I said I was going to stay mostly out of this, but then people keep saying things that need responding to.
[Jollyblogger]( http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/), [Adrian Warnock]( http://www.adrian.warnock.info/), and [Pyromaniac]( http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/) are having a discussion about the differences (if any) between God’s providence and the charismata. David (aka Jollyblogger) and Phil (aka Pyromaniac) want to make a careful distinction between God’s directing of history (providence), which they believe He still does, and the “supernatural” gifts (charismata), which they believe He doesn’t. Since they believe in one and not the other, they feel it’s important to make a distinction between them. Adrian, since he believes God still uses both, sees no reason to make any hard distinction. What matter the method God uses to work his will, so long as he does it?
If I’m going to take a position on this one, I’m going to have to split the difference: I’m a charismatic, but I think you *should* make a distinction between providence and the gifts, since throughout scripture, it appears that God uses the supernatural in order to clearly communicate something about himself. For instance, in I Corinthians, Paul makes a distinction between tongues and prophecy on the basis of *who* the sign is for. On the other hand, providence, since it covers pretty much every ebb and flow of history isn’t particularly noticeable, unless it’s connected back somehow with the supernatural. We wouldn’t even be aware of providence particularly if it weren’t for scriptures like, “I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” [(Isaiah 46:10)]( http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa%2046:10&version=31)
Either way, what’s got me is [Phil’s argument]( http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/whole-lotta-shakin.html). He seems to be saying that the important difference between providence and the miraculous is that he’s not a false prophet. Non-sequitur, no? Here’s what appears to be his line of reasoning:
Argument no 1.
1. If Phil does not attempt to prophesy, then he is **not** a false prophet.
2. Phil does not attempt to prophesy
3. Therefore Phil is not a false prophet.
Argument no 2.
1. If Phil is not a false prophet, then you can trust his theology (i.e. cessationism)
2. Phil is not a false prophet.
3. Cessationism is true.
Argument no 3.
1. If cessationism is true, then God only works through providence and not through modern prophecy.
2. If God doesn’t work through modern prophesy, then all modern prophecy is false.
3. If all modern prophecy is false, then all attempts at prophecy are false prophecy.
4. Cessationism is true.
5. All attempts at prophecy are false prophecy.
Argument no 4.
1. If cessationism is true, then God only works through providence and not through modern prophecy, which is false prophecy.
2. If cessationism is true, then the only way to understand providence is by studying scripture.
3. If people look to modern prophecy to understand providence, they are led astray by superstition.
4. Cessationism is true.
5. People look to modern prophecy to understand providence.
6. These people are led astray by superstition.
As you can see, a proper understanding of the fact that Phil is not a false prophet leads inevitably to a proper understanding of the difference between providence and prophecy.
I’m probably going to be sharply criticized for the above, if anybody notices I’ve said anything, and in all fairness, Phil’s arguments don’t look quite so choppy clothed in their own flesh. But I keep running into all these assumptions that, frankly, strike me as bizarre:
First is this hugely broad understanding of providence, which basically amounts to God’s careful planning of the movement of every electron in the universe. While I can tentatively endorse such an understanding of God’s *sovereignty*, it seems to suck all the meaning out of the idea of *providence*. A point in every direction is the same, functionally, as no point at all. The result is that, by affirming God’s providence in everything, we can affirm that nothing in particular has any meaning. This is exactly what Phil has done in his story about six earthquakes that meant nothing. How does Phil know that the earthquakes meant nothing? The doctrine of providence. In fact, Phil’s understanding of God’s providence (combined with cessationism) is the very thing which *prevents* him from inquiring of the Lord whether He *did* have anything to communicate through those earthquakes. They cannot mean anything. They *must* not mean anything. Why? Providence.
In practical terms, providence is only particularly useful (other than to make you feel comfortable about your situation), in relation to prophecy. That is, God’s control over human history isn’t particularly impressive, unless he tells somebody that He’s going to do something you wouldn’t expect *before he does it*. Otherwise, providence cannot be distinguished from coincidence.
Second is the apparent conviction that any attempts at prophecy necessarily come from charismatic “charlatanism”. It’s a given that there are false prophets, charlatans, bombastic fools, and purveyors of cheap tricks wherever you go, especially in the area of religion, where so much of what people believe is subject to personal feeling. But that’s no reason to assume that all or even most of those who are charismatics are doing anything other than taking scripture on its word. It says, “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy,” and so we do. It says, “The Lord God does nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets,” and so we believe that either He isn’t doing anything, or He’s telling somebody about it. I will take Phil’s word on full faith that the guy predicting earthquakes was manipulating people’s superstition. (And, in all honesty, [Kim Clement]( http://www.kimclement.com/) makes me nervous.) But that doesn’t rule out the possibility that God actually wants to say something. Scripture exhorts us to *judge* prophecy, not to rule it out.
There are other quibbles, but I’ll let them alone. Let’s just say that, Phil’s examples of what he could have done if he were unscrupulous don’t really convince me that other people who don’t believe like him are necessarily unscrupulous. Or fools, or superstitious. They might be wrong. But I haven’t been very much convinced of that, either.