The Conversion of the Cessationist?

February 17, 2006

Until this year, I had felt very secure in my cessationist positions (meaning that the “sign” gifts such as tongues and prophecy had ceased).  I had studied this previously, and fairly in depth; however, I always came to the text with my cessionist views in mind.  It was not truly inductive study.

Today, I have come across 2 astounding facts that have shaken the foundations of my theological positions.  The first was finding out that C.J. Mahaney was not a cessationist.  I highly respect Mahaney and his contributions to the kingdom and modern evangelicalism.  I would have thought that surely, as reformed as he is, that he would hold a more puritanic view of spiritual gifts.  Besides, the circles that he runs in with the group from Together For the Gospel, include the likes of John Piper….

This brings me to fact number 2.  John Piper is not a cessationist.  I am a Piperist.  Just as Piper is a Calvinist.  In the past 7 years, I have read more books by Piper than any other single author (except maybe John Grisham).  My theological framework has been developed much on my study of the Word through the lens of Christian Hedonism and the theology of John Piper.

Never in any of his writings can I remember him addressing spiritual gifts, so I was surprised when I discovered that he was a continuationist.  This is apparently not a new position for Piper.  I read a sermon of his from 1984 today that clearly articulated this position, then there is the paper on Spiritual gifts that is found in the Desiring God topical index.

I am always rethinking my theology.  There are certain things that I will not budge on, but others that I do not yet fully understand (nor do I ever anticipate to).  Mark Driscoll speaks of this as the two-handed theology.  One hand is closed, and represents the things that you are dogmatic about (e.g. The Trinity, inerrancy of Scripture, Total Depravity, Virgin Birth).  The other represents the positions that are not convictions (e.g. spiritual gifts, worship style, women deacons).

One of my goals for this year (as of today), is to know what I believe in relation to all the gifts of the Spirit.  I seek to not only know what, but know why.  So that I might “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [me] to give the reason for the hope that [I] have; but do this with gentleness and respect.” (I Peter 3:15 NIV)

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5 Responses to “The Conversion of the Cessationist?”

  1. Warren said

    I don’t think I could disagree more with Driscoll’s idea of two-handed theology. Would you base the eternal welfare of your soul the notion that once you’ve made up your mind, you can’t be wrong?

    Who would close his fist over that which is unassailable? A closed hand can represent either the solid foundation on which a belief is based or a shield to shelter a belief from the truth. You have described the hand as “dogma” – can that depict any definition except the latter?

    On what grounds do you decide which elements of your theology warrant consideration? Here, you have decided that the most essential elements must not be considered, and have decided to consider, instead, only those you do not find crucial. That is the opposite of faith.

    Blind faith seems to have two definitions. There is 1) faith without seeing, and 2) faith without looking. I can think of no Biblical or historical support for regarding apathy as a virtue, nor can I think of any difference between dogmatism and apathy.

  2. Nathan said

    Before I misrepresent Driscoll further, he used the illustration in the context of the Acts 29 Network in determining who they would support as church planters. They are open to the different positions of the open hand, but there are some foundational truths in the closed hand to which you must hold. He also was using it in the context of fellowship among the network of churches, so that you would not let your open-handed positions deny the welcoming hand of fellowship.

    I have a love/hate relationship with illustrations, because they are never exact. Such is the case with the two-handed theology. For me, the closed hand represents more the things of which I am sure (which assumes that one can be sure about anything). I will always question every conviction that I hold (the closed hand). Was Jesus God? Is Christianity the only way? Was there a literal resurrection? Was Jesus virgin-born? Can you lose salvation? Is Google better than Yahoo!? (I digress). If I don’t question my foundations, how could I ever be prepared to answer others that would?

    The open hand represents things in which I recognize their is significant theological variations among evangelical Christianity. I don’t mean to say that evangelical Christianity is some sort of trump card or that it is the reed by which all thought should be measured. It is, however, where my current theological framework finds much of its foundations. I don’t want to rely solely on other theologians (even if I am a “Piperist”); I don’t want to negate them either. I want to continue my own personal study and search for truth, continuing to question the things in both hands. As my framework finds greater stability (or loses it), I may move things from one hand to the other.

    In the current discussion of Cessationists vs. Continuationists, for Acts 29 this falls in the open hand. That is, they are willing to fellowship among each other regardless of position. However, when it comes to framework, my experience with most Cessationists is that they hold this in the open hand (they are not thoroughly convinced of the arguments for Cessationism, but have not experienced the gifts practiced biblically in or around their lives). My assumption (and it is just that) is that most Continuationists would put this in the closed hand. It is the whole experience vs. argument debate. However, I am coming closer to accepting that Continuationists have both experience and argument.

  3. […] Over at another post, as Warren and I debate among the comments, I have introduced the experience vs. argument debate. […]

  4. Warren said

    In the last paragraph of that last comment, “closed hand position” vs. “open hand position” is equated with “no fellowship with opposers” vs “fellowship with opposers.” It is useful and necessary to categorize one’s beliefs this way. (Though a closed hand is a such a misleading illustration that it’s hard to believe that Driscoll didn’t have both meanings in mind – I’ll give you and Driscoll, both, the benefit of the doubt anyway).

    In the first paragraph, I see that you are saying Driscoll meant much the same (only to use “support” rather than “fellowship”). This is equally as valid (but also distinct – there are those with whom one might fellowship but not support).

    To be able to distinguish between all three is important. Most do not.

    But even with this clarification, you list “Trinity” in your closed hand. Would you, then, not fellowship with a non-trinitarian?

  5. Nathan said

    I would fellowship with an athiest, an agnostic, or a non-trinitarian. Heck, I would even fellowship with Warren. I don’t think that I could as a church leader encourage “Christian” fellowship with non-trinitarians. I would not fellowship in the biblical sense (see Acts 2:42) with someone with which I disagree on such a foundational truth. Anyone who denies the deity of Jesus, or the existence of the Holy Spirit is bound to have a hosts of other theological derivatives with which I would likely find further disagreement. I would be their friend, I would have them to my house for dinner, but I would hope to challenge them with truth. I would pray with them and for them (but either they will not pray in the power of the Holy Spirit or in the name of Jesus); but I cannot say we would enjoy Christian fellowship.

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