Monday, February 07, 2011

Reymond: The "Blackout" Argument and the "Canonical" Argument Against Non-cessationism

I am still enjoying reading Robert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology for our weekly CRBC Men’s Study. We are slowly working our way through the opening chapters on the doctrine of Scripture. I just finished reading chapter three on seven attributes of Scripture, including its “necessity.” Reymond’s position is consistent with the Reformed creeds (e.g., The Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession 1689 argue for Scripture’s necessity “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased”). In the discussion of this point Reymond makes some strong arguments against non-cessationism (the belief held by charismatics that extraordinary gifts, experiences, and revelation continue today as in apostolic times). Two of these arguments we could call (1) the “blackout” argument and (2) the “canonical” argument (see p. 58, n. 7):

1. “Blackout” Argument: The concept of the canon being closed and of “the cessation of special revelation with the passing of the apostles” is consistent with what we learn of the typical process of revelation in the Bible itself. Namely, “The revelatory process never came in an unbroken continuance but rather, in nontechnical language, in ‘spurts.’” From Genesis 49:1-27 to Exodus 3:4 there was a “blackout” of divine communication that lasted “over four hundred years.” After Malachi there is a span of four hundred years when “revelational activity ceased.” In addition, after Malachi the OT canon was closed. The typical charismatic position imagines “the unbroken continuance” of special revelation that does not comport with the Bible’s view that this typically takes place in “spurts.” The norm is for there to be long periods of “blackout.” As with the period after Malachi, we are in a period when the New Testament canon has closed (along with the OT now completing the Christian canon), and we should not expect further special revelational activity as we await the end of the ages.

2. “Canonical” Argument: Reymond argues that the only way one can consistently hold to the canon of Scripture being closed is if he also holds to cessationism:

One final note: most, if not all, of the Biblical scholars and theologians who insist upon the final reality of continuing revelation today are apparently also willing to affirm that the Bible is a “closed canon.” For this affirmation I am genuinely glad. On the other hand, they seem not to appreciate that the argument for a closed canon, which they affirm, is also the argument for the cessation of revelation, that the two stand or fall together, and that if the revelatory process has in fact continued to this day, then there is no such thing as a truly closed canon.



Nathan W. Bingham said...

Thanks for posting this excerpt. I appreciate Reymond including a discussion of this in his systematic theology.

I run - if you know of any articles or audio I could add, let me know. :-)

Kari said...

Hi Pastor Riddle,

My name is Kari and I have been reading your blog for some time. I am not educated in theology, but the same Spirit that teaches me Scriptures is the same one that teaches ivory tower scholars, so I do like to weigh in every now and again, but I probably won't use phrases like "subjective verb and antinomianism" LOL. I am a woman and easily deceived, so I look to appointed teachers to guide me. Anyhoo,

Thank you for this article. This is important and not just a secondary issue. If you were to walk into almost any church in Charlottesville on a Sunday morning, you will find new revelations being preached from the pulpit and being further pushed by the congregation. I know because I came from the worst of it in the large pentecostal church here. It left no solid foundation upon which my faith could stand. Doctrines shifted like the wind.

New Revelation, through tongues and prophesy, healings, contemplative prayer, etc., really do happen, but they are not from God and I will testify that this is the truth. Some are simply group hysteria or self-machinations, but I have observed something at times much more sinister.

In my observations, charismania is an onion that has so many layers that at first it seems to be benign. Keep peeling, though and you will only find layer upon layer of apostasy that leads to a rotten core.

Jesus is the Word and the Word is complete. We can all agree upon that. There is nothing left to say, the creation to the millenium have all been recorded. Oh but when you are a continuist, the Word and His Grace are not sufficient for thee, are they? (that question is rhetorical from experiece). We need to be special, elevate ourselves and bring God down! It no longer becomes God that healed Brother so-n-so, but Sister Hoozy-what has the gift of healing, SHE is the healer. So in this group, when our children are sick, do we any longer look to the Heavens for our help from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth? Heavens No! We have to go find Sister Hoozy-what because she has the gift of healing and if her healing doesn't work, oh, shame on us for not having faith.

