He may not be confused about everything, but Ernest Goodman is certainly confused about the Reformed doctrine of cessationism and the role of the Holy Spirit in missions. In his article “The Spirit Incommunicado,” Goodman argues that Reformed missionaries take some “theological leaps” in order to arrive at their view of the sufficiency of Scripture. He then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit orchestrates mission efforts by secretly and mystically communicating to individual missionaries.
Let’s first deal with Goodman’s confusion over the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Regarding missions, he says, “We should do what ‘seems good’ while listening for His guidance and watching for the circumstances of His providence. This isn’t looking for ‘extra-biblical’ revelation, it’s relying on the Spirit of Jesus for the interpretation and application of His Word.” Mr. Goodman claims that looking for the revelation of God’s secret will by experiencing mystical guidance and interpreting circumstances is not extra-biblical revelation. Anyone who makes such a contradictory statement is clearly confused. Revelation that comes outside of the pages of the Bible is the very definition of extra-biblical revelation.
Furthermore, Goodman does not seem to understand that the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is not a rejection of the ministry of the apostles. He claims that Reformed missionaries reject the precedent set by the early church in order to arrive at their view of the way the Holy Spirit guides missions today. This, however, is simply false. Their view of the way the Holy Spirit guides missions today is based upon the belief that God has revealed everything he wants to reveal. The Holy Spirit spoke to prophets in times past because God had not finished speaking. Today, though, God has communicated within the Bible everything he wants to communicate; and everything he has communicated is sufficient for all matters of life and godliness, including missions.
With Goodman’s insistence on seeking the revelation of God’s secret will outside of the Bible, he rejects the sufficiency of Scripture in practice. If he believed the Scripture to be sufficient, there would be no need for him to seek God’s secret will outside of the Bible. The rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture is a serious thing. However, my guess is that his rejection of this historical doctrine is a direct result of his confusion. If he actually thought through his position, he may return to the orthodox view of the Bible.
In the meantime, we still have to deal with Goodman’s strategy for allowing the Holy Spirit to orchestrate the mission of the Church. He describes four areas of missions in which the Holy Spirit should be mystically revealing God’s secret will.
Sending: He says that “the church must only send those who have been called and that his calling is made by the Spirit and affirmed by the local church.” What he fails to say is HOW this calling is made. Maybe he means that anyone who feels like he should be a missionary has received a calling by the Holy Spirit. If so, how do we then differentiate between those with a genuine calling and those who have heartburn? That’s where the local church plays its role. Goodman even says so himself. However, he immediately contradicts himself by saying, “Even if someone meets all the criteria for service, we cannot assume it is good to send him out.” Let me get this strait. The calling is secretly and mystically received by an individual, and then the calling is affirmed by the local church. However, the local church does not send the person based upon whether or not he meets all the criteria. Exactly what, then, is the role of the local church? Goodman does not say. What is clear is that Goodman believes the local church should send missionaries based upon something other than what is written in the pages of the Bible.
If a person meets all the criteria and wants to go, the local church should send him. It’s that simple. We don’t need mystic revelation to reach these wise and good conclusions.
Strategy: Goodman says that “statistics and ethnography are good tools for us as we organize our resources, but ultimately we must do what the Spirit leads us to do . . . even if [he] leads us to minister among a ‘reached’ people.” Scripture very clearly tells us that the mission of the Church is to teach all the nations to obey what Christ has commanded. Using statistics and ethnography to figure out where those nations are located is wise and good. Why do we need the Holy Spirit to secretly tell us to minister among a certain people when God has already told us to minister among all people? This is an especially important question when one feels that God is telling him to make disciples among a people who have already been made disciples.
Evangelism: Goodman argues that the evangelist is supposed to say different things to different people and that the only way he can know what to say to specific people is for the Holy Spirit to mystically and secretly tell him what to say to specific people. However, orthodox Christianity teaches that the evangelist is to proclaim the gospel. He is to proclaim the gospel to man, woman, Jew, Greek, slave, and freeman alike. The Bible very clearly reveals what the gospel is, so there is no reason for the evangelist to seek extra-biblical guidance as to what to say to any specific person.
Church Planting: Goodman says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain. As we make disciples, churches are formed. But what those churches should look like, what they should redeem and what they should reject, must be done according to scripture as illuminated by the Spirit. Otherwise, we get contextually inappropriate expressions of church.” I completely agree with this. The problem, though, is that Goodman disagrees with himself. All along, he has been arguing that we have to receive special and specific revelation from the Holy Spirit. Now, he has changed his tune and says that we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. Like I said, he is confused.
He ends his article with a statement that reveals the depth of his confusion. He asks, “Does God have a ‘specific will’ for us as believers?” According to the article, God most certainly has a specific will for us as believers. At the very least, God has a specific will regarding who receives the call to missions and how the local church affirms that calling. God has a specific will for where the missionary is supposed to conduct his ministry. God has a specific will regarding the specific words the evangelist is supposed to use when talking with specific people. Throughout the article, Goodman answers the question of whether or not God has a secret will for believers with a resounding “yes.” Yet, in the end, he specifically answers this question by saying, “I don’t know.” If he really does not know, then why did he write the article? Mr. Goodman is obviously confused.