Reflections on a Year of Studying Spiritual Gifts

Last year’s 12 month study project focused on the Spiritual Gifts. It was a very fruitful and surprising study for me. I was surprised at what I agreed with, how much tension exists within me, how the Scriptures present the subject, and where I ultimately landed on the doctrinal debates. So, here are some of the key things I drew from that year-long-study:

  1. Doctrinal Humility is a Must – There are good and brilliant theologians and Christians on both sides of the miraculous gifts debate. Furthermore, the text of Scripture doesn’t always say as much as we want it to say, for either side of the debate. Therefore, as we draw conclusions about the continuance of the Spiritual Gifts we ought to do so with a great deal of humility. I want to avoid creating more division than the Bible does. 1 Corinthians is all about love and it falls right in the middle of Paul’s teaching on the gifts (chapters 12 and 14), and that’s intentional. We ought all to remember that as we continue to debate and discuss these issues. The honest truth is that even after studying this subject for a year, there remain answers to questions that are not firm or definitive.
  2. Your Understanding of the Spirit is determinative of your understanding of the gifts – The New Testament presents the experience of the Spirit of God as an experience of power. If we affirm the true nature and the Biblical picture of the Spirit of God we ought to expect to experience power. If we struggle to think rightly about the function of the Spirit in the life of the believer then we will definitely not affirm or expect the miraculous in our lives. Even if we don’t ultimately affirm the continuance of the Spiritual Gifts, we must expect the Spirit of God to demonstrate His power in our lives in some form and fashion. That’s one of the key elements of experiencing the Spirit within the New Testament. If we expect the miraculous, who knows, we might just change our vies on the Spiritual Gifts too.
  3. Baptism in the Spirit is more nuanced than indwelling of the Spirit – Part of the debate over this phrase is owing the reductionist readings of it. We tend to flatten out the phrase and make it mean only one specific thing, which makes reading it in light of the various Biblical contexts difficult. A perspectival approach to the doctrine actually allows us to see how each set of verses speaking to the doctrine shed different light on its function. In truth the Bible uses the phrase to speak to eschatological, empowerment, and initiation aspects respectively. A more nuanced look at all that the text of Scripture says provides us with a more comprehensive picture of the doctrine.
  4. I have more affinity with Third Wave Charimaticism than I realized – While I don’t think that I fully fall into any one category I was surprised to find that I have more affinity for Third Wave than I realized. There’s much about its belief and practice that I think makes sense of the Scriptures. For example, while Third Wave affirms the continuance of the Spiritual Gifts, it does not affirm the sort of second stage blessing of the Spirit that Second Wave Pentecostalism does.
  5. Exercise of Spiritual Gifts works best in small group settings, not corporate gatherings – The key word here is “works best.” I recognize that within the New Testament the gifts were exercised in that corporate gathering of the body, and yet the nature of the corporate gathering then is often different in size than it is today. Paul’s instruction to only speak in tongues if you know an interpreter is present, requires familiarity with the congregation and their respective gifts. It’s the kind of intimate knowledge that can happen in smaller gatherings. Such smaller gatherings allows too for more careful interaction and analysis of the gifts than is afforded in large corporate gatherings with the whole assembly. This is my take, it’s not a hard-line but a pragmatic one that I think preserves the exercise of the gifts and the doctrinal safety of the congregation.

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