agree that “the perfect has come” in 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t refer to the closing of the canon.  For one, it’s circular reasoning. Secondly, when the perfect comes you will “know perfectly,” which isn’t true today.
    2. But what about prophecy is a sign-gift?  This is probably the most sophisticated response from cessationists.  But we respond:
      1. Almost everything in Acts is connected with the Apostles and is probably sign-ificant (see what I did?).    In that case, preaching the gospel is a sign-gift and doesn’t happen today, but that’s silly.
      2. Not all miracles in the NT were done by apostles.  James 5:14-15 expected healing to occur at the hands of the elders.  Further, “in the absence of the Apostle Paul, [it is Christ] who “works miracles among the Galatian churches” (205).
      3. Thirdly, Philip and Stephen weren’t apostles, yet they did miracles.


Like all of Wayne Grudem’s books, this one is carefully argued and written with a warm, easy style. The thesis itself is only 228 pages.  The rest of the book is appendices containing responses, specific exegesis, and reprinted articles.

Grudem explains how the Old Testament used the cognate “prophet” and contrasts that with its usages in Koine Greek.  His thesis is the terms aren’t the same and when the latter is applied in the early NT church, they don’t act the same.  In the OT the words of a prophet are beyond challenge (Grudem 24), yet in the NT we are told to sift prophecies. In the OT, to disobey a prophet was death, yet Paul specifically disobeyed the prophecies not to go to Jerusalem.

Paul distinguishes himself, an apostle, from those who are prophets. Anyone who disobeyed Paul disobeyed a command from the Lord, yet we do not see this kind of authority given to NT prophets. The NT uses the language of prophets as someone who can predict the future but not have divine authority (Titus 1:12; Luke 22:64; John 4.19). This is the strongest section of the book. It’s hard to see how you can argue with Grudem at this point.  If NT prophet is connected with “apostle,” then Paul’s writings are incoherent.

“But what about Scripture?” The most common response is that any new prophecy is a revelation from God, and any time there is a revelation from God, it is on the level of codified Scripture.  Grudem slowly, yet with inexorable exactitude, destroys this argument. Here is a trick: every time you see the word revelation (apocalypto or any of its cognates) in the NT, substitute it with “codified Scripture.”  You will see what I am talking about.

Thesis: Speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind. Prophecies need to be sifted (14.29). Some prophecies were intentionally neglected (14.30).  Contrast this with Jehoikam’s disregard for Jeremiah’s prophecy. God gave him a death sentence for neglecting it. If NT prophecies were on the same field as OT, then we should make sure that all of this “potential canon” is gathered for the church.  Yet Paul is making sure that isn’t happening. Some prophets won’t even be able to speak (Grudem 63).

“Revelation” doesn’t always imply divine authority.  We have a tendency to important later historical theology into NT concepts.  Revelation doesn’t mean binding communication from God. It means to “unveil” or “reveal.”  That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean “Bible.” God’s wrath is apokalypto against all unrighteousness.  When men would later talk about this, were their words “Bible?” In Eph. 1.17 we are to pray for a spirit of apokalypsis.  Does that mean what I speak under that is now canon? NT prophets have less authority than apostles, so they can’t be the same (14.37-38).

Duration of Prophecy

I think we can all agree that “the perfect has come” in 1 Cor. 13 doesn’t refer to the closing of the canon.  For one, it’s circular reasoning. Secondly, when the perfect comes you will “know perfectly,” which isn’t true today.

But what about prophecy is a sign-gift?  This is probably the most sophisticated response from cessationists.  But we respond: Almost everything in Acts is connected with the Apostles and is probably sign-ificant (see what I did?).    In that case, preaching the gospel is a sign-gift and doesn’t happen today, but that’s silly. Not all miracles in the NT were done by apostles.  James 5:14-15 expected healing to occur at the hands of the elders. Further, “in the absence of the Apostle Paul, [it is Christ] who “works miracles among the Galatian churches” (205). Thirdly, Philip and Stephen weren’t apostles, yet they did miracles.

There is also a long, careful discussion of Eph. 2:20, which includes an interaction with Gaffin.  This is one of those landmark books. If a cessationist book doesn’t interact with Grudem’s exegesis in this book (e.g., Strange Fire), you can throw it away.  It’s scholarship is out of date.


Melito of Sardis: On Pascha

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Melito of Sardis, On Pascha and Fragments. Ed. Alistair Stewart-Sykes. Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001.

