how say you?

April 4, 2017

This is a transcript of a lecture given by Dr. Wallace from Dallas Theological Seminary. As a pastor of 40 years and 30 of them in a Pentecostal Church I disagree with his “cessationist theology;” simply put I have never met a theologian or exegete that explain away 1 Corinthians 1:7 that the gifts exist until His Coming again.

I will also freely admit that more damage has been done by the Pentecostal church both in theology, practice and in the ruination of  a person’s life.

But the answer is not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

Saying that, I will ask you to prayerfully and carefully read these 11 theses and mine the great nuggets of truth that are applicable to all of our lives.

(1) Although the sign gifts died in the first century, the Holy Spirit did not. We all can affirm that theologically, but pragmatically we act as though he died too.  This is my fundamental thesis, and it’s well worth exploring.  What can we, as cessationists, affirm that the Holy Spirit is doing today?  What did Jesus mean when he said, “My sheep hear my voice?”  What did Paul mean when he declared, “Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God”?  What did John mean when he wrote, “You have an anointing from the Holy One”?

(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. Both of these miss the mark.  And Paul, in 1 Corinthians, condemns both.  Knowledge puffs up; and spiritual experience without love is worthless.

(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.

(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.”

(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?

Instead, as typical cessationists, we want to be in control at all times.  Even when it means that we shut God out.  It is this issue of control that kept my friend Sam a cessationist so long.  Now, as a member of the Vineyard movement, Sam is quite happy: he acknowledges that he never was in control in the first place.  In the midst of what I consider to be a heterodox shift on his part, there is this honest breakthrough with God.

(6) God is still a God of healing and miracles.  As a cessationist, I can affirm the fact of miracles without affirming the miracle-worker.  God is still a God of healing even though his normal modus operandi is not through a faith-healer.  If I can be permitted an overgeneralization, the problem with charismatics is that they believe that God not only can heal, but that he must heal.  God thus becomes an instrument, wielded by the almighty Christian.  That is one reason why, historically, charismata has been a movement among Arminians. At the same time, the problem with non-charismatics is that although they claim that God can heal, they act as if he won’t.  I don’t really think they believe in God’s ability–they don’t really believe that God can heal.  Thus, the problem with charismatics is a denial of God’s sovereignty; the problem with non-charismatics is a denial of God’s ability or goodness or both.  And neither group is being completely honest with God.  Neither is submissively trusting him.

Let me take this a step further.  Is it possible for a Calvinist to say that an Arminian can be used of the Lord to bring someone salvation?  Yes, I think Calvinists would agree that such a thing is possible.  If so, is this not analogous to God using a “faith-healer” to heal someone?  In other words, can I, as a cessationist, affirm that sometimes God heals someone through the presence or stimulus of a faith-healer?  Perhaps the sick individual, or the faith-healer, was exercising great faith.  (After all, charismatics tend to believe in God’s ability more than cessationists.)  In such instances, could we not say that rather than empowering the faith-healer, God was simply honoring the faith?

If this scenario is correct, then we would not expect every person touched by a faith-healer to be healed.  And that is exactly what we find: not everyone is healed.  At the same time, because the normal modus operandi of healing is through someone’s faith, as a cessationist I can affirm both that there is often great faith in charismatic circles and that there is no such thing as a bona fide faith-healer today.  I can affirm miracles in their midst without affirming the miracle-worker.

(7) Evangelical rationalism can lead to spiritual defection. I am referring to the suffocation of the Spirit in post-graduate theological training, as well as the seduction of academia.  Most of us can think of examples of gifted young students we have mentored who seemed to lose all of their Christian conviction in an academic setting.  For many of us, this recollection is too painful.  How many times have we sent Daniels into the lions’ den, only to tell them by our actions that prayer won’t do any good?

One particular instance is very difficult for me to think about.  One of my brightest master’s students about thirteen years ago went on for doctoral work overseas.  We prepared him well in exegesis.  But we did not prepare him well in prayer.  A couple of years ago I caught up with him and discovered that he was only confused about his evangelical heritage.  He was even questioning the uniqueness of Jesus.  This student had suppressed part of the arsenal at his disposal: the witness of the Spirit, something non-believers can’t touch.  To this day I wonder how much I contributed to this man’s confusion and suppression of the Spirit’s witness.

It is not the historical evidences alone that can lead one to embrace the resurrection as true.  The Spirit must work on our hearts, overcoming our natural reticence.  When our graduates go on for doctoral work, and forget that the Spirit brought them to Christ in the first place, and suppress his witness in their hearts, they are ripe for spiritual defection.  They need to be reminded–as do all of us who live in an academic setting–that exegesis and apologetics are not the sum of the Christian life.

