Greg thank you for engaging my original post with such charity. In many ways, you were harsher on your own tribe than I would have been. Moreover, although I invoked Warfield my primary target was not the Reformed tradition per se, which I agree is broad and deep and has much to commend it. Instead, my primary concern was to exorcise a ghost behind claims that the Protestant tradition in the main does not hold to the continuation of the gifts.

Your generous response prompts me to clarify my own position and raise some questions about your defense of Warfield.

First, I was not claiming that any contemporary Evangelical holding to a cessationist position was somehow anti-Catholic. Instead, as you rightly note, I was pointing toward a historical claim about Protestantism. The scholar I have found most associated with the claim in more recent Evangelical literature is Anthony Hoekema, an irenic Reformed scholar to be sure, but one who nevertheless has said that “it has been the almost unanimous conviction of the mainline Protestant churches that these miraculous gifts ceased at the close of the Apostolic Age.” This was made in Holy Spirit Baptism and Hoekema then proceeded to utilize Warfield as part of his argument. While the claim is not original to Hoekema, his writings have been influential with Millard Erickson and Carl F. H. Henry both citing him on this debate. When Thomas Shreiner concluded his post on cessationism at The Gospel Coalition with the statement that “the Reformers and most of the Protestant tradition until the 20th century believed the gifts had ceased,” I thought that this historical claim needed to be discussed.

My point was that this claim is historically problematic because Protestant rejections of the miraculous were bound up with an anti-Catholic polemic. Thus any claim about the Protestant tradition not holding to the continuation of the gifts must reckon with this part of the history. It is this ghost lurking behind assertions about most of the Protestant tradition being largely cessationist that I want to exorcise. I take it as a historical claim about Protestantism as a whole, but you seem to suggest that it is a theological claim about what is central to Protestantism, which, if that were the case, would be a little more troubling.

As you no doubt understand, my selection of Warfield was quite intentional. He casts a rather long shadow in Evangelicalism within the U.S., especially in its Reformed and Baptist wings where this debate has been the most vigorous. Richard Gaffin, one of the architects of the contemporary Reformed position on cessationism has said that his own position “stands squarely in the tradition of Warfield.”

Second, I should also clarify that the patristic and medieval understanding of the miraculous included what today falls under the label charismatic. Most patristic and medieval writers preferred to talk about miracles and miracle workers rather than charismatic gifts for a number of reasons such as the dominant gift list being Isaiah 11, not 1 Corinthians 12 and Jerome’s translating charismata as “graces” (gratiae). Even though the contemporary debate within Evangelicalism concerns charismatic gifts, it corresponds to the patristic and medieval understanding of miracles and miracle workers through whom these “graces” flowed. Warfield understood this quite well because his opening chapter in Counterfeit Miracles is “On the Cessation of the Charismata.”

Now, to my questions about your defense of Warfield.

1. Is it really the case that Warfield’s discussion of the patristic and medieval periods is not about Catholicism? I ask this for three reasons: 1) Warfield begins the chapter with Edward Gibbon’s conversion to Catholicism, which was related to Gibbon’s belief in the continuation of the miraculous; 2) he spends several pages in the same chapter critiquing another famous convert to Catholicism, John Henry Newman, noting what he sees as Newman’s shift toward the miraculous; 3) even though he knows that Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, and Jerome all wrote about saints in which the miraculous was prominent, he still makes the claim that these “saints’ lives” follow other Christian romances and thus represent an infusion of Heathenism into the church. Augustine escapes only because Warfield traces his embrace of the miraculous to his time at Milan and speculates that Augustine, along with other Fathers, betrays a subtle awareness that these miracles had ceased even though he reports them.

As an aside, I find it fascinating that Warfield rejects the longer ending of Mark, first in the chapter on patristic and medieval miracles and then more extensively in his criticism of A. J. Gordon. Part of his reasoning is that the longer ending has Jesus claiming that miraculous signs shall follow believers, which, for Warfield, “bear an apocryphal appearance.” Apparently the longer ending of Mark is akin to a Christian romance too.

2. If Warfield is not concerned with Catholicism, then why in his discussion of the kind of “faith healing” promoted by men like A. J. Gordon does he claim that it creates a class of “professionals” who stand between the soul and God and that “from this germ the whole sacerdotal evil has grown”? It sure seems like Warfield is concerned about an encroachment of Catholic ideas of the priesthood.

3. Your points about Warfield’s use of “class of men” and “permanent endowment” are suggestive, but is that what he means? I confess I am unsure. Does Warfield mean to say that Protestants do not have saints in the Catholic sense? He certainly spent a lot of time talking about saints and saints’ lives in the previous chapters. If so, I would agree, but then not even Catholic saints are canonized because they are viewed as possessing a permanent endowment of miracle-working power during their earthly sojourn. At least this is not the case in the Middle Ages in which prophecy, healing, miracles, etc., tended to be viewed as graces at work in the individual, some of which may be permanent and some of which may not be (depending on the theologian discussing the matter). This is no doubt related to Jerome’s translation of “graces” for charismata.

You suggest that Warfield might intend to highlight a difference between Protestant and Catholic understandings of holy orders. If this is the case, then, given what Warfield says about professionalization and faith healing, it seems he does think that it introduces a Catholic view of the priesthood into Protestantism.

My questions cause me to think that Warfield still operates with the idea that embracing the miraculous leads one dangerously close to Catholicism as it did Gibbon and Newman, and this is part of the reason why the Protestant position has been and should be that all miracles have ceased. As I said before, I think this debate is healthy for Evangelicalism and I deeply appreciate the generous spirit with which you engaged my post. My concern remains that we exorcise this ghost of anti-Catholicism from the debate by recognizing that historically the claim that “the Protestant tradition as a whole was cessationist” is bound up with anti-Catholic polemics. 

Articles by Dale M. Coulter

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