An overdue return to pick up Anthony Thiselton’s discussion of the gifts of the Spirit. He’d left remaining gifts in 1 Cor 12:9-10 (stuff like deeds of power, prophets, tongues, healing) to a separate discussion since he says they involve not only exegesis but hermeneutics, the result of the latter being radically different contemporary interpretations.
In other words, this is the more controversial stuff.
So an opening question – have you had experience – positive or negative of these sorts of gifts? What place do they have in your theology and church practice? Is there a place for these or are they in effect ignored? And if so, why?
(1) ‘Gifts of healing’: charismata iamatōn
Plural. Paul does not use normal Greek word of therapeuō. Only refs healing in 1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30.
Thiselton warns of damaging mis-application here. Healing is not guaranteed. Paul is not healed of this ‘thorn’ (2 Cor 12:8). The danger is the implication that healing is ‘caused’ by our faith. Such a theology can make things worse. Why was not my faith good enough? Why does God refuse my sincere prayers?
He proposes these gifts include normal natural cures as well as direct ‘intervention’ from God beyond the natural.
A gift is from God – it is as he wills. All things are possible for God, he is not limited to natural or ‘supernatural’. All are gifts of grace.
He argues for a balanced eschatology: neither totally realised eschatology or all future in Paul.
He mentions often exaggerated claims of healing in Renewal and Pentecostal practice. This comes out of a dualistic and over-realised eschatology. Such claims often do not match reality – neither are they the same order of power or experience as the NT. In the overlap of the ages, sickness and sin and death are still present.
BUT he also acknowledges (rightly) that Paul expected healing; not automatic healing but there is also no hint of cessationist thinking in Paul.
(2) Effective deeds of power (miracles) energēmata dyname
Some debate what this refers to: Thiselton argues ‘effective power’ is a better translation than ‘miracles’. Here is the tension of Christian life and its relationship with power.
Power to do what? Thiselton suggests power to work wonders; power to carry out tasks; power as a resource; power to convey thoughts and speech; power to work miracles? Sense of being competent and equipped.
Keener’s magum opus on Miracles (2011) offers a profound challenge to an often assumed naturalism within much western Christianity. Paul ‘anticipated noticeable miraculous phenomena in the Christian communities (1 Cor 12:9, 28-30; Gal 3:5).’ (pp 30-31 of Keener).
Thiselton says the text is not clear on whether miracles are primarily in focus in this gift but neither does he deny their reality. But he does question the idea of pervasive miracle working.
In this, he echoes John Stott (Baptism and Fullness) who pointed to the wide expanses of the biblical record with little or no miraculous activity.
(3) Prophecy prophēteia
Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10; 13:2; 14:6; 1 Thes 5:20, cf 1 Tim 4:14. And the verb to prophesy prophēteuō is in 1 Cor 11:4, 5; 13:9; 14:1, 3-5, 24, 31, 39.
Always to build up the body. Some link it to Paul’s apostolic role of leading, preaching, teaching.
But what is it? Thiselton looks at possibilities:
- A creative reinterpretation of Scripture ? (unprovable)
- A spontaneous word to the people from God? Dunn argues this – the Early Church exuded a sense of the Spirit, later institutionalised and controlled. [Thiselton includes Max Turner as agreeing with Dunn but quotes from a 1985 article. Turner argues against Dunn in his more recent The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts].
- An applied pastoral preaching of the apostolic gospel? (Thiselton names and leans towards some scholars who view it like OT prophets. A prepared word to the people to exhort and encourage. )
This remains much debated. Gordon Fee would differ from Thiselton’s emphasis here – more a supernatural revelatory word from God. Certainly not just ‘preaching’.
However understood, such a ‘word’ is not beyond question. Others are to weigh the prophecy. The word is to engage the mind, it encourages and consoles, it is not private but corporate (1 Thes 5:20 and Rom 12:6). It happens in the context of whole community; intelligibility is necessary (1 Cor 14:1) and links to gospel of God for the whole church.
