Monday, November 4, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 5

If continuationism were true, there would be no argument about it among Christians.
The suggestion here is that God, if he were truly continuing to distribute miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts throughout the Body of Christ, as Rom 12:3—8 teaches he does, then cessationism would be abandoned because of the obvious work of the Spirit’s grace in every church. In other words, if tongues and prophecy were occurring today, they’d be just as likely to manifest in cessationist churches as they allegedly do in charismatic churches; and on that basis, cessationism would be universally rejected by all. While continuationists may just as easily offer a similar objection regarding cessationism,1 cessationists will be better served if the objection is answered directly.

“If continuationism were true...”

For the sake of this exercise it will be necessary for cessationists to lay aside their presuppositions and consider the objection from a continuationist’s perspective.

“...there would be no argument about it among Christians.”

If God continues to distribute miraculous and revelatory gifts today, as he did in the first years of the Church, according to his will and across the entire Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches in the same way as they are experienced in charismatic and Pentecostal churches?

These gifts are less likely to occur in cessationist churches for the following reasons:

1) Churches will submit and conform to the teaching and example of their pastors.

Paul teaches, in Eph 4:4—11, that evangelists are empowered by the Spirit and given to the Body of Christ for its equipping and upbuilding. Nevertheless, if a church has a hyper-Calvinist for a pastor, who constantly beats the drum of that aberrancy, then it is unlikely that such a church will have any members doing evangelism or holding an evangelist’s office. In this case, the wrong but authoritative instruction of the pastor will subvert the proper teaching of Scripture and stifle the work of the Spirit in that church.

Similarly, if a pastor teaches cessationism, it is just as unlikely that his church will desire or experience charismatic gifts as the hyper-Calvinist’s church is to experience evangelism. If Paul instructed the Corinthians to “...earnestly desire to prophesy”2 but cessationist teachers tell their disciples that prophecy is a blasphemy against the Doctrine of Sufficiency, no one who submits to that teacher is going to earnestly desire that gift. They will despise it.3 And if Paul wrote, “ not forbid speaking in tongues,”4 but cessationist pastors teach their churches that tongues are the manifestation of delusions or of demons and they prohibit the exercise of that gift in the church, it should not come as a surprise that no one sitting under that pastor’s preaching speaks in tongues.

Reformed evangelical cessationists would never accept the absence of evangelists in hyper-Calvinist churches as evidence for the cessation of the evangelistic office, yet they use the same argument to present their evidence for the cessation of miraculous and revelatory charismatic gifts. The only thing that this objection proves is that wrong teaching begets wrong practice.

2) Charismatic gifts are practiced according to one’s faith.5

If cessationists have no faith that God still gives certain charismatic gifts, then the faith which is necessary to enable the operation of those gifts will also be absent. Correspondingly, Mark says that Jesus “...could do no miracle there [in Nazareth] except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5—6a NAS) and, if cessationists are prejudiced against the Spirit6 in the same way the Nazarenes were prejudiced against Jesus, then the Spirit will also do no miracles among them.7

3) Cessationists may exercise a charismatic gift without recognizing or acknowledging that they have done so.

First, cessationists may not recognize that they have experienced revelatory gifts because they have either, a) unwittingly accepted how the worst of the worst charismatics define these gifts — i.e. prophecy = “God told me that he would kill me if you do not send me 8 million dollars within 3 months.” — and they know that they’ve never uttered such ridiculous predictions. Or, b) they have failed to understand that the gift of prophecy, given to prophets in the Church, differs from that which was spoken through the prophets who were sent to the nations of Israel and Judah, in the Old Testament. In either case, a cessationist would fail to recognize that a spontaneous but timely word of encouragement, exhortation, or consolation for the church, is the gift of prophecy. Similarly, if a cessationist prays for healing over the sick and a sick person is restored, the cessationist will rightly defer the glory of the miracle to the Holy Spirit, but they will wrongly dismiss the possibility that it was the Spirit working his power through them as a gift of healings.

Second, when a cessationist does acknowledge that something exceptional or supernatural has happened, through something they have said or something they have done, they will redefine the phenomena to resolve the contradiction between their experience and their theology; preferring to call prophecy an extraordinary providence, or the gifts of healings, merely, an answer to prayer.

In conclusion, Paul exhorted his disciple, Timothy, to fan into flame, the gift that was given to him.8
While cessationist pastors, as well intended as they may be, charge their disciples to put out the Spirit’s fire. And if charismatic and Pentecostal pastors teach their congregations to practice the gifts, while cessationist pastors teach their congregations that the gifts no longer exist, then this should explain why the gifts are absent in cessationist churches but remain active in continuationist churches.

So to my cessationist friends, before making this objection, it is important that you remember, that just because you’ve not experienced it, does not mean it does not exist. The absence of evidence does not prove the evidence of absence.

Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts

<< Objection 4                                                                                                               Objection 6 >>



1 “If cessationism were true then there would be no debate in charismatic and Pentecostal churches.” In other words, if the Spirit had ceased giving tongues and prophecy, then continuationism would be abandoned because of the obvious absence of those gifts in these churches. 

