Polluting the Prophetic Word: An Analysis of Sam Storms’s Book, Practicing the Power

Editor’s Note: This post addresses Sam Storms’s recent book Practicing the Power. The post is long so here is a short summary: Storms argues for a fallible New Testament prophecy, distinct from Old Testament prophecy. This proposed version of New Testament prophecy regrettably compromises the truthfulness, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. Nettles shows that Storms’s claim for a fallible New Testament prophecy is without biblical warrant and irreconcilable with the nature and purpose of prophecy, when it is biblically defined. Nettles is writing a book from which this material has been excerpted.

Sam Storms’s book, Practicing the Power (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), expands his article in Wayne Grudem, ed., Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 175-223. The book will be cited in the post below simply as “Storms” plus the page number.


A vital part of the confessional commitment of Protestantism was the finality of the written word of God in canonical Scripture. Claims of revelation resulting in the infallible authority of councils and pope were rejected. In the “Geneva Confession,” article one stated, “First, we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion, without mixing it with any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God.” The Formula of Concord affirmed Scripture as the final word by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged. The Second London Confession affirms:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.” The special revelation that it embodies, being absolutely necessary for a knowledge of salvation in all its parts, has been committed “wholly unto writing . . . those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.”

Intermittent challenges to this principle of sola scriptura have been present in the church since as early as the second century with the rise of Montanism. The last century has seen an increase in the intensity and the pervasiveness of arguments for non-scripturated special revelation in the church. The present resurgence of the Third-Wave of charismata involves an aggressive advocacy clearly stating that those who believe in the cessation of these gifts rob their churches of ordained means of edification, comfort, healing, and deliverance.

Instruction in how to employ the charismata in the life of the church increasingly characterizes congregations that formerly relied solely on the inerrant word of God as interpreted within the historic confessional grid of Reformed Christianity. Prophetic ministries assuming the continuing phenomenon of spontaneous revelation to persons supposedly having a prophetic gift constitute part of the worship. Detailed instructions are provided as to how the prophetic gift should be practiced in the local church (Storms 123-147).

Two major assumptions govern the discussion. Obviously, the first is that the instruction given about the gift of prophecy in the New Testament (especially 1 Corinthians 12 and 14) means that the gift is active today. Paul’s admonition in 14:1, “earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” supports this conviction and all the instructions given as to how to discern its appropriate use.

Second, the argument is made that one has to be trained carefully in how to use the gift, for a person with a real gift might utter things under the impression that it is of the Lord and be in error. A principle of honing the gift successfully rests in the conviction that one must “be willing to be wrong” (Storms 101). Accuracy in prophetic pronouncement is not really the most important aspect of the gift, but courage and obedience are. If a person “steps out in faith” and gives a prophecy or word of knowledge that she believes God has given her, and it turns out to be “completely wrong,” she nevertheless is to be applauded (“raucously”) for her courage. God is not offended by our failure when we speak in his name and speak falsely; he is not more interested in prophetic accuracy than he is in our “always practicing obedience,” our perseverance that results in not giving up trying (Storms 29-31).

This representation of prophetic utterance is hardly consistent with the admonition of Peter concerning the exercise of the gift of prophecy in the congregation, “Whoever speaks, as one who is speaking the utterances of God . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). The person speaking does not begin a prophetic word with, “It seems that God might be saying,” or “I have a strong inner impression that I believe is from the Lord” (Storms 129). Nor does it match how Paul encouraged prophetic utterances to be observed. “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1Thessalonians 5:19-22). Storms cites this passage to encourage people to hold fast to a tested prophetic utterance that is demonstrated to be good and also to evaluate “the biblical validity of its content” (Storms 128, 135).

