My friend Glenn Lucke has been trying to comment here and for some reason Typepad isn't taking his comments. I suppose he has offended the typepad gods whereas I continue to be their obedient servant. Glenn's suggestion is that someone bring Richard Gaffin's perspective from his book Perspectives on Pentecost into the debate. It has been years since I have read that book so I am not prepared to do so, but if anyone else is familiar with Gaffin's arguments, may I gently encourage you to write a post on his perspective and post it and trackback here.
For now though I do want to point out something that I think bears on the charismatic-cessationist discussion that I haven't seen discussed. That is the doctrine of providence. I don't want to make too broad a statement here because I am far from having read all of the relevant literature, but I don't believe I have seen any cessationists relate their views to the doctrine of providence.
In saying this I'm mainly referring to reformed cessationists and I'm mainly referring to the doctrine of providence in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter V, paragraph 1 says:
God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
We reformed cessationists believe that God has ceased revelation, but He hasn't ceased upholding, directing, disposing and governing all creatures, actions and things. In other words, God is working in a mighty way at all times.
I think this speaks to charismatics and cessationists. To the charismatics it blurs the natural/supernatural distinction. In other words its not as if God is absent from the natural and present in the supernatural. God is present in everything. The fact that I just took a breath is an example of direct, divine activity. In other words, I am as dependent on the power of God to enable me to breathe as Lazarus was for Jesus to raise him from the dead.
This is a good reminder to the charismatics to not be so enamored with the spectacular. God is moving at all times, not just when something big happens. The confession will go on and talk about how God usually works through ordinary means but that He is free to work without, above or against them. What the charismatics call supernatural or a work of the Spirit is usually one of these places where God works without, above, or against the ordinary means. Hence, I like the way some frame this in terms of ordinary and extraordinary providence.
Such an understanding could end any charismatic elitism where charismatics feel that the Holy Spirit is moving more powerfully in them because they see the spectacular stuff. God is working in all believers at all times, even if He is only enabling them to breathe. And besides, the spectacular stuff is vastly overrated as a tool for changing lives if the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is any indication. Let's not forget verse 31:
He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’
But this also speaks to cessationists in that we ought to wrestle with the positive implications of our theology. I am absolutely against people running around saying "God told me this or that," but at the same time I, and those like me, ought to give greater thought to what we mean by the words "uphold, direct, dispose, and govern." Obviously God does this through ordinary means but we ought to be able to give a positive apologetic for what we mean when we say that God is able to work without, above, or against ordinary means.
I once spoke to Dr. Bill Edgar from Westminster Seminary about this and his comment was that charismatics and cessationists agree (or should agree) that God is doing marvelous things in our world, it is just that we differ on how to interpret them.
We cessationists shoot ourselves in the foot when we only talk negatively about the charismatic gifts. This is similar to the way, when the subject of sex comes up, many Christians simply default to warnings against illicit sex and never talk about the beauties of sex. When the subject of charismatic gifts come up many of us automatically default to negativity without giving a corresponding positive explanation of the mighty works of the Holy Spirit today.
And since so much of this debate revolves around the place of subjective impressions in the believers life I think I could find a place for these in the doctrine of providence. At this point, Adrian Warnock is doing the dance for joy because he thinks I have capitulated to the charismatic position. But not so fast Adrian, there are more issues involved than this.
I think Phil Johnson chose some very wise quotes from Spurgeon in this regard. While Spurgeon believed that God can work through impressions he gave very stern warnings not to trust those impressions:
I hope that none of us will ever fall into the snare of following the guidance of impressions made upon us by texts which happen to come prominently before our minds. You have judgements, and you must not lay them aside to be guided by accidental impressions.
Some, I know, fall into a very vicious habit, which habit they excuse themselves—namely, that of ordering their footsteps according to impressions.
So I offer this not as any kind of last word, but maybe it will help push the discussion forward a bit. I'll say more about cessationism later (maybe) but I will say that I am happy to find common ground where I can and I hope this helps in that regard.