A Review of “Perspectives on Pentecost” by Richard Gaffin

It is strange for me to find a book whose thesis I largely disagree with, so generally agreeable. In Perspectives on Pentecost, scholar Richard Gaffin aims to convince readers that the revelatory gifts of prophecy and tongues have ceased. I remain unpersuaded by his ultimate arguments, and yet I was shocked to find there was much in this book that I did agree with. Gaffin’s competent scholarship and exegetical work make this a good challenge to many of the misunderstandings and abuses within Charismatic and general continuastionist theology and practice.

Perspectives on Pentecost is a small book, originally it was a series of lectures that Gaffin gave in 1974 and 75. Yet, for all its brevity, the work packs a powerful punch. Gaffin is a tremendous scholar and this work evidences his skill both in exegesis and theology. He digs deep into passages, and even where I could not finally side with his conclusions I found them to provide some pointed challenge to my own thoughts. The book’s six chapters build towards the major point of the work, which doesn’t ultimately come until chapter five. Each chapter works highlights in different ways the foundational principle for Gaffin that Pentecost was a once-and-for-all event, that set the apostolic foundation of the gospel for the church. Gaffin explains the progression of the book when he writes in the first chapter:

The ground plan of this book involves a progressively narrowing exegetical focus on the subject of spiritual gifts. It begins by trying to capture in a brief sketch something of the breadth and richness of the whole work of the Spirit in the church (chapter II), moves on to survey a number of considerations that bear on spiritual gifts in general (chapter III), then concentrates specifically on the gifts of prophecy and tongues (chapter IV) and the question of their cessation (chapter V).

Each chapter focuses on moving readers towards his conclusion, but within those chapters Gaffin provides many great challenges worthy of consideration.

For all the moments I was inclined to disagree with Gaffin’s points, I found others that were strong and convincing. So, while I think that Gaffin minimizes the aspect of empowerment at Pentecost, I think he makes a strong case, in that same chapter, for the once-for-all nature of Pentecost. The believer today does not experience Pentecost like the apostles did. It served an important role in the establishment of the church in the historical-redemptive record, and it is not a repeatable event. Likewise, I disagreed with Gaffin on the relationship between gifts and offices in the New Testament, but I affirmed greatly his push back on the “find-my-gift” fanaticism so common these days. I did not agree with Gaffin’s analysis of the nature of the New Testament prophet, nor his exegesis of the relevant passages. His analysis of tongues, however, was incredibly compelling. I found myself, much to my surprise, convinced of his arguments for tongues as an actual language. In addition he makes a strong case against tongues as the evidence of baptism of the Spirit. His work here was strong and exegetically sound in my view.

Gaffin has written a really good work. It’s a thoughtful study and written in a gracious tone. He clearly disagrees with those who affirm the continuance of the revelatory gifts, but he never belittles them or demeans them. He, unlike MacArthur, is not willing to denounce them heretics and apart from Christ. He makes his case not by picking at the worst cases, but by building an exegetical argument from Scripture. I am not persuaded by all his work, but I was surprised by how much I did enjoy this book. For all those looking for sound theological and Biblical support from Cessationism, this is the work to consult. Perspectives on Pentecost, despite being published in 1979, is still worthy of study today.

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