At the same, however, the passage does not say that a supposed prophecy that is shown to be wrong can at the same time be harmless, benign, and celebrated; it is to be regarded as evil. It is not to be followed and the person uttering it should be regarded as having brought into the place of inspired instruction—whether small group or entire congregation—a positive evil. Their pretension to utter prophecy has proved erroneous, the result is evil, and they should not be seen as having the gift. Seeking to be pastorally sensitive, this requirement seems to be sidestepped and the advice is given to say something like, “Our brother (or sister) obviously acted and spoke in a way they thought was what God desired, and I want to honor them for their sincerity. However, I don’t believe that what was said is altogether accurate” (Storms 135). As I will seek to demonstrate later, this way of handling pretensions to prophecy that are in fact erroneous is without precedent in the biblical record.

Storms defends this practice of erroneous prophecy by comparing it to the fallibility of teachers when they expound Scripture. “What the teacher says is occasionally wrong or tainted with error” even though their “ministry is rooted in a divine revelation (the Bible).” Only the Bible has intrinsic authority, not its teachers. As with the Bible, “we know that this revelation is true” [that received spontaneously by a prophet] but the prophet may “perceive the revelation imperfectly and consequently he may deliver it imperfectly” (Storms, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 209). This comparison has utterly no validity. If a teacher misinterprets Scripture, the words, syntax, context still remain before the eyes of all who may read it. The revelation still is there and may be revisited by the teacher and any number of Christians—young, inexperienced, mature, scholarly—until it yields the proper meaning. If a prophet bungles the revelation, it is lost; none can retrieve it. We may well conclude it was a false prophecy for all we heard was the falsehood; no way to verify its truthfulness remains. This kind of comparison is an insult to the wisdom and power of God and seeks to justify error by putting the Bible on the same plane as a botched prophecy.

A Distinct and Fallible NT Prophecy Lacks Biblical Support

Another defense of this possibility of being wrong in a prophetic utterance lies in the closely-reasoned conviction that Agabus in Acts 21:10, 11 had several “minor” errors in his prediction (Storms 104-122). Storms explains the possible confusion between the actual revelation and a prophet’s interpretation and application of the revelation. Storms goes on to define “the nature of prophecy” as “generally a mixture of infallible divine revelation and fallible human interpretation and application” (Storms 115).

Storms points to the narrative about Agabus to demonstrate this. “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” Storms concluded that in the two elements of Agabus’s prophecy, “In both cases, Agabus was wrong” (Italics original). Though Paul was indeed bound, the Jews did not bind him, but wanted to kill him (Acts 21:30, 31). Not only did they not bind him, they did not deliver him, but had to surrender him to the Roman authorities when they arrived. “The commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains” (21:33).

Storms looks upon these as positive errors in Agabus’s delivery, perhaps involving an erroneous interpretation missed with the actual revelation. “I’m inclined,” Storms explains, “to believe that Agabus himself collapsed his own interpretation into the divine revelation, failed to differentiate between the two, and then spoke as if God had revealed both to Him” (Storms 117). On that basis, Storms asserts, “Christians who on occasion (or even often) prophesy falsely should not be labeled false prophets” if they are regenerate persons and do not personally deny a cardinal doctrine of the faith (Storms 120).

I find this explanation startling and the extrapolation from it discouraging and dangerous. Here we have an otherwise responsible interpreter searching out ways to demonstrate that a prophecy from one accepted as a true prophet (Acts 11:27-30) has mingled in it errors arising from his own misled perceptions about what the Holy Spirit actually said. This is a severe case of special pleading to give some biblical foundation to a practice that is otherwise without warrant.

The words of Luke, however, do not indicate any such mixture in the delivery of Agabus, though we do see a natural reaction in the response of Paul’s friends encouraging him not to go to Jerusalem. Luke reports in a way that shows us that Agabus spoke without any reservation that what he said was what the Holy Spirit said. If it is otherwise, Luke did not know any better and Agabus lied, or was self-deceived to such a degree that he could never pass muster according to prevailing standards of prophetic utterance.

