A Case for Cessationism, Part 2

From Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal, Vol 3, No. 2, Fall 2013. Reproduced with permission. Read the series so far.

Claims for Continuing Gifts with a Closed Canon

Sovereign Grace

The Sovereign Grace movement is an example of this. This movement affirms that the Bible is the authority for faith, and it denies that God is giving any additional biblical revelation, saying of the Scriptures:

They are totally sufficient and must not be added to, superseded, or changed by later tradition, extra-biblical revelation, or worldly wisdom. Every doctrinal formula­tion, whether of creed, confession, or theology must be put to the test of the full counsel of God in Holy Scripture.16

The movement further affirms “We are evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic.”17 The Sovereign Grace website avers that all the spiritual gifts are for the churches today.

The Holy Spirit desires to fill each believer continually with increased power for Christian life and witness, and imparts his supernatural gifts for the edification of the Body and for various works of ministry in the world. All the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work in the church of the first century are available today, are vital for the mission of the church, and are to be earnestly desired and practiced.18

John Piper

John Piper is another example of this position. He articulates four statements about prophecy. They are:

  1. It is still valid and useful for the church today. This is the clear implication of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and Acts 2:17-18.
  2. It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible. It is thus similar to the gift of teaching which is Spirit-prompted, Spirit sustained, rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible), and yet is fallible but very useful to the church.
  3. It does not have an authority that is on a par with Scripture, for Scripture is verbally inspired, not just Spirit-prompted and Spirit-sustained. The very words of the biblical writers are the words of God (1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16). This is not true of the words that come from the “gift of prophecy.”
  4. The New Testament gift of prophecy is a “third category” of prophetic utterance between the categories of 1) verbally inspired, intrinsically authoritative, infallible speech spoken by the likes of Moses, Jesus and the apostles; and 2) the speech of false prophets spoken presumptuously, without inspiration and liable to condemnation (Deuter­onomy 18:20). Those two categories (absolutely infallible vs. false) do not exhaust all the biblical teaching on prophecy.19

Further, Piper states he “believes that ‘signs and wonders’ and all the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are valid for today and should be ‘earnestly desired’ (1 Corinthians 14:1) for the edification of the church and the spread of the gospel.”20

We should also note that Piper distinguishes this gift of prophecy from Scripture, and he does not believe God is giving additional biblical revelation in this day.

Let me begin by affirming the finality and sufficiency of Scripture, the 66 books of the Bible. Nothing I say about today’s prophecies means that they have authority over our lives like Scripture does. Whatever prophecies are given today do not add to Scripture. They are tested by Scripture. Scripture is closed and final; it is a foundation, not a building in process.21

Wayne Grudem

Grudem has written a helpful systematic theology text. He and Piper have co-authored a book on gender roles in Scripture.22 In addition, Grudem has given us a most helpful volume on the evangelical feminist movement.23 Grudem also believes that sign gifts are operative today. He has described his position in his systematic theology text and in several other writings.24 He says:

What I mean by that is that I do not think there is any passage of Scripture, or any combination of passages, that should lead us to think that God does not communicate directly with his people throughout all of history in individual, personal ways that occur in addition to his communication in and through the written words of Scripture [emphasis Grudem].25

Citing 1 Corinthians 1:7 “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:” he says: “Here he connects the possession of spiritual gifts and their situation in the history of redemption (waiting for Christ’s return), suggesting that gifts are given to the church for the period between Christ’s ascension and his return.”26 He then reasons that there are possibly more spiritual gifts than those listed in the six New Testament passages that identify spiritual gifts. “And if we wished to divide up different kinds of service or administration or evangelism or teaching, then we could quite easily have a list that included fifty or even a hundred items [emphasis Grudem].”27

In another place Grudem elaborates:

On the other side, I am asking those in the cessationist camp to give serious thought to the possibility that prophecy in ordinary New Testament churches was not equal to Scripture in authority, but was simply a very human - and sometimes partially mistaken - report of something the Holy Spirit brought to someone’s mind.”28

We must also note that Grudem affirms that God is giving no additional Scripture in these days. Commenting on Hebrews 1:1-3 he states:

The contrast between the former speaking “of old” by the prophets and the recent speaking “in these last days” suggests that God’s speech to us by his Son is the culmination of his speaking to mankind and is his greatest and final revelation to mankind in this period of redemptive history. The exceptional greatness of the revelation that comes through the Son, far exceeding any revelation in the old covenant, is emphasized again and again throughout chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews. These facts all indicate that there is a finality to the revelation of God in Christ and that once this revelation has been completed, no more is to be expected.29

