Saturday, April 05, 2008

Review of article on Concentric Cessationism

Here is an article by conservative Christian professor Dr. Daniel B. Wallace promoting the view of Concentric Cessaionism. In fact, he may be the one who first coined the term. That said, I would not agree totally with the concept as defined in the article, which is

... That is, rather than taking a chronologically linear approach, this kind of cessationism affirms that as the gospel moves, like the rippling effect of a stone dropping into a pond, in a space-time expanding circle away from first century Jerusalem, the sign gifts will still exist on the cutting edge of that circle. Thus, for example, in third world countries at the time when the gospel is first proclaimed, the sign gifts would be present. This view, then, would allow for these gifts to exist on the frontiers of Christianity, but would be more skeptical of them in the 'worked over' areas. (Footnote 1)

The view that Scripture teaches in my opinion does not so readily differentiate between evangelized and unevangelized areas. Instead, it correlates the appearance and giving of these gifts with any possible neccessity of its required manifestations as directed by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I think it is erroneous to conclude that we must or are more likely to see the Sign-gifts in Third world countries, or that we will never see such gifts in the developed Christianized countries like America for example. Rather, they are more of an aid given under the wisdom of God in situations that demand it; more of supernatural help to babes in Christ and immature churches which will be mostly denied to mature Christians who should by then learn how to walk by faith (and not by sight) in the promises of God. After all, since Christians ARE growing towards perfection as defined in 1 Cor. 13:10, the Sign-gifts would decrease in proportion to our maturation in Christ.

That said, let us look more into Wallace's article.

The first we would look at is Wallace's testimony. The good and the bad of the Charismatic movement practically speaking in the lives of Christians can be seen here, which I have experienced it for myself also. The life and vibrancy always stands in contrast to the deadness of Traditionalism within the conservative churches. In fact, I would even say that Traditionalism is one of the reasons why the conservatives struggle to hold on to their youth, nevermind evangelize the lost. I was one of those also who was not saved under the dead formalism within the churches, as manifested in those who refuse to examine their lithurgy according to Scripture and worst of all, do not preach doctrine.

But just as the passion in Charismatism drives true evangelism which results in the salvation of the lost, and its vibrancy show us the way of true Christian living, the shallowness and error within it slowly destroys the life and faith it once nurtured. Wallace left because the Charismatic group with its error of the Second Baptism of the Spirit and the necessity of speaking in tongues resulted in the resident 'apostle' to question his salvation when he couldn't speak in tongues even after prayer.

Year later, after seminary education and embracing the Cessationist view, a crisis lead him to seriously reconsider his position on this, and thus this lead him to attempt to formulate a third way, which I think is good since neither position (Cessationism as traditionally postulated and Continuationism) is totally satisfactory according to the Scriptures.

Before we look at the 11 theses Wallace has came up with, I would just like to note something mentioned in his personal testimony in this message of his. Wallace dichotomizes a "passion for Jesus" with a "passion for the Bible". If that was his former position, then I think that was sad that he thought such was the case. Perhaps certain Cessationists do try to dichotomize between Jesus and the Word of God, but I for one do not see this in Scripture and I have never held this to be true. Sure, theological, they are two different concepts which are discussed separately (Christology and Bibliology), yet ontologically, there is an insoluble bond between them which cannot and should not be broken. The Word Incarnate (Jesus) and the revealed Word (Scripture) are not two different 'Words', but one (Scripture) is a perfect 'reflection' of the other (Jesus) and therefore share the attributes of the other. We can read in Scripture that Scripture is perfect (Ps. 19:7), it is our delight (Ps. 119:77) and it is forever fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89) — attributes that only God should have. God alone is perfect/holy/good (i.e. Mk. 10:18), only He should be our delight and only He is eternally present (after all, nobody except God was around before the Creation). Therefore, the pre-inscripturated Scriptures or Graphe (Γραφε) has the attributes of God, though it does so because it ontologically proceeds out of God. Put is another way, the Graphe come epistemologically before God, but God comes ontologically before the Graphe.