1) The cessationist is certain to respond to this counter-objection by arguing that tongues and prophecy, since they may be counterfeited, offer evidence that is far less persuasive than the verifiable non-experience evidenced in cessationist church practice (charismatic experience can be faked, cessationist non-experience cannot). Therefore, according to the cessationist, the counter-objection cannot invalidate the original objection. Furthermore, 2) they may continue to press, that since the counter-objection fails to answer the question which the original objection implies — namely, “If God still distributes miraculous gifts, indiscriminately throughout the Body of Christ, why aren’t these gifts experienced in cessationist churches as well?” — then no actual response to the objection is being offered.

In response: 1) While counterfeit gifts may be rife within the charismatic movement and Pentecostal churches, these abuses cannot prove that the genuine gifts have ceased. They can only prove that sin still infects the hearts of men.  And, 2) the question implied by the original objection is answered in the body of the article.

2 1 Cor 14:39a

3 Contra. 1 Thes 5:20 ESV

4 1 Cor 14:39b ESV

5 Rom 12:6

6 The Spirit who still gives all the gifts to the Church.

7 Whether Jesus’ power was limited because of the Nazarenes’ unbelief, or he simply had no occasion to demonstrate his power because they refused to approach him for help, has no effect on the argument.  The Spirit’s power may be limited among cessationists because of their unbelief, or he simply may have no occasion to work his power through them because they refuse to petition him for help.  The net effect remains the same.

8 2 Tim 1:6 NIV

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 4

Tongues were given by the Spirit for the proclamation of the gospel, in actual languages.  Therefore, those who purport to exercise tongues as a private prayer language demonstrate both their ignorance of Paul’s teaching and the invalidity of their experience.

Are tongues only given for proclaiming the gospel in an unknown language?

No, tongues are not given for evangelism at all.1 They are given to extol the mighty works of God,2 for giving thanks, for singing, for prayer,3 for the edification of the Church,4 and for a sign for unbelieving Israel.5 They were only derivatively evangelistic at Pentecost because they, along with the sound of the mighty rushing wind, were the miracle that drew the attention of the pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem for the festival. When the Jews began to wonder after and/or mock the manifestation of this gift, it provided the opportunity for Peter to explain what the sign of this miracle meant. So, tongues were not given at Pentecost with evangelistic purpose, they simply provided the occasion for the gospel to be preached. If this were not the case, one would expect to find other examples of tongues in Scripture, where they were used to proclaim the good news of Jesus among those who spoke a language other than that which was spoken by spoken by the evangelist. 

Are tongues actual languages? 

They certainly were at Pentecost. Luke informs his readers, that the tongues were not only known languages, but they were particular dialects of languages.  In other words, the miracle not only allowed the 120 disciples to speak foreign languages, but they were able to speak those languages with the precision of a proper accent. However, this does not demand that tongues were always known human languages. In the oft disputed verse of 1 Cor 13:1 Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (NIV) While cessationists are quick to call these “tongues of angles” hyperbolic language — which certainly fits the context of vv. 2 and 3 — this does not exclude the possibility that such a heavenly language exists. At least no more than the hyperbolic language of verse 3 would exclude the giving of all of one’s goods away to the poor, or giving one’s body up to martyrdom by fire. Given that such an angelic language is not verifiable, and since 1 Cor 13:1 is ambiguous at this point, the question of whether Christians can speak in this language is impossible to answer this side of heaven. However, one is left wondering what the language of heaven may be?

Are tongues given as a private prayer language? 

Tongues were not given exclusively for the sake of praying in private, but this is one of the legitimate manifestations of the gift. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (1 Cor 14:18—19 NAS) 

In response to this text one may inquire, if Paul thanked God that he spoke in tongues more than the they, yet he would rather speak five words in an understandable language rather than ten thousand in an unknown tongue, where did Paul speak in tongues more than the Corinthians?  If he was limiting his tongue speaking in the assembly, where, how, and to whom was Paul speaking?

Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts

<< Objection 3                                                                                                         Objection 5 >> 


1 This does not exclude the possibility that tongues may be given for this purpose, however, a case for evangelism cannot be made from Scripture.

2 Acts 2:11

3 1 Cor 14:16—17

4 Provided that the language is interpreted (1 Cor. 14:5), otherwise, the gift only edifies the one speaking (14:13—17).

5 1 Cor 14:22

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Providence is Remarkable: providence does not answer the question

I was the guy the Strange Fire Conference was targeting.  Maybe targeting isn’t the best word choice given the confrontational positioning of the conference and the controversy that followed in its wake. What I mean to say is that I fit one of the demographic profiles of one of the groups the speakers hoped to reach. I am not a charismatic — at least not in the way most people have historically understand the word — but I do believe the grace of the Spirit’s gifts that was present in the first century church is still available and operative today. I don’t go to a charismatic church; I’ve only ever watched TBN out of morbid curiosity; I’ve never been slain in the Spirit; and the only healing crusade I’ve ever attended was Todd Bentley’s, and that was to voice my dissent and preach the gospel. Nevertheless, I am a continuationist and that makes me one of the guys that the speakers had in mind.