What, in fact, happened was exactly according to what Agabus said. Though the Jews did not take hold of Paul and bind him in order to deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles, the effect was the same. Their violent reaction to Paul set in motion the entire chain of events by which Paul was bound and delivered into the hands of the Roman commander. When the Jews saw him, “they stopped beating Paul,” and this issued immediately in his delivery, or their yielding him, into the hands of the Romans and his being bound. Both the delivery and the binding were the immediate results of the actions of the Jews. Circumstances they caused naturally brought all of these things to effect.

Though Storms uses the evidence of Wayne Grudem that the word “deliver” always denotes an action that is “conscious and intentional and willing” (Storms 116-117), Arndt and Gingrich set forth a meaning of “allow, permit,” and also “yield,” like a fruit tree yielding fruit that is the necessary and natural consequence of its being a fruit tree and in its season (used so in Habakkuk 3:17). Even so the Jews, in light of the circumstances, yielded Paul to the Romans, allowed them to take him, permitted the subsequent actions in light of the natural consequences of their riot and the intervention of the Roman commander.

In the same way Jesus was delivered into wicked hands. Using a form, with a different prefix, of the same word for “deliver,” Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, . . . delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). On the one hand, the “predetermined plan” did not actively deliver Jesus over but determined that such a thing would happen. In fact, the necessary consequence of the providential circumstances into which the divine decree brought Jesus led ineluctably to his being “delivered over” and to his death. The natural consequence of those circumstances yielded those results. On the other hand, the Jews did not “nail him to a cross,” but their actions led to this result by “the hands of godless men.” This statement of historical fact, a past event, by Peter has the same literary quality of the prophecy by Agabus; neither can be accused of error or of superimposing an unwarranted opinion into the stated proposition.

A Distinct and Fallible NT Prophecy Irreconcilable with Prophecy as Defined in Scripture

A second major problem with this beyond the very tenuous biblical support for the possibly error proneness of the New Testament prophet, is that it calls for a radical change in the entire canonical orientation to the prophetic without any preparation for such a change or any pattern of examples for it. The character of the Old Testament prophet is plain. “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20). “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely” (Jeremiah 5:30, 31); “’Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, “He says”. . . . and cause my people to err by their lies and by their recklessness’” (Jeremiah 23:31, 32). Hananiah’s false prophecy led to his personal doom as prophesied truly by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28); God told Ezekiel as he spoke according to the formula, repeated over and over, “The word of the Lord came to me saying,” that the exiles found him fascinating but did not embrace the moral and spiritual gravity of what he said. “Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33: 32, 33). No error, personal judgment, misjudgment, guesswork, uncertainty concerning the revelation is a part of the function of the prophets. When the prophet speaks, “Surely it will come.”

The same is true with the concept of the prophet in the New Testament. Nothing in the canon prepares us for a change in this expectation. The revelation they received is parallel to that received by the apostles. The apostles received divine revelation of an inerrant character and they did not mix any erroneous opinions or misinterpretations with it. That which could not be known otherwise was received by revelation and opened up the knowledge of the operations of the grace of God to the minds of those who received it and to those who heard , or read, its communication. “We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory . . . For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2: 7, 10). None can doubt the intensity of Paul’s claim to revelation in Galatians 1: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Nor did he misapply the revelation in his doctrinal and practical sanctifying instructions to the Galatians. Peter identified the word preached by the apostles as the “word of the Lord which endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8), when he cited the Isaiah passage and stated, “And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). John tied the spirit of error to those who did not listen to the apostles and the spirit of truth to those who did (1 John 4:1-4).

The prophets of the New Testament received revelation that was of the same quality and truthfulness as that received by the apostles. They did not have the same historical qualifications as apostles and were under the authority of the apostles. Nevertheless, their messages to and in the churches were accepted as revelatory. Since they must respond to direct apostolic authority, their function and their viability ceased with the end of the apostolic stewardship (1 Corinthians 4:1; 14:37-40; 2 Corinthians 3:6). In Ephesians, Paul stated that God’s household was built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” That he referred to the prophets of the New Testament church is verified just a few verses down when he reminded the Ephesian Christians that both his speaking and writing arose from a single stream of revelation and that the prophets that functioned in their churches received revelation also: “If indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generation was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20; 3:2-5). With the completion of the “insight into the mystery of Christ” that came by revelation, so the work of the prophets would cease.

