Fr. Stephen Freeman on Cessationism

Today I give you a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the most influential Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.

In this post, entitled “When Miracles Ceased“, Freeman takes on the secularist way of looking at things that is endemic to all of Western culture.  Basically, the default setting of Western life is that the world is, to borrow the words of Max Weber, “disenchanted”.  Things in the world around us are basically just that–things.  Some of those things just happen to live and move and breathe and think and eat.  All within the boundaries and limits of the laws of nature.  In this view of things, if God is ever to be known or perceived by us then he must disturb the laws of nature or become another object bound by the laws of nature.

All of this had its roots in the Reformation.  The Reformation came upon a Western culture that was all about the miraculous–visions, weeping statues, saints’ lives, and other such things–and basically shoved it all aside as fabrications of a corrupt priesthood.  What supplanted all of that was a notion of the Bible as the answer book for everything concerned with salvation.  Over time, this was codified in some corners of Protestantism into the notion of “cessationism”–the belief that all miracles, spiritual gifts, etc. ceased upon completion of the Scriptural canon.  If it’s all there within the covers of your Bible, then who needs miracles?  What’s more, miracles are potentially very dangerous, especially if people imagine them to carry a weight equal to or greater than that of Scripture.

Freeman then contrasts this with the Orthodox view of things:  Only God is self-existing.  Everything else in the universe is dependent upon Him for its very existence.  Thus the world itself is a manifestation of God working.  To be cessationist would be to cease to exist.  Not only do miracles continue, but on a certain level, everything is a miracle.

Read:  When Miracles Ceased by Fr. Stephen Freeman

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There’s No Going Back To Your First Love

Today I will start with a quote to set up where I would like to go.  It is from Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss:  Meditations of a Modern Believer:

In fact, there is no way to “return to the faith of your childhood,” not really, not unless you’ve just woken from a decades-long and absolutely literal coma. Faith is not some half-remembered country into which you come like a long-exiled king, dispensing the old wisdom, casting out the radical, insurrectionist aspects of yourself by which you’d been betrayed. No. Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life—which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life.

The idea of “going back to your first love” is all over the place in evangelicalism.  Perhaps the best known example is that Matt Redman song “I’m going back to the heart of worship / And it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus”, but there are other examples too numerous to mention throughout the world of evangelical worship.

The idea is that you can basically hit the reset button as it were, and be right back where you were when you first accepted Christ.  When everything seemed so simple, all the answers so clear, and the presence of God so close and so thick you could cut it with a knife.  When things aren’t going right, or you feel stagnant in your relationship with God for whatever reason, it’s time to go back to your first love.

I wish it were that simple.  But I don’t think I can go back, even if I wanted to.  And I’m really not even sure I want to.  It isn’t as if I’ve lost the way and all I have to do is find my way back to the last place I was where I knew the way.  No, the very roads and the very landscape have changed, and all the old landmarks just aren’t there anymore.

That’s just how it is.  A life of faith is a life of change.  There’s no going back, like a king returning triumphantly from exile, dispensing the old wisdom and driving out all the rebellious, insurrectionist parts of yourself by which you’d been betrayed.  Life is not an error, even when it is, and if you still believe at the end of your life what you believed when you first accepted Jesus then you haven’t really lived.

And This Is Precisely Why TGC Is On My Shit List

Today we’re going to talk about the Brethren in Christ.

The Brethren in Christ is not a big deal here in the US.  Unless you are one of them, know someone who is, or are a complete and total theological wonk who stays up on such things because you have WAY too much spare time on your hands, you probably never heard of them before in your life until I mentioned them just now.

The Brethren in Christ (BIC) is a small Anabaptist/Mennonite-ish sect that originated in eastern Pennsylvania in the late 1700s, when they broke away from other Anabaptist and Mennonite sects over various and sundry fine points of pietistic practice.  They were happy to stay small and in their own little fishtank until the mid 1900s, at which point they became more outward-focused and ditched all the pietistic stuff and came into line with mainstream American evangelicalism, for the most part.  Yet they remained small and failed to register even a blip on the radar screen of mainstream American evangelicalism.  When evangelical leaders came together to craft the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, they weren’t even invited to the table.  For this reason, inerrancy and other such issues of concern to today’s evangelicals aren’t even on the BIC radar.

But in Canada, they are kind of a big deal.  Bruxy Cavey is a rockstar megachurch pastor who presides over The Meeting House, which started in 1996 as a small church plant but now has morphed into a multisite church network with 14 campuses and a combined Sunday attendance north of 5,000.

Of course you can’t have that kind of growth without people sitting up and taking notice.  Some people got concerned; Cavey and the BIC are at variance with the traditional evangelical way of looking at things on a number of issues.  As already noted, inerrancy and many other such issues of concern to today’s evangelicals aren’t even on the BIC’s radar.