Therefore, it is unfortunate that Wallace has made such a dichotomization between Jesus and Scripture. Though they are people who seem to choose one and not the other, what actually occurs is that they chooose neither but the shell of the one they claim to embrace. For example, Neo-Orthodoxy makes much of Jesus but not Scripture, yet by jetissoning Scripture, it loses Jesus and substitute Him for one of their own reasoning based upon their subjective "interpretation" of the biblical texts and of course their own experiences. The opposite extreme of for example unbelieving Bible scholars treat Scripture as academic texts and reject Jesus and therefore have only the shell of the words written down. And sometimes believing Bible scholars also behave functionally the same way as their secular counterparts. It's like the husband who treasures the words and character and actions of his wife but not his wife herself — a totally schizophreniac way of living. Rephrasing it, such is analogous to saying that a husband loves everything about his wife but not his wife herself. The Neo-Orthodox position is of course similarly nonsensical, for it is analogous to the opposite example of a husband loving his wife but not loving anything about his wife.

What makes Wallace's confusion particularly worrying is the statement he made in the second last paragraph before the presentation of his theses. In his own words:

Through this experience [cancer and near death of his son] I found that the Bible was not adequate. I needed God in a personal way--not as an object of my study, but as friend, guide, comforter. I needed an existential experience of the Holy One. Quite frankly, I found that the Bible was not the answer. I found the scriptures to be helpful — even authoritatively helpful — as a guide. But without feeling God, the Bible gave little solace. In the midst of this "summer from hell," I began to examine what had become of my faith. I found a longing to get closer to God, but found myself unable to do so through my normal means: exegesis, scripture reading, more exegesis. I believe that I had depersonalized God so much that when I really needed him I didn't know how to relate. I longed for him, but found many community-wide restrictions in my cessationist environment. I found a suffocation of the Spirit in my evangelical tradition as well as in my own heart. (Bold added)

Well, I guess perhaps if he equates naked scholarship with knowing God, then perhaps this is what happens. Nevertheless, we can see the worrying language being used. I hope this is indeed careless utilization of language due to his previously mistaken view of Christianity as being purely intellectual. Yet it truly is serious. What does he mean by saying that the Bible was not adequate? Or about the Bible is not the answer? It sure sounds like denying the Sufficiency of Scripture to me. If he wants to say that 'mere head knowledge scholarship' is not adequate, by all means state that truth, but it is hoped that we do not utilize such careless language, nor even believe such falsehood as 'the Bible is not adequate'. Scripture by the way is not just the physical words of the Bible, and neither is it only about analysis and exegesis, though most definitely it includes that. Wallace mentions that there is a suffocation of the Spirit "in my evangelical tradition as well as in my own heart." Perhaps in the latter, and if the former of evangelical tradition has truly contributed to that, I wold be glad to see it go also.

Let's now look at the eleven theses he penned.

(1) Although the sign gifts died in the first century, the Holy Spirit did not.

I agree with this. If 'evangelical tradition' behaves as if there isn't an experiential side to Christianity, then good riddance to it. We don't need dead churches here.

(2) Although charismatics have given a higher priority to experience than to relationship, rationalistic evangelicals have given a higher priority to knowledge than to relationship.

Perhaps so.

(3) This emphasis on knowledge over relationship has produced in us a bibliolatry Since the text is our task, we have made it our God. It has become our idol. Let me state this bluntly: The Bible is not a member of the Trinity. One lady in my church facetiously told me, "I believe in the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Bible."

One of the great legacies Karl Barth left behind was his strong Christocentric focus. It is a shame that too many of us have reacted so strongly to Barth, for in our zeal to show his bibliological deficiencies we have become biblioters in the process. Barth and Calvin share a lot in common: there is a warmth, a piety, a devotion, an awe in the presence of God that is lacking in too many theological tomes generated from our circles.

This irks me, because it is the wrong word and wrong charge to use. It plays into the hands of our Neo-Orthodox enemies, not to mention the Liberals too. The emphasis on knowledge over relationship produces Intellectualism and Rationalism, NOT bibliolatry. Since we deny any functional separation between Jesus and the Word, any attempted emphasis on the Word while denigrating a relatonship with Jesus the incarnated Word is just plainly impossible. It is only possible if the emphasis is NOT on the Word but on the shell or form of the Word; an appearance of it. So therefore theologians who 'know the Bible' but are not having a real relationship with God do not truly know their Bible, only the shell of it; like corpses without life in them.

And no, looking at Karl Barth is not the right way to go. It's like saying that since Hyper-Calvinism is heresy, therefore we should look at what Arminius teaches. Or since Arius was wrong, we should turn to Apolliniarism. Turning fom one heresy to another is never right.

