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Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?Four Views
ZondervanCopyright © 1996 Zondervan
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Chapter OneA CESSATIONIST VIEW
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS
1. The designation of the view I have been asked to represent in this symposium suggests only that I am against something. So, before anything else, let me try to be clear about what I am for in the ongoing debate about the work of the Holy Spirit in the church today. As much as anything, I am for the truth expressed in John 3:8, the truth that in his activity the Spirit is like the blowing wind, sovereign and ultimately incalculable. Any sound theology of the Holy Spirit, I take it, will be left with a certain remainder, a surplus unaccounted for, an area of mystery. The cessationist view I hold is least of all driven by a rationalistic desire to have everything about the work of the Spirit tied up in a tidy, comfortable little package.
At the same time, we ought not to embrace a kind of "whimsy of the Spirit." The Spirit-wind of John 3:8 does not move in a vacuum. Scripture as a whole teaches that in his own sovereignty the Spirit has seen fit to circumscribe his activity and to structure it according to the patterns revealed there. Those patterns, not what the Spirit may choose to do beyond them, ought to be the focus and shape the expectations of the church today.
Typically, the cessationist view is reproached with something like trying to "put the Spirit in a box." But according to Scripture, as I will try to show below, the Spirit has sovereignly chosen to "box" himself in; the ardor of the Spirit, we may say, is an "ordered ardor" (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33, 40).
2. The context of John 3:8-Jesus' interchange with Nicodemus about the new birth-prompts another observation. At issue in this symposium is not whether the Spirit of God is at work today in a powerful, dynamic, supernatural, and direct way. No work of the Spirit, I hold, is more radical, more impressive, more miraculous, and more thoroughly supernatural than what he does-now, today-with people who are nothing less than "dead in ... transgressions and sins" (Eph. 2:1, 5). Beyond any human capacity-rational-reflective, intuitive-mystical, or otherwise-the Spirit makes them "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11).
This activity, as Jesus later in John's Gospel (e.g., John 5:24-25; 11:25-26) and Paul (e.g., Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12-13) make plain, is nothing less than a work of resurrection-no less real, no less miraculous, no less eschatological than the future, bodily resurrection of the believer at Christ's return. The cessationist view I and many others hold will yield to no one in stressing that the present activity of the Holy Spirit in believers is of "incomparably great power ... like [on the order of] the working of [God's] mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand" (Eph. 1:19-20).
To put it mildly, then, one ought not simply suggest that all cessationist positions result from captivity to "common sense" realism, or are "an intellectualized quasi-deism" (with the hardly subtle suggestion that it falls under the annihilating indictments of Jesus in Matt. 22:29 and Paul in 2 Tim. 3:5), or betray an "anti-supernatural hermeneutic" in interpreting Acts, or are so bound up with an unbiblical, outdated Enlightenment worldview that, though "incensed at Bultmann's 'rationalism,'" they have nonetheless "adopted their own brand of rationalism."
In what follows I will do what I can to allay such misconceptions. But we must be clear here. Western philosophy since the Enlightenment has by and large denied the power of the resurrection confessed above. Along with other cessationists, of course, I am well aware that in our attitudes and lifestyles, we often compromise that power and grieve the Holy Spirit (see Eph. 4:30); we need to be warned about that and to remain open to such admonition. But to write our position off as quasi-deism closed off from the supernatural or as part of the debris left by the Enlightenment's commitment to the autonomy of human reason will not help us.
In fact, there is good reason to ask whether the tables do not need to be turned here, at least for some who speak from a charismatic perspective. In a recent Festschrift for J. Rodman Williams, for instance, Henry Lederle is encouraged that charismatic spirituality, as he understands it, involves a worldview that has affinities with postmodernism, insofar as this philosophical movement seeks to recover "a sense of the whole and the interrelatedness of knowledge and experience." In other words, he believes, what has been suppressed so long in much of modern Western rationalistic philosophy since the Enlightenment-the nonrational and intuitive aspect of human spirituality-is now being taken into account more adequately in contemporary philosophy.
But is this postmodern emphasis really an advancement? Is not Lederle's a spirituality that has become rather comfortable with the spirit of the times? Have we really gained anything for the gospel by rejecting one form of philosophy, only to identify with a different form that, though it seeks to limit, still affirms rational autonomy? Such an approach hardly does justice, for instance, to Paul's unsparing opposition of his Spirit-taught wisdom to the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18-3:23), or his endeavor to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" and to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). What is called for is confrontation, not limitation or containment by expansion.
Postmodern philosophers have rightly rejected the emphasis, especially since Descartes, on human reason being neutral and unbiased. But so far as I can see, they are still committed-in some instances, even more resolutely than the Enlightenment-to human autonomy. Any assertion of autonomy, rational or otherwise, whether it be from the seventeenth century or the late twentieth century, effaces the creature-Creator distinction. And human wholeness cannot be recaptured unless every vestige of autonomy is abandoned in submission to the Triune God of the Bible. Pentecostal power and postmodern pretensions have nothing to do with each other.
3. The cessationist position is most often associated with the name of B. B. Warfield, both because of his commanding stature as a theologian and because of his book, Counterfeit Miracles. Understandably, then, opponents have concentrated on this book and suppose that by refuting it, they have refuted the cessationist position as a whole. In other words, they think that the cessationist position for the most part stands or falls with Warfield's argument for it.
The case that I will be making stands squarely in the tradition of Warfield; at the heart of his position, I believe, is a fundamentally sound insight into Scripture. Still, a couple of initial observations, frequently overlooked on both sides of the debate, need to be made.
