How Does God the Holy Spirit Work Through His Church Today?
Book Review By David P. Craig
This will be one of the longest book reviews I’ve ever written. I’m writing it as much for me (to sort through what I read) as anyone else. I want to give an overview of the positions in the book, their presenters, and the pros and cons of each position as represented by the presenters. Then I would like to close this review with the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that were presented and whether or not there was any resolution.
The essential issues addressed in this book by four presenters and one facilitator is related to these important questions: “How is the Holy Spirit working in churches today? Is he really giving miraculous healings and prophecies in tongues? Is he giving Christians new power for ministry when they experience a ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ after conversion? Is he driving out demons when Christians command them? Or are these events confined to a distant past, to the time when the New Testament was being written and living apostles taught and governed–and worked miracles–in the churches? There are many Pentecostals who say that Christians should seek to be baptized in the Holy Spirit after conversion, and that this experience will result in a new spiritual power for ministry. But other evangelicals respond that they already have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, because it happened the moment they became Christians, Who is right? What are the arguments on each side?”
In addition to these questions there are many differences over what spiritual gifts are currently in operation today. “Can people have a gift of prophecy today, so that God actually reveals things to them and they can tell these revelations to others? Or was that gift confined to the time when the New Testament was still unfinished, in the first century A.D.? And what about healing? Should Christians expect that God will often heal in miracles when we pray today? Can some people still have the gift of healing? Or should our prayer emphasis be that God will work to heal through ordinary means, such as doctors and medicine? Or again, should we mostly encourage people to see the sanctifying value of sickness and pray that they will have grace to endure it?
Lastly, questions related to what is speaking in tongues? How should they be practiced in the church (if at all)? And should evangelism and ministry be accompanied by demonstrations of God’s miraculous power? These and many more questions and issues are addressed by the presenters.
The presenters consist of two Theologians that would lean toward the cessasionist category. Some well-known schools that have traditionally represented cessationism include: Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and The Master’s Seminary. Cessationists argue “that there are no miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing were confined to the first century, and were used at the time the apostles were establishing the churches and the New Testament was not yet complete.”
Representing the Cessationist position is Dr. Richard B. Gaffin. He has been a long time Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Gaffin has written a book defending this position entitled Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1979). Gaffin has degrees from Calvin College (A.B.), and Westminster Seminary (B.D., Th.M., Th.D.), and is also a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The next position discussed in the book is called the “open but cautious” position. The open but cautious position is described this way by the editor: “These people have not been convinced by the cessationist arguments that relegate certain gifts to the first century, but they are not really convinced by the doctrine or practice of those who emphasize such gifts today either. They are open to the possibility of miraculous gifts today, but they are concerned about the possibility of abuses that they have seen in groups that practice these gifts. They do not think speaking in tongues is ruled out by Scripture, but they see many modern examples as not conforming to scriptural guidelines; some also are concerned that it often leads to divisiveness and negative results in churches today. They think churches should emphasize evangelism, Bible study, and faithful obedience as keys to personal and church growth, rather than miraculous gifts. Yet they appreciate some of the benefits that Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Third Wave churches have brought to the evangelical world, especially a refreshing contemporary tone in worship and a challenge to renewal in faith.”
Representing the “Open but cautious” view is the Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology from Talbot School of Theology, Dr. Robert L. Saucy. Dr. Saucy has taught for more than 40 years at Talbot and is the author of numerous books related to eschatology and the church including: Unleashing God’s Power in You (with Neil T. Anderson; Bridgetree, 2012); The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational and Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010); Scripture: Its Power, Authority and Relevance (Nashville: Word, 2001); and The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974). Dr. Saucy earned his degrees at Westmont College (A.B.), and Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., and Th.D.). He is a member of a Conservative Baptist Church.
The third view presented is called the “Third Wave” view. It is a continuationist view of the miraculous gifts. Wayne Grudem explains this position as follows: “Third Wave people encourage the equipping of all believers to use the New Testament spiritual gifts today and say that the proclamation of the gospel should ordinarily be accompanied by ‘signs, wonders, and miracles,’ according the the New Testament pattern. They teach however, that baptism in the Holy Spirit happens to all Christians at conversion and that subsequent experiences are better called ‘fillings’ or ’empowerings’ with the Holy Spirit. Though they believe the gift of tongues exist today, they do not emphasize it to the extent that Pentecostals and Charismatics do.”
