05 November 2013

Strange Fire Conference #6: Tom Pennington

by Dan Phillips

Next I'll discuss and give some highlights from the talk given by Tom Pennington, who made a Biblical case for cessationism. Pennington has pastored Countryside Bible Church in Southlake, Texas (4 hours from me; we've never spoken), since 2003. This pastorate began after sixteen years at Grace Community Church, during which time he served variously as managing director of Grace to You, senior associate pastor, and personal assistant to John MacArthur. Academically, Pennington has a B.A. and M.A. from Bob Jones University and took additional Ph.D. classes in New Testament Interpretation. In 2013, he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) from The Master’s College

Pennington noted in starting that all three major branches of Charismaticism shared affirmation of "continuationism" (though I'd argue none of them is truly continuationist — they're more like "continuation-of-some-gifts-once-we've-radically-redefined-them-and-moved-them-safely-out-of-the-arena-of-falsifiability"; but I digress). Their familiar arguments were stated, then briefly countered:
  1. Claim: the NT nowhere dirrectly states that miraculous gifts will case during church age. Response: Equally, it doesn’t say they will all continue.
  2. Claim: A couple of NT passages imply all the gifts will continue until Christ returns (1 Cor. 13:10). Response: But that’s a highly disputed passage, not a sufficient foundation for any position.
  3. Claim: There are no grounds for dividing apostolic and post-apostolic. Response:  But unless a movement can produce legitimate, full-bore apostles-just-like-Peter-and-Paul, they’re de facto cessationists as well.
  4. Claim (most common by far): 500 million professing Christians can’t all be wrong. Response: Oh yes, they really can. Otherwise, don't forget to hold your breath as you swim the Tiber. (That last is mine.)
I just need to riff on that last one for a moment longer. When was truth settled by majority-vote (even if it is a majority)? How'd that work out at Kadesh-Barnea, for that group that didn't find the word of God sufficient?

And what's more, do you notice how that always goes?
Charismatic defender: We're 500 million strong and growing. Your criticism is invalid!
Biblical Christian: A lot of that number deny the Trinity, bark and moo, grab after gold dust, roll around out of control and jerk and jitter like possessed people, preach the false prosperity gospel, and/or wouldn't know a Bible study if it bit them on the tongue.
Charismatic defender: Yeah, well... they're not with us. And you're painting with a broad brush.
Biblical Christian: Then since those people number in the millions, yours must be a really small, virtually insignificant movement.
Charismatic defender: Oh no. We're 500 million strong and growing. 
Biblical Christian: { facepalm }
Then Pennington made the point that's been made since the start, the point that surprises folks like Adrian Warnock every time they hear it, which they do over and over again: no cessationist believes (or ever has believed) that God doesn't do miracles whenever He chooses to. More to the point, every conversion is the greatest of miracles. What it does mean is that the Spirit is no longer sovereignly giving the miraculous gifts listed in Scripture and attested in the NT.

Here I digress again. For my part, I wish we sufficientists would say "revelatory/attesting gifts" rather than "supernatural gifts." A good case could be made that every gift is a supernatural gift. But not every gift imparts inerrant, directly-received revelation (which is the case with at least apostles, prophets and tongues-speakers); and not every gift serves as a supernatural attestation of those who possess such gifts (which is the case at least with the gift of healing). I think that would be a better distinguishing term.