(a) Warfield did not intend to make an exegetical case; Counterfeit Miracles is primarily a study in church history and historical theology, as even a perusal of his table of contents shows. To be sure, he does give brief indications of how he would argue exegetically, but he does not develop that argument, nor, as far as I know, does he elaborate on this issue anywhere else in his writings. It is wrong to suppose, therefore, that it is impossible to make a more extensive and cohesive exegetical defense of the cessationist position.
(b) Warfield not only did not argue exegetically but also, in my judgment, probably could not have made the best exegetical case for his position. That is primarily because he did not have an adequate conception of the eschatological nature of the work of the Holy Spirit. (By eschatological I mean "characteristic of the 'age to come'"; see Matt. 12:32; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5.) Briefly, one of the most important developments in biblical studies in this century has been the rediscovery of the already/not yet structure of New Testament eschatology. This broadened understanding of eschatology, which has now virtually reached the status of consensus, has brought a growing recognition that for the New Testament writers (most clearly Paul), the present work of the Spirit in the church and within believers is inherently eschatological. The Holy Spirit and eschatology, rarely related together in traditional Christian doctrine and piety, are now seen as inseparable.
The eschatological reality of the Spirit's activity today is usually seen by noncessationists to be decisive for their view. But as I will try to show below, this perception has to be challenged; in fact, that reality is fully compatible with, perhaps even essential, to the cessationist view. At any rate, to ask what constitutes the eschatological essence of the Spirit's present work in the church serves to focus a pivotal difference between cessationists and noncessationists.
A. SECOND EXPERIENCES?
Virtually everything the New Testament teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit either looks forward or traces back to Pentecost. In other words, what really happened on that day is the all-important question. For instance, do the remarkable events of Pentecost provide a model challenging each New Testament believer, regardless of time and place, to seek to receive the Spirit in power as a distinct experience accompanied by speaking in tongues, either at the same time as or subsequent to conversion? Pentecostal denominations and those in the charismatic movement answer this question affirmatively. Many Pentecostals encourage Christians, who have already been born again, to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and they claim support from events in Acts 2 (Pentecost), 8 (Samaria), 10 (Caesarea), and 19 (Ephesus). Just as Jesus' disciples were first born again and then later baptized in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (so their argument goes), we also should seek a Pentecostal "second experience" in our lives today.
But is Pentecost intended to be a model for us to use in this way? In attempting to answer that question here, I will broaden the discussion somewhat by also keeping in view the question to what extent, if at all, Pentecost is about power experiences in the church today, postconversion second blessing or otherwise.
1. Why Pentecost is unique. D. A. Carson has observed, "The essentially salvation-historical structure of the Book of Acts is too often overlooked." This is particularly true of those who find in chapter 2 (and elsewhere in Acts) enduring paradigms for Christian experience. The problem with second blessing and other empowerment theologies is not that they appeal to the narrative material in Acts to make a doctrinal point (as some cessationists have argued); Luke-Acts is equally as theological as, say, Paul's letters. The problem, rather, is that such theologies misunderstand Luke's theology.
What, then, is the significance of Pentecost within the redemptive-historical framework set out by Luke? In order to answer that question, we must remember the basic distinction between the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the order of salvation (ordo salutis). In theological terms, the phrase "history of salvation" refers to events that are part of Christ's once-for-all accomplishment of his work of earning our salvation. The events in the history of salvation (such as Christ's death and resurrection) are finished, nonrepeatable events that have importance for all of God's people for all time. But the phrase "order of salvation" refers to events in the continuing application of Christ's work to individual lives throughout history, events such as saving faith, justification, and sanctification. When individual believers appropriate Christ's work in their own lives, those experiences are part of the "order of salvation," not (to use theological terms) part of the "history of salvation." (Another term for "history of salvation" is "redemptive history.")
Now in terms of that distinction, Pentecost belongs to the history of salvation, not to the order of salvation. That can be substantiated from a couple of angles. Jesus' words in Acts 1:5 ("For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit") link John's ministry/baptism (Luke 3) and Pentecost (Acts 2) as sign to reality, prophecy to fulfillment. "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come.... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16). It is not difficult to see from the immediate context that the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire highlights not just one aspect, however important, but the Messiah's impending activity in its entirety. John's prophecy is his response to the basic messianic question in the crowd's mind as to whether he is the Christ (v. 15). His reply meets that question on the level on which it was asked and so surely intends to provide an equally basic perspective: Spirit and fire baptism is to be nothing less than the culmination of the Messiah's ministry; it will serve to stamp that ministry as a whole, just as, in comparison, water baptism was an index for John's entire ministry (Luke 20:4; Acts 10:37).
From this prophetic vantage point, Luke suggests, Pentecost is at the heart of Christ's finished work, at the core of the salvation brought by the coming of the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 7:18-28); in other words, it is an eschatological event. All that Christ came to suffer and die for, short of his return, reaches its climax in his baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. Without that baptism Christ's once-for-all work of salvation is unfinished.
Looking in the other direction from Acts 1:5, Peter's Christ-centered sermon on the day of Pentecost confirms what we find in John's prophecy. In 2:32-33, following out of his focus on the earthly activity, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus (vv. 22-31), Peter closely conjoins, in sequence: resurrection ascension-reception of the Spirit-outpouring of the Spirit. The last element, Pentecost, is climactic and final. It is not some addendum; there is nothing "second" about it. Resurrection-ascension-Pentecost, though distinct in time, constitute a unified complex of events, a once-for-all, salvation-historical unity; they are inseparable.
Excerpted from Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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