Are miracles prevalent today? If so, how do we approach the view of cessationism? Can one logically hold to cessationism whilst acknowledging the existence of miracles?
The existence of miracles has been a massive fascination for me even before I found interest in apologetics. Are they supernaturally dependent? Can they be explained by natural phenomenon? Are they prevalent and do they cohere to uniform human experience? While acknowledging various caveats regarding legitimacy among miracles, professor of New Testament scholarship, Craig Keener, in his generous two volume documentation of miracles concludes that yes, there are abundant eyewitness miracle claims throughout history and present day. The amount is extraordinary, reaching hundreds of millions of recorded eyewitness testimony. Professor Keener is rightly skeptical of how many of these are genuine miracles and not fabrications, however, the amount alone is sufficient evidence to conclude miracle claims and experiences are prevalent. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be arguing from the position that the majority of miracles are genuine.
Keener’s study documents many genuine cases of supernatural healing (healing the blind, curing the sick, raising the dead, etc.). This brings me to the question at hand: how do we reconcile the prevalent presence of miracles with the cessationist view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased in our present time? A while back I introduced a discussion on cessationism, concluding that I found it most reasonable that the gifts would cease at the second coming (see more in link 1 below). One reason for my conclusion is that the gifts of the Spirit are necessary for edification and to forward the mission of redemption. Indeed, modern-day revivals such as the Azusa Street Revival in Southern California in 1906 could not have taken place if it weren’t for the movement of the Holy Spirit and His individual gifts (prophecy, discerning of the spirits, tongues and their interpretation, miracles, etc.). From this revival birthed modern Pentecostalism and its various denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God. Thanks to the spiritual awakening of the 60s and 70s Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement constitute the fastest growing branch of Christianity today.
However, from this stems the unfortunate truth that abuse within these movements has become more and more frequent. Many televised ministries who often take the authoritative stance among evangelicals reach for money through deceptive miracle claims or demonstrations. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, the abuse of something hardly negates its existence. We have seen men and women come to Christ through experiencing spiritual power. We’ve seen diseases cured and have witnessed even dramatic physical healings. To dismiss all of these claims on nothing but a theological agenda is preposterous. One cannot bear such a heavy burden. A worse position is to dismiss them all on the assumption that they’re nothing but creative human stunts or the works of some sinister counterfeit.
Despite the abundant evidence for the existence of miracles cessationists still boldly proclaim that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased in our time. There are serious reasons as to why this holds no water. Firstly, it has little support from Scripture itself, as New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says,
“The cessationist view is based on some fanciful exegesis of passages, introducing distinctions that cannot stand up to close scrutiny.”
In regards to modern miracles, he notes that,
“Often cessationism requires its advocates to acknowledge that God can still perform miracles today, but that what we see happening just shouldn’t be called the spiritual gift of miracles-virtually a distinction without a difference!”
Its position is contractionary based on the abundance of miracle testimony we have. One cannot deny the Spirit’s power whilst acknowledging the possibility of miracles.
The third, and possibly most serious reason the cessationist view crumbles under scrutiny, is the risk of putting its adherents dangerously close to the “unforgivable sin” labelled by Jesus in Mark 3:29. By attributing the undeniable power of the Holy Spirit to that of the demonic or human manufacture is virtually no different to the religious leaders who accused Jesus of relying on the power of Beelzebub to cast out devils (see link 2 below).
So it goes without saying that the cessationist approach places far too great a risk of quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) and closing oneself off from potentially the most effective service for Christ’s kingdom. On the other end, we must also avoid the opposite extreme of embracing the abuses of the charismatic gifts by dishonestly imitating them when it suits us. There is a middle ground that can be found through prayerful discernment and loyalty.
As a final note, there is a popular argument among skeptical communities that states that one cannot prove a negative. However, by explaining how a proposition defies the law of non-contradiction one can prove a negative. We can use this approach to examine the claims inherent in the cessationist view and why it’s inconsistent with belief in a living and active God. In essence, it denies the very thing its adherents claim to be: Christians who uphold the sovereignty of God.
- It is a form of anti-supernaturalism for the post-apostolic era of Christianity.
- It paints God as a deistic entity that’s in direct contradiction with orthodox Christian doctrine.
- It denies the sovereignty of God by dictating what He can and cannot do with respect to spiritual gifts.
I’ve seen the doctrine of cessationism ruin the spiritual lives of many, many Christians. I’ve been both saddened and frustrated over the years I’ve seen people abandon the person Christ has left us. But I’ve also felt joy at seeing the lost embrace Him with open arms. I just wish that joy would never end.
Blomberg, L. C. 2014. Can We Still Trust the Bible, p. 211.