In his article, “Can a Charismatic Theology Be Biblical? Traditional Theology and Biblical Emphases”, Jon Ruthven1, Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia, attempts to build a case for Charismatic theology and put it forth as an acceptable, and more precisely, the proper theology for modern times. In doing this he will propose an abandonment of traditional method for a more modern method of determining theology, which I find detrimental to the theology he will propose.
He says in his opening statements, “These days, however, charismatic theology is no longer limited to a second-blessing, tongues-speaking appendix to the traditional Protestant ordo salutis, i.e., vocation, regeneration, justification, sanctification and glorification.” Ruthven, is stating his case for a new look and a restatement for his theology apart from the historic view of the church. In doing this he proposes the abandonment of “traditional” theology and the adoption of modern methods that would suit his theology and its presuppositions. He says, “Hence, this paper asks not, “what does the scripture say ” about these doctrines (a conflict does not lie significantly at this point), but rather, “what does it emphasize?”
In other words, he is going to propose that the proper method of context be abandoned of “traditional theology”, which he says he has no “significant conflict: with”, for a kinder and gentler method that is going to show a Charismatic theology in a better light.
He continues, “The thesis of the paper, then, is that when objective measures for determining emphasis, e.g., content analysis, are applied to the New Testament text, the orientation that emerges in these key doctrines is profoundly and emphatically charismatic.” Emphasis mine.
What he is proposing at this point is that we abandon the reading of the text for it’s message, and it’s rational approach to language, grammatical concerns, linguistic practices, and social and historical consideration, to adopt his new method. That method is a statistical process in which words are counted, and themes are analyzed to determine content. This “weighted” analysis would then determine what the Bible “most talks about” and then the theologian would determine theology from that weighted chart or analysis. Which he claims will find a “profoundly and emphatically Charismatic” theology.
He continues, “Content analysis would indicate via programmatic statements that not only was Jesus’ mission of the Kingdom centrally charismatic (summarized in Lk 4:18-21,43; Acts 2:22; 10:38), but the fact that he specifically repeats the emphases of his own mission in the commissions to his disciples (Mt. 10; Lk 9 and 10 and Mt. 28:19-20, cf. 24:14, “until the end of the age.”) This same charismatic emphasis grounds the whole Book of Acts where the Church’s commission (1:5-8) is to present the kingdom in the power of signs and wonders and the preaching of the word. The repeated summary statements of Paul’s mission(Acts 15:12; Rom. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Th. 1:5), show the continuation of this normative pattern of presenting and living out the gospel of the exalted Christ in “word and deed.“ Here the implications of believers inaugurated, but not yet fully realized, “vice-regency” with the exalted, gift-bestowing Christ could profitably be explored.” (Emphasis mine.)
Here he applies his hermeneutic, and a statistical analysis of the content overrides any message of context. The theme that is derived determines the theology because the analysis is weighted toward the “charismatic emphasis”, so the derived theology must also do the same.
In justifying his method Ruthven says, “I submit this paper for your scrutiny to test its viability as both a theological method and as a radical (in its original sense of going back to the root) Evangelical reframing of traditional doctrines. This paper represents the first stages of an attempt to re-vision a charismatic Evangelical theology, hence, on an indispensable principle of religious authority, i.e., sola scriptura. Because we take this religious authority seriously, and therefore seek to screen out our own biases and traditions, we rely on some principles of content analysisM, a method extensively employed and proven in social sciences and literature for objectifying the content and emphases of communication. This study appears only as an outline of largely unfinished research.” Emphasis mine.
He admits that his method is a “radical reframing” of the Evangelical traditional theological method. In fact, he appeals to the Reformation claim of scripture alone, by imposing a completely unbiblical and “radical” method that will “reframe the traditional doctrines”. In other words, because he knows that the Charismatic theology falls short in the established and orthodox method of theology (Biblical context and appeal to scripture alone), he needs to rewrite the approach that WoF theology presents itself to the believer with. In order to do this a method of interpretation has to be adopted that is weighted toward the theology and abandons the traditional approach and orthodox doctrines of the church. His method becomes neither traditional nor scriptural in its approach to determining doctrine, despite his assertion that it is in the tradition of Sola Scriptura and the traditional theological method.
Also, I must point out, that Sola Scriptura, is an appeal to the context of scripture. It was used by the Reformers to answer the “ecclesiastical authority” of the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, the RCC didn’t want the scripture in the hands of the “common man”, because they knew that context would destroy the Papal infallibility that they claimed, and the scriptures alone would undermine the civil and spiritual government of the Church. Ruthven, in his abandonment of traditional Evangelical method, is calling for the same horrific thing, overlook context for content, and then apply it to an agenda to establish theological authority. He is calling for the believer to put a matrix of determining content ahead of the traditional Protestant method of context, thereby allowing this “colored lens” to determine the theology.
Ruthven continues, “To prosecute its thesis, this paper first provides background by briefly describing content analysis in contrast to traditional Evangelical hermeneutics. This is followed by a description of emphasis patterns within selected doctrines, as laid out by: 1) traditional Evangelicalism, 2) contemporary biblical theology, and 3) some procedures of content analysis. The paper concludes with a summary and implications of these contrasts for contemporary Evangelical theology and praxis. This study examines specifically certain emphases within the doctrines of hermeneutics, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, soteriology, and faith.” Emphasis mine.
Ruthven knows that Charismatic theology falls short of Biblical and contextual theology of the Protestant church, which he readily admitted, and proposes a brand new method of determining theology. This is through procedures in which he knows that “content analysis” will lend itself to his agenda. And that agenda is to find a way to read the scriptures to prove his theology. He is exchanging context for content, and thereby abandoning the traditional Evangelical hermeneutics of the past, and delivering a forced view read into the context based upon content analysis.
I find that Charismatic theology falls far short of the task of answering Biblical and contextual theology, and has to adapt to philosophies, methods and ideals that fit its agenda. In this case this eclectic type of theology adopts methods used in industry, scholastics, medical and engineering related fields, that look for patterns and content of data, and applies this to the Word of God. His trust in the contextual and grammatical method, preferred by God and the historical method of the church to communicate theology, is found lacking for his agenda and therefore adopts a “radical new method” to approach scriptures. Ruthven in this article is hunting for method, and in so doing is willing to scrap a tried and true method that is harmful to his hermeneutic, to adopt his “radical reframing of traditional doctrines.”
This is another nail in the coffin that this aberrant theology needs to be placed in, in my opinion
1: Jon Ruthven; Ph.D., Marquette University; M.A., Central Bible College; B.A., Central Bible College; B.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Further study, Institute of Holy Land Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem