Saturday, April 08, 2006

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy ... How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. ... Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Cor. 14:1, 26, 29-33.

One of the things that strikes me as interesting about Paul is that on the one hand he feels like the stodgy asexual intellectual, and on the other hand he was clearly what we would label a charismatic or Pentecostal in modern parlance (c.f. 1 Cor. 15-19). He was convinced both of the necessity of the Scriptures for the health of the church and of the necessity of revelation. Now, I don't know who reads this, but odds are good that one of you just hackled at that. Do I deny the sufficiency of Scripture? Am I not glorifying man over God? Those are precisely the things I wanted to talk about. Let me set you straight right now: I believe in the supremacy of Scripture over private revelation. In fact, I don't believe in private revelation unless it is consistent with Scripture.

Scripture is full of the Word coming to people in ways that are merely incidentally recorded - Abraham, Moses, Nathan, Oded, Hanani, Micaiah, and Peter all received revelations that are recorded in books that are not about their revelation, to name a few. In the case of Oded and Hanani and men like them, it is difficult to believe that the only things they ever heard from God are the few sentences written in Scripture. And Scripture also contains references to times when the Word came or will come without being recorded in Scripture at all: Iddo, Jehu, the book of the kings which contains "many oracles" concerning the reign of King Joash and "the words of the seers who spoke to [King Manasseh] in the name of the LORD," and the prophecies which Paul says occurred in the church of his own day (if some of those references are unfamiliar, go back and read 2 Chronicles).

Now, in the case of the Old Testament unrecorded prophets (by "unrecorded" I don't mean unwritten; I mean that God evidently did not see fit to preserve those written records for the church throughout the ages) we are essentially told that they heard from the Lord, but Paul says something much more interesting: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge." In other words, just because somebody has heard something or seen something supernaturally doesn't mean it's from God, and the church is commanded to discern. I find the way in which we are to discern quite illuminating.

First off, a few ways in which we clearly cannot discern. One is whether or not the vision or revelation comes true. The spirit by which the Philippian slave girl foretold the future seems to have told the truth, but it was nevertheless a demon (Acts 16:16-19). Another is by appearance, or our own gut reaction. The enemy is perfectly capable of appearing holy (2 Cor. 11:14), and even a cursory study of Scripture will reveal that the presence of an angel (let alone of God) is terrifying beyond description. So let us prattle no nonsense about how it felt.

Instead, how are we to discern? "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God" (1 John 4:1-2). Now this "confessing" is clearly more than aping mere forms of words. Jesus confronts plenty of demons who admit that he is the Son of God. But confessing that Christ has come in the flesh is the formula we use when we pray for salvation, when we accept him as Lord and Savior, and Jesus didn't meet a single demon who did that.

Implications. First, I absolutely affirm that in Christ we have the authority to directly demand of a revelatory spirit that it confess Christ as its Lord. But all of this - the hearing itself, as well as the kind of interrogation I just mentioned, happens internally. And here you might have another objection: aren't I really just playing games in my head - elaborate games, to be sure, but ultimate centered on what I think, what I feel? Well, I hope not. He who trusts in his heart is a fool (Prov. 3:5-7, 28:26), but wisdom and safety are found in a multitude of counselors (Prov. 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Indeed, Paul does not command us to judge our revelations, individually, but to share them with the Body and let others judge.

And judge, I think (although I am open to correction on this point), not just by having them go through an internal interrogation process. Judge by the yardstick of the rest of Scripture, the written Word, the revelation of which we are utterly certain. I do not think John was thinking just of speaking to spirits. I think he also meant, "any spirit which does not essentially re-proclaim the Gospel is not of God." And even if John didn't mean that specifically, it is absurd to imagine that God would speak something inconsistent with what he had spoken in the past. Men are inconsistent; God is utterly consistent. I don't know what the Lord spoke Iddo. I do know that it was nothing I couldn't get from the rest of Scripture.

