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Craig Keener on Anti-supernaturalism and Cessationism


“Is [Craig S. Keener] seriously suggesting that there is a cause and effect relationship between German anti-supernaturalism and cessationism?”
— From comments on Craig Keener’s review of John MacArthur, Strange Fire

It’s not cause-and-effect, though there is a relationship. Antisupernaturalism may have made it easier for hard cessationism to flourish and harder for continuationism to get a hearing, but the influence apparently went especially from cessationism to antisupernaturalism. (Here I am not referring to belief in the cessation of this or that gift, but the actual belief that miracles had ceased, i.e., hard cessationism.)

David Hume (1711-1776)
Image: Wikimedia Commons

David Hume (Scottish, not German) was able to gain ground in his argument against miracles, following English Deists (the connection with Deists is established quite clearly in The Great Debate on Miracles: from Joseph Glanvill to David Hume (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981), partly because cessationism was so widespread that many dismissed evidence for current miracles. The same evidence for current miracles — testimony of experience — was also the evidence for biblical miracles, so discrediting the former led to skepticism about the latter. Openness to the possibility of current miracles also led to stronger defenses for biblical miracles. See on this point especially Robert Bruce Mullin, Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

Today there are sufficient credible miracle reports to turn the tide against skeptical scholars who deny claims of miracles in the Gospels. It is no longer plausible to argue that eyewitnesses do not claim these kinds of experiences in theistic contexts. For hard cessationists to deny miracle claims based on eyewitness evidence today (rather than to explore the reliability of the witnesses) is to play into the hands of antisupernaturalist critics, who are more than happy to use the same standard to deny all miracle claims in the Bible.



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Category: In Depth, Summer 2014

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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