Roughly three months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the portrayal of cessationism by Ernest Goodman in his article, “The Spirit Incognito.” Goodman has written a three-part response to my article, which can be found at “Missions Misunderstood.” This is my response to Part 1. Before I begin, though, I would like to thank Goodman for engaging in this discussion. Willingness to talk about these things in a thoughtful and mature way is a rare quality these days. My hope is that he and I and all of our readers will be edified through the process, even if no one’s opinion is altered.
The first thing Goodman and I disagree on is the definition of the sufficiency of Scripture. Goodman writes, “I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind.” This statement is true. The Bible does give us the complete revelation of God for mankind. However, the Bible gives us more than information about who God is. The Bible also tells us what God wants from us. Therefore, I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith AND practice. A more historical definition would be something like, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are the all-sufficient and only rule of faith and practice.” This is a more precise definition than what Goodman uses. The Scriptures are all-sufficient for every matter pertaining to salvation and obedient, godly living. The Bible does not only tell us who God is, it tells us how we have to live. In other words, it tells us how to be obedient. It tells us what we must actually do, and it tells us everything that we must actually do. This is the historical understanding of Sola Scriptura.
Goodman argues that the Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures to us. I agree. The Holy Spirit most certainly engages in the ministry of illumination. The act of reading words written in the Bible is not all that must be done. We must realize “the reality and relevance of those activities of the triune God to which Scripture testifies. The work of the Spirit in imparting this [realization] is called ‘illumination,’ or enlightening. It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read, and as explained by teachers and writers” (Packer). Illumination takes place when I read in the Bible that I must love my wife as Christ loved the church AND when the Holy Spirit gives me the capacity to understand this command and to then actually do what the Bible tells me to do. The Holy Spirit has enabled me to obey what the Bible says, but he has not actually told me anything. If the Holy Spirit were to tell me to love my wife by doing the dishes after dinner, this would be extra-biblical revelation, and it would mean that the Scriptures are not all-sufficient for all matters of practice.
Goodman says that revelation is exclusively about God and that illumination is exclusively about us. If this were true, then Simeon did not receive revelation when the Holy Spirit told him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah (Luke 2:25–26). What he received was illumination, but what was the Holy Spirit illuminating? The Holy Spirit provided new information to Simeon about what he would experience in his life. He was not illuminating something for Simeon. He was providing information to Simeon, and this providing of information is the very definition of revelation.
Goodman says that “the Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation.” If this is what Goodman really believes, then it is safe to assume that the Spirit has never said anything to Goodman that is not written down in the Bible. For instance, the Spirit never told him to move to Western Europe as a missionary and has never told him to speak with a particular person. The Spirit has never told him where to live or where to work or on what he should spend his money. The Spirit has never told him that he should pray a specific thing for a specific person. The Spirit has never told him that he should teach from a particular passage on a particular Sunday morning. If this were the case, then Goodman and I would be in agreement. However, I have to conclude that Goodman has actually heard the Spirit say these kinds of things to him. I conclude this because Goodman asks “how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India” if the Spirit is silent today? The clear implication is that the Spirit tells specific people to specifically move to Northern India. Since the Bible does not tell specific people to move to a specific place in India, it is necessarily extra-biblical revelation when the Spirit tells a specific person to move to a specific place in India.
There is an answer to Goodman’s question. Matthew 28:19 says that the Church is to make disciples of all nations. Since Northern India is part of “all nations,” it is a perfectly acceptable and obedient act for a minister of God’s Church to move to Northern India and make disciples. There is no further information required other than what is already written.
Goodman argues that without the Holy Spirit actively telling people where to go and what to do, the Church is left with an anthropological approach to missions. He says the problem, though, is that “this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.” It may be true that the apostles were not anthropologists, but surely they took a logical approach to missions. I wonder if Goodman could tell me why Philip went to Samaria in Acts 8:5, why the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria in Acts 8:14, why Saul (soon to be Paul) came to Jerusalem after leaving Damascus in Acts 9, why Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Acts 14:13, why Paul returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch in Acts 14:21, why Paul left Athens and went to Corinth in Acts 18:1, or why Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years reasoning in the school of Tyrannus in Acts 19:9? There are probably hundreds of biblical examples of people using logic in order to decide where to go and what to do. A logical approach to not only missions but all of life is clearly demonstrated in Scripture.
Lastly, Goodman says that he “can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that [we have] adopted, one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the Lord’s leadership,” that has caused us to approach missions the way we do, the way that relies solely on the information that is written in the Bible. I have to reject Goodman’s claim. It is not Modernism that causes us to rely solely on the information recorded in the Bible. Rather, it is our belief that Scripture is all-sufficient for all matters of life and godliness that causes us to rely solely on the information recorded in the Bible. Indeed, this is how Jesus exercises his leadership over us. If obeying what is written in the Bible is not a demonstration of submission to the leadership of Christ, then what exactly does Goodman believe God’s people must do in order to demonstrate submission to the leadership of Christ?
Stay tuned for my response to Part 2. If there is anything I have missed that Goodman or any of our readers think I need to address, let me know. I will do my best to address it either in the comment section or in the next article.