Will Cessationism cease? That is the question…

I am taking the liberty to fisk a high profile posting on the cessationist argument… as it was lobbed to the post of Adrian Warnock. I just wanted to …. even though fisking may be frowned upon.
This is the post, mostly -skipping over the preamble, answered in a rebuttal manner as is common in forums. I use asterisks to point out important points to answer, the color for Adrian, the color for Pyro and my template color for my answer or comment.

Tongues” across the water: response to Adrian, part one
by Dan Phillips

… our friend Adrian Warnock “got all het up” over my post on the tongues of angels. My roughly 630 words provoked something like 2700 words of response from Adrian. I tremble at the thought of what these larger posts will bring down on my poor old head.

In doing me the honor of raking me over the coals in Christian love, Adrian, God love him (and I mean that), wanders pretty much all over creation. He brings in Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Piper, African missionaries, the Toronto “Blessing,” a dozen texts or so,….

I propose three posts in response. In the second, I mean to give semi-rapid-fire responses to at least most of Adrian’s text-based questions. In the third, I hope to present some concluding areas of agreement and disagreement.

In this the first response, I’ll target what to me is not only the heart of Adrian’s post, but of much of the Charismatic bypath. It is found among his final words in the post. It’s long, but I want to quote it in toto:

Why do so many cessationists actually argue for the exact opposite of what Jesus Himself says in Luke 11 (see the whole context). Jesus ends the parable by saying, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” The cessationist has to deal with the fact that millions of people today have asked God for an experience of the Holy Spirit, and that in direct contrast to what Jesus Himself said, by definition, if cessationism is true, they have not received the Spirit, but rather something else. Where they have asked for the bread of tongues, they have been given the stone of foolish gibberish. Where they have asked for the fish of prophecy, they have been given the serpent of hallucinatory delusions worthy of a madman. This cannot be right, in my humble opinion, as it makes Jesus Himself into a trickster. At the very least, God should have given us clearer directions in the Bible to manage our expectations and help us ALL to realise that cessationism is the biblical teaching. This issue has clear implications for the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. If Jesus Himself appears to tantalise these people with an offer to give the Spirit to those who ask and really means something very different to the gift of the Spirit we see in Acts, then surely He would have told us!

I see two critical problems in Adrian’s reasoning here.

*******First, brother Adrian reads a great deal into the text. Our Lord simply asks, if rendered over-literally, “If therefore you, though actually being wicked, know to give good gifts to your children, how much rather will the Father who is from Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13, emphases added). ****

Is he reading into it, or is he adding together from other scriptures to get a balanced view of the whole? The verses here are assurances that what God is spiritually giving to a sincere believing supplicant can be presumed good. It is directly related to receiving the Holy Spirit.. and inclusion of all the attending gifts and actions, that God chooses, could be implied .

Adrian immediately leaps hither:
“The cessationist has to deal with the fact that millions of people today have asked God for an experience of the Holy Spirit, and that in direct contrast to what Jesus Himself said, by definition, if cessationism is true, they have not received the Spirit, but rather something else.”

Then Adrian immediately goes to prophecy and tongues.
But what has Jesus said in this verse about tongues, or about prophecy? What did He say about any specific and particular manifestation or “experience”? Is there any chance that even one of Jesus hearers would have made the associations Adrian makes? Surely not.****

The manifestations are spoken of in a different place, and further underlined by the history that starts in the book of Acts. Our associations would be based upon the history that follows, in this case, with scriptural canon imprimatur.

Indeed, here as in other texts (as I’ll show, DV), Adrian’s proof proves too much.If Adrian is going to read this passage as an iron-clad guarantee… well, the mind fairly reels with the consequences.

**** This would have to mean that God, on Adrian’s stated understanding, will always and ever give whatever specific spiritual manifestation everyone and anyone asks, on any occasion. Nor can we condition it on God’s will, nor on our faith — again, on Adrian’s reading — for our Lord mentions neither. ****

I do not see that implied in Adrian’s statements, it seems to be your own extrapolation. It appears to be a cheap shot at association with some of the worst of excesses in modern Christendom for the sake of a knee jerk response on the part of the reader.

