Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Monsters On Maple Street

Let's spend a little more time on the parallel between MacArthurites and secular debunkers. As I've documented in the past, MacArthurites resort identical arguments. I'll give back-to-back examples at the end of this post. Unfortunately, the MacArthurites are matching the atheists move for move.
Before discussing that, let's back up a step. In my experience, MacArthurites are so transfixed by errors and abuses in the charismatic movement that that fills their view screen. They are oblivious to the danger which they themselves are fostering in their overreaction to the charismatic movement.  
Their attitude reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone episode ("The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street") in which alien invaders successfully deflect attention from the real threat by making neighbors turn on each other in a self-destructive witch hunt. 
Secular debunkers deploy these arguments to discredit miracles in general. MacArthurites ape the same arguments to discredit postapostolic charismatic miracles in particular. The obvious problem is arbitrarily restricting the force of their arguments to all and only postapostolic charismatic miracles. They act as if their arguments, like smart bombs, will only target just those reported miracles which happen to conflict with cessationism, why allowing biblical miracles, and the subset of postapostolic miracles consistent with cessationism, to escape unscathed. 
Unfortunately, MacArthurites are conditioning Christians who've imbibed their brand of cessationism to commit apostasy if they ever encounter atheists who use the very same arguments to discredit biblical miracles. Imagine teenagers who attend Grace Community Church (or students to attend the Master's College or Master's Seminary). Teenagers (or students) who've dutifully mastered the objections to modern charismatic miracles offered by MacArthurites like Fred Butler, Ed Dingess, Lyndon Unger, et al. 
Imagine, when surfing the web, they are suddenly exposed to atheists who use the identical arguments to discredit biblical miracles? Not only have MacArthurites left them defenseless against this line of attack, MacArthurites have predisposed them to lose their faith on contact the moment they encounter direct, parallel arguments against the miracles of Scripture. The proverbial accident waiting to happen. Instant apostates: just add water. 
MacArthurites are giving atheists a huge opening to begin picking off Christians. Of course, that's not their intention. But when they are warned, they angrily denounce the warning. Obviously, MacArthurites aren't equipping Christians on how to field this challenge, for they don't even acknowledge the problem they've nurtured. The MacArthurite is safe so long as he remains in his freeze-dried condition, sealed in a waterproof container. 
Mind you, MacArthurites who turn to someone like Mennoknight for intellectual leadership are going to be pretty impervious to arguments one way or the other. Keener's two-volume monograph on miracles is no match for Unger's muppet show. Who wants to slog through Keener when you can watch Unger don a propeller-cap and make animal balloons. Adult preschool for readers who've been held back 12 grades. 
My concern is for smart young MacArthurites whose one-sided indoctrination leaves them vulnerable. It's a lot easier to protect something from breakage than to wait until it breaks, then try to fix it. That's often too late. The damage is irreparable. If you wait until kids raised on MacArthurite cessation lose their faith when they discover atheistic counterparts, you waited too long. 
Now, perhaps a MacArthurite would respond by saying, "Well, the same arguments don't apply to Biblical miracles because Biblical testimony is special." Indeed, I've read MacArthurites who do respond in that vein. Problem is, that reflects a failure on their part to understand cessationism, even though that's their own position. 
In cessationism, the Bible doesn't start out special. That's the conclusion of a multi-staged argument. In cessationism, the Bible is in the same initial position as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Swedenborg's Arcana Cœlestia, &c. In cessationism, Isaiah starts out in the same position as Oral Roberts. 
At this preliminary stage of the cessationist case, the Bible is simply one of several rival revelatory claimants. Out of the starting gate, it has no lead over the competition
In the cessationist argument, what makes the Bible special is the argument from miracles. Apostles and prophets preform miracles which validate their divine commission. "Sign-gifts."
However, there's a complication. The source of this information comes from the Bible itself. The Bible attributes miracles to OT prophets and NT apostles. But unless the Bible is special, it is viciously circular to cite reported miracles in Scripture to furnish miraculous confirmation for the reporters. At this preliminary stage of the cessationist argument, we have yet to establish that Biblical testimony is special.  
At this preliminary stage, the argument from miracles must, in turn, fall back on the general reliability of testimonial evidence. But unfortunately, the cessationist must impugn the general reliability of testimonial evidence to discredit any and all reported miracles which conflict with cessationism. They have to say testimonial evidence is only trustworthy when it just so happens to coincide with reported miracles consistent with cessationism. Whenever it bears witness to miracles inconsistent with cessationism, it suddenly becomes totally unreliable. MacArthurites need to explain how their procedure isn't an egregious case of special pleading. 
MacArthurites attack charismatics for compromising the sufficiency of Scripture, and some charismatics are guilty, but MacArthurites are so mesmerized by the dangers of the charismatic movement that they can't take their eyes off that long enough to reflect on the internal tensions in their own position. In cessationism, Scripture is insufficient. In cessationism, Scripture does not stand on its own. Rather, Scripture occupies the second floor, which rests on the first floor of miraculous attestation, which rests on the foundation of testimonial evidence. 
i) Now, there are alternative ways of defending Scripture. In principle, you could mount a presuppositional argument for Scripture. However, the presuppositional authority of Scripture is inconsistent with cessationism. Although a presuppositional argument could incorporate some of the same elements (e.g. argument from miracles, testimonial evidence), they will be rearranged. For instance, the argument from miracles lacks the foundational role in presuppositionalism that it occupies in cessationism. 
An argument for the presuppositional authority of Scripture would discuss how biblical creation and providence are necessary to underwrite memory and sense knowledge, as well as the possibility of miracles. It begins with Biblical theism, as a precondition for testimony and miracles. God is the metaphysical starting-point, but at the level of epistemology, one can reason from miracles to God.
a) The order of being: God>miracles
b) The order of knowing: miracles>God 
ii) In principle, you could also appeal to postapostolic Christian miracles to furnish collaborative evidence. But that poses a dilemma for cessationism, since it must reject the general reliability of testimony (see above). 
Let's now sample some parallel arguments by atheists and MacArthurites:

