Cessationism Debate

For those interested in thinking about those issues (and especially Wayne Grudem’s somewhat idiosyncratic view [my judgment] which has influence in some circles), here is a useful opportunity to hear some of the debate. I’m more on the cessationist side of the debate, but there are a few things further I would say:

1) The categories are problematic in this debate. I’ve come to describe my view as gift cessationism but not supernatural cessationism. In part, I’m trying to point out the lack of normativity for all the spiritual gifts in the life of the church (that’s what we see for most of church history and in a large percentage of the church today). A full continuationist view cannot help but view cessationism as a defective and incomplete Christianity (the same with most historical Christianity); which I find difficult to accept.*

2) At the same time, I am trying to affirm most of what Grudem introduces at the beginning. We do believe that we have fellowship with God, we sense God’s leading, etc. It’s hard not to describe some of that as God speaking to believers today; and theologically the category for that is special revelation. The problem of course is in interpreting, applying and deciding the authority of such impressions. It is interesting that the the practical differences between the two debaters seem relatively minor in this area at least at times (except for the struggle over what to call it). In the pastoral implications, I would find church life might frequently be similar to what Grudem is describing – but with perhaps, at least in my opinion, better categories.

3) Which gets me to the core issue – I think in one respect Grudem is making a valid point (and I’ve experienced fairly dramatic and problematic cessationism in my life – so I appreciate what he is reacting against), but I think he leads us astray by calling what he describes prophecy. My judgment is that this confuses more than sheds light (and I’m sure Grudem thinks otherwise). The way God speaks and guides personally is perhaps better called something else.

4) I wonder if Grudem misses something in his explanation of 1 Cor 12:30 (“But earnestly desire the higher gifts”). There are a couple of observations I would make: a) the context is not the individual pursuit of gifts, but the corporate life of the church, b) Paul has just noted that the gifts are given sovereignly by the Spirit (12:11), so prayer to receive a specific gift [or a different one] just seems odd in this context, and c) the plural form of the verb in 12:30 makes more sense in being directed at the corporate desire of the church (i.e., instead of praying that I might speak prophecy, we as a church should value the more valuable gifts (e.g., prophecy) rather than the flashy, superficial [non-edifying] gifts that were captivating the Corinthian church.

5) I currently attend a church which agrees more with Grudem than do I, and they have prophecy in his sense. For the most part, I find the prophecy provided in our services tends to be very similar to testimonies we had in my home, cessationist church. I’m not sure calling it prophecy is helpful (and I do fear the potential for abuse – though I’ve not experienced or seen any personally). I should note as well that in my limited experience in a church that follows more of Grudem’s approach, prophecy seems not to be as universal as Grudem hints it might be (universal priesthood parallels universal prophethood). If it is near universal, it doesn’t seem to function that way in many cases; if a gift (distributed variously and sovereignly), then our more universal experience of God’s leading must be something else.

These are complex and difficult issues, of course. And people of good will, and people I deeply respect, reach different conclusions here. The kind of forum available here is a helpful tool in enabling us to further think through these issues. Glad it’s available.

*To be fair, cessationists probably generally feel that full continuationists are off base in some respects, too. There are ways, I think to lessen those concerns from my perspective, so I hope I have avoided that error, at least substantially.

Further Note: Here’s another critique, and while I find myself agreeing with much of it, it lacks a positive explanation of things like divine guidance and God’s leading [note especially his concern #2] – that I think is something cessationists need to be more explicit about. To say prophecy is the wrong term is fine, but there seems to be another category out there that is often ignored.

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