Q13 for Frank: Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

In Q4 I asked you what you'd consider to be the biggest weaknesses of the cessationist tradition. Your answer demonstrated you thought there weren't any notable weaknesses in the cessationist tradition which couldn't be considered common to all men in their own sinfulness and which didn't also have their mirror image in the continualist camp. You chose rather to emphasize the strengths.

That's an odd and interesting position to take considering the degree of questioning you have expected me to respond to about charismatic weakness and abuse. Indeed it seems a bit unfair and imbalanced since you've mentioned elsewhere that the level of credibility you and others are willing to give me in this conversation is tied to how willing I am to speak candidly about those weaknesses and abuses.

Just using yours and some of your readers' own standards, should I and concerned continualists be satisfied with your response to Q4?

I have, however, found some cessationists who are willing to play fair.

I bought a book a few months ago referenced and endorsed by J.P. Moreland who says, "[This]...is a book whose time has come...Within cessationist theology there is room for a radically different relationship with the Spirit in connection with a more explicitly supernatural form of Christianity than what is usually embraced...It simply must be read by those inside and outside the cessationist camp, indeed, by all who are interested in seeing an outbreak of the Spirit's power among God's people."

It's called Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?, and is a collection of essays written by various cessationist contributors. It was edited by a couple of cessationist scholars who "have embraced what they have called pneumatic Christianity. They contend that the way much of evangelical cessationism has developed is reactionary and reductionistic."

The authors, from their own journey and honest wrestling of their own deficiencies in how they relate to the Holy Spirit, offer eleven theses in the introduction of the book for other cessationists to consider, three of which are below:

"(4) The net effect of such bibliolatry is a depersonalization of God."

"(5) Part of the motivation for depersonalizing God is an increasing craving for control."

"(8) Many of the power brokers of evangelicalism, since the turn of the century, have been white, obsessive-compulsive males."

The men who wrote the book are clearly still cessationists even though they've made it clear they are against what is called hard cessationism. Considering this book reminded me of something you said that you never elaborated on. In our lunch conversation several months ago, I understood you to say something like you are not as hard a cessationist as some other big names in the cessationist camp.

If that's true, why is that?

Do you disagree with John Macarthur on any of this or with any aspect of the Strange Fire conference?

Where do you think you might agree and disagree with the cessationist authors of Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit"?

I guess my first response is this: which of these questions are rhetorical, and which require a response?  Since we are pitching the word count out the window, I guess I'll offer a response to all of them.

You ask:
Just using yours and some of your readers' own standards, should I and concerned continualists be satisfied with your response to Q4?

I respond:

Your question in Q4 was pretty broad, and I answered it broadly -- but I answered it based on history and fact rather than on anything else.  The fact is that the vast majority of Christians since the death of Christ have been cessationist.  Therefore, all the faults of Christians since then need to lay at the feet of cessationism.  The only exceptions, to be blunt, are those non-cessationist movements which, frankly, speak for themselves.  Take for example the radical Anabaptists at the time of the reformation whose alleged prophetic visions caused violence and chaos, or the Marcionists whose belief were so twisted that they didn't even accept the Old testament as Scripture.

You should be satisfied with my answer if you care about history and facts.  If you only want to trust your experience or your intuition into other people's motives, I can't possibly help you because I'm not that gifted.

You ask:
In our lunch conversation several months ago, I understood you to say something like you are not as hard a cessationist as some other big names in the cessationist camp.  If that's true, why is that?
I respond:

I'm not the kind of cessationist who (in practice if not on paper) relegates God to a merely-deist observer of the world.  My belief in the power of the Holy Spirit comes from His work in the world as it truly comes -- because I have witnessed many hardened and vile men come to Christ, including myself.  What happened to me to become a Christian could not have happened if God does nothing in this world but wait for the end and the judgment -- because my heart was changed toward Him and toward all people literally overnight.

Here's how I would frame my position on the Holy Spirit:

I affirm that Reformation theology requires the personal action of God the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church.

I deny that this work necessarily includes speaking in tongues (as in Acts 2 as well as in so-called "private prayer langauges"), healing the sick or raising the dead by explicit command, prophecy in the sense that Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophets, or any other "sign-and-wonder"-like exhibition. That is: I deny that these actions are necessary for the post-apostolic church to function as God intended.

