A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 3

Goodman begins Part 3 by saying that he “never intended to delve deeply into a discussion of cessationism.” Yet, Goodman says of cessationists that they make “theological leaps” to arrive at their conclusions and that those conclusions are “a non sequitur.” If he did not intend to delve deeply into a discussion on cessationism, why does he have the right to make these kinds of pronouncements?

Goodman then goes on to quote Spurgeon. It is a great quote, so I will include it in its entirety.

“Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach today a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered today” (Spurgeon).

Goodman asks, “Are the ‘Spirit-led’ words Spurgeon referred to here ‘extra biblical revelation?’” The words to which Spurgeon referred were extra-biblical if the Holy Spirit told him something that is not contained in the Bible. I do not believe that is what Spurgeon means here though. He is referring to the ministry of the Holy Spirit who takes the words of the gospel, which are contained in Scripture, and uses them to pierce the heart of a man. Spurgeon could preach the same sermon on two different days and have two completely different results depending on whether or not the Spirit was using the words preached to pierce the hearts of the listeners. However, that does not mean that the Spirit is providing any new information to anyone.

Goodman then asks, “How can the translation of human speech into soul-piercing conviction to repentance be considered anything other than work of the Holy Spirit (mystical, secret, or otherwise)?” It can’t be considered anything other than the work of the Holy Spirit. Who said that it could be? I certainly never made that claim. I believe that this is one of the main ministries of the Holy Spirit. However, that does not mean that he tells specific missionaries to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people.

Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.

“I’m fascinated with this line of thinking. If, for the cessationist, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in mission amounts to a seance, what else also falls into this category? Should we ask for wisdom, or is that ‘secret knowledge?’”

I never said that anything amounted to séance, though I would be okay with applying that term to numerous mystical practices. Whether or not it should be applied to “seeking the Spirit’s wisdom” depends on what is meant by “seeking the Sprit’s wisdom.” If it means making wise and mature decisions about obeying the commands of Scripture, then I would say that it does not amount to séance. If it means engaging in a religious practice (such as prayer or fasting) and waiting for God to tell a specific person to go to a specific place and to do a specific thing, then I would say that it does amount to séance. We should most certainly ask for wisdom, but such wisdom is not secret knowledge. Secret knowledge is private or special information that the Holy Spirit tells to one person and not to another. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the application of the knowledge that is already contained in the Bible.

“What about conviction? If the Spirit convicts me of spending too much time with my campanology club, is that ‘extra-biblical revelation?’”

Biblical conviction is not extra-biblical revelation because the sin of which the person is convicted is already contained in the Bible. If I steal from my neighbor and the Spirit convicts me, I am convicted that what the Bible says is true. The Spirit most certainly convicts of sin, and the sins of which he convicts are contained in the Bible. The Spirit will never convict anyone of spending too much time at his campanology club because spending any certain amount of time at a campanology club is not a biblical sin. It may be that a man is refusing to work and provide for his family and is instead spending time at his campanology club and that the Spirit may convict him that he needs to leave the campanology club and go get a job to provide for his family, but the sin of which he is convicted is the sin of refusing to work and provide for his family. The Spirit will not convict him of merely spending too much time at his campanology club. If the Spirit were to convict someone of such a “sin,” it would then be extra-biblical revelation because the Spirit would be informing the person that there is a sin that is not listed in the Bible. This is the very definition of extra-biblical revelation.

“Of course we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. But according to whose understanding and interpretation of Scripture?”

I would encourage Goodman to conduct his ministry based upon his or at least his church’s interpretation of Scripture. If a person believes the Bible teaches a particular doctrine, he should live his life according to that particular doctrine. The problem is when this person starts requiring other people to live their lives in accordance with the particular doctrine that he believes the Bible teaches. This is called tyranny. There is a wide array of opinions within Christianity regarding non-essential doctrines, and no one has the right to force his opinion on anyone else. So, each person should live his life in accordance with the way he interprets Scripture, and he should do so with a clear conscience.

Next, Goodman says that he is not sure that God has a “specific will” for our lives. Apparently, Goodman does not think that God telling specific people that he wants them to go to specific places and say specific things to specific people is a “specific will.” If it is not a “specific will” when God reveals to a specific person what he wants or wills that specific person to do, then what is it?

Goodman then asks, “God hasn’t left us alone in His mission; why would we act as though He had?” Again, I have to ask, who is claiming that God has left us alone? I never made this claim. I don’t know anyone who has made this claim. Maybe Goodman is responding to someone else who said something that I don’t know about.

Lastly, Goodman deliberately points out a list of things that he deliberately avoids pointing out. He says, “I’ve deliberately avoided pointing out how few cessationists you’ll find on the international mission field. I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories of those missionaries who were providentially given specific words, led into a particular village, or out of harm’s way.” Now that he has deliberately pointed out all the things that he has deliberately not pointed out, let me respond to these things that he both deliberately points out and deliberately does not point out.

