Prophecy and Biblical Authority 

Pentecostal/Charismatics and non-charismatic evangelicals sometimes live in different language worlds.  This produces deep divides that are not necessary even if there is no agreement about some of the issues of theology.  Thankfully these divides are not as great as a generation ago since there have been dialogues, and leaders of both orientations are joined in cooperation in organizations like the World Evangelical Alliance.  Yet sometimes I come across leaders who are still in their more isolated bubble and have not come to yet understand the other. For example, some Evangelicals who would not identify as Pentecostal/Charismatic do have significant experiences of the Holy Spirit and his leading, and speak of the “still small voice” and of the Spirit showing the meaning of Scripture.  Pentecostal/Charismatics should not think that Evangelicals are all rationalists that believe all knowledge is only by rational empirical processing. Augustine himself taught that all true knowledge comes from the illumination/revelation of the Spirit. However, there are Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who have a mostly rationalistic bent. Here are some points that we need to ponder if we are to not be like ships passing in the night without understanding the other.  


Pentecostal/Charismatics generally believe in the gift of prophecy today and many in the existence of prophets today.  They almost all believe that prophets today are not 100% accurate but with the gift of the Spirit to all believers, God expects all to test and hear God for themselves and for prophecy to be confirmed by leaders in the community and by the person who receives a prophecy.  God intentionally then has a prophetic gift where his people no longer depend on the 100% accuracy of the prophet as in the pre-New Covenant period, but on their own hearing and confirmation. Evangelicals who claim that only a 100% accurate rule for prophecy can be accepted (or the person could be stoned!) preclude the possibility for mutual progress.  Pentecostal/Charismatics generally believe that the continuing work of the Spirit today means that we continue to receive revelation. The idea of receiving new revelation strikes those who do not know and understand Pentecostal/Charismatics as an alarming claim, but it is not so. Here are some points about that. 


  1. The word “revelation” is used by Pentecostal/Charismatics as a parallel synonym term to “illumination” as used among evangelicals.  Evangelicals want to reserve the word revelation for those prophets in the Bible and those who could write Scripture. However, it is obvious that if something is illuminated, then one can see it and it is revealed.  Both believe that the Holy Spirit helps us understand the meaning of the Bible. New insight that is proven out by study of the Bible in context is the experience of both. Aside from heretical and strange groups, Pentecostal/Charismatics do not mean that revelation provides them with an understanding of the Bible that is not to be tested by good Biblical study that proves it to be so.  Craig Keener’s Spirit Hermeneutics is the best book I know on this subject.  God speaks to us and shows us the meaning of his Word but this understanding has to be tested by the Biblical text!! 
  2. Pentecostal/Charismatics also use the word revelation for God showing them things that are not in the Bible.  Some who are not Pentecostal/Charismatics think that by this they believe in having a corpus of revelation that is equal to the Bible and is authority.  Pentecostal/Charismatics do not believe this but accept that the foundations of doctrine are only in the Bible. However, they do believe that God by experience in the Spirit shows us how to approach deliverance from demons, or how to pray more effectively, or the roots of the problems in a city.  The Bible does not tell us everything we need to know; not our vocation, not our calling in the Body, not whom we are to marry or where to live. This comes by the leading of the Spirit. 
  3. Pentecostal/Charismatics use the Bible as a jumping-off point by analogy of something the Spirit is saying today in prophetic exhortations.  This kind of jumping-off point by analogy is common in the New Testament use of the Hebrew Bible. There are many books by scholars showing this usage. Such jumping off is not an exegesis of the meaning of the text.  The text in context is still always the key for Bible interpretation. We try to train our prophetic speakers to say in such contexts that they are not claiming their words to be the meaning of the text.  
  4. Pentecostal/Charismatics minister in words of knowledge or prophecy that is accurate about persons they never met.  They have been called out of audiences, and their lives have been described. It is amazing to behold. The accuracy sometimes is stunning. Some also give words about events to come and they come about.


Maybe Evangelicals and Pentecostal/Charismatics can at least understand what the other is saying.  Maybe they will not agree, but at least they will not misunderstand what the other is saying. Yes, prophecy can go bad and be dangerous.  I wrote a book on one church that did fall into error The Dynamics of Spiritual Deception.  There are keys to understanding how this happens and how to avoid it.