Thursday, October 10, 2013

Responding to Hays' Argument While Ignoring His Ad Hominem and Slander

Some MacArthurites seem to be confused about the relationship between cessationism and the argument from miracles. Of course, Ed Dingess is incapable of honesty. But let's spell out the relationship:
i) From what I've read, MacArthurites classify Biblical miracles as sign-gifts. The function of sign-gifts is to attest the message by attesting the messenger. This is divine validation that the messenger speaks for God.
ii) The identity of Biblical miracles as sign-gifts is a key plank in the cessationist argument. Once the message (i.e. the Bible) was complete, there was no further need of messengers (i.e. prophets, apostles). Once there was no further need of messengers, there was no further need of sign-gifts. So miraculous sign-gifts have an expiration date. 
iii) This, in turn, figures in the traditional argument from miracles. According to the structure of the argument, we don't primarily believe in Biblical miracles on the authority of Scripture. Rather, we believe Scripture because miracles authorize the Bible writers. Miraculous sign-gifts are compelling evidence that the Bible writers were divinely commissioned. We believe the reported miracles because miracles certify the reporter. 
Having established the bona fides of Bible writers by the argument from miracles, we can now appeal to the authority of Scripture.
iv) This is a classic evidentialist argument. At least some MacArthurites are presuppositionalists. But that generates an unresolved tension between cessationist argument from miracles, which is an evidentialist argument, and presuppositionalism. You can't just graft presuppositionalism onto that preexistent framework. 
For starters, you can decide if it is ethical for one Christian blogger to accuse another Christian blogger of being incapable of honesty or not. I want to make sure everyone understands my primary motive in this discussion. It is not to win an argument with Steve Hays or anybody else as far as that goes. My hope is that someone will hear the truth in what I am communicating and as a result of that truth, they’re life will be affected. My hope is that they will grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Christ, and become more conformed to the image of Christ. Now, without further delay, I wish to interact with Hays’ argument. But before I do, I want to say clearly that I do not portend in any way shape or form to represent “MacArthurites” in general. I do not claim to speak for John MacArthur. I think we are mostly in agreement, but I leave open the possibility that my position and approach may differ in minor ways from other approaches within this particular brand of theology.

Concerning i), I do think Scripture itself offers this view of the miraculous and I stated that clearly in my most recent post. There is a sense of attestation found in those miracles. But the miracles themselves do not stand alone as the attestation. There is a relationship between those miracles and the inner moving of the Holy Spirit to receive them for what they are. Otherwise, how can we explain that Christ performed so many undeniable miracles and yet ended up with somewhere around 120 followers? It follows then that miracles served as signs of approval from God, validating the message and messenger, but something more is needed. The NT time was a unique period of time compared to all other periods of time in redemptive history. After all, we have the Christ event and the birth of His Church along with God’s final act of special revelation. Indeed, it was a unique period unlike anything before or since.

Now, concerning Hays’ point ii), I must confess that his argument moves from pretty clear water to very murky waters indeed. I do not think we would agree that there was no longer a need for messengers once the message had been delivered. Surely we believe that we are messengers to this day of that one message that has been once for all delivered to the saints. Once the message comes, having been validated with miracles, there is no longer any need for further validation. The authority of God revealed in the message and attested and confirmed with signs, miracles, and wonders was given to validate the “once for all message.” Since we do not have a new message, no further validation is necessary. What has been validated, has been validated. Hays’ creation on this point seems like a straw man from my perspective. It seems that this is what Hays needs us to believe in order to “win an argument” rather than Hays’ actually articulating what we actually believe.

Concerning point iii), we have more of the same from Hays. Hays is very confused as why we believe the Scripture. We do not follow the traditional argument from miracles. We believe in miracles for two very basic reasons: first, we cannot deny that we are creatures of God. This fact alone demonstrates that our very existence is a miracle. Second, we believe God intervenes, that He condescends to interact with and engage His creation and this has involved miracles in the course of redemptive history. The record for this condescension is nothing other than Scripture. Since we presuppose that Scripture is the divine revelation of God Himself, we believe all that it says and this includes what it says about miracles. Since the Bible records miraculous events throughout redemptive history, we believe that miracles can, have, and in fact do happen according to God’s divine plan.