Now, because I am not a charismatic, my concerns going in and coming out of the conference are going to be different from those who are in Pentecostal and charismatic churches. I have no relational ties to either of those groups, so I don’t feel constrained to defend their behavior, theology, or leadership — other than the common bond of faith, no actual allegiance exists. And apart from my disagreement with the cessationist theology of the speakers, I largely identify with their concerns. So, my interest in the conference was not primarily about the abuses and excesses of the charismatic movement (as important as those are to address). My attention was rather set upon the theological arguments against continuationism. That’s why three weeks ago, I began publishing a series of articles where I endeavored to respond to the most common arguments and objections that are made against continuationism (that project is not yet complete). I wasn’t preemptively throwing a stick into the spokes of the conference by releasing these, I genuinely hoped that they would be useful in creating the opportunity for dialogue. I knew that the largest obstacle that the speakers would have to negotiate was to fairly represent the theology of charismatics and to meet them on the field of their theological presuppositions. I had no illusions that my insignificant theological presence or opinion would have any real affect on the conference, but I did hope that I could demonstrate to those sitting next to me in the bleachers, that the players on the field weren’t always playing fair. 

One of the articles that I published got a bit more traction than the others. It was not a response to an argument or an objection, but was instead a question for my cessationist friends. In that article, I offered a number of credible witnesses who purport to have experienced supernatural revelation. I reasoned that if we are to believe these reports, then we are either dealing with the gift of prophecy, or the gift of knowledge, or some other revelatory gift not listed in the gift lists found in the NT. Whatever the case, I concluded that if these were indeed evidences of post-Apostolic revelation, then cessationism must be abandoned (I’ve reconsidered this conclusion, below).

In an effort to have my question considered and addressed by the conference, I sent the article to two of the speakers — One, a personal friend and, the other, to Phil Johnson. I know that both of these gentlemen received the articles because they both responded to it (one via email, and Phil on Facebook). Again, I don’t pretend to have any weight in this conversation, nor do I think I am so important that I can demand that they answer my personal questions in one of their lectures. However, this conference was targeted at me. It was designed and crafted to persuade people like me that I’ve wrongly espoused errant theology. That’s no small thing to consider. That means, I believe, that the cessationist at this conference needed to answer the most difficult of my questions.  

On Wednesday, Phil let me know that he would be addressing my views in his Friday afternoon breakout session, Providence is Remarkable. He said,
Josh Elsom, you [sic.] describing a caricature, not the reality, of Warfield's cessationism, and you're also working with an imprecise definition of _revelation_. I'll be dealing with this whole subject Friday in a breakout session at the conference. The title they assigned me: “Providence IS remarkable.”
At this point, I am still not certain whether Phil meant to communicate that he intended to address my question in particular, or the question of modern prophecy in general. In any case, I responded to Phil via email,
My specific question for you would be this, does your cessationism have a category for extraordinary providence that incorporates Spirit-disclosed information; information that is otherwise unknowable to the person to whom it is disclosed? And if that is not revelation, I'd like to know what you call it and how you justify calling it something other than revelation.

In my estimation, you have a very difficult case to prove if you want to call the transmission of this information something other than revelation, i.e., extraordinary providence. The examples I've provided are not occasions where God aligns events and circumstance, such that his hand is palpably obvious to the people who recognize the events. This is the transmission of information (words, facts, circumstance) from “something” or “someone,” to the minds of these men. And the result of that information, when it is communicated by the revelator to the receiver, is the edification of the church and the salvation of souls. And guess what? We have a NT analogue for that type of manifestation.

I've said it elsewhere, but let me say it again. The fact that these men received revelation from the Spirit does not prove continuationism true, it only proves that cessationism is false. I am open to the possibility of a third way; that these men are experiencing something other than the gift of prophecy; some other type of unlisted revelatory gift that only happens once in a while. I'd have to be convinced of that, but I'm open to it.
Friday came and so did Phil’s breakout session. Needless to say, I was looking forward to that afternoon with a bit of anticipation. Phil gave a good presentation and I agreed with much of what he had to share. I believe he defended the compatibility of a relational pneumatology and cessationism very well, and I think he issued some very wise corrections and warnings about following our fallible intuitions and untrustworthy emotions. However, when it came time for him to address prophecy he avoided answering the hard questions.

Phil propped up a caricature of what he thinks purported prophetic experiences are and then he knocked it down. He described experiences that give the appearance of supposed moments of revelation as “intuitive hunches, or spontaneous notions, or subliminal logic, or unconscious thoughts...” He goes on to say that our intuition is sometimes used by God, in his providence, to accomplish “...something wonderful." And if we’re not careful, we can wrongly presume that things worked out according to our intuition, because they were thoughts that were spontaneously revealed by the Spirit. If we make that mistake, then we can easily stumble into a habit of trying to order our lives according to our intuition. He then warns, “...people who think that moments of intuition are God speaking, with a private message... invariably become superstitious. They foolishly order their lives by their feelings.  They commit the sin of trusting too much in their own hearts.” And in response to Phil, I say, “AMEN.” 

Unfortunately, Phil restricts his critical evaluation of prophecies to the retroactive attribution of uncanny human intuition to divine revelation. That certainly happens.  However, there is more data to consider than Phil is willing to discuss. If by intuition, Phil means what the dictionary says — the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning, or a thing that one knows or considers from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning — then he still needs to address the testimonies of the witnesses that I’ve provided. If, by intuition, he means the acquisition of information that is outside a person’s ability to know, then I’m afraid he is being dishonest with himself and those he hopes to instruct. Intuition simply cannot account for the information that these men possessed. 

Again, I offer Spurgeon’s experiences for your consideration.

How did Spurgeon know about the shoemaker’s dishonest profit margin, or the gloves in that boy’s coat pocket?  Where did that information come from? 1

Again, Matt Chandler’s experience.

