Open but Cautious? Or Cautious and Closed?

In his book "Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: Four Views", Wayne Grudem lists 4 typical evangelical approaches to the work of the Holy Spirit: Cessationist, Pentecostal, Third Wave and Open-but-Cautious.

For a lot of my Christian life I would have considered myself in the open-but-cautious camp. However a number of years ago it struck me just how confused a position this can be. For many, myself included, I believe that open-but-cautious actually amounted to "I believe from the scriptures that God gives spiritual gifts and works miraculously today BUT I don't really want him to." I wasn't so much open-but-cautious as cautious-and-thoroughly-closed.

Having assumed that position I look back now and see how subtly I justified sticking to it:

  • There were many more important doctrinal and evangelistic matters to be getting on with. The supernatural work of the Spirit simply was beyond what I had time to think about
  • I should be cautious to avoid excess
  • I should be cautious to avoid breaking unity with brothers and sisters who would have theological difficulties in this whole area
  • I should be cautious because I worked in a broad interdenominational ministry and felt that the way to work with all was to take a bland middle ground on everything

etc, etc. But what it basically boiled down to was that I wasn't going to eagerly desire the greater gifts, especially prophecy, as the scripture clearly commands me to.

The thing about open-but-cautious is that out of the four it is the position that has least integrity to it. You can earnestly believe from your reading of the scriptures that gifts have ceased and try and practise in line with that. Similarly you can align your practise to your belief with the other two positions. But you can't with open-but-cautious. You always end up believing one thing in theory and doing the opposite in practise.

I have been reading with interest stuff on the blog about Lakeland, Florida. One comment from Jesse Phillips really caught my eye. After a careful (and cautious!) review of the situation he ends:

Let me end by saying that we should avoid the tendency to write everything off. For example, when I heard about the girl being raised from the dead, my initial response was to say, “Yeah, right.” But I think the Lord kindly asked me why my inclination was immediately to doubt. I do believe that miracles are for today, so why should I find it so difficult to believe it when one actually occurs? Just because there are some oddities or theology that I find unbiblical doesn’t mean that God is not still working. There are many miracles being done. God is healing people. This is something that should be celebrated.  

I think that's a good comment. Depending on where we come from we will either tend to automatically doubt or unthinkingly accept. We should avoid both but rather test from the scriptures and from the fruit of any claimed miraculous work. I have friends who too easily accept anything that seems to be supernatural but many more who believe in healing in theory but find it hard to believe it when it occurs. May God kindly challenge our inclinations either way.

Two trustworthy pastor friends recently told me they had seen God healing in response to their prayers and against their expectations. One is a charismatic, one isn't. The non-charismatic said a fascinating thing. I don't think this is proveable either way, but it is interesting:

"I wonder if we are seeing more of God healing at the moment because we are moving from a modernist phase in Western culture towards a more pagan phase. Might it be that in a Modernist phase a healing will be ridiculed and explained away, and therefore not act as a sign of the gospel, but that in a more pagan phase a healing may work more powerfully to the surrounding culture as a sign of the gospel?"

If that is true, then maybe we should be looking at our disintegrating post-Christian culture with the eyes of faith and praying that God will give much more by way of miraculous signs of the gospel that will help people hear the message that Jesus is Lord and Christ.