First, it is a well-known fact that the vast majority of modern missionaries are mystics. Of the hundred or so missionaries I know, three of them are not mystics. But so what? Two hundred years ago, the vast majority of missionaries were cessationists. Does this mean that cessationism was right then but is now wrong? Of course not. The number of cessationist missionaries in the world has no impact whatsoever on the validity of the cessationist position.

Second, just because Goodman and lots of other people have some kind of spiritual experience in which the Spirit leads them in mission does not mean that everyone else has to seek the same experience. If the Spirit never guides me the way Goodman and others are guided, what am I supposed to do? Should I just sit in my room and wait for God to tell me to get up and go somewhere? How long should I wait? How do I know that I should be waiting in my room and not in my kitchen or on a mountain or in some other location? Until the Spirit leads me in the way Goodman and others are led, nothing I do would be considered Spirit-led. In this state, is it a sin for me to do anything? If not, is it a sin for me to do some things, such as approach missions using wisdom and logic? If it is a sin to do this, how do I know that it is a sin to do this? If it is not a sin to do this, then why should I not be permitted to do it?

Third, I think it is great that people are taken out of harm’s way or end up in a specific village. Good for them. But what do we make of the people who don’t receive such specific words and who aren’t led in such ways? Are they not qualified for missionary service? Are they less Christian? Or do they simply hold a different but still legitimate opinion regarding the way in which the Holy Spirit ministers to his people? This, to me, is the question of the day. Everything I have written during this process has been in defense of cessationists. I believe they have the right to hold their position and to conduct their ministry accordingly. I do not believe that anyone has to accept Goodman’s doctrine of guidance and his approach to missions. Goodman is free to do what he wants, but so is everyone else.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this process. I hope it has been as beneficial for everyone else as it has been for me. Again, if I have missed anything that anyone thinks I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in another article.

8 thoughts on “A Dialog on Cessationism and Missions: Part 3

  1. E. Goodman

    Why do I “have the right?” Because we are ministers of the gospel. Because in my study of missiology, I have yet to find a cohesive, biblical perspective coming from the reformed side, and we desperately need one. I have the right because I was writing on my blog. (I was going to add something about being led by the Spirit to write the original post, but that somehow seems out of place here.)

    I’m sure these distinctions between receiving wisdom, conviction, calling, and guidance makes perfect sense to you, dear Pastor. But to me, these are all examples of God showing individuals how what He has said in scripture applies to their specific situation. All of them are “mystical” in that they are interactions between a spiritual God and finite humans.

    When I’ve referred to your position as being that “God has left us alone in His mission,” I wasn’t trying to misrepresent you. I was trying to communicate how your argument thus far has come across to me.

    “Goodman deliberately points out a list of things that he deliberately avoids pointing out.”

    Clearly, you’re not a regular reader of my blog, “Missions, Misunderstood.”

    I do not believe that your cessationist perspective is in any way “invalid!” If God has not interacted with you in similar fashion to how He interacted with Peter, Philip, Paul, Barnabas, and the church at Antioch, that’s His choice, not yours. No one is saying that you should have the same experience. No one is saying you’re less a Christian.

    I am saying, however, that He has worked that way in the past (you’ll agree), and that He does work that way today (we differ).

    Why do you feel attacked? Accused? Defensive? Remember, you’re the one who called me “confused.” I wrote a post on my blog saying that:

    “If there really isn’t any further direction from God when it comes to our participation in His global mission, it makes sense that we should hold tightly to a framework that “seems good” to us. It’s understandable that we would extrapolate a goal and then devise a plan to complete the task. But then we’re left to split hairs over Christ’s understanding of “ethne” and what to do about the Unreached People Groups who have already become extinct (without, to our knowledge, ever hearing the gospel).

    But if you believe that the Holy Spirit (who lives in us) is not silent today, we must allow Him to orchestrate our efforts- even when they contradict the strategies we’ve developed out of our interpretation of scripture.”

    Again, I very may well have been confused, but there wasn’t anything “tyrannical” about my post. I wasn’t attacking you or cessationists or anyone, for that matter. I’m trying to explore how God leads His Church on His mission.

    My tongue-in-cheek comment about not mentioning the relatively low number of cessationists on the mission field wasn’t meant to be a cheap shot. My point was that absent some personal illumination of the scripture, few Christians arrive at the conclusion that they should pick up and move to another land to proclaim the gospel.

    Which brings us full-circle to the question of how God leads His Church on His mission. My answer? The Holy Spirit. Yours? The Scripture alone. Can we still be friends?

    Reply
  2. Jason Bolt Post author

    Exactly what aspects of reformed theology have you been studying in which you have yet to find a cohesive, biblical perspective? You do know that all the pioneers of the modern missions movement were reformed, right?