Then Pennington gave seven Biblical arguments for cessationism. You should, of course, listen to his own enunciation of them. This is my interpretive reporting. Your mileage may vary.
  1. By and large, God only did miracles during periods. First was about 65 years (Moses to Joshua), then Elijah and Elishah, 860-795 BC (about 65 years); then Christ and apostles, about 30-100 (once again, about 65-70 years). There were occasional interventions (i.e. during the ministries of Isaiah and Daniel), but only about 200 years total. Moreover, these miracles were given to validate spokesmen for God. Only prophets performed miracles in the OT, because miracles were their credentials. Miracles also attested Jesus; they weren’t for evangelism per se, as Jesus noted explicitly and emphatically in the parable of rich man and Lazarus. See also Acts 14:3 [and many other similar, search “wonders”], and Heb 2:1-4.
  2. The gift of apostleship had a terminus ad quem. We see in 1 Cor. 12:28. and Eph. 4:7ff. that every office was a gift, though not vice-versa. The very qualifications of apostle make clear that this can’t be a continuing office. That gift ceased without a clear NT statement that it would cease. This is precedent-setting. (See also Waldron's development of this argument.)
  3. The gifts of apostles and prophets were foundational (Eph. 2:20). A building has only one foundation.
  4. Nature of the miraculous gifts. If modern phenomena were legitimate, they’d be the same as the NT gifts. Manifestly modern tongues and prophecy are so clearly not the same as NT gifts that the best case that can be made is the now-debunked "analogy" argument, which is an explicit confession of non-identity. If they're not the same (and they aren't), we're done here. As I've said to everyone who asks for a single "kill-verse" to counter Charismaticism: every Biblical description of genuine revelatory/attesting gifts is a "kill-verse" for modern imitations.
  5. Church history. In my opinion, it is better to say “Continuationists' 1900-year failure to deliver on anything vaguely resembling 'continuation.'"
  6. Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He was moving pretty quickly here, understandably. I have made the argument (in print and in preaching) that, if Scripture is what it says it is, it's awfully hard to understand what supplements are needed today. "Fully equipped" is "fully equipped," no?
  7. NT rules laid down for miraculous gifts. Pennington notes that most Charismatics ignore these rules. As a preacher I heard ~30 years ago noted, when 500 people in a church meeting are speaking in tongues, at least 497 of them are out of God's will.
Pennington pled with cessationists: don't overreact to Charismatic error and downplay the role of the Holy Spirit (Biblically defined!) in our lives. Hold to your well-grounded confidence in sufficiency of Scripture. Know what you believe, and why. Reject all forms of extra revelation, including subjective revelation and mysticism. Respond differently to different people. To false teachers, warn in the language of 2 Peter and Jude. Confront prosperity-gospel folks with the Biblical gospel.

Finally (in my notes anyway): Don’t refuse to come to a convinced position due to desire for peace. 


First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post
Fifth post

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

There are no grounds for dividing apostolic and post-apostolic.

A passage I would love to see addressed on this subject is Acts 8. In this passage, Philip (the deacon) goes to Samaria. (v5) He has revelatory/attesting gifts, for many are healed. (vv 6-7) They believed, which we know is the work of the Spirit among them. (v 12) Or at least we must assume that many believed, even though Simon was a false believer. (v13) The only other option is to imagine this is all a false revival, in which case, how does it even fit into the narrative of Acts?

So, we have many believing, which indicates the work of the Spirit in their midst. Only the Apostles send Peter and John to pray that they might receive the Spirit, which they had not yet received. But when Peter and John pray, they do receive the Spirit. (vv14-17) Now, that is fascinating, because they already believed. What does this reception mean? Well, it is something visible, because the false convert Simon could see it happening. (v 18) Hmmm.

Here is where the continuationist will often say, “See, you need a second work of the Holy Spirit to have these gifts.” Did “receiving the Spirit” mean something else in this passage than the power of the Spirit unto salvation? Possibly, only if it does, one other detail must be noted:

Philip, full of the Spirit and performing miracles, could not grant the power to anyone else. That required an apostolic presence. Note that this is the very reason the Apostles had to send someone to Samaria. (v 14-16) It is also the power which Simon attempts to purchase, not merely the ability to perform signs, but to confer sign gifts. (v 19) So it would seem that Acts 8 tells us that while many performed signs, the Apostles alone conferred the power to perform signs.

Now, even if the revelatory/attesting gifts did not end with the closing of the cannon (for which I believe the evidence is elsewhere plain), wouldn’t this fact alone explain the absence of revelatory/attesting gifts today? If John was the last Apostle, and if he died around AD 90, and if just before he died he conferred revelatory/attesting gift-power on some teenage boy in the Patmos church, the revelatory/attesting gifts would still be disappearing throughout the second century. The only way around that is if Jesus began bodily appearing to a new group of Apostles, which to my knowledge no one today claims, and certainly no one among the Church Fathers ever claimed it.

