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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by Jon Ruthven.

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.


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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Can a Charismatic Theology be Biblical?

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    Luther, as so many of his Reformation followers, then, is trying to avoidthe implications of content analysis. Sixty percent of the NT is reduced to a kind of historical prologue to the centrally important Protestant ordo salutis. Since the "mighty works" recorded merely served as [road] "signs," that is, having no intrinsic value in themselves, but "pointing" to the ultimate doctrinal truth, there was no sense dwelling upon them. Even in their original context, in this view, divine acts of power were aids to faith only for the weakminded and superficial, but have now been replaced by the preaching of the "Word." [10]

    From this hermeneutical perspective, which has carried through to our time, it is little wonder then, that the highly charismatic emphases of the Gospels and Acts (not to mention those of the epistles) have been until recently, so minimized. The argument these days is altered slightly, framed often as the problem ofapplying "historical precedent" to praxis.[11] In the Protestant hermeneutic, most of the New Testament has lost its charismatic flavor; even within the epistles, charismatic expressions have been neutralized, turned into metaphors for Protestant "salvation," that is, demythologized, to correspond to the religious experience and comfort zone of Protestant scholastic interpreters.

    Some Evangelicals still retain this hermeneutic, though with a more sophisticated rationale: "since narrative genre cannot be perceived as truly didactic, then it follows that the narratives (the Gospels and Acts) must be interpreted via the epistles (primarily Pauline)," a non-sequitur long ago abandoned by mainstream hermeneutics. It may be further advanced, "Since the epistles state in didactic form, and therefore clearly, the normative core of Christian doctrine, i.e.,justification by faith, and since they scarcely mention the miraculous activity so prevalent in the NT narratives, then we have no assurance that historical precedence or accounts of miracles have binding force on the reader." This approach has the effect of screening out the element of charismatic power from contemporary theological parenesis.[12]

    Luther s canon, and resulting hermeneutic, then, set the agenda for modern Evangelicals: oddly, while one may not dare change the content of the NT, one may, nevertheless, declare most of it off limits as a theological resource simply because it emphasizes the "wrong" issues (divine power) in the "wrong" way (via narrative). For a long time, however, interpreters have understood that the writers of NT narratives are also legitimate theologians properly taking their place beside the writers of epistles, and as such, have a contribution to make to the systematics of today. Hence, we see the value of content analysis as (we hope) a more "systematic, objective, and quantitative" approach to examine the basis of our faith.[13]

    What we would hope ultimately is to map out the emphases of, say, the whole NT. The difficulty, of course, would be to determine categories that faithfully reflect the intent of the text, and then to demonstrate the emphases transparently. Ideally, however, the effect of this exercise would be to allow the NT to speak to us with its own agenda, rather than being mined for supporting quotations for pre-arranged categories and interests. Certainly the mere emphases within a document do not tell us all we need to know. But at least the outline of its own interests would become clearer, so that within its own framework the content could be arranged and expanded.

    This, in turn, raises the question, how do we determine emphasis in a document? Contemporary content analysis methods for establishing emphasis may be applied to scripture via the following procedures, that is, by determining: a) the percentage of a document's space devoted to a subject;[14] b) the frequency with which a subject is discussed or mentioned;[15] c) repetition;[16] d) statements that appear to summarize larger amounts of material; [17]; e) statements of personal or group goals, e.g.,what is prayed for, hoped for, or, expression of objectives in terms of spiritual development (e.g ., Phil 3:8-11), commands, etc.; f) summaries of a person's ministry, e.g., Acts 10:38; Rom 15:18-19, etc. ; g) statements of the general Christian mission or commission (Mk 3:13-14; 28:19-20; Lk 9 // Mt 10; Acts 1:8), etc., indicating the central raison d etre of the NT; h) whether or not the text actually says a subject is important ( e.g., Mk 12:28, the first commandment). It is possible that these various devices could produce contradictory results, but at least the conflict would be fought out on biblical grounds rather than on external agendas.[18] For example, such connections appear below, e.g., when the term "Spirit" [of God] is mentioned, where the contexts describe anything about the term at all, almost always describe charismatic activity or power. Or, when the term, "kingdom" [of God/Heaven/Christ] appears to describe its activity, then, in each case, charismatic phenomena are mentioned or strongly implied. These kind of connections both serve to describe not only what the text says about these doctrines but what it emphasizes about them. These simple hermeneutical devices are not new, but in biblical studies it has not been used consistently enough by Evangelicals,[19] which, if applied, would allow, to the extent possible, the biblical text, rather than traditions, to dictate a hierarchy of emphases and values.

    Herewith we offer a few examples of this approach within the framework of the doctrines listed above.

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