If revelation is really nothing more than re-proclaiming what has already been proclaimed, what then is the point of revelation (what we call "the speaking voice of God" at the River, and denote with the Greek word rhema at The Church on the Way)? One might ask the same thing of sermons, which are also nothing more than proclaiming the Word of God, and the answer would be the same. Not just that it is good to proclaim the Word for its own sake (although it is). But that the Word ought to be proclaimed in a way that applies it to the current lives of real people. Yes, a good sermon does nothing more than proclaim the Word. But only somebody who has never heard a good sermon would think that you could get the same thing by reading a leather-bound gold-leafed book in your bedroom.

I have found the same thing to be true of revelation in my own experience. I think people who don't come from charismatic churches tend to have the idea that charismatic services (or more specifically, services in which charismata are exercised) are weird or unusual. They're really pretty mundane. I've heard more prophecies spoken to the church than I can count, and they've always been things that basically re-proclaim the Gospel (the reason I count them as prophecies from the Lord is precisely because you can point to Scripture and say, "the Lord said exactly the same thing in this passage here. This is fresh but it is not new"). Here is one of my favorite visions:

It is at the killing fields of Thermopylai. I can see only the hand of a man fallen on the dirt, which is stained red with blood. The hand is riven and covered with blood as well. A sword lies in the hand, but the hand does not grasp it. The man whose hand this is has fallen, and his sword has half tumbled out of his grip. I know that the hand is mine. A hand - is it visible or invisible? I cannot tell, but I know it is a hand - closes my fingers around the hilt of the sword. And then my fingers grasp it. Life is returning to me.

Now I see a heap of bodies piled high in the narrows of the mountain pass, bodies in grotesque poses in bronze and silk and everywhere there is blood, blood, and the grislier chunks of flesh that bespeak the terrible fight which occurred here. The Greeks have fallen; the pass is lost. The pile of corpses fills the pass. Out of the center of the bodies rises a man, but he is not a man - he is far too huge. Higher and higher he rises, now a giant of a man, now a colossus, and I know it is the Lord. His armor is blasted with blood and his flesh bears many wounds, all to the front. He has been in the thick of the fighting. The bowl of his shield seems to blot out the sun, and in its protective shadow I too rise, dwarfed to insignificance beside this massive and magnificent warrior. The sword in my hand, a weapon of desperation, is gone. Now my fist grips a long spear, a warrior's weapon and one that should have been shattered in the fighting long ago. But it is here in my hand, and my arm is strong as I raise it for an overhand thrust. Now on come the Medes in their endless ranks. The Lord thrusts with his spear, and I fight in the shadow of his shield. His spear is massive, more massive than a weaver's beam - more like a tree, like the spear of Athena Steel Eyes with which heaven's daughter levels battalions of heroes in her wrath. This is the terrible spear of my Lord as he strikes down my enemies by the dozens, by the hundreds. I cannot even tell if my spear is finding its mark as the foe are slaughtered, as we press the bowls of our shields into the very chests of the foe and shove them bodily out of the pass, but I feel his pleasure that I am fighting beside him even if I cannot tell if it is doing any good, such pleasure that it seems my heart will burst. The Lord is laughing. It is a deep, challenging,
joyous laugh. He is like a lion roaring in the pride of his strength as he saves his son, and his son fights beside him.

That is a vision I saw some years ago. I invite you to consider whether it is one which essentially re-proclaims Scripture (I might suggest you read Psalm 18:34, 58:10, 59:16, 62:2, Isaiah 63:4, and Jeremiah 46:10 to start). If you believe that it does, and therefore should be trusted as a vision of the Lord, I invite you to consider whether the Lord could have said quite the same thing to my heart by simply directing me to those passages in the written Word.

(edit: "re-proclaim" may be stronger than what I actually think Scripture calls us to. See comments.)

11 comments:

jefe said...

This point has taken some time to formulate, 'cause it's a little subtle. But here goes.

Your account doesn't seem to leave room for private revelation (henceforth PR) to play an epistemic role. What I mean is, I've always had the impression that PR was supposed to be a way of coming to know stuff. You know, somebody might say "I know such-and-such, because God told me so through PR."