So I’m not so sure we don’t have pretty solid grounds for dividing apostolic from post-apostolic, even if all of the other arguments didn’t pretty conclusively point to an end-date for the revelatory/attesting gifts corresponding with the close of the canon.

Anonymous said...

Dan: "Sufficiency of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He was moving pretty quickly here, understandably. I have made the argument (in print and in preaching) that, if Scripture is what it says it is, it's awfully hard to understand what supplements are needed today. 'Fully equipped' is 'fully equipped,' no?"

Dan and Tom,

"Any time we say, ‘The Bible says…,’ we run the risk of usurping God’s authority if our interpretations or application of the Bible is wrong. Instead of the authority being located in something as subjective as a dream or a vision, we have simply transferred that authority to our own interpretation, which may be every bit as subjective as anyone else’s dream or vision. Throwing out all subjective means of revelation does not protect divine authority, nor does it protect us from subjectivity or emotional instability. There are plenty of subjective, emotionally unstable, Bible deists running around loose in the church today.”--Jack Deere

“Owning a sufficient and inerrant Bible doesn’t guarantee we will get any help at all from the Bible. An inerrant Bible does not reveal the voice of God unless it is interpreted and applied correctly. An inerrant Bible can even be put to destructive use in the wrong hands. Some have use the Scriptures to hurt people and to bring about their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).”---Jack Deere

“Although the Bible deist loudly proclaims the sufficiency of Scripture, in reality, he is proclaiming the sufficiency of his own interpretation of the Scripture. Bible deists aren’t alone in this error. When many people say they have confidence in the Bible, what they really mean is they have confidence in their ability to interpret the Word, in their own particular understanding of the Bible, in their own theological system.”--Jack Deere

“The Bible deist is especially guilty of this because he conceives of the Bible and his interpretation as one organic whole. After all, the Bible deist has consistently applied grammatical, historical exegesis to the text. Above all, he has a good theological framework, and his interpretations are consistent with this theological framework. He stands squarely in a tradition that is hundreds of years old and has many illustrious names within it. With that tradition behind him, plus his own personal skills and abilities, he is sure is right. Oh, there are times, when he can admit to the possibility of being wrong–for humility’s sake, or better, for the appearance of humility. Otherwise, he might give some people the impression that he thinks he is infallible. But in his heart of hearts he knows there is only the minutest possibility he might be wrong in any of his individual interpretations.
So it is extremely difficult for Bible deists to concede that they themselves might be presently holding an erroneous interpretation."--Jack Deere

“The Bible deist is so confident in the sufficiency of his interpretation that it is difficult for him to be corrected by experience.”--Jack Deere

I do have one question for you guys:

Do you guys consider your preaching and teaching gift a sort of "forth-telling" that we should demand 100% accuracy from?

DJP said...

My initial and quick response is to point out to everyone: this is exactly what I have often said. Every attempt to prop up the legitimacy of modern Charismaticism requires an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture. That attack takes many forms. This is a subtler form than some, but it is that same thing: "Sufficiency doesn't matter because we're flawed, so, chase after our phony substitutes."

If the Bible is affirmed to be what it says it is, "continuationism" is seen for what it is: a useless, immobile eleventh finger at best.

Luke Wolford said...

Betterwine: One thing I would point to is that one's interpretation is falsifiable. One can show that another's exegesis is false and offer a better one based upon the meaning of the text, words, context, etc. How does one falsify a prophecy until it doesn't come true?

Tom Chantry said...


Do I consider my preaching and teaching gift a sort of "forth-telling" that we should demand 100% accuracy from?

No. But I believe that the Holy Spirit works through "the foolishness of preaching" to convict men of the truth and to draw them to Scripture. I believe that Romans 10:14-17 were written by a man who in spite of his apostolic giftedness went from town to town opening the Scripture and welcoming those who "searched the scripture daily to see if these things were true."

And I don't believe he was a "bible deist" - which is, let's be honest, a historically risible term - when he said that the man of God is "thoroughly equipped" so long as he has the Bible and studies to show himself approved in them.

Anonymous said...

I have to break this up into two posts.

DJP: "Every attempt to prop up the legitimacy of modern Charismaticism requires an attack on the sufficiency of Scripture."

