Monday, November 25, 2013

J. P. Moreland on the Abandonment of Cessationism

Cessationism is the idea that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, healing, miracles, and tongues (see 1 Cor. 12:8-10; 13:8-10), ceased with the death of the apostles and, thus, are no longer available today.  Fewer and fewer Christian scholars hold to cessationism, and it may fairly be called an increasingly marginalized viewpoint.  This shift in scholarly opinion has been partly responsible for the renewal of miraculous ministry in the Western church (non-Western Christians are almost never cessationist in orientation).

If you are a cessationist, please do not misunderstand my point.  I was trained in a cessationist seminary and have great respect and love for my cessationist friends.  Cessationists have tirelessly and faithfully called the church back to the Bible as the final authority for ministry and practice.  The church owes their cessationist brothers and sisters an incredible debt for this, even if not for their cessationist conclusions.

Moreover, the simple fact that cessationism is an increasingly minority position does not prove it is wrong.  However, this observation is of limited value.  If a viewpoint is an increasingly minority position among learned folk and yet one continues to accept that viewpoint, one needs to be able to explain why it is losing favor in such a way that one can continue to accept the position with intellectual integrity.  For example, if one can show that for historical, sociological, or spiritual reasons, people have a vested interest in retaining a majority viewpoint even though it is false and perhaps, less rational than the marginalized position, this this carries weight.

Precisely this strategy is what critics of evolution use in arguing that, while in the minority, Intelligent Design and various creationist theories are better justified than evolutionary alternatives.  But this strategy is a hard sell regarding the waning of cessationism.  Indeed, a growing number of noncessationists have come from the cessationist camps, and they have a solid understanding of the case for cessationism.  Moreover, it is hard to find sociological, historical, or spiritual reasons that adequately explain the growing and widespread acceptance of noncessationism among Evangelical scholars and pastors.

Because of this, I urge my cessationism brothers and sisters to reconsider their viewpoint.  At the very least, the direction of Evangelical thought on these matters should cause cessationists to lower the degree of strength they take themselves to have regarding the truth of their position.  In other words, even if one continues to assert cessationism, one should be far less confident that it is true than was possible, say, forty years ago.  This means that the harshness and rigidity that sometimes characterized cessationist advocates should be tempered, not merely because all of us need to dialog about our differences in a gracious manner, but because it may well be intellectually irresponsible to embody that sort of certainty with respect to cessationism that sometimes fuels such harshness and rigidity.  [Bold added]
--J. P. Moreland, The Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007), pp. 175-176