Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Fire extinguishers

Cessationist critics of the charismatic movement draw attention to the heresy, chicanery, and gullibility that's rife in that movement. And there needs to be more scrutiny in that regard. 

Cessationists don't view these as isolated abuses and excesses that are incidental to charismatic theology, but the inevitable outcome of a flawed theological paradigm. And I think there's an element of truth to that. From my reading, charismatic theology fosters unrealistic expectations regarding the frequency with which God will perform miracles or guide individuals. 

That said, does cessationism suffer from a parallel problem? Are cessationists oblivious to what their own theology may cultivate? Consider mainline denominations like the American Baptist–USA, CRC, ECUSA, ELCA, PC-USA, RCA, UMC, UCC.

Historically, I believe these are either officially cessationists or overwhelmingly cessationist in practice. Although "charismatic renewal" has happened in the ECUSA, that occurred late in the history of the denomination. 

Now, these mainline denominations are hotbeds of heterodoxy and heteropraxy. They're the cessationist counterpart to comparable phenomena in the charismatic movement. Why not link that to cessationism? 

Charismatic theology and cessationist theology are liable to opposing errors.  Charismatic theology is inclines to superstition while cessationist theology inclines to secularization. 

Of course, cessationists will object to my comparison with mainline denominations. They will say that's unfair. At best, there's an incidental overlap between cessationism and liberal mainline denominations. But charismatics would say cessationists are guilty of the same thing when they attack the charismatic movement en masse. 

Moreover, I don't think these are isolated cases, incidental to the cessationist paradigm. In my view, a common flaw of charismatic theology and cessationist theology alike is to assume that God is too predicable. The difference is they assume God is predictable in opposite ways. Predictably interventionist or predictably noninterventionist. 

Cessationism operates with a pretty noninterventionist view of God during the course of church history, and their low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A noninterventionist God becomes difficult to distinguish from a nonexistent God–except, perhaps, as the "ground of being".
If the charismatic tradition produces arsonists, the cessationist tradition produces fire extinguishers. We need to be equally attentive to the consequences of both traditions. 

My own position is that God is fairly unpredictable–at least from a human perspective. When, where, and how God intercedes in history is generally surprising or perplexing. We pray and wait for whatever will happen-or not.  


  1. //Cessationism operates with a pretty noninterventionist view of God during the course of church history, and their low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.//

    I don't think so. Cessationists believe that the Holy Spirit is working and God works providentially. It's just the sign and wonders gifts that aren't for today.

    The problem with the charismatic movement, as far as I can tell having experienced it from the inside, is that people are willing to let rank error go because they don't want to accidentally stand in the way of the Spirit.

    I'm not sure if I would consider myself a strict cessationist, but I feel a little burnt from the Charismatic movement as well which will give me a bias in the other direction.

    1. Geoff,

      Ordinary providence is noninterventionist, in contrast to miraculous intervention (or "extraordinary" providence).

      Sure, cessationists think the Holy Spirit is working, but in context, that's a red herring.

    2. In addition, some cessationist denominations think the Spirit works via the sacraments. That paradigm (sacramental grace) is a type of providence, in contrast to miracles.

  2. I would add that charismatic theology isn't incompatible with some manifestations of liberalism: compromise with homosexuality, egalitarianism, barthian bibliology, etc.

    "My own position is that God is fairly unpredictable–at least from a human perspective. When, where, and how God intercedes in history is generally surprising or perplexing. We pray and wait for whatever will happen-or not. "

    I agree with that because I know you operate under a reformed framework... but, the unpredictable part could be use by the "don't-put-God-in-a-box" folks. With that mantra they have ammo to justify the "holy-laughter-barking-drunkenness" stuff.

  3. What is (or are) the best book (s) on the issues of cessationism vs. continualism ?

    Grudem's view of prophesy is strange to me.

    Cessationism is a theological stance based on the purpose of the miracles being foundational in Jesus and the apostles ministry - to confirm them and the gospel and God's Word; and based on the fact that the apostles have died and the NT canon is closed. (Hebrews 2:4)

    "God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."