If God existed, there'd be no need to prove it
Something as significant in the universe as God could hardly be overlooked.  The ultimate creator of the universe and a being with infinite knowledge, power, and love would not escape our attention, particularly since humans have devoted such staggering amounts of energy to the question for so many centuries.   Perhaps more importantly, a being such as God, if he chose, could certainly make his existence manifest to us.  Creating a state of affairs where his existence would be obvious, justified, or reasonable to us, or at least more obvious to more of us than it is currently, would be a trivial matter for an all-powerful being. So since our efforts have not yielded what we would expect to find if there were a God, then the most plausible explanation is that there is no God.
If continuationism were true, there'd be no need to prove it
Dan Phillips January 23, 2014 at 10:43 am #Once again: it doesn’t matter how strong Storms’ arguments are. It’s TOO LATE to establish the “continuationist” position by argument. If the position were true, there would be no argument.

Atheists on ETs
These are just some of the reasons why we cannot trust extraordinary reports from that time without excellent evidence, which we do not have in the case of the physical resurrection of Jesus. What about alien bodies recovered from a crashed flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico? Many people sincerely believe that legend today, yet this is the modern age, with ample evidence against it in print that is easily accessible to anyone, and this legend began only thirty years after the event.
In Matthew, the women “suddenly” see Jesus. He says the disciples will see him in Galilee, and it does not sound as if he will be walking. In Luke, he disappears before the eyes of the disciples he met on the road to Emmaus. In John, he appears out of nowhere in a house whose doors have been shut against the Jews.
All of this is suggestive of hallucinations. There is one other point that should be made, which comes from Robert Sheaffer, who has writ- ten many magazine articles and one book on UFO reports. He has also written a book on the origins of Christianity called The Making of the Messiah. It gets off track in relying heavily on anti-Christian polemic from the second century and later (does Sheaffer imagine such works can be treated as contemporary debunkings?), but his comments on the similarity between UFO reports and the resurrection appearances are worth listening to. 
C. Hallquist, UFOs, Ghosts, and a Rising God: Debunking the Resurrection of Jesus, 109.

