What is the normative norm?

As Dr. Deere presents his experience being similar to church of Acts, we must wonder and question what is normal? What is abnormal? What is normative? And what is non-normative? Is all of our experiences going to be the same or different because of our unique backgrounds? This topic discusses what Dr. Deere sees as normal and how modern day church is something different.

What is Normal?

“When I read the stories of the people of the Bible, I did not expect their experiences to be like mine. They were special people living in special times. Their experience of God was unique; mine wasn’t. Mine was more normal, whatever that meant.”[1] The problem is that Deere is expecting every unique individual to have the same unique experience that occurred in Acts. We are all different with different backgrounds and experiences, and while there are some similarities to other individuals, all of our experiences are unique.

Normal is defined as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.”[2] Abnormal can then be defined as “different from what is normal or average.”[3] It is also classified as unusual or exceptional; it does not conform to a certain type or standard. Those who hold a different view from Deere suggests that it is not about normal and abnormal, but it is about things being normative. Which brings up the question of if there is a difference to what is normal and normative. Normative means “of, relating to, or determining norms or standards.”[4] The difference between normal and normative is its connotation. Where the definitions are almost similar between normal and normative, non-normative and abnormal have significantly different connotations. Non-normative is “not based upon or employing a norm.”[5] Non-normative could also be the unusual, the unexpected and also the miraculous.

The point is not that his experiences are abnormal, but that it is non-normative. Deere asserts that Christ and the apostles performed miracles, raised the dead, and heard God’s voice through the power of the Holy Spirit and since modern believers share the same Holy Spirit, we should be able to do the same miraculous works that they did in the book of Acts. Where this argument fails is assuming that while it is the same Holy Spirit, it means that God’s purposes in demonstrating the Spirit’s power are the same today as they were in the first century. There are a limited number of miraculous events recorded in Scripture, yet Deere argues that God wants to do those miraculous, unexpected, non-normative experiences all the time. Essentially, that God wants to do that normatively since He is a God of miracles. What happens is that Deere begins to normalize the miraculous and unique which sadly belittles the unusual and undermines its powerful impact. Deere claims that it is the evangelical Christian’s experience that is abnormal rather than the experience that he and those like him believe. Maybe we ought to remember that because we are all unique, all of our experiences of God are going to be abnormal.

However, we must proceed with caution as Zuck reminded us, “If what happened to someone in Bible times is considered normative for all believers, it must be in harmony with what is taught elsewhere in Scripture. Whether raising of the dead or healing, this is never indicated in Scripture as normative for all believers.”[6] McQuilkin has written, “To be authoritative as a model – a God-given norm for all people of all time – any historic event must be so designated by an authorized spokesman for God. That an event was reported to have truly happened does not necessarily make it a revelation of God’s universal will.”[7]

Deere tells us throughout this book that if we are willing, available and humble God will do the impossible on a normal, everyday occurrence. The reason why it doesn’t happen to us now is not because God can’t do it, but because we are somehow holding God back by our unbelief. If we were to treat the Book of Acts like a normative experience, God will do the impossible in and through you, such acts will then become a normal, common, everyday experience. The problem is that is that the mighty works of God ceases to be unusual. This line of thinking turns God into a magic genie to grant us our wishes instead of a Loving Father who knows what is best for His children.

[1] Deere, 21.

[2] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Normal,” accessed May 3, 2014,                                            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/normal.

[3] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Abnormal,” accessed May 3, 2014,                                            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abnormal.

[4] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Normative,” accessed May 3, 2014,                                            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/normative.

[5] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Non-Normative,” accessed May 3, 2014,                                            http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/non-normative.

[6] Zuck, 285.

[7] J. Robertson McQuilkin, Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 240 quoted in Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, (Colorado Springs: David Cook 1991), 285.

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