Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Note of Background: The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism

I am thankful to the Lord for the continued distribution and use of the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism. Whether you have read the book already, or are trying to discern whether or not you should get it, the reader should know that this book is the culmination of several years of my own concern regarding the contemporary doctrine of fallible prophecy.

The book itself is the product of multiple articles originally posted here at The Armoury from May to September of 2013. Those original posts supplied most of the content of each chapter for public viewing. Shortly thereafter, all relevant articles were revised and compiled into book form which was made available for public consumption on October 1st. The book was then formatted into the Kindle format and published on amazon.com shortly thereafter. The initial distribution of this title then led to Kindle versions in Deutsch (January 1st, 2014, chapter 2 only) and Spanish (February 15, 2014, full book). As a result of a designated donation, paperback versions of the book came out for the English and Spanish titles in February of this year. Our prayer is that the Lord will use this for His glory and for the building up of Christ’s body.

As already mentioned, the teaching of fallible prophecy has concerned me for many years. Though I have been able to sideline this matter for most of those years, John Piper’s public endorsement[1] of the doctrine in January of 2013 became the triggering mechanism that took those concerns from the sidelines to a more public forum. The reason for this is threefold:

1. New Calvinism: When John Piper expressed his support for fallible prophecy on his Desiring God website,[2] he decidedly entered into a new phase of advocacy[3] for this troubling doctrine. His popularity, coupled with his reputation as a father figure within the New Calvinism movement, runs the risk of advancing this troubling doctrine with greater rapidity and breadth than previously seen with men like Wayne Grudem.

2. Evangelical Celebritism: The culture of Evangelical Celebritism,[4] coupled with the rising influence of the Christian-publishing industrial complex, continues to supply a powerful vehicle for various teachings that are deeply problematic, including the Charismatic doctrine of fallible prophecy. For example, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has been a central vehicle for fallible prophecy seeing that it “has sold over 450,000 copies and has been translated into eight other languages, with at least eight more foreign translations now in process.”[5] Not only does Grudem’s Systematic Theology teach and advocate fallible prophecy, but it also supplies a 6-point strategy for establishing fallible prophecy within the local church. This poses an increasing danger of the tolerance and proliferation of false prophets within the church via this pernicious doctrine.

3. Sola Scriptura: The doctrine of fallible prophecy leads to the undermining of the priority of Sola Scriptura, and this influence is spreading through a wide variety of popular pastors and seminaries. Though my work is focused on the theology of fallible prophecy, it seemed necessary to mention the various means by which this doctrine continues to be transmitted – whether wittingly or unwittingly. Thus, after completing the five chapters of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, I proceeded to work through the book’s introduction and resultantly felt compelled to include an additional 38 words to the 46,000 already written:

“Unfortunately, I must also report that my Alma Mater (The Master’s Seminary) has used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for several years, even though the institution represents a cessationistic point of view, one that is incompatible with fallible prophecy.”

This paragraph is then footnoted with the following:

“By mentioning this fact, it is not my intention to suggest that The Master’s Seminary (TMS) is attempting to spread Grudem’s doctrine of fallible prophecy. I am arguing that there are far better resources available, especially in view of the many time-tested works used by conservative seminaries throughout the years. Though TMS is only using portions of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, I am concerned that it is being used at all. His views on the Holy Spirit and the efficacy of God’s revelation permeate many other topics beyond that of spiritual gifts. Grudem’s writings continue to increase in their popularity and influence, often leading to tolerance or acceptance of his more problematic teachings. It is this indirect and mediated influence that concerns me the most because it is so subtle and often undetected.”