How did Matt randomly come up with the exact information needed, at the right exact time, to put him in Thomas’s path, to say just the right thing?

Again, R.C. Sproul’s experience.

How did Eddie MacIlvane know to tell R.C. to take that job in Boston? What are the odds that this man would have the impulse, much less the gall, to call at 3 AM with that type of information, on the very morning R.C. had concluded his petition for an answer on that very thing?

Intuition. Really? Where did the information come from? To who or what do we credit as the source of this knowledge?

Why It Matters to Me

Monica’s pregnancy

I heard God’s voice audibly for the first time while sitting in a hotel room in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was there on business and had a week to study the curriculum of a church I’d recently began attending. It was a charismatic church (the first I'd ever attended) and while I had quickly grown to love the vigor of the community, their passionate worship gatherings, and their uncommon evangelistic zeal, I had lingering reservations about their claims of charismatic experience (prophecies, visions, exorcisms, et. al.). It was certainly far beyond anything I’d ever considered entertaining. So, there I was, I had their material in one hand, my John MacArthur Study Bible in the other, and I went to work. I read and I prayed, and I read and I prayed, and I read and I prayed for days. And in the end, I was convinced that Dr. MacArthur was right and this church’s teaching was wrong. 

On one of those days, toward the end of that trip, my study was going late into the night and I began to fall asleep. That’s when it happened. Out of nowhere, completely unsolicited, I heard, “Monica’s pregnant.” I was immediately roused and began to wonder after what I’d just heard. For the next two days I shook it off and reasoned it away, thinking it must have been a dream. But given the context of my situation, I finally spoke to my wife about what had happened. I asked her, “Can you do me a favor? Can you call Monica and see if she’s pregnant?” We were living in Tacoma, Washington at the time and the only person I knew named Monica was my wife’s high school girlfriend back in Dallas. She made the call and this was Monica’s response. “Yes. Yes I am pregnant. Brion and I just found out 3 weeks ago and we haven’t told anyone yet? How did you know that?”   

Some time later, I asked Monica about that phone call and what it might have meant to her.  She explained that when she’d discovered she was pregnant she was troubled about the timing of it all. She and her husband both were in the throes of new careers and she questioned whether the time was right to have another baby. She said that that phone call gave her overwhelming confidence that God had purposed her pregnancy and that her worries about the timing of another child immediately dissipated.

As you might imagine, the experience had a significant impact upon me as well.

Barbara’s redemption

Another occasion when I heard an audible voice was after I’d moved down from Tacoma to Dallas, to attend seminary. In the two years before that move, I’d been serving as a team leader for the Ambassadors’ Academy. The Ambassadors’ Academy was a 3 day immersive evangelism training course hosted by Living Waters ministry in Southern California. I was one of a score of leaders that would fly in and take teams out to various locations around LA to do tracting, one-on-one witnessing, and open air preaching. It was an honor to serve the participants and to preach alongside some of the most precious people in the world. I loved it. So much so, that I was sorely disappointed when I learned that I was not selected as a lead for the final Academy class of the 2010 season. 

Three weeks had past since Tony Miano, the director of the Academy, had sent out his list of leaders for that August class. I had completely written off the possibility of getting a call to make that trip. So I went on with my life, settling my family into our new digs and getting ready for school. 

After a day of organizing our storage in the hot Texas sun, I went to my in-laws for a shower. My wife, dad, and my friend Scott were there waiting for me to return. I jumped in the shower to clean myself up and that’s when it happened. I heard, “Pray that you will go to the Ambassadors’ Academy.”  So, of course, that’s exactly what I did.  A few minutes later, I’m out of the shower and I walk into the living room. That’s when Scott tells me, “You missed a call.  I answered it for you, hope that's okay. It was a guy named Tony Mia...Ma...Macaroni, or something.”  Blown away, I told everyone in the room what had just happened moments before. I then told them exactly what Tony would say when I called him up. I called Tony and said these words, “Tony, before you say what you are about to say, let me tell you what you are about to ask me and how I know it.”  After I had concluded, Tony said, “Well, Josh, do you wanna come?” That experience gave me the confidence that something unusual was in store for me on that trip.

As anyone who’s worked evangelism on the streets knows, few relationships are born out of those you encounter. And even fewer than they, are those relationships you get to disciple to the point of repentant faith in Jesus. I met someone special on that trip to southern California. 

As it turned out an old friend that I’d been talking to over Facebook for several months was living in the area. I’d been sharing the faith with him and thought I’d coordinate with him to see if we could grab lunch together while I was ministering in Huntington Beach. He agreed and we got together to talk. But he wasn’t alone. In tow with him was his girlfriend Barbara.

While hanging out at the pier, Barbara ended up getting pulled into the excitement of Stuart Scott’s preaching and ended up on the heckler’s box. Scotty took her through the Law and gave her the gospel. After she got down I asked her what had happened and she told me she had no idea what he was going on about, but it was interesting. It wasn’t on account of a poorly delivered message that she didn’t understand, she just so lacked any context for Christianity and religious language that the message was completely lost on her. She didn’t bail on me, thankfully. Barbara was not satisfied with how life had turned out so she was happy to find out more about what Jesus had to offer. We exchanged contact information and we began dialoging over email and the telephone. I was having trouble getting through to her over the phone so I asked her if I could send her a gift.  She agreed, I got on Amazon and ordered her the Jesus Storybook Bible. Once she’d received it, I called to make sure she was not offended that I’d sent her a children’s bible and explained why I’d sent it to her.  She devoured it — and it’s got some heft for a children’s bible at 348 pages. In a matter of days we were back on the phone and she couldn’t stop talking about how much sense it all now made. I had to fill in a few blanks for her, but once I had, the seed that Scotty had planted took root in her heart. She was converted on the spot.

