Review of Wayne Grudem’s “The Gift of Prophecy” – John Boruff

Wayne Grudem - The Gift of ProphecyThis was a hard read, but I felt like it solidified my views on the prophetic. This book is in a way the first and foremost authority on the subject of charismatic prophecy in Third Wave evangelicalism. Liberalism, universalism, and the New Age movement have no point of reference to the theological framework that Grudem is teaching from. Rather, he is a Baptist charismatic pastor with some background in the Vineyard church during John Wimber’s days (this book was originally published in 1988 and revised in 2000). The first endorsement on the back of the book is by Wimber, who says, “This conservative evangelical scholarly work gives a solid theological basis for further development of a practical theology of spiritual gifts.” This is a Vineyard book. An endorsement is also given by Stanley Horton, the foremost theologian in the Assemblies of God: “thorough, Biblical, and practical.” Grudem is addressing Reformed Christians (both cessationists and charismatics), Baptist charismatics, Vineyard people, Assemblies of God people, and non-denominational evangelical charismatics. He especially seems to be targeting pastors, because the substance of the book is about how charismatic prophecy is of a substantially lesser authority than the authority of Scripture. In fact, this seems to be the main theme of this 400 page tome. Personal prophecies are to be judged and evaluated by pastors and their churches by the standard of Biblical doctrine:

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Churches are encouraged to be charismatic, to have prophets that have revelations, who then prophesy those revelations during church services, which are then supposed to be judged by those listening (or tested according to the Bible), and to hold fast to whatever was found to be good in such prophecies, and to reject what is bad or useless. Cessationists, who reject charismatic prophecy altogether, are found guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church services. 1 Corinthians 14:29: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. A maximum of three prophecies per church service is allowed, so that the rest of the time can be given to worship and Bible teaching (1 Cor. 14:26). The interpretation of tongues is a form of prophecy; and so this would also fall under the three-prophecies-per-church-service limit.

I disagree with Grudem about 1 Corinthians 14:30: “If anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.” Grudem interprets this to mean that personal charismatic prophecies were held to be so unimportant and so unauthoritative as to mean that if one prophet is sharing a revelation during a service, that the next prophet should stand up and actually interrupt the first prophet, and the first prophet should be okay with that, and not continue to prophesy the rest of his revelation (p. 59). I don’t see this at all being in agreement with doing things decently and in order or not in a spirit of confusion, for God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:40, 33). Adam Clarke actually agreed with Grudem’s view, and says “interrupt another” is the meaning of “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” in 14:32; but Wesley, in commenting on that verse, speaks against the idea of ecstatic prophecy (Grudem agrees with Wesley in ch. 5), saying that a frenzied, and uncontrollable ecstasy is the way of the pagan prophets, and not the way of the Christian prophets, who have total control over their rational faculties as they are sharing revelations with others (prophesying). But I agree with Matthew Henry against the view of Grudem and Clarke regarding 14:30. Henry says:

Indeed, it is by many understood that the former speaker should immediately hold his peace. But this seems unnatural, and not so well to agree with the context. For why must one that was speaking by inspiration be immediately silent upon another man’s being inspired, and suppress what was dictated to him by the same Spirit? Indeed, he who had the new revelation might claim liberty of speech in his turn, upon producing his vouchers; but why must liberty of speech be taken from him who was speaking before, and his mouth stopped, when he was delivering the dictates of the same Spirit, and could produce the same vouchers? Would the Spirit of God move one to speak, and, before he had delivered what he had to say, move another to interrupt him, and put him to silence? This seems to me an unnatural thought. Nor is it more agreeable to the context, and the reason annexed (1 Corinthians 14:31): That all might prophesy, one by one, or one after another, which could not be where any one was interrupted and silenced before he had done prophesying; but might easily be if he who was afterwards inspired forbore to deliver his new revelation till the former prophet had finished what he had to say. And, to confirm this sense, the apostle quickly adds, The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:33); that is, the spiritual gifts they have leave them still possessed of their reason, and capable of using their own judgment in the exercise of them.

