The following is an article written by Ernest Goodman that was originally published on Missions, Misunderstood. We have republished the article here in order to foster discussion regarding cessationism and missiology.
I recently mentioned a blogger who has called me “confused” about cessationism and missiology. Jason Bolt, elder at Truth Reformed Bible Church in Golden, Colorado, is the author of that post, and he’s graciously offered to engage with me in a bit of dialog about the matter. Here is the first part of my response:
Goodman argues that Reformed missionaries take some “theological leaps” in order to arrive at their view of the sufficiency of Scripture.
I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind. I also believe, however, that God does not leave us to our own devices in the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the scriptures to us.
He then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit orchestrates mission efforts by secretly and mystically communicating to individual missionaries.
Of course, I didn’t actually write “secretly” or “mystically,” that’s Pastor Bolt’s commentary on my position. God’s will is plain for all to read (where the scripture is available to them). It’s the understanding and application of that will that requires the intervention of the Spirit. As I mentioned in my post, this doesn’t happen “secretly,” but in the context of the local church. The church is the context for interpreting God’s Word and discerning how to respond in obedience.
Revelation is information about God. Illumination is about us; God shows us how to respond to His truth. It is why we pray for wisdom (which is also not ”extra-biblical revelation”). Pastor Bolt may find this to be “mystical,” but the Bible refers to it as spiritual (Romans 8:2-6).
“No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b-13)
The Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation. He guides us in our understanding of what God has already said. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he heard he will speak.” (John 16:13)
Left to our ourselves, our sinful minds misunderstand and misinterpret the Scriptures. We twist and distort the truth at our convenience and we naturally “exchange the truth about God for a lie.” This is why Paul greets the Ephesian church by praying that ”the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18)
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.
And so we come to the question of mission. If we conclude that the Spirit of God is silent today, how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India? Based solely on a human reading of scripture, how does a church determine where to focus their efforts in mission? How does a church come to prioritize one need over another unless God helps them interpret “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you”? This is why Paul reminds the Roman church that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
The point of my original post was to explore why some of my favorite reformed theologians continue to promote an anthropological view of mission. If they believe that the Spirit does not communicate to His people today, it makes sense that they would approach mission as a list of names to be checked off of a list. The problem is that this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.
Perhaps Pastor Bolt may be able to help me understand. But in the meantime, I can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that they’ve adopted; one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the the Lord’s leadership.