I'm assuming because you feel your definition of the sufficiency of Scripture is under "attack", that you can define it for us?

The classic theological definition of biblical sufficiency is the one given in Westminster Confession of Faith (I.6): (Capital Emphasis Mine)

‘THE WHOLE COUNSEL OF GOD, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be ADDED, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or TRADITIONS OF MEN.’

More quotes from Jack Deere:

“One does not do the Bible a service by claiming more for the Bible than God does. For example, to claim that the Bible provides us with eternal life dishonors both God and his written word (John 5:39-40). The Bible does not teach that the written word replaces the necessity of hearing God’s voice for personal direction or ministry directions. In fact, the Scriptures teach exactly the opposite.”

“When one turns to the Bible to consider the various ways God has spoken to his children, one will find that during the Old Testament period God spoke to his children in a variety of ways. He spoke to them in an audible voice, in dreams and visions, through circumstances and fleeces, through inner impressions, through prophets, through angels and through Scripture. When one comes to the New Testament, one finds God communicating in similar ways in the Gospels and Acts.”

“In other words, there are solid scriptural grounds for believing that God will still speak to us today apart from, but not in contradiction to, the written word. One who believes that God speaks today does not believe anything different from Jesus or the apostles. They were able to hear God speak in a variety of ways along with the Scriptures. It is they who demonstrate that it is possible to hear the voice of God outside the written word and without being cast adrift on a purely subjective sea of one’s feelings.”

“In summary, we believe that the Scriptures are the primary way that God speaks to his children. We believe in the verbal, inerrant, plenary inspiration of the word of God. We believe that when the Holy Spirit illumines the heart of man, the Scriptures are sufficient to lead man into salvation and godly living (2 Tim. 3:15-17). We also believe that God never intended that his communication with man be exhausted by his written word; such a doctrine is not taught either by example or by precept in the Old or New Testament.”

DJP said...

Yes, I both can and did define suffiency, many times.

Yes, you did attack it so's to try to safe modern fakery. A million more words, unless they contain a retraction, won't erase your first words.

William Lomica said...

Fill in the blank: If the whole body were a useless, immobile eleventh finger, where would the _______ be?

Questions: What are the NON-revelatory/attesting gifts; and have they ceased too?

I ask because I've been told that it is important to find my Spiritual Gift, and that Gift Inventory Quiz is helpful in that pursuit. This seems counterintuitive to me. It seems to me that I ought to be an active and obedient church member and my Spiritual Gift will become apparent. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Luke Wolford:

How does one know that one's exegesis is false and that another's exegesis might offer a better one based upon the meaning of the text, words, context, etc.?

Luke Wolford said...


I think this illustrates the point:

"Acts 17:11 (ESV)
11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

You know it is wrong by being corrected and living in community with other believers who are also searching the Scriptures. You know it is wrong when someone shows you the error of your interpretation.

Luke Wolford said...

Let me add one more thing. There is only one correct meaning to any text. There can be many, varied applications, but only one meaning. For instance, two men sit under a sermon on the commandment "you shall not commit adultery." One man is carrying on an affair and applies this passage by breaking off the illicit relationship and seeking the forgiveness of his wife. The other man applies this passage by ordering his life to avoid adultery. Both are legitimate applications. But, there is only one meaning that God commands against adultery. Now, if there is only one, true meaning of the text, good exegesis can show this meaning. If one is honest, he will recognize better exegesis if he is shown it and admit his error.

Anonymous said...

Luke Wolford:

How and why do you think the disciples and the rest of the church decided not to falsify this prophecy (Acts 11:27-30) until it came true?

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...


Because even lost people can read things in context and determine what is and isn't true, right?

How much more should Christians, who have the Spirit of truth and renewed hearts both able and willing to see it!

Luke Wolford said...


The point is that if one is relying upon extra-biblical revelation, how does one know that it is true? Especially if one goes along with Grudem and redefines prophecy to allow for error. They took action on the prophets' prophecies in Acts 11 because prophets in that time would not give false prophecy lest they be labeled as false prophets and disciplined as such.

Frank Turk said...

