The Theology Of The Possible

After years of study, I feel that I am finally starting to get a hold of an idea that has eluded me. I did a long paper in Seminary so that I could clearly understand eschatology. Separately, I’ve been trying to understand how Charismatic preaching and Bible interpretation works. This leads ultimately to an examination of our Charismatic practice to find the “way forward.”

There are a lot of groups offering us a false “way forward” in the church right now. The whole “Emergent” movement is capturing a generation with pseudo-Christianity. The seeker-friendly church is watering down the Gospel. The New Perspective on Paul is deceiving the scholars. The Charismatic church is rife with abuse of money and power, and chasing after signs. Meanwhile our culture is going down so fast we can’t keep up. It’s discouraging out there. We need revival.

Now this is not a post about revival, but it is a post about having a theology that can undergird a revival. This is the theology fo the possible.

First, our view of the end times. I have come to the conclusion that although almost no Charismatic/Pentecostals who embrace amillennialism as a system, we are in fact amillennial by  nature! Just to review, in a nutshell, the postmillennial view looks for taking over of institutions. The premillennial view looks for Christ to return and take over. The amillennial view says that we are in a spiritual millennium now. This is why some theologians prefer the term “present millennialism” or “inaugurated millennialism.” The reason why we are present millennial in nature is because we fundamentally are a movement about believing that you can have “more of God” than you have. We are a movement that says you can “be like Jesus.” You can actually do the things he did, think like he thought. You can have a ministry like the apostles had. This is a basic hermeneutic of bringing a spiritual reality from heaven into earth. This is present millennialism.

However, Charismatic/Penteocstal groups have been everything BUT present millennial. This is at least partly because the Reformed/Calvinist guys who developed Amillennialism have a very boring conception of a spritual millennium. They would go bonkers if they heard we had adopted their view (and made it more optimistic), but the basic features of their system, how it reads the Bible, and where it puts events, is really the one that “fits” with Charismatic/Pentecostalism.  It’s not just a “good option” for us.  It fits with our “more of God” view life.

You see, postmillennialism, which is popular in some Charismatic circles, like Bill Johnson or Bill Hamon, involves us ultimately “taking over.” It’s definitely an attitude of the “possible” but it is not an attitude of the spiritually possible. The more you get into taking over this world, the more you end up moving away from the Pentecostal/Charismatic idenity of having “more of God.” Same thing with premillennialism. When you get into this, you stop believe God about what you are and can become, and you start focusing on what is coming, and how you have a “last days” ministry. Now that I see this, I would call John G. Lake a present millennialist. His life passion was bringing the spiritual dominion of God into the Earth. He rejected the premillennial dispensationalism that all of the Pentecostals of his day accepted, and although he had a “dominion” mindset, it was not about taking over governments. His passion was the God kind of life. That is my passion too. And that is the same thing that George Warnock lays out in the Feast of Tabernacles.

Connect to this, The Latter Rain brought in a view of “Restored Truth” showing that the Church was moving progressively in a direction looking more like the early church. The early rain had come, and now the “latter rain” is coming. One step at a time, first Luther bringing back salvation by faith, then Wesley bringing back responsibility of man, then the Pentecostals bringing back the dynamic experience of the Holy Spirit, etc. The church itself is on a trajectory of spiritual upward movement. Each move of God takes us closer to be a glorious end time church. This concept also fits with both the Charismatic worldview, and the present millennial system.

This leads to my third, related, observation. The Charismatic hermeneutic is different from the traditional Reformed hermeneutic. They believe all doctrine must originate from the Bible. We believe that God is speaking now to highlight things in the Bible that are not being practiced as they should be in the corporate body. Of course no one explicitly believes that, but in practice that is exactly what Charismatics believe. For the Reformed people God “spoke.” For us he “is speaking.” It is a way of saying we believe in revelation. We do not believe that prophets or a revival can create new doctrine, but because we believe God is restoring the church, we believe revival can reveal Biblical doctrine that has not been emphasized before Does that sound really dangerous and out there? Well think about Martin Luther. He saw that the church was not practicing Justification by Faith. The doctrine was always in the Scripture, but when he had the revelation, he acted on it, and changed history. Later reformers took this farther. Baptists had the revelation of believers baptism and started to practice it widely. If those things were true in the past, why can’t it be true now. For example, what about the so called 5 fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11. It’s been there for 2 thousand years, but only since 1948 has anyone actually “tried” it. They had a revelation, confirmed it in the Bible and put it into practice.

