Tim Challies has the first of a two-part interview with John MacArthur posted on his website. Challies asks many of the questions that folks have been wanting to ask MacArthur in the wake of his “Strange Fire” conference. This is a helpful interview, and I recommend that you read all of it.
Challies asked MacArthur to outline the case for cessationism, and among other things MacArthur laid down this compelling challenge:
What were the miraculous and revelatory gifts (like apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing) according to the Word of God? Scripture gives us a clear description. But when we compare that biblical description with the modern charismatic movement, we find that the latter falls far short. Though charismatics use biblical terminology to describe their contemporary experiences, nothing about the modern charismatic gifts matches the biblical reality.
For example, God’s Word explicitly says that true prophets must adhere to a standard of 100% accuracy (Deut. 18:20–22) and nothing in the New Testament exempts them from that standard. The book of Acts depicts the gift of tongues as producing real human languages (Acts 2:9–11), and nothing in 1 Corinthians redefines tongues as irrational babble. And the New Testament further describes the miraculous healings of Jesus and the Apostles (including the healing of organic diseases like paralysis, blindness, and leprosy) as being immediate, complete, and undeniable (cf. Mark 1:42; 10:52; etc.). These, and many other Scripture passages, demonstrate the truly extraordinary quality of the biblical gifts.
But here is the point. The modern gifts of the charismatic movement simply do not match up to their biblical counterparts. Modern prophecy is fallible and full of errors. Modern tongues consists of unintelligible speech that does not conform to any human language. Modern healings do not compare to the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles.
Amazingly, leading continuationists readily acknowledge this fact. Wayne Grudem, for example, agrees that apostleship has ceased. He further argues for a modern version of prophecy that is fallible and frequently characterized by mistakes. Sam Storms has a whole article attempting to justify the idea that modern tongues do not have to be real human languages. And in a recent interview, John Piper acknowledges that there was something unique and unrepeatable about the healing miracles of Christ.
Based on those admissions, I would challenge them to consider in what sense they should even be called ‘continuationists,’ because they essentially acknowledge that the biblical gifts have not continued. And if these aren’t the biblical gifts we’re talking about, what are they, and what Scriptural evidence is there for their operation in the church?
I agree with MacArthur that the lack of analogy between biblical depictions of the gifts and modern phenomena is a huge problem for continuationists. The response from continuationists has been to suggest new interpretations of the biblical depictions to bring them into line with modern phenomena. Nevertheless, even if one were to grant Grudem’s view of fallible prophecy, how do we explain the fact that the gift of tongues in the Bible consisted of natural human languages but modern phenomena do not? How do we explain the fact that biblical healings were public and undisputable while modern healing always seems to be private and unverifiable?
Obviously, this conversation is just starting. I look forward to a constructive dialog going forward. Read the rest of the interview here.