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. 

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<< 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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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 2

If a person claims to have received a prophecy from God today, they need to issue an addendum to the Church and have every person who owns a Bible staple their new prophecy to the back of Revelation.
This objection presupposes that NT prophets only spoke that which was yet to be inscripturated by the Apostles; they spoke ex cathedra, meaning their utterances were infallible and the authority of their prophecies was universal in scope.

First, there is no evidence that prophecies functioned exclusively as placeholders for the NT until the Bible was complete.  The only prophecies that were recorded and preserved in the NT (delivered by prophets who were not Apostles) are those given by Philip, regarding the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29); the elders at Antioch, regarding the sending of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2); and those given by Agabus, regarding the famine (Acts 11:28) and Paul’s arrest (Acts 21:10—11); and these are only provided because they are historically relevant to the narrative of Acts.  In other words, there are no prophets in the NT who are credited with the delivery of a prophecy that was doctrinally significant.

Second, prophecy in the context of the New Testament church is not universally binding upon all Christians throughout the world and for all time.  The proof of this is that we do not have a record of anything that was prophesied by Philip’s daughters, nor Judas Barsabbas, nor Silas, nor any of the hundreds, if not thousands, of congregational prophets who served in churches throughout the Roman Empire during the first century.  Prophecies delivered 2000 years ago, whether for edification (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor 14:3), or for missional strategy (Acts 13:4, 16:6, 9—10), or for equipping (1 Tim 1:18, 4:14), are simply irrelevant to the life and ministry of churches today.1 If this were not the case, the Spirit would have preserved a compendium of prophecies for our learning and instruction. 

In closing, if every prophecy uttered in the twenty-first century must be incorporated into the text of Scripture, then the objection (if the objector is consistent) must necessarily be applied to prophecies given in the first century.  And since we haven’t a single prophecy spoken by a congregational prophet with doctrinal significance, having been inscripturated and preserved from the first century, the objection is invalid.

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1 Likewise, if a prophecy is delivered to a church/person today, with specific information for a particular situation, and it is given for the consolation of that individual church/person, then the information that the prophecy carries is utterly irrelevant to other churches/persons.  Therefore, the prophecy would provide no benefit to anyone, except to those for whom the prophecy was specifically intended; one should not expect that this information would require inscripturation, or universal distribution.
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Confronting Common Arguments and Objections to the Continuation of the Charismatic Gifts — Objection 1

Modern day prophecy is incompatible with the Reformational doctrine of sola Scriptura; it undermines the Bible’s authority and sufficiency. 
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, article 10, reads,
The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits,1

 are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Notice here, that the Westminster divines do not argue that the decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, or private spirits are without some authority within the Church.  They do not dismiss them as superfluous, instead they subordinate them and make them subject to the Supreme Judge of Scripture.  Decrees, doctrines, and prophecy are, therefore, not excesses if they are derived from and examined by Scripture. 

In actuality, unlike the Westminster divines, many contemporary cessationists are not arguing for sola Scriptura, but are instead arguing for solo Scriptura2

 — sola Scriptura is Latin, meaning, Scripture alone, solo Scriptura3

 meaning, Scripture only.  That is, cessationists today, when they insist that modern day prophecy would render the Scripture insufficient and non-authoritative, are advocating for a position which was not held by the Reformed cessationists who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith. 

When debating prophecy, cessationists rush to point out that granting authority to something other than the written text of Scripture violates sola Scriptura, without stopping to consider that they continually appeal to extra-biblical authorities; whether they be ancient creeds, particular confessions of faith, systematic theologies, or any number of other doctrinal positions. Ironically enough, when cessationists demand that charismatics submit to sola Scriptura (or Cessationism), they are calling them to submit their consciences to something other than the Bible.  And in so doing, they violate the terms of the very position they are attempting to propound! 

