Thursday, November 08, 2018

Wingnut cessationism

I'm going to comment on a post by Fred Butler:

David Platt gave a missions report to the IMB. The highlight, when the audience erupted in thunderous applause, is when he told of how Muslims are having spiritual dreams that allegedly bring them to salvation. The story Platt recounts tells how a Muslim man had a dream over the course of three nights of a man wearing white who told him he knew the way to salvation for his family. The Muslim man then encountered some SBC missionaries the next day,

When GTY hosted the Strange Fire conference back in 2013, attendees were given the opportunity to write out questions for the presenters to answer during the Q&A times. One of the frequently asked questions was about the alleged reports of Muslims all across Islamic countries who were coming to faith in Christ after having a dream about a man in white (or in some cases, Jesus Himself) directing them to a missionary who presents the Gospel.

Those dream testimonies are offered as evidence that God is actively working among Muslims in Islamic nations where Christianity is strongly opposed or completely outlawed and where Christian missionaries are in grave danger with the threat of death. But are those dreams legit? What is a biblically-minded Christian to think of them? Is God really bringing revival to Islamic lands in this fantastic manner, outside the means He ordained to bring the Gospel?

The New Testament consistently teaches the God-ordained means of proclaiming the Gospel is through human preaching [Mt 28:19-20; Rom 10:14-15; 1 Cor 1:21-24]...Those texts indicate that God has ordained the proclamation of the Gospel message by human preachers who declare biblical and theological truth from Scripture.  Those who hear the message choose either to reject it or to believe it by God’s grace.  

Fred is doing a bait-n-switch. They aren't converted by revelatory dreams rather than the Gospel. Revelatory dreams don't take the place of the Gospel. Instead, revelatory dreams make them receptive to the Gospel. 

If a man in white was directing appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions to direct them to the Gospel, would not God be contradicting what He has clearly ordained in Scripture regarding the legitimate means of Gospel proclamation in this age?

No, because Fred's argument is fallacious. This is Fred's inference:

If Scripture says X is the case, that means X is only the case.

Compare that to: if a Gospel says one angel appeared at the tomb of Jesus, then only one angel appeared at his tomb. But Fred needs to show that his prooftexts are logically exclusionary. As it stands, his inference is invalid.  

To say God has ordained the human preaching of the Gospel to save sinners doesn't entail that God only uses the human preaching of the Gospel to save sinners. 

If we trust that God is sovereign over all nations (cf. Acts 17:26) and is the author and finisher of salvation (cf. Hebrews 12:2), then is it biblical to believe He is able to accomplish His will in those Islamic nations according to the ordained means of human preaching?

Consider the Book of Acts. That's the official record of NT evangelism and missions. How the NT church was initially planted. Is it just through the human preaching of the Gospel? I don't think so. 

Peter's miracles and exorcisms (Acts 3; 5; 9).

Paul's miracles and exorcisms (Acts 13; 14; 16; 19; 20; 28).

Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod Agrippa struck dead (Acts 5; 12)

Miraculous jail breaks (Acts 5; 12; 16)

Angelic apparitions (Acts 5; 8; 10; 12)

Christophany (Acts 9)

Revelatory dreams and visions (Acts 2; 7; 10; 16; 18)

Prophets/prophetesses (Acts 11; 21)

In Acts, God employed a variety of supernatural means to enable evangelism and to provide a supernatural witness to the Gospel. Consider the angelic apparition to Cornelius. That was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity. 

Even if we say the supernatural accoutrements to evangelism and missions are now defuncts (a la cessationism), they don't contradict God's ordination if he employed supernatural accoutrements to further the Gospel in the 1C. 

Suggesting that God must now resort to sending mysterious dreams to Muslims implies God’s power to save certain sinners is curtailed by evil men and His chosen method of evangelism revealed in Scripture now needs adjusting because of the unforeseen problem of radical Islam. 

The Bible is chock-full of dreams and visions, miracles and angels. Does the fact that God resorts to a diversity of supernatural means and agents to convey or certify the message impugn his omnipotence or omniscience?  

