Perspectives on Pentecost – review part 2

Posted: November 3, 2014 by J in Bible, Book review, Church, Church history, Theology
  1. Some basic perspectives on the gifts of the Spirit

The gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Gaffin lays a few planks in his argument here, but they’re not especially load bearing (unless you hold a particular view).

  1. The ‘universal donation’ of the Spirit is a foretaste of eschatological life, while the gifts variously given are ‘particular operations pertaining to various ministries and as such, are provisional and sub-eschatological (1Cor13:8f).’ The ‘subsequent course of the entire discussion is decisively determined’ by this distinction.
  2. Therefore the essence of the New Covenant is tied to these gifts. They ‘disclose the essence of the kingdom and its blessings, but without at the same time constituting or embodying that essence.’ They act as signs. Therefore ‘each gift has to be examined in order to determine its specific purpose(s) and the specific conditions for its presence in the church.’
  3. In terms of function, ‘From beginning to end the gifts are given for service in the church.’ If the recipient of the gift gets something out of the exercise of that gift (in service to others), that is a ‘fringe benefit’. In this vein, he acknowledges the possibility that tongues could be used privately (eg. 1cor14:18,28).

Gaffin then makes two moves which are probably quite familiar to many of us. First, he says that the lists of gifts are ‘selective and representative’. In fact, he pushes it a bit further, saying, ‘Too sharp a line should not be drawn between many of the gifts.’ There are the two categories of ‘word’ and ‘deed’ gifts, but there’s also overlap. Second, in the matter of ‘identifying your gifts’ he calls us to ask not ‘What is my spiritual speciality?’, but ‘What, in the situation in which God has placed me, are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word an deed?’


A reflection: I find this general, ‘overlapping’ approach, while realistic, hard to square with his recommendation of examining each gift. Such an examination seems to require quite a clean cut, test tube definition of a given gift. This is exactly what he’ll go on to provide. In practice though, how do these two approaches fit together? With tongue in cheek, I wonder how the Spirit feels about being cross examined on why he’s blowing where he is. But then Gaffin goes and says something awesome like this;


‘Probably the most important and certainly the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that ultimately spiritual gifts are not our presumed strengths and abilities, not something that we “have” (or even have been given), but what God does through us in spite of ourselves and our weakness.’

Tomorrow, more detail on prophecy and tongues.


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