****Anything that happens after such a prayer can be charged to God. To fail to do so calls the perspicuity of Scripture (not our handling of it) into serious question.
If it’s an ironclad and unconditional guarantee as presented above, then one request by any believer should ever and always result in any spiritual gift he names. God has to do as I ask, for His glory’s sake.****

This is so much of a twist that I hardly know where to start. Just because I am assured of the faithfulness of God, and confident enough to bring my petitions does not translate into a jerk chain around the neck of the Heavenly Father- as if such a thing could be imagined in the context of Who God Is. But I perceive a little jerk chain of your own in citing things this way, and I have to ask myself…why is that? Conflated thinking. Assurance of something being good and coming from God is not the same as God being bound to the creatures command .

Is God really at my command, to that degree? This seems to me to be one of several junctures at which the first word in the phrase “reformed charismatic” is the weaker of the two.

You may have a point, but in the whole context of your argument I am not willing to give it to you right now. You will have to work for it and explain just what you mean. That the two are inimical?

Now, we know that this has never happened thus in church history. Anywhere. Ever. Has anyone ever even taught this? Surely Adrian will deny that this is what he believes. Yet this is where his line of thinking necessarily leads from his way of handling the text, if followed out relentlessly.

Support this please, if this is not based on the previous ( wrong) premise which misunderstands both the scripture and what Adrian was saying. For I believe it to unsupportable as stated.

*****Further, this way of dealing with the text plucks it right out of its place in the history of redemption. Did anything change in God’s dealings with men, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and Pentecost? Ezekiel thought something would change someday (Ezekiel 36:25-27). John the Baptist surely thought something would change (Mark 1:8). John certainly thought something would change (John 7:39). John certainly presented Jesus as thinking something would change (John 14:17). Peter thought something did change (Acts 11:15). Does Adrian? When was that change?
What was that change? Does the change at all inform how we handle texts placed before and after it? Does context have any meaning whatever?

Your line of thinking is not clear here. Can God change? No. “I change not”[ Psalm 55:19] Can He do something new? Yes, “I proclaim to you new things from this time, Even hidden things which you have not known.” [Isaiah 48:6] And besides this, it is not clear that you know, from your own interpretation, when specific changes take place. Now or in the time to come? Before or after Christ’s second coming? When, in your understanding and according to the scriptures do the cited changes take place? This is the gist of the contention, the timing of when certain spiritual things are fulfilled and put away and which remain now, and close at a future time and event.

This is a common mistake in charismatic thought. The Bible is read as if the great moments of redemptive history — the descent of the Spirit, the closing of the Canon — have no real implications. It is as if the Bible should be read as a mural, a large photo, instead of as an unfolding story with movements, climaxes, and openings and closings of acts (Hebrews 1:1-2).********

I don’t see how this can stand. Just because they understand things a different way, does not implicate that they do not see sequentially, as well. The difference seems to be in the when and how that view of sequence is applied. If there is a case for cessationism then the sequence of the closure and the timing of it has to be proven from scripture… the whole point of Charismatics, and all those convinced of the continuation of God’s gifts to the Church is that the closure has not yet taken place.

What if we took Adrian at his word, though?
******* His way of dealing with the text means that Jesus has made an unconditional guarantee to give any manifestation of the Spirit to anyone who asks. Jesus is responsible for everything that happens after I ask. If it isn’t legit, then He (according to Adrian) is a trickster.

Well, then, let’s say I think the Bible could use another book or two. For instance, it could use one that settles this whole Charismatic issue forever.*****

It isn’t a matter of unconditional, and not a matter of anyone getting everything they ask… it has never been taken out of the context that Christians receive what God decides in His sovereignty to give them. But they are encouraged to ask and that with boldness and faith.

The second statement here is a straw man. A real one. You can say anything you want, and no doubt Christians would like the Bible to say more specifically what they want it to say. But the important things are in there for those who have the ears and the eyes to discern it. The Bible, as it stands, says plenty about the gifts, and particularly about speaking in tongues. The continualist says that is still applicable. Does God say some things, still, that aren’t written in the canon, but are no less His Words? The Bible makes a strong case for that. Is this what you are disputing? That man can no longer hear a personal Word form God? For himself, or his family or his nation… or the Church? It doesn’t have to be written on stone plates to be a true word from the Lord. The judgment of that is clearly given in the scriptures, and Israel struggled with the false and the true, so that isn’t something new under the sun either.

