There’s an in-depth interview with Wayne Grudem over at challies.com (part 1, part 2) about the cessationist/continuationist debate. I’m glad it’s couched in those terms — too often we see continationists (who accept that God can still give these gifts) charicatured as charismatics (who emphasise the regular use of such gifts).
The interview is well-worth a read, but I’ll highlight some particularly interesting comments.
I think it is somewhat of a historical aberration that cessationism – that the leaders of the Reformed movement have been cessationist. This was certainly not true in the seventeenth century among Puritans in England… So I think we have in the twentieth century a historical aberration not essential to Reformed theology that cessationism has become the dominant view.
Grudem is certainly right here, as he’s demonstrated before. Most of the early reformers held to an ‘open but cautious’ stance, which allowed that God would give those gifts, when to do so would be for the good of the church. That is not to say that the Puritans were charismatics, but a great many of them were certainly not cessationists.
…if we say that God works through means other than Scripture, doesn’t that weaken our authority for Scripture? I would answer, no, these are things other than Scripture. If, for instance, we say that God works through the advice of friends or the wise counsel of a pastor or elder, doesn’t that weaken the authority of Scripture? It doesn’t, because it is a different category of thing. It is something we think is used by God and through which God can work, and our strong belief in the Sovereignty of God would encourage us to think that, but it comes with human authority but not with absolute divine authority. Whatever people would say about prophecy I would say, what about advice from friends and counsel from friends? How do you understand that? Same thing. Can’t God work through that? Sure. Well, can’t God work through prophecy? What’s the difference? I don’t see that it is a qualitatively different thing.
This is probably the most succinct response I’ve heard on this subject. If there is such a thing as non-authoritative prophecy (and I appreciate that is a big ‘if’), then there is no threat to Scripture’s unique authority if prophecy is handled correctly. The closure of the canon demands the end to authoritative revelation until the return of Christ. It need not necessarily demans the end to prophecy, if prophecy continues in a non-authoritative way.
…[a] widely-respected British Evangelical leader fifteen years ago said to me that the battle between cessationists and non-cessationists in England is over. The cessationists have lost. Or the charismatics have won. I’m not sure exactly what he said but it was something like that. And that’s the case, I think, in almost the entire world outside the United States.
Grudem’s obviously forgotten he once visited Wales, then! 😉
Unfortunately, the most interesting and important question that was asked wasn’t answered properly.
Do you believe that the way God spoke to people in Old Testament times, say, for example, the way God spoke to Abraham, is that consistent with the way God speaks to us today? How would God have spoken to Abraham?
The way God speaks to people can vary widely in biblical times and it can today as well. Going back to “why does God speak to us in ways that are fallible,” I would say…
It’s simply not good enough to say that in the past God speaks to different people in different ways, and now he speaks to different people in different ways. Are the OT ways the same as the NT ways? Hebrews 1:1 says not, but Grudem didn’t say one way or the other. For me, this is the crucial question, and he was let off the hook on this one!