That also raises the question, does God only give dreams and visions to Muslims? What about Hindus and Buddhists or other members of world religions that live in countries hostile to Christianity? Or those in China, or North Korea who are are so utterly anti-religious the government kills them? Do people in those closed cultures have similar dreams that bring them to a missionary who gives them the Gospel? Maybe they do, but I am unaware of their stories.

i) North Korea is a closed country, so I wouldn't necessarily expect reports to leak out.

ii) By Fred's logic, we ought to deny that God was doing supernatural things in ancient Israel and the 1C Roman Empire unless he was doing similar things in other parts of the world. 

What do Bible-believing Evangelicals like Platt do with Catholics reporting similar events happening with their missionaries? Many Catholics claim Muslims have dreams of a man in white, or in their case, the virgin Mary, that supposedly brings the Muslims to encounter priests or missionaries. See HERE for example. That raises the serious question as to why God would reveal Jesus to these individuals only to bring them to a false Gospel.

Folks should also understand that Muslims don’t necessarily have a problem with Jesus. He is a large part of Islam and even has an important role to play in their eschatology according to Islamic theology.  What matters is the right Jesus — the True and Living Jesus who rose from the dead and is the only way to God and who is God Himself, the Second Person of the Trinity. Is that the Jesus Muslims are directed toward when they see the man in white appear in their dreams?  Why would God send dreams to Muslims that only converts them to a false form of Christianity?

i) That's a legitimate issue. Again, though, it parallels Hume's objection that reported miracles in one religion cancel out reported miracles in another religion. By Fred's logic, if we discount Marian apparitions, then we should discount biblical reports of angelic apparitions, theophanies, or the risen Jesus. 

ii) Keep in mind that Protestants exist because early "Catholic" missionaries proselytized Europe and Great Britain. Their theology was defective, but further down the line that made the Protestant Reformation possible. 

If many Muslims are having dreams and vision that bring them to Jesus, why aren’t their immediate cultures changed by their conversion? In other words, I would think that with scores of Muslims having dreams that brings the Gospel to them, there would be an “awakening” of sorts taking place in these hostile places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan; but there isn’t really. Where is the visible proof of the revival that should be taking place if Christ is breaking into the hearts and minds Muslim people through their dreams?

Did miracles in the 1C church instantly transform the Roman Empire? 

Why the need to resort to subjective dreams and visions? How are modern day Islamic cultures (or any anti-Christian culture, for that matter) any more hostile than the pagan ones encountered by first century Christians and then later when missionaries took the Gospel to remote areas like Briton, Norway, and India?

i) Miracles and exorcisms in the ancient church were instrumental in the conversion of pagans to the Gospel. And that pattern is often replicated on the mission field. So Fred's objection boomerangs. 

ii) Does Fred think dreams and visions are inherently subjective? Are biblical dreams and visions subjective. What about veridical dreams and visions? Corroborated dreams and visions? 


  1. This seems to me like what we should call "hyper-cessationism". Taking the word "cessation" and making it apply to almost everything possible (barring a few happy inconsistencies). A cessation of supernatural or divine activity. But why? It gives one a very conceptually simple position to defend - but that's not a worthwhile aim in itself.... and it's at the apologetic cost of having to explain away an awful lot of things using special pleading. Does Fred really believe that all the missionary accounts of divine interventions are mistaken, and must all be explained, upon principle, every one of them, using the same categories as philosophical naturalists/atheists use?

    Fred says "There is nothing in Scripture forbidding God from working in that way, I am insistently told. But again, the ordained means by which God has established the spread of the Gospel is through preaching". This is just category confusion. God's ordained means for his appointed servants is no particular limitation upon his own freedom. God is not bound by the authority of ordinances given to men!

  2. "...Or those in China, or North Korea who are are so utterly anti-religious the government kills them?"

    A few years ago some missionaries from North Korea came to my church in Barcelona, Spain. They testified about how God is moving miraculously in the country to bring the Gospel to North Koreans.

  3. Most Iranians I know, that are former Muslims, who have come to Christ, had come kind of dream before they came to Christ. Some that I have heard are not that credible, but some are very credible. The credible ones led them to either the Scriptures or some missionary or church and they got the gospel. So, they are like Cornelius type dreams in Acts 10-11.

