Rolling Right of the Tongue(s): or, a Few Thoughts on Arguments on Tongues Being Human Languages and Cessationism

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On page 2,129 of the Reformation Study Bible (a fine study Bible) there’s a note on 1 Corinthians 12:10 that ends with: “There is no reason to conclude that the “tongues” of 1 Cor differ from the “tongues” of Acts 2”. This is possibly the worst note in this entire Bible. The first glaring reason we have for thinking it’s wrong: the tongues of Acts did not require an interpreter and were simply understood by the audience at Pentecost, since it was in their own language(s). The tongues of Corinthians require someone with the gift of interpreting tongues, something we see two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14:

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No Spirit, No Salvation, or Salvation Apart from the Spirit?

The role of the Holy Spirit in salvation is well-attested in Scripture, as John Piper helpfully catalogs. He rightly says, ‘no Spirit, no Salvation’. There is however a curious little story in Acts (Acts is full of curious little stories) that jarred me a little bit when I first read it, because it seems to contradict, or at the very least complicate, the Spirits role in salvation:

 

‘And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” So they said to him, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.  Now the men were about twelve in all.’ (Acts 19:1-7)

 

This is quite an interesting situation. It’s not referenced again in Scripture, and the tone doesn’t strike one as overly urgent. Paul doesn’t appear to question the disciples’ salvation, and he acknowledges that they have believed, nor does the Bible call them anything but ‘disciples’. Paul’s action isn’t to lead them to repent and believe the Gospel but to lay hands on them, whereupon the Spirit comes on them and they prophesy. The number of disciples mirrors the number of disciples at Pentecost, and both events resemble each other in that the end result of the Spirit coming upon them is tongues and prophecy. 

 

So what’s going on here? Clearly, there can’t be salvation wholly apart from the Spirit. John Piper is correct here. However, this passage does seem to lend credence to the Pentecostal idea of a ‘second filling of the holy spirit’ or a ‘second blessing’ , often mentioned in the context of a baptism of the Holy Spirit where tongues is seen as the evidence of a second filling (this is distinct from the Wesleyan doctrine of ‘second blessing’’). This is perhaps a topic for another time, though. 

 

At any rate, it’s clear that while there is no salvation apart from the Spirit, there appears to be a sense in which believers in Christ can be believers without even knowing that there is a Holy Spirit or without what might be called the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It would even appear that knowledge of the Spirit isn’t necessary for the salvation of believers in the New Testament; this would make salvation even more monergistic in the sense that one can be saved and be counted a believer without any knowledge of key aspects of salvation, even continuing into the Christian life. Salvation is an act of God through and through, perhaps to an extent whether the believer knows it or not. Is there salvation apart from the Spirit? No. Does salvation require anything of us, even knowledge of the Holy Spirit, even continuing on into the disciples life? No. Salvation requires God and nothing else. God’s mighty act of salvation and continuing work of sanctification in the Christian life are contingent on God alone, and now what the believer does or doesn’t know.

Notes and Thoughts on the Pactum Salutis

A while ago Peter Leithart blogged on the Pactum Salutis, and I’ve been mulling jit over ever since. The Pactum Salutis (PS) doctrine turns on the idea of negotiated agreement or settlement or whatever term you prefer. The extent to which this is flattened and weakened is the extent to which the PS really stops being an actual doctrine of PS. Turretin and Owen (among others) try to turn the PS into a super duper trinitarian thing but also keep it super duper undivided by limiting the PS to the economy. Of course it pretty much isn’t ad intra at this point, and also at this point there really ceases to be any kind of ‘agreement’ between ‘legal parties’ as the PS posits. There isn’t much of a way to have your cake and eat it too here. Continue reading

‘Barren, Silent, Godless’: or, how Cormac McCarthy and Bonhoeffer Find God in a World Without God

In his essay for The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy entitled ‘The Quest for God in the Road’, Allen Josephs spends a good deal of time tracing out the textual evidence for and against the presence of God in The Road (TR). There’s no shortage of passages that suggest just such a deus absconditus (and McCarthy here goes further than mere absence: there is a sense that if God is in fact absent he has purposefully left the world alone or abandoned the world, a line of thought that is explored in the metalcore band Zao’s album The Funeral of God), but I want to suggest that TR isn’t occupied so much with the absence of God but rather with a very specific and concrete form of the presence of God. This presence-absence is a major theme in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings (especially his later prison writings) and there is a good deal of overlap between McCarthy and Bonhoeffer on this topic. Continue reading

‘Authority Under the Word’: or, a Brief Thought on Why a Critical Attitude Ought to be Maintained Toward Tradition

In and of itself, tradition has zero normative force. Take the term ‘tradition’ to encompass things such as the ecumenical councils, received dogmas, things of that nature. These things have normative force only to the extent that they are correct and not in virtue of their status as tradition. Because the normative force derives from the correctness of tradition, it has to be shown that the tradition is in fact correct, and there cannot be a presumption of this correct-ness. This doesn’t mean an attitude of skepticism or suspicion towards tradition; it is helpful to think of tradition as our theological older brother/sister . We listen to them and to their wisdom before we say they are wrong, but we nonetheless validate what they say. In the case of tradition, this validation comes through exegesis and submission to the Word. One should not thumb their nose at the collective wisdom of the tradition: if one takes it to be the case that the tradition is wrong then it must be proved. However, to reiterate a point above, this does not mean that the presumption of correctness is on the side of tradition. Tradition can and has been wrong; there is no a priori reason to think that tradition ought to be given the benefit of the doubt simply because its status as tradition. Continue reading

Against Pure A Priori-ism

In a recent article for Aeon magazine, Prof. Bruce Russell argues that all our justified beliefs ultimately rest on a priori justification. At first glance, this appears to be quite a claim, for surely some of our justification is a posteriori – how can empirical propositions such as, say, the sun will rise tomorrow, because it has risen in the past (the inductive proposition par excellence) turn out to be justified a priori? Russell argues that even induction is justified a priori – a contentious claim, to say the least, but not an indefensible one. The question of its viability, then, hinges on the quality of the arguments given in its defence. It is important to note at the outset and keep in mind Russell’s definition of a priori justification – this will prove significant later: Continue reading