Do we still need miracles today to believe?

When it comes to the division between continuationism and cessationism (whether certain gifts still exist today), one of the common mischaracterizations that I have observed continuationists make against cessationists is that cessationists believe that miracles are no longer needed.  While I do believe there are a small minority of cessationists who don’t believe in the existence of miracles, most would deny this charge and be open to the possibility that God can do whatever he wants to win people to himself.

I think a big part of the problem is how a miracle is defined.  I have found that typically when my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters contend that miracles exist, what they are really saying is the demonstration of signs and wonders as seen in Acts are to be expected such that they are needed to 1) believe the gospel and 2) demonstrate empowerment by the Holy Spirit.  But a miracle can be defined more broadly as something out of the ordinary. So we need to ask what we mean by miracles still existing.

Now the cessationist would say that the miracles demonstrated in Acts were done to demonstrate that the validity of the apostlic testimony concerning Christ. After all, the record of the Old Testament shows that when God did something new, previously unrevealed, he did so with miraculous events. God was doing a new thing by bringing both Jew and Gentile together as one body through the sacrificial death of His Son (Ephesians 2:13-16; 3:1-7) marked by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9).  Jews considered themselves the privilege group and Greeks were accustomed to pagan worship and sought after knowledge.  Both groups needed to experience something out of the ordinary to know that what was being proclaimed through the apostles witness was real.  But once the New Testament church was implemented, the body of Christ grew and the message spread, there was less reliance on these types of miracles for validation. Continue reading

Cessationism, Charismania and Criticism

shouting guys_anger managementMy heart was a bit heavy as I witnessed the blogosphere light up today over John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and the broad brush stroke polemics against Charismatics. I appreciated Michael Patton’s thoughts on the subject.

Now to be clear, I am not a Charismatic. But I used to be and commitedly so – third wave, direct experience (direct communication is better; we all should have some kind of experience), charged atmosphere, seeking signs and wonders (or what I thought were signs and wonders). But seven years ago I stepped away due to a challenge by a friend on the disjointed and fragmented way I was reading Scripture. As I studied and considered Scripture from a holistic perspective and learning how to read stuff in context, I transitioned into soft-cessationism. This was not due to any negative experience but as a result of a formulation of a robust view of the doctrine of Scripture and how God sufficiently spoke through it. In other words, when I considered how the 66 books fit together and pointed to God’s redemptive work through the Son and how everything pointed to him, it made me re-evaluate how I understood continuation of gifts, prophecy, hearing from God directly and an over-reliance on experiential phenomenon as proof of God’s Spirit at work.

It was not like I didn’t read the Bible, didn’t believe in essential Christian truths, or didn’t have a commitment to Christ’s church.  In fact, many in my circles genuinely loved the Lord, sought to serve and please him and recognized that he had paid the price for their life. Although, I went to extremes after my conversion away from Charismania, I came to rest in kind of a tense area.  In fact, I have said on a number of occasions, that I went from being a crazy charismatic to a crusty cessationist and now live in a place called tension.

Why tension? Because I discovered that there are actually thoughtful, well read and even scholarly Charismatics who believe in the authority of Scripture and allow it to interpret how to consider God’s work in the world today. I ran across guys like Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms, scholars, pastors and authors. I encountered Vineyard guys like Luke Geraty and others who took the Bible and discipline of theology serious. These folks are not the experience driven, ignore the Bible, anything goes step-child fringe that rightly deserves critique.  In Michael’s article, I appreciated his statement that you can’t judge all Charismatics by the ugly red-headed step children. Continue reading

What is a Cessationist?…or Why I think We Need Another Term

When you think of the word ‘cessationist’ what comes to mind? Typically, I’ve seen these characterizations;

  • Opposite of a continuationism
  • One who no longer agrees the gifts of the Spirit are in operation
  • No miracles
  • Prophets and apostles no longer exist
  • Not all gifts are in operation; some have ceased
  • God no longer speaks beyond scripture

person holding bibleIt’s a mixed bag that unfortunately brings some baggage in discussions involving continuationism vs. cessationism OR discussions regarding if God still speaks today. Given the above descriptions, what is that exactly? It’s a problem because when you say the word it means different things to different people. Even under the rubric of continuation of all gifts, some cessationists avow this happens but not in the manner.

Wayne Grudem is amongst the continuationists but one who adheres to the sufficiency of scripture as God’s word. In his Systematic Theology he says this about prophecy; Continue reading