(4) Discernment of spirits
1 Thes 5:20-21
Evaluation, discernment, testing …. The word spoken needs to be judged. Is it testing whether the word is in line with apostolic gospel [testing of ‘human spirit’ vs Spirit of God]
(5) Tongues glossolalia
1 Cor 12:10 etc
There are ‘kinds’ of tongues in 1 Cor 12:10 but in 1 Cor 14:2 the tongue does NOT speak to others but only to God (distinct from Acts 2). Certainly the context is building up and encouraging the self – a good thing to do. Nothing negative about this gift of the Spirit, he gives good gifts.
But the gift of tongues has limits; it does not build up others. Private use in 1 Cor 14:6-19. These tongues cannot be understood by the hearer or naturally. The gospel is preached in the vernacular. Tongues is more a sign that the church has been empowered by the Spirit.
So what is tongues? Thiselton mentions linguistic experts who find no structure of a formal language – more a façade of a language. Some see it as ecstatic speech. Thiselton rejects the idea of angelic speech. He’s sympathetic to a parallel to Romans’ 8:26 talk of “sighs too deep for words” – do tongues represent a release of praise and worship of God beyond words ?
Comments, as ever, welcome.
It is routinely said that the States bucks the trend when it comes to secularization of religion. Here’s proof that it is indeed a very religious place .. the focus of worship of course being sport: dominant denomination football.
And behind the massive popularity of football - the power of money. Lots of it.
Section 3 of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology is Gospel and Kingdom.
The kingdom of God for Bird is ‘divine dominion’ – an inaugurated eschatology where kingdom is both present now and not yet fully arrived – here he is following Ladd, Jeremias, G R Beasley-Murray etc. Scot McKnight has posted more on this section and has commented before on the limits of Ladd’s rather idealised and abstracted idea of the kingdom – Scot wants to link it more ‘earthily’ with the story of Israel and the people of God.
But here are some broad questions:
Where does eschatology ‘fit’ in your everyday faith? What difference does it make in church life – how much does the local church see itself as an eschatological pilgrim community? What difference in your work? In your motives, priorities and hopes?
How future oriented do Christians in the West tend to be? Or do we tend to be so tied to this life with all its comforts and pleasures that we have little desire, thought or need for the next?
Bird rightly wants to push eschatology up to the top of the list. Christian faith is eschatological from first to last. He concurs with Moltmann (Christianity is eschatology) but more importantly with the entire thrust of the New Testament.
He sees kingdom as God’s reign over God’s people in God’s place – the entire biblical story is framed eschatologically as it moves towards God’s redemption of creation from evil, sin and death. Jesus’ teaching is kingdom centered – the now and the not yet of the kingdom of God. Paul’s theology is thoroughly eschatological – as Peter, as Revelation. The church is an eschatological community, or as Bird puts it, a community of exiles journeying towards a heavenly Jerusalem.
It is this future-orientated story that marks out Christianity out from other world views – past and present.
- Contra the story of the eternal and glorious advance of Roman civilization.
- Contra Enlightenment optimism.
- Contra postmodernity’s pluralism and fragmentation.
- And, contra I would add, capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit.
He says that “eschatology …. is not just about the final chapter of the book of history. No, eschatology is an invasive story, about how God’s promises to bring justice, reconciliation, and peace to earth have already invaded this age …”
The end result is that God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
The future hope of Jesus’ return has 3 implications for Bird:
- Evangelize: tell the good news of the gospel. Eschatology as the engine for mission.
- Endure: hope in suffering.
- Encourage: spur one another on in light of the future (Heb 10:24-5).
He also lists 7 excellent reasons of Richard Hays on why the church needs apocalyptic eschatology:
- To carry Israel’s story forward – the whole story of Scripture and God’s promises to Israel find fulfilment in the eschatological people of God.
- To see the cross as a saving event for the world – the victory won at the cross has cosmic implications; it destroys the power of the old order and inaugurates new creation.
- To provide critique of pagan culture – Jesus is Lord over all powers, authorities, ideologies, politics and truth claims.
