John Eckhardt comes out swinging in this book (originally written in 1999 but revised in 2017) in explaining that apostleship did not cease with the death of the apostles. Unfortunately, his exegesis usually proves to be forced, his conclusions seeming to have been drawn before giving the Bible texts room to “breathe.” I say this as a Pentecostal, having grown up hearing the theory that the office of apostelship indeed never ceased but that the Church throughout her history “quenched” the Spirit. Eckhardt shares such Pentecostal leanings and while I wholeheartedly would agree that the Church has done her fair share of injustices through time, I don’t hold that the lack of the ecstatic is a sure sign of spiritual illness. Here are a few reasons why I would not recommend this book:
A Disregard of Church History
Eckhardt says that the Spirit wasn’t really present until the ecstatic started happening on a large scale (we trace this back to the early 1900s), making it sound like God did this huge cosmic thing in his Incarnation and Teachings and death/Resurrection/ascension and initiation of his church and then just took off for for 1500 years or so, only to restore the church back to glory in the 1900s. To me this reeks of triumphalism as well as the placing of one denomination on a throne above all others. Of course, every denomination has at one time or another been guilty of this.
A heavy reliance on Acts as a blueprint for how to do church is evident, which is the standard (Classical) Pentecostal position. I have changed my position though I still lean towards Pentecostalism in that I (as Gordon Fee-also a Pentecostal) believe Acts is simply the history of the early church. This does not mean we cannot learn from Acts (God forbid!) but this does mean that there is more going on in Acts then just the ecstatic. There is also the fact that there are no poor in the churches but all (wealth) is shared. I would argue that if tongues is to be named as an evidence of the Spirit, then why isn’t this common (and radical) love viewed as an imprint/evidence of the Spirit as well? (Perhaps that’s for another post!) I realize Acts still is meant to show us how to do church up to a point; but it is written primarily as history and not as some sort of church guide.
At one point in Acts we are told that the church (in Acts) experiences a respect from the surrounding city-favor some translations will say. Does this mean that this is prescriptive for all churches? Eckhardt thinks so, writing that “God gives apostolic churches favor in their cities, regions and nations.” This is bizarre to me, since the early church experienced more hardship than so-called “favor”; and since Paul seems to think that to be a Christian is to suffer. So does Jesus (more importantly) for that matter.
Though I hold that the office of apostleship has long ended, I do not pretend that this is an issue that can be easily resolved. Those on both sides of this debate may be grasping at straws since Scripture can be muddy or foggy in this respect. While the author (a continuist) is prone to offering weak “proof” texts to uphold his position, the same seems to be occurring from many in the cessasionist crowd. Those on both sides try to resolve this issue (and others) by mere Bible-proofing, leading to circular (never-ending) arguments. Humility from all Christians is a requirement. Can we admit as the Apostle did that not all things are really that clear?
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (Paul in 1 Cor 13:12, The Message)
*I received my copy from Chosen in exchange for an honest assesment