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 “...love 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: http://www.janetmefferdpremium.com/2013/08/15/janet-mefferd-radio-show-20130815-hr-3/

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: http://youtu.be/w5HMNvTsduA?t=20m28s

5 Phil Johnson, “Wretched Radio — Aug 18, 2011 — Hr. 2” [cited 8 Oct 2013]. Online: http://youtu.be/gF-OMBB_jZI?t=1m8s


AZ ResQ Team said...

Good article, even when i do not consider myself a secessionist, i believe there is a Charismatic Chaos and i 100% support The strange fire conference , RC Sproul said it very clear yes there is thing that God will allow for unknown Reasons but those experiences are not normative. that being said if Believer were more concerned in developing their Gift of Discernment though Studying and Prayer rather than chasing signs and wonders the story would be totally different....

Joshua Elsom said...

I'm with you. I too am pleased that the conference is happening (I know that they are not thinking of guys like me). It is needed, there is a lot of chicanery and abuse going on in the name of the Spirit.

My purpose in writing is certainly not to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of their conference, these are genuine questions that I have.

Anonymous said...

" I’ve found that cessationists, more often than not, provide the most absurd anecdotes, from the most extreme and unorthodox charismatic teachers"

That's part of the problem. The teachers may be "extreme and unorthodox" from a theological point of view, but people like Rodney Howard-Brown, Ken Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, etc. have huge numbers of followers. They are by no means marginal when it comes to the numbers of people they deceive.

While hard cessationism is untenable, it seems that continuationism needs to be a bit more discerning as to what is regarded as a legitimate manifestation of the Spirit. There has just been too much mischief done in the name of "moves of the Spirit".

Joshua Elsom said...

Fine points, Anonymous.

LanternBright said...


All of the anecdotal evidence you cite here has the following two things in common:

1. Each man attests that his experience is EXTRAORDINARY--that is, each man would assert that his experience in this area (however else he may describe it) is very much non-normative. It doesn't seem to be (at least on the evidence you've provided) in ANY sense for ANY of these men the typical way that God deals with the church.

2. None of these men in any of these contexts makes any effort to show how their experience matches up with the gift of prophecy as it is described in, say, 1 Corinthians.

So here goes: can you explain how it is that the biblical category of prophecy has changed from its apparent Old Testament meaning (which seems to me to be something like "the indisputably authoritative revelation from God with which God regularly communicates and deals with his people") to what these men are describing--namely, a rare, non-normative, atypical means of communication that may or may NOT be accurate or binding or helpful for the Christian, and so may or may NOT be authentic revelation from God?

Joshua Elsom said...

Lantern Bright,

Let’s set aside the extraordinary nature of the experiences and the nomenclature of the “so-called” gift for the moment. Because, ultimately, these are immaterial to the thesis of the article. Though I use the word prophecy to describe what these men are experiencing, my point is not necessarily to defend the use of that classification; nor even to defend continutionism, per se. The point of the article is to ask this question: Where are these men getting their information, or from whom are they receiving it?

We have faithful and honored stewards of God’s Word experiencing manifestations of something that appears to be supernatural and revelatory. If it is not revelatory, where are they getting their information from? And why would God bless something (per his providence) that makes it appear as though he’d supplied revelation when revelation has ceased? However, if what these men have experienced is revelatory, cessationism is to be abandoned.

Once we have answered these questions, then we can go about determining what we call the experience and whether it is normative for the church today.

And just for the record, I am open to the possibility that these men experienced an unlisted revelatory gift that is different from the gift of NT prophecy. I think is prophecy, but it may be something else.

Thanks for commenting! (If my response does not satisfy, I’ll defer you to Wayne Grudem’s book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today — I’d rather not attempt to recreate what he has already done.)

LanternBright said...


Thanks for the reply. I respectfully submit, though, that you're going about this entirely backward. You're attempting to restructure the biblical categories to fit the experiences of these men, rather than first allowing the biblical text to frame the horizons of expectation concerning what the gifts ought to be and evaluating these experiences according to those data. Our experience ought not to be the bell-wether that dictates how we interpret Scripture; rather, the testimony of Scripture ought to be the guide by which we seek to understand our experience.

Joshua Elsom said...

I'm thankful for your civility, LanterBright.

I’d submit to you that I am doing that very thing. I am allowing the Bible to define my categories and frame my expectations!

I would agree with you if I were trying to find a way to cram a manifestation into the NT gifts lists that is utterly foreign to the Scripture, i.e. Slaying in the Spirit using John 18:4—6; Drunk in the Spirit using Eph 5:18). That would be anachronism. This is entirely different. In the case of the stories I’ve provided, these men are manifesting supernatural knowledge that produces the fruit that one would expect from a genuine charismatic gift. And as it happens, there is a gift in the NT where supernatural knowledge is given for the edification, comfort and consolation of the Church (1 Cor 14:1); and for the splaying open of the heart of the unbeliever (v. 24).

