This is a guest post by Jesse Wisnewski, blogger at Reformed and Reforming and MDiv student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Back in February of this year I wrote a piece on why the apparent “absence” or “disparity” of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (i.e. revelatory and miraculous) is not a valid reason to contend for their absence today. Today I’m not going to rehash what I already said, but rather I’m going point to another reason why this position is invalid.
While reading through Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland’s Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult, I discovered that this particular historical argument for the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit is considered an argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantium), which is an informal fallacy of reasoning.
What is an Argument from Ignorance?
As defined by the authors, an argument from ignorance is:
This fallacy involves citing the absence of evidence for a proposition as evidence against it. But of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (pg. 20).
In other words, just because we don’t know something doesn’t mean there isn’t anything.
For instance, if I were to learn something new today that happened in world history, this doesn’t mean that this fact wasn’t true until I learned it. It has always been true, I just didn’t know that it was until I first read about it.
How Does this Disprove the Cessationist Postion on History?
Even though many cessationists point to the supposed lack of historical evidence for disproving the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today, the supposed lack of evidence is not evidence of their absence.
To claim that the supposed lack of historical evidence supports cessationism fails on two fronts:
First, it goes against history since there is a plethora of historical records (also see The Charismata in Church History).
Second, it goes against reason to say that the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.
Although miraculous activity may have surrounded certain times in Biblical history (Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the Apostles) this doesn’t mean that the Spirit of God was not working at any other time in between or after those clustered periods.
In the End
When I first became exposed to the [reformed] Doctrines of Grace, I tried to force myself to believe in the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit. It wasn’t because I thought it was Biblical, I had some bad experiences and didn’t like what I was seeing around town, on T.V., and hearing on the radio.
After considering the typical reasons given in support of the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit, I just couldn’t go there. The case for the apparent “absence” or “disparity” in the quality of the gifts of the Spirit in history and today is one of them.
I believe that this position fails to take into account the relationship of the sovereignty of God in relationship to the gifts, the historical evidence for their continuation, and the logical fallacy of pointing to the absence of evidence for the evidence of absence.
This is another reason why I am open to the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit today.