So what you say seems to rule out one sense of that statement: the sense where "because" means that the knowledge is justified by PR. Here's why: say Jane has some putative PR experience. If she knows it's really PR, then that's a good reason to believe its content. But if I'm reading you correctly, the way to find out whether it's really PR is to check whether it "re-proclaims the gospel". Assuming Jane believes the gospel, that amounts to checking whether the content is justified on other grounds. So if her knowledge is justified at all, it's justified by something besides PR--namely, scripture.

On the other hand, there's plenty of room for the statement to be true in other senses of "because". For instance, PR may still provide a kind of causal explanation for Jane's knowledge. She has a vision, and because of that she checks out whether a certain proposition is scriptural, and because of that she comes to know it. But then if someone asked her "how do you know this?", the answer would be "because it's scriptural", and the PR wouldn't add anything to that.

That is, it doesn't add anything to the justification. As you say, it might add lots of other things to the belief besides justification.

Does this square with the way you think about it?

Natalie said...

Well, mostly. As I indicated in the seventh paragraph, there are some areas of personal revelation that I think push the boundaries of this post. Here is the way I think of it: suppose Jane hears a sermon preached by Dick, her pastor, and Dick's sermon contains some insight about God that Jane had not thought of before. The insight may seem good to Jane, but she will not really approve it until she has decided for herself that it is in accord with Scripture, at which point she will probably feel comfortable saying "I know such-and-such about God." So Dick's sermon is the proximate cause of Jane's knowing this new insight, but it does not really add any justificatory weight (except indirectly, in the following way: perhaps the fact that this insight came from Dick, whom Jane trusts very deeply, makes her more inclined to search Scripture to see if it is so, whereas if the same insight had come from Harry, who is a stranger, Jane would only feel sort of inclined to investigate, and if it came from Tom, whom Jane actively distrusts, she might feel inclined to dismiss it out of hand).

I say accord with Scripture because the truth is there are some varieties of personal revelation that I think are a little bit "weirder" (if we can use that term of a work of the Holy Spirit) than, say, the vision I recounted at the end of my post. For instance, I believe that God told me to go to Stanford. In one sense, that is not re-proclaiming the Gospel at all, for Scripture never speaks of Stanford (while in contrast, Scripture does speak of God avenging his people). But in another sense, it is re-proclaiming the Gospel, or at any rate re-proclaiming Biblical principles. The Bible does talk some about calling\\vocation, using one's gifts, and that sort of thing. The reason I felt justified by saying "God has told me to come to Stanford" is because I felt like such a message, if true, would accord with the Scriptural principles relating to calling, stewarding of gifts, and so forth. And now looking back on it, I believe I can see some reasons why God might have called me to Stanford, and I bless his name as a result (one of the things I forgot to mention is that I strongly suspect genuine personal revelation draws the revealee to worship or repentance - that is, the most important thing in the wake of revelation is not "God has told me X" but more along the lines of "God is holy." This is not to say I think we can call something revelation retroactively simply because it led to worship, but if a revelation doesn't call to worship or repentance I am suspicious of any claims that it is from God; compare Deut. 13:1-9). Again, it may not have come into my head to go to Stanford without the PR (or more specifically it may not have come into my head to choose Stanford over Duke), but I feel justified in my belief that it was PR based on Scripture rather than personal experience.

I think I would tell a similar story in the "word of knowledge" scenario (c.f. 1 Cor. 12:8) . Suppose I believe I know something which I have no way of knowing, such as that Jane's father is an alcoholic and abusive. In this situation, one test I can apply is whether or not Jane's father is in fact alcoholic and abusive (c.f. Deut. 18:21-22). Assuming Jane's father is an abusive alcoholic, I would then want to know about the reaction this seemingly supernatural knowledge provokes in me. Does it lead me to God, or away from God (again, Deut. 13)? Am I able to bring it before the Lord and find peace for my soul (even though I may be upset, and even though the situation may demand action), or does it torment me emotionally, physically, or spiritually (God, as Paul says, is not the author of instability but of peace, and while I can think of many times when the presence or operation of the Lord is horrifying or uncomfortable - even lethal - I cannot ever recall a time in Scripture when it is needlessly so, so I would want to know whence this torment comes). And here again, even though I would not have known that Jane's father is an abusive alcoholic if not for the PR, I don't really trust the PR because it is PR. I trust that it is true because in this scenario there are facts I can check against, and I trust that it is from the Lord (as opposed to a true revelation from another spirit) because it seems to conform to applicable Scriptural principles.

jefe said...

