Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cessationism and Secularism: Comparing the Arguments

Steve Hays over at Triablogue has an interesting post comparing the hard-core cessationist arguments used by John MacArthur and his followers to those of secular atheists.  Here are a few items from his longer post:
Let's spend a little more time on the parallel between MacArthurites and secular debunkers. As I've documented in the past, MacArthurites resort identical arguments. I'll give back-to-back examples at the end of this post. Unfortunately, the MacArthurites are matching the atheists move for move.
Before discussing that, let's back up a step. In my experience, MacArthurites are so transfixed by errors and abuses in the charismatic movement that that fills their view screen. They are oblivious to the danger which they themselves are fostering in their overreaction to the charismatic movement.  
Their attitude reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone episode ("The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street") in which alien invaders successfully deflect attention from the real threat by making neighbors turn on each other in a self-destructive witch hunt. 
Secular debunkers deploy these arguments to discredit miracles in general. MacArthurites ape the same arguments to discredit postapostolic charismatic miracles in particular. The obvious problem is arbitrarily restricting the force of their arguments to all and only postapostolic charismatic miracles. They act as if their arguments, like smart bombs, will only target just those reported miracles which happen to conflict with cessationism, why allowing biblical miracles, and the subset of postapostolic miracles consistent with cessationism, to escape unscathed. 
Unfortunately, MacArthurites are conditioning Christians who've imbibed their brand of cessationism to commit apostasy if they ever encounter atheists who use the very same arguments to discredit biblical miracles. Imagine teenagers who attend Grace Community Church (or students to attend the Master's College or Master's Seminary). Teenagers (or students) who've dutifully mastered the objections to modern charismatic miracles offered by MacArthurites like Fred Butler, Ed Dingess, Lyndon Unger, et al. 
Imagine, when surfing the web, they are suddenly exposed to atheists who use the identical arguments to discredit biblical miracles? Not only have MacArthurites left them defenseless against this line of attack, MacArthurites have predisposed them to lose their faith on contact the moment they encounter direct, parallel arguments against the miracles of Scripture. The proverbial accident waiting to happen. Instant apostates: just add water. 
MacArthurites are giving atheists a huge opening to begin picking off Christians. Of course, that's not their intention. But when they are warned, they angrily denounce the warning. Obviously, MacArthurites aren't equipping Christians on how to field this challenge, for they don't even acknowledge the problem they've nurtured. The MacArthurite is safe so long as he remains in his freeze-dried condition, sealed in a waterproof container.
 Hays give some specific examples that show the mirror-reasoning used.  Here are two he mentions:

Atheists on cancer

Also, he [God] could say, "Folks, I'm going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer," where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.  
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made -- God's love is "not a merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps -- and we realise that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course, ...)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"  

MacArthurites on cancer

All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.  
Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:248:16Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.  
Atheists on biased sources

We have many of Caesar's enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians' own claims had been widely spread around.  

MacArthurites on biased sources

I would even add, verified by unbelievers who knew the person before he or she was healed and now know of the person’s healing. 
Steve Hays has much more to say in his post and a number of other examples.  Be sure to read his post The Monsters on Maple Street for the full text and all the examples.