****So what if I ask the Lord to give me the gift of prophetic, inscripturating revelation? What if I ask Him to write those books through me? What if I ask Him to send the Spirit to make me the author of the sixty-seventh book of the Bible?*****

Is this what the authors of canon did? did they approach God or did God approach them with the writing of scripture? So it is a false question. Church Fathers passed judgment centuries after the time of the early Church on what was and was not canon scripture. The closure was not found within the books themselves. Can people limit themselves to the Book? yes. Can they limit themselves to KJV Only? yes. But that doesn’t erase validity of the Lord speaking in other ways. Guidelines for judging the prophetic are within the scriptures. No one has to take anything as scripture, if only they judge things by scripture that has gone before…. as the books of the canon were indeed judged inter-contextually.

****Isn’t Adrian bound by his own thinking either to accept my book, or conclude that the Lord is a trickster?****


****And what if the book I write after praying for revelation says that Charismaticism is a delusion? What a bind that would put Adrian in!****

I don’t think so. You could, and people have. It still gets judged by what has gone before and the test of the basic accepted canon. Adrian has not placed himself outside those boundaries, neither should another.

Or what if I asked for a tongue and an interpretation, said “Wobbedy bop,” and interpreted it to mean “Tongues have ceased”? Wouldn’t that, on Adrian’s reasoning, be chargeable to Jesus’ account?

Only on your previous erroneous premises.

“Oh, no, that’s just stupid,” someone will reply. “You’d be tempting the Lord. He isn’t responsible for every lamebrained thing you do, just because you prayed before you did it!”

Which brings me to my second point.

The Lord is not responsible for every lamebrained thing we do, just because we prayed first.
wholehearted agreement. You see, Adrian’s handling of this text really leaves us with only one choice. I was going to write “two choices,” but on reflection, Adrian leaves us only one. Everything that happens after we pray has to be of God, or Jesus is a “trickster.”

Only in your own line of thinking… not predicated upon what is actually in the scriptures. The only thing the scriptures point out and which every Christian anchors within is the goodness and faithfulness of God. The God who is the same today, yesterday and forever. The manifestations are spoken of in a different place, and further underlined by the history that starts in the book of Acts. Our associations would be based upon the history that follows, in this case, with scriptural canon imprimatur.

This premise, a faulty one in my estimation, binds good folk like Adrian. It chains them to defend the indefensible, as surely as the Roman Catholic must defend every ruling and appalling error of his sect. Since manifestly nothing that the Charismatic movement has uniquely produced in the last 100 years has ever measured up to the Biblical phenomenon note: subjective judgment, we have to re-interpret the Bible to fit what is happening today. Because if it’s all a fraud and a distraction, then Jesus is a “trickster.” And since Jesus cannot be a trickster, we have to come up with some explanation that makes wanna-be manifestations legit. We have to define the Biblical phenomena down, to prop the modern phenomena up.

How about fitting it all to be within the parameters of the early Church, would that be acceptable?

*****This is a big reason why Charismaticism is where it is today, the “twenty million people can’t be wrong” argument.****

I can’t emphasize enough how much this is NOT the Charismatic argument. It isn’t about numbers, it is about the validity of that person’s testimony as a bona fide Christian, and the numbers represent many of those bona fide Christians. The question is why would you dismiss their testimony? Upon what scriptural basis?

Can’t they? Can ten out of twelve spies be wrong? Can the majority of the nation of Israel be wrong? Is truth settled by majority vote alone? Is that how we do exegesis — people prayed A, and Z happened, therefore the Bible must mean theta?

*****I’ve done lots of stupid things, after praying. Can I bill them all to God? Wouldn’t that be cool?****

Are you done with the argumentum ad ridiculum yet?

Well, no, if we force ourselves to think it through, it really wouldn’t be cool. Sure, there would be the short-term gain of me being able to shrug off responsibility for all the stupid, foolish, and sinful things I’ve done after praying.

Do the Charismatic churches teach this? Support your statement, because I don’t find that either in the writing or the practice. I find lots of teaching about accountability and personal responsibility, without limiting the manner in which God acts, based upon our scriptural understanding of that.

