Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Notes from the field
As you'll note from the list of archive links to the left of this page, I've been writing this blog since February of this year. During most of this time, my readership has been small--usually fewer than ten visitors a day--friendly, and loyal. Practically everyone who visited was largely like-minded on most doctrinal issues. Once the cessationism issue came around, a lot of new folks started visiting, with a surprisingly large percentage who espoused views on some points that were quite different than my own. Thus, in one "swell foop", I found myself swept up in a tidal wave that carried me from quiet, peaceful waters to a turbulent sea. For a few days, adrenaline-fueled enthusiasm seemed to carry me through, but this weekend I began to realize that I'm not ready to sail the ocean blue quite yet. :-)
One of the things I've learned during this last tumultous week is that the blogsphere has some rather unique features that set it apart from the more old-fashioned means of written communication. One of these features has to do with the short article format of most blog posts, and the other has to do with the commenting feature. Whereas the first feature encourages bloggers to break up their thoughts into small chunks, the other encourages blog readers to immediately begin discussing, debating, praising, or decrying what the blogger has written. There are many benefits to this state of affairs, especially when the subject under discussion lends itself to short and sweet "sound bytes", but I've noticed this past week that it does not lend itself to subjects that require a more thoughtful and detailed exposition. Once I make a new blog post, my writing is fair game for any and all comers to praise to the skies, rip into shreds, or any combination thereof. :-) By comparison, a book is made up of chapters (similar to a blog post), but the one-piece format of the book tends to encourage the reader to react to it as a whole. When I read a chapter of a book, I may find myself saying, "Wait a minute! Where is this author taking his argument?", but I usually postpone final judgment until I've finished the book, for experience has taught me that the author may turn out to have had a very different meaning once I've read the whole book than what I'd thought upon reading only the first part of the book.
As several folks have remarked during The Great Cessation Debate, cessationism--or non-cessationism, for that matter--doesn't stand or fall on a single proof-text. Instead, it's a doctrine that must be gleaned from the examination of the whole of Scripture by comparing Scripture against Scripture in context using the rules of sound exegesis. A number of books have been written on the question of the cessation or continuation of the spiritual gifts. In each case, it took the author more than one chapter, and often hundreds of pages, to adequately defend his view. As I read such a book, I'm certainly evaluating the author's argument "on the fly", but yet I reserve final judgement until I've finished reading. During our present debate, I've noticed a tendency to do something very similar to reading just a chapter or two of a book before coming to a final judgment of the author's argument. Although this is an excellent way to generate lots of heat, I think it's not a great way to cast much light.
In our debate, I've noticed a peculiar thing. Although the vast majority of the participants would claim to hold to Reformed theology, and the vast majority of Reformed believers are cessationists (or so I thought), the majority of the folks who are actively involved in the debate seem to be non-cessationists. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. In the marketplace, a dissatisfied customer is much more likely to give feedback to a merchant than a satisfied customer. Likewise, in a debate, a party who has been put on the defensive (in this case, by Phil Johnson's criticism of modern-day prophecy) is likely to be more strongly motivated to take to the guns than the party who thinks that he's got the stronger forces behind him. I think this most likely explains why the cessationists have been less vocal than the non-cessationists. Thus, cessationists such as myself seem to find ourselves in the rather awkward position of being outnumbered by the minority. :-)
I have said all this so far with two purposes: (1) to share my "take" on the give and take of blogdom in general and the cessation debate in particular and (2) to explain that I'm going to be handling my future posts on cessationism in a slow and easy manner. As I mentioned earlier, some subjects require that time be taken to throughly deal with them, and I believe that cessationism is one of those subjects. Also, this is my very first Internet debate of any substance, so I've not had any previous occasion to engage in any kind of through exegesis. If I'm going to continue my expositions on cessationism, I'm simply going to have to take my time. I'm neither a theologian nor a pastor, just a church member who takes the sufficiency of Scripture very seriously, so I'm not well-practiced at this kind of thing. That's the biggest reason why you're likely to find the occasional hole in my argumentation: it's not that my position isn't tenable (I have many theological juggernauts on my side :-) ), but rather that I'm not the most qualified person to take the lead on defending an important doctrine of the faith. Although the cessationist position warrants a strong defense, I'm just not the man to lead it. Additionally, since it's going to take me time to lay out my position, I'm just not in a position to defend individual posts in a piecemeal manner until I've had a chance to speak my entire piece. Until I have, y'all are welcome to comment all you like, but I'm not going to be paying a whole lot of attention most of the time. For one thing, the questions and issues you come up with during the early stages of my argument may well end up being answered once I get farther along, so I'd rather invest my energies on writing the posts than writing up all sorts of comments that cover the same ground that I'm going to cover later.
So, here's what I have in mind at this point: I'm hoping to continue researching the Biblical texts that are relevant to the cessation of the spiritual gifts, and as I do so I'll write an occasional post on what I find. In between, I may write additional thoughts on cessation and spiritual gifts or even on unrelated subjects, or I might not even write at all. So long as I remain in the process of spelling out my position in detail, I'm not going to invest much effort in defending the "bleeding chunks" I write. Although I have no intention of turning off commenting on my blog, I'm not going to be writing many comments. (I'd really appreciate it, though, if my cessationist readers would help me by answering the non-cessationists.) Once I've said my piece, I'm sure I'll be in a much better position to conduct a reasonable debate with my very vocal "opponents", but until then I'm going to concentrate on saying my piece.
As for the cessationism debate in general, I'm just not the guy to be on the forefront of the cessationist forces. Don't even ask: I won't do it. I'm just a grunt in the trenches who'd like to get some experience with defending what I believe. If you're a non-cessationist and want to deal with the big guys, wait until someone like Phil Johnson gets around to writing on the subject. As my cessationist friends, I'd much appreciate it if we'd speak up and work together a little more. As a debate newbie, I'd very much appreciate your assistance in helping me to improve my posts as well as responding to the non-cessationist multitudes. I'm really, really not up to fighting this battle "solo", and in fact I don't think I should. After all, Christ Himself appointed twelve apostles, not just one super-apostle.
In closing, don't be surprised if you don't see any posts from me for a while. I may need some time to research and think about the issue before I write further. Although this is an important issue, it's not worth getting myself unnecessarily stressed about. In the meantime, thanks for your patience.
[Update: 11:54 AM Nov. 15 2005]
Since I wrote the above, Phil Johnson has reminded us, in his inimitable manner, that the subject he's discussing remains modern-day prophecy, not cessation. After reading his article, I've put some further thought into the issue, and have decided that I'm going to emulate his example and suspend posting on cessationism for the foreseeable future. To be honest, I didn't much enjoy the tone of much of the recent discussion. I thought it was a useful discussion at first, so I'm disappointed that it didn't turn out to be all that edifying in the end.
As for whether I'm going to post on the subject of modern-day prophecy, I'm not yet decided. For now, I'm most likely going to lurk in the background and listen to what other folks are saying. Personally, I think Phil and some of the commenters on his blog are saying a lot of the stuff I'd like to say, but better, so I think my side is in good hands.
So, unless I decide to plunge back into the debate later on, I think I'm most likely going to steer this blog back to its old, obscure, and (in)scrutable ways. It was fun to discuss prophecy, etc., and it was cool to have so many visitors for a few days, but this whole experience has taught me that I don't much enjoy contentious discussions. Besides, there's other things I'd rather talk about right now.