In the end, my “backward” interpretive process doesn’t solve the problem for cessationism. For even if I were going about this wrongly, we would still need to determine the source of these revelations. And if they are genuinely revelatory, the platform of the cessationist’s position collapses.

LanternBright said...


Forgive me, brother, but the example that you gave is EXACTLY one wherein you attempt to make Scripture accommodate the experiences of these men, rather than the other way around.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is talking about prophecy as a routine part of a regular worship service (hence his instructions for maintaining an orderly use of the gifts during a service--totally unnecessary if what he's talking about is a rare, extraordinary, atypical occurrence, rather than something commonplace). Yet you're attempting to use 14:1 and 14:24 to describe certain experiences by men who have themselves categorized their experiences as atypical and non-normative. These are not the same things!

Consider, Josh: if all that Paul meant by "the gift of prophecy" is what you've described in your post and what's described in the videos you cite, then it simply refers to an occasional occurrence wherein God grants a special revelation to the preacher that convicts of certain sins or that directs to unique evangelistic opportunities. But if that's the case, why does Paul need to give ANY instructions on orderly worship at all? Paul clearly assumes that the gifts he's been discussing are manifesting in abundance among multiple members of the congregation, and that for this reason these manifestations need to be carefully regulated so as not to make a disorderly train wreck of the worship service--but that's nothing like any of the evidence you've offered up till now!

Instead, your entire argument here has been that these godly men have a certain experience, and therefore this experience must mean that the New Testament gifts continue to this day--but nothing you've shown looks even remotely like the charismata in the New Testament if one were to actually start with those data and work from there.

Finally, I'm curious to how you'd respond to someone defending the practice of being "slain in the spirit." I've known otherwise godly, upright men who teach that practice, and I've personally witnessed young believers who practice it and seek it grow to a level of maturity under such a ministry...on your reasoning, shouldn't I therefore accept "being slain in the spirit" as one of the "unlisted revelatory gifts" to which you yourself are open? In other words, is it really true to say that you or I really have to account for ANY experience that ANYONE wants to legitimize with the New Testament after the fact, or may we not begin with the biblical data and allow that to form the boundaries of how we ought to expect God to work?

Joshua Elsom said...

I apologize in advance for the brevity of this response — blogging doesn’t pay the light bill, you understand. :)

As I said, I am comfortable using the word prophecy to describe what these men are experiencing (for more reasons than what I’ve shared in my previous comments). Unfortunately, I haven’t the time to develop them for you here and now.

But let me reiterate, the name we assign these experiences and how often they occur is completely irrelevant to the questions I am asking. I want to know how Spurgeon knew about the shoemaker’s profit margin.

Where did he get that information?

This isn’t merely an extraordinary providence, 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 mind of Spurgeon. And the result of that information, when it was communicated from Spurgeon to the shoemaker, was the redemption of the shoemaker’s soul.

I can see no other way to harmonize the events and the fruit of his experience, than to conclude that it was the Spirit speaking through him (which was the testimony of Spurgeon and the shoemaker, both).

If I am right in that conclusion, then revelation continues and cessationism is bankrupt (or at the least, it needs to be reworked to accommodate modern revelation).

I’d be interested to know if you have a better explanation.

LanternBright said...


We seem to be talking past one another to some degree, so I'll try to clarify: your argument suggests that you believe cessationists must account for every single experience any otherwise godly person may have, whether said cessationist finds any biblical data to support it or not. I reject this out of hand--I don't see that we have any more responsibility to account for, say, Spurgeon's experience of supernatural knowledge than we have a responsibility to account for why someone might experience the phenomenon that's called "being slain in the spirit," which you yourself seem to reject as well.

Two follow-up questions, then:

1. On what Scriptural grounds do you think cessationists are required to account for phenomena like those reported by Spurgeon?

2. Why, and on what Scriptural grounds, might we be obligated to account for Spurgeon's experience but not for the "being slain in the spirit" experience?

Joshua Elsom said...

Regarding Question 1 — Do you believe revelation ceased at the end of the Apostolic-age, with the closing of the canon?

If so, how are you to account for the revelation Spurgeon received?

If not, then you cannot argue that revelatory gifts have absolutely ceased.

Regarding Question 2 — There is an analogue in the NT for revelatory gifts that result in the salvation of sinners. There is nothing in Scripture with which we may compare the self-edifying “slain in the Spirit” phenomena.

LanternBright said...


Unfortunately, you evade my first question. I asked on what grounds Scripture requires the cessationist to account for an experience like Spurgeon's. Your response was to ask me to account for an experience like Spurgeon's. With all due respect, I'll wait for an answer to my question before I attempt an answer to yours.

Your second response begs the question: "There is an analogue in the NT for revelatory gifts that result in the salvation of sinners." I've already demonstrated that what you're referring to here (viz., the gift of prophecy referred to in 1 Corinthians) is NOT analogous to what Spurgeon says he experienced. Unless you can disprove the reading I offered, you haven't shown how Spurgeon's experience has a NT analogue.

