Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit

By Thomas R. Edgar
Grand Rapids : Kregel (1996). 283 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
8.2 (Fall 1997) : 232-234

Ten chapters attempt to answer recent charismatic arguments, especially as articulated by Jack S. Deere (Surprised By the Power of the Spirit. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993). Readers will also find a response to Deere’s book in Richard Mayhue, “Who Surprised Whom? The Holy Spirit or Jack Deere?” The Master’s Seminary Journal 5/2 (Fall, 1994):123-40. Edgar is Professor of New Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, Maryland. He writes from the standpoint of the cessationist view of certain New Testament gifts of the Spirit, such as tongues, healings, and signs and wonders.

His book deals with the issue of whether all the miracle gifts of the NT era are fully operative today, as claimed by many writers in Pentecostal, charismatic, and signs and wonders groups. Deere, whose work Edgar is chiefly addressing, was on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary before he left the doctrinal position there and subscribed to his present views about the gifts.

 The reasoning of Edgar is that NT passages, which he discusses sometimes in considerable detail, show God’s intent for some gifts to be permanent and others temporary, in the early church only. He also takes up a number of accusations from Deere and others to the effect that those not practicing miraculous gifts now are living sub-par spiritual lives. His quest in a nutshell is to show that Christians can be satisfied and fulfilled by the Spirit in a God-pleasing, fruitful life sufficient through Scripture apart from these particular gifts.

To accomplish his objectives, Edgar devotes his main chapters to the priority of what the Scripture says over claimed experiences (Chap. 1), biblical information on the gifts (Chap. 3), the temporary nature of NT apostles and prophets (Chap. 4), miracles and healing (Chap. 5), the nature and purpose of tongues (Chap. 6-7), the temporary purpose of certain gifts in the early church era (Chap. 9), and a conclusion (Chap. 10). The last chapter, among other things, points out Deere accusations of cessationist unspirituality and Deere misrepresentations of statements Edgar made in an earlier book, Miraculous Gifts.

 In Chap. 1, Edgar says it is legitimate for a Christian to want more power and passion for God (11), but believers should draw on the supply according to proper interpretation of God’s Word. This will be sufficient without overt, visible evidence of God’s presence in experiencing miraculous gifts, or in a health and wealth gospel, exorcisms, etc. The focus is wrong, he believes, when one puts emphasis on miraculous experiences for their own sake. It also is askew when claiming that Christians are unbelieving or without spiritual power if they do not feel that Scripture validates present seeking of these.

Edgar is convinced that Deere wrongly conveys the impression that religious experience (“It happened to me”) itself validates his case. Such a focus on experience is a frequent assertion by Deere, rather than consistently acknowledging that Scripture has persuaded him. Edgar claims that Deere did not demonstrate in the book above that he had carefully studied all the crucial passages in the discussion yet (19).

 In dealing with Scripture, Chap. 2 asserts that “scriptural argument will seldom convince charismatics that their interpretation of the experience is wrong” (23). The chapter insists that the only proper standard by which to evaluate experience is Scripture. He mentions Deere’s admission that he originally chose a cessationist system so that it would permit him an excuse for not having a passion for God (25). This, Edgar contends, is a misrepresentation of motives in the many cessationists who have had a passion for the Lord, have led many to the Savior, and have shown sacrificial love to Him and His people, sometimes even sealing their testimony in martyrdom for Christ’s sake.

Besides, says Edgar, many have switched from a charismatic view to a cessationist position. They would argue their experience if experience is to be decisive. Again, what God’s Word says and means is the objective guide (26). He claims it is a fallacy of Deere to reason that people are not cessationists because of what Scripture teaches but because they have not experienced the gifts (28).

 Chapter 2 also argues for a difference between NT miraculous gifts and those claimed today. One distinction is that Jesus and the apostles never failed, as advocates of miracles do today. Many charismatics admit that alleged gifts today are different from NT gifts, saying that people now do not have the gift of infallible prophecy as in the early church, thus conceding what cessationists basically argue. Other charismatics have shifted to an effort to establish that their lesser, fallible prophecies are also in Scripture, in NT prophets as distinguished from OT prophets. A notable advocate is Wayne Grudem (The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today [Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1988] 109-12). In a 4-part series, David Farnell has answered Grudem and others (“Does the New Testament Teach Two Prophetic Gifts?”, Bibliotheca Sacra 149/596, 150/597, 150/598, 150/599 [1992- 1993]). Edgar’s survey of various passages admits no case of the NT, rightly interpreted, giving a lesser, defective type of gift matching those alleged today.

 The writer being reviewed here uses Chap. 4 to argue for the temporary (early church) duration of apostles and prophets. He uses Eph 2:20 as a key text to claim this (cf. 72-85). A case develops in Chap. 5 against the presence today of any who have the NT sign gifts such as miracles and healing. God does heal in answer to prayer, Edgar writes, but this does not mean that individuals with sign gifts are present. Even James 5:14-15 directed the church to deal with sickness as noncharismatic churches do today; evidently healers and miracle workers were not available. Chapter 6, a very long one (120-64), reasons that NT tongues were human languages as in Acts 2:4-11. In 10:46 Peter testifies that tongues at Caesarea were the same as in 2:4-11. Edgar sees no evidence in Scripture of glōssa ever meaning ecstatic speech (153). Verses in 1 Corinthians speak of foreign languages: 12:2 refers to tongues that are intelligible; 13:1 to tongues of men; 14:22 is a deduction based on Isaiah 28:11 that speaks of invaders’ foreign language. The author answers alleged problems for a human language view in 1 Corinthians 12–14 in ways fitting earthly languages. Glossalalia (ecstatic speech), common in various parts of the world, are non-supernatural and can be self-induced, in contrast to NT tongues that are miraculous from God (154-55).

Edgar sees the purpose of tongues as a sign to unbelievers, not only Jews but Gentiles relevant at Corinth (1 Cor 14:22). Supernatural tongues gained a hearing for the gospel. Their purpose was not to transmit angelic tongues or enhance personal devotions, for they always were for ministry to others. Romans 8:26 precludes the need for devotional help in this way since the Holy Spirit helps all believers in prayer without tongues. In addition, tongues are not evidence for a postconversion baptism of the Spirit. Edgar develops at length his arguments against a private, devotional use (166-81).

The conclusion (10) shows that Deere’s approach has been endorsed by well-known charismatics. Deere pled for fairness, yet Edgar documents many citations where Deere attacks cessationists—their motives, honesty, humility, warmth, spiritual wholeness, confidence in God’s ability, living by grace, love, and morality (251). Another point here concerns many definite misrepresentations Deere makes of Edgar’s statements in Miraculous Gifts. Edgar asks how charismatic leaders can fail to recognize the weakness and improbability of Deere’s allegations, also his biblical interpretation, and can laud Deere’s book highly (253-55).

A 9-page bibliography and indexes of Scripture and subjects finish the book.

Edgar’s book is a clear, detailed, closely-reasoned one obviously arising from diligent probing of Bible passages and currents of thought in the cessationist and charismatic views. For one who has read the volume by Deere, this response offers a provocative appeal not to be surprised by the Spirit but satisfied, based on allowing Scripture to be the basis, and assessing experiential claims by it.