This position receives reinforcement from the fact that Paul took Silas with him on his second missionary journey. Silas was a prominently gifted man from the Jerusalem church who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to deliver the decision of the Jerusalem council. He was a prophet (15:32) and had preached a lengthy message there. Prophets in the New Testament received special revelation from the Holy Spirit in order to teach with authority in the churches. All churches needed to have revealed truth as the full implications of the person, work, and words of Christ were being brought to maturity. The prophets fulfilled that need, since apostles could not be in all the churches on all occasions.

New covenant communities needed a constant inflow of revealed truth; on that account, God gave prophets to receive that revelation until the apostolic message reached its final maturity and so ceased. With the completion of the message, the need for the revelatory gifts was also complete. (See Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28; 14:1, 3, 6, 22, 24, 25, 29-32). Silas had been confirmed in the Spirit and in the eyes of the church as a prophet and was commissioned by the church at Antioch to go on this second missionary tour with Paul. He functioned as an equal partner in labor, teaching, suffering, and preaching. Read Acts 16:22-34 for the record of Silas’s participation with Paul in the full task of apostolic missions and teaching the gospel even in its virgin voyage into Europe.

The ministry of the prophets bore the marks of seriousness, gravity, and truthfulness as did that of the apostles. Their reception of revelation was of the same errorless quality as that of the apostles. To argue for the continuation of this ministry is to say that the message of the mystery of Christ was not completed in the apostolic age and we stand in need of existential manifestations of the revelation beyond the written text of Scripture. If, at the same time, we argue for errors in the prophetic message, we must make room for errors in the apostolic message. If we question the revelation of the one, we question the revelation of the other. We question, therefore, the full veracity of what is written and the completely trustworthy stewardship of the apostles in handing down to subsequent generations that which was delivered to them. Since their revelation is the same, how do we know that the deposit, now written as Scripture, is not compromised in some way by a misinterpretation of revelation?

Peter wrote, “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20 NASB). The word “prophecy” is used to characterize both the Old Testament prophets and the apostolic message. The denial of “one’s own interpretation” means that in prophecy the idea of personal opinion or unwarranted surmising is rejected. Prophecy is either true or false, and prophets are either true or false.

Peter was insistent on the reality of his position as a witness—his calling in light of his having seen the Lord during his earthly ministry, seen him after his resurrection, and seen him taken up in glory. The witness of the apostles was not a fabrication, a matter of creatively constructed stories, or an expression of personal opinion. Their reports came from sober observation—both eyewitness and ear witness (2 Peter 1:16-18). The event and the subsequent revelatory work of the Holy Spirit to the apostles moved forward, both by providence and inspiration, the authoritative inscripturation of divine revelation.

In this event, Peter, wrote, “We have the prophetic word made more sure” (NASB) or “confirmed” (NKJV). One no longer has to wonder as the prophets did, according to 1 Peter 1:10, 11, about the person or the time of the Christ. He was now before them with the glory around him and the voice of the Father from heaven. This is a similar idea to that voiced by John when he wrote, “And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Peter knew that the prophetic word received its clear and certain fulfillment in the person of Christ. His present testimony clearly fulfilled previous prophecy. As Christ was the person to whom all the types, promises, and prophecies of the Old Covenant point, so the apostolic word is the culmination of the divine revelation.

In 1 Peter 1:24, 25, Peter cited Isaiah 40:6-8, the “word of the Lord [that] remains forever,” as identical with “the gospel that was preached to you.” Even so now, when he writes, “to which you will do well to pay attention,” he means “Pay attention to what I am writing to you now, even as you pay attention to the already-written prophets.” His testimony is the fulfillment of prophecy in Christ as reported by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. To that culminating word they must pay attention.

