Dear Pastor Mark;
About two years ago I sort of swore off blogging about you for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is my interest. I don't really have a lot of interest in your ministry, if I can say that without up-ending the space-time continuum. On the one hand you're close with guys I respect and admire like Darrin Patrick and Matt Chandler, but on the other side you are really nothing like them as far as I can sort out. You are, unfortunately for both of us, a lot more like me and what I would be like if I were a pastor, and I don't need another example of me. I'm fighting off the example of me every day from 4 AM to 10 PM (sometimes later when I'm overcaffinated).
Now, that said, I had an extra-long open letter to James White and I broke it up into 3 weeks, mostly because I was making 3 distinct points to him and to our mutual readership. This open letter is actually longer than all the letters to James combined, and it's filled with audio and video, but it is on one issue about which, as you have made clear in your video, someone like me will probably never agree with you. So I've settled on one letter only of excessive length, mostly to avoid dragging the matter out over weeks and weeks of your admirers and my, um, gadflies throwing rocks at each other.
Let's me start with something I think you and I can find equally humorous and appalling:
I mean: Boogity Boogity Boogity AMEN. As a disclaimer, I admit I'm using the songified version of this event, but I think it's actually more true to the original than the original footage was. On the one hand, there was never a more "God-is-sovereign" prayer ever, displaying and exhorting God's rule over all things, including the secondary causes of man's handiwork. On the other, when one is citing such diverse sources as Ricky Bobby and Darrell Waltrip and leaving out, I dunno, Luke and Paul and the actual work of Christ, I find myself sort of dizzied by the real, concrete act of materialism, postmodernism, rationalism, and ungodly disrespect this turns out to be. When my 9-year-old who loves the local Jack radio station can hear it and say, "Daddy, that's not funny -- that's ugly," on the first pass, it's pretty hard to justify it coming from a middle-aged pastor.
I start there because it's funny enough to break the ice, and to show that your side and my side are not really that far apart on the question of materialism and pomo individualism and rationalism. It's a fine example of how post-modernism has crept into all manner of places which are not traditionally thought of as bastions of liberal orthodoxy. You and I could probably talk for an hour each about why that video doesn't cut it, and not contradict each other once. I might even throw you a boogity-boogity Amen for effect.
But unfortunately, you recently presented this video at TheResurgence.com:
And while I have to say that you had me pretty much "amen-ing" for the first 27 minutes, I spent the next 27 minutes wondering if you had completely lost your mind. The audio of that portion of your talk is captured here for those who don't have a whole hour:
the podcast-inclined can download that audio clip at this link
The transcript can be found right here in PDF form
We here at TeamPyro are well known for not pulling any punches when it comes to daGifts. I even was pleased to discover that my most-favorite [self-authored] PDF on this subject is linked by our friends at Monergism.com. So let me suggest to you that, if there is anyone at the popular level who is more serious and more well-documented on an on-going basis as to what actual Cessationists believe, I'd like to meet him. Maybe he's the one you were talking about when you said this:
Now some of you will have resistance to this and let me tell you why, this will be very controversial, it may be because you are worldly. Cessationism is worldliness. Let me explain it to you, you've got Renee Descartes "Cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I am. In an effort to defend Christianity from some of its critics, he begins with his epistemological presupposition: "Where will I start? I think therefore I am". So the two founding, if you look at this like a Jenga game, the first two pieces that get laid down in something called the modernistic enlightenment project, individualism and rationalism. "I think", that's in "I'm an individual and my mind, my brain, the three pounds of me between my ears", that is the essence of what it means to posses the "Imago dei", to bear the image and likeness of God. Out of that what invariably comes is the modern enlightenment project, based upon individualism and rationalism. Now, out of this comes as well skepticism, after a while you start reading in the Bible, "Jesus walked on water?". You start becoming skeptical of supernatural claims. So it's like William Barclay come[sic] along " well maybe he's walking along the shore of the water and it look like he was walking on the water", we're trying to find ways to explain away what the Bible says plainly. Because it doesn't fit cleanly within a modernistic, rationalistic uh paradigm of thinking. So in that way Christians start thinking more like Hume than C.S. Lewis. Alright?
Hume is really the modern rationalistic thinker who set in motion opposition to the supernatural, to the miraculous. So it starts with rationalism, individualism as part of modernism, this leads to skepticism, right?. If there is a God, then God created the world, and to use the language of Al Pacino in the devil's advocate, he's now an absentee landlord, and that he's left us here and he's governing life as we know it by a set of laws; but he's so sovereign that he's gone, he's not transcendent and imminent, just gone. What happens then is the assumption is made that none of these natural laws can be violated, therefore the supernatural is impossible if not unlikely.