    When you say that you don’t believe the cessationist position is invalid, do you mean that you accept that we just have not yet realized that God is still revealing new information today, or do you mean that you accept that there is a possibility that God is finished talking? There is a huge difference between the two.

    I don’t feel attacked. However, I do believe you have accused me of various things, all of which I have rejected. If you believe I am guilty of the things of which you accuse me, you are welcome to make the accusations, and I am welcome to question them. I don’t feel defensive, but I am defending the cessationist position.

    I wrote that you were confused about the cessationist position, and I still think you are confused about the cessationist position. But that’s okay. I am very confused about your position. We can be confused together. And yes, we can still be friends.

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  3. E. Goodman

    Besides Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad,” I’m not aware of a book on reformed missiology. Piper’s, in my opinion, represents a modernistic anthropological, professionalized, finite view of mission that focuses too much on task and not enough on identity. Perhaps you can recommend a good missiology book?

    Reply
    1. Jason Bolt Post author

      I don’t know what it means to “focus on identity.” Even if I knew what it meant, exactly how much identity should missiologists focus on in relation to “task”?

      If you are interested in reading how Reformed theology is displayed in missions, I would suggest you start with Jonathan Edwards’ “The Life of David Brainerd.” Then, I would suggest you study the lives of Reformed missionaries who specifically cite “The Life of David Brainerd” as an influential factor in their ministry. Three that come to mind are William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Jim Elliot.

      Reply
  4. E. Goodman

    These are great recommendations. I’ve been particularly fond of Judson’s example of the first missionary from America. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a writer. I’ve not read Edwards’ biography of Brainerd, so perhaps I’ll get that one next.

    By “focus on identity,” I mean the understanding of who we (as God’s people) are in the world vs. what we should do. “Salt of the earth,” “light of the world,” “fishers of men,” and “ambassadors” are all examples of who we are to BE in the world. “Preach,” proclaim,” “make disciples,” “care for widows and orphans”– these are all what we’ve been told by Christ to DO.

    When we think of mission strictly in terms of activity, we can sometimes lose sight of our identity (in Christ). This is why people can end up preaching (which is good) hatefully (which is bad) or debating (which is good) without being gentle (which is bad).

    Our reformed brothers have tended to focus on right thinking and right action rather than right motives and right attitudes. This is probably due to a deep distrust of human motives. They also don’t write much about mission (Grudem devotes only one short paragraph in his 1200-page Systematic Theology to mission). Consequently, reformed missiology tends to be underdeveloped and pragmatic, focusing on the doing rather than the being.

    Which brings me to the original post on my blog that began our interaction: if you’re convinced that God does not spiritually provide guidance for the church on mission beyond what is already written in scripture, then it makes sense that you would approach mission from the anthropological perspective of needing to cross names of “unreached people groups” off of a list that we’ve compiled.

    I’d encourage you to read C. Wright’s “The Mission Of God,” or D. Bosch’s “Transforming Mission.” Neither come from the reformed perspective, but they both do a great job of articulating our identification with Christ in his sent-ness. D.A. Carson has preached often about mission, but he is no cessationist. H. Bavinck and H. Hoeksema both did a decent enough job, but even they seemed to be more concerned with Trinitiarian and Covenant theology than building a coherent reformed missiology.

    Reply
  5. Jason Bolt Post author

    I think the reason you don’t find many Reformed theologians building a coherent missiology that includes what you call “identity” is because Reformed theologians see this “identity” as something that is true in all facets of church ministry and existence. The Christian “identity” is the same regardless of the kind of ministry being discussed. Therefore, Reformed theologians see no need to include “identity” as an integral part of missiology. It is assumed that the Christian “identity” that exists in the local church in Colorado also exists in every context in every time in every place. All that is left to discuss is the task. What must we actually do in order to complete the task that has been given to us? That is the question with which Reformed missiologists deal.

    I think of missions strictly in terms of activity, yet I don’t lose my “identity” in Christ. I know who I am, and I am that person regardless of whether or not I am a missionary.

    I don’t know why you think that preaching hatefully is necessarily a bad thing. You do know that God hates some people, right? God hates those who do iniquity (Ps 5:5); so when I preach to wicked men who hate God and refuse to repent, I do so with hatred.

    Why do you think that debating without gentleness is necessarily a bad thing? Was Paul gentle with Peter in Galatians 2?

    What is wrong with focusing on right thinking and right actions instead of right motives and attitudes? If I don’t kill my neighbor because I don’t want to dispose of the body, this is a good thing. The action is good and right even though the motivation is wrong. However, if I kill my neighbor because I want him to be immediately delivered into the pleasures of heaven, this is a bad thing. My motivation is right, but my action is wrong. Actions are far more important than motivations. This is true in all areas of life, including missions.