To confirm this, Peter invoked the well-established doctrine concerning the origin of Scripture. Scripture does not arise from human investigation and interpretation of events (verse 20), or one’s misapplication of a revelatory word. Earlier Peter had reminded his readers of this very truth regarding his writing (“we did not follow cleverly devised myths”). In the past, the prophets spoke the word of the Lord when it came to them and then recorded their speaking as the Holy Spirit carried them along. In that process, their speaking the audible word became graphe, the written word, that is, Scripture. Even so, the preaching of Peter and the other apostles became Scripture.

Peter continued the parallel between the inspired truthfulness of the prophets and the same of the apostles in 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you.” Paul’s argument in 2 Timothy 3:10-17 sets forth the same parallel. He reminded Timothy of “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith” etc. as something that marked him off from the false teachers (13) and demonstrated that he had “kept the faith” (4:7). Timothy, therefore, was to continue in what he had learned because he had learned it from Paul himself (14) as well as from the “sacred writings.” Inspired Scripture includes the witness of Paul, as Peter himself testified (2 Peter 3:15, 16). Peter’s confidence that his written witness held the status of Scripture (2 Peter 3:1, 2; 3:15) warranted his admonition that they do well to take heed. Scripture, including this apostolic message about Christ, is a “lamp shining in a dark place.” We are to give heed to Scripture until the “day dawns,” until Christ himself returns (Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:12). “The day” is the day of Christ. That will be the time when “the morning star rises in your hearts” – our complete conformity to Christ (1 John 3:2). Scripture—the complete canon of the Old and New Testaments—will show us Christ and conform us to Christ until that day when the brightness of his glory completes that process of “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That Peter puts this discussion in the context of “prophecy”—“the prophetic word” (19), “prophecy” (20), “prophecy” (21), “false prophets” who “exploit you with false words” (2:1, 3)—makes it difficult if not impossible that a change in the concept of prophecy had taken place. He believed that prophecy occurred, both in its spoken and written forms, as “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The revealed/inspired word of the apostles and the revealed/inspired word of the prophets had no qualitative distinction. The “prophecy of Scripture” will be our sole authority in faith, virtue, worship, and world view until the “day dawns.” It alone will prepare us thoroughly for that time when the “morning star [Jesus himself] rises in our hearts.”

The Necessity of Fallible NT Prophecy Inconsistent with Sufficiency of Scripture

It is surprising how transparently Storms challenges the sufficiency of Scripture. He rightly points out that the purpose of each gift is to build up the body of Christ. We have not progressed beyond the need for edification and, therefore, according to Storms, have not progressed “beyond the need for the contribution of the charismata.” If spiritual gifts were essential for the birth of the church, “why should they be any less important or needful for its continued growth and maturation?” (Storms, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 205).

Does he not really see the answer? The complete revelation of the apostolic era has produced a written revelation of all the truth we need for life and godliness. Scripture is sufficient. Storms, however, contends that Scripture is not sufficient. We need a revelation that gives edification beyond the truth of Scripture. Prophecy, spontaneous revelation to an individual which may often be lost in the presentation or application, is “needful for its continued growth and maturation.”

The contention of Storms, therefore, that we should “resist any temptation to minimize, or worse still, to dismiss entirely the spiritual gift of prophecy as if you and your church can get along well enough without it,” is a direct challenge to the sufficiency of Scripture. He strengthens his resistance to sola scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture by closing his argument on this point with an admonition to “step out in faith and take those risks, apart from which people may well go without the blessings that prophecy can bring” (Storms 146).

Really? What blessing will be omitted in our total reliance on Scripture? We are called to rest our faith on what is not written. Apart from the kind of prophecy that has the aura of error always hovering around it, we “may well go without blessings.” What has become of Scripture in this urging? Are we now void of understanding all the “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” that are ours in Christ Jesus if we are left to Scripture alone? Storms presses for just that kind of spiritual insufficiency in those who affirm the completeness of revelation and the cessation of the miraculous that characterized the age of the apostles when he contends, “If you are a cessationist of some degree or if you question the presence of the miraculous in the present church age, it is unlikely you will pray with much expectancy or anticipation of God saying yes to your request” (Storms 71).

