In times past, most serious theologians and biblical scholars could look to the modern Charismatic movement merely as the latest movement among folk Christianity that doesn’t take intellectual studies seriously. The sensationalistic tendencies of the movement could be easily written off knowing that soon this fad would end with disillusionment and an “I told you so” that followed.
Such is not the case any longer.
The answer to the question of whether one is a cessationist or a continuationist does separate the sheep and the goats like it once did. A cessationist is one who believes that the supernatural sign gifts of the Bible such as healing, tongues, and prophecy ceased at the end of the first century with the death of the last apostle. A continuationist (Charismatic) is one who believes that these gifts have continued throughout history and should be sought today by the church.
Cessationistism claimed most if not all respected scholarship for a time. With this claim came the ad populum comfort that their view was indeed correct. Since the nineties, however, there has been a rise in respectedÂ evangelical scholarship that no longer follows the traditional party-line of cessationism. Scholars such as Craig Keener, Sam Storms, John Piper, Jack Deere, and C.J. Mahaney, just to name a few, are continuationists. But the two that stand out more than any others in my opinion are Wayne Grudem and J.P. Moreland.
Wayne Grudem is a theology professor out of Phoenix Seminary. Grudem holds a BA from Harvard University, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He also served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1999. His Systematic Theology is one of the best selling and most respected Systematic Theologies available. Even cessationists agree that Grudem’s theology is orthodox on just about everything he touches. He is a balanced scholar who knows the issues well and who’s beliefs would never provide the easy target that cessationists are traditionally so used to. More than this, Grudem Reformed in his theology! He is a charismatic Calvinist! Grudem believes that the miraculous sign gifts are still available and prevalent in the church today.
J.P. Moreland is a distinguished philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology at Biola. He hold a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Southern California. He is a first rate philosopher, theologian, and apologist. Moreland has written on many subject in his field and is respected by most leading philosophers today—Christian and secular. His intellectual abilities do not fit the bill of a Benny Hinn or a Pat Robertson to say the least. In fact, he has written one of the most compelling works of our generation concerning the need for Christians to reengage in the intellectual arena, criticizing the church for its inability to defend the faith reasonably. The book is called Love Your God with All Your Mind. If you were ever in a debate with an atheist or a philosophical naturalist, Moreland is the guy you want on your side. He, like Grudem, does not look like the stereotypical Charismatic. He is a recent convert to the Vineyard Movement, who believes that their are prophets who speak supernaturally on behalf of God today and that the gift of healing is not only available, but should be sought out.
With so many flies in the ointment what is a cessationist such as myself supposed to do? Continuationists are simply not supposed to be intellectuals! Yet they are, and they can defend their positions.
I believe the landscape is changing. There are now fewer hard cessationists who believe with absolute conviction that the supernatural sign gifts have ceased. You know that the battle lines are fading when C.J. Mahaney and John MacArthur can share the same pulpit! Because of the stature of these respected scholars, many cessationists are beginning to scratch their heads wondering if they might be wrong. Some are one experience away from fully embracing a continuationist theology.
While I find many of the biblical and theological arguments of cessationism compelling, I would be the first to admit that the primary reason I remain a cessationist is because I have never experienced any miracles, signs, or wonders and I have never seen or heard of a legitimate prophet. If someone were to ask me if I believe that God is still speaking through prophets and giving the gift of healing, I would confess my tentative cessationist beliefs. I have never seen nor heard of a prophet or divine healer, but this does not mean that God is not or cannot work in such a way today.
While going through the recent depression andÂ suicide of my sister, I was more than willing for a someone with the gift of healing to come to the rescue, representing God’s benevolent hand of mercy. Even though my theology was predisposed against it, I prayed for God to bring someone. With my mom’s aneurysm and stroke last year which took away part of her brain, I live in hope of God’s miraculous healing to rescue us from what was only previously a nightmare. I certainly am not against Him sending someone with this gift. Yet He has not and I have had to learn to trust in Him in spite of the difficulties that these situations have introduced.
While the Bible does not ever say that the supernatural sign gifts ceased or were going to cease (in fact, it may imply the opposite), history does seem to suggest it, and my experience, to the degree that it can be trusted, verifies it.
One thing that we need to keep in mind is the if God has not tied His own hands, our nice clean theological system cannot tie them for Him. If He moves in such a way, we better recognize this. At the same time, if He is not moving in such a way, we discredit Him by claiming He is doing something He is not. This can cause great damage to His character and disillusionment to those who seek such interventions. Both sides need to be very careful about this issue.
I would, however, call upon fellow cessationists, especially hard cessationists, to consider continuationism from the “best of” and not create straw men by referring to the common abuses that are televised for all to see. Seek out the wisdom and scholarship of Grudem, Moreland, and the like before you dogmatize your beliefs. They represent the best of their belief and form what I believe to be the intellectual rise Charismatics.
With all this in mind, this blog could have just as well been titled “The Demise of Hard Cessationism.”