As a longtime missionary in Spain, Frank Benoit has witnessed the encroachment of Pentecostal/charismatic views concerning the sign gifts since 1994. Not satisfied in his efforts to find a readable challenge to these views, nor an approachable explanation of cessationism for the average believer, he decided to write this book to fill the gap (p. 4). He begins with basic definitions (pp. 19-37) such as defining cessationism (which he documents as being the historic view of the church – pp. 34, 40, 62, 85). Cessationism affirms “that some of the gifts (the sign gifts) and other miraculous events ceased after the apostolic age because they had already fulfilled their function, that is, laying the foundation of the church, while the other gifts (the service gifts) are and have been used by God since then to build the church until Christ comes for her.” The author spends considerable time making a case for the temporal nature of the miraculous gifts, drawing from both Testaments (pp. 39-79).
The strength of Not by Ignorance, however, lies in the well-researched overview of church history to demonstrate that sign gifts ceased with the closure of the canon, and that this ceasing has been recognized by the church until modern times. Part Two of the volume is dedicated to this thesis, beginning with the accusation that recently charismatics have attempted to revise history to support their experience (pp. 83-90). In many ways Part Two is a rebuttal to Jack Deere’s extremely influential 1993 book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit in which Deere, a former cessationist and Dallas Theological Seminary professor, renounced his earlier understanding and switched to a continuist position. Benoit systematically challenges Deere’s revision of history, starting first with evidences of supposed sign gifts that Deere, and others, claim could be found in ancient Christian movements. In chapter five the author examines four such movements between 100 AD and 1500 AD: The Montanists, the monastics and patristics, the Cathars/Albigenses, and the Waldenses, concluding that the sign gifts were either nonexistent in these groups or the sects themselves were heretical.
In chapter six Benoit examines evidences from 1500 AD to today and comes to the same conclusion. In this chapter he provides a helpful overview of all three waves of Pentecostalism, including Pentecostalism itself (beginning in 1901), charismatics (beginning in 1960) and the Third Wave (beginning in 1981). A lengthy, and necessary, Appendix exegetically examining the gifts of tongues and prophecy closes out the book (pp. 193-236).
Benoit summarizes his own work writing: “The conclusion of this whole study is that the doctrine of cessationism is supported by the biblical and the historical evidences and is the traditional position of the history of Christianity” (emphasis his) (p. 191). I believe Benoit accomplished his stated goal of offering an accessible understanding of cessationism and has provided ample evidence, both biblically and historically, for his position. I recommend this work.
Not by Ignorance, An Explanation of Cessationism, by Frank W. R. Benoit (Sisters, Oregon: Deep River Books, 2020) 249 pp., paper $16.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel