A Review of “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?” ed. by Wayne Grudem

giftsCounterpoint books can feel a bit like sitting in on a friendly debate between brilliant minds. At least that’s the goal of such volumes. They don’t all succeed at achieving that goal, but Wayne Grudem’s edited volume on the miraculous gifts definitely does. The four scholars who contributed to Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? not only give a good introduction to each of their respective views, but they add to the understanding of each’s view’s strengths and weaknesses by means of response and interaction. This volume serves as a great introduction to a much debated subject by exposing the holes and insights of each system.

Despite being published in 1996, this particular addition to Zondervan’s Counterpoint Series remains insightful and relevant. The four dominant views contained within its pages remain the four dominant views today. Grudem has compiled an A-list team of scholars to represent these views and to interact with one another’s respective convictions. The debate over the continuance of the miraculous gifts has not died down, and the rise of the Charismatic gifts among many in the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd makes this conversation all the more relevant. The four views, while perhaps not the most recognized spokesman today, remain some of the most cogent theologians of their respective traditions. Their words are careful, insightful, and challenging.

Richard Gaffin represents the Cessationist position and articulates careful his major concerns with Charismatic/Pentecostal views. He does so without giving way to the straw-men or drawing extremist conclusions. He also avoids some of the popular, but largely unfounded, convictions of his own party. Specifically, he avoids identifying the “perfect” in 1 Corinthians 13 with the completion of the Bible, such a view was once popular but has largely been proven inconsistent with the meaning of the text and church history. Gaffin is gracious in his interaction, but firm in his convictions. His interactions with the other essays bares this out as well.

Robert Saucy represents a unique via media in this collection. His “Open But Cautious” view agrees largely with Gaffin’s concerns but finds no strong conclusive textual support for denying the continuance of the gifts. His view is far more “cautious” than “open,” but he is willing to poke a few holes in Gaffin’s perspective and offer some latitude that he sees the text of Scripture allows.

Sam Storms articulates the Third Wave perspective, spelling out carefully distinctions between his own view and that of a traditional Pentecostal/Charismatic. If some of the responses fail to interact with this view distinctly it is owing no fault to Storms’ nuanced articulation. He is particularly careful to deny to the baptism of the Spirit as a second movement of grace post-conversion. This is an important qualifier of the Third Wave position and Storms does it justice in his textual exegesis.

Finally, Doug Oss aptly represents his own view of traditional Pentecostalism. He notes a few nuances within the movement, acknowledging some diversity of opinion. He also dispels the myth that those in this tradition are not scholarly or intellectual. One of the key themes throughout the work is the generosity of scholarly insight and willingness to intelligently defend each viewpoint. Oss presents a strong opposition to the Cessationist position as well, looking to the text of Scripture to draw out his conclusions.

In each response there is a high emphasis on the authority of Scripture. While Gaffin may assert that such a high emphasis is inconsistent with the more Charismatic traditions, he too acknowledges their belief in it. Readers will not find here any sloppy exegesis or emotional appeals. Some appeals to silence are evident, at times, but even these are not at the core of their respective arguments. Any reader wishing to better understand the divergent views will find this is a very competent volume. Each author was required to give space to the major issues of contention in the debate, which include: baptism in the Holy Spirit; whether some gifts have ceased; focus on specific gifts of prophecy, healing, and tongues; implications for church life; and the dangers of each positions, including their own. This is a worthwhile read, then, for anyone seeking to navigate this issue. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? serves as a fairly comprehensive introduction to the subject.

While I found myself more personally convinced of Storms’ perspective (Third Wave), I was struck by the evident holes in each system. No system of theology is without flaw. Man-made explanations can only go so far in adequately explaining the things of God, thus each view had weaknesses. The responses and interactions each contributor made to his colleague’s chapter were very helpful in exposing these shortcomings. This was most helpful when it was directly tied to a specific text of Scripture. The interactions reminded me of two important things, which are communicated by Grudem in his own remarks in the book: (1) no view is without some unexplained issues, and (2) there is room for disagreement within the bonds of brotherly love. Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today? presents readers with a great introduction and also a great caution. It serves to promote good scholarship on this issue, but also to promote a dose of humility in the discussion. I highly commend this volume in the Zondervan Counterpoints series as worthy of study. While not every essay is individually compelling, the overall work is helpful for theological thought.

1 Comment

  1. I really should sit with you one of these days. I’d like to bounce a few things around with you. Quite seriously.

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