LanternBright said...

Also (in connection with my response to your answer to my second question), you yourself said you were open to the possibility of gifts not referred to in the NT operating for the good of the church. With that in mind, I reiterate: on what grounds do you have any faculty for denying that "being slain in the spirit" is a God-given experience that believers ought to pursue?

Joshua Elsom said...

Regarding question 1 — I was not being evasive, your first question assumed that I know something about your cessationism. I needed to establish whether you believe, like most cessationists, that revelation ceased with the death of John. That required a follow up question. If that is your belief, and I assume it is, then logic demands that you account for Spurgeon’s revelation, not Scripture.

Regarding question 2 — You are right, it is begging the question if I demand that Spurgeon was experiencing prophecy without providing counter-exegesis (I do not care to make a defense of prophecy here). For the sake of our discussion, I am laying aside my personal conviction; I will not call it prophecy.

Here is what I am saying, there is a revelatory gift in Scripture called prophecy that resulted in the salvation of sinners. That gift belongs to a category of gifts that I am calling “revelatory.” And it is to this same category of revelatory gifts, that I am suggesting that Spurgeon’s experience belongs. They are analogous. Whatever Spurgeon experienced, if it wasn’t prophecy, was something else that employed revelation and resulted in the salvation of a sinner.

LanternBright said...


This will be my last comment for the day--thanks for making a day of otherwise dull data entry so enjoyable and stimulating!

1. You wrote, "...then logic demands that you account for Spurgeon’s revelation, not Scripture.

I'm sorry, I don't believe this follows at all. To use this line of reasoning, my belief that God alone answers prayer logically entails that I account for every experience of "answered prayer" set forth by the Mormon gentleman who bicycle their way to my doorstep, or by the odd name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel adherents I encounter.

Likewise, it would require you to account for the experiences of followers of, say, Todd Bentley, who point to such things as "gold tooth miracles" as signs of God's approbation of Bentley's ministry. (And you can't get out of this by saying that such things have no Scriptural analogue, since you've already argued that there may be other revelatory manifestations not attested to in Scripture.)

In short, your argument proves too much: if it requires the cessationist to account for experiences such as Spurgeon's, it requires the continuationist to explain why God visits the ministry of charlatans like Hinn and Bentley with revelatory signs and wonders.

2. Since "revelatory" is your category (and not Scripture's), I'm going to ask you to elaborate on that: specifically, what are "the revelatory gifts," and what are the Scriptural criteria that validate Spurgeon's experience as one of those gifts?

Thanks again for a lively and challenging discussion, brother! Many blessings to you!

Joshua Elsom said...

You are most certainly welcome! I’ve enjoyed it as well. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time to respond. I will try to revisit this later.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion people. Let me raise a few points here. First of all, I have repeatedly asked one of my good cessationist friends the following question:

"Where does it say in Scripture that something must be in Scripture in order to be valid?"

Now before you go off on a tangent about the sufficiency of Scripture or point me to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 seriously consider that the assumption itself may be a bad one.

My reply to him is that Scripture itself is replete with examples of God doing things that are unprecedented. Many things in Scripture would be considered totally bizarre and unbelievable if they weren't in there. What if someone, rather than just praying, spit in the dirt and made a paste with their spit and the dirt and stuck it in someone's eyes in a home group you were visiting? What if that person was healed? Would you praise God or would you consider this some expression of witchcraft? Now think about this….we know that Jesus did this. What if this story had not been reported in Scripture? (Consider John's words about all of the acts of Jesus and how only a tiny fraction were reported). You would possibly be POSITIVE that something evil had happened. But why?

I think that Scripture teaches us by example that God can and DOES operate how He wants to and this oftentimes means doing things that are unprecedented. I am not sure that the rule that something must have an analogue or a precedent in Scripture is very Scriptural at all. It seems to fly in the face of Scripture as far as I can tell.


Oh…I will leave you with a quote from Irenaeus from the mid to late 2nd Century:

"We hear of many members of the Church who have prophetic gifts, and, by the Spirit speak with all kinds of tongues, and bring men’s secret thoughts to light for their own good, and expound the mysteries of God."

Mark from Africa

taco said...

I think there is a lot to be said about neo-cessationism and how it differs from historic beliefs (even in the reformed tradition.


Check out the linked article by Poythress.

Joshua Elsom said...

I briefly address that very thing in my latest article. Thanks for the comment!

Nate Tinner said...

Just as an aside, we should highly doubt that Matt and Bob conspired to fabricate the story, since they both told somewhat different versions in their retelling of the event. This is the same principle that helps to confirm the reliability of the four gospels, in that the eyewitnesses do not tell the exact same story in retelling a factual past event.

McMurdouk said...

Thank for this. It's been a real treat to listen to these clips.