Sufficent Fire Fallout: Session 2 (Dan Phillips)

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. Enjoy!

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This session was entitled, “This Word and No Other–Tell Me Why.” Like Phil Johnson before him, Dan Phillips argued that the sufficiency of Scripture is the central issue of our day. He proceeded to cite 3 really well-known evangelical pastors/authors, who have recently talked about the need for “getting a word from the Lord.”  One of these is the duo of Henry and Richard Blackaby, most well known as the authors of the mega-hit devotional study series, “Experiencing God.” Phillips reported that the Blackaby’s have argued (in his contribution to a book called How Then Should We Choose? **) that hearing the “still small voice” of “God” in your heart, and then testing to make sure that word was from God, is a normal and necessary part of mature Christian life.

Phillips flipped the table on this assumption by making a counter-claim: The whole Bible should tell us if we need anything outside of the Bible, in order to have a normal Christian life. He then began a tour-de-force through the Scriptures, starting from page one, and argued that every time God spoke to and revealed Himself to men, it was verbal and it was unmistakable.

I can’t even begin to hit all the high points here, but it was masterful. Highlights:

  • In regard to the Ten Plagues of Egypt: “The experience of Joe Egyptian [living miles down the Nile from the palace] makes no sense if he didn’t hear the words of God.”
  • Are the miracles the most important part of the Exodus from Egypt? No, because they aren’t reenacted every year. Rather, during the Passover celebration, the faith is transmitted every year through words.
  • Never once does anyone have a relationship with God by impressions, feelings, or misty ideas that need to be tested.
  • The prophets prosecute Israel by holding up the revealed word of God and declaring what the people are doing wrong.
  • Notice the prophets always say, “Thus says the Lord.” [As opposed to, “I think this is what God put on my heart, maybe…”]
  • In Joshua 1:8-9 and Psalm 1:2, the blessing of God is upon the one who meditates on His words
  • Why did the Sermon on the Mount impress the listeners? Because of the authority of the teaching Jesus delivered verbally.
  • The book of Acts can rightly be called the Book of the Spread of God’s Word, because over and over it says that the word of the Gospel of Jesus spread and was received. It wasn’t the miracles that changed people’s lives, but the word of God proclaimed.

In summary, Phillips said that the entirety of Scripture divides specific “revelation” into two categories: God’s Word, and Not-God’s-Word. God’s Word is powerful, inerrant, and carries the full authority of God, demanding our belief and obedience.  The canon of Scripture, he says, is either open or it’s closed. If it’s open, then God’s still giving inerrant, universally binding words; if closed, He is no longer giving them. The very idea of an “errant, non-binding word from the Lord” is a completely foreign concept to Scripture (and can be rightly called anti-Scriptural). The tenuous, subjective impressions that many Christians try to assign as “the leading of the Spirit” have no authority in Scripture and are never described in Scripture as being legitimate.

The New Testament, Phillips concluded, is manifestly final. Scripture is fully sufficient for us to have a relationship with God. And when people elevate their subjective feelings and experiences, and canonize them with “God told me,” they elevate the meaningless while cheapening the true revelation of God.

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Both Phillips’ and Johnson’s sessions really gave me a lot to think about. Though I haven’t done so lately, I know there have definitely been times in the past where I’ve assigned divine origin to my thoughts/feelings/impressions, or times when I’ve looked for “signs” to get God’s stamp of approval before making decisions. But I find Phillips’ exhaustive survey of God’s revelation in Scripture to be compelling. There is no record of God mumbling his revelation in which the human receiver of this “impression” needed to decipher it. It’s just not there.

So. Two sessions in, and I was feeling mentally exhausted already. There was so much to consider from just those two talks. So I wasn’t prepared for the punch to the chest in Session #3…

Your Turn: What do you think about Phillips’ argument that the Bible gives no credibility to anything outside of God’s clear revealed Word? What counter-arguments would you mount to this assertion? Is there something you think he’s missing? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

**Correction: This post noted previously that Phillips was referring to an argument the Blackaby’s made in “Experiencing God.” This was a misunderstanding on my part that has been corrected above. Thanks.

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16 thoughts on “Sufficent Fire Fallout: Session 2 (Dan Phillips)

  1. Thanks for this. You are a very careful, attentive listener. Well done!

    You know you summarized a speaker well when that speaker only has one minor correction. I wasn’t specifically talking about Blackaby’s Experiencing God; my quotation was from the article I review beginning here: http://bit.ly/Jcz1Z2

    Again, thanks for coming, and for such a well-done summary.

    • Thank you for the clarification; I’ll update the post shortly. And thanks for your ministry! This conference was a huge blessing to me.

  2. Good stuff, Dave. The Holy Spirit teaches us from God’s word and helps us to apply it. There isn’t a need for any extra-biblical revelation. I so wish I could have taken off work and been at that conference! I’m jealous brother!

  3. I remain in recovery from a hand cramp from this conference with 31 pages of partially indecipherable text. I loved every session. (And I really dislike superlatives like that.)

    “There is no record of God mumbling His revelations.” Amen. And even if I shoulda boughta Honda, I’ll stick with our prayerfully considered Chevy.

    I won’t soon forget this conference. What will long linger will be my being on the presence of a very lovely bride of Christ at Copperfield.

  4. Evidence for there being credibility outside the Bible? How many times Paul or Jesus quoted religious or philosophical texts, the entirety of which are not in what we today consider canon? But I’m not sure if your/his statement is saying, “There is no truth outside the Bible.” Perhaps just, “There is no revelation outside the Bible.” Though, practically speaking, they’re the same. (But I know theologians like categorizing things beyond what’s practical to everyday living, har har, elbow elbow.)

