Sunday, May 25, 2008

Studying Spiritual Gifts

In preparing for the last two messages on spiritual gifts [One, Two], I've done a LOT of reading and wrestling. Here are some helpful resources (certainly not everything I would recommend reading, but some of the most helpful and accessible items):

Web-Based Articles:

Using Our Gifts in Proportion to Our Faith, Part 1.
John Piper wrestles with the different interpretations/definitions of the gift of prophecy.

When Will Prophecy Cease?
John Piper addresses this difficult question.

Are Signs and Wonders for Today?
A series of messages by John Piper that is careful and exegetical and yet answers "Yes."

Why the Gift of Prophecy Is Not the Usual Way of Knowing God's Will
A helpful reminder that even if prophecy exists, it's not the main way that we know what God wants--wisdom is.

Modern Spiritual Gifts As Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinatry Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology
Vern Poythress lays out a gracious paradigm for unity across the divide between cessationists and continuationists. This helped me to get over some of my struggles.

The Nature of Corinthian Glossolalia: Possible Options by Vern Poythress
Graciously but carefully dealing with the various options.

Also see: C.J. Mahaney's Recommended Reading List on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit
C.J. and his fellow Sovereign Grace Ministries pastors believe in the sufficiency and ultimate authority of Scripture and the continuation of the miraculous gifts. They have come up with a very careful practice of encouraging the gifts following Paul's rules.

Most Helpful Books:

Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 by D.A. Carson
I've read this book 3 times and each time learned more than the last. I basically follow Carson's exegesis in my exposition of these passages. Very wise.

Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, especially pgs. 1016-1090.
Dr. Grudem has thought about these things very carefully and yet writes in a way that anyone can read. Good summary.

The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today by Wayne Grudem
This is the fullest explanation of the view of prophecy that I take. Almost comprehensive and deals with objections and problems. Wise.

Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Edited by Wayne Grudem
An excellent collection of essays from 4 different views (Cessationist, Open But Cautious, Third-Wave, and Classic Pentecostal). I would characterize myself as trying to be "Obediently Pursuing But Cautious."

Charismatic Chaos
John MacArthur tackles the excesses of the Charismatic movement. We don't agree on every point, but he has done the church a service by showing where this movement has gone off the rails.

For the best defense of cessationism, I recommend To Be Continued? by Sam Waldron. He presents a cascade argument that goes from the cessation of apostle to the cessation of all miraculous gifts. Ultimately, I was not persuaded (however much I wanted to be!), but it is well done and good for food for thought.


I consider myself a "post" Pentecostal/Charismatic. While I greatly respect Piper and Grudem, I strongly disagree with them on the issue of charismatic gifts. I graduated from an Assemblies of God bible college and was a member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies during my studies for master of divinity at Asbury Theological Seminary.

While Grudem, Fee, Piper and others are the more solid proponents of that movement, the truth is the pentecostal/charismatic movement is by and large heterodox at best and cultic and heretical at worst. The movement is permeated by Word/Faith gnosticism, which is an out and out heresy.

Secondly, the charismatic approach is generally to let "experience" guide exegesis. The so-called "charismatic" exegesis approach. This is a capitulation to subjectivism and existential/mystical approaches to exegesis rather than an objective approach.

However, my issue is that the so-called "gifts" in operation today are mostly evidenced anecdotally and the naive are just expected to take it as true by "testimony."

After being in the movement for over 10 years I finally decided that I had not seen in person even ONE miracle or ONE genuine demonstration of the supernatural. What I did see were a lot of parlor tricks, psychological manipulation, and out and out deception.

The real issue is not whether or not the Bible says the gifts have or have not ceased. That is a moot and misleading point, a red herring. Calvinists in general would concede that CAN do miracles today and that Scripture nowhere says that He cannot. However, the real question is DOES HE? My answer to that is that IF He does, then the burden of proof lies with those making the assertion that He is and does do such things on a regular basis today.

Judging from what I have seen in person, on television and read in various places, I can only conclude that God is NOT doing the miraculous in the volume or frequency that pentecostal/charismatic believers say He is. I am willing to be corrected. Show me. But over and over again we have seen even secular television shows debunking so-called healings and miracles and not one Christian response has been able to adequately refute those debunkings.

Even more to the point, not one genuine miracle can be documented. Instead, what we get are examples of answered prayers where God providentially used medical means of bringing healing.

If "miracles" are supposed to be "signs" then why are they so invisible and so difficult to verify? The miracles of the Bible are of a completely and different character, even being recognized and witnessed by unbelievers.

Sorry, but I think John MacArthur may not have all the details of the theology right, but he is certain spot on when He says that pentecostals and charismatics in general are way out there.

What troubles me the most is that the movement downplays doctrine and theology in favor of supernatural "experiences." Making ecstatic experiences the source of doctrine leads to all sorts of aberrations like accepting Roman Catholics who deny that the Bible is the final word in justification by faith alone, etc., etc.

The charismatic movement has done way more harm than good and is in fact a divisive and heretical movement which is leading Evangelicalism astray. Personally, I think Piper and Grudem lend legitimacy to the movement, which is sinful. They ought to both repent and be consistent with Scripture.

I am obligated to believe the miracles recorded in the Bible. I am obligated to believe the doctrines taught in the Bible. However, I am NOT obligated to be duped by false prophets and teachers who claim to have a direct relevation from God.


Thanks for dropping by and adding your comment.

I sympathize with your position. It sounds like you have seen the excesses of the charismatic movement up close and personal. And I definitely want to steer us away from those dangerous waters.

However, I haven't come to a "continutionist" position from my experience or desire, far from it. Instead, I come to it from trying to be faithful to Scripture--and I think that's true of Grudem, Piper, and Carson, as well.

I have the heart-leanings of a cessationist, but I am committed to be being biblical. Many cessationists are arguing from experience (lack of the miraculous) and not from the Bible.

I don't think it's a red herring to ask if Scripture teaches that the miraculous gifts have ceased. If they have, great, we can go from there. But if Scripture hasn't taught cessation, then we need to be obedient to the Scriptural calls to pursue the greater gifts, such as prophecy.

But everything must be done according to Paul's rules! I think that most (if not all) of the problems that the charismatic movement has presented us have correctives in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in the New Testament.

As long as Scripture trumps experience, I think we'll be relatively safe.


Hey Matt, thanks for the study. I found your blog after much of the same reading, coming to my position from the Word rather than experience as well. I'm also with the EFCA, in St. Augustine, Florida. Thanks for loving your people enough to do the hard digging and "resting in tension" on such huge issues.

Thanks, gardner.

Good to hear from you.

Blessings on you, brother.