My friend Brandon tagged me in this post. Rev. Guyton is an author and fellow United Methodist pastor—and one who identifies himself as a progressive evangelical.
In response, I wrote the following:
So our Lord is telling us that he will reveal something in the distant future (for example, that the meaning of marriage is up for grabs) that will directly contradict what he would reveal to us through Paul and the other apostles in the near future? And contradict what he himself already taught in Matthew 19/Mark 10? Is that what Morgan thinks “progressive revelation” is?
As to what Jesus meant, did the Holy Spirit not inspire the apostles and evangelists as they eventually wrote down what became the New Testament? Didn’t this represent new and additional information? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit guide all of us as we read and apply his word?
In his Eerdmans commentary on John, D.A. Carson addresses the possibility of continuing, definitive revelation head-on, emphasizing both the finality of God’s revelation in the Son, and the intended audience of Jesus’ words in John 16:12-15. Jesus is directing these words, Carson says, to the apostles in their lifetimes, not to future disciples. Moreover, this further revelatory work of the Spirit, which the apostles couldn’t bear at this particular moment, would help them understand the full meaning and implications of the revelation of God in Christ—which was (or would be after Christ’s ascension) a finished work of God.
Why was the Spirit’s guiding role in the lives of the apostles so important? Because they were the ones who transmitted and interpreted the events of the life of Jesus—writing, shaping, and influencing the books and letters that became the New Testament.
We who are the spiritual descendants of these first disciples already have the New Testament. There’s nothing more that needs to be said. As I said above, while the Holy Spirit plays a role in helping us apply the revelation of Christ to our circumstances today, this is different from saying that there’s further revelation.
It is important to recognize that the disciples who will directly benefit from these ministrations of the Spirit are primarily the apostles. In two of the the other Paraclete passages, explicit reference is made to reminding the disciples of what Jesus said during the days of his flesh (14:26) or to the fact that they had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry (15:27). Both references rule out later disciples. Here, too, the primary focus of the Spirit’s ministry is doubtless on those who could not, when Jesus spoke, bear more than he was giving them (v. 12), but who would need to be guided in all the truth of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus that they had been privileged to witness. At least part of the consequences of that unfolding is this Gospel of John.
Derivatively, we may speak of the Spirit’s continued work in the disciples of Jesus today. But that is not the primary emphasis of these verses; and in any case it is impossible to think of such continuing ministry of the Spirit leading men and women to stances outside the enriching and explanatory ministry he exercised amongst the first witnesses, which is crystallized in this book. That the emphasis is so transparently on the first witnesses, on how they came to what we would call a fully Christian understanding of all that Jesus is and did, drives our attention to Jesus himself, and away from subsidiary themes like discipleship, the continuing work of the Spirit and the like.[†]
I know from reading Guyton’s blog and other online interactions that Guyton’s testimony of faith includes a rejection of the Christian fundamentalism so pervasive in the American South. By putting so much weight on one particular proof-text, however, how is Guyton not being just like a fundamentalist, albeit from the other direction?
While I’m sure he would disagree with Dr. Carson, I hope he would appreciate that Carson is interpreting these verses in the context of the entire Gospel.
† D.A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 541-2.