Let me check if I'm following you. In the last scenario I'm reading thatt, while the PR you had about Jane's father may have lots of important causal implications, it doesn't play an important role in the justification for your belief that Jane's father is an alcoholic. And so, as far as facts about Jane's situation go, figuring out whether or not the PR is "from the Lord" is an academic exercise. It doesn't make a difference one way or the other as far as justifying your other beliefs goes.

This feels to me like a very close analogy. When I'm doing a math problem, I sometimes have what's described as "a flash of intuition": some kind of sudden clarity about how to approach the problem, which puts me on the right track. This experience is very important to the process of solving the problem: in a causal sense, I reach the result because of that intuition. But when I've solved the problem and I'm writing up a proof--a formal justification of the result--the "flash of intuition" has no part to play. A proof that includes "flash of intuition" at step 3 is a bad proof.

So now I guess my question is, when we ask whether a (putative) PR is "from the Lord", what exactly are we asking? And why are we asking it? When it's a math problem, it's pointless to spend my time deliberating whether a hunch I have came from my real mathematical sixth sense, or whether it came from something I once saw on Buffy: before I've solved the problem, I have no way of knowing one way or the other, and after I've solved the problem, I don't care anymore. Right?

Now, I can't tell if the Stanford example is different from these. There you seem (?) to be setting up a weaker standard of justification than the one in your post: "accords with" rather than "re-proclaims". A weaker standard (though it makes me a little queasy) could make room for PR to provide its own justification. Are you reaching for that? Would you claim that you knew some proposition (a la "Stanford is the best place for me to be") on the grounds that you had experienced PR to that effect, when you didn't know it on any other grounds? Or am I misreading?

Natalie said...

I did mean to imply in my post that "re-proclaim" is a stronger standard than "accord," although I meant it by way of exploring whether or not that stronger standard should apply to all revelation since in actual practice the standard I use is closer to "accord." You say that makes you a little queasy, and it makes me a little queasy too. Of course, "re-proclaim" is a subset of "accord," but if a revelation is merely in accord with Scripture, I might use it as a personal principle but I must be careful to bear in mind that the written Word is always superior to the "spoken" Word. So I should not lean too heavily on a revelation that is merely in accord with Scripture (more on this below).

As far as whether the Stanford example is different from the other two, yes, I think it is. I'm suggesting that there are [at least] three types of revelation going on here. The first kind, which I have found most common in my own life, is doctrinal revelation such as "The Lord avenges me against my enemies" or "You may think you are a bad daughter, but the Lord calls you his bride and a holy queen." In this case, "accord" with Scripture usually does mean re-proclaim, although perhaps not always (for instance, I would not rule out a revelation that went "The Lord is pleased with your handling of this romantic relationship" if I felt like applying the Biblical principles applicable to romantic relationships supported such a statement). I think your flash of insight analogy holds especially well here. In this case the reason we care whether or not the revelation is "from the Lord" is twofold. First, we're dealing in propositions, even if the proposition is as simple as "God loves me," and how much I change my life based on this proposition depends on its basis in Scriptural rather than PR. Second, as I tried to suggest in the recounted vision, there is a personal and immediate quality to the Lord speaking particular promises (out of the whole galaxy of Biblical promises) to particular people in particular moments. The value there of course is not that it makes you feel good, or even that it is Scripturally true (if Scriptural truth were all we cared about here, we could replace revelation with an encyclopedic knowledge of Biblical promises); the value is that the experience of God speaking to you - caring about you - strengthens your faith in God, aids your devotion to him, and increases your adoration of him.

