Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review of Michael John Beasley's "Fallible Prophets of the New Calvinism."

While this book is aimed at the general Continuationist faction within the movement broadly termed “New Calvinism,” the brunt of the attack is the bizarre notion of “New Testament fallible prophecy,” primarily proposed, advanced and defended in the works of Wayne Grudem. Since several other authors have responded to Grudem’s work in this field, Michael John Beasley responds to the features of Grudem’s position which have not generally be responded to. These would be the lexical, exegetical and historical concerns, but primarily the lexical defense of the position advanced by Grudem.

Beasley begins by noting that the position advanced by Grudem commits several gross errors, such as reversing the very definition of the word “Prophecy.” This is no small concern. Secondly, there is the mind-bending assertion that the gift of prophecy advocated by Grudem is simultaneously fallible and legitimate. Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine claiming that you are speaking an admixture of truth and error, with no way to gag the error, and this fact notwithstanding, your work as a untrustworthy communicator is still completely legitimate. Try that at work, I double-dog dare you, and see how long you keep your job.

But the strength of this small book is its handling of the feeble lexical argument used by Grudem. In order to defend a ‘gift’ of prophecy in the church which is not authoritatively binding (like OT prophecy), that doesn’t end the false prophet’s life (like OT prophecy), is not 100% accurate (like OT prophecy), Grudem is forced to redefine the word “Prophet.” But more than that, he must also affirm that his redefined, or rather reversed, term is how the New Testament writers understood the word “Prophet.” No small order, to be sure. Beasley then demonstrates how Grudem does this, not by going to the text of the NT, but rather by going to most bizarre fringes of secular usage and drags the word “prophet” into his Procrustean bed. Since pagans had ‘prophets,’ so-called, ergo, the Apostles used the term ‘prophet’ with the non-authoritative pagan connotations in mind, NOT what the whole flow of the OT teaches regarding prophets. It boggles the imagination. So much for the analogy of faith. So much for Sola Scriptura. So much for “Scripture interprets Scripture.”

In the lengthy exegetical section of the book, Beasley handles the lone spoof-text for fallible prophecy, which is Agabus’ prophecy. Make no mistake, what Grudem intends to do here is to prove that a legitimate, yet fallible gift of prophecy is to function in the church, based upon the notion that Agabus blew it. The assertion made by Grudem and other Continuationist Calvinists (including D.A. Carson), is that Agabus’ prophecy was an example of fallible prophecy. Agabus’ prophecy was full of factual errors. These are not my words. Carson, for example says, “I can think of no reported Old Testament prophet whose prophecies are so wrong on the details.” (This quote is cited favorably by Grudem.) Grudem himself goes so far as to say that Agabus’ introduction to his prophecy, “This is what the Holy Spirit says,” is roughly equivalent to, “This is what I feel God may want me to tell you.”

The reason behind these startling and amazing statements is that, in order to defend his belief in a gift of fallible prophecy in the New Testament church, Grudem and his fellow Continuists charge that Agabus’ prophecy was fraught with factual errors. Beasley goes to great lengths exegeting the Agabus’ prophecy and analyzing both the prophecy and the historical details chronicled by Luke in order to demonstrate that Agabus’ prophecy was factually correct in every detail. Those, who affirm the opposite do not do so on solid exegetical grounds, but sacrifice the facts (and the historic Protestant view of Inspiration) on the altar of their preconceived notions. Why not rather assume that Agabus was correct? Why not rather assume that Scripture does not blur the lines between true and false prophet? These are big questions which Grudem’s position creates and never attempts to solve.

If there is anything I would criticize the book for, it is this: before launching into an excellent survey of the notion of fallible prophecy, and before detailing the horrific dangers to which such a position makes us susceptible, the author prefaces his work by stating that he is not convinced that “fallible prophecy” constitutes an immediate assault on the gospel. I am at a loss with what to do with that statement. I cannot imagine a more ineffectual way to preface a critique and analysis of a movement which injects error into the mouth of God in Scripture, destroys the possibility of labeling anyone a “false prophet,” and removes any barrier to anyone claiming to speak authoritatively in the name of God, while simultaneously speaking a message full of error.


  1. What the issue with Agabus' prophecy? I've never seen a fault with it. What am I missing here?

    1. Supposedly, his details were wrong regarding Paul being "delivered" to the Romans. It seems very nit-picky to me and it seems to ignore the larger context of the book of Acts. Grudem's book (not the ST) deals with his problems with Agabus' prophecy. It is a position taken by someone with an agenda and they need the fault in Agabus' prophecy in order to maintain their fallible gift of prophecy in the church today.

  2. Concerning your critical point, is it the grammatical construction of the author's statement (double negative), or is it the statement itself that bothers you? I ask this because the his statement appears to mirror your sentiment.

  3. Thanks for interacting. Perhaps you could clarify which statement you are referring to. I read and re-read my review and didn't find any mention of a double negative or any particular complaint about grammatical issues.


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