If you were to walk into a Pascha service in 190 AD, what you would expect? The church bulletin is listed below.

The structure of the work follows the typical Asianist oratory (16):

“Propositio/thesis: Here the orator sets out in brief what the speech will achieve. Narratio/diegema: Here the orator tells a story. In the case of a courtroom speech it might be the facts of the case, or else the background to the occasion. On a religious occasion a story relating to the god being praised, or to the feast, might be told.

Probatio/kataskeue: Here the case is proved. The diegema is shown to be true (or false!). In a courtroom speech the weight might well be found in this part of the speech.

Peroratio/epilogos: Here the orator sums up, ensuring the audience is on his side, and bringing about in the audience an emotional response proper to the occasion.”

On Pascha should be read as a liturgical text for celebrating “Easter.”

Notes (the numbers in paragraph refer to the verse sections, not to the pagination)

(9) “He is Father, in that he begets.” The subject here is clearly Christ, which makes this line very unsettling. His Melito guilty of an incipient modalism, as some allege? Maybe not, for Emmanuel is called “Father” in Isaiah 9. Though, it is not clear whom Christ is supposed to be begetting.

(11) “I shall narrate the Scriptural story.” In the OT the recitation of God’s mighty acts was itself praise.

(35) “Nothing is spoken without an analogy.” We perceive through the prototype.

(40) The people were a type. The law was the writing of analogy. The Gospel is the narrative fulfillment of the law.

(53) Melito condemns sodomy.

(65) Melito now moves from “probatio” to peroratio.

(67) He sealed our souls with his spirit, and the members of our body with his blood.”

(69) Melito points out the numerous types of Christ:

a. He was murdered in Abel.

B. Tied up in Isaac.

C. Exiled in Jacob.

D. Sold in Jospeh.

E. Exposed in Moses.

F. Slaughtered in the Lamb.

G. Hunted down in David.

H. Dishonored in the prophets.

(96) “He who hung the earth is hanging….God has been murdered.”

(99) By not lamenting the Lord, Israel now laments her firstborn. She has become the New Egypt.


Most of these are from Eusebius. Jerome, quoting Tertullian, makes an odd reference to Melito as a “prophet,” but doesn’t clarify how this term should be glossed (Jerome, On Famous Men, 24). The fact that Tertullian, himself a moderate Montanus, speaks of Melito and “us,” certainly indicates that Tertullian, or at least some in his community, saw him as an ecstatic prophet. This appears to be Sykes’ conclusion as well (Sykes 81).

Many of the other fragments show the convoluted controversy on when to celebrate Easter. That the early church celebrated Easter isn’t up for discussion. It is one of the more universally attested points. The problem is on what date: the 14th of Nisan or on a rotating calendar.

Review: Principalities and Powers (Montgomery)

Montgomery, John Warwick.

This is the best mature Evangelical treatment on the subject. Conservative evangelicalism faces a schizophrenia on this topic. On one hand, they know that the demonic and occultic exist because the Bible says so and modern experience is becoming almost overwhelming. On the other hand, they tend to write this off as charismatic kookiness and with the view that spiritual gifts have ceased today, they really don’t know what to make of this indisputable phenomenon.

Principalities And Powers; The World Of The Occult by John Warwick Montgomery

Montgomery approaches with a relatively open mind. He resists the urge to write off all of the paranormal as demonic. He introduces a key distinction: we must separate the fact from the interpretation of that fact. He also points out where individuals find themselves with ESP-like abilities in situations that are neither angelic nor demonic.

He does move his analysis into the occult, however. He gives a brilliant summary of the history of occultism and Cabalism. He has a fascinating analysis of how to interpret “ghosts” (for lack of a better word). All the while he remains faithful to biblical revelation on the afterlife.

He ends with a humorous, if quite interesting, fictional short story of a liberal minister who becomes convinced of the demonic.

Review: Thinking in Tongues

This is from James KA Smith’s earlier days, before he became NPR’s token Christian thinker.  This book is actually good, which pains me to say.  Smith seems unbalanced in many ways since writing this book.  I think it is Trumpphobia or something.

Thesis: Pentecostal worldview offers a distinct way of being-in-the-world (Smith 25). Embodied practices carry within them a “tacit understanding” (27).

Is a Pentecostal Philosophy Possible?