I had never planned to mention this small point when I first started working on the manuscript, however, the culmination of my studies and writing led me to express concern over the subtle, indirect, and mediated influence of Grudem on others. Thus, my respectful disagreement with TMS seemed unavoidable in light of my studies along with my growing awareness of Grudem’s legacy among TMS graduates and others.[6] As an alumnus of TMS, I haven’t the luxury of ignoring the actions and words of those who represent the institution. However, before expressing my concerns in the introduction of my book, I contacted individuals at the seminary in order to confirm that they had been using Grudem’s Systematic Theology at all. Though their use of it is selective, my concern (as already stated) is that it is being used in a positive manner at all, especially in light of the availability of alternative works and the way in which fallible prophecy permeates many other doctrines beyond that of spiritual gifts. Concerning this latter point, I do charge that Grudem’s teaching on spiritual gifts impacts related discussions concerning Sanctification,[7] Theology Proper,[8] Ecclesiology,[9] Hermeneutics,[10] the Roles of Men and Women,[11]and the principle of Sola Scriptura.[12] In view of these considerations, I cannot support the presumption that Grudem’s Systematic Theology contains a trifle amount of error that can be easily ignored. In fact, what he teaches concerning the nature of prophecy must not be ignored. Therefore, I would discourage any church or theological institution from using Grudem’s Systematic Theology. As already stated: there are other time-tested works that do a much better job of honoring God’s gift of prophecy. All of this is more than what I supplied in the Introduction of the book, but it seemed fitting to offer a more thorough explanation for my position, especially since the book has had several months of circulation already. In the end, all of us must carefully weigh not only our words but our actions before a watching world. If we wish to champion Sola Scriptura and the principle of Scriptural Inerrancy, then the very literature that we use and promote should be consistent with that position.

Finally, I should note that the timing of the book’s release was an interesting matter of divine providence. As already mentioned, I began my initial labors on The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism when I first watched John Piper’s advocacy video for fallible prophecy early in 2013. What started as a mere blog series on The Armoury through the Spring and Summer months of 2013 culminated in a book that became available in October of the same year. What I didn’t realize until late in this process was that a conference dealing with some of the same issues was gearing up for October 16th – 18th: The Strange Fire Conference. When I provided courtesy copies of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism to a few leaders at TMS on October 11th, I was made more fully aware of the conference, its content, along with the fact that MacArthur was going to be releasing his title: Strange Fire in mid-November. When I learned all of this, I wondered if my labors might be little more than a duplicate of what MacArthur would reveal in his work, however, through a friend who acquired MacArthur’s book at the conference, I discovered that this was not the case. In fact, I was given a copy of Strange Fire in late December of 2013 and have supplied a lengthy review here. Simply put, our books are quite different in many ways. I mention all of this as a broader background and context for The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism along with the timing of its publication. As an unexpected surprise of God’s providence, the elevated interest in the subject of continuationism/cessationism, as stirred by the conference, has helped to draw attention to the more narrow discussion of fallible prophecy. In everything, our prayer continues to be that the body of Christ would engage the Scriptures, seeking to resolve all questions regarding our Christian life and practice by no other authority – Sola Scriptura.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] John Piper’s continuationist views have had a limited distribution over the years. Those who have read his books would not necessarily know of his Charismatic views thereby, however, it is not as if Piper has hidden his convictions either. In reality, Piper’s advocacy of Charismatic doctrine has been evident throughout the years of his ministry, though it hasn’t been obvious to all those who follow him.

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/piper-on-prophecy-and-tongues.

[3] Should anyone question whether or not Piper is or has been an open advocate of fallible prophecy, it should be self-evident that posting an advocacy video on the world wide web is a very strong expression of public advocacy.

[4] As noted in the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, this term is, admittedly, an invention in order to denote an increase in blind devotion that many offer to Evangelicals who are quite visible and popular.

[5] http://www.waynegrudem.com/systematic-theology/

[6] I graduated from TMS before the institution became more aggressively open to Wayne Grudem’s teaching and influence. My awareness of TMS’s use of Grudem’s Systematic Theology has come about over the years through my interactions with individuals associated with the institution.