The practical conclusion to draw is that during a charismatic church service, everyone is sitting down. Then Prophet #1 stands up to share a prophecy; and as he is prophesying, it so happens that Prophet #2 gets a revelation while Prophet #1 is speaking. The course of action to be followed, would be for Prophet #2 to stand up so that Prophet #1 could see him, and get the cue that he had also received a revelation that needed to be shared. And out of humility and respect, Prophet #1 wraps up what he is trying to say (he gets to the point, and refuses to disclose the many details of his dream or vision); and then he sits down, and opens up the floor for Prophet #2 to start speaking. The same procedure should be followed if Prophet #3 gets a revelation and stands up. I’m pretty sure the early Quakers and the early Pentecostals followed this practice.

Female prophets (or prophetesses) are to remain subject to male leadership in the church. They are not to assume a Bible teaching position over men (because it carries the authority of God’s law) (1 Tim. 2:12); and they are to prophesy in a gentle, respectful manner that respects the men in the church (1 Cor. 11:5). Feminism and the Jezebel spirit should have no place in a Biblical evangelical charismatic church.

“Thus says the Lord” is advised against in modern charismatic prophecy, because that phrase carries with it the idea of the absolute, unquestioned authority of an Old Testament prophet. Such an authority Christian prophets simply do not have, but rather their prophecies are to be sifted, tested, judged, and evaluated; and if necessary, rejected. It is better to preface modern prophecies with something that conveys less certainty, more humility, and less authority; something that clearly communicates that what is going to be shared could possibly come from the Holy Spirit, but that the prophet fully understands it should be tested and judged by Scripture. Saying something like, “I feel like the Holy Spirit is saying…” is much safer language.

Grudem’s most mystical part of the book is chapter 5 (“The Source of Prophecies”), which was originally titled, “The Psychological State of the Prophet,” in ch. 2 of his more technical version called The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians. But I was actually not impressed too much. He spends most of his time teaching that prophecy is not ecstatic, which I think might be a stretch, seeing that Peter’s trance occurs in Acts 10:10. But I will admit that sharing a revelation (or the act of prophesying) is always possible while in a rational state of mind. Receiving a revelation, however, is a different story: and I think the Bible allows for some degree of ecstasy or trance during visions. Grudem mentions a few mild mystical experiences by name, and says these can be revelations: “words, thoughts, or mental pictures” (p. 110). Overall I was left unimpressed at his lack of teaching about these experiences, since there is such a lack of such experiences in the body of Christ. In all the 400 pages of this book, there is also no section on dream interpretation, which I saw as a real weakness. This made me think that Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God might be stronger in this area. In the whole book, nothing is mentioned about contemplative prayer either, which the Catholic saints used to see as the main way to hear the Holy Spirit and receive direct revelation (for direction on this, see Augustin Poulain’s The Graces of Interior Prayer). In the later 2000 edition, Grudem does briefly mention “intuition, ‘hunches,’ dreams, feelings of being led by the Holy Spirit” (p. 305).

It seems that Grudem’s favorite concept of direct revelation is that of random thoughts popping into people’s heads during a prayer meeting (pp. 142-143). He lends no great emphasis to dreams, visions, and their interpretation; which I see as a very great weakness: “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream” (Num. 12:6). The Bible’s emphasis is on dreams and visions as the source of prophecies, not random thoughts in a rational frame of mind. I won’t discount random thoughts during concentrated prayer, but I just want to lay the emphasis on dreams and visions as the source of revelations and prophecies. Acts 2:17: “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.” 1 Samuel 9:9: “Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.” Jim Goll (The Seer, p. 22) teaches that prophets more so hear God’s voice but seers more so have dreams and visions; but 1 Samuel 9:9 equates prophets and seers. A seer of dreams and visions is “now called a prophet” or spokesman for God. I think Grudem would have done better to emphasize the life of a Christian dreamer, how to experience more visions, and how to interpret dreams and visions with Biblical symbolism (as in Ira Milligan’s Understanding the Dreams You Dream).

