Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 3

This is the third part of my response to Jason Bolt, who wrote that I am confused about cessationism and mission. For previous posts, see: Ernest Goodman Is Confused, Pt. 1Part 2.

The opportunity to clarify what one has already said is precious indeed. If you’ve ever played back a conversation in your mind, thinking of all that you should have said, you understand what I mean. My hope here is to clarify so that we may have a productive conversation.

In my original post, I never intended to delve deeply into a discussion of cessationism; my point was that for those who don’t believe God “speaks” today, it makes sense that they would adopt a pragmatic anthropological approach to mission. It seemed to Pastor Bolt that I was confused about the doctrine of cessationism. This very well may be the case; as much as I’ve studied these things, I still have a lot to learn.

Goodman disagrees with himself. All along, he has been arguing that we have to receive special and specific revelation from the Holy Spirit. Now, he has changed his tune and says that we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture.

This reminds me of one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. I’m guessing Pastor Bolt may not be a fan of Spurgeon, but I love the way he approached the topic of the Holy Spirit:

“Many persons have been converted by some striking saying of the preacher. But why was it the preacher uttered that saying? Simply because he was led thereunto by the Holy Spirit. Rest assured, beloved, that when any part of the sermon is blessed to your heart, the minister said it because he was ordered to say it by his Master. I might preach to-day a sermon which I preached on Friday, and which was useful then, and there might be no good whatever come from it now, because it might not be the sermon which the Holy Ghost would have delivered to-day.”  –C. Spurgeon

Are the “Spirit-led” words Spurgeon referred to here “extra biblical revelation?” How can the translation of human speech into soul-piercing conviction to repentance be considered anything other than work of the Holy Spirit (mystical, secret, or otherwise)?

I’m fascinated with this line of thinking. If, for the cessationist, seeking the Spirit’s guidance in mission amounts to a seance, what else also falls into this category? Should we ask for wisdom, or is that “secret knowledge?” What about conviction? If the Spirit convicts me of spending too much time with my campanology club, is that “extra-biblical revelation?” Of course we need to conduct our ministry according to Scripture. But according to whose understanding and interpretation of Scripture?

Throughout the article, Goodman answers the question of whether or not God has a secret will for believers with a resounding “yes.” Yet, in the end, he specifically answers this question by saying, “I don’t know.” If he really does not know, then why did he write the article?

The term “specific will” is a theological one that I’m not sure I support; that God has mapped out every step of our lives, and that one wrong step makes every subsequent step sin. Yet every example of a missionary we have in the scriptures was guided by the Spirit. So what seems like a contradiction here is really just me trying to be clear: the Spirit illuminates scriptural commissions to us, and we respond accordingly. We don’t blindly float from feeling to feeling, but neither do we lean entirely on our own understanding. God hasn’t left us alone in His mission; why would we act as though He had?

In this series of posts, I’ve deliberately avoided pointing out how few cessationists you’ll find on the international mission field. I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories of those missionaries who were providentially given specific words, led into a particular village, or out of harm’s way. I will point out, however, that God’s direct, personal involvement in His mission is consistent with what we read in scripture. It is God who sends His church on His mission, and he uses His Spirit to stir the hearts of his servants to action. 

About E. Goodman

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

3 comments

  1. There is so much here that it almost feels like a plate of spaghetti. Where does one noodle begin and another end?

    I plead ignorance about cessationism. My studies haven’t ever taken me there. I wonder why?

    Ernest, one thing in particular puzzles me:

    You said: “I’ve been careful not to refer to anecdotal evidence of the Spirit’s guidance in mission. I’ve intentionally ignored the many stories…”

    Why? Would that sully the argument? For you or for Mr. Bolt?

    Because I’m less strong in missiology (being that I don’t know about cessationism, for instance), I will speak from another angle.

    Ernest, you’re a bright guy. One area that might interest you is progress made in epistemology. I’m finding it utterly fascinating, essentially the question: “How do we know what we know?”

    The answers to this question have gone round and round the Western circle. Why? Because we have put too much authority in language, specifically language as something that points to stone-cut truths in the sky.

    As a result, our collective focus tends to zero in on language that confirms this – language that points to stone-cut truths. Commands, one might say, in the words of Watchman Nee, who I’m also reading at the moment.

    However, language is much richer – indeed, the Scriptures are much richer when embedded in the Spirit. One might even say, giving status to “anecdotes.”

    Finally, what do we make about God’s freedom? Have the Scriptures become an idol to us? (Hands but not feeling, eyes but not seeing…) That’s another question.

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