    But continualism has more clear texts, like 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 - "do not forbid to speak in tongues".

    But NT tongues seems to be real languages, especially Acts 2.
    I Corinthians 14:2-4
    is the only passage that implies any kind of "private prayer language" that is not a language in this world.

    ". . . however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 4 He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

    And as your title implies: (more clear texts)
    do not despise prophetic utterances;

    . . . "do not put out the Spirit's fire" ( I thought I have seen 1 Thessalonians 5:19 translated that way.)

    19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.

  4. I've read Grudem's book on Prophesy and his Systematic Theology.
    I've also read the 4 views book, "Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?" edited by Grudem, but Samuel Storms gives a strong case for the continualist view.
    I read Jack Deere's book years ago, "Surprised by the Power of the Spirit". (and at the time was pretty convinced for a few years.) (1994)

    But, around 2000, I went back to the cessationist view. I thought Sam Waldron did a good job against Micheal Brown, and I thought Ian Hamilton did a good job against Wayne Grudem. (debates on the internet)

    John R. W. Stott's book "Baptism and Fullness" is very good.

    1. Ken,

      i) I could recommend books on both sides of the cessationist/continuationist debate, but I think both sides are wrong in different ways. Although I reject cessationism, that doesn't make me a continuationist (as conventionally defined). In my reading, both sides tend to operate with the same paradigm, but disagree on whether the paradigm is true.

      ii) I think passages like Jn 14:12, Acts 2:17-18, and 1 Cor 12-14 (esp. 13:8-10) indicate that these phenomena will continue to be a part of the church age.

      However, the burden of proof is on the cessationist in the sense that unless the NT implies the discontinuance of this phenomena, then there's no presumption one way or the other. It's a matter of experience which position is true.

      iii) I think the Apostolate was a timebound institution. That lies in the distant past.

      iv) One question is whether we should cast the issue in terms of "gifts," and what that means. Cessationists believe that means God endowed a person with a permanent ability.

      However, I don't think that's justified. For instance, even Gordon Fee (Pentecostal) thinks "gifts" of healing means, not that healers are gifted, but that the healing itself is a gift (from God).

      Likewise, Jn 14:12 links miracles to answered prayer. It's not an autonomous power. Rather, it only occurs in response to prayer.

      You also have the linkage between prayer and the agency of the Spirit (Rom 8:26-27; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 6:18; Jude 20). So I think it's a mistake for cessationists to drive a wedge between prayer and the "spiritual gifts".

      v) Apropos (iv), I think charismatics err in assuming that the "spiritual gifts" will be a normal or regular occurrence in the life of the church. But I think the distribution of the charismata is quite uneven in time and place.

      vi) Yes, Acts 2 seems to describe xenoglossy. Paul's description of glossolalia in 1 Corinthians is obscure. And we don't have any samples of 1C glossolalia as a basis of comparison.

      What generally passes for tongues in modern-day charismatic churches seems to be free vocalization. There's nothing apparently or demonstrably supernatural about it.

      vii) A big issue is the definition of "prophecy". Cessationists generally define this as divine speech. But in Scripture, "prophecy" is an umbrella term that covers a range of phenomena.

      For instance, supernatural dreams and visions are not interchangeable with divine speech. A supernatural dream may simply show the dreamer something. It isn't inherently verbal. It then becomes a question of how to interpret the dream.

      viii) I don't think prophecy or prophetic dreams are primarily designed to enable us to predict the future–certainly not in any pinpoint sense. I think they may help us prepare for the future. And we can recognize the fulfillment after the fact. But how it will be realized may be obscure ahead of time.

      ix) Likewise, if God, in an audible voice, were to tell a Christian to go somewhere, or not go somewhere, that has no doctrinal or ethical content. It's not a new gospel. It adds nothing to the gospel.

      x) The empirical question is whether phenomena like this still happen. There are books that document that phenomena. For instance:



      Keener also has many YouTube presentations.