(4) The net effect of such bibliolatry is a depersonalization of God. Eventually, we no longer relate to him. He becomes the object of our investigation rather than the Lord to whom we are subject. The vitality of our religion gets sucked out. As God gets dissected and trisected (in the case of you trichotomists), our stance changes from "I trust in" to "I believe that."

Same answer as the response to point 3.

(5) Part of the motivation for this depersonalization of God is our increasing craving for control. What we despise most about charismatics is their loss of control, their emotionalism. We fear that. We take comfort in the fact that part of the fruit of the Spirit is "self-control." But by this we mean "do all things in moderation"--including worshipping God. But should we not have a reckless abandon in our devotion to him? Should we not throw ourselves on him, knowing that apart from him we can do nothing?

If this truly is 'Evangelical' and 'conservative', even 'reformed' tradition, let it be gone. I add my agreement to getting rid of such Traditionalism. Though I disagree with Piper on various issues, he IS right when he talks about the supermacy of Christ in the life of a Christian, and his whole concept of "Christian Hedonism' is correct, but I detest the term itself (Really, is there such a paucity of words in the English vocabulary such that we cannot use better terms to describe the concept of being totally satisfied in the wonder of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ?)

(6) God is still a God of healing and miracles

Amen. That doesn't make me a Charismatic or a Continuationist in any shape reformed though.

(7) Evangelical rationalism can lead to spiritual defection.

Agreed. And if seminary does not teach that faith is essential, then it is not doing its job.

(8) The power brokers of rational evangelicalism, since the turn of the century, have been white, obsessive-compulsive males.

Perhaps. So what? I thought our obedience was to Scripture, so whose fault is it that a person chose to follow a wrong direction any so-called "power brokers" took?

I am also uneasy over all the talk about listening to the women. Yes, we need to listen to them, but we must caution against over-correction into the feminist heresy. Again, the yardstick should be Scripture, not to focus on correcting a wrong but instead to follow the right path.

9) The Holy Spirit's guidance is still needed in discerning the will of God. The rationalism in our circles makes decision-making a purely cognitive exercise. There is no place for prayer. There is no room for the Spirit. ...

Of course the Holy Spirit's guidance is needed. As stated, if this is conservative, evangelical tradition, may it be abadoned.

(10) In the midst of seeking out the power of the Spirit, we must not avoid the sufferings of Christ.


(11) Finally, a question: To what does the Spirit bear witness? Certainly the resurrection of Christ. How about the scriptures? A particular interpretation perhaps? Eschatological issues? Exegetical issues? Don't be too quick to answer. Some of this needs rethinking . . . In fact, my challenge to each of you is this: reexamine the New Testament teaching about the Holy Spirit. Don't gloss over the passages, but wrestle with what they mean. If the Spirit did not die in the first century, then what is he doing today?

Good question. May I suggest a partial answer? The Holy Spirit's job is to be with us and comfort us (Jn. 14:17). He will tell us what is the true and absolute Truth about the Faith (Jn. 14:26; 16:13), bears witness for Christ (Jn. 15:26), convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8), glorify Christ (Jn. 16:14), regenerates and creates faith in the elect (Eze. 37:9, 14; Jn. 3:5-8), and of course help us in our praying (Rom. 9:26-27).

As it can be seen, Wallace's message does have some good points in it. Sterile purely cognitive Christianity is no Christianity at all. However, I am afraid that Wallace's reaction to Intellectualism and Rationalism would swing to the position of the the Barthians. May we therefore come to a better appreciation of the what the orthodox teaching of Sola Scriptura teaches, instead of thinking it teaches that Christianity is only cognitive being no different from rationalistic intellectualism.


Dan said...

I would like to know which books permote John Calvin as a Concentric Cesstionalist. A lot of people use his name as a proponent but give no documentation. Is it written in any of the books that he wrote?

PuritanReformed said...


since when did anyone anywhere ever said John Calvin was a concentric cessationist?

Dan said...

I was asking a question. I am writing a paper on the subject of cessationism and Calvin came up under the concentric version. If you are that touchy I will ask someone else...

PuritanReformed said...


I see. Sorry if I give you the wrong impression of being touchy.

I do not know of many books even on the topic of concentric cessationism, unfortunately. There are many books on classical cessationism, and many books likewise taking the continuationist position. Perhaps I have not read enough on this topic. I guess one may get this impression through reading Calvin's works, but so far I do not know of any works dealing with this.

Sorry if I cannot be of help here.