1 Corinthians 14:3: “He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. In his book The Christian Prophet (1798), Adam Clarke defined edification to mean “building up the soul in the knowledge, love, and image of God”; exhortation: “calling the soul near to God” (James 4:8); comfort: to be Christian counseling, bringing assurance of salvation. George Fox, the Quaker leader saw Hebrews 3:15 (“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”) as an exhortation, or an urgent warning against sinning, backsliding, or apostasy (Journal, p. 185, year 1673). I believe that both Clarke and Fox are correct: a prophetic exhortation can be either just a calling of people to come closer to God; but it can also be a warning against apostasy, because by it people are warned against apostasy from God, and are automatically urged to come back to God. Any modern-day charismatic prophet that rejects such exhortations, or warning prophecies, is probably a false prophet who only flatters people and speaks smooth things (Isa. 30:10). But David Wilkerson’s The Vision, for example, contains all the elements of a truly Biblical charismatic prophecy: edifications, exhortations (both warnings and callings to God), and comforts.

Chapter 12 has some pretty strong arguments against cessationism; and maintains the charismatic continuationist view that the miraculous gifts will continue until the return of Christ.

On page 224, Grudem lists some books on prophecy that influenced this book, the most prominent was apparently Bruce Yocum’s Prophecy (1976) by a Catholic charismatic; I also feel drawn towards George Mallone’s Those Controversial Gifts (1983; Vineyard; I think this might be more of a dreams and visions theology). Further thinking on this made me want to overlook anything associated with Kenneth Hagin or any Word of Faith prosperity gospel preachers involved with prophecy, as that would probably be the spirit of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11). This would mean excluding John and Paula Sandford (The Elijah Task); and even John Paul Jackson (Understanding Dreams and Visions) and James Goll (The Seer), both of which speak favorably of Hagin. Although Sandford and Jackson were seers, I don’t think they purified their theology enough for me to feel one in spirit with them. I feel much more comfortable taking my dreams and visions theology from Ira Milligan.

Appendix A: “The Office of Apostle” argues that the apostolic ministry ceased with the death of the last of the twelve apostles. I would disagree with Grudem on this point. Grudem’s view is that the primary function of an apostle was to write Scripture (see also p. 314). But I don’t see the word “apostle” ever used this way in the New Testament. The word simply means “one sent.” There is no question that the original twelve apostles were special, because they had physically been with Jesus for His entire ministry (Acts 1:21-22); and as such, they had earned a special sense of authority to write Scripture that was recognized by the early church; but Grudem fails to notice that Luke, Mark, and Jude were also writers of Scripture and they were not part of the original apostolic band (neither was Paul). I do not believe that the original purpose and intent of the word “apostle” as we have it in Ephesians 4:11 could be transliterated into “Scripture writer.” The word “apostle” literally means “one sent” in the Greek. So, I agree with Jack Deere’s view, as he expresses it in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit in pages 241ff, that the calling of an apostle has not ceased, and in fact has continued throughout the history of the church, and may actually account for the lives of the saints, and various evidences of miraculous gifts in church history (as with St. Patrick who was called “the Apostle of Ireland,” St. Columba “the Apostle to the Picts,” or St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, John Knox, George Fox, John Wesley, Charles Finney, William J. Seymour at the “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission” where the Azusa Street Revival occurred and gave birth to the worldwide Pentecostal movement). What we have in these examples, I think, are what we have in Ephesians 4:11 in the word “apostles”: they were miraculously gifted missionaries and church founders, reformers, and revivalists, who began great revivals and spiritual movements. The whole history of evangelical revivalism, I believe, is seasoned with apostles (in of course, a much lesser sense of authority than the original twelve). It recent times, it might be appropriate to say that John Wimber and David Wilkerson were apostles.

