It is a huge privilege to open this discussion on spiritual gifts, with Tom Schreiner and other individuals from whom I have learned so much in so many areas. “The first to present his case seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17 ESV).
Because this exchange is based on two books, rather than one, and because Tom’s book and mine come to different conclusions on the continuation of the charismata, it would be easy for a discussion like this to become repetitive. To try and avoid that, in this article I plan to do three things. First, I will try to define the scope of the debate as simply as possible, so we don’t end up talking past each other. Second, I will lay out the charismatic case in a positive way, with what seem to me the three key arguments for it. Third, I will summarise the strongest argument for cessationism, and then challenge it, before concluding. I will leave a discussion of the other cessationist arguments until we engage with Tom’s book later on.
1. The Scope of the Debate
To crystallize the debate in one sentence, I suggest this: Are disciples today intended to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy? I’m pretty sure that Tom Schreiner and Ligon Duncan would say no, and that Sam Storms and I would say yes. Prophecy, that is, is the most helpful focus for a concentrated discussion. We are not primarily debating the continuation of the ἀπόστολοι, since we would all agree that eyewitnesses of the resurrection have ceased (the sense of ἀπόστολος in Acts 1:21–26 and 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:1–9), and that itinerant missionaries or messengers have not (the sense of ἀπόστολος in 2 Cor. 8:23 and probably Rom. 16:7). It is also noteworthy that in those passages where Paul urges believers to pursue the gifts, he does not include apostleship as one of them. And although we may disagree about the continuation of the gifts of languages, interpretation, healings, miracles, and discerning spirits—although maybe not so much, as we will see!—I think we would all agree that the key question concerns the continuation of prophecy. Should disciples “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”? Clarifying that might keep us from getting lost in the weeds.