1 Peter 1:3 – “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”
I know a number of catechisms and various resources, all of which teach that holy scripture gives us everything that we need pertaining to life and godliness. But if you look at the text in scripture where that teaching comes from, you see that it says nothing of the sort. Peter says that His (that is, Jesus’) divine power has given us everything we need, but he doesn’t tell us the exact mechanism.
The key difference is that the point of the text is to give you confidence that you have everything you need, and to place that confidence in the appropriate object of our faith: Jesus Christ. The point of the teaching is to narrow the means that Jesus has of giving you what you need to a specific source of information – scripture.
Now I want to affirm all the usual assertions about the authority and inerrancy of scripture. All those things are true. But we don’t bolster the authority of scripture when we go beyond the text to reach for an assertion about it’s authority. That actually undermines the text, because you are asserting something extra that you didn’t exactly get from scripture. Worse, that little extra piece doesn’t even come from some extra-biblical source that is actually recommended in scripture, such as church leaders, or a prophetic word. No, that extra bit came from that famous bugaboo of theological error, “your tradition.”
Sinclair Ferguson has a very helpful article on inerrancy, that I agree with completely… until the last point. Why do people insist on understanding the closing of the canon like this? Taken this way, the closing of the canon must have had a more profound effect on the daily lives of saints than ever the Day of Pentecost did.
You can almost hear the shattering echo of a giant door being slammed as John penned the final “amen” of Revelation, and someone saying, “The passage is blocked behind us now, and there is only one way out – on the other side of the mountains. I fear from the sound that boulders have been piled up, and the trees uprooted and thrown across the gate. I am sorry; for the trees were beautiful, and had stood so long.”
It’s all so unnecessary, too, because scripture and prophecy were never the same thing. Not all scripture is prophecy, and even in scripture, not every prophecy is recorded. There is only one recorded prophecy from any of the sons of prophets that met with Elisha before Elijah had ascended. They told him that Elijah was going to be taken that day, which Elisha already knew. A whole school of them, and no significant prophecies recorded, neither from the sons, nor from the fathers. Twice Saul got caught up with a school of prophets and prophesied with them till the next morning, and we have received not a word of what they said in scripture. Philip the evangelist had four daughters who prophesied, and yet not one word that they said was ever scripture.
There’s simply no reason to think that all this prophesying that was not adding to scripture before the canon was closed should suddenly be understood as adding to scripture after the canon was closed. Prophecy and scripture are simply two separate things. So it is extremely unhelpful to take the testimony of scripture about what spirit-directed life must look like in the light of Pentecost and de-normalize it, especially in support of a doctrine like inerrancy.
There is no time I am happier now
Than about 5:30 in the morning
My morning mug, my little book…
Sometimes I think it isn’t love of scripture
That causes me to study
But love of study that pulls me to the scriptures
What truth is more certain
Than holy scripture?
What is so important, valuable
That a man must make space
For peace and quiet
To read, and do more than read?
Oh Lord, I would be happy
To sit like this forever.
An hour a day or ten, it doesn’t matter.
I don’t know if I’m called to be a pastor
If evangelism is the standard, I have seen no converts.
But one year or ten working my headache job
Coming home to noise and laughter
And rising up early to behold wondrous things…
It is enough; I am content.
Now there was also a man who prophesied in the name of the Lord, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath Jearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah. And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid and fled, and went to Egypt. Then Jehoiakim the king sent men to Egypt: Elnathan the son of Achbor, and other menwho went with him to Egypt. And they brought Urijah from Egypt and brought him to Jehoiakim the king, who killed him with the sword and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.
I share this because I’m not aware of Urijah being mentioned anywhere else in scripture. Yet he prophesied and according to scripture, it appears that he was no false prophet. What he said was the very word of God. And yet, we don’t have a single word of it. We know that it was generally the same sort of thing as what Jeremiah was preaching.
I think this is kind of a problem for people who want to say that prophecy today is basically the same thing as scripture. “Since the canon is closed, there can be no more prophesying, because to prophesy would be to add to scripture.” The problem is that the scripture that we have doesn’t teach that at all. Being a true word from God was necessary, but not a sufficient reason to be included in the canon of scripture. So prophecy today has no reason to be thought of as adding to the written word of God.
So this is a thing I had no idea about.
I was getting all set to do battle with this article, until I read it and discovered it doesn’t say anything interesting. To wit:
1. Everything he says here would be affirmed by even the most wild-eyed pentecostal I know of.
2. He identifies no particular practice under the heading of “mysticism” that he considers biblically inappropriate.
I am therefore left with the conclusion that it is the actual word “mysticism” with which he has his beef. And this I will grant: the word itself is found nowhere in scripture, though some of it’s more distant cognates are present (i.e., mystery). If Tim Challies wishes, I am fully prepared to abandon the word.
There is something to Whitney’s definition of mysticism: “those forms of Christian spirituality which attempt direct or unmediated access to God.” And if, by “unmediated access” he means “apart from the cross,” I agree. There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.
However, there are multiple accounts in scripture of people receiving “special revelation” without recourse to reading scripture. This is, of course, how the bible was written in the first place, but even with a closed canon, there are numerous examples of people receiving special revelation, which special revelation was never included in scripture. For example, Philip the Evangelist had 4 daughters who prophesied, and yet not one word of theirs was entered in the Bible. It was apparently normative in the early church for people to receive various kinds of extra-biblical special revelation.
So I will throw out my standard trope: If your theology disallows a practice that is normative in scripture, stop. You’re doing something wrong.
Now, what is it, exactly, that Mr. Challies wants the wicked mystics to cease and desist?