Second, we have the kind of revelation that involves commands, such as "go to Stanford," "go up to Jerusalem," or "don't preach the Gospel in Asia." In this case it is essentially impossible for the revelation to "re-proclaim" the Gospel, though there may be Biblical principles which are applicable. In the case of Stanford, for instance, coming here seemed very much in line with principles such as nurturing my God-given talents, living in Christian community, and spreading the Gospel (how well I did is of course another story). In a case like that I think the importance of concluding that the revelation is of the Lord is when get tough (at least that is where I found it to be most valuable). I could say to myself, "I know the Lord called me here for X Y and Z reasons. So even though life is terrible right now and I am wondering if it was a mistake to come here, I remember that I did not make this up. I am not the one who decided Eric should go to Stanford. God decided that, and I can trust his sovereignty." But of course the Scriptural model for this type of revelation is full of counter-intuitive commands ("Leave Ur for the Mediterranean coast" and "Don't preach the Gospel in Asia" leap immediately to mind). How are we to deal with those? I think the one Biblical principle which applies to even these kinds of commands (which seem to fly in the face of certain Biblical principles we'd be tempted to apply) is that the one with the revelation should tell it, and the others should judge. Since the Biblical prototypes are so all over the board, I think a large part of this boils down to other people praying on your behalf. I don't know how Abraham did it, before there was a community of people called the Lord's, but we've got such a community now. I am willing to accept that God might call me to drop my legal career and become a missionary hermit living in a Mongolian yurt. He has called men to do stranger things than that. I am not willing to accept it, however, if I am the only one in my church community who feels that I should do that. If other Christians have prayed on my behalf and also gotten revelations to the effect that I should go be a Mongolian yurt missionary, and depending on how the Scriptural principle analysis goes, then I will go. So in this case the importance of the revelation being from the Lord is because the flash of insight analogy doesn't hold so well, and we need a way to discern among the whimsy of man, the wiles of the enemy, and the call of the Lord.

In this case, I suppose I am suggesting that PR has some room to provide its own justification. If a PR commands something that is clearly against Scripture, I don't care how many Christians have heard the same thing. That simply cannot be justified as a revelation from God, as Moses warned the Hebrews in Deuteronomy. But if a PR commands something that is not against Scripture and can be supported from Scripture, then I do feel like enough people prayerfully confirming the same PR does provide some justification (the other justification coming from the fact that Scripture is actually in accord). I'm not especially happy about this, but I don't see any other logical way for PR to work in the context of some of the commands we see modeled in Scripture. It simply is not true that Scripture commands us to always leave the communities in which we are established to go to a place he will show us; Scripture lays no command on us to be nomads. But that is what Abraham would have required if he had applied a re-proclamation standard to the revelation that he should leave Ur. Similarly, there is no hard and fast Scriptural principle that we should not preach to Asia - but the Spirit barred Paul from doing just that. The Spirit instructed Moses to work miracles; there is no suggestion that all of God's people should work miracles all the time. And so on and so forth - when it comes to the Spirit commanding things, I just don't see how we can get away from the revelation providing at least some of its own justification (nor do I see any suggestion in Scripture that we should try to justify PR commands solely through a re-proclamation standard).

Then we have the third type of revelation I talked about, factual revelation. In this case I think the point of the revelation being from the Lord is that the Spirit of God is not the only spirit that can make true statements. There is no indication, for instance, that the Philippian slave girl's spirit was lying when she prophesied; on the contrary she apparently had a good reputation for veracity, for she brought her masters a good deal of revenue (in a similar vein, there is no indication that the Egyptian magicians' miracle duplications were shams, but they were still clearly not from God). But Paul still rebuked that spirit and commanded it to come out of her. Now why did he do that? The spirit was being obnoxious, to be sure, but is that all? I have a hard time believing that. If a spirit is not from the Lord, then it is from the enemy, and we have a Biblical mandate to oppose its presence in our lives. That is true whether the spirit is telling the truth for the moment or not.

jefe said...

Ah, excellent: a taxonomy! I'm gonna work through your three categories. I'm also going to suggest names for them.

(1) Doctrinal PR.
I think we're agreed that this looks like the least problematic kind, and in this case all of the justification for believing the PR's content comes from scripture, not from the experience itself. You give two reasons as to why we might ask, "Is it from the Lord?" The first one doesn't make any sense to me--maybe you can restate it? The way you've put it, it only sounds like a good reason to find out whether the content is scriptural, or more to the point, whether it's justified and true.