- To resist complacency and triumphalism – the church is a servant of God on a journey.
- To affirm the body – eschatology is not anti-creation. It is for new creation and that includes resurrection bodies. God creates the world good.
- To ground its mission – future hope shapes mission.
- To speak with integrity about suffering and death – Christians are to be realistic about the evil of grief and death and injustice – but grieve with hope and compassion (and work for justice now).
In the rest of the section Bird unpacks his views for historic premillennialism (like Blomberg et al) and is post-tribulation, intermediate state and heaven (like N T Wright, a waiting place prior to new creation), hell (as eternal punishment) and new creation.
Comments, as ever, welcome.
Last night RTE Nationwide TV did a feature on Joe Donnolly and the Anchorage Project in Ringsend.
Joe’s a friend and did his Masters on Hope at IBI. Themes of justice, children, community and beauty developed there inform the work of the Anchorage in Ringsend.
Have a listen from 13.20 – it’s an inspiring and great story of service, creativity, hope and a ton of hard work, done out of a real love for an inner-city community and a passion to help those in need in the developing world.
What I love about this is how it shows the gospel is not only a message of good news, it results in people of good news doing works of service.
This is a creative sort of ‘pop up’ art in Belfast, beside the famous Samson and Goliath cranes and Titanic centre …
Probably one of the biggest questions circulating around the interface between Christianity and contemporary (western) culture concerns the goodness (or not) of God.
The (not very) new atheists take the line that the hypothetical idea of ‘god’ (which lazily tends to mean the Christian God lumped within an ill-defined and ultimately nonsensical notion of ‘religion’) is a decidedly unpleasant character – perhaps indeed the greatest villain ever to be invented by the human mind.
Hence Christopher Hitchen’s polemic that God is not great or good and Richard Dawkins’ famous adjective-laden description of the God of the OT – you know, that petty, unjust, unforgiving, vindictive control-freak who is at the same time a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Yes, that one.
Yet the ultimate foundation to sustain a living Christian faith is a belief in the absolute goodness of God. For if God is not good he can’t be trusted, loved, worshipped and followed with any solid sense of joy and hope. And the consistent witness of Scripture is to the utter goodness of God.
So it is a significant theme that Michael Bird turns to in Part 2 of his Evangelical Theology – the gospel of God (e.g., Romans 1:1). This means not only that the gospel is of God (he is the origin of good news), he himself is good news.
Bird argues that it is in the gospel that God is most truly revealed. The doctrine of God is best seen through the lens of gospel. This works out in 4 ways:
Trinity: the gospel is a window into the triune nature of God. The gospel is our closest point of contact for understanding the triune God – Father Son and Spirit who act together in salvation. Each person of the Godhead ‘perform’ distinct roles in the economy of salvation (eg the Father chooses, the Son redeems, the Spirit sanctifies]. Without the Trinity the gospel loses coherence [I’d have expected some engagement with Rahner’s view that ‘the economic trinity is the immanent trinity’ and vice versa since it ties in so closely with what is being argued here].
Character: the gospel reveals what God is like; it shows us his self-giving nature; his infinite love, his justice and judgement and his grace.
Story: if the gospel is a narrative of Jesus, this narrative is set within the wider story of creation, redemption and new creation. So the gospel of Jesus Christ points us to the revelation of God as creator and redeemer.
[Observation: here I think was a possible departure point to write a very differently structured ‘evangelical theology’. While Bird is using ‘gospel’ as the key to unlock systematic discussion of the traditional foci of theology, it would have been a more radical move to structure the book around the gospel narrative rather than fitting gospel into systematic structure.]
The ultimate aim or telos of the gospel also reveals God’s final objective. God is the giver and gift. His goal is ‘bring glory to himself by the effusion of his holy love in uniting the world with the Logos.’ (91).
The next few chapters unpack this in detail. I like the emphasis on gospel and it feels fresh as an interpretative lens by which to look at the doctrine of God. This is a very readable theology textbook.