One of the parties taking notice and expressing concern was…yep, our good friends over at The Gospel Coalition.

In an exercise suggestive of the first-century Pharisees questioning Jesus on his teachings or the medieval Catholic church sending Johannes Eck to debate Martin Luther on his 95 Theses, TGC had one of their writers up in Canada investigate Cavey; the results can be found here, here, here, and here.  I would recommend that you read the series; you will find it illuminating as to what Cavey and the BIC actually believe on several issues of interest to those in the Reformed world.

I could easily have seen John MacArthur or Tim Challies seizing upon some quote from Cavey’s teaching and using it to denounce him as a universalist or whatever other epithet strikes your fancy.   To his credit, the TGC representative eschews that tack.  Instead he gives Cavey ample space to explain his teachings and make a compelling case that they lie fully within the pale of Christian orthodoxy.

But even so, the whole thing feels less like a conversation and more like an exercise in “Brace yourself Bruxy Cavey, we will question you and you will answer us.  You don’t get to question us on, say, whether our treatment of women presents a barrier to the Gospel or why some of us are so viscerally anti-gay.  That’s not how this works.”  It has TGC showing up suddenly at Cavey’s door claiming to be the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy.  You pass muster, they say.  You’re good.

Does anyone else out there find the whole thing just a little pretentious?

This is precisely why TGC is on my shit list.

Searching For God in a Divided Country

Today I give you this piece by Bryan Mealer at New Republic.  It describes his story of growing up in evangelicalism, losing his faith, and finding it again in the world of the liberal mainlines.

Mealer’s story is not my story.  I could probably never find rest in the world of the liberal mainlines, where they have their own unquestionable orthodoxies and if you dare to question then get over there with Donald Trump and all the devils of hell.  But it is a moving account of one individual’s story of growing up evangelical, losing faith, and finding it again in another branch of the Christian tradition, one which echoes many of the post-evangelical themes I have written about here over the years.

Read:  The Struggle for a New American Gospel:  A liberal’s search for God and faith in a divided country by Bryan Mealer

Gene Veith: Are Adults Responsible For Things They Did As Minors?

ICYMI:  Brett Kavanaugh is up for appointment to the Supreme Court.  That is potentially in jeopardy after revelations that he had sexually assaulted an underage woman.

Gene Veith has written a piece at his Patheos blog questioning whether Kavanaugh can or should be held responsible for this incident.  The rub for him is that Kavanaugh was 17 at the time, and therefore himself a minor.  Holding adults accountable for things they did as minors would, in his view, set a dangerous precedent, one which could potentially open the door to, for example, holding someone liable for assault and battery or violence against women because as a 5-year-old child he hit his 4-year-old younger sister.

Here’s the thing:  There is a difference in those examples.  When a 17-year-old rapes or sexually assaults a younger woman it is a much bigger deal–even though the 17-year-old is still technically a minor–than when a 5-year-old hits his younger sister.  Because a 17-year-old is not a 5-year-old and should not be considered on the same level as a 5-year-old, even though both are minors.  And sexual assault is a much bigger deal than hitting a younger sibling.

This manner of argument is what you would expect from a hardcore secular Republican partisan, not a respected Christian theologian.

John MacArthur Is Doubling Down

ICYMI:  John MacArthur, everybody’s favorite charismatic–and all-around–hater, published a blog post a few weeks back about how social justice is a threat to the Gospel.  He went on to expand that into a whole series of blog posts.

Not content by any means to quit while he was ahead, MacArthur got together several other like-minded Christian leaders and produced the Statement On Social Justice and The Gospel.  This is yet another of those point-by-point “We Affirm xxx…We Deny xxx…” deals that evangelicals are so excruciatingly adept at producing, which codifies many of the points made by MacArthur in his blog series.

Once more, with feeling:  The Gospel has inexplicable implications for how you treat other people.  The Bible makes it quite clear that God is intimately concerned with how you treat other people, and therefore you cannot be right with God if you are not right with other people.

This ain’t rocket science, people.

Social justice is not merely the province of those godless liberal mainlines.  It is not merely a passing fancy that evangelicals have only lately begun to catch.  Instead it is something which has been embedded into the very DNA of evangelicalism ever since the days of abolitionism, women’s rights movements, and many of the other great social movements of the prior century.  These movements all arose because the evangelicals of that era were dialed in to the reality that the Gospel message has implications for how you treat other people.

Jesus came to reconcile all the world to Himself and put all things under His rule, not just to assuage the guilt of individual consciences.  Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Pat Robertson Is Back

I’ve said it before:  If I could set up some kind of Google news feed on Pat Robertson this blog would practically write itself.

Just when you think Pat Robertson can’t get any crazier, he always manages to one-up himself.  With a major hurricane out in the Atlantic this past week threatening to make landfall over the Carolinas, this is what he did:

Well, at least Robertson kept the hurricane out of Atlanta, Georgia.