Much of the chapter deals with the relationship between theology and philosophy.   The difference is one of field, not “faith basis” (Smith 4).  Smith gives us Five Aspects of a Pentecostal Philosophy:

  1. radical openness to God, or God’s doing something fresh.  
  2. An “enchanted” theology of creation and culture.   Smith means that we see reality not as self-enclosed monads, but realizing that principalities and powers are often behind these.  this entails spiritual warfare.  I cringe at terms like “enchanted” because it’s more postmodern non-speak, but Smith (likely inadvertently) connected “enchanted” with demons, which is correct.
  3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and spirituality.  Smith defines “dualism” as not denigrating materiality.   Fewer and fewer Christians today do this, so I am not sure whom his target is.  Even chain-of-being communions like Rome that officially denigrate embodiment say they really don’t mean it.
  4. Affective, narrative epistemology.   
  5. Eschatological orientation towards mission and justice.

God’s Surprise

Some hermeneutics: Smith rightly notes that “The Last Days” (per Acts 2) is connected with “today” ( 22; we accept this model in eschatology but abandon it in pneumatology).  Smith wryly notes that Acts 2:13 is the first proto-Daniel Dennett hermeneutics:  offering a naturalistic explanation for inexplicable phenomena (23).   

Following Martin Heidegger, Smith suggests two kinds of knowing: wissen and verstehen, justified, true belief and understanding.  The latter is tacit and is at the edges of conscious action.

Per the dis-enchanted cosmos, Smith astutely points out that “There is a deep sense that multiple modes of oppression–from illness to poverty–are in some way the work of forces that are not just natural” (41).  In other words, spiritual warfare assumes a specific, non-reductionist cosmology.

Promising Suggestions

“What characterizes narrative knowledge?” (65)  

  1. a connection between narrative and emotions
    1. Narratives work in an affective manner
    2. The emotions worked are themselves already construals of the world
  2. There is a “fit” between narrative and emotion

There is a good section on Pauline-pneumatological accounts of knowing (68ff).  Anticipating Dooyeweerd, Paul critiques the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought (Rom. 1:21-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and that the Spirit grants access to the message as “true.”  

While I found his chapter on epistemology inadequate, he does say that we know from the “heart” as embodied, rational beings (58).  This isn’t new to postmodernism, but is standard Patristic epistemology.  

A Pentecostal Ontology

This section could have been interesting.  Smith wants to argue that pentecostalism sees an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside.  He makes this argument because he wants pentecostalism to line up with the insights from Radical Orthodoxy.

I have between 50-75 pentecostal relatives who “embody pentecostal spirituality.”  I promise you that none of them think like this or are even capable of thinking like that.  I do not disparge them, simply because I am not to sure Smith’s project at this point is really coherent.  He wants to reject methodological naturalism (rightly) but argues for his own version of supernatural naturalism.

If Smith is successful, then he can show that pentecostalism lines up with quantum mechanics.  Okay.  Thus, nature is “en-Spirited” (103).  While I have problems with his “suspended materiality” ontology, Smith makes some interesting points: miracles are not “add-ons.”  They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (104).  

That’s good.  I like it.

Tongues as speech-act.

We are considering “tongue-speech” as a liminal case in the philosophy of language (122).  Exegetical discussions are important (and ultimately determinative), but we can’t enter them here.  Smith wants to argue that tongues (T₁) resists our current categories of language and emerges as resistance to cultural norms.  I think there is something to that.

 T₁ as Phenomenology

There is a difference between signs as expression (Ausdruck) and those that do not mean anything (indications, Anzeigen).  Ausdruck is important as it means something, whereas Anzeigen serves as a pointer (127, Smith is following E. Husserl).  Husserl even notes that there can be signs that are not Ausdrucken nor Anzeigen.  This turns on the question: can signs which do not express anything nor point to anything be modes of communication?  

As many critics of Husserl note, his account of speech links communication with intention, so he has to answer “no” to the above question.  Or maybe so.  What kind of speech can there be that is not bound up with inter-subjective indication?  Husserl (and Augustine!) suggest the interior mental life.  Thus, signs in this case would not point to what is absent.  

Tongues as Speech-Act Attack

Utterances (of any sort) are performative.  While such utterance-acts do convey thoughts, sometimes their intent is far more. Let’s take tongues-speak as ecstatic, private language.  What does the pray-er mean to do?  We can easily point to an illocutionary act of praying in groans too deep for words.  We can also see a perlocutionary act: God should act in response.

