Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Pyromaniac Response To Mark Driscoll - The Cessationist Stink (Part 3)

Mark Driscoll's provocative statements about cessationism were bound to draw a quick response. And Frank Turk over at the Pyromaniacs blog was one of the first to respond with his "Open Letter To Mark Driscoll". I think Frank nailed it and also gave much needed clarification on many of Driscoll's inaccuracies concerning cessationism. For these reasons I have decided to post the vast majority of his lengthy response. It'll be a long ride today but well worth sticking around to the finish. Take it away Frank:

[Concerning the sermon video] I have to say that you had me pretty much "amen-ing" for the first 27 minutes, I spent the next 27 minutes wondering if you had completely lost your mind.

I'm a guy who was saved out of rank atheism and into faith in Christ without a preacher or mentor. God answered a desperate prayer from me in one night and literally changed me from wholly-immoral to reasonably-self-controlled, and grateful. After seeing my sin and my savior while reading the book of John, God planted the whole seed-bag of spiritual fruit in me in one night (without an audible voice to follow it or explain it). It took me two years to fully understand what happened to me, and in that a pastor and a local church did much for me. So it's not possible to paint me as a guy who doesn't believe in miracles. I am one, and I think every who believes is also one.

I also come to your video with some insider baseball. I know (and I think most people who are familiar with A29 know) that there is resentment in your camp toward John MacArthur's 1992 tome Charismatic Chaos. It's probably a holdover from the Vineyard's resentment toward that book, which is a hold-over from the old-timer Azuza Street crowd. The trope is that Dr. MacArthur slandered a lot of good men in that book, and has never apologized for it, so how does he get a pass for being a straight shooter? In that respect, my perception of your reproach here is along the line of looking to give some back for the original work which, I think, changed a lot of the terms of engagement on this issue and marginalized "charismatic" theology in wholly-orthodox circles for the last 2 decades.

Of course, you personally have a lot at stake in the debate because you're unabashed to say that God audibly called you to be a pastor. Unlike the armies of men before you who claimed such things after the death of John in Patmos, most of whom thereafter jumped the doctrinal and/or moral shark, you have remained relatively inside the bounds of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. However, we have to be wise enough to understand that your claim is part of the issues at stake and see that as the lens through which you see the whole picture. After all: if the cessationist is right, how do we frame up your claims? Are they completely fraudulent, or is there another use for them?

We here at TeamPyro are well known for not pulling any punches when it comes to daGifts. I even was pleased to discover that my most-favorite [self-authored] PDF on this subject is linked by our friends at So let me suggest to you that, if there is anyone at the popular level who is more serious and more well-documented on an on-going basis as to what actual Cessationists believe, I'd like to meet him. Maybe he's the one you were talking about when you said this:

Now some of you will have resistance to this and let me tell you why, this will be very controversial, it may be because you are worldly. Cessationism is worldliness. Let me explain it to you, you've got Renee Descartes "Cogito ergo sum", I think therefore I am. In an effort to defend Christianity from some of its critics, he begins with his epistemological presupposition: "Where will I start? I think therefore I am". So the two founding, if you look at this like a Jenga game, the first two pieces that get laid down in something called the modernistic enlightenment project, individualism and rationalism. "I think", that's in "I'm an individual and my mind, my brain, the three pounds of me between my ears", that is the essence of what it means to posses the "Imago dei", to bear the image and likeness of God. Out of that what invariably comes is the modern enlightenment project, based upon individualism and rationalism. Now, out of this comes as well skepticism, after a while you start reading in the Bible, "Jesus walked on water?". You start becoming skeptical of supernatural claims. So it's like William Barclay come[sic] along " well maybe he's walking along the shore of the water and it look like he was walking on the water", we're trying to find ways to explain away what the Bible says plainly. Because it doesn't fit cleanly within a modernistic, rationalistic uh paradigm of thinking. So in that way Christians start thinking more like Hume than C.S. Lewis. Alright?

Hume is really the modern rationalistic thinker who set in motion opposition to the supernatural, to the miraculous. So it starts with rationalism, individualism as part of modernism, this leads to skepticism, right?. If there is a God, then God created the world, and to use the language of Al Pacino in the devil's advocate, he's now an absentee landlord, and that he's left us here and he's governing life as we know it by a set of laws; but he's so sovereign that he's gone, he's not transcendent and imminent, just gone. What happens then is the assumption is made that none of these natural laws can be violated, therefore the supernatural is impossible if not unlikely.