    All the prophets that said, “I think this is what God put on my heart, maybe,” were not listened to and therefore did not have a book written about their exploits! Confirmation bias! Just kidding. But seriously, I don’t think that example is a good argument for God never speaking non-verbally. It says that God speaks through the earthquake, yes, but it does not preclude God speaking in a still and quiet whisper. (I’m using Elijah as a metaphor, but I think the story has equal value as a metaphor.)

    • I’m going to try to respond to your statements in order. If I’ve misunderstood you, please let me know.

      The big idea that this message (and the conference as a whole) meant to address was whether or not Scripture itself is a sufficient revelation from God. This is a pointed critique/counterpoint to the movement within Evangelicalism to look for additional revelation in the form of subjective, experiential “promptings, leadings, and nudges.” What Pastor Phillips was getting at with this particular talk was that the Bible itself doesn’t allow for such extrabiblical nonsense. I don’t think he was saying that there is no truth of any kind outside of Scripture, but that the text of Scripture is fully true and sufficient for a person to know God and live as a Christian.

      The times when Paul or Jude (I don’t know when Jesus does this) quote from outside sources, I don’t think you can say it’s a full endorsement of the extra-biblical sources as “divinely inspired.” However, I think it’s a fair statement that those specific words, quoted in the context of Scripture, are considered “inspired”–inasmuch as they are the specific words that God the Holy Spirit wanted written as part of Scripture. This may seem like hair-splitting, but I don’t think it is. When Paul quotes Greek and Cretan poets, he’s not endorsing Greek and Cretan poetry as divinely inspired, but he uses their own cultural texts as a rhetorical jumping-off-point.

      Truth vs. revelation: The chemical make-up of water is not described in the Bible; nor are the first twenty decimal places of “pi” or the rule of Alexander the Great. These are all true things, but they aren’t all necessary for spiritual life. In that case, your two statements are not the same thing.

      I think we need to be very specific with our definition of “revelation,” in this instance. “Revelation” is specifically the revealing or unveiling of God and His attributes, and the spiritual realities pertaining to God. Revelation is given 2 ways: general revelation (in which observation of the natural world can and should help humans to intuit the existence of a Creator God) and special revelation (in which God reveals Himself directly to His creation by way of communication). The question on the table during this conference is really what the boundaries of special revelation are.

      • That makes sense re: revelation vs. truth. I am definitely not a believer that everything in the Bible is true but I do believe that everything in the Bible is revelation. (I know we disagree on the fine points of this…)

    • Second Paragraph:

      I think your joking statement about the hesitant prophets, if made seriously, would be mostly an argument from silence (or, if not silence, at least from texts that have been discredited and rejected across the board).

      The argument of the prophets here is not that false prophets never said “Thus saith the Lord.” Scripture records that they sometimes did! But rather, it’s that those recognized in Scripture as true prophets of God never record a word from the Lord as being anything other than certain. This leaves no precedent for the modern-day practice of receiving uncertain impressions and then having to test them.

      You raise the example of Elijah and the “still, small voice.” This text was actually preached on by Phil Johnson (the Session #1 guy) the next day, during the Sunday service at Copperfield Bible Church. If you have some time, I would commend that to you. http://www.copperfieldbiblechurch.org/messages.html

      Beyond that, I think that story can be used as an example, even more than as metaphor. Notice that the “still small voice” that followed the flashy supernatural signs did not contain revelation. It didn’t contain a message. When Elijah covered his face and walked out of the cave, then the Lord spoke. That’s the point here–the Lord speaks plainly to the prophet, gives him clear direction, then expects him to obey it. Like the rest of Scripture, the example here is of direct revelation through the word of God.

      • The argument of the prophets here is not that false prophets never said “Thus saith the Lord.” Scripture records that they sometimes did! But rather, it’s that those recognized in Scripture as true prophets of God never record a word from the Lord as being anything other than certain. This leaves no precedent for the modern-day practice of receiving uncertain impressions and then having to test them.

        Ah, I misunderstood that point.

  5. I briefly interacted with Dan elsewhere on this theme, and have a remaining question I would like to put to you for your own thinking. I’m against Hinn and Toronto, most unhappy with Blackaby. I do believe in the authority and completeness/sufficiency of the bible. Used to be in an evangelical church with charismatic leanings. Just so you know!

    I have in my time on occasion experienced the gifts outlined in 1 Cor 12 – 14, either personally or more often in others. For example, words of knowledge, or a word of prophecy. The latter is simply a word of encouragement for a particular person at a particular moment. I do not and never have regarded these as an addition the bible, but the appropriation of what is promised in the bible (if we ask for it), subject to the proviso “as he (God) wills”. Prophecy as speaking ‘in the Spirit’ is no more nor less inspired than praying ‘in the Spirit’ – or is the latter not for today either because we have the bible?

    My main thing in the church has been bible teaching. Reading the bible and then doing exposition of the text, explanation, application, examples and illustrations. Nothing unusual about that. Why though when I (or you or anyone else) has finished reading the passage in question and starts to talk about it is that not considered adding to the bible in a way that denies its sufficiency, but the spoken gifts (or any others for that matter) are? Is preaching the only way of promoting the common good, the only manifestation of the Holy Spirit?

    I think the failure to teach the sufficiency of scripture AND the failure to earnestly desire spiritual gifts are together doing the church harm.

    Thank you, incidentally, for taking the time and trouble to report on the conference!

    • Ken, thanks for commenting–I want to respond but it may need to wait a short while. Hope you don’t mind! But I *will* come back to this.

      • No problem! It’s a genuine question and one that seems to be evaded by the more enthusiastic non-charismatic brethren.

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