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Yes, Virginia, there is a Holy Spirit

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I was intrigued by a recent conversation between Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll (interview video above).


I'd prefer to keep my thoughts to myself, but I think there's a crucial piece missing from the "debate."


As I said in an earlier post ( Reformed and Charismatic?), I'm not willing to die on the hill of cessationism. In fact, I'd fit into the category that Doug Wilson describes as "a cessaionist who believes strange things happen." A sovereign God is free to fulfill his purposes as he pleases. As God, the Holy Spirit is not on a leash.


However, this misses the point. No Calvinist would believe that the Spirit is not free or that he cannot speak directly to people today as he did in the days of the prophets and apostles. Nor are Reformed Christians deists for believing that, as a rule, he doesn't. In fact, the church was not guided by anti-supernaturalism when it rejected the claims of the Montanists in the late second century. Nor were Luther and Calvin under the spell of the Enlightenment when they challenged the "enthusiasts" for pitting the Word against the Spirit.


The Spirit is not bound by anything, but he freely binds himself to his Word. The question is not where the Spirit may work, but where he has promised to work. If strange things happen—similar to events in the era of the prophets and apostles, praise the Lord! However, one doesn't have a right to expect the Spirit to work except where he has promised to work and through the means that the Triune God has ordained.


Like older charismatic-cessationist debates in evangelicalism, this newer discussion therefore has the wrong categories. The real issue isn't whether the sign-gifts have ceased; it's whether the Spirit works through ordinary means that Christ ordained explicitly or whether he works through extraordinary means that were identified with the extraordinary ministry of the apostles. Even deeper than that, it's a question of whether we embrace a paradigm in which the Spirit's work is identified with direct and immediate activity within us apart from ordinary means or through the external Word and sacraments. The history of "enthusiasm" (Protestant or otherwise) trends toward an almost Gnostic dualism between spirit and matter, indirect and inner experience versus mediated and external ministry, the individual heart and the covenant community. This is where the seismic fault is revealed. It's at this point where the real differences—paradigmatic differences—become evident. And there are plenty of cessationists as well as charismatics who presuppose the "enthusiastic" paradigm.


In this interview, my friend Mark Driscoll expresses his worry that cessationists believe in the "Father, Son, and Holy Bible." That may well be. In fact, one of the things that I've emphasized especially in recent years is the richness of the Spirit's person and work that is actually far more evident in classic Reformed as well as patristic faith and practice than today. The temptation to celebrate the Spirit over the Word in our day is in part a reaction against a conservative tendency to separate the Word from the Spirit. He has also said elsewhere that where Reformed people attribute God's work to the gospel, charismatics attribute it to the Spirit. We talk past each other, he says. I'm not so sure. Rather, I think we're operating with quite different paradigms. When we attribute God's work to the gospel, it's actually attributing it to the Spirit who works through the gospel.


The choice between Spirit and Word is a false one that has typically been forced by Protestant enthusiasm. We do speak past each other, but because we have different paradigms—not just because of different views of whether the sign-gifts have ceased. For example, the Heidelberg Catechism asks, "Where does this true faith come from?" Answer: "The Holy Spirit creates it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel and confirms it by the holy sacraments." Who creates it? The Holy Spirit. How? Through preaching the gospel and by ratifying it through the baptism and the Supper.


When Reformed people (and others) speak of preaching, baptism, Communion, covenantal nurture in the home, church discipline, diaconal ministry and so forth, our charismatic brothers and sisters wonder, "Where is the Holy Spirit?" Why? Because they have come to see the Spirit's work as separate from—even antithetical to—the external ministry of the church and ordinary means of grace.


Of course, this point doesn't address the issues, much less pretend to solve them. However, my hope at least is that we could have a better conversation than the usual debate question: "The Sign-Gifts Have Ceased: Pro or Con?"


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  • [...] due in large part to Doug Wilson and Mark Dricolls discussion, and Michael Hortons thoughts, and more; I thought it worth posting some comments from Vincent Cheung, a Reformed scholar and [...]