It was not until she confessed faith in Jesus that I told her how it was that I ended up making my way to Huntington Beach that afternoon. I told her about what I heard in the shower, about Tony’s call, what I anticipated would happen on my trip, and how it all had led to the very call we were on at that moment. I explained to her the truth of Ephesians 1, that in eternity past, before the foundations of the world were set, God had set his affection upon her, that he had claimed her as his very own daughter. And more than that, he saw fit to tell a man in Texas, someone whom she’d never met before, that he needed to pray that he’d go to California so he could keep an appointment with her, to tell her about the love of her Father. She didn’t make it to Ephesians 1 before I heard whimpering over the line. And by the time I’d finished explaining that, she was beside herself, sobbing on the phone and giving glory to God.

Question: Who, or what, told me to pray that I'd go to the Ambassadors' Academy that hot August afternoon?

These are just two stories among many like them. And if I've had them, I have no reason to doubt that others are experiencing similar manifestations of the Spirit and glorying in the fruit that they produce. You’ll not convince me that I did not hear, what I heard. And you’ll not tell me that the fruit that was born out of those encounters could have happened in any other way. So if these were not occasions of revelation from the Spirit, where did the information come from? It's not innate knowledge, it's not instinctive, it's not intuition.  Something happened to me that I cannot explain. Can you?

I love you, Phil.  You are a good man. But, brother, I don't think you are answering these questions directly. And I don't think you are answering them because you know that you are not able to do it. Not without undermining your position. If there is an explanation I am missing, I am open to your correction.

I am listening with an open heart. And I'm betting I'm not the only one.

Addendum: Revelation and Cessationism

In my email to Phil (above), I wrote, "The fact that these men received revelation from the Spirit does not prove continuationism true, it only proves that cessationism is false." After further reflection, I'm not too certain that this is true. It would be true of Warfield's cessationism, but not of historic cessationism.2  Consider two articles on this subject, Kevin de Young's, The Puritans, Strange Fire, Cessationism, and the Westminster Confession, and my response to Objection 1 of my series, Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts (see endnote 1).  Given this information, I dare say that a number of the Westminster divines, if they were alive today, would've had their names called out at the Strange Fire Conference.


1 Both Phil Johnson and Nathan Busenitz  have attempted to address Spurgeon's alleged prophecies from the flanks, to no continuationist's satisfaction ( &, respectively).  The only answers they provide are 1) Spurgeon was a cessationist, and 2) he warned against ordering one's life around subjective "impressions." (It ought to be noted, that the latter point is one belabored in Grudem's at Storm's work.) While those points are duly noted, both Phil and Nathan appear to be importing their absolute cessationism back into Spurgeon's theology.

Consider the following:

1) Immediately after recounting the story of the shoemaker, Spurgeon writes, "I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, 'Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.' And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, 'The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.'" — Emphasis mine, Charles Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled From His Diary, Letters, and Records (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1903), 227. 

Notice that Spurgeon, in the quote, references John 4:16—19. It is no leap of logic to deduce from this reference and the context that Spurgeon supplies, that he believed that he was acting as a prophet in these cases. 

2) Another great work of the Holy Spirit, which is not accomplished, is the bringing on of the latter-day glory. In a few more years—I know not when, I know not how—the Holy Spirit will be poured out in a far different style from the present. There are diversities of operations; and during the last few years it has been the case that the diversified operations have consisted in very little pouring out of the Spirit. Ministers have gone on in dull routine, continually preaching—preaching—preaching, and little good has been done.

I do hope that perhaps a fresh era has dawned upon us, and that there is a better pouring out of the Spirit even now. For the hour is coming, and it may be even now is, when the Holy Ghost shall be poured out again in such a wonderful manner, that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased—the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the surface of the great deep; when his kingdom shall come, and his will shall be done on earth even as it is in heaven.

We are not going to be dragging on forever like Pharoah, with the wheels off his chariot. My heart exults, and my eyes flash with the thought that very likely I shall live to see the outpouring of the Spirit; when "the sons and the daughters of God again shall prophesy, and the young men shall see visions and the old men shall dream dreams."

Perhaps there shall be no miraculous gifts—for they will not be required; but yet there shall be such a miraculous amount of holiness, such an extraordinary fervor of prayer, such a real communion with God, and so much vital religion, and such a spread of the doctrines of the cross, that every one will see that verily the Spirit is poured out like water, and the rains are descending from above. For that let us pray; let us continually labor for it, and seek it of God." — Charles Spurgeon, "The Power of the Holy Ghost", n.p. [cited 21 Oct. 2013]. Online:

I conclude, therefore, that Spurgeon was not a cessationist in the same way that Phil Johnson and Nathan Busenitz are cessationists.

Besides all that, whatever Spurgeon's understanding of the gifts was, his theology is completely immaterial to the question being asked.  The question is not, "How did Spurgeon's theology inform his understanding of what he experienced?"  Rather, it is, "What was it that Spurgeon experienced?" and "How did he come to know about the shoemaker's sin?" 