I affirm that miracles happen today. No sense in prayer and believing in a sovereign God if he's not going to ever be sovereign, right?

I deny that there is any human person alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.

I affirm that God is utterly capable of, and completely willing, to demonstrate "signs and wonders" at any time, in any place, according to his good pleasure and for his great purpose.

I deny that this activity is common, normative, necessary, or is in the best interest of God's people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT.

I affirm the real presence of the Holy Spirit in the church of Jesus Christ as Jesus said He would be present in John 13-15.

I deny that this means that all believers or even all local churches will be equipped with apostles called and equipped as the 12 and Paul were called and equipped. A telling example is the role of Apostles in delivering Scripture to the church.

I affirm that the normative working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church begins with conviction of sin and regeneration, and continues through sanctification, and through the outworking of personal gifts (e.g. - Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 13:4-7) for the edification of the (local) church.

I deny that explicitly-supernatural theatrics, or events the Bible calls "signs and wonders" (e.g. - Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.), are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.
I affirm the uniqueness of the office of apostle in the founding of the church.

I deny the necessity of apostles for the on-going life of the church.

I affirm the unique gifting of apostles for the founding of the church, which includes (but is not limited to) the inscripturation of God's word, and the validation of their mission through signs and wonders.

I deny that Scripture is still open for revision and that God speaks to men in words today in any way apart from Scripture; I deny that anyone today is gifted the way the apostles were gifted for the founding of the church.
I affirm that on-going leadership in the church is a task wholly-empowered by the Holy Spirit to men meeting the scriptural qualifications, and that the objectives of this leadership are wholly-defined by the Holy Spirit explicitly through Scripture and implicitly as the gifts of leaders are applied to a real people in a local church.

I deny that church leadership is like business leadership -- that is, a system of techniques that have outcomes measurable by secular metrics of success -- and further deny that merely-competent management processes yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I'd also point you to The WCF/LBCF for a detailed understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and of the church.

You Ask:
Do you disagree with John Macarthur on any of this or with any aspect of the Strange Fire conference?
I Respond:

I think I do, but the disagreements would be in degree and not in category.  For example, I think the charge that some of you fellows are demon-possessed is overstated.  I believe in demon possession, and I believe that a person who is demon-possessed would be (as they were in the NT) somehow bound and chained because their influence and power to hurt others would be so great -- I can't think of any examples of the demon-possessed where the demon makes one more respectable and more charismatic and appealing.

What I think is in fact true of the vast majority of continualists across the board is that they emote rather than reason, they are gullible and impressionable, they are in fact self-centered in spite of a learned facade of sociability and friendliness, and they are committed to the idea that they are exactly like Moses and Abraham and David rather than being committed to the idea that they are probably more like Barnabas, Titus, Timothy, and Philemon (not to mention the Corinthians, the Galatians and the Thessalonians -- depending on whether they are having a good day or a bad one).

I'm a fan of the idea that there is an ordinary Christian life which is ruled over by God and laid out beforehand by him for us with work to do which benefits others and sanctifies us.  In that, the Holy Spirit does inform us and guide us -- if we commit ourselves to the necessary words God has already given us in Scripture.

So at the end of it, I think what I disagree with Dr. MacArthur over could be worked out if he and I were ever to have an hour to discuss it.

You ask:
Where do you think you might agree and disagree with the cessationist authors of Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit"?
I Respond:

I've never read the book, so I don't have any basis for that assessment.  I think the points you list speak directly to the complaint I have made over and over again on the blog here -- namely, that the key continualist arguments are always always always about knowing the unknowable and expecting the worst from those who disagree with you, that somehow if we can see into a man's heart we can either incriminate or justify him.

You know Bryan: you and I have met in person, and I like you.  I like your family.  I think you are nice people.  I like your friend Michael who caused us to meet in the first place -- I think he also has a great family and is a nice guy.  I think the problem which separates us is that you are setting your hope on an unfalsifiable (that is: untestable)  experience of the supernatural in daily life, and I am setting my hope on the historical and ordinary experience of the Holy Spirit who's necessary fruit is falsifiable (you know: is there love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self control, etc.) and who challenges me daily to pick up my cross.  From my seat in this discussion, because your side doesn't see these things as the necessary work of the Spirit but sees the "special effects" as necessary, I can't buy it.  It's not Scriptural, and it's not balanced.