The notion of “prophecy”

“The notion of “prophecy,” as this is understood by various generations of readers (1 Thess 5:19) does not accord with a widespread and popular view today.  Many today regard this in either of two ways which partly diverge from mainline tradition.  Some regard prophecy primarily as predictions of the future; others adopt the classical Pentecostal sense of viewing prophecy as a spontaneous, staccato-like, pronouncement made from within a congregation.  Thomas Gillespie, and others argue that, by contrast, it often constitutes pastoral, applied preaching which conveys the gospel.

This view can be found “throughout the centuries” as the normal interpretation among the church fathers, Aquinas, Calvin, John Wesley, James Denney and many others.  Ambrosiaster and Augustine see “prophecy” as explanatory exposition of scripture (Augustine, On the Psalms 76.4; NPNF1 8.361).  Thomas Aquinas asserts that “prophesying” (1 Thess 5:19) “may be understood as divine doctrine . . . Those who explain doctrine are called prophets . . . ‘Do not despise preachers'” (Commentary, 52).

Calvin declares, “Prophecy means the art of interpreting scripture” (60).  Estius insists that it does not mean “private interpretation” (Commentarius, 2.592).  Matthew Henry remarks, “By prophecyings here we understand the preaching of the word, the interpreting and applying of the scriptures” (Concise Commentary on 1 Thess 5:19-20).  John Wesley writes, “Prophecyings, that is preaching (Notes, 694).  James Denney says of the prophet, “He was a Christian preacher” (Thessalonians, 239).  Such an army of witnesses might suggest that further thought is needed, before we readily endorse either of these two more popular views of what 1 Thess. 5:19 and similar passages mean about “prophecy.”

Introduction, pg. 5-6


This Beverage of Life

This Beverage of Life

“The Church, though dispersed throughout the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith:  She believes in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth , and the sea , and all that are in them; and in one Christ, Jesus the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God:  [announcing in prophecy] the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ, Jesus our Lord, and his future manifestation from heaven in then glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race . . . . .

As I have already observed, the Church, having received the preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it.

She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth.

For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the content of the [apostolic] tradition is one and the same.  For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.

But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all [people] that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Irenaeus, Against Heresies I, 10, 1-2, trans. A Roberts and W. Rambaut, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.I, ed. A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, and A. C. Coxe (Buffalo, N. Y.: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885); translation has been slightly modified.


Oi, Ricky, No!

Oi, Ricky, No!

I recently had a brief chat with a chap about “religion” – which even though I am a church pastor, doesn’t happen very often!  Not like this anyway.

In the course of the conversation we talked about a theological book I was carrying, and he commented that the book will have “religious bias”, and that, by implication, could not really be trusted.

Of course my thought-reply was immediate:  “If by “bias” you mean an unthinking and pre-determined approach of coming to, and understanding, truth, then No.  But if you mean by “bias” that I am seeking truth and understanding through the lens of Christian Theology, a discipline that implodes if without internal and external integrity and disciplines, then Yes.”

Of course, the underlying assumption, as I saw it, was that Christian books of theology are naively enslaved to a bronze-age superstitious worldview, but still seek to peddle their wares to unsuspecting passersby, since everyone knows that science (more accurately, scientism, or “scientistic epistemology”) has put to death once and for all the myth of religion, or more specifically, the myth of Christianity.

Then my friendly interlocutor mentioned something Ricky Gervais had said in a US TV interview a few years ago.  I’ve listened to it and seen it on YouTube a couple of times, and each time I am staggered at how pleasant and wise popular atheist sloganeering sounds, every phrase met with the wide-eyed support and cheering and clapping of gladiatorial spectators witnessing the death of a prize-winning fighter.  Only this time, it is the wise Ricky putting to death the mythical monster that is Christianity.  It reminded me of the marvellous Mark Twain, who wrote in Volume 1 of his Autobiography, “These poor fellows furnish a “comic” performance which is so humble, and poor and pitiful, and childish, and asinine, and inadequate that it makes a person ashamed of the human race. Ah, their timorous dances – and their timorous antics – and their shamefaced attempts at funny grimacing – and their cockney songs and jokes – they touch you, they pain you, they fill you with pity, they make you cry…. London loves them; London has a warm big heart, and there is room and a welcome in it for all the misappreciated refuse of creation.”

Sadly, it is nothing but the poor and pitiful, the childish and asinine quality of the popular new-atheist movement in our day that is wildly unwild, one could say tame.      G. K. Chesterton did:  “It is not the wild ideals which wreck the practical world; it is the tame ideals.”  Is this shallow debate wrecking the world?  Yep.

So what did Ricky say?

Continue reading

How secularism ‘avoids discussing what is good’

From the second chapter entitled ‘On the Negative Spirit’ of G. K. Chesterton’s book Heretics, he majestically dismantles the secualrized notion of “progress”, an idea that on the surface of things sounds mature but as Chesterton shows, is actually devoid of a telos, a true goal that most of human history (until the modern age) has been concerned with.  In other words, modern secularism is self-referential to the point of madness and absurdity, “It has no perfection to point to” hence,

“All I venture to point out, with an increased firmness, is that this omission (the absence of an enduring and positive ideal [or] absence of a permanent key to virtue), good or bad, does leave us face to face with the problem of a human consciousness filled with very definite images of evil, and with no definite image of good.  To us light must be henceforward the dark thing – the thing of which we cannot speak…

…  The human race, according to religion, fell once, and in falling gained the knowledge of good and evil.  Now we have fallen a second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.  A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization…”

20618693._UY475_SS475_And now we are set for the full force of Chesterton’s genius.  I have rearranged the shape of the following paragraph so that it can be seen more clearly, but the order of words and ideas is exact):

“… Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk what is good.

We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid talking about what is good.

We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.”  This is logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.”

He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.”  This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle for what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.”

He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.”  This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Heresy, p.13

Chesterton later calls this “unconscious shirking” (p.14), before stating:  “What is the good of begetting a man until we have settled what is the good of being a man?  You are merely handing on to him a problem you dare not settle yourself.”


All this light and so much darkness

20618693._UY475_SS475_Concluding his astonishing Introductory Remarks in his book Heretics, G. K. Chesterton spins a yarn:

“I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting things done.  Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down.  A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages [one can’t help but think this is Thomas Aquinas], is approached on the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light.  If Light be itself good….”

At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down.  All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily.  Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;

some because they wanted old iron;

some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil.

Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post,

some too much;

some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery;

some because they wanted to smash something.

And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.  So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, tomorrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that it all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.  Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

Heretics, p.7-8

(parentheses mine)