    Just because Reformed missiology does not focus on the thing that you want to focus on does not mean that it is underdeveloped. You can say that it is not developed the way you want missiology to be developed, but that does not make it inferior.

    Why are you referring to Grudem as the Reformed example in a discussion on cessationism?

    I doubt I will read Wright or Bosch, not because I have anything against them but simply because I am not interested in learning about my identification with Christ in his sent-ness. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds a bit “incarnational” or “missional” to me. There are some missiologists who believe that the missionary’s job is to incarnate into the culture where he ministers in the same way that God incarnated and became a man. Based upon my own experience, I have concluded that this is not possible. God became fully man in Jesus. If I am a missionary in the Middle East, I can never become fully Arab. I cannot incarnate the way that God did. To draw a correlation between the incarnation of God and the role of the missionary is something that I do not do. You, however, are free to do so if you choose.

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  6. E. Goodman

    To which reformed missiologists are you referring?

    Yes, as Christians our identity is in Christ. He was sent by God. So, too, have we been sent by God into the world. This is what I mean by identity: the sort of people God wants us to be.

    There’s nothing particuarly wrong with focusing on right thinking and right actions instead of right motives and attitudes, it just leaves out a lot of Jesus’ teaching about who we should be. Actions may indeed be “more important” than motivations. But the Bible has quite a lot to say about doing the right thing for the right reasons. You may choose to dismiss the importance of motive, but I consider it to be a much-needed area of emphasis.

    Your bragging about being hateful seems very odd to me. You seem like such a nice guy!
    I’m very sorry to hear that you would preach to the wicked with hatred, but maybe all they hear is noise. Preaching hatefully is bad because we’ve been commanded to love (even our enemies). Love is evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit. So is gentleness, and Jesus mentions it specifically in the Sermon on the Mount. Where in Scripture have you been told to hate?

    I referred to Wayne Grudem because he has written a popular systematic theology from the reformed perspective. I was using him as an example of the reformed tendency to overlook theology of mission. Again, I’d love to hear about your missiological influences.

    By not being interested in learning about your identification with Christ in his sent-ness, I believe you’re missing out on exactly what we were saved to be– a missionary people. Many reformed brethren share your disinterest, and that’s why there aren’t many books on reformed missiology. You may have concluded that incarnation isn’t desirable or attainable, but Jesus sent His disciples as the Father had sent Him, so it seems to me that there is some extent to which we should follow Christ’s example.

    And you do, pastor. You teach in English. You interpret the Scripture into culture. You may not like to use the term, “incarnation,” but you are constantly translating and applying the gospel into your own life and that of your church. This is why your “missionary identity” matters; who we are in Christ informs what we do as His sent-ones.

    Reply
    1. Jason Bolt Post author

      I was referring to Reformed theologians in general, not Reformed missiologists in particular.

      You choose to interpret John 20:21 as normative for all Christians at all times in all places. That’s fine. You are free to do so. I, however, do not believe that Jesus sends all Christians into the world in exactly the same way as the Father sent the Son into the world. I interpret John 20:21 as Jesus giving an analogy to some specific people.

      Focusing on right thinking and actions in the context of missions does not “leave out a lot of Jesus’ teaching.” As I said before, that “lot of Jesus’ teaching” to which you refer is covered in theology in general. There is no need to go over it again in missiology. I never said anything about dismissing the importance of motive. Motives are important. What I said was, “Actions are far more important than motivations. This is true in all areas of life, including missions.”

      I was not bragging about anything. I was merely pointing out that hatred is not always a bad thing. If God hates people, why should I not hate those people? Or, maybe you don’t believe that God hates people? Can you not conceive of being able to both love someone (an enemy) and hate him at the same time? God hates most of the world, at least he does a long as we believe Psalm 5:5. Yet, we are told that God loves the world. Therefore, it must be possible to both hate and love at the same time. So, I love my enemies, and I hate those whom God hates.

      You think we were saved to be a missionary people. That’s fine. You are free to have your opinion. I believe we were saved so that God could display his infinitely perfect and glorious character. Because of this difference, we are obviously going to have differing opinions on various issues. It is unavoidable.

      My identity most certainly matters; but as I said before, my identity is the same whether I am a pastor in Colorado or a missionary in the Middle East.

      Your last statement characterizes our inability to communicate effectively with each other. You say, “Who we are in Christ informs what we do as His sent-ones.” I have no idea how a state of being can inform an action. You use language that I simply do not understand. I am sure that you and many other people who live in your world understand exactly what you are trying to communicate, but I don’t live in that world. Maybe it is because of my relatively low I.Q. that I can’t follow your reasoning. Whatever the case, I get the feeling that we are talking past each other. You don’t seem to understand what I am saying, and I usually do not understand what you are saying.

      Reply

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