Hays seems to be saying that we accept the Bible on the basis that the Bible itself claims that its messengers performed miracles. If we were to follow this line of reasoning, on what basis could we reject other holy books that lay claim to miracles? The answer is simple: we would have no basis whatever for rejecting any claims to the miraculous. And then we would have no option but to accept the claims that those books make about themselves. However, Hays has it exactly backwards. We accept the miracle claims of the Bible because we presuppose the Bible to be God’s divine revelation. After all, we were not there. We never witnessed those miracles. God chose to validate His new covenant message, His Messiah, and His new covenant messengers through signs, wonders, and miracles. These phenomena served as His megaphone, but more importantly, as judgment. We have no good reason, when we use good reason, to reject the miracle claims of Scripture. The historical testimony along with the more important testimony of the Holy Spirit about the nature of this divine relation known as the Bible is more than sufficient. We receive these claims because we have faith that the Bible itself is the divine Word of God. So why then do we reject competing claims? The answer is simple: we reject competing claims because when we place them under the microscope of rational and epistemic scrutiny, they reduce to absurdity. They end up collapsing in on themselves. 

Only Christian theism provides the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of human experience. But this takes us off into the discipline of apologetics. And we simply have no space for to go there at this time. Hays is simply wrong to accuse us of arguing that we believe the Bible is the Word of God because it has miracles in it. That is a naïve oversimplification at best and a malicious straw man at worse.

Finally, we come to Hays last point, point iv). Hays has tried to frame the argument within the context of an Evidentialist approach. But most people in this camp, as far as I know at least, are not at all evidentialists. We are, for the most part, presuppositional in our approach. We do not begin with miracles and argue for Scripture from miracles. In fact, it is just the opposite. We would claim that miracles exist because Scripture says they exist. We also acknowledge that to deny the miraculous is a denial of God. And this just will not do. All men know that God exists. All men know that God created the universe. Therefore, all men know that miracles exist and testify of God’s glorious work.

God used miracles as a megaphone to usher in the work and ministry of the Messiah. In addition, God used miracles, signs, and wonders to affirm the message of the Messiah and of the Messiah’s messengers. This God did because it was His prerogative to do so. If Hays’ is attempting to deny this function of miracles and if he seeks to deny that this is true, then he must explain to us what Peter meant in Acts 2:22 when he said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.” Paul said the resurrection was proof that God would judge the world by one man in Acts 17:31. He also said that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead. Then again Paul referred to the signs of a true apostle in 2 Cor. 12:2. It is very confusing to hear Hays take this line of reasoning. We look back at the miracles, signs, and wonders and acknowledge that they passed off the scene. We mean this in the sense that there were no men moving around operating in these gifts like the apostles did. We recognize that this phenomena of miracles occurred during a time when a new message was being revealed by God to the world. We also recognize that once this message was revealed and in place, for some reason, the miraculous also vanished off the scene, at least at the levels it was operating during this transition period. We examine history just prior to the NT events and shortly after NT events and we discover a small window of time where men in history witnessed something very unusual. Nothing like these miracles before Christ and nothing like them after He and His followers passed off the scene. From this, we draw the inference we have drawn. This historical facts surrounding the miraculous coupled with the exegetical proofs mentioned in the NT serve as solid evidence that miracles served their purpose and that purpose was to validate the message once for all delivered to the saints. Now that the Scriptures have been validated once and for all, what need have we of further validation?

This moves us to the fact that now, when someone comes along claiming to possess that which the NT messengers possessed, the only prudent option is to test it. In addition, since we have been so bombarded with charlatan after charlatan, we have no choice but to listen with a skeptic’s ear until we can validate that we are indeed hearing true testimony of God’s activity. But this is really not hitting the mark at which MacArthur aims. MacArthur is concerned about the claims of continued revelation from God and the subsequent teachings and theology that make up this movement. The claim that God is telling me this or that or that a particular behavior is the power of God’s Spirit working in people’s lives. These are serious claims and if they prove false, they presume upon the Holy and that is simply not something the Church can tolerate. Certain gifts of the Spirit seem to have been especially designed for the ushering in of the New Covenant message of the gospel.

There is much more we could say here but I think we have effective refuted Hays' attempt to place the context of the cessationist argument within the framework of evidentialism. Moreover, I think we have also demonstrated that no legitimate parallel between Hume's skepticism and our desire to carefully examine all things in light of revealed truth exists. Contrary to Hays, I do think I can be honest about at least this much: Hays' argument is fallacious, borders on being uncharitable, has no exegetical support, and therefore is without warrant.

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