Some time ago the publisher of What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology by Jon Mark Ruthven contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reading and blogging on the book. I said certainly, and it’s been on deck for a few months now. I’ve decided to start reading and blogging on it now in the wake of John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference.
John MacArthur is a committed cessationist, meaning he believes the more “miraculous” spiritual gifts in the New Testament have ended. I am a continuationist, meaning I don’t see the Bible distinguishing between “miraculous” gifts and the other more ordinary spiritual gifts.
I agree with MacArthur that there is a lot of strange fire out there. I’ve seen people all too ready to accept all kinds of questionable behavior in the name of not wanting to quench the Spirit. But I’ve also known some rather solid people who’ve manifested the more extraordinary gifts in ways that were very credible, and along with these manifestations they’ve demonstrated tremendous love.
In his opening summary Ruthven says Protestant theology has been about “endless information” and “knowing about God” versus “knowing God”. I think this is true in many cases, but I’m also wary of Ruthven’s heavy emphasis on “direct” communication with God. The danger of conservative Protestants of MacArthur’s stripe is an emphasis on Scripture that loses sight of the living Christ manifested in the Christian community. I discern a possible opposite danger in Ruthven, a seeking of a relationship with God that is very loosely tethered to Scripture, that sees the real relationship with God happening in direct communication apart from the Bible. We’ll see if that assessment holds.
(For what it's worth I hold to the early Protestant focus on Christ mediated through the Scriptures as the way to knowing God. Spirit experience grows out of this encounter and leads one back to encounter Christ anew in the prophetic-apostolic witness. The living Christ of the Spiritual gifts is embodied by the church that lives from this encounter with Christ in the Scriptures. Baptism and holy communion signify and seal his presence and finished work.)