The second reason you give is that knowing that the experience is truly from the Lord enhances our faith and our worship. That seems pretty good, but I guess I'm still confused on the more basic question: what does it mean for an experience to be "from the Lord"? Are we saying that the experience has some special metaphysical status that, say, advice from wise friends, or mathematical intuition doesn't have? I would rather invoke James 1: "every good and perfect gift comes from the Father". On that way of thinking, a vivid experience should enhance our faith and worship precisely insofar as it's "good and perfect"--and we don't need to ask further questions about the process that produced it.

Maybe this isn't a modification of your view, but for me it's kind of a different way of looking at it.

(2) Imperative PR.
Hmm. This really sounds like a pretty drastic modification of the account in your original post--you wrote, "...let others judge...not just by having them go through an internal interrogation process." Here, though, you're saying that one ruling factor is "If other Christians have prayed on my behalf and also gotten revelations"--that is, more internal interrogation processes.

It's not clear to me why the original complaints about "games in my head" don't now apply just as well to the whole community: no longer is it "centered on what I think, what I feel"--but it is centered on "what we think, what we feel".

Now honestly, I don't think that's at all a terrible standard for making decisions, especially if the what-we-think-and-feel has been properly conditioned by evidence, and especially when it's all filtered (as you insist) through the overriding concern of consistency with scripture. But it still seems a far cry from something that would grant the kind of lucid certainty that puts one in a position to say without qualification, "God wills it."

Again, maybe this doesn't really challenge your view, but it does challenge my received model of PR.

(3) Factual PR. (Or maybe "contingent PR", to emphasize the contrast with the first category.)

Now we're getting into some stuff that kind of weirds me out. Maybe you can clarify how you'd apply that Acts stuff to the kind of example we talked about before: like if you have an out-of-the-blue intuition that Jane's father is an alcoholic. You investigate the facts, and find out it's true. So now, what exactly are we going for when we ask about the origins of the intuition?

Is it to find out whether the whatever-it-was that produced the intuition is generally reliable (as opposed to "telling the truth for the moment")? That might help us know how much weight to put on similar experiences later. But not so fast--we've already established that the phenomenal properties of the experience aren't an indicator of where it came from--and so in particular, we have no a priori way of knowing whether a later experience came from the same whatever-it-was or not.

Is it because it may be "from the enemy"? Once again, I'm not sure what "from the enemy" or "not from the Lord" means here, exactly--in the light of James 1, it seems like it should be enough to just ask whether the intuition is a good thing. I'm also not really clear on what it means to "oppose its presence in our lives", when the "it" is something like theintuition about Jane's father (or the faculty that produced it).

Suppose I find out that the intuition came from something I once saw on Buffy--is that "from the Lord" or "from the enemy"? What then?

Justin said...

Haha. Does Jeff watch a lot of Buffy? ;)

Tubbypotamus said...

It seems to me that the discussion would benefit from the addition of a few concepts:
1. In terms of obeying God's commands the issue of Roman's 6:16-17 also needs to be considered. Obedience brings righteousness. Presumably personal revelation that commands an action will result in righteousness.
2. Spiritual gifts are manifested for a useful purpose - ICor 12:4-8; therefore, PR should promote positive actions.
3. Direct interaction with the Spirit happens to aid our weaknesses - Rom 8:26. PR can have a very personal relevance in terms of one's faith.
It seems to me that if PR is consistent with scripture, the above should be considered as part of the scriptural criteria.

Natalie said...

Doctrinal PR
All I meant in that first reason was that in the case of doctrinal PR especially, one of the senses "from the Lord" carries is "is it in Scripture?" or, if you like, "is it justified and true?" That is arguably true of all PR, but especially of doctrinal PR.

As to the second point, no, I don't think we should particularly care whether it comes from wise friends, mathematical intuition, or a "voice in my head." The reason is precisely the one you gave: if it came from the Lord, it came from the Lord, no matter what vessel it came by. Two points: first, my experience is that I am somewhat more prone to thank the Lord for this "good and perfect gift" when it comes from doctrinal PR than when it comes from (say) a wise friend. All that demonstrates is that I see God at work in my friends less well than I should, but it's an observed fact nonetheless and from it one can see some small extra value that PR holds over "friend revelation" for me personally in the increasing-faith-in-God department. Second, if indeed every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord, and if an alleged doctrinal PR may be approved as "good and perfect" on Scriptural grounds, then we certainly have no reason to turn our noses up at it as some do simply because it came by the "miraculous" vessel of PR rather than the "non-miraculous" vessel of a wise friend.

