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Jon Ruthven: What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology?

 

Jon Mark Ruthven, What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis (Tulsa: Word and Spirit Press, 2013), 314 pages, ISBN 9780981952642.

Books on Christian theology are often written by academic types: persons of seminary and university training, but with only marginal pastoral experience. This is not true of this work.

Dr. Ruthven is both a scholar and a pastor. He was a pastor for twelve years, and then a professor at Regent University for 18, besides taking numerous missionary trips to the majority world. He wrote the definitive book critiquing cessationism, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), which is still in print. He has since written or co-authored a half dozen other works.

Dr. Ruthven’s thesis is that the Bible has an overwhelming emphasis as to what the believer is to do: hear the voice of God and obey. This is not just a command to the religious leaders and elites, but to every believer.

This book establishes this thesis after outlining the key features of Protestant theology, by showing that the central emphasis of scripture involves the process of the prophetic word of God coming to mankind, directly and immediately into individual hearts. This emphasis of scripture is proven by the recurring, central plot line of biblical narratives; the central temptation to mankind (Gen 3; Matt 4 and Luke 4); the essence of the New Covenant (the prophethood of believers); and the central, explicit mission of Jesus: to bestow the prophetic Spirit.

What the believer is to do: hear the voice of God and obey.

Ruthven specifies this biblical emphasis through a concluding chapter showing Protestant distortions of discipleship. The essential nature of the gospel is adulterated by traditional, anti-biblical methods of transmitting God’s message to the next generations.

At the end of the work, Ruthven summarizes the answer to his title, “What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology.”

Christian Epistemology. For all the emphasis the Protestants placed upon scripture as their ultimate doctrinal authority, they tended to use the Bible as a source for proof texts against Rome on the nature of “salvation” rather than allowing it to speak with its own voice and emphasis.

Signs and wonders, the central way God (and his Son) revealed himself in the Bible, were rejected by Protestants as obsolete devices to “prove” doctrine—as “signs” with no value except as they pointed to an accredited Gospel creed. This misconception resulted in …

The loss of the big picture of Jesus’ mission. The Protestant emphasis was on the free gift of Christ’s sacrifice. By contrast, the New Testament portrays Jesus’ kingdom mission as introducing, modeling, ratifying, vindicating, commissioning, and bestowing the New Covenant charismatic Spirit––a synonym for the kingdom of God––a concept traditional theology largely ignored.

By denying Jesus’ central kingdom mission, traditional Protestantism seriously messed up New Testament discipleship, by denying the essential work of the Spirit in the life and mission of the believer. Protestantism generally ignored the significance of the early commissioning accounts, e.g., Mt 10; Mk 6; Lk 9-10, relegating those to the apostles only.

Instead, in traditional theology, the believer’s role is essentially that of a consumer: to receive salvation, meaning a place in heaven, and to “be good” until then.

It is Ruthven’s view that traditional religion avoids the central point of scripture: the ideal of a believer in full communication and communion via the empowering Spirit. Tradition puts the task of hearing God into the hands of the religious leadership. In Judaism this is through the institution of rabbinical commentaries, and in the Christianity it is via the role given priests and preachers of expounding the Word of God––to the exclusion of layperson’s input. For instance, it would be shocking in most churches in Christendom for a layperson to stand up at the end of the sermon and say: “I believe the Spirit of the Lord would add these words to what Pastor Smith has said…”

 

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2014

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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