Warning: the following is subjective, anecdotal, experiential. If you are allergic to such things, please don’t read.
I attended seminary in an earlier century, and amid now-forgotten forms and paradigms lost, a few unforgettable moments stand out. A contrastive pair of these played a supporting role in my journey from cessationism to continuationism.
It is a tale of two professors: Prof A and Prof Z. The former is designated A because he was my favorite professor, and because of a singularly epiphanic moment associated with him. Professor Z, on the other hand, remains memorable due to a crass comment of his that shocked even me, afficionado of twisted and dark humor that I am.
He was making reference to a past theologian who, I admit, showed little sign of being regenerate. Now this theologian had died a half century earlier, but I don’t think Prof Z needed to say, when mentioning his name: “…who has been in hell for 50 years now…”
True enough perhaps, but a bit beyond the pale for jocularity.
The other moment, with Professor A, was during a lecture in a historical survey course. He was discoursing on some very brutal practices inflicted by one ancient conquering empire on their unfortunate victims. A few hands went up. One student in asking a question, happened to make a wry comment about the situation–graveyard humor, perhaps. These happened, after all, very long ago and far away.
I have to admit, I was not particularly shocked this time. Perhaps I even laughed. But Prof A didn’t laugh. In fact it seemed as if someone had punched him in the gut, so viscerally did he react to the remark. I am certain he had no wish to embarrass the student; he simply was unable to proceed for several minutes.
A light went on: these were real people for him, not just figures from history, academic subjects. Why weren’t they for me? That realization lingered with me, worked me over.
I was a cessationist then. Prof A was on his way to leaving cessationism, though I didn’t quite pick up on passing statements he would make in that regard. It wan’t until five years after graduation that I found myself, too, moving toward continuationism.
In the intervening years, Prof A had left the seminary over the issue of his embracing continuationism. So too had yet another professor I’ll call B, my second favorite teacher. Both were and are brilliant men. They didn’t go “that way” due to lack of intellect.
During the same time, Prof Z became one of the most outspoken critics on the faculty of the “Signs and Wonders” movement, and continuationism in general. (He also eventually left the school, over a different issue.) I read the articles he had written in both journals and popular periodicals, looking for reasons to hold fast.
Now, I am most certainly not making any kind of general observation about the character of cessationists vs. continuationists. But as I was wrestling with accepting the various rational and exegetical arguments involved, I could not help recalling those two moments and asking myself whom I most wanted to emulate.
There was a second epiphany from Professor A. You really cannot understand it, if you do not appreciate the effect academic study of the Bible can have over time, if one is not careful. Voluminous reading, vocabulary memorization, theological terminology, paper upon paper. One day, in the middle of it all, he asked us students, “Don’t you ever take the time–just to be with Jesus?”
As a matter of fact, no, I didn’t, not any more. Martha-like, I and probably the majority of my classmates were far to busy for any sitting at His feet.
That was a shame, quite literally.
So then, along with the evaporation of all the Biblical and logical reasons for holding to cessationism, there was the dawning awareness of His beauty and His sweetness. It is by His desire, and His plan, that we are to enjoy an ongoing abiding relationship, communion that is far more, but not less than, communication.