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To Be Continued: A Defense of the Continuation of All the Gifts of the Spirit

(Excerpt from “Gifts and Guardrails: The Choice to be Spiritually Gifted and not Dangerously Gullible)



by Isaiah Robertson



There are two general views that exists regarding the Biblical gifts of the Spirit. The two views are technically referred to as cessationism and continuationism. Thomas R. Schreiner, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary described cessationism, the position he affirms, this way:


"I’ve become convinced that some of the so-called charismatic gifts are no longer given and that they aren’t a regular feature of life in the church. I am thinking particularly of the gifts of apostleship, prophecy, tongues, healing, and miracles (and perhaps discernment of spirits). . . I conclude that all we need to know for salvation and sanctification has been given to us through the teaching of the apostles and prophets, and that this teaching is now found in the Scriptures. . . the Reformers and most of the Protestant tradition until the 20th century believed the (miraculous) gifts had ceased. I conclude that both Scripture and experience verify their judgment on the matter.[1]

Former president of the Evangelical Theological Society and continuationist Sam Storms defines continuationism this way:


(The belief that) all spiritual gifts continue to be given by God and are operative in the church today.[2]

Full disclosure, I land squarely in the continuationist camp. I wholeheartedly believe that every single spiritual gift continues until Jesus Christ returns. I believe, according to 1 Corinthians 14:1, that we are to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. Cessationism falls within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, so I affirm most cessationists as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I just can’t wrap my mind around how they land there exegetically.


My inability to see the cessationist position in Scripture is the primary reason why I can’t affirm the view. I also hesitate to embrace cessationism for cultural reasons. I believe viewing supernatural and inexplicable occurrences through a rationalistic lens contributes to the embrace of hard cessationism. In my humble opinion, cessationism, in its modern form, is a derivative of the European Enlightenment— particularly the Scottish Enlightenment. Dr. Jon Ruthven highlights this connection in his article “On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic of Benjamin B. Warfield:”


. . . contemporary cessationism stands upon certain post-Reformation and Enlightenment era conceptions of miracle-as-evidence, upon highly evolved, post-biblical emphases about the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God and their normative expressions in the world. . . Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (SCSP) epistemology was short-lived in Europe but came to dominate American thought so thoroughly that for about a century, the Romantic reaction, so widespread in Europe, scarcely gained a foothold. Nowhere had the Enlightenment era Scottish philosophy been more warmly nurtured than at Princeton seminary, where (B.B.) Warfield was its last major expression. Warfield seems unconscious of the impact of SCSP on his thought.[3]

Many cessationists embrace a Warfieldian view of the spiritual gifts which was unconsciously influenced by Scottish Common Sense Philosophy (SCSP). This philosophy presents the use of “common sense” as the fundamental way in which we acquire knowledge of both metaphysical and physical constructs. Essentially, according to this philosophy, anything that is contrary to the principles of “common sense” is absurd. The miraculous gifts of the Spirit often defy commonsensical explanations. Therefore, these particular gifts of the Spirit could never fit into an SCSP framework.


On the other hand, the African worldview is steeped in the belief in the magical and supernatural. Ideas of active impersonal powers and ancestral spirits are common throughout various traditional African religions. Dr. Elizabeth Mburu discusses the contrast between Western rationalism and African spiritualism in her book African Hermeneutics:


The introduction of Western education, especially in institutions of higher learning, has promoted a secular way of life that explains the world purely in physical terms. This has affected our understanding of the world. . . This orientation is completely opposite to the one we have known for generations. . .Despite this intrusion of a western worldview, the spiritual realm remains real for most Africans today. Spiritual activity in our everyday lives is never doubted, and many of us have little problem recognizing the invisible dimension of our faith.[4]

An African worldview lends to believing in the ongoing manifestation of the Holy Spirit through prophecy, tongues, words of wisdom and knowledge etc. Appealing to the supernatural world possesses explanatory power within the African mind. Conversely, the Western mind struggles to believe anything that hasn’t been subjected to the scientific method. I believe that Biblical revelation aligns more with the traditional African worldview than a rationalistic Western worldview.


Additionally, many of our enslaved ancestors recounted experiencing visions of Christ and hearing the voice of God in their conversion stories. Historian Mechal Sobel includes an account given by a man named C.C. Jones, a missionary to enslaved people in Georgia, in her book Trabelin’ On: The Slave Journey to an Afro Baptist Faith. This account verifies the extraordinary ways our ancestors came to faith in Christ:


In 1824, C.C. Jones, a missionary to the slave plantations in Liberty County, GA wrote that blacks were converted through dreams, visions, trances, voices all bearing a perfect or striking resemblance to some form or type which has been handed down for generations…[5]

Cessationists would reject the validity of these claims outright because, in their view, God does not speak outside of His Word, and He certainly does not provide visions of Himself to anyone. Embracing cessationism means relegating the conversion stories of many enslaved Africans during the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings to the mistaken, mad, or mendacious explanatory pile. The dismissive attitude toward these supernatural occurrences contributed to the reason why most enslaved Africans rejected Anglicanism.


Anglicans proactively stamped out any visible supernatural or magical aspects of the Christian faith from their practice. The Methodists, and to a greater degree the Baptist sects, welcomed expressions deemed to be “antireligious” by the Anglicans. Sobel also discloses this in her book:


In Contrast to the Anglicans, the Baptist sectarians reextended the penetrating power of the holy, reincorporation major areas of concern that the Anglicans had eliminated from the church.
. . when the Anglican church was established (In America) it sought to eliminate the magical from the purview of the church. . . Prophesying and healing, abjured by the Anglicans, were major concerns of the sectarians.[6]

Enslaved Africans gravitated toward Methodism or Baptistic Christianity because, unlike Anglicanism, they better reflected the spiritual fervor and magical nature of their traditional African religions. The fervor and spiritual energy which distinguished the Methodist and Baptist sects from the Anglicans erupted publicly during the First Great awakening and enslaved Africans joined in droves.


Ultimately, the cessationist – continuationist debate must be settled exegetically. I haven’t seen a compelling exegetical case presented for the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Additionally, it is hard to use an African mind to deny the existence of these supernatural gifts. The Black Church would cease to reflect a distinctly African worldview if it drifted into cold rationalism and the denial of these gifts. I am a continuationist because of the Bible first and foremost. The cultural dynamics I’ve explained offer secondary reasoning behind my position. I believe the primary reason why the Black Church should be a continuationist institution is exegetical. The cultural reasons are important because they further establish us in our identity as the Black Church.


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Isaiah Robertson is a pastor and the author of Black Church Empowered: Examining Our History, Securing Our Longevity.

[1] Schreiner, Thomas, “Why I Am a Cessationist”, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/cessationist/, The Gospel Coalition, published on January 22, 2014 [2] Storms, Sam, “A Strange and Unpersuasive Argument for Cessationism”, https://www.samstorms.org/enjoying-god-blog/post/a-strange-and-unpersuasive-argument-for- cessationism, Samstorms.org, published on November 21, 2018 [3] Ruthven, Jon. (1990). On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic of Benjamin B. Warfield. ETD Collection for Marquette e-Pubs. 12. 10.1163/157007490X00034. [4] Mburu, Elizabeth. African Hermeneutics. N.p., Langham Creative Projects, 2019. PG. 34 [5] Sobel, Mechal. Trabelin' On: The Slave Journey to an Afro-Baptist Faith. Abridged Paperback. United States, Princeton University Press, 1988. PG. 107 [6] Ibid, PG. 80

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