This plays itself out in three ways: Number one, there's atheism. There is no God, there is no supernatural, there is nothing beyond the physical material world that can be objectively tested and retested according to scientific methodology. There is a vestige of modernism that tries to accommodate the spiritual aspect and it becomes deism. Where there is a God but this "god" is not involved in our world, he doesn't break in and violate natural law; the supernatural is not possible. This is Thomas Jefferson who sits down on the white house with a set of scissors and cuts all of the miracles out of the bible and publishes something called The Philosophy of Jesus Christ. This includes Unitarians, this includes very liberal mainline so called Christian denominations who are basically deists. There is a god, he is far away, doesn't have anything to do with us and the miracles can all be explained away, they are primitive, superstition, myths, misunderstandings. So it goes to Atheism, Deism and this will be controversial, Cessationism.

Now you know why I haven't said this publicly, I'm not sure I have a helmet big enough to deal with it, I'm gonna get battered a lot. But I believe that a result of modernistic worldliness in Christian form is hard cessationism. And that is saying: God could do a miracle but He doesn't and He won''t, but He could. So within that God's not really speaking, God's not really working and the supernatural gifts are not in operation; Healing, revelation, speaking in tongues, those kinds of things they are over in the God-used-to box. Even though I was reading this book that said he was the same yesterday, today and forever.

And so their argument even comes down to 1st Corinthians 13 which gets turned into origami, right? When the perfect comes the imperfect disappears, we'll see him face to face, the perfect is Jesus. The perfect is Jesus. But then what happens is, to defend this sort of modernistic rationalistic, cessationistic position, we throw up the craziest cooks in the charismatic camp and say well you don't want that do ya? uh no, no we don't. If it's nothing or that it's a real coin flip, cause neither is the real win.

Now, Pastor Mark: where to start? I'll be excited to read your book when Justin Taylor has approved it for publication as I am dying to see the historical evidence for the continuation of the gifts in the first 3 centuries of the church when it cannot be found in any of the primary sources for that period. You say elsewhere in the talk that you have it, and I'm looking forward to you showing us your evidence. When guys like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tatian, Clement, and Tertullian don't mention it at all, and they are framing the first post-biblical case for Christianity, and they can't possibly have modernistic, rationalistic, individualistic Enlightenment biases because it's 14 centuries too early for that, I hope you have something more than self-confidence and a winning smirk to carry the day.

To the rest of this, I'm really just agog. On Twitter, to your defenders there, I have said it plainly: who exactly are you talking about? Given the time and the tone you have committed to this topic -- giving it as much time in front of this group as you gave to both Reformed theology and Compementarian roles for men and women combined -- one must think it's a rampant pathology. In all seriousness, you wave-off the too-numerous-to-count Prosperity crowd and the barking-dog Pentecostals, but you call out standard-issue presbyterians as if they are the ones making the church look like a geek show. You make a point to name the Presbys as a class at the end of this section, and you make it clear that while you mention "hard" cessationists, you mean anyone who doesn't have a prophet in his church. So my off-the-cuff reaction to this stuff is, "You must mean someone: name two men who believe this stuff as you have framed it." Maybe you mean Warfield and Machen?

I myself have been uncharacteristically-cagey in naming names when it comes to my campaign against watchbloggers and bad apologists, but it's funny: when I spell it out, people know exactly who I am talking about. The right people take offense. Some of them self-immolate and make my hobby more like reporting than commentary. But in this case -- that is, your case -- I can't think of anyone who believes what you have recounted here, even among the three of us at TeamPyro. None of us, for example, believes "God could do a miracle but He doesn't and He won't, but He could." We all believe in the efficacy of prayer, the gifting of the believer for service, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the work of sanctification, and the acts of God in providence. For the record, we also believe in the local church and its work as a light on a lampstand which is not because it is full of such swell people. We believe in John 13-15, and in 1 Cor 12-14 -- and we can point to the exegesis of guys like John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo as pre-modernists who believe what we believe literally over and against what you say you believe.

But, of course, like the gents who come before you in this debate, conceding that to the cessationist view is out of the question. It is either all or nothing, and to say that there are things which all believers can and will experience because God is the God of the living without saying that prophecy, tongues and specific gifts like apostolic healing and authority is somehow not reckoned as a choice. What sets you apart, of course, is that you say that if the church doesn't have functional Jesus(es) in it, it's just atheism.

So here's the formal response to your video, in the form of affirmations and denials:

1. I affirm that Reformation theology requires the personal action of God the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church.

I deny that this work necessarily includes speaking in tongues (as in Acts 2 as well as in so-called "private prayer langauges"), healing the sick or raising the dead by explicit command, prophecy in the sense that Isaiah and John the Baptist were prophets, or any other "sign-and-wonder"-like exhibition. That is: I deny that these actions are necessary for the post-apostolic church to function as God intended.