As a Reformed continuationist, I certainly do hold to sola Scriptura; because like the ancient creeds and confessions of faith, it is derived from Scripture itself.  And since sola Scriptura is derived from Scripture, its authority is derivative and it carries obligation.  But sola Scriptura, like all doctrines of men, is subordinate in nature to the final rule of Scripture.  So, as a continuationist, I must formulate a proper doctrine of sufficiency which allows for the ongoing revelatory work of the Spirit in the Church.4

  Fortunately, I do not need to modify what the Westminster divines have already written.
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.5

Continuationists do not violate sola Scriptura because prophecy does not add new doctrinal matter to the completed corpus of Scripture.  Every revelation which is purported to come from the Spirit of God, is scrutinized by the final and Supreme Judge of Scripture.6


On account of this, when sola Scriptura is properly defined, and prophecies are exercised within the limits of Apostolic instruction, the exercise of that gift is found to be within the scope of what the doctrine allows. In no way does it challenge the sufficiency or authority of Holy Scripture.

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<< Argument 7                                                                                                       Objection 2 >>

1 Here "private spirits" are placed on the same level as "decrees of councils," "opinions of ancient writers," and "doctrines of men." All of these are to be subordinate to "the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture." But what are "private spirits"?

Byron Curtis has recently argued that at the time of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), "private spirits" meant "personal revelations," and that the Westminster Confession did not rule them out but insisted they were to be subject to Scripture. Curtis writes, " mid-seventeenth-century England there was an established meaning to the phrase ‘private spirits' denoting personal revelations." Curtis cites the Oxford English Dictionary, showing that at the time of the WCF the term "spirit" could take either the sense "opinion" or "revelation," but he then shows significant evidence from other literature close to the WCF in time and subject matter, evidence showing that "private spirits" was commonly understood to mean "personal revelations" that people claimed they had received from the Holy Spirit.

Curtis concludes,

The historical and linguistic evidence indicates that WCF 1.10's phrase "private spirits" had a clearly recognized meaning which can be traced in [certain current controversies].... That recognized meaning denotes private revelation, not personal opinion. — Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 349.

2 Regarding tradition and sola Scriptura, Karl Barth, writes, “We do not live, think, and teach on the basis of a Scripture that is suspended all alone in the air, and thus not 'sola' (=solitaria) Scriptura. We live, think, and the communion of Saints, as we listen with filial reverence and brotherly love to the voice of pastors and teachers of God’s people, those of the past as well as those of the present. But first and last we do so as we adhere to the revelation of God to which the Holy Scriptures bear witness, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and which gives inspiration; that is, we do so in obeying in faith the living voice of Jesus Christ.” — Ad Limina Apostolorum: An Appraisal of Vatican II, Translated by Keith R. Crim (Richmond, AV: John Know Press, 1968) 49—50.

Richard Muller writes, that it is “...entirely anachronistic to view the sola Scriptura of Luther and his contemporaries as a declaration that all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition and interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text. It is equally anachronistic to assume that Scripture functioned for the Reformers like a set of numbered facts or propositions suitable for use as ready-made solutions to any and all questions capable of arising in the course of human history.” — Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), 51.

While these quotations reflect a discussion over Tradition and Scripture as sources of God’s disclosure to the Church, the principle remains — If sola Scriptura is not violated when extra-biblical traditions, teachings, commentary, et al., are considered, then neither is it violated when extra-biblical prophecies are uttered and weighed. If a prophecy is tested by a church against Scripture, and the revelation does not add to, nor take away from, the doctrines that are derived from the Bible; if it edifies, exhorts, or consoles the Body (or the one to whom the prophecy is directed), then the utterance can rightly be considered divinely revealed and in compliance with the doctrine sola Scriptura.

3 Or, solitaria Scripturea

4 As someone who holds to sola Scriptura, I must submit myself to what the Scripture teaches about the Charismata.  If Paul commands the Church, “Do not despise prophecies” and “Do not forbid speaking in tongues” then the Church is bound by his Apostolic authority to hold prophecies in high regard and to allow the speaking of tongues. Therefore, a proper formulation of the doctrine of sola Scriptura must accommodate the practice of spiritual gifts as they are described in holy Scripture. Otherwise, the doctrine would nullify the word of God (cf. Mark 7:13) — It is the cessationist who must lay his theology of cessation on top of Scripture, to make the Bible say what it does not plainly read.

5 The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, article 6

6 1 Thes 5:20—21
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