The Best Continuationist Essay Ever Written by a Cessationist

By Marv

Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has just posted on an article by Vern Poythress he calls “The Best Essay Ever Written on Spiritual Gifts Today.”  I’m rather inclined to agree.  I don’t think I’d express everything exactly as Dr. Poythress does, but given that caveat, I think he is exactly on target.

One commentator referred to Dr. Poythress’ approach as a “middle way” between Cessationism and Continuationism. I don’t think I’d call it a “middle way.”   Dr. Poythress himself, in his title, indicates he considers what he says to be “within Cessationist theology. ”  Shhh, don’t tell the Cessationists, but it sounds to me like what I mean by Continuationism.

The article is fourteen years old, having been published in JETS in 1996.  He calls it: “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology.”

Tweaks I’d make:

1.  Dr. Poythress says that modern spritual gifts are “analogous” to “Apostolic gifts.”  It isn’t completely clear to me from his article, but I’d say not only modern gifts but also ancient non-apostolic spiritual gifts were, in Poythress’ words, analogous to Apostolic gifts.

2.  I’m not quite sure apostles should be said to be exercising “Apostolic gifts” or simply their apostolic ministry.  I mean, Jesus wasn’t exercising “gifts” when He ministered in power.  I think the concept of “gifts” come in when we get to the non-apostolic members of the Body of Christ.

3.  I also would try to find a different word than “inspired” to express what Dr. Poythress means by it.  I prefer to reserve it for the Scriptures, in that the work of the Spirit extended to the writing.  I don’t think “people” or “gifts” ought to be modified by the adjective “inspired.”

4. “Analogous” might be very, very slightly weak for the relationship between the apostles’s ministry and non-apostolic, including modern gifts, but I think I might be inclined to accept it, provided I clarify that ancient non-apostolic gifts and modern gifts are real spirtiualgifts, not just analogs of real gifts.

Note, these tweaks are all terminological.  As far as the substance is concerned, run, do not walk to read his essay.


6 responses to “The Best Continuationist Essay Ever Written by a Cessationist

  1. I will read this article soon, but already wondering if I like the first diagram in the article.

    I also would try to find an different word than “inspired” to express what Dr. Poythress means by it. I prefer to reserve it for the Scriptures, in that the work of the Spirit extended to the writing. I don’t think “people” or “gifts” ought to be modified by the adjective “inspired.”

    The term used from 2 Tim 3:16 is theopneustos of which I like the English translation ‘God-breathed’ much better.

    Is the body of Christ not theopneustos? Maybe that exact word is not used in a verse to describe the body. But if the body looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like one (or at least should look, walk and talk like one)…..then are we not one?

  2. Do read it. I think the diagram makes sense. In many ways it describes just what you say in some of your writing about the church doing what Jesus did because it is His body. Along with this truth it illustrates as well how this is realized with differing levels of–authority?–as one moves from apostles, to local leaders, to non-leaders, though all participate in the works of Jesus.

    As far as inspiration is concerned. I would say the Scriptures are inspired but that not even OT prophecy is “inspired” in this way. In terms of the Scriptures, the writings, the graphe, the work of the Spirit, the guarantee(?) extends all the way to the writing, the marks on the paper, the recorded utterance (the original one). This is (theoretically and to degrees) accessible to the eye and the ear.

    A prophet who spoke had the responsibility to speak with 100% fidelity to the word of God that came to him, but not the guarantee that he would in fact do so. Or that he has.

    The law never said stone the book if it gets it wrong. This is why 2 Pet 1:20 says “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Until it is written down, under inspiration, the utterance is still liable to contamination by the prophet’s own thoughts.

  3. I’d probably think this is too strict for my taste at this point. But I don’t fall nice and neatly into the inerrancy camp, as I’m sure you noticed. 🙂

  4. “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

  5. When I read Dr. Poythress’ article, I thought to myself what you expressed above: this fits better with continuationism than cessationism.

    Grace and Peace,

  6. You might want to know that the revised and expanded edition of Ruthven’s *On the Cessation of the Charismata* is now out from Word & Spirit Press in Tulsa, OK. Several scholars have described it as “the definitive study” or “best work” (Alister MacGrath). Also, out in April, a follow-on work that shows the central theme of scripture is “faith”, that is, “hearing and obeying the voice of God.” The title: *What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology* also from Word & Spirit Press. This work argues that theology should be built upon the *emphasis* of Scripture, rather than a result of selective mining of quotations that appear to support one’s theology–the practice of the Reformation, whose only interest was in answering the question, “How much does it cost to go to heaven?” The Bible interest and emphasis is focused elsewhere.

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