I speak not only from the experience of my students.  In my own doctoral program, while seriously grappling with the evidence for the resurrection, I suddenly found myself in an existential crisis.  I was reading in biblical theology at the time, wrestling with those two great minds, Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth.  I was impressed with the fact that as strong as the historical evidence is for the resurrection, there is and always will be a measure of doubt.  Evidence alone cannot bridge the gap between us and God.  As much as I wanted the evidence to go all the way, in integrity of heart and mind, I couldn’t make it do so.  At one point there was real despair in my heart.  I had gotten so sucked in to the cult of objectivism that I forgot who it was who brought me to faith in the first place.  Only when I grudgingly accepted the fact that some faith had to be involved–and that through the Spirit’s agency–could I get past my despair.  The non-verifiable elements of evangelicalism had become an embarrassment to me, rather than an anchor.

(8) The power brokers of rational evangelicalism, since the turn of the century, have been white, obsessive-compulsive males. Ever since the days of the Princetonians (Warfield, Hodge, Machen, et al.), American non-charismatic evangelicalism has been dominated by Scottish common sense, post-Enlightenment, left-brain, obsessive-compulsive, white males.  Perhaps this situation is suppressing a part of the image of God; perhaps it is suppressing a part of the witness of the Spirit.  And perhaps it is not in line with historic Christianity.8  The implications of this such demographics are manifold.  Three of them are as follows.

The white evangelical community needs to listen to and learn from the black evangelical community.  I find it most fascinating that the experience of God in the black non-charismatic community is quite different from that in the white non-charismatic community.  In many ways, it resembles the white charismatic experience more than the white cessationist experience of God.  A full-orbed experience of God must take place in the context of community.  And that community must be heterogenous.  If, as has been often stated, the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning is the most segregated in America, then something is desperately wrong with the Church.

The Holy Spirit does not work just on the left brain.  He also works on the right brain: he sparks our imagination, causes us to rejoice, laugh, sing, and create.  Few Christians are engaged and fully committed to the arts today.  Where are the hymn writers?  Where are the novelists?  Painters?  Playwrights?  A very high-powered editor of a Christian magazine told me two weeks ago that he knows of only one exceptional Christian fiction writer.  What are our seminaries doing to encourage these right brainers?  What is the Church doing to encourage them?

By and large, women are more in tune with their right brain than men are.  We men have failed to listen to the women in our midst–and this failure is related to our not hearing the voice of the Spirit.  If the Imago Dei is both male and female, by squelching the valuable contribution of women, we distort that very image before a watching world.

(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.  I believe there is a middle ground between expecting daily revelations on the one hand, and basing decisions solely on logic and common sense on the other.  Garry Friesen’s Decision-Making and the Will of God went a long way to correct some silly notions about how we function in the mundane.  But I believe that Friesen went too far.  I may not receive revelations, but I do believe that the Spirit often guides me with inarticulate impulses.  Admittedly, this is primarily in the moral realm and Friesen was dealing basically with the amoral realm.  Yet, a basic recognition that the Spirit does guide me today in all realms makes me increasingly sensitive to his guidance in the moral realm.

(10) In the midst of seeking out the power of the Spirit, we must not avoid the sufferings of Christ.  This is the message of Mark: the disciples could not have Christ in his glory without Christ in his suffering.  Too often when we decide that it’s a good thing to get to know God again, we go about it on our own terms.  Again, I speak from personal experience.

Six weeks ago, one of my students died of cancer.  Another was about to die.  I began urging students at Dallas Seminary to pray for God’s intervention.  The Lord did not answer our prayer in the way we had hoped.  Three weeks ago, Brendan Ryan was buried.  My own pain was increased when I saw his three small children paraded in front of the mourners at his memorial service.  I had only visited Brendan once in the hospital; I was determined not to let such happen again.

Two more of my students are on the verge of death.  I have called them and visited them in the past week.  And I learned about suffering and honesty with God.  I questioned God–and still do.  Out of my pain–pain for these students and their families, pain for my son, pain for myself–comes honesty and growth.  I have moments when I doubt God’s goodness.  Yet I do not doubt that he has suffered for me far more than I will ever suffer for him.  And that is the only reason I let him hold my hand through this dark valley.  In seeking God’s power, I discovered his person.  He is not just omnipotent; he is also the God of all comfort.  And taking us through suffering, not out of it, is one of the primary means that the Spirit uses today in bringing us to God.

(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?

God bless, I hope you find this article stimulating and challenging whether you are Pentecostal or let’s say Baptist.

Blessings from and blessings to Dr. Wallace from DTS.


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