Imperative PR
Rather than a modification, it just seems to me that the way in which we apply "consistency with Scripture" in the case of imperative PR is necessarily different than in the case of doctrinal PR. The only Scriptural principles I can think of at the moment that apply to all imperative PR are the command to let others judge (which applies by its terms to all PR) and the first two points that Mother raised (which also apply to all PR). This necessitates speaking in blanket terms, which can make the "consistency with Scripture" filter look rather weak. But there may be other applicable Scriptural principles or Scriptural examples one can turn to for guidance in the case of any given instance of imperative PR. And even if one can point out conflicting principles or examples in a factless vacuum, when it comes to applying this stuff there will be evidence and circumstances to point to and take account of, which may well enable us to say "this is more like story X than like story Y."

The point about shifting from "what I think and feel" to "what we think and feel" seems to me like a general epistemic one. Even in the case of doctrinal PR, the fact that I have twenty other Christians who say, "Yes, revelation R is consistent with Scriptures X, Y, and Z" does not make it so. All I am really relying upon is our best efforts to accurately interpret Scripture (a task which itself does not seem to be possible without some sort of divine intervention) rather than my best efforts. That is just a limitation that I will have to live with, in PR as in other areas of life.

Factual PR
It strikes me that while "every good and perfect gift is from the Lord," it is not true that "every bad and imperfect gift is from Satan." Some "bad and imperfect gifts" will be from demonic activity, and some will be from our own sinful natures (actually in real life most will probably be from both). I meant "from the Enemy" in the relatively narrow sense of "a demon actively willed to create this mental event in my mind and acted in a way that resulted in the mental event occurring." Two questions arise: how can we know that this factual PR is due to demonic activity, and why do we care? Let's take those in reverse order.

As far as why we care, I don't have an entirely satisfactory answer but it seems clear to me from Scripture that we should. When the Old Testament prohibits divination, I never see the slightest suggestion that the prohibition is based on the fact that divination is fraudulent whereas the factual PR of a Hebrew prophet is genuine. The reason I see is that divination is based on a power other than the Hebrew God, and will therefore inevitably seduce those who practice it from the Hebrew God (this is part of the more general point about following other religions. When you get right down to it, God doesn't object to the Caananite religions because they involve abhorrent practices. Some of their practices are obviously abhorrent, but what he really cares about is that his people are turning to anything other than him). We may not be able to tell right now how giving place to a demon in our lives is going to seduce us from the one true God. But we trust that it will. Spiritual warfare is the one kind of warfare where, once your enemy has been identified, it is truly acceptable to shoot first and ask questions never. Besides, as Lewis has Dr. Ransom remind us, it's no good arguing with a demon. They love it when we do that.

Which brings us to the question of identifying the enemy in the first place. Let us suppose that a demon wills that I know that Jane's father is an alcoholic, and somehow diddles with my brain chemistry or does whatever it needs to do for me to have the experience of suddenly knowing, out of the blue, that Jane's father is an alcoholic. I do my factual investigation and sure enough, Jane's father is an alcoholic. Now what? Where did that come from? Of course in some (perhaps many) instances I won't be able to tell whether this revelation came from the Lord or from a demon or from a freak coincidence. In the case of factual PR I am less concerned about telling whether the knowledge came from the Lord than I am about whether the knowledge came from the Enemy. If I can't tell where it came from, I should just be sure that I respond to the knowledge in a wise and positive fashion. If I can tell it came from the Enemy, then I should respond to the knowledge in a wise and positive fashion and oppose the unclean spirit thus attacking me. So, how might I tell that it came from the Enemy?

