Why (Some) Cessationists and (Some) Continuationists Don’t Disagree about Prophecy as Much as (Some) People Might Think
People debate about whether “prophecy” in the New Testament and the early church was divinely inspired and infallible. Did it possess full divine authority?
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., says that it was inspired.
Wayne A. Grudem argues that it was not.
Many people believe that the outcome of this debate is crucial for the future of the charismatic movement.
But actually the outcome of the debate makes very little practical difference today.
Poythress asks us to to “suppose that Gaffin is right”:
Then “prophecy” ceased with the completion of the apostolic era and the completion of the canon of Scripture. Modern phenomena are fallible and hence are not identical with New Testament prophecy. But modern nondiscursive processes with teaching content is analogous to prophecy, just as modern preaching is analogous to apostolic preaching. Hence the general principles concerning spiritual gifts, as articulated in 1 Cor 12-14 and elsewhere, are still applicable. What charismatics call “prophecy” is not really the “prophecy” mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, it is a fallible analogue. It is really a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through nondiscursive processes. It contrasts with preaching, which is a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through discursive processes.
Modern nondiscursive processes with circumstantial content are in a sense not really analogous to inspired biblical prophecy. But they can function positively in the service of the Spirit, just as does circumstantial content through discursive processes.
Then, on the other hand, Poythress asks us to “suppose that Grudem is right”:
Then “prophecy” continues. But such “prophecy” is fallible. It is not identical with the inspired prophecy of the Old Testament. It is in fact a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through nondiscursive processes. If the content is biblical, its authority derives from the Bible. If the content is circumstantial, it is not an addition to the Bible (not divinely authoritative). Hence it is just information and has no special authority. Hence Grudem ends up with substantially the same practical conclusions as does Gaffin.
Poythress clarifies where Grudem and Gaffin agree and where they differ:
Hence, there is no need for Gaffin and Grudem to disagree about the modern phenomena. They disagree only about the label given to the phenomena (“not-prophecy” versus “prophecy”), and about whether the New Testament phenomena were identical or merely analogous to the modern phenomena.
Both Gaffin and Grudem already acknowledge the fallibility of the modern phenomena.
Gaffin needs only to take the additional step of integrating the modern phenomena into a theology of spiritual gifts. Given this theological integration, we find that there is an analogical justification for the use of these gifts in the church today.
Grudem, on the other hand, needs only to clarify the status of “prophecy.” “Prophecy,” he says, is fallible, but still revelatory. It still derives from God, and still is important for the well-being of the church. Gaffin and many others find this sort of description difficult to grasp or classify. How can something be “revelatory” and still not compete with the sufficiency of Scripture? I explain how partly by distinguishing teaching content from circumstantial content. Teaching content must not add to Scripture, but can only rephrase what is already there in Scripture. Circumstantial content has the same status as information received through a long-distance telephone call—that is, it has no special claim to authority. It is therefore obvious that neither type of content threatens the sufficiency of Scripture.
Poythress applies this beyond Grudem and Gaffin:
If charismatics and noncharismatics could agree on these points, I think that the debate on modern spiritual gifts would be largely over. But there are practical adjustments. People who value nondiscursive gifts have tended to migrate into charismatic circles, where nondiscursive gifts are prized. People who value discursive gifts have migrated into noncharismatic circles, where discursive gifts are prized. Each group tends to prize only people of its own kind. We all need to learn again from 1 Corinthians 12 the importance of every gift, including those with which we have yet to become comfortable.
You can read the whole thing here.