Therefore when a “new revelation” is released, we instinctively receive it as part of taking us there. This is actually not always good. The missing piece has been how to you validate a revelation. Connecting the theory of what we are doing to what we are actually doing in practice. Normally we just dip into the evangelical bucket for “doctrine” add on a few Charismatic distinctives and keep doing our Charismatic thing. It is inconsistent. Part of what we’re missing is how you “validate” when God is bringing something forth, versus when it just sounds exciting, but isn’t a revelation. Charismatics are very succeptible to hype. If you hype it up, we might think the Spirit is moving. And the Spirit moving is the hermeneutic of now. If you are bringing more of God, you must be right, and you must have the doctrine we need. No need to validate. But if you wanted to validate, would you have the tools?  No. That’s because evangelical hermeneutics do not provide the tools. They just tell you how to be “safe” and avoid any possibility of error — which of course doesn’t work anyway. But now things are changing. Redemptive-Historical preaching and Biblical Theology are on the rise, and they are unlocking how the Bible itself works. My theory is that this method of reading the Bible is more conducive to revelation. It recognizes that how the Apostles themselves interpreted Scripture is how we should interpret it. As Pentecostals, we go one step farther — they way they interpreted the OT, is the way we should interpret the NT and evaluate revelation. Use of the apostolic method of hermeneutics is how we should validate what God is speaking to the church “now.”

It’s a trajectory of in the possible. We believe that the church and the individual have the possibility to be more like God than they are and that is what God is taking us to, one step at a time. The “more of God” worldview means a present millennium, a view of the progressive restoration of the church, and an openness to what God is saying “now” through the church. We are Arminian because we believe that the way things are is NOT the way things have to be. We embrace a view of “Restored Truth” and are present millennial because we believe in greater possibilities for the church itself in history. We use Apostolic Hermeneutics because we believe that we can do the same things that the apostles did, including the way they interpreted the Bible, and even receiving revelation directly from God.   These are all deeply rooted in and connected by the single belief that we can and will have “more of God”!

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6 Comments

  1. Do you think we have the same authority as the apostles? Does this give us the authority from the Holy Spirit to add to the words written in the bible?
    Only God can reveal himself to us. We cannot be taught a new method of reading the scripture to unlock secrets hidden in the scripture. If that were the case, why would the word become flesh and dwell among us FULL of grace and truth? It seems to me that we strive in the flesh to “understand fully”, when God himself chooses us keep us in a state of faith.
    I think it is our ego that yearns for a greater “purpose” from God. We want to be insightful beyond the mere believer.
    It all makes me yawn just a little.

  2. Kathleen. Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry that you feel that way. I feel a little misunderstood, because I’m not suggesting that anyone can add words to the Bible. When you do that you call it a cult. What I’m discussing at the end there is how we *interpret* the scripture. You can read the conservative Reformed evangelical scholar Dennis Johnson’s book “Him We Proclaim” for a full explanation of my views on that.

    About “ego,” what I would say is that I want to be more insightful than I am not more insightful than others are. I do believe that I can be more insightful than the day I was saved. It’s Ephesians 4:13.

    About “faith” I could not agree more that we need to walk by faith and revelation. I would simply say that God also gives us the ability to understand the revelation we are walking by — even if it is after the fact.

    God bless

  3. I agree with the theology of the possible. However, as a postie, I don’t embrace the theonomic conclusion of postmillennialism, but do emphasise the historic postmillenialism of Jonahtan Edwards and the need for revivals and awakenings. Not all posties are into “taking over” but are into see a move of God in the hearts of people for the transformation of culture. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Bernie, Thanks a lot for stopping by State of the Church. I am aware that there is a postmil stream that is non-Theonomic. Jack Davis’ “Victory of Christ’s Kingdom” is such a view. I don’t see a large difference between the optimistic amil some call “present mil” and this kind of postmil. Since this view is the minority postmil view in our time, I don’t focus on it here.

    Jonathan Edwards was a little different — he was looking for a millennium to start an age of glory whereas amil and Davis’ view follow Augustine in saying that the millennium already has started. A reading of history supports the idea that things are in fact getting better.

    1. Hi Thinking Riddles – yes I am aware of all those distinctions (it does get a little confusing after awhile). My point is, that whether Edwards, Augustine, Davis, Kik, Gentry etc. – we all share a common value in that the Kingdom now (whic I uphold and teach as Presbyterian pastor) support the theology of possibility. Whether we call an eschatology of victory or an eschatology of hope – either way it has produced a profound joy and confidence in my ministry.

      1. Right, well whatever label one puts it under, the key question for me is what are we hoping for or having confidence in.. I think of my view as optimistic amil because the emphasis is on spiritual dominion and authority rather than dominion in institution or culture (of course these will be impacted, but not the focus of the millennium). I am opposed to the views like Gentry for numerous reasons, but someone like Davis or the classic posties are not very far at all from the optimistic amil position. I find the amil hermeneutics to be deeper and more attractive as seen in the work of someone like Greg Beale. I don’t know what kind of millennium Dennis Johnson believes in, but I think his work is absolutely stellar in developing the hermeneutics that would go with Amil.

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