The Spiritual Gifts: Understanding the Views (Part 3)

Since all theologizing is a human conceptualization of the divine it will always be somewhat incomplete. This isn’t to say that we can’t know true things about God, but it is to say that our theological systems intending to perfectly organize those things will be a mix of truth and error. There are weaknesses in each system and in every conceptualization, and this is true even as we speak of the various views of the Spiritual Gifts. We are exploring the weaknesses of each of the four dominant positions in this current series. The ultimate weakness of the Open But Cautious view is that it doesn’t really move that far from the Cessationist view.

We have spoken of the four dominant views on the spiritual gifts as running along a spectrum. On one far end we have the Cessationist position, which believes that the miraculous or charismatic gifts have ceased and are no longer in operation among the people of God today. Moving one step to the right would be the Open But Cautious view. This view contends that there is no specific text denying the continuance of the gifts of the spirit, and yet there is great reason to be skeptical of their continuance. The view attempts to be honest and humble regarding the gifts and suggests that since Scripture does not explicitly state they have ceased, we cannot draw a hard-line on the subject. Evangelicals of all stripes ought to be able to appreciate this views commitment to Scriptural authority, and particularly their interest in “not going beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

Despite this humility, however, the view is functionally not any different from the Cessationist position. It leaves open the possibility but frequently lists arguments for why the miraculous gifts are unlikely to be present today. Advocates of this view affirm the same general arguments as Cessationists regarding the uniqueness of the Apostolic era. The also repeat the argument that the miracles function primarily/exclusively to validate the claims of the gospel. They also contend, like Cessationists, that certain miracles must have ceased since the closing of the canon. Functionally, then, despite being open to the miraculous gifts, they really don’t believe they continue. So, Robert Saucy, as a proponent of this position, summarizes it by saying:

The evidence considered both from Scripture and the experience of the church thus leads to two facts concerning the manifestation of miraculous spiritual gifts in the church today. (a) There is no explicit biblical teaching that some spiritual gifts seen in the New Testament church did in fact cease at some point in church history. (b) But neither does Scripture explicitly teach that all of the miraculous activity seen in the record of the New Testament church is intended to be normal throughout church history. There is, in fact, strong biblical evidence that certain gifts and miraculous activity, associated with the apostles and other prophets, were meant to be foundational for the church and thus not continue as a regular expression of church life. (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, 100).

Essentially the position holds out that there is no explicit statement denying their continuance, but there is still reason to believe they probably don’t. The position, you see, is really far more cautious than open.

Critiques of the position have been hard to distinguish from others. Richard Gaffin, a strong advocate of the Cessationist position, essentialy doesn’t see too much difference between his own view and that of someone like Saucy. Sam Storms, on the other hand, argues that there isn’t much unique critique to offer this view that he wouldn’t offer against the full-blown Cessationist position. The weakness of the view is that it simply isn’t that much of a unique view.

One can appreciate, of course, that the position attempts to be humble and to wrestle honestly with Scripture. For that reason alone it ought to be commended. Yet no significant functional difference exists between the Open but Cautious view and the Cessationist view on the Spiritual Gifts. A more nuanced position would strengthen the appeal of this view, but as it stands we must continue to survey the options before us.

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