A parable about "prophecy":

There once was a President of the United States, and he once promised that if we passed his legislation reforming medical insurance, "if you like your current coverage, you can keep it."

Three years later, it turned out that when the legislation came into effect, there were forms of insurance that were illegal -- and all the people covered by those were left with no insurance, pending their re-enrollment into new (higher-costing) plans. When confronted by the contrast between what he said would happen and what actually happened, the President denied that he ever said such a thing, and his handlers denied that he meant such a thing, but they all agreed that whatever really did happen, it wasn't a lie.

Thus endeth the lesson.

St. Lee said...

I think 75% of charismatic shenanigans could be eliminated if the practitioners would voluntarily subject themselves to the O.T. prophesy tests. Since we are told in the N.T. that speaking in tongues should only take place when there is one present to interpret, then both the tongue speaker and interpreter would subject themselves to the life or death test of accuracy. What could be safer than that if it is really from the Holy Spirit? (BTW, I have often wondered how the speaker knows in advance that there is someone present to interpret - or is one's gift of interpretation good for every dialect of gibberish?)

And what happens if someone says that God told him that betterwine is a heretic? (not me of course - God only speaks to me through scripture)

Anonymous said...

St. Lee:

And the Bible Deist is....

I think 100% of the cessationist hermeneutical gymnastics and incorrigible shenanigans could be eliminated if the practitioners would voluntarily submit themselves to the Whole Counsel of God.

However,you've perfected the insufficient art of claiming and appealing to Sola Scriptura on one hand while completely undermining the Bible’s authority on another.

I have a confession:

I too know from experience what it’s like to pledge allegiance to Sola Scriptura but do some hermeneutical gymnastics around the parts of scripture that, if I accepted were true and applicable today, would violate my own sense and definitions of spiritual guidance, safety, propriety, and personal dignity.

I also know what it’s like to be in religious spirited “Calvinistic Chaos” where the superficially bonding and deflecting remedy seems to be pointing the finger at the “Charismatic Chaos”.

I know what it’ s like to allow my theological prejudices to distort the parts of scripture that if, interpreted honestly and accurately, would confront the fear and skepticism that I’m hiding behind to justify my disobedience, lack of experience, and judgmental posture toward others.

I know what it’s like to know I’m going to be accused of some form of Phariseeism and to pre-defend myself by claiming to be just a martyr for the truth.

And, I know what it's like to brush off the Bible by using the Bible.

...seems obvious I'm not alone.

DJP said...

Again, the unsaid premises:

1. Scripture is not sufficient.
2. I must talk long enough to make them forget 1900 years and counting of NON-continuation (confirming and conforming to Biblical expectations)

APM said...

RE: A parable about "prophecy"

A Turkish fable?

Anonymous said...


I've already addressed your accusation about the alleged "attack" on the sufficiency of scripture, but you have posted it.


DJP said...

When someone repeats something already countered, I don't usually post it. It's boring.

We know you, like almost all Charismatics, deny that you attack the sufficiency of Scripture. And we note that you, like all Charismatics, did and do neccessarily attack the sufficiency of Scripture.

You can deny it, and I can deny that I'm losing my hair. Yet here we are.

Anonymous said...

DGP:Yet you keep repeating it after I've countered your argument.

I'll shorten it.

What continuationists are arguing is that if your definition and doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture actually denies something that Scripture clearly teaches and consequently, in this case, limits the believer’s intimacy with God, shuts the doors to hearing from God in ways that God has ordained to build up His church and advance His Kingdom (I Corinthians 12-14), it is insufficient by it’s own definition. It’s deceptive…it’s a lie.

We're not attacking “the sufficiency of scripture”,we're attacking your sacred cows (golden calfs) that undermine Scripture while claiming it’s total sufficiency and authority.

DJP said...

I'll allow one cycle, though you have already said this and it's an untruth — you, with your extensive quotations from Jack ""Sufficiency of Scripture Is a Demonic Doctrine" Deere.

So it's your position — contrary to all of Charismaticism — that we need nothing even vaguely resembling revelation in addition to what we have in Scripture in order to know God intimately, serve Him, and walk with Him to His complete pleasing?

