On the cessation of the charismata: The protestant polemic of Benjamin B. Warfield

Jon Mark Ruthven, Marquette University

Abstract

The modern conflict over the cessation of miraculous gifts has roots as deep as pre-Christian Judaism, but the cessationist doctrine found its classic expression in John Calvin: (1) The essential role of miraculous charismata was to accredit normative Christian doctrine and its bearers. (2) While God may providentially act in unusual, even striking ways, true miracles are limited to epochs of special divine revelation, i.e., those within the biblical period. (3) Miracles are judged by the doctrines they purport to accredit: If the doctrines are false, or alter orthodox doctrines, their accompanying miracles are necessarily conterfeit. This study critically examines the central premises of a modern expression of cessationism, Benjamin B. Warfield's Counterfeit Miracles, which is representative and authoritative for conservative Evangelicals. The thesis of this dissertation is that Warfield's polemic--the culmination of a historically evolving argument directed against certain threats to institutional religion--fails because of internal inconsistencies with respect to its concept of miracle, its historical method and its biblical hermeneutics. The central failure of Warfield's cessationism is its confusion of the object of revelation, the finality of Christ and essential Christian doctrine, with the means of revelation, the charismata, including prophecy and miracles. After the first chapter which introduces the problem and its setting, the argument proper occupies the four succeeding chapters of the dissertation. Chapter 2 is an historical investigation of some key elements in the cessationist polemic which Warfield shares, such as the context of religious conflict precipitating the polemic, and its various justifications, which include its underlying epistemology and view of miracle. Chapter 3 then concentrates systematically upon Warfield's polemic itself, examining the historical factors precipitating it, his rationale for cessationism, with its epistemology and view of miracle. Chapter 4 carries this critical analysis further by testing Warfield's polemic against the scriptural teaching he failed to address in his polemic, employing the understanding of scripture which his own hermeneutics implies. Chapter 5 offers a brief summary and reflection of the dissertation's key points with respect to the contemporary debate. The purpose of this study is ultimately pastoral, undertaken with the hope that a radically biblical understanding of charismatic function may defuse the conflict over cessationism.

Recommended Citation

Jon Mark Ruthven, "On the cessation of the charismata: The protestant polemic of Benjamin B. Warfield" (January 1, 1989). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9014061.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9014061

Share

COinS