The Debate is On!

It seems there’s a bit of a fight brewing in the Christian Blogosphere over the gifts of the spirit, one of my favorite topics.

[Adrian Warnock]( and [Tim Challies]( seem to be the primary spark on this debate. Adrian has apparently been getting into it with cessationists for a while now (witness him calling [pyromaniac]( on [“charismatic-bating”](, and apparently he didn’t notice that Tim Challies was one too (a cessationist, that is). But recently Adrian seems to have read Challies’ [review]( of [Sam Storms’]( book *Convergence*, in which Storms argues that Charismatic beliefs are completely compatible with Calvinism. Tim was not impressed, and his review is a bit long, as he goes through the basic cessationist position, citing John MacArthur’s book [Charismatic Chaos]( Adrian [responded]( with something like shock and surprise, and in the [comments]( offered to have a little debate.

It’s been, like, two days since then, so there have only been a few posts to read so far. [Blogotional]( has come out for the gifts. Tim and Pyromaniac are obviously against. [Brad Hightower]( has promised a post on the subject, but doesn’t seem to have produced one yet. Obviously, Adrain’s pro. He recommends we keep tabs on the debate by means of a [Google Blogsearch feed]( Sounds good to me!

I’m afraid I myself don’t have much of a hat to throw in the ring at the moment. School is too much in the way. However, I **am** working on a paper on the history of spiritual gifts before the reformation. It’s required to be 10-12 pages long, I believe, so if I get it done right it should be pretty useful.

Interestingly, my professor, Garth Rosell, is a childhood friend of John MacArthur. However, they don’t particularly see eye to eye. Rosell is *for* both women in ministry and the use of spiritual gifts, though he is neither a woman or a charismatic himself. MacArthur is ‘gainst both.

I do have one other contribution to make. Up to now my best offering to people who had real theological issues with the idea of spiritual gifts in the modern world was to point them to Jack Deere’s books [Surprised by the Power of the Spirit]( and [Surprised by the Voice of God]( They’re good books and perfect for the lay reader who has sincere theological questions. However, for hardened cessationists with some theology under their belt, it can be… *unsatisfying*. Those books are written specifically as “popular” books, i.e., with the lay reader in mind. Great footnotes, but you won’t see Deere arguing with B.B. Warfield or John Calvin. So if you’ve *read* Warfield or Calvin, you’re likely to be impressed with them and need an argument that engages at that level.

Unfortunately, Charismatics tend not to be scholars, so most books on the charismata are **way** on the popular side of the spectrum. It’s been a hard search looking for erudite theology arguing for a charismatic position. But I think I’ve found one. The book is called [On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles]( by [John Ruthven]( I haven’t read the whole book yet, and I don’ t intend to any time soon, thanks to school, but his basic argument turns on the fact that cessationists have simply overstepped in their understanding of spiritual gifts. Cessationists have traditionally believed that “the essential role of the miraculous charismata is to accredit true doctrine or its bearers.” That is, the apostles performed miracles to prove that they were speaking God’s word, and that they were worth listening to. The obvious corollary is that any miraculous activity today must be intended to ratify new teachings as God’s word, or new people with the same kind of authority as the original apostles. To quote Ruthven some more:

> The central failure of Warfield’s cessationism is the confusion of the *sufficiency* of revelation, that is, in the unique historical manifestation of Christ and apostolic doctrine as finally revealed in Scripture, with the procedural *means* of communicating, expressing and applying that revelation, that is, via the charismata, including gifts of prophecy and miracles. In other words, the charismata do not accredit the Gospel; the express the Gospel. Just as the act of preaching does not add to the biblical canon, so neither does the gift of prophecy; as a charism of hospitality expresses but does not replace the totality of Christ’s gracious sacrifice, so also a gift of healing. (p 23, emphasis in original)

Most of the book is a critique of Warfield’s “polemic” against miracles, especially in the book [Counterfeit Miracles]( Generally people agree that Warfield’s work forms the one of the high points in Protestant theology, so this is pretty understandable. What’s useful for me, however is that in the introduction and the last few chapters of the book, Ruthven does some serious discussion of the history of cessationism, from the early church fathers to modern times, with prolific footnotes. The guy’s a gold mine for references.

Anyway, blessings on you all, and back to homework!

Author: KB French

Formerly many things, including theology student, mime, jr. high Latin teacher, and Army logistics officer. Currently in the National Guard, and employed as a civilian... somewhere

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