Well known blogger C. Michael Patton of Parchment and Pen, who is associated with the conservative and dispensationalist Dallas Theological Seminary, has written an interesting long post explaining Why I am not Charismatic (originally several separate posts, also downloadable as a short “e-book” PDF). TC Robinson posted a summary and response to Patton, which interestingly has generated more comments than Patton’s original post – including some from me.
Patton has clearly moved on from the old cessationist position of dispensationalists and most conservative evangelicals, that the true biblical charismatic gifts have ceased and that any such manifestations seen today are false and of the devil. Indeed that was more of less his personal position. But he has changed his views quite significantly, to the extent that he can now write:
I don’t think that one can make a solid case for the ceasing of the gifts from Scripture. …
I believe the same about the gift of prophecy, tongues, and other supernatural sign gifts. I believe they have ceased because they ceased in church history (as I argued) and I, personally, have never experienced them. Therefore, I am a “De Facto Cessationist.”
Thus his argument comes down to one of experience, his own and that of many, but not all, through church history. The issue becomes even more clear when he writes:
I have also said that one of the primary reasons why I am not charismatic is because I have never experienced such gifts in a way that would compel me to believe that these gifts, as they are expressed today, are legitimate.
A common complaint made by cessationists against charismatics is that they base their theology on experience rather than the Bible. But here Patton is doing exactly that to make his cessationist point: arguing from his own experience, or lack of it, to make a point which he accepts he cannot prove from Scripture. And of course this is his experience because his own Christian life has, I suppose, mostly been in cessationist circles where no opportunity is given for open practice of these gifts.
It seems that Patton’s position at the moment is something like “charismatic gifts are not something I personally want to exercise”. But that is not a tenable position. It is interesting that while he refers to 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, he completely ignores chapter 14, which is the key chapter in the Bible about charismatic gifts. And it is there that we find clear apostolic commands:
Follow the way of love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. … Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
1 Corinthians 14:1,39 (TNIV)
This leaves no room for a middle way. Gifts like prophecy and tongues are not optional extras in the Christian life, which some can ignore in their personal lives and forbid in their churches if that is their personal preference. They are a normative part of church life, even if not of every individual’s Christian life. If they were not seen in most historical churches, that is because the leaders of those churches disobeyed these apostolic commands.
I am not Charismatic. I am not necessarily cessationist either. I am, right now, a de facto cessationist who lives with a high expectation that God is going to move in the way he will. I hope that I am always ready to follow.
Thus we conclude, de facto.
Patton has perhaps embarked on the same journey which Jack Deere also embarked on while at DTS, which led him into a full-blown charismatic position. Clearly Patton has not yet moved nearly as far as Deere. But we can hope and pray that he and the rest of his DTS colleagues will keep moving in the right direction, as God leads them, and eventually find the full biblical truth about the charismatic gifts.