This plays itself out in three ways: Number one, there's atheism. There is no God, there is no supernatural, there is nothing beyond the physical material world that can be objectively tested and retested according to scientific methodology. There is a vestige of modernism that tries to accommodate the spiritual aspect and it becomes deism. Where there is a God but this "god" is not involved in our world, he doesn't break in and violate natural law; the supernatural is not possible. This is Thomas Jefferson who sits down on the white house with a set of scissors and cuts all of the miracles out of the bible and publishes something called The Philosophy of Jesus Christ. This includes Unitarians, this includes very liberal mainline so called Christian denominations who are basically deists. There is a god, he is far away, doesn't have anything to do with us and the miracles can all be explained away, they are primitive, superstition, myths, misunderstandings. So it goes to Atheism, Deism and this will be controversial, Cessationism.
Now you know why I haven't said this publicly, I'm not sure I have a helmet big enough to deal with it, I'm gonna get battered a lot. But I believe that a result of modernistic worldliness in Christian form is hard cessationism. And that is saying: God could do a miracle but He doesn't and He won''t, but He could. So within that God's not really speaking, God's not really working and the supernatural gifts are not in operation; Healing, revelation, speaking in tongues, those kinds of things they are over in the God-used-to box. Even though I was reading this book that said he was the same yesterday, today and forever.
And so their argument even comes down to 1st Corinthians 13 which gets turned into origami, right? When the perfect comes the imperfect disappears, we'll see him face to face, the perfect is Jesus. The perfect is Jesus. But then what happens is, to defend this sort of modernistic rationalistic, cessationistic position, we throw up the craziest cooks in the charismatic camp and say well you don't want that do ya? uh no, no we don't. If it's nothing or that it's a real coin flip, cause neither is the real win.
I myself have been uncharacteristically-cagey in naming names when it comes to my campaign against watchbloggers and bad apologists, but it's funny: when I spell it out, people know exactly who I am talking about. The right people take offense. Some of them self-immolate and make my hobby more like reporting than commentary. But in this case -- that is, your case -- I can't think of anyone who believes what you have recounted here, even among the three of us at TeamPyro. None of us, for example, believes "God could do a miracle but He doesn't and He won't, but He could." We all believe in the efficacy of prayer, the gifting of the believer for service, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the work of sanctification, and the acts of God in providence. For the record, we also believe in the local church and its work as a light on a lampstand which is not because it is full of such swell people. We believe in John 13-15, and in 1 Cor 12-14 -- and we can point to the exegesis of guys like John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo as pre-modernists who believe what we believe literally over and against what you say you believe.
But, of course, like the gents who come before you in this debate, conceding that to the cessationist view is out of the question. It is either all or nothing, and to say that there are things which all believers can and will experience because God is the God of the living without saying that prophecy, tongues and specific gifts like apostolic healing and authority is somehow not reckoned as a choice. What sets you apart, of course, is that you say that if the church doesn't have functional Jesus(es) in it, it's just atheism.
So here's the formal response to your video, in the form of affirmations and denials.
I affirm that miracles happen today. No sense in prayer and believing in a sovereign God if he's not going to ever be sovereign, right?
I affirm that God is utterly capable of, and completely willing, to demonstrate "signs and wonders" at any time, in any place, according to his good pleasure and for his great purpose.
I affirm the real presence of the Holy Spirit in the church of Jesus Christ as Jesus said He would be present in John 13-15.
I affirm that the normative working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church begins with conviction of sin and regeneration, and continues through sanctification, and through the outworking of personal gifts (e.g. - Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 13:4-7) for the edification of the (local) church.
I affirm the uniqueness of the office of apostle in the founding of the church.
I affirm that leadership in the church is a task wholly-empowered by the Holy Spirit to men meeting the scriptural qualifications, and that the objectives of this leadership are wholly-defined by the Holy Spirit explicitly through Scripture and implicitly as the gifts of leaders are applied to a real people in a local church.
I deny that there is any man alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.
I deny that this activity is common, normative, necessary, or in the best interest of God's people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT.
I deny that this means that all believers or even all local churches will be equipped with apostles called and equipped as the 12 and Paul were called and equipped. A telling example is the role of apostles in delivering Scripture to the church.
I deny that explicitly-supernatural outworkings, or events the Bible calls "signs and wonders" (e.g. - Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.) are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.
I deny the necessity of apostles for the on-going life of the church.
I deny that church leadership is like business leadership -- that is, a system of techniques that have outcomes measurable by secular metrics of success -- and further deny that merely-competant management processes yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit
All that said, if you are actually writing this book, bone up on the subject a little. Recognize, for example, that there are at least 4 different camps of cessationists and that most of them are really enemies of the same sort of thing I think you are yours are the enemy of: spiritual abuse, immaturity, heterodoxy, and blasphemy toward God and disrespect for church.
If you want to be some kind of cautious continualist: fine. Super. Live it since you heard God call your name. But be at least as cautious to those who disagree with you are you are toward the rank heretics in the Emerg* camp. You're willing to add some nuance to your approach to them, and most of them have come clean as enemies of faith in Christ. The men you oppose here, and call diests and atheists, are not enemies of Christ. You'd be best served to think and speak a little more carefully about this if your real concern is the church of Jesus Christ.
My thanks for your time to read 10 pages single-spaced, and to give an ear to a member of the PajamaHadijn. I hope this letter finds you well, and in God's good graces.