I could go on for days, years even about the dangers of being non-cessationist. I have been there, it completely shipwrecked my faith. I see it shipwrecking others today, good teachers like John Piper. It is Roman doctrine and will lead Christ's Church right into the fold of the anti-christ himself, the son of perdition on the throne in Rome who has been waiting to receive us "separated brethren" back.

But my question to you Pastor Riddle is this; could you not say that perhaps the rotten fruit that lies at the center of this issue could perhaps stem from dispensationalism? I mean the blackout situation stated as the first scenario almost screams of the errors of dispensationalim.

After having spent the last 3 years pent up in my house, terrified of church, learning the whole Bible from scratch, no commentaries or books, I can't help but see when you start breaking God's History into dispensations, then you compartmentalize the History of the World and God's sovereignty and unwavering and UNCHANGING hand. Instead of the Church being there since Adam, Christ being in every page of Scripture, the unbroken story of God's people and His loving Mercy and Grace, dispensation creates a new God and new set of rules for each "change" in the Church.

Just curious as to how see this playing a part in the whole error.

Peace and Grace to you and your household in the name of the King of Kings, Jesus the Christ. Amen

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for your comment and for your readership of the blog. From time to time, it’s nice to know someone’s out there reading (beyond the counter statistics)!

Thanks also for your first-hand sharing of some of the negative spiritual side-effects of non-cessationism. Many want to throw out doctrine, but it matters. Doctrine affects ethics and practice.

You also ask about the relationship of charismatic theology with dispensationalism. If you read this blog regularly you know that I reject dispensationalism. There are some dispensationalists (like John MacArthur in his book “Charismatic Chaos”) who firmly reject non-cessationism. On the other hand, there are, of course, dispensational charismatics. Interestingly, Edward Irving, one of the early leaders of the dispensational movement, was also a forerunner of the charismatic movement (see the fascinating Banner of Truth biography, “The Life of Edward Irving: Fore-runner of the Charismatic Movement” for his sad story).

As for Reymond’s “blackout” comments: Reymond is not a dispensationalist but takes a sound Reformed position on the doctrine of last things (amillennialism). His discussion of “blackout” periods is not at all related to a dispensational scheme but a basic observation that (contra charismatics) Biblical evidence does not support the notion of continuous periods of open revelation.

Again, Kari, thanks for reading and for your helpful comments. I trust you are now out of the house and have found a solid, Christ-centered, Bible-preaching church.

Grace, Pastor Jeff

Kari said...

Quote from Pastor Riddle:
"As for Reymond’s “blackout” comments: Reymond is not a dispensationalist but takes a sound Reformed position on the doctrine of last things (amillennialism). His discussion of “blackout” periods is not at all related to a dispensational scheme but a basic observation that (contra charismatics) Biblical evidence does not support the notion of continuous periods of open revelation."

Yes, I totally agree that this is his argument against, but what I was merely pointing out is that the dispensationalist use this same blackout argument to stress their point as well. At least in the charismatic circles I encountered. The charismatics and continualist lean on the fact that "the last days" are a future event (that they believe that we are currently in) having begun in the early 1900's with the tongues movement. This is their largest argument, that the charismatic movement is a fullfillment of Joel's prophesy, rather than understanding a historic premill or amill view, that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost and was specifically a sign for the Jews to recognize that the apostles were sent by God.

So, I guess, really I should have stressed that this problem stems from a futurist view that is a result of dispensationalism. The charismatics are waiting for a huge revival, which includes these "gifts of the Holy Spirit" and then their rapture before Jesus comes, which is clearly not biblical. The problem is that they believe between Jesus taking His place at the right of hand of the Father and their "last days" revival, they believe the Bible just stopped (blackout), purely living in Grace until the end-times. I think that having this eschatological mindset led to the church anticipating this "outpouring of the Spirit" attributed to the confusion. Putting Joel and other prophets out somewhere in the future. Rather than seeing that prophetic books like John's Revelation is an ongoing commentary. Just my own thoughts from having come from the "other side" if you will. Hehe

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me put these items into perspective.

I really enjoy working through these things.


Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Thanks for the clarification. Yes, makes sense. Good point.