MacArthurites on ETs
Fred Butler @Fred_Butler1hPls explain how the hysterical claims of UFO activity in this video  differ frm those regarding modern miracles. 
I had twittered out a link to a documentary trailer on UFOs in which wide-eyed enthusiasts passionately testify to the overwhelming evidence that extraterrestrial vehicles dominate our skies. How can thousands of eye-witnesses be wrong? Well, of course they can’t be; the evidence is just too powerful. 
I merely noted that the eye-witnesses to UFO activity are just as confident and absolute certain that UFOs exist (because they saw them) as Pentecostal/charismatics are certain modern day miracles happen (because they saw them). Watch that video. Switch the word “UFO” with “miracle” or “healing” and the testimonies are so similar it’s uncanny.
Atheists on amputees
So what should happen if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs? Clearly, if God is real, limbs should regenerate through prayer. In reality, they do not. 
Why not? Because God is imaginary. Notice that there is zero ambiguity in this situation. There is only one way for a limb to regenerate through prayer: God must exist and God must answer prayers. What we find is that whenever we create a unambiguous situation like this and look at the results of prayer, prayer never works. God never "answers prayers" if there is no possibility of coincidence
MacArthurites on amputees
When people were healed, it was an undeniable, extraordinary work of the Spirit healing an individual (Acts 4:16). Something the “Amazing” Randi could not deny. Think Iraqi war veterans getting their limbs back completely whole or the late Christopher Reeves having his spinal cord injury reversed.
It is nice to hear about a person having her hip pain taken away and his flu-like symptoms disappearing, but those miraculous healings, even if they are occasionally supernatural healings (and I am not saying they aren’t) are no where near the kind of supernatural healings recorded in the Bible. I want to see people with the gift of healing going into burn wards, veteran’s hospitals with soldiers who have lost limbs, and hospitals that specialize with spinal cord injuries.
[ Ed Dingess] Name one that is biblical. To claim that false healings and miracles and gibberish are the works of the Holy Spirit is a dangerous practice. That is MacArthur's point. Produce one person that has been healed of congenial blindness, one amputee who's limb has grown back, one legitimate resurrection...just one. Show me someone who speaks in the tongues Luke describes in Acts 2...just one. 

Atheists on cancer

Also, he [God] could say, "Folks, I'm going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer," where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made -- God's love is "not a merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps -- and we realise that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course, ...)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"

MacArthurites on cancer

All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.
Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:24, 8:16; Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.

Atheists on biased sources

We have many of Caesar's enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians' own claims had been widely spread around.

MacArthurites on biased sources

I would even add, verified by unbelievers who knew the person before he or she was healed and now know of the person’s healing.
Atheists on secondhand testimony

[Lessing] Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have the opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another. 
I live in the eighteenth century, in which miracles no longer happen.
The problem is that reports of fulfilled prophecies are not fulfilled prophecies; that reports of miracles are not miracles. 

MacArthurites on secondhand testimony

I too have read many accounts of modern miracles. I find them to be mostly hearsay and apocryphal.
[Ed Dingess] You will reply that you personally don't know of any faith healers to whom we can turn for healing. Have you ever witnessed an indisputable, certified genuine miracle? One for which there were no natural explanations?

Atheists on Third-World testimony

[Hume] It forms a strong presumption against all supernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable sanction and authority, which always attend received opinions. When we peruse the first histories of all nations, we are apt to imagine ourselves transported into some new world; where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element performs its operations in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions, pestilence, famine and death, are never the effect of those natural causes, which we experience. Prodigies, omens, oracles, judgements, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we soon learn, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that, though this inclination may at intervals receive a check from sense and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.    It is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that such prodigious events never happen in our days.   The advantages are so great, of starting an imposture among an ignorant people, that, even though the delusion should be too gross to impose on the generality of them (which, though seldom, is sometimes the case) it has a much better chance for succeeding in remote countries, than if the first scene had been laid in a city renowned for arts and knowledge. The most ignorant and barbarous of these barbarians carry the report abroad. None of their countrymen have a large correspondence, or sufficient credit and authority to contradict and beat down the delusion. 

MacArthurites on Third-World testimony

Dan Phillips ‏@BibChr 21h 
EVERY time someone challenges this, the story starts, "I knew/heard about someone who was in the Philippines/Mexico/Uganda once, and..." 
Fred Butler
Oh sure, some third world kid somewhere dipped in the river and was healed of her cholera, so you can't deny the continuation of the gifts.

Of course, far away examples in distant lands in the backwaters of the jungle are usually provided, but if miracles and healings are prevalent among God's people, then they should happen here where they can be witnessed firsthand…Again, anecdotal stories are provided from Nepal or India…

Hays’ argument is really an argument from silence. What I mean by that is that Hays’ argument appeals to claims of miracles far, far away, in a distant land in order to defend his position.


  1. It's a truly lamentable parallel, but there it is.

  2. Hi, Steve, I liked your text very much and I even translated it unto Portuguese (Brazil) so my Christian friends (some of them are cessationists) could read it. Now, you wrote in the beginning "As I've documented in the past, MacArthurites resort identical arguments." could you please share the links of these others texts that present cessationists using the same arguments as secular debunkers?