    1. I don't really follow the logic in your post. You seem to be saying that dreams with gospel content are a priori impossible, because when would-be evangelists/missionaries hear of such dreams, it will lead to a watering down in their enthusiasm to spread the gospel, which is an outcome God does not desire. However... there are several unexplained steps in between your premise and your conclusions. Are you saying that God never, on principle, does things that people might misinterpret as reasons to disobey him? Really? Or that God has actually said somewhere that in this particular/specific case he wouldn't do something of that sort? (If so, where?). It seems like you're arguing a universal/absolute conclusion from general premises, but without supplying the intermediate steps in the argument.

    2. P.S. By "your post" I mean the post you link, not just your comment here.

    3. There is a lot of "watering down" commitment to missions anyway. Especially Reformed types who think evangelism is only limited to street preaching and passing out tracks and then wiping the dust off their feet, (my impression of many I have met and interacted with, etc.)

      Based on Romans 10:13-15 (and by principle, Acts 4:12; John 14:6; John 3:18), I think the Charismatics current in our time (I know because I was around them all the time in a large Evangelical mission board, and have heard the reports and emphasis, etc. ) that are are emphasizing that a person can get saved / regenerated without getting a Bible or a preacher/missionary to explain the gospel, etc. - yes, it waters down Evangelical commitment to missionary work, so that, according to the kinds of dreams that are there in the NT in Acts 10-11 - they are preparation dreams to then get the gospel through the Scriptures and preaching and personal interaction/discipleship.

      Are you saying that God never, on principle, does things that people might misinterpret as reasons to disobey him?
      There may be exceptions. the word "never" is a very heavy word. misinterpret is another key word in the statement.

      But most emphasis on the dreams and visions and testimonies are "poo-pooed" by Reformed types (like the example that Steve put up, etc. based on hyper-cessasationism, IMO) but at the other end the emphasis by Pentecostals and Charismatics who say things like "without Scripture" "without a preacher" - yes, they have unwittingly watered down missionary urgency of missions commitment.

    4. Also, look at the videos I linked to about Khalil (Arabic) and Khosrow (Iranian, Farsi) - they are credible and interact at the same time with dreams and the Scriptures at the same time.

      the danger is the Pentecostal / Charismatic of emphasizing ONLY the dreams part, without the evangelism, discipleship, interaction, Scripture part.

      John Piper's chapter in Let the Nations Be Glad is very good on the kinds of things that water down and "cut a nerve" in missionary commitment and expansion. (wider hope theories, annihilationism, etc.)
      "The Supremacy of Christ as the Conscious Focus of all Saving Faith" (Let the Nations Be Glad, page 115-166, 1993 Edition)

  4. The most credible testimony I head was by an Iranian Muslim woman whose husband (they came to our training / discipleship teaching) - her husband came to Christ first in Iran and she was upset with him for his new faith, but he was nice and kind and his character changed and he was reading the Bible that it make her frustrated and angry.

    She would put Islamic curses on his while he slept, but she could not sleep. She had a dream of a guy in white holding a sign that had on it written 51. She wondered what the 51 meant. She woke up disturbed about the "51" and guy in white.

    So she secretly found her husband's bible and opened it and it opened to Psalm 51. She read it and went, "wow, ok, now I see this is what my husband and the other Christians are talking about - we are sinners from birth."

    Original sin is one of the big hurdles for Muslims to get over when wrestling with issues about the gospel, because they don't see the need for the atonement of Christ.

    She still fought and struggled for a time and then had another dream and the man in white appeared to her again and this time the sign had 12 on it.

    She woke up, got her husband's bible, and turned to Psalm 12 (opening up a special book into the middle is a common cultural practice of Iranians - opening their favorite poet book and sort of "making a wish" - terrible way to study the Bible, but that is the reality of what they do in their own culture.)

    She read Psalm 12:6 - "the words of the Lord are pure words, purified seven times in the furnace", etc.
    She thought, "O wow . . . this is proof that the Bible is not corrupted."

    After that, she did not fight against the gospel and her husband's witnessing and she started going to the underground house church, asking questions, and eventually she came to Christ, repented and trusted Him and grew after that.

    Then later, they both came to deeper level training classes (in another country), which I was able to meet them and hear their testimonies.

    Seemed like a credible testimony to me of a Cornelius type of vision/dream. (Acts 10-11)

  5. Sorry for typos

    The most credible testimony I heard was by an Iranian Muslim woman . . .

    he was reading the Bible that it made her frustrated and angry.