[7] Grudem’s teaching on sanctification is fairly extensive, nearly spanning 100 pages. However, his emphasis on fallible prophecy, and the Christian’s presumed need to pursue such prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1), offers a troubling corruption to this important subject. As I address in the book, Grudem would have us to believe that prophetic exhortations in the church are fallible by the very nature of fallible prophecy. Yet we must wonder how believers can effectively pursue righteous living if their basis of authority entertains the inclusion of such corruption. If a believer’s pursuit of sanctification must rest in a view of prophecy that is fallible, then what hope does the believer have with such a shifting foundation? Moreover, Grudem argues that the lack of personal piety should not serve as a hindrance to the pursuit of the practice of prophecy by nearly everyone in the church. Yet, this stands as a contradiction to Paul’s call to piety and love in 1 Corinthians 13 within his overall instructions concerning the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simply put, Grudem’s teachings on sanctification are infected by his advocacy of fallible prophecy. Contrary to Grudem’s teaching, the fruit of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 13) is the basis of all other gifts (1 Corinthians 12, 14).

[8] Grudem’s teaching on fallible prophecy supplies, by inference, a troubling message concerning the nature of God Himself. In the end, fallible prophecy is to be seen as God’s effort to reveal His word, fallibly, to His people. However, the historic lesson of prophecy is that God is always effectual and sovereign in this matter of revelation, such that he can even use the ungodly to utter His words (as in the case of Balaam). Simply put – the sovereign Lord of the Universe doesn’t “try” to do anything. Whatever else might be said about Grudem’s chapters on Theology Proper, his advocacy of fallible prophecy introduces a dangerous seed of corruption to the nature of God Himself.

[9] From the book, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, “…the advocates of fallible prophecy argue that the presence of such prophecy in the local church is a sign of God’s blessing, while its absence is a sign of God’s removal of favor from His people. [170] They maintain this view while simultaneously arguing that fallible prophecy has less authority than the teaching of the Scriptures. [171] Though it may not be intended, such a view gravely diminishes non-continuationist churches, even if such churches hold a very high view of the teaching/ preaching of the Word. It should be no surprise, therefore, that fallible prophecy enthusiasts seek to promote and spread their doctrine to others. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem supplies a 6-step process for introducing fallible prophecy to the local church. Within Grudem’s 6-point plan, he advises his readers to seek out permission from their church’s leadership to advance such a ministry.” Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism: An Analysis, Critique, and Exhortation Concerning the Contemporary Doctrine of “Fallible Prophecy” (Pfafftown, NC: The Armoury Ministries), 153-154.

[10] The full force of The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism reveals the weaknesses of Grudem’s handling of the Scriptures concerning the doctrine of fallible prophecy.

[11] It is somewhat ironic that Grudem is reputed to be a defender of a biblically conservative position concerning the roles of men and women. His contributions towards the work, Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood along with his active participation on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, have forged a strong reputation for Grudem in this manner. However, when one considers the practical realities of the doctrine of fallible prophecy, we find that women are typically encouraged to engage in modes of ministry which contradict scriptural mandates like 1 Timothy 2:12. Though the advocates of fallible prophecy will argue that NT prophecy bears less authority than that of teaching, thereby preventing such a confusion of roles, this simply isn’t the case in view of their overall misinterpretation of the prophetic gift. Simply put, the confusion that is inherent within fallible prophecy spills over into a confusion of roles of leadership in the body of Christ.

[12] As mentioned in footnote 7, Grudem’s repeated emphasis on seeking out fallible prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1) undermines Paul’s actual point. When Paul enjoined the Corinthian church to seek out prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1), he was calling them to pursue genuine prophecy, not the counterfeits of fallible prophecy being proffered by those who claimed to have the genuine gift (1 Corinthians 12:3, 14:37). In every generation, God’s people are called to pursue God’s genuine revelation rather than deceptive counterfeits. Overall, the teaching of fallible prophecy leads the church away from the principle of Sola Scriptura.