2 There is yet another alternative which is worth your consideration.  I find I have a growing sympathy for the view articulated by R.W. Glenn — I suspect this is very close to the cessationism of the divines addressed in de Young's article —
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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

If it's Not the Spirit, Who Gets the Credit?

I've been reading and listening to a lot of teaching on spiritual gifts over the last three months. And through that process, I've learned something about myself, much about my theological position, and a great deal about the position of those who disagree with me. 

I’ve discovered that while I am quite confident in the validity of continuationism, I’ve lived the majority of my life, since adopting that position, as a functional cessationist. I am repenting and the Spirit is drawing near. I’ve found — and this is a concession — that charismatics seldom speak about those times when their prophecies were proven false or a sick person failed to rise. At the same time, I’ve found that cessationists, more often than not, provide the most absurd anecdotes from the most extreme and unorthodox charismatic teachers when critiquing continuationist theology. I’ve also concluded that cessationists cannot make a positive case for cessationism from Scripture, they can only attempt to build a negative case against continuationism. Therefore, continuationists do not need to prove continuationism true (that’s the plain reading of the text) they simply need to demonstrate how cessationist arguments against charismatic continuation fail — Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts.  And finally, I’ve determined, since the New Testament knows nothing of the cessation of spiritual gifts before the coming of Christ, the burden of proof lies with the cessationist to prove that contemporary gifts are false not with the continuationist to prove that they are true.

It is this final determination that I am interested to discuss here. If the believing Body of Christ is experiencing charismatic phenomena, similar to that which is described in the New Testament, upon what basis are these experiences to be rejected out of hand? 

Cessationist Skepticism

Recently, a prominent cessationist was interview about the Charismatic Movement on the Janet Mefferd Show. In that interview, when responding to a caller’s question, the gentleman said,
As far as I know, there are no verifiable cases where [the gift of tongues has been given and translated]. In this age, where everybody has cell phones and video tape — everything is video taped. If people were actually speaking in translatable languages, there would be the record of it, somewhere. But all we have are lots of tales of, that are basically urban myths, “I knew a guy who was in a service where this thing happened,” or whatever. This has been a phenomena that has been studied for at least 50 years, and as far as I know, not one credible researcher has ever turned up an incident where someone who did not know a language, was miraculously given the ability to speak in that translatable language.”1
He went on to explain to the caller, that if she could provide him with a video of the gift of tongues and its translation, then he’d “ to see it.” His response left me wondering, if he had been provided the evidence he demanded, would’ve it been enough for him; would've he accepted it as a valid demonstration of those gifts? Little doubt, he would not.

There is an incipient skepticism in contemporary cessationist theology that goes far beyond a reasonable and biblical suspicion of charismatic manifestations.2

 No sensible person would dispute the glut of theological error and excess that exists in the Charismatic Movement; and for that reason one ought to expect a higher degree of scrutiny when evaluating these manifestations. However, the default posture of cessationism is to treat all manifestations as dubious. And consequently, no amount of evidence is likely to persuade the cessationist away from his theological tradition. 

If it's not the Spirit, who gets the credit? 

While I cannot provide any evidence of a person speaking in a translatable tongue that can be verified to any cessationist’s satisfaction, I do have some testimonies that I would like to submit for further consideration.

The following stories are given by respected pastors, evangelists, and theologians; men who are honored by those on both sides of the charismatic/cessationist debate. No one will think to question their character nor their faithful allegiance to sound doctrine and sola Scriptura.

The question for my cessationist brothers and sisters is this: 

If the following men are faithfully reporting what they experienced, and what they report were not manifestations of the Spirit, what then were they? To whom or what do we attribute the power of the phenomena they experienced? 

Consider this account of Charles Spurgeon's experience:


Theologians have attempted to reclassify prophetic experiences like Spurgeon’s as something other than the gift of prophecy (or the gift of knowledge). Richard Gaffin, for instance, suggests Spirit-prompted insight;3

  Bob Glenn

 suggests Edifying Impressions;4

 and Phil Johnson, Extraordinary Providence.5

However, changing the nomenclature fails to acknowledge and account for the information that was supernaturally transmitted to Spurgeon’s mind. Whatever name the experience is given, cessationists must contend with the information that God disclosed to Spurgeon about the shoemaker and the thief; information that was otherwise absolutlely unknowable.  And if cessationists concede that God gave Charles Spurgeon a revelation then they no longer have a basis to continue their objection against post-Apostolic prophecy.

Some may object that Spurgeon was a cessationist and that he warned his hearers against following these types of leadings and impressions; and those observations are certainly true.  However, neither Spurgeon's theology
nor what he thought about his experiences are what is being evaluated. It's the manifestations he experienced that we are considering. The question remains, how did Spurgeon acquire a knowledge of these things?  

Spurgeon is not the only cessationist who has, in spite of his contrary position, experienced this type of charismatic phenomena. Consider the following story by Dr. RC Sproul.     

Consider the following testimony given by Pastor Matt Chandler.

Bob Hamp gives his version of Matt Chandler's prophecy.

What did Matt Chandler experience?  If it was not the Spirit working a prophecy through him, then there remain only three alternative possibilities:  
Delusional — Through the random exercise of his imagination, Matt happened to stumble upon the particular combination of information and sequencing of events that led to a chance encounter with Thomas. It was merely God's extraordinary providence that led to their meeting. Therefore, it only appears that a prophecy was fulfilled.
Answer — If it were only God working his providence, why would he do it in this way? Why give Matt and his crew, or Thomas and his daughter, the illusion of a miraculous revelatory sign? (0r, any of the men featured in this article, for that matter? The multiplicity of coincidences suggests a plot.) 
Demonized — Matt was fed the information by a demon to make it appear that charismatic gifts continue.

