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.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.
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.
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
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.
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 http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html and Nathan Busenitz have attempted to address Spurgeon's alleged prophecies from the flanks, to no continuationist's satisfaction (http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2005/11/spurgeon-on-private-prophecies-and-new.html & http://thecripplegate.com/spurgeon-impressions-and-prophecy/, 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" Spurgeon.org, n.p. [cited 21 Oct. 2013]. Online: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0030.htm.
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 — http://youtu.be/w5HMNvTsduA. I suspect this is very close to the cessationism of the divines addressed in de Young's article — ↩