2. I affirm that miracles happen today. No sense in prayer and believing in a sovereign God if he's not going to ever be sovereign, right?

I deny that there is any man alive today who is gifted to perform miracles as Christ and the Apostles where gifted to perform miracles.

3. I affirm that God is utterly capable of, and completely willing, to demonstrate "signs and wonders" at any time, in any place, according to his good pleasure and for his great purpose.

I deny that this activity is common, normative, necessary, or in the best interest of God's people to been seen as common, normative and/or necessary. God in fact warns us against seeking signs rather than the thing signified repeatedly in the OT and NT.

4. I affirm the real presence of the Holy Spirit in the church of Jesus Christ as Jesus said He would be present in John 13-15.

I deny that this means that all believers or even all local churches will be equipped with apostles called and equipped as the 12 and Paul were called and equipped. A telling example is the role of apostles in delivering Scripture to the church.

5. I affirm that the normative working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church begins with conviction of sin and regeneration, and continues through sanctification, and through the outworking of personal gifts (e.g. - Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 13:4-7) for the edification of the (local) church.

I deny that explicitly-supernatural outworkings, or events the Bible calls "signs and wonders" (e.g. - Acts 2:1-11, Acts 3:3-7, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 9:32-35, etc.) are either normative or necessary for the on-going life of the church.

6. I affirm the uniqueness of the office of apostle in the founding of the church.

I deny the necessity of apostles for the on-going life of the church.

7. I affirm that leadership in the church is a task wholly-empowered by the Holy Spirit to men meeting the scriptural qualifications, and that the objectives of this leadership are wholly-defined by the Holy Spirit explicitly through Scripture and implicitly as the gifts of leaders are applied to a real people in a local church.

I deny that church leadership is like business leadership - that is, a system of techniques that have outcomes measurable by secular metrics of success - and further deny that merely-competant management processes yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Before I close up, another amusing thing happened last week as I warmed up to write this. A young fellow in an A29 church told me that you welcome real cessationists as pastors into Acts29 without any qualms. Let's say that he's right for a minute here and that your practice is better than your rhetoric -- something we are all usually guilty of. How do we take this talk seriously at all if your main goal was really to watchblog a strawman at your home-team conference? I think it's hard enough to take you seriously most of the time because you aren't all that serious. When you have that sort of lite demeanor (which I share) and then you start adopting the approach of your worst critics (that is: the most meaningless of your critics; the ones who are simply bad, undiscerning critics), you're not going to pick up any of the middle ground.

All that said, if you are actually writing this book, bone up on the subject a little. Recognize, for example, that there are at least 4 different camps of cessationists and that most of them are really enemies of the same sort of thing I think you are yours are the enemy of: spiritual abuse, immaturity, heterodoxy, and blasphemy toward God and disrespect for church.

If you want to be some kind of cautious continualist: fine. Super. Live it since you heard God call your name. But be at least as cautious to those who disagree with you are you are toward the rank heretics in the Emerg* camp. You're willing to add some nuance to your approach to them, and most of them have come clean as enemies of faith in Christ. The men you oppose here, and call diests and atheists, are not enemies of Christ. You'd be best served to think and speak a little more carefully about this if your real concern is the church of Jesus Christ.

My thanks for your time to read 10 pages single-spaced, and to give an ear to a member of the PajamaHadijn. I hope this letter finds you well, and in God's good graces. Grace and peace to you - Frank Turk

Go On To Part 4
Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1


Dav0 said...


I would not be so quick to take the posture of putting God in a box on Cessation-ism. I personally would love to meet the first man in our generation who is seen to do the same works as the apostles - certainly his doctrines would validate him without a doubt (as MacArthur infers), and such would certainly bear no resemblance to that of modern Pentecostals or Charismatics - or Calvinists for that matter.

I say this because none of these systems of theology accept the Sovereignty of God, Salvation by Grace, and Holiness/Perfection in this life (by daily regeneration) all at the same time.

In my mind for Reformed folk to deny the works of the apostles are possible today are merely also saying that being "dead to sin" is also impossible. Because without holiness - none will see the Lord. - Oh but I forgot thats in the Future - Right?


Pearl said...

You go Frank, what a fabulous response to the idiocy that Mark Driscoll sprouted. I was aghast to hear that cessationism is worldliness and in turn I will be skeptical of supernatural claims like Jesus walking on water. What a joke, I am not at all skeptical of the supernatural claims of the BIBLE I am just skeptical of the supernatural claims of modern so called prophets, pastors and signs and wonders seekers.