Answer — First, most cessationinsts do not believe that demons can demonize a person in whom the Spirit of God dwells. So assuming Matt is born of God, how did he hear the demon speak?
Second, if a demon did feed Matt that information, then it was working with Matt to make sure he would be at the right place at the right time to pray for Thomas and his daughter. 
But that couldn't be, because Jesus said, "If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end." (Mark 3:24—26 ESV)  
Deceived — Matt conspired with his wife and Bob Hamp, to deceive his congregation.
That's a possibility.
Prominent cessationists react to Matt Chandler's prophecy.

Consider the following testimonies from men who attest to the Spirit's work in their ministries.

Ray Comfort

John Piper 

Wayne Grudem 

Douglas Wilson

Craig Keener

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Jeff Vanderstelt 


Consider bookmarking this page. Additional video and articles, coming soon.


1 Phil Johnson, “The Janet Mefferd Show— Aug 15, 2013 — Hr. 3,” ref. 23:19—24:15, [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online:

2 Paul instructed the church to test all things by Scripture (1 Thes 5:20—21). The biblical posture toward the gifts, therefore, is to assume that they are genuine, unless they fail the test.  In contrast, cessationists fail the gifts without an examination, because they have presupposed the cessation of the gifts.

3 Richard Gaffin suggests “Spirit-prompted insight” — Wayne Grudem, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Robert L Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, Douglas A. Oss, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views. (Grand Rapis: Zondervan, 1996), 294.

4 RW Glenn, “The Spirit of the Christian God Part 6: The Spirit of Generosity” [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online:

5 Phil Johnson, “Wretched Radio — Aug 18, 2011 — Hr. 2” [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online:
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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 3

Fallible prophecy is an oxymoron. An infallible God cannot deliver fallible revelation. 

This is a common misrepresentation of the continuationist understanding of New Testament prophecy. Neither, Wayne Grudem, nor any continuationist who agrees with him, believes that God gives fallible revelation today. On the contrary, continuationists hold that all revelation given by God is perfect, both in its content and its communication. When continuationists speak of fallible prophecy, they are not describing the revelation that God deposits in the minds of his prophets, they are speaking about the utterances that are ultimately delivered by the prophets; after the infallible revelation has gone through the fallible process of comprehension, interpretation, application, and communication. 

To understand how a perfect revelation could become imperfect upon transmission, one needs only to consider the gift of preaching. Most would agree that preaching is a Spirit-wrought and Spirit-empowered exercise, yet no one would ever dare say that preaching is infallible. Though preaching is derived from a perfect and infallible source, the message preached is never as perfect in its delivery as the source from whence the message is drawn. Think about the process a preacher must go through, from the point he selects a text to exposit, to the point where that exposition is communicated to his congregation. The text must be read, comprehended, interpreted, meditated upon, and converted into notes before the sermon is ever communicated to anyone orally. And each step in that sermon prep process is vulnerable to contamination. The Scripture the preacher selects may very well be infallible, but the preacher, his study methods, and his presentation of that Scripture is not. Preaching is a spiritual gift,1 wherein the preacher speaks the oracles of God,2 yet every preacher gets it wrong from time the time.3 So if the spiritual gift of preaching is fallible, yet there are no questions being raised over its usefulness in the church, on what basis are those questions being raised over the value of prophetic utterances; as fallible as those utterances may be?


In his autobiography, Charles Spurgeon writes,
While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, "There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence! A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, "Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?" "Yes," replied the man, "I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul."4 
There are two notable things that Spurgeon recalls from his sermon. First, he communicates information about the shoemaker, which could only be known if it were supernaturally revealed.5 And the effect of this disclosure on the shoemaker was exactly what Paul taught the Corinthians would happen, when prophecy is rightly exercised in church gatherings;6 the shoemaker acknowledged that God was among them. Second, while Spurgeon’s prophecy resulted in the salvation of the shoemaker’s soul, his prophecy was mingled with error. Spurgeon said, “There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning” (italics mine). The Sabbath is not Sunday, it is Saturday. And whether Spurgeon merely used a culturally recognizable and accepted synonym for Sunday, or he wrongly believed that Sunday had replaced Saturday as the new Sabbath, the infallible revelation he received from God was contaminated by his error when it was delivered to the shoemaker.

