Fascinating interview with Wayne Grudem on cessationism

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!


  1. Mark Sellers says

    I have been looking for real understanding of scripture from non-cessationist, I have not realy found any. Even Jeff Purswell from Soveriegn grace ministries does not satisfactoriy unpackage the charasmatic view well. there becomes to much that is subjective and up to the individual interpretation.
    I will be going to a conference next year called “together for the Gospel” in that group that is coming together is CJ Mahaney a reformed charasmatic. Would he not believe that the ministry of John MacArthur, Mark Dever’s and Lig Duncan are limited because they are not and will not seek the gifts of empowerment of the Spirit such as through tongues and Prophecy? If we are commanded by scripture to persue these things are they not in disobedience by not persuing them because they believe they do not exist today? and if they say they do not exist today are what do they believe that CJ and others like him are doing? CJ would say that these things are because of the Spirit of GOd the others would say what he is practicing is not of God. Would you not like to be a fly on the wall when they are discussing with the Apostle CJ? I enjoy and have grown through CJ Mahaneys ministry and in fact agree with everything that he does and stands for, but I am confused on this issue which to me is a big one.

    • Paula Kahn says

      I recommend the book by Pastor Chuck Smith, “Charisma Versus Charismania”. It is helpful in understanding the continuationist viewpoint.

  2. An important part of Grudem’s first interview was

    In fact, in people’s actual prayer lives as well as in the personal conversation of the pastor in the pulpit to the congregation, people talk about the Lord leading them and guiding them in specific ways. Sometimes in ways it sounds very much like the gift of prophecy to me, but they don’t call it prophecy. They call it prompting or leading. I am thankful for all of that and I am very comfortable being in a home fellowship group where people pray and are willing to say how they think the Lord is leading them and guiding them as they pray and what He brings to their minds. And they don’t call it prophecy. But I’m thinking, “That sure looks like prophecy to me!”

    There’s a huge amount of truth in that – much of the disagreement between continuationists and reformed charismatics comes down to different ways of describing the same thing. Of course there are plenty of other charismatics/pentecostals who are going far beyond Grudem’s position, and there it is harder to find agreement.

    But to directly answer your question:

    Would he not believe that the ministry of John MacArthur, Mark Dever’s and Lig Duncan are limited because they are not and will not seek the gifts of empowerment of the Spirit such as through tongues and Prophecy?

    I can’t speak for CJ, but on the basis of 1 Corinthians 14:1-3, then I hope not.

    Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy… everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

    If John MacArthur, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan are doing anything in their ministry, they’re speaking to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort, aren’t they? Prophecy is not (and must never be) an end to itself.

  3. Mark Sellers says

    Great Points! I think if we are going to align ourselves in the agreement of reformed soteriology we have to work on working definitions of what biblical prophecy is and is not, especially for those that are sitting in the pew not sure what to think of all this.