But the long-term loss would be inestimable. In short, I’d lose the Biblical portrayal of God. God would be the author of my stupid and sinful behavior. He’d become a fickle imp, and prayer would become a good-luck charm at best, or a get-out-of-responsibility-free card at worst.

Again, this conclusion is based upon your own earlier premises in the best circular manner

Of course, there is an alternative.
*****We can cleave to the Word above all and through all, and judge our experiences by it — not the reverse.***

We are back to our base of agreement. I’m with you on this.

Is it not a judge of the thoughts and emotions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)? Is it not forever settled in the heavens, far above the shifting vagaries of our experience, and the passing trends and fads of our culture (Psalm 119:89)? Is it not the means of my fellowship with the Father and His Son (John 14:21-23; 1 John 1:1-3)? Is it not my cleaving to the Word that proves the reality, or unreality, of my claim to be a disciple (John 8:31-32)?

Yes, yes, and yes… but does this call speaking in tongues or the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the spiritual gifts ( charismata) into question? They are all in scripture. They are spoken of as for believers. Where is the dilemma for you?

So here’s what I am seeing. In direct contrast to all Scripture precedent and command,
excuse me, what is this? millions of people have indeed (as Adrian said) asked for revelatory gifts.

And not one of them has received anything like what is described in the Bible.

And you judge this, how? Criteria, because I smell a generalization fallacy which attempts to lump all charasmata in one basket of disrepute. And further.. I would ask what puts you in the position to see all these millions and be sufficient to assess this with reasonable accuracy .

****Is God to blame for that? Is God to blame, and the fact of the perspicacity of Scripture suspect, because of their persistence in something very different from what He Himself sets out in His Word?****

I lost how anyone is blaming God. I thought the Charismatics were thanking God; and I still don’t see the case made for how speaking in tongues or ministering prophetically is different from what is set out in the Word

I knew a pastor once, a man with very strong training in the Biblical languages and sciences. But he had a doctrine of the guidance of the Holy Spirit that led him to believe that he should pray for that guidance, and then whatever followed had to be of the Spirit. His sermons were bizarre, meandering, idiosyncratic affairs. A friend of his (!) likened the way he handled texts to a drunk staggering through a church. His people stopped bringing Bibles. They didn’t really need them.

Once, a fellow-believer and I approached him, and shared our concern. We spoke out of genuine love, respect, and care.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “before I preach, I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me. If I believed that He was not doing so, I would leave the ministry!”

This trump-card spiritual browbeating worked wonderfully for him at the time. Both of us were young Christians, and we were properly rebuked and appalled. We didn’t want him to leave the ministry! We retreated, horrified and abashed.

What you have described is something endemic throughout Western Christianity of all flavors . We all hate it. Many of us have our stories… it is abuse of authority, and not relegated to the Charismatics alone. I’m very sorry you suffered this damage.

Of course, the problem wasn’t the Holy Spirit. this is an excellent lesson to learn, and we all have to come to terms with it, worth extracting from this post to meditate upon. The problem was this man, and his faulty doctrine of the guidance of the Spirit. But like the reasoning ****Adrian sets out, he had prayed, and so he had to conclude that whatever followed was of the Spirit — or his whole structure would collapse.****

Only in your logical argument, not in the personal and subjective experience of a man with his God. This is always the problem with Christianity, it is “Come and see” and not reasoned argument into the faith of Christ. It is God revealing Himself personally to the man..

The Charismatic movement is, in large measure, the result of applying that same procedure on a massive scale.
Well, that is one general dismissal if I ever saw one. You have managed to collapse down the entire Charismatic movement, which is quite a feat. How about the Pentecostals, now? They’ve been around a bit longer.

Let me put it more personally and individually still. I can, you know; for I write as one who once thought he was speaking in tongues.

Shall I reinterpret the Bible, to legitimatize my experience?

Or shall I stick with the Bible, and let it judge my experience?

I opted for the second choice. That is why I am an ex-charismatic.
Ah, now we are down to it. It is personal with you… now why didn’t you say that at the beginning?

adding other voices:
Solus Christus,” Tongues-Speaking in the Blogosphere”. I think you’ll want to read it.

3 thoughts on “Will Cessationism cease? That is the question…”

  1. Now I’ve found the problem- this post stayed in draft while the finished post had been published. Sorry for publishing the framework-this is now the full post republished.

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