Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cessationism and the argument from miracles

Some MacArthurites seem to be confused about the relationship between cessationism and the argument from miracles. Of course, Ed Dingess is incapable of honesty. But let's spell out the relationship:
i) From what I've read, MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts. The function of sign-gifts is to attest the message by attesting the messenger. This is divine validation that the messenger speaks for God.
ii) The identity of Biblical miracles as sign-gifts is a key plank in the cessationist argument. Once the message (i.e. the Bible) was complete, there was no further need of messengers (i.e. prophets, apostles). Once there was no further need of messengers, there was no further need of sign-gifts. So miraculous sign-gifts have an expiration date. 
iii) This, in turn, figures in the traditional argument from miracles. According to the structure of the argument, we don't primarily believe in Biblical miracles on the authority of Scripture. Rather, we believe Scripture because miracles authorize the Bible writers. Miraculous sign-gifts are compelling evidence that the Bible writers were divinely commissioned. We believe the reported miracles because miracles certify the reporter. 
Having established the bona fides of Bible writers by the argument from miracles, we can now appeal to the authority of Scripture.
iv) This is a classic evidentialist argument. At least some MacArthurites are presuppositionalists. But that generates an unresolved tension between cessationist argument from miracles, which is an evidentialist argument, and presuppositionalism. You can't just graft presuppositionalism onto that preexistent framework. 


  1. Steve,
    I enjoy your blog posts, they make me think and rethink carefully about many issues. But on this particular issue when you refer to your opponents as MacArthrites I can't take you seriously. It seem to be that it is a subtle jab at MacAthur as if he is some kind of crack-pot pastor-theologian. It makes me think you have an axe to grind not an argument to make. You may disagree with him and others perhaps associated with him, but I think the moniker denigrates the value of the dialog/ dispute and is dishonoring to those whom I think you agree are seeking to uphold Biblical truth. Furthermore, to interact in serious matters like this with a cavalier and disrespectful treatment of fellow believers is disgraceful before the Lord whom we serve. The discussion and its participants deserve more respect than that. Perhaps I have misjudged the situation but that has been my consistent perception since this dispute began a number of weeks ago. BTW, I think both sides of the dispute have made credible points. I just wish the conversation was carried on with more respect, regarding one another's brother as more important than one's self (Phil. 2:3).

  2. BTW, I just read questions 144 and 145 of the Westminster Larger Catechism on the duties required and sins forbidden in the 9th commandment and they seem to have a great deal of bearing on how we conduct disputes with fellow believers. It is worth reflection.

    1. When Fred Butler repeatedly uses the phrase "we/us MacArthurite cessationists" to identify his own camp, is he "disrespecting" John MacArthur?

  3. Your reaction is idiosyncratic. It's no more "disrespectful" to use the moniker "MacArthurite" than it is to use the moniker "Van Tilian," "Lutheran," "Thomist," "Calvinist," Platonist," "Aristotelian," "Augustinian," "Darwinian," &c.

    I've maintained a consistently substantive level of interaction. Contrast that with the playground antics of the other side:

    Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 11h
    RT @Fred_Butler: My frnds @ Triablogue cntinue 2 jump th shrk re miracles, // V sad. Axiom #2:

    Frank Turk ‏@Frank_Turk 10h
    @BibChr @Fred_Butler very weird things afoot at T-Blog. Not sure why they are running with scissors ...
    Retweeted by Fred Butler

    Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 9h
    @Frank_Turk @Fred_Butler Next wk @ Triablogue: The Unappreciated Science of Phrenology

    Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 12h
    @Fred_Butler "it seems that Hays is more interested in a debate than he is in settling the truth of the matter" -- BINGO!!
    Retweeted by Fred Butler

    Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler 12h
    My friends over at Triablogue continue to jump the shark regarding miracles,

  4. Perhaps it is merely idiosyncratic, it is just my perception that it is being used in a denigrating way. Only you would really know if you are using it that way. Of course it doesn't help your cause to shift the blame. Now it appears you are insinuating, "Well, that's the way they're playing the game, so I am surely justified in returning the favor." I have always believed that when one takes the high road in treating one's opponent with the utmost respect he is given a greater hearing. That's seems to be incumbent upon all who sanctify Christ as Lord when giving an answer whether to a non-believer or especially a fellow believer. For that matter, I hope Dan, Fred, Frank and any other parties in the dispute read these comments too. Conduct the dispute in a classy way and I think more readers will be interested instead of dismissive of the whole affair as a petty squabble.