Brief answer in your own words, please. You get one chance.

St. Lee said...

betterwine said: "I know what it’ s like to allow my theological prejudices to distort the parts of scripture that if, interpreted honestly and accurately, would confront the fear and skepticism that I’m hiding behind to justify my disobedience, lack of experience, and judgmental posture toward others."

Well said. I accept your humble confession and offer my forgiveness for your judgmental posture toward others. Though to be honest, I am not quite sure I detected a judgmental posture in your comments. Maybe I missed it with all the Jack Deere quotes... or are YOU Jack Deere? Up here where I live we tend to be much more familiar with John Deere.

But instead of knocking down the straw man also known as Bible Deist, how about refuting comment #1 by Tom Chantry? As soon as time allows, I plan to search the scripture myself to see if what he presented is correct. In the mean time, I would like to offer a provisional "Tom Chantry is a genius!"

Aaron Snell said...


So, you think that God speaks propositionally today only through the written Word. Interesting.

Anonymous said...


Have my own words and extensive quoting of Jack Deere (who has significantly and sufficiently addressed this ongoing misrepresentation of his views, yet you guys still misinterpret and demonize him while avoiding his scriptural arguments)not already answered your question?

I'll say it this way, in my own words but first and again in the words of Jack Deere:

"I made it very clear at that point that I believed in the infallibility and inerrancy of the word of God. I also said that I believed in words of knowledge and that God can and does give personal words of direction to believers today that cannot be found in the Bible. I do not believe that he gives direction that contradicts the Bible, but direction that cannot be found in the Bible. I might also add that I believe that the canon of Scripture is closed and that no further writings will be added to the Bible. Any claims to contemporary revelation must be tested by Scripture and are subject to Scripture."--Jack Deere

DJP: "So it's your position — contrary to all of Charismaticism — that we need nothing even vaguely resembling revelation in addition to what we have in Scripture in order to know God intimately, serve Him, and walk with Him to His complete pleasing?"

Simply put, I'm arguing that Scripture, rightly interpreted, doesn't give us the option to deny that He speaks to us apart from the Bible but not in contradiction to it.

And yes, I'd argue, that the spiritual gifts,which aren't separate from the Spirit of God, are ordained by God to strengthen and build up the
Body of Christ until he returns and that they should be pursued diligently(I Cor. 1:7; chapters 12-14).

I do think we should be consistent asking God to display the Holy Spirit's healing and revealing ministry among us.

And yes I'd argue that to deny that these gifts are still for today and subsequently not pursue them as Paul commanded, is disobedience, a sin that only serves to undermine personal intimacy with God, the maturity of the church, and a more BIBLICAL view of the sufficiency of scripture.

DJP said...

Can't even follow "Brief answer in your own words."

So you do deny the sufficiency of Scripture, and that is essential to your position.

As to pursuing the gifts, as far as I know no one today has ever prevented anyone from speaking in tongues, prophesying, or effecting healings.

Babbling, popping off, fakery — entirely different issue, and oft discussed.

Anonymous said...

Believe that if you like, but what I'm denying is your tradition and theological system, not what the Scriptures teach about their own sufficiency.

donsands said...


Have you seen a blind person restored sight, or a crippled soul walk? Or a shadow fall upon sick and hurting people, and they were healed?

I have never seen anything like our Lord did, nor His disciples. I would love to, for than I would know these gifts are being used by God.

Joni went to be healed at Kathrine Kulman's concert, and they made sure she was wheeled out of sight. I hope you would agree this woman was a phoney, as are so many others.

Another well done post Dan. Perfect really.

How I love the Word of our Lord, His truth; His eternal truth. And oh how I love Jesus, because He first loved me, and gave His precious blood, as Simon Peter tells us, to ransome us, and "not with perishable things such as silver or gold."

What a Savior we do have.

And I agree every dead sinner quickened is a miracle. It is not a miracle in this realm, but in the spiritual.

DJP said...

Betterwine, this stubborn, un-self-aware disingenuousness will shorten your stay here. Your whole position depends on denying that Scriptures are and do what they say they are and do. Your admission or denial of that fact only goes to your credibility and welfare, not to reality.