Appendix C: “The Sufficiency of Scripture” states that no charismatic prophecy, whether written or verbal, should ever be considered on the same level of authority as the Bible (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). Unlike the Apocrypha, or The Book of Mormon, which has a subtitle that says it is Another Testament of Jesus Christ…an evangelical charismatic prophecy will always present visions as subject to the careful judgment and evaluation of the church, as the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). Bill Wiese’s 23 Minutes in Hell, Rebecca Springer’s Within Heaven’s Gates, and David Wilkerson’s The Vision all fall into this category. Niether Wiese, nor Springer, nor Wilkerson would have ever dared to suggest that these books of theirs be added to the Bible! And they would have only asked people to believe what they were capable of believing, so long as they felt it agreed with the Bible, and that the Holy Spirit bore witness in their hearts to some thing they mentioned in their books.

APPENDICES ADDED FOR 2000 EDITION

Some of my favorite parts of the book are in this section.

Appendix 1: “Prophecy and Prophets” is a great overview of the book in a short, concise manner; its a great chapter-long overview of Biblical prophecy and the history of Biblical prophecy.

Appendix 2 argues that the “word of wisdom” and “word of knowledge” are not miraculous gifts, but are more natural talents of the Holy Spirit for Bible teaching and theology (this view was also held by Aquinas, Augustine, and Bunyan). But I disagree; and so did some of the church fathers. In the history of the church, there was never any full agreement about the proper use of these words. Cyril, Ambrose, and Tertullian all seemed to think they were supernatural; so do Assemblies of God and Vineyard theologians generally. Its hard for me to see the “manifestations of the Spirit” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 as anything other than a physical, visible, demonstrable miraculous gift. The word “manifestation” literally means revelation. “The revelations of the Spirit” is another way to say it. Grudem contends, however, that “prophecy” is the only proper word to use in this list for an utterance of supernatural knowledge. For all practical purposes, though, I think it is hair-splitting to do away with the phrase “word of knowledge” when someone wants to prophesy or speak of a prophecy. It’s just part of the established Pentecostal and charismatic lingo; and so, I say we should continue to use it.

Appendix 3 has some pretty straightforward statements against cessationism which are good to have around.

Appendix 5 is a good summary of the whole book’s message and theme.

Appendix 6 argues that the “foundation of apostles and prophets” in Ephesians 2:20 should be “the foundation of the apostles who are also prophets” (the twelve apostles); thus there is no need for normal prophets to cease in their continuing function in the church.

Appendix 7 is an amazing, extremely valuable section: “Some Evidence for the Existence of the Gift of Prophecy at Various Points in the History of the Church” shows that some of the Puritan theologians actually held to a cautiously charismatic point of view like the CMA or the Vineyard (such as in Samuel Rutherford’s A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist or Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory or George Gillespie’s Treatise of Miscellany Questions or William Bridge’s “Scripture Light the Most Sure Light”), but he also mentions some reformers by name who were acknowledged by these godly theologians as Protestant saints who had sometimes experienced the gift of prophecy: George Wishart, John Knox, John Davidson, John Welsh (all mentioned in John Howie’s The Scots Worthies), and also John Huss, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and Charles Spurgeon. (“Lawless enthusiasts” or carnal, antinomian, charismatic pretenders are also marked out, such as Anne Hutchinson.) To the list of true prophets, I would also add George Fox, John Wesley, Charles Finney, William J. Seymour, Smith Wigglesworth, John Wimber (with reservation), and David Wilkerson. This list for the most part, I would say, along with Rutherford, that they were “holy and mortified preachers,” and also prophets.

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About John Boruff

John Boruff is the founder of WesleyGospel.com, a husband, father, and sometimes an open air preacher. He graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion and views himself as a Wesleyan-Arminian Reformed Pentecostal. As a Christian, he feels connected with all members of the body of Christ, but can identify the most with churches like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. In 2015, he released "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which is meant to be a Bible study for open air preaching. For his other writings, search articles on this site or see the E-Books section.
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