Back in 2008 my blogger friend John Caldwell and I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Sam Storms some questions. This is the re-post from my old blog below.
1. Many charismatic Calvinist consider you one of the leaders of this movement. What kind of responses have you received from your book “Convergence: Spiritual Journeys Of A Charismatic Calvinist”?
The response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Several hundred people have written or called thanking me for articulating a view that they’ve long held but were afraid to admit. Of course, there have been a few really negative reviews, as one would expect. Several commented that my description of some personal supernatural experiences in the first four chapters sounded really “weird”. I agree. They were weird! But that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, or that God wasn’t behind them. Weirdness has never been a category for determining the validity of spiritual experiences. There are countless “weird” experiences narrated in Scripture. And may I suggest that perhaps some of it is deemed weird only because we have so thoroughly abandoned the reality of angels and the supernatural in general and spiritual gifts in particular that any deviation from what we regard as “normal” and “natural” would necessarily be perceived as “weird”. If you have no biblical or theological interpretive grid on the basis of which you not only believe in these kind of phenomena but also pray for and expect them, then I can understand why it would strike a person as “weird” when they hear another Christian relate such experiences.
2. Many Reformed believers are suspicious of any form of guidance that is not scripture, they are afraid that contemporary use of the prophetic, dreams, visions etc. will in some way take away from the sufficiency of scripture. How would you respond to this concern?
This concern was voiced to me by Richard Gaffin when we collaborated on the book, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views (Zondervan). He and others object to the possibility of post-canonical revelation on the grounds that we would be “bound to attend and submit to” it no less than to Scripture. Aside from the fact that this wrongly presupposes that contemporary prophecy yields infallible, Scripture-quality words from God, the problem is one Gaffin himself must face. For were not the Thessalonian Christians, for example, “bound to attend and submit to” (lit., “hold fast”; 1 Thessalonians 5:21) the prophetic words they received, no less than to the Scripture in which this very instruction is found? Evidently Paul did not fear that their response to the spoken, prophetic word would undermine the ultimate authority or sufficiency of the written revelation (Scripture) that he was in process of sending them. The point is this: non-canonical revelation was not inconsistent with the authority of Scripture then, so why should it be now? This is especially true if contemporary prophecy does not necessarily yield infallible words of God.
Someone might ask, “But how should we in the twentieth-century, in a closed-canonical world, respond to non-canonical revelation?” The answer is, “In the same way Christians responded to it in their first-century, open-canonical world, namely, by evaluating it in light of Scripture” (which was emerging, and therefore partial, for them, but is complete for us). Such revelation would carry for us today the same authority it carried then for them. Furthermore, we are in a much better position today than the early church, for we have the final form of the canon by which to evaluate claims to prophetic revelation. If they were capable of assessing prophetic revelation then (and Paul believed they were; witness his instruction in 1 Corinthians 14:29ff. and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 to do precisely that), how much more are we today! If anything, contemporary claims of prophetic revelation should be easier to evaluate and respond to than such claims in the first century.
Therefore, if non-canonical revelation was not a threat to the ultimate authority of Scripture in its emerging form, why would it be a threat to Scripture in the latter’s final form? If first-century Christians were obligated to believe and obey Scripture in the open-canonical period, simultaneous with and in the presence of non-canonical prophetic revelation, why would non-canonical revelation in the closed-canonical period of church history pose any more of a threat?
Gaffin argues that contemporary prophecy cannot, in fact, be evaluated by Scripture because of its purported specificity. But this is no more a problem for us today than it would have been for Christians in the first century. Did not they evaluate prophetic revelation in spite of the latter’s specificity and individuality? If they were obedient to Paul’s instruction they certainly did (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Why, then, can’t we? And are we not, in fact, better equipped than they to do so insofar as we, unlike them, hold in hand the final form of canonical revelation whereby to make that assessment?
Gaffin and other cessationists believe that to admit the possibility of revelation beyond Scripture unavoidably implies a certain insufficiency in Scripture that needs to be compensated for. But one must ask, “What is Scripture sufficient for?” Certainly it is sufficient to tell us every theological truth and ethical principle necessary to a life of godliness. Yet Gaffin himself concedes that God reveals himself to individuals in a variety of personal, highly intimate ways. But why would he need to, if Scripture is as exhaustively sufficient as Gaffin elsewhere insists? That God should find it important and helpful to reveal himself to his children in personal and intimate ways bears witness to the fact that the sufficiency of the Bible is not meant to suggest that we need no longer hear from our Heavenly Father or receive particular guidance in areas on which the Bible is silent.
Scripture never claims to supply us with all possible information necessary to make every conceivable decision. Scripture may tell us to preach the gospel to all people, but it does not tell a new missionary in 2008 that God desires his service in Albania rather than Australia . The potential for God speaking beyond Scripture, whether for guidance, exhortation, encouragement, or conviction of sin, poses no threat to the sufficiency that Scripture claims for itself.
3. I really enjoyed reading your your book,” Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation Of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections.” If Edwards were alive today, do you think he would be a cessationist? And do you think he would have approved of renewal movements such as Toronto , Pensacola and what’s happening in Lakeland , Florida with Todd Bentley?
Would Edwards be a cessationist if he were alive today? I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that he would take into account the enormous body of material, both exegetical and theological, as well as historical, that would be available to him now and come to a more biblical conclusion.
I think Edwards would respond to Toronto , Pensacola , and Lakeland the same way he responded to what happened in the First Great Awakening in his own day. He would likely acknowledge that “in the main” or “in the general” (that’s his terminology) these are genuine outpourings of the Holy Spirit, but that does not entail endorsing or approving of all the particulars. There will always be extremists and fanatics (in Edwards’ day they were called “enthusiasts” and given to “enthusiasm”) in any outpouring of the Spirit or in a season of renewal. There will always be abuses and mistakes and stumbling blocks because we are frail and fallible and prone to error. But that doesn’t necessary discredit the legitimacy of the revival as a whole. Edwards would certainly have found many faults in all these current expressions of renewal and he wouldn’t have hesitated to say so publicly. But he would have argued, I believe, that there is a live baby of God’s presence somewhere lurking in the muddy bath waters of human error. Perhaps the best and most thorough way of answering the question is simply to have people read my book “Signs of the Spirit”!
4. I love the Word and the Spirit but It seems like we’re in a time where many Charismatic / Prophetic Christians are becoming addicted to the spectacular. As a leader who has experienced the power of God in your own life ( Read Convergence ) Do you see that as a problem and finally do you have any words of caution?
Yes, far too many are addicted to the spectacular. They hanker after power encounters and experiences that they believe will either mean God loves them in a special way or will elevate them to positions of fame and influence and wealth in the Church. There’s nothing wrong with the spectacular, if by that you mean the God ordained display of signs and wonders. There are plenty of spectacular things in the Book of Acts and I don’t think people were inclined to be addicted (except in the case of Simon Magus in Acts 8 and some in the church at Corinth ). But having said that, I would encourage people to find their fundamental identity and satisfaction and joy in the experience of seeing and knowing and tasting and savoring the all-sufficiency and breath-taking beauty of God as he has made himself known in Jesus Christ. If, in the course and along the way of that pursuit, you encounter a spectacular manifestation of God’s power, wonderful. If not, it’s still wonderful.