I would just like to take a moment to thank Phil Johnson for the gracious reply. I would also like to offer my apologies for being exasperating, and such a tricksy dancer. I don’t usually mean to be.
I have a great deal of agreement with Phil’s premises, and therefore a lot of sympathy with a lot of his conclusions. And I agree with him that historic cessationists have done a lot of good work on this subject. Where I don’t think we have dug deeply enough, though, is in an area that appears to have nothing to do with whether or not the revelatory gifts have ceased. That area is the nature of the intersection between nature and supernature, and whether there even is something we can call supernature. We have gotten so jumbled that a claim that something comes from the spiritual realm is tantamount in the minds of many Christians to a claim that it is inspired. But that can’t be true — the devil is a spirit, and the devil is a liar.
So I don’t think a strong doctrine of divine providence (by itself) is able to give an adequate cessationist account of George Wishart’s prediction of Cardinal Beaton’s sorry end, or of John Knox’s uncanny statement, while chained to the oar of a galley ship, of the day when he would be preaching at St. Andrews. What happens is that Knox gets a pass because, well, because he’s John Knox and he is dead now. If we talk about it, we get tangled up in whether or not Knox was being a prophet or not, and how do we file this? I want to deny that he was in any way inspired, and file it under him being a fey Scot — an entirely natural thing to be.
The doctrine of providence tells me that God is involved in everything. It does not tell me what He means by it. So when a weird thing happens to Christians, they often assign divine meaning to it, and that is why they get what they are doing muddled up with the guaranteed inspiration given to apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit. Until we sort this out, I agree that dogmatic pronouncements can be dangerous. But until we sort it out, dismissing all of it brings in a different kind of danger.
The other thing I would like to see tamped down in this discussion is the free use of words like “wickedness,” or “blasphemous,” or “pornographic.” There are ways to take issue with something that you believe is not wise without categorizing it as though you are battling with the orcs at Helm’s Deep. I certainly would differ with some of Mark’s take on this sort of thing, just as I would with John MacArthur’s recent and unwise blast against beer. Let’s not man the barricades just yet.
“Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts” (Ez. 23:19-21, ESV).
Is that pornographic? Did we really need to know how the Assyrians were hung, and how they ejaculated? Well, apparently God thinks so. Every word is profitable, right?
And as far as wickedness and blasphemy go, descriptions of wickedness should be evaluated on the basis of whether the wickedness is being attacked or defended. I grant that an attack on wickedness could well be unwise, but I don’t believe genuine attacks on wickedness are wicked. We need to guard against setting up unscriptural definitions of morality. As Chesterton put it once, “Nine times out of ten, the coarse word is the word that condemns an evil and the refined word the word that excuses it.”
Let me conclude by thanking Phil again for a good exchange. I really do appreciate it. We haven’t had our conference yet. I believe it will be a good one — you can come and see for yourself, or you can ask us afterward how it went.