    1. It's ironic that in the name of charity your first impulse is to ascribe untoward motives to me.

      I didn't "shift blame." You decided to frame your complaint in these terms, so I'm responding to you on your own terms. Having framed your complaint in these terms, don't do an about-face and act aghast at how I reply when I'm merely responding in terms of how you chose to cast the issue. If you don't like it, don't set it up that way in the first place.

      Did I insinuate that "Well, that's the way they're playing the game, so I am surely justified in returning the favor."

      No, I explicitly contrasted my conduct with theirs. I pointed out that I'm responding at a substantive level, in contrast to their sniping.

      For you to misrepresent what I said, and turn that into moral equivalence, suggests that you're the one who has an ax to grind, and used this thread as a pretext to vent about your pet peeve, even if that requires you to impute to me the polar opposite of what I actually said and did.

      "Conduct the dispute in a classy way and I think more readers will be interested instead of dismissive of the whole affair as a petty squabble."

      Maybe readers like you ought to judge an argument on the merits, rather than judging an argument by what you imagine to be the tone or motives of the writer.

      For a pastor, you're setting a poor example. You fixate on appearance over substance. You assume the worst. You misrepresent what I said and did so that you can shoehorn my statements into your own agenda. Before you presume to accuse others of "disgraceful" behavior, you need to get your own priorities in check.

    2. MSC

      "For that matter, I hope Dan, Fred, Frank and any other parties in the dispute read these comments too."

      You hope? If you think they need to hear the same message, why are you commenting on my blog, but not on theirs?

  5. Wow! I wasn't trying to start a war here! I was simply expressing what my perception was. I think the debate is important but that it has been conducted in less than a charitable way. I am truly sorry if I have misrepresented you. Perhaps I am indeed setting a poor example.

    However, I will say that I don't judge an argument merely on the merits, but also most definitely on the tone and motives of the argument as far as that is discernible. I think the latter is a distinctively Christian aspect of all profitable argumentation and proclamation. I may be shown to be wrong in many things, but I do have certainty of this: truth that is not communicated in love may be truth but it is not helpful if you desire to edify the body of Christ or win people to Him. This I do know from very painful experience as a pastor and subsequently, more serious reflection on Scripture. People listen when they believe you have their best interests at heart and not merely the desire to win the argument. You may win many intellectual battles but very few people. At least that has been my experience and conviction from Scripture

    In either case, I will back away now, you've got the better of me and I can't tangle with you - you'd crush me and I would get unnecessarily agitated.

    1. There's a basic difference between talking to someone face-to-face and analyzing arguments in the public domain.

      Winning and losing arguments has consequences. That impacts real people, too. If you lose the argument on Darwinism, that has consequences for the church. If you lose the argument on inerrancy, that has consequences for the church. And the list goes on.

      Spare me this shallow, short-sighted dichotomy between "winning arguments" and "winning people."

      This is not about winning arguments for the sake of arguing or winning. This is about defending the truth because truth and error have real world consequences, both in this life and the next. Losing the argument is a great way of losing your people to the enemy.

  6. Now you have misrepresented me. I made no such dichotomy. I am the first to say that truth must be defended vigorously - just ask my people whom I serve. I am not saying 'either/ or' but 'both/ and.' I think we have commands from Scripture to both win the argument by truth and the people by love. I believe engaging both pursuits with equal fervor is far more effective if you want to keep your people from falling to the enemy. Furthermore, loving people has equal real world consequences, both in this life and the next. Both are necessary, but correct me if I'm wrong.

    1. The Internet is a poor medium for showing "love." The Internet is a faceless, distant, mass medium.

      Loving individuals operates at a more private and local level. Too many people are looking for love and friendship in social media.

    2. Many men and women are unreasonable. They have the wrong standards for assessing a position. That's one reason Obama was elected and reelected. Voters judging by rhetoric, feelings, perceptions.

      One of your duties is a pastor is to teach them to judge an argument on the merits rather than judging a position by irrelevancies. It is not proper for you to let their unreasonable standards go unchallenged, much less sanction their unreasonable standards. They need to learn to be reasonable. To evaluate a position by applying right standards.