Pentecostals, gifts and the Spirit

What has been your experience of the charismata? In church practice? Personal experience?

A comment of my own upfront before sketching Anthony Thiselton’s exegesis of key ‘gift lists’. I don’t think it is so much exegesis as the hermeneutical interpretation of that exegesis that lies at the heart of confusion, disagreement, unease and uncertainty around how to ‘put gifts into practice’ in a lot of modern church life.

For many non-charismatic / Pentecostal churches, these gift lists are given lip-service (they are in the Bible after all) but in practice are ignored. Sometimes out of fear of mis-use, spiritual elitism and subjectivity? In effect, the feeling is, that it’s not worth going there …

However, if you follow Thiselton’s exegesis below, I think it’s fair to say that the gifts under discussion are already very much in practice in all churches, whether explicitly acknowledged or not. This might be pushing what he says too far, but see what you think:

Thiselton begins discussion of most of the gifts (charismata, ‘free gifts’) listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10; 12:28-30; Romans 12:6-8 and Eph 4:11-12.  He leaves remaining gifts in 1 Cor 12:9-10 (stuff like deeds of power, prophets, tongues, healing) to later because they involve he says not only exegesis but hermeneutics and radically different contemporary interpretations.

The interesting thing below is how the gift lists counter any sense of dualism between ‘supernatural’ and natural. Many of the gifts are not ecstatic or spontaneous but work through character, personality, mind and spiritual and emotional maturity.

The other thing to note is how both Corinthians and Romans are located within the necessity of love. ‘Let love be genuine’ The gifts are for the good of others not the self.  In Ephesians they build up the body.

(1) Logos sophias: words or utterances of wisdom 1 Cor 12:8

Thiselton critiques the usage here in ‘Third Wave’ Wimber type events where ‘words of wisdom’ are relayed from the front stage to 1000s of people – perhaps about medical or psychological conditions. In the whole context of Corinthians, sophia is a loaded term, with a profound contrast to human and divine wisdom. Many scholars link ‘utterances of wisdom’ here to be words about the saving work of the crucified Christ.

Thiselton further argues ‘wisdom’ in the OT and NT is NOT some spontaneous insight but much more is about character, insight, discernment, trained judgement. This is hard learned practical wisdom of faith (a la James) in contrast to the wisdom of the world.

Here’s a question – is a word of wisdom less ‘inspired’ if it involves reflection and thoughtful judgement?

(2) Logos gnoseos : words or utterance of knowledge 1 Cor 12:8

Hard to distinguish from words of wisdom. But again a loaded word (gnosis) in Corinthians.  A gift (charisma) that involves a right use of knowledge; Thiselton suggests a type of creedal affirmation in line with basic Christian truths. There is no incompatibility between the hard work of knowledge and a gift of the Spirit.  And by the date of Ephesians the list of ‘offices’ in 1 Cor 12:28 has given rise to more formally distinct offices – apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers … He suggests that

We can imagine Paul bewailing that in the future some churches would only listen to an ordained ministry, while other churches would invite the less ordered swing to constant “spontaneous” speeches from an assembled congregation. 89

(3) The gift of ‘faith’ 1 Cor 12:9

Most are agreed that this is distinct in some way from saving or justifying faith. This is a sort of faith that is not granted to everyone. But ‘faith’ can mean different things in different contexts. This context seems to be some sort  of ‘special’ faith.

Given that none of the nine gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor 12:8-10 are given just to the individual, Thiselton proposes that ‘faith’ here is a display of ‘glad, even daring, confidence in God’s sovereignty, mercy and leading’ that encourages and inspires others. Such robust faith reanimates the faith of others.

I can sure think of examples of such faith, maybe you can too.

(4) Apostles; teachers; forms of help / assistance (antilempseis); kyberneseis (forms of leadership)  1 Cor 12:28

Apostle: one whom God has sent, but more for Paul one who has been called and being a witness of the resurrection.  Called to found churches with no hint of institutional or apostolic succession. Rather than tie apostle to authority, Thiselton follows those who link it with humility – a pointing of others away from self to Christ.

Teacher: an easier match to today. Both prophets and teachers are needed and inspired by the Spirit. There is no suggestion that teaching works best when it is unprepared and spontaneous.

antilempseis  ‘forms of assistance’ / helps / helpful deed / administrative support:   kyberneseis : which can be translated ‘forms of leadership’ (NRSV) but Thiselton goes for ‘church strategist’.

Romans 12:6-8, where charisma occurs 6 times of prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, being a generous donor (or perhaps distributor of monies like a church treasurer), and a ‘cheerful disposition.’ All spring, says Thiselton, perhaps excepting prophecy, from a ‘settled disposition or habits of character’.

Ephesians 4:11: new terms here of ‘evangelists (proclaimer of the good news) and pastors (guardian, protector, shepherd).

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