  6. I'm a cessationist in that I don't believe that any miraculous outworking adds anything to the Scriptures. The canon is closed. Consequently, there are no offices for sign gifts because there is nothing new to require a sign. That doesn't mean that God doesn't use supernatural means to accomplish his purposes today.

    I have associations with "workers" in the near East. They gather annually for a conference for mutual edification, developing cooperation, strategizing, etc. At one of these conferences a few years ago, they presented a study they had done where they polled "workers" (mostly from the States and Europe) and MBBs. They asked what the most significant thing was that led to conversion among MBBs. The "workers" overwhelmingly cited the visions as the primary factor. The MBBs acknowledged the visions, but overwhelmingly cited the Scriptures as the primary factor. From all the accounts I have heard, the visions invariably led the MBBs to the Scriptures. Legitimate visions like that never add to the Scriptures. Getting the Scriptures, particularly the Injeel because they already have access to the Hebrew SCriptures, in the hands of the MBBs is the most important thing. God will take care of the rest.

  7. Fred is doing a bait-n-switch. They aren't converted by revelatory dreams rather than the Gospel. Revelatory dreams don't take the place of the Gospel. Instead, revelatory dreams make them receptive to the Gospel.

    Amen, Steve. Exactly. That is my point. As in Acts 10-11, the dreams/visions are preparations and confirmations. But the real work is in relational evangelism with Muslims, process, hospitality, and discipleship and teaching, and sticking with them over a long period of time in their culture and language.

  8. This is worse than a bait-n-switch. The chap has not done his homework. All one needs to do is a cursory google search on said issue and they will find articles and posts discussing the points Steve has raised and these articles are many years old.

  9. Another - actually several other thoughts have come to my mind. I have the flu, do pls do not mind any typos and such.

    1) Here is an interesting one to contemplate. My Chinese friend B met up with some Christians while in college in Shanghai or so. For months they shared the Gospel, invited her to Bible Studies, showed her CRU's Jesus movie, etc., however she remained an iron-clad atheist. She could not believe that Christians believed such ridiculous things, until...

    Until one night she had a dream, in which she saw Jesus. That very night she got on her knees and prayed and accepted the Lord. She has been a believer ever since.

    I eventually asked her what Jesus looked like in her dreams - after all I don't really know what Jesus looks like, physically speaking. She replied that oh he was just like in the CRU movie and that what she saw in her dream, were like scenes from the movie. In any event, she went to sleep a die-hard atheist, and woke up the next morning, a believer. What was the difference? A dream. This is not exactly similar to Muslim situs but worth a thought.

    2) "Many Catholics claim Muslims have dreams of a man in white, or in their case, the virgin Mary, that supposedly brings the Muslims to encounter priests or missionaries."

    ~~>The moment a genuine revival breaks out, so too do counterfeits revivals break out in the next moment. They are just one step behind.

    3) "That also raises the question, does God only give dreams and visions to Muslims? What about Hindus and Buddhists or other members of world religions that live in countries hostile to Christianity?"

    ~~> You likely will find them in India. However I will wager that in even in India, if you meet a handful of people who came to Christ by way of some extraordinary experience, it will be the Muslim who will say it was a dream or a vision. The Hindu will likely say it was a miraculous healing or an exorcism. It seems that God works differently with different cultures. It is as if he is modeling being "all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9).

    ~ That said, these reports of visions/dreams come from numerous Muslim cultures from as far as Indonesia to Algeria to Turkey to Bangladesh, etc. And they have been coming for decades and also from diverse organizations like the Navigators or CRU, etc.

    If you think that these reports are dubious, then you still have to have an explanation for this phenomena. What accounts for it? I pointed this out to one of my atheist friend, and his claim was that there was some covert collusion going on among the Christians to engineer all this.

    I asked him how it was possible that Muslims in dire poverty (in some cases) could get in touch with other Muslims in Bahrain and then others in Pakistan and yet still some others in Cameroon, so as to engineer this remarkable idea of having a dream with Jesus in it so that they could become Christians and that too just so that they could face some really harsh persecution the next morning.

    My friend had no answer, but it made him think. That and some other issues have at least brought him to being a theist.