Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Saturday, March 14, 2009

    "Old" vs "New" Calvinism: An Open Letter to Mark Driscoll on Cessationism vs Continuationism

    Pastor Mark, I must first profess the high esteem that I have for you, your teaching and your mission. I frequently utilize your videos and books in my classes/courses and feel you are the right man "for such a time as this". A light in the darkness. I praise God for you, your family and your ministry. Christ is honored and God glorified through you and Mars Hill.

    I have read some of your responses to the recent Time article, particularly how you draw distinctions between the "old" and "new" Calvinism. I tend to agree with the high level summaries you utilized, however I do have some "heartburn" with how you characterized the "new" Calvinist as seemingly 100% continuationist. From the exposure I have had to your theological positions, I believe that you are probably at least partially cessationistic. The reason I believe this is because I, until very recently, would have also characterized myself as a continuationist until I was exposed to a couple of paradigms that made me re-think my alignment to this position. I'd like to present these paradigms, challenge you to consider the implications and present a framework that I pray may be helpful.

    First, my understanding of the initiation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit was the occurance in the 1st century we Christians refer to as Pentecost. This historic event was captured in Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit by the physician and Christian historian Luke in his 2nd letter to Theophilus that has been named the Acts of the Apostles - commonly called Acts.

    This event was specifically prophesied by Jesus several times in Scripture, but particularly relevant to the subject at hand in Acts and John:

    Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

    John 14 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you

    26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

    I took careful note of the last part I bolded in John 14:26 as I studied this subject. It was a particularly important statement as I was considering the 2 doctrinal positions, particularly in light of the framework of cessationism and continuationism presented in this article by Phil Johnson over at Pyromaniacs:

    1 - If you believe any of the miraculous spiritual gifts were operative in the apostolic era only, and that some or all of those gifts gradually ceased before the end of the first century, you are a cessationist.

    2 - If you believe all the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament have continued unabated, unchanged, and unaltered since the initial outpouring of tongues at Pentecost, you are a continuationist.

    Now, I am fairly certain that you would agree that at least one activity associated with the initial gifting of the Holy Spirit has ceased - that is - the ability to prophesy Scripture. I also think you'll agree that this gift was only valid during the formation of the New Testament canon, otherwise, the Lord is still delivering Scripture through the Holy Spirit to His people today and the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura is rendered invalid.

    Another continuationism vs cessationism distinction that I was introduced to was also enlightening:

    As it has been traditionally presented, consistent continuationists believe that the extraordinary gifts should be sought after as an ordinary part of the Christian faith. Whereas the cessationist has no issue with extraordinary occurrences for extraordinary circumstances, the expectation is that the normative exercise of the spiritual gifts will fall in line with the less extraordinary (but not less wonderful!) edification gifts, at least until the final hours of the eschaton.

    That is, cessationism does not assert that the Holy Spirit has ceased working how and as He desires. Cessationism does, however acknowledge that God does ordain and move in different ways in different times during history and that the end of the Apostolic age heralded the end of the normative and validating acts of extraordinary signs and wonders.

    The distinction is very fine, but the more I thought, studied and prayed about it and the more the Lord led godly wisdom and words my way, the more I have become convinced of the cessationist position. This does not make me uncomfortable in the presence of the Holy Spirit nor am I proposing setting limits on the power of the Holy Spirit. It does help me contextualize the words of the Apostle Paul:

    1 Timothy 2

    1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior

    Pastor Mark, it is my prayer that this brief letter would give you some food for thought and act as some small aid in your deliberations on this subject.

    Richest blessings in Christ,

    JD Longmire

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