Donald Carson

Jesse Johnson summarizes Carson’s position on tongues:

He too grants that the NT gift was actual languages. But the tongues spoken today, he writes, are more like a computer language (picture Pig Latin put to code) than Swahili. While human language is decipherable, Carson’s understanding of the modern day gift of tongues is that it is just like a real language, except that it is undecipherable. Tongues may sound like gibberish, but that is because we don’t have the key to unlock the code.30

Carson holds that the tongues of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 were essentially the same, though they fulfilled different functions. He says:

On balance, then, the evidence favors the view that Paul thought the gift of tongues was a gift of real languages, that is, languages that were cognitive, whether of men or of angels. Moreover, if he knew of the details of Pentecost (a currently unpopular opinion in the scholarly world, but in my view eminently defensible), his understanding of tongues must have been shaped to some extent by that event. Certainly tongues in Acts exercise some different functions from those in 1 Corinthians; but there is no substantial evidence that suggests Paul thought the two were essentially different [emphasis Carson].31

Carson then argues the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12 may not have been known human languages.

It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. You have to know the code to be able to understand it. Such a pattern of verbalization could not be legitimately dismissed as gibberish. It is as capable of conveying propositional and cognitive content as any known human language. “Tongue” and “language” still seem eminently reasonable words to describe the phenome­non. This does not mean that all modern tongues phenomena are therefore biblically authentic. It does mean there is a category of linguistic phenomenon that conveys cognitive content, may be interpreted, and seems to meet the constraints of the biblical descriptions, even though it is no known human language. Of course, this will not do for the tongues of Acts 2, where the gift consisted of known human languages; but elsewhere, the alternative is not as simple as “human languages” or “gibberish,” as many noncharismatic writers affirm. Indeed, the fact that Paul can speak of different kinds of tongues (12:10, 28) may suggest that on some occasions human languages were spoken (as in Acts 2), and in other cases not—even though in the latter eventuality the tongues were viewed as bearing cognitive content [emphasis mine].32

We must understand that like Sovereign Grace and Piper, Carson believes the canon of Scripture is closed and God is not revealing additional Scripture today. In describing progressive revelation he states:

By “progressive revelation” I refer to the fact that God progressively revealed himself in event and in Scripture, climaxing the events with the death-resurrection-exaltation of Christ and climaxing the Scriptures with the closing of the canon. The result is that God’s ways and purposes were progressively fulfilled not only in redemption events but also in inscripturated explanation. The earlier revelation prepares for the later; the later carries further and in some way explicates the earlier [emphasis mine].33

Notes 

16 http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/about-us/what-we-believe.aspx. Accessed 20 August 2012.

17 http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/about-us/ default.aspx. Accessed 20 April, 2013.

18 Ibid.

19 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/the-new-t… Accessed 24 April 2013.

20 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/ signs-and-wonders-then-and-now. Accessed 24 April 2013.

21 http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/ the-authority-and-nature-of-the-gift-of-prophecy. Accessed 1 May 2013.

22 John Piper and Wayne Grudem, eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991, 2006).

23 Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More Than 100 Disputed Questions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004, 2012).

24 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1016-1088.

25 http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/ 2012/04/Robertson-O-Palmer-response-by-WG.pdf. Accessed 26 April 2013.

26 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1018.

27 Ibid., 1022.

28 Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 14-15.

29 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 64.

30 http://thecripplegate.com/dcrsns-defense-of-continua­tion­ism/. Accessed 26 April 2013.

31 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 83.

32 Carson, 86-87.

33 D. A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 133-134.

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There are 2 Comments

Bruce Rettig's picture

If this is true:

 It is a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Corinthians 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible. It is thus similar to the gift of teaching which is Spirit-prompted, Spirit sustained, rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible), and yet is fallible but very useful to the church

How can something be "fallible but very useful to the church?"

And Grudem says:

It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. You have to know the code to be able to understand it. Such a pattern of verbalization could not be legitimately dismissed as gibberish. It is as capable of conveying propositional and cognitive content as any known human language. 

Isn't it reckless to claim that modern day "tongues" is a real language without any actual evidence that it is? Grudem is a careful thinker, I really don't understand how he gets to his position.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

pvawter's picture

My take on Grudem is that he is driven to this position by his presuppositions concerning the legitimacy of tongues and prophecy. His conclusions just don't follow from the text of scripture.

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