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  • Dr Horton thank you for being a voice of sanity in all this craziness.

    I am appalled at the disrespect for his cessationist brethren and proper reformational theology displayed by Driscoll in the "Father Son and Holy Bible" remark. Especially considering how he has explained his charismatic communications from God. TeamPyro rightly described these as Pornographic. Very sad.

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  • Guest - M Russell

    Chris Rosebrough on Fighting for the Faith played Driscoll's interview and read the above reply. The following is my email to Chris that explores where I think the disconnect is occurring.

    ---- copy of email ---

    On the 7 Oct episode, you played two segments one featuring Driscoll and a follow-up from Horton.

    I think I see what is going on. The problem is very close to a business process engineering project I’m performing at the office. In my project, the problem is I’ve got three people with three different definitions and mental models conflicting on the definition and implementation of “federated data”. So, I have to identify each person’s mental model and steer all three toward a common understanding. I have found that their definitions and paradigms are so entrenched, that the best way forward is to use completely different terms. I have adopted the term “secret decoder ring” when I tell my management about the interpretive filter each of the business managers are using when they hear the phrase “federated data”.

    Well, the same thing is happening in this Driscoll and Horton discussion.

    Horton’s response actually touched on problem, but he didn’t recognize it. The clue was when Horton in essence said that when the C-camp talks about the salvation process that it is understood the Holy Spirit is involved. There it is, “secret decoder ring”! Sure, the C-camp may know the Holy Spirit is involved, but they rarely say it. If you read the literature, especially contemporary authors, all you hear is the importance of inerrancy, doctrine, teaching, preaching, etc.

    Let me see if I can elaborate with an example.

    I like the parable of the soils because it illustrates the necessity of both Word (preaching the Gospel) and Spirit (preparation of the Heart). It takes both the spreading of the seed and the preparation of the soil.

    I think Driscoll’s complaint, which he poorly hinted at during the beginning, is that people think there are two camps – the “Father, Son, and Bible” (which I would equate with those who put emphasis on the seed) and the “Pentecostal” (which I would equate with those who put emphasis on the preparation of the soil). The correct position should be in the middle with a balanced emphasis of BOTH seed, the preached Word, and soil, the work of the Spirit.

    When Horton confirmed that Reformed and Lutherans understand that salvation involves BOTH, then I recognized the problem. Sure, we may say we understand both Word and Spirit are involved, but we don’t actually say it in our writing and preaching. We sort of assume the second part (Spirit). And I think many in the Pentecostal camp also understand both are involved, but they don’t actually say it in their writing and preaching. They assume the first part. Well, unfortunately, in this postmodern messed-up vocabulary and grammar, we can no longer assume the other party has the same understanding. I’m wondering if that is where Driscoll is trying to go. If you understand both are involved, then say it, don’t assume the other party should know the missing parts, have a matching secret decoder ring.

    To conclude, Horton’s secret-decoder-ring is that he assumes everybody understand the Spirit is involved when he talks about preaching the Word. Driscoll’s secret-decoder-ring is that he is taking the writings of the C-camp and P-camp directly, thus complaining about each only telling half of the story.

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  • Guest - Paul

    I do not see a Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis issue here.

    Mark Driscoll claims that "he sees things" [in the spirit realm] sometimes when he counsels. He terms this the gift of Discerning of Spirits.

    Michael Horton is very familiar with the charismatic movement and many of the things that have claimed association with the movement. He has written two books about individuals that claim to have visions, dreams, prophetic words and all sorts of miracles in their "ministries." I think Dr. Horton understands Driscoll and his experiences better than Mark Driscoll himself understands.

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  • Guest - Albion

    I would think that when you forgive someone who has wronged you, or love someone who is unlovely, or give generously, even if it hurts, you are working in tandem with the spirit or with the energy inspired by the spirit, as Paul describes. Why demand something extraordinary, as if that were the only way to know the HS is invovled?