Tongues as Politics

Oh boy.  Smith wants to say that tongues is a speech-act against the powers that be.  I like that.  I really do.  I just fear that Smith is going to mislocate the powers.  He begins by drawing upon neo-Marxist insights (147). However, without kowtowing fully to Marx, he does point out that Marx has yielded the historical stage to the Holy Ghost.

Tongues-speech begins as “the language of the dispossessed” (149).  This, too, is a valid sociological insight.  The chapter ends without Smith endorsing Marxism, which I expected him to do.  While we are on a charismatic high, I will exercise my spiritual gift of Discerning the Spirits.”  The reason that many 3rd World Pentecostals are “dispossessed” is because they are in countries whose leaders serve the demonic principality of Marxist-Socialism.  Let’s attack that first before we get on the fashionable anti-capitalism bandwagon.

(No, am not a capitalist.  At least not in the sense that Smith uses the word)

*Smith, as is usual with most postmodernists, gets on the “narrative” bandwagon.  There’s a place for that, but I think narrative is asked to carry more than it can bear.  In any case, it is undeniable that Pentecostals are good storytellers.  Smith wants to tie this in with epistemology, but he omits any discussion from Thomas Reid concerning testimony as basic belief, which would have strengthened his case.

Possible Criticisms

Smith (rightly) applauds J. P. Moreland’s recent embrace of kingdom power, but accuses Moreland of still being a “rationalist” (6 n14, 13n26).  Precisely how is Moreland wrong and what is the concrete alternative?  Smith criticizes the rationalist project as “‘thinking’ on a narrow register of calculation and deduction” (54).  Whom is he criticizing: Christians or non-Christians?  It’s not clear, and in any case Moreland has come under fire for saying there are extra-biblical, non-empirical sources of knowledge and reality (angels, demons, etc).  

Smith then argues that all rationalities are em-bodied rationalities.  That’s fine.  I don’t think this threatens a Reidian/Warrant view of knowledge.  Perhaps it does threaten K=JTB.  I don’t know, since Smith doesn’t actually make the argument.  Smith makes a good argument on the “heart’s role” in knowing, yet Moreland himself has a whole chapter on knowing and healing from the heart in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Moreland 2006).

Smith elsewhere identifies aspects of rationality as the logics of “power, scarcity, and consumption,” (84) but I can’t think of a serious philosopher who actually espouses this.

Elsewhere, Smith says Christian philosophy should be “Incarnational” and not simply theistic (11).  What does that even mean?  Does it simply mean “Begin with Jesus”?  Does it mean undergirding ontology with the Incarnation, per Col. 1:17?  That’s actually quite promising, but I don’t think Smith means that, either.  So what does he mean?

Is Smith a coherentist?  I think he is.  He hints at good criticisms of secularism, but points out “that the practices and plausibility structures that sustain pentecostal (or Reformed or Catholic or Baptist or Moonie–JBA) have their own sort of ‘logic’,” a logic that allows Christians to play, too (35).  But even if coherentism holds–and I grant that Smith’s account is likely true, it doesn’t prove coherentism is true.  All coherentism can prove is doxastic relations among internal beliefs, but not whether these beliefs are true.  Of course, Smith would probably say I am a rationalist.

In his desire to affirm materiality, Smith seems to say that any religious materiality is a good materiality.  Smith approvingly notes of Felicite’s clinging to feasts and relics (36).  It’s hard to see how any one “Materiality” could be bad on Smith’s account.  But this bad account is juxtaposed with some good observations on the book of Acts (38) and tries to connect the two.

*Smith says that “postmodernism takes race, class, and gender seriously” because it takes the body seriously (60).  This is 100% false.  If facebook is a true incarnation (!) of postmodernity, may I ask how many “gender/sexual preference” options facebook has?  I rest my case.

*Smith waxes eloquently on the Pentecostal “aesthetic” (80ff), which is basically a repeat of his other works, but one must ask, “How does faith come per Romans 10?”

*Smith doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize “rationalism” for separating beliefs and faith/practice, yet Smith himself seems mighty critical of those who focus on “beliefs” in their philosophy of religion (111).  Sure, most post-Descartes philosophy of religion is overy intellectual, but I do think the Reidian/Plantingian Epistemology model, integrates belief and faith-practice.