In 1 Thes 5:19—21, Paul writes, “ not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (NAS)  What reason would the Thessalonians have to despise prophecies; and why would prophecies need to be examined, unless some of them had proven to be wrong in the past? It’s certainly possible that wolves had crept into the church and made false prophecies, and that is why the gift was despised (though there is not evidence of this in the epistle).7 However, it is just as likely that the failed prophesies had come from believers within the church. Further, if the prophecies had come from false brothers, it’s odd that Paul would only tell the church to hold fast to the good prophecies, without telling them what they ought to do with the people who had prophesied falsely.8 There is no direction given by Paul for how the church is supposed to respond to those who deliver a prophecy that fails the test.9 Elsewhere, in 1 Cor 14:29, Paul writes, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (italics mine, NIV) If prophecies given in the NT church were as infallible and authoritative as the prophecies given by prophets in the OT,10 why would prophecies need to be weighed by the congregation?11

In conclusion, cessationists misrepresent the continuationist position on revelation, when they suggest that continuationists believe that God delivers errant information to his prophets. Again, the continuationist position is that the revelation is perfect, but the cognitive abilities and the interpretive processes of the vessel, through whom God speaks, is not.  Accordingly, there is no contradiction created when pairing infallible revelation with fallible prophetic utterances. Therefore, the objection may be disregarded because it fails to accurately understand the position it attempts to refute.  Moreover, while there is nothing in Scripture which explicitly confirms the continuationist position,12 the fact that Paul installed safeguards to filter the good prophecies from the bad,13 while leaving no instructions for how a church is to respond toward those whose prophecies are proven inaccurate or imagined,14 plausibly suggests that errant prophecies were being delivered by genuine believers in the Apostolic church. Therefore, the objection may be regarded as disputable. 

Return to first article in this series: Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts

<< Objection 2                                                                                                         Objection 4 >>

Rom 12:7—8

2 1 Peter 4:11

3 This says nothing of the hearers’ fallible interpretive process.

4 Charles Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography: Compiled From His Diary, Letters, and Records (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1903), 226—227.

5 Some theologians have attempted to reclassify prophetic experiences, like Spurgeon’s, as something other than gift of prophecy.

Pastor RW Glenn suggests “Edifying Impressions” — RW Glenn, “The Spirit of the Christian God Part 6: The Spirit of Generosity” [cited 3 Oct 2013]. Online:

Phil Johnson purposes “Extraordinary Providence” — Phil Johnson, “Wretched Radio: Wretched Radio — Aug 18, 2011 — Hr. 2” [cited 3 Oct 2013]. Online:

Richard Gaffin suggests “Spirit-prompted insight” — Wayne Grudem, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Robert L Saucy, C. Samuel Storms, Douglas A. Oss, Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views. (Grand Rapis: Zondervan, 1996), 294.

However, each of these reclassifications fails to acknowledge and account for the information that was supernaturally transmitted to Spurgeon’s mind.  Whatever name the experience is given, cessationists must contend with the information that God disclosed about the shoemaker; information that was otherwise unknowable. And if cessationists concede that God gave Spurgeon a revelation of his knowledge, then they no longer have a basis to continue their objection against post-Apostolic prophecy.

6 1 Cor 14:24—25

7 One would expect Paul to address the bad theology, which the prophecy would have contained (as he did in 2 Thes 2, concerning the “Coming of the Lord” [cf. Gal 1:8—9). It is far more plausible then, that the church had received an errant prediction, or a series of predictions, and was disappointed when the things that had been promised were not actualized.

8 One would expect Paul to address the bad theology, which the prophecy would have contained (as he did in 2 Thes 2, concerning the “Coming of the Lord” [cf. Gal 1:8—9). It is far more plausible then, that the church had received an errant prediction, or a series of predictions, and was disappointed when the things that had been promised failed to actualize. // Especially if Deut 18:20—22 were the prescription for how the church is to respond to those who prophesy falsely.

9 Those who introduced heterodox teaching into the church through a prophetic word (1 Cor 12:3; 1 John 4:1—3, 2:23), who refused to submit to correction and persisted in their error, would certainly fall under the rubric of false teacher; and therefore, the actions applicable to false teachers would be applicable to false prophets as well. // The only scriptures that the church is given regarding false prophecies, are those that have to do with false prophets who introduce aberrant theology into the church (Matt 7:15, 24:11, 24; 2 Thes 2:1—2; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1—3). They say nothing of how the church ought to respond to someone who gives a false prediction, or who wrongly provides a-theological information. 

10 Can anyone imagine the prophet Micah telling the people of Judah to weigh what comes out of the mouth of Isaiah? Certainly, not.

11 “1 Corinthians 14:32 says this, ‘And the spirits of the prophets are,’ what, ‘subject to the prophets.’ Do you know what that means? That even a prophet's got to subject his own spirit. Just because you've been called to be a preacher, it doesn't mean you don't have to subject yourself anymore.  I'm not spiritual because I preach.  I'm not even infallible.  Verse 29 of 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Corinthians 14:29, look at what it says.  ‘Let the prophets speak two or three and let others judge.’  Did you know that? Did you know that the prophets aren't even so infallible, they've got to have three people and somebody else judge who is right. Some people think just because they got the gift that settles it. No, sir, even the prophets had to check with two or three, work it out together and have somebody judge who was right. Gifts are no sign of spirituality. They are no guarantee that you're always right. Gifts are not always necessarily in connection with your own supposedly abilities or disabilities.  And you can minister your gift in the flesh or you can administer your gift in the Spirit.” — John MacArthur, “The Gifts of the Body,” Grace To You, n.p. [cited 3 Oct. 2013]. Online:

Though MacArthur believes that the gift of prophecy is the gift of preaching, his exegesis and conclusions are correct. The gifts of preaching and/or prophecy are fallible.

12  Namely, that infallible revelation may be fouled by the prophets who deliver the revelation. // I will avoid writing about Agabus, since cessationists have reason to reject Grudem’s arguments. —

13 Paul instructs the Thessalonians to test prophecies, not the prophets. (1 Thes 5:20—21)

14 Cf. Deut 18:20—22
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