    The extraordinary is seen in the ordinary lives of Christians who live in faithful obedience to Jesus. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

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  • Guest - Lisa E

    "The real issue isn’t whether the sign-gifts have ceased; it’s whether the Spirit works through ordinary means that Christ ordained explicitly or whether he works through extraordinary means that were identified with the extraordinary ministry of the apostles. Even deeper than that, it’s a question of whether we embrace a paradigm in which the Spirit’s work is identified with direct and immediate activity within us apart from ordinary means or through the external Word and sacraments. The history of “enthusiasm” (Protestant or otherwise) trends toward an almost Gnostic dualism between spirit and matter, indirect and inner experience versus mediated and external ministry, the individual heart and the covenant community. "

    Not sure why it has to be one or the other. Can't it be both?

    I don't think that cessassionists have a complete picture of who charismatics are and what they believe. Meanwhile your cessationist churches are filled with people who are secret charismatics. It's all so stupid when we could be walking out our faith together, loving each other. Pick, pick, pick. This is why Christians could never rule the world - not this side of heaven anyway.

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  • [...] Yes, Virginia, there is a Holy Spirit [...]

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  • Guest - T

    This line intriques me: "The real issue isn’t whether the sign-gifts have ceased; it’s whether the Spirit works through ordinary means that Christ ordained explicitly or whether he works through extraordinary means that were identified with the extraordinary ministry of the apostles." Let's assume that this is the real issue, or the best way to frame the issue, which I think is far from established. But if so, it would then be necessary to discuss what are the "ordinary means that Christ ordained explicitly" and, by contrast, which were the "extraordinary means that were identified with the extraordinary ministry of the apostles." If we look at the gospels, it is all too easy to talk about any of ministry going on there as "extraordinary" because Jesus is so often involving the apostles in his ministry. But even in the gospels, we have to avoid the man who was "not part of our group" who was doing signs in Jesus name, and we have to avoid the plain meaning of Jesus' own words that those who believe (not merely apostles) would do what Jesus had been doing and greater things, and further, the promise of other signs that would accompany, again, those who would believe. We also have to deal with the issue of Jesus sending not only the 12 to preach, heal, and cast out demons, but also the 70. If we examine the gospels, are we going to make the assumption that all this ministry is limited to "apostles" or to their lifetimes, or are we going to allow the gospels to inform our definition of "normal" and "ordained by Jesus explicitly?"

    If we go beyond the gospels to Acts, we are given some really great help. In Acts, healing and signs and wonders are by no means limited to the twelve (once again). Indeed, countless unnamed persons prophesy and speak in tongues. Indeed, Paul and Barnabas are among several prophets and teachers at a local body before being set apart as apostles. Common (even brand-new) believers as well as deacons and others prophesy. Finally, if we move to the epistles, clearly Paul is not only a fan of tongues, prophecy and other gifts, he gives instruction on how men and women should prophesy for everyone's edification. He commands that such gifts should be sought and that tongues should not be forbidden. And we have to turn James' reasoning on its head regarding prayer for healing and Elijah being a man just like us. No, say the cessationists, we must draw a big line of distinction b/n men like Elijah and the apostles when it comes to healing and similar things. Are we okay with doing that?

    Now, in light of all this, where is the clear, explicit teaching of Jesus that some of these are "ordinary" and "explicitly ordained" while others are not? The only teaching that is actually in the scriptures is that such forms of the Spirit's working (as well as through teaching and other forms) are ALL ordained, and among apostles and non-apostles alike. If we say (without any biblical warrant) "Well, this was all during the apostolic age, and it ended after that" then we have just made all the NT examples and teachings irrelevant to the issue, because they all speak from within that age.

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  • [...] die on the hill of cessationism. In fact, I’d fit into the category that Doug Wilson describes as “a cessaionist who believes strange things happen.” A sovereign God is free to fulfill his purposes as he pleases. As God, the Holy Spirit is not on a [...]

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  • [...] the common most continuationists are actually cessationists point and he comments here on how Charismatics tend to assume that only miraculous manifestations are outward manifestations [...]

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