Poythress on Spiritual Gifts

After taking Orthodox Bridge to task, I thought perhaps it is good to let one’s charismatic beliefs be critiqued from someone who is sympathetic and doesn’t have an axe to grind. I have in mind Vern Poythress’s article from JETS.

Poythress notes two kinds of “inspiration:” rationally explicit (the book of Luke) and intuitive (Revelation).  Poythress makes the intriguing suggestion that there can be non-inspired intuitive gifts analogous to prophecy while still holding to cessationism.  Therefore, he advances the following argument,

I maintain that modern spiritual gifts are analogous to but not identical with the divinely authoritative gifts exercised by the apostles. Since there is no strict identity, apostolic teaching and the biblical canon have exclusive divine authority. On the other hand, since there is analogy, modern spiritual gifts are still genuine and useful to the church. Hence, there is a middle way between blanket approval and blanket rejection of modern charismatic gifts.

He gives a pyramid on how these gifts operate in the church.

Most of his article is quite fine and standard fare on dealing with spiritual gifts.  He does raise the tough questions:  what do we do with intuitive, immediate “hunches” regarding spiritual direction?  He explains:

people may act on “hunches” or “feelings” or intuition. They sense that they should say or do a particular thing. They may see a situation and spontaneously react. Or they may have special visions or auditions. But in these cases they are not consciously aware of a particular passage of the Bible or a set of passages that form the sole basis for their experience. Their experience springs from a personal impulse that they do not, perhaps cannot, further analyze. Let us call such instances nondiscursive processes.

He gives us another diagram.

Poythress also makes the common-sense (yet rarely made) observation that something can be derivative of the bible yet not “adding to it.”

Similarly, we may ask whether Revelation is genuinely analogous to modern visions or dreams. The answer is like what we might say in the case of preaching. Revelation is inspired and unique. Modern impressions or visions, to be valid, must not add to the Bible but be wholly derivative from it.

Poythress notes that people can combine true biblical “Intuition” with a sinful (or simply errant) reception.

So how does this apply to modern charismatic gifts?

  1. All the super-gifts he calls non-discursive or intuitive.  I guess this is similar to what Dallas Willard notes as “immediately forcing upon consciousness.”
  2. A gift isn’t necessarily an infallible gift.  It makes sense.  Some people have the gift of preaching but are often quite wrong (Russell Moore is the finest living pulpiteer but his theology is often quite bad).
  3. What about “commands?” Poythress has an unusually astute section here.  More often than not (always?) we can ignore someone who is giving a moral-neutral, yet extra-biblical command.  Even Charismatics agree with this.
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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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