Without minimizing the joy of physical healing in this life, I fervently contend that written revelation gives us abundant promises connected with prayer far beyond any event, by miracle or medicine, of physical healing. To affirm that God “upholds all things by the word of his power,” is in a constant state of manifesting the absolute dependence of all things on him, and will hear our prayers through the mediation of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:1,2; Romans 8:26-28) and will grant all that we ask according to his will (1 John 5:13-15) is a sufficient source of pleasing expectation and anticipation for any Christian. To believe in the good sovereignty of God and that he “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11), provides a constant influx of hope and encouragement to the Christian without gravitating to the position that those gifts of revelation and healing given to the apostles and the prophets must also operate now.

No expectation can possibly transcend the written revelation validating the prayer that God would “grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you being rooted and grounded in love [electing, bleeding, and regenerating love, Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2:4], may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” And then, as if the unending glory and anticipation of such a written promise in prayer were not enough, Paul added, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generation forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21). Though Storms implies in a sermon at the Converge conference that the word “power” refers to the continuation of the charismata, one need go no further than the written revelation of the powerful work of sanctification, hope, and assurance of answered prayer placed in our hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit whereby we cry “Abba,” Father.

Do we wait for another revelation, possibly erroneous, to expand what already has been set before us: the riches of knowing God now in an ever-increasing, inexhaustible way and throughout eternity; the depths of meditation on electing, redeeming, regenerating, and resurrection love; the powerful internal operation of the Spirit in sanctification; the assurance that though the outer man is wasting away yet the inner man is being renewed day by day; the revealed truth that “if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;” the acknowledgement that “while we are in this tent we groan, being burdened,” yet we look forward to being with the Lord in an incorruptible state, for God has “prepared us for this very purpose” and “gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” (2 Corinthians 4:16; 5:1-5).

We have the revealed prayer about realities of expectation and joy that our “love may abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be found sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). Christians, even cessationists, may be fully occupied with deeply moving, exuberant, transcending anticipation about the things that are promised, about the immeasurably glorious realities that should occupy our desires and our prayers with revealed expectations that they will not fall short.

If our spirituality depends on confidence in more revelation and in the continuation of signs and wonders, under the assumption that the depths and heights and certainty of what is written does not meet our needs, then we too have embraced a view of God unfounded in Scripture.

A Concluding Plea for Doctrinally Sound Spirituality

To find fullness in an expression of Christian worship, confidence, and discipleship dependent on continuing revelation that is not secured from mixture of error and mistaken judgments has the necessary effect of compromising the full truthfulness, the sole authority, and the absolute sufficiency of Scripture.

If we stay with “what is written,” looking to its exposition in its doctrinal outcome as the foundation for knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves, our discipleship and our worship will arise from a constant abiding source of renewed challenge and purification. We will discover with no regret that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” and that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all expectation” (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 3:17).

When we preach doctrine, we look with absolute confidence to the reality that the original revelatory speaking of the prophets, whether the Old Testament prophets, the Apostles, or the New Testament prophets was preserved in its authoritative form in writing, the Scriptures. Though we recognize that there is yet more light to break forth from his word, we never will have to examine, reject, or correct, or hesitate concerning the absolute truthfulness of the source of what is spoken. Storms writes that we should not expect within the continuing gift of revelation rock-solid, absolute truthfulness, for “revelatory gifts are inescapably subjective, and the people through whom they operate are unavoidably prone to error” (Storms 122). That sounds nothing like the confidence that the prophets and apostles had in the word of revelation they received, the result of which was the written outbreathing of God.

If we faithfully proclaim the doctrine of what is written, we will never have to substitute something unwritten for the proper place of Scripture alone for “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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