Again, the general question to keep in mind is whether this whole exchange seems consistent with Scripture. So here are some thoughts: Consistent with Mother's point 2, that PR should promote positive actions, I might ask what my response is inclined to be. If it is a positive, Godly one, that suggests that all is well. I might also ask whether the manner of revelation seems consistent with God's character as revealed in Scripture and the way the Spirit seems to work. Do I get a splitting migraine every time this happens? Does it make me physically ill? That does not seem consistent to me with the way God reveals himself, but it does seem consistent to me with the cruelty of our adversary. Then too, under what circumstances did I get this? Does it "just happen" to me, or was it in response to prayer? If it "just happened," that seems to me to be contrary to 1 Cor. 14:32, "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" - speaking here of Christian prophets who ought to be listened to in church. A revelatory spirit that is not subject to the revealee is one that I am highly suspicious of.

jefe said...

I'll have a few more pertinent comments to put down later, but for now, tangentially, I want to respond to this:

"Besides, as Lewis has Dr. Ransom remind us, it's no good arguing with a demon. They love it when we do that."

Maybe I'm a tad oversensitive here, but I find that statement disturbing. For context, I recently heard Daniel Dennett bandy an eerily similar Rick Warren quote:

"Don't ever try to argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice."

Dennett's point (which seems spot-on to me) was that this kind of advice apparently amounts to, "Reasoning (or maybe in particular, rationally considering views that contradict our dogma) is dangerous and difficult: better not." I'd be suprised to hear that you really think anything like this general claim; I'd be even more startled to hear that the idea had biblical support. As for your particular claim and Lewis allusion, I must fight Lewis with Lewis:

"The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result!"

(C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

Natalie said...

I don't know Warren, but I suspect both you and Dennett are missing the point of that comment. My guess is that what Warren meant is more like this: "Neither logic nor reason have power over the Devil. Only God has that, and he allows the believer to wield authority over the Devil by giving us his Word. In order to wield the Word as your sword, you may require both logic and reason - but never make the mistake of thinking that you overcome the Enemy by argumentation. You overcome the Enemy by the Word and by the blood of Jesus."

I don't mean that one should never argue, or that one should never argue about demons. I'm not even saying that one should never argue to a demon (there's a difference between shutting down a demon with a rational argument and getting into a debate with one). If a demon says to me, "God will preserve you if you throw yourself from this roof," then it is perfectly reasonable to answer logically and Biblically. It is also perfectly reasonable to simply command it to depart; in fact I think you should do both.

But to take my comment in context, suppose a demon says to me, "Jane's father is an alcoholic." Enough - I ought not to be tricked into talking to the thing, asking why it cares I know that Jane's father is an alcoholic or what I'm supposed to do about it or any of the other thousands of questions that will leap into my head. I'm certainly not going to wait for it to do something obviously malicious or blasphemous before I oppose it. That's all I said. Surely you aren't suggesting that we should oppose demons only after we have identified the evil they are up to?

Ayudaren said...

I wrote a much longer comment before, but it was eaten by this comment service, so if I am lacking in proper explanation and exact biblical quotations, you'll know why.

Also, this kind of cuts in at an earlier point in the debate, but I was slow in commenting, so what can you do.

Is it really possible that there's no percievable difference, on a one on one basis, between PR from God and PR from anything else? I don't mean to suggest that if we look really hard, we can always tell the difference, and therefore never need to consult outside forces, but is there any room for the proper basicality of PR with regard to justification?

I'm recalling Alvin Platinga's A/C Model of Warranted Theistic Belief. If I stare at the Grand Canyon, and because of my staring at the Grand Canyon, come to believe the proposition, "God exists." (Surely a kind of PR in itself), it is easily argued that that proposition is basic for me. Like with memory beliefs (at least I believe so), I don't arrive at that belief based on any other beliefs. I don't go, "This Canyon is Grand. Something this grand could not have appeared without a force of order behind the universe. Therefore, there must be a force of order in the universe." Though that argument is possible, it is far from self-evident, and that kind of PR can occur in someone who's entirely unfamiliar with that argument.

Surely God is capable of some kind of PR that is truly foundational (I suppose I am taking for granted here that any such propositions exist). Some kind of revelation that must be true simply by virtue of being believed. I cannot say that I have ever had such a PR, perhaps nothing even close to that strength, but I must say I believe it to be possible.