Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1

spotlightI recently mentioned a blogger who has called me “confused” about cessationism and missiology. Jason Bolt, elder at Truth Reformed Bible Church in Golden, Colorado, is the author of that post, and he’s graciously offered to engage with me in a bit of dialog about the matter. Here is the first part of my response:

Goodman argues that Reformed missionaries take some “theological leaps” in order to arrive at their view of the sufficiency of Scripture.

I believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. I believe that it is the complete revelation of God for mankind. I also believe, however, that God does not leave us to our own devices in the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, He has given us the Holy Spirit, who illuminates the scriptures to us.

He then goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit orchestrates mission efforts by secretly and mystically communicating to individual missionaries.

Of course, I didn’t actually write “secretly” or “mystically,” that’s Pastor Bolt’s commentary on my position. God’s will is plain for all to read (where the scripture is available to them). It’s the understanding and application of that will that requires the intervention of the Spirit. As I mentioned in my post, this doesn’t happen “secretly,” but in the context of the local church. The church is the context for interpreting God’s Word and discerning how to respond in obedience.

Revelation is information about God. Illumination is about us; God shows us how to respond to His truth. It is why we pray for wisdom (which is also not “extra-biblical revelation”). Pastor Bolt may find this to be “mystical,” but the Bible refers to it as spiritual (Romans 8:2-6).

“No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:11b-13)

The Spirit doesn’t give us some new, secret revelation. He guides us in our understanding of what God has already said. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he heard he will speak.” (John 16:13)

Left to our ourselves, our sinful minds misunderstand and misinterpret the Scriptures. We twist and distort the truth at our convenience and we naturally “exchange the truth about God for a lie.” This is why Paul greets the Ephesian church by praying that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18)

With Goodman’s insistence on seeking the revelation of God’s secret will outside of the Bible, he rejects the sufficiency of Scripture in practice. If he believed the Scripture to be sufficient, there would be no need for him to seek God’s secret will outside of the Bible.

And so we come to the question of mission. If we conclude that the Spirit of God is silent today, how would one ever come to interpret Matthew 28:19-20 as motivation to move to Northern India? Based solely on a human reading of scripture, how does a church determine where to focus their efforts in mission? How does a church come to prioritize one need over another unless God helps them interpret “as the Father has sent me, even so I send you”? This is why Paul reminds the Roman church that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

The point of my original post was to explore why some of my favorite reformed theologians continue to promote an anthropological view of mission. If they believe that the Spirit does not communicate to His people today, it makes sense that they would approach mission as a list of names to be checked off of a list. The problem is that this approach to mission is not demonstrated anywhere in Scripture.

Perhaps Pastor Bolt may be able to help me understand. But in the meantime, I can’t help but think that it’s due to a certain amount of Modernism that they’ve adopted; one that values human logic, effort, and scholarship over the the Lord’s leadership.

Next: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 2

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.

9 comments

  1. Ernest,

    Do we have your permission to repost this article on our blog?

    Also, I will wait for you to finish writing Part 2 (and 3 and 4 and however many there may be) before I write a response so that we can deal with the issue as a whole.

    Thanks.

  2. I find this conversation has been a stumbling block to me over the past few years. I struggle to engage with other Christians on the topic of mission. There’s a sense we have pitted the Scriptures against the Spirit. Does that make sense?

    And you, Ernest, know I have a high view of the Scriptures, being that my specific ministry is pressing forward the translation of Scriptures in local languages.

    I was entirely surprised when my home church in Minnesota fully supported the fact I started a house church that has a rather unique niche in mission. Unique in man’s terms. Not unique as though “new” to God.

    “You mean you support me in listening and responding to the Holy Spirit? Even if it’s kinda weird?” was the response in my head.

    It’s been a real blessing.

    To me, there are epistemological underpinnings to this conversation… in addition to theological, missiological, etc. The epistemology I’m digging is called “covenantal epistemology” put forth by Professor Esther Meek and championed by artist Makoto Fujimura. To me, it is the best philosophical-theological attempt to reconcile the workings of the Spirit and the Scriptures.

    Very much needed in our culture!

  3. Johanna,
    I’m sorry this isn’t your cup of tea. I think you could bring some very good perspective to the conversation. I continue to write about these theological distinctions because, as far as I know, nobody else is talking about how these theological issues affect our missiology.

  4. Oh, apologies Ernest. It is my cup of tea – if you’re serving! :)

    That is, I trust you to handle a conversation like this more than I trust others I’ve come in contact with.

    Kettle on!

  5. Johanna, can I say how wonderful it has been over the past few years to find another female who likes discussing “this kind of stuff?” I try and refrain from pestering Ernest too much with my questions but I think I could almost talk about missiology all day as I’m so interested in learning what it all should really look like. And I think that is what can be hard for me, and perhaps the reformed. I want someone to tell me exactly what I should do to please God in my pursuit of taking His Gospel to all nations. But there is no one set formula. Yes, scripture is sufficient. But how we relate that Scripture will differ from culture to culture, tribe to tribe, individual to individual. If we think that all we need to do is “preach the Gospel” in a way that we know from our middle class evangelical world view, we may be just find ourselves failing to do what we actually hope to do.

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