The presenter of the “Third Wave” view is Dr. C. Samuel Storms. He is currently the pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In the past he has been an associate of Dr. S. Lewis Johnson’s at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas; a pastor at Christ Community Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma; and an associate pastor with Mike Bickle in Kansas City, Missouri at the Metro Christian Fellowship. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and has also been a professor of theology at Wheaton College. Dr. Storms has earned his degrees from The University of Oklahoma (B.A.); Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.); and The University of Texas (Ph.D.). Dr. Storms has authored numerous books including: The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts. Ventura: Regal, 2013; Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007; and Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist. Enjoying God Ministries, 2005.
The term “Third Wave” was coined in the 1980’s by the Fuller Seminary professor of missions – Dr. C. Peter Wagner. Dr. Wagner has designated the first wave of the renewal of the Holy Spirit – The Pentecostal renewal (Which began in 1901). The charismatic renewal followed on the heels of the Pentecostal renewal in the 1960-70’s. Perhaps the best-known proponent of the “Third Wave” position was John Wimber the leader of the Association of Vineyard Churches and the pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California.
The Pentecostal and Charismatic views are very similar but have some differences. Wayne Grudem explains, “Pentecostal refers to any denomination or group that traces its historical origin back to the Pentecostal revival that began in the United States in 1901, and that holds the following doctrines: (1) All the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament are intended for today; (2) baptism in the Holy Spirit is an empowering experience subsequent to conversion and should be sought by Christians today; and (3) when baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs, people will speak in tongues as a ‘sign’ that they have received this experience. Pentecostal groups usually have their own distinct denominational structures, among which are the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, and many others.”
“Charasmatic, on the other hand, refers to any groups (or people) that trace their historical origin to the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s and seek to practice all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (including prophecy, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, and distinguishing between spirits). Among charismatics there are differing viewpoints on whether baptism in the Holy Spirit is subsequent to conversion and whether speaking in tongues is a sign of baptism in the Spirit. Charismatics by and large have refrained from forming their own denominations, but view themselves as a force of renewal within existing Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. There is no representative charismatic denomination in the United States today, but the most prominent charismatic spokesman is probably Pat Robertson with his Christian Broadcasting Network, the television program “The 700 Club,” and Regent University.
Representing the Pentecostal position is Dr. Douglas A. Oss. He also demonstrates where the Pentecostal and Charismatic positions differ. Dr. Oss is currently Professor of Biblical Theology and New Testament Interpretation at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Dr. Oss has earned degrees from Western Washington University (B.A), Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). He has published articles in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society; Bulletin for Biblical Research; Grace Theological Journal; Westminster Theological Journal; and Enrichment Journal. He also translated 1 and 2 Corinthians for the New Living Translation and served on the Translation Advisory Committee for the English Standard Version.
The general editor and author of the introduction and conclusion of the book is Dr. Wayne Grudem. Dr. Grudem is Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. He received a B.A. from Harvard University, an M.Div. and a D.D. from Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D (in New Testament) from the University of Cambridge, England. He has published over twenty books, including his newest book, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, which was published in August 2013 and his magnum opus: Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009). He has also written a layman’s version of his doctoral thesis entitled The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Crossway, 1988). He was also the General Editor for the 2.1 million-word ESV Study Bible (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year and World Magazine book of the year, 2009).
In each essay the four authors address from their own view the following five topics: (1) baptism in the Holy Spirit and the question of postconversion experiences; (2) the question of whether some gifts have ceased; (3) a discussion of specific gifts, especially prophecy, healing, and tongues; (4) practical implications for church life; (5) dangers of one’s own position and that of the others. After each essay the three other presenters respond with an eight-page response. At the end of the book Dr. Grudem evaluates each position citing the pro’s and con’s of each, and then brings out the areas of agreement and disagreement. He also offers some guidelines for continued dialogue and solutions leading toward consensus.
In an interesting point Grudem says, “People have asked me why these four men who all believe the same Bible and all have deep love for our Lord could not reach agreement on these things. I tell them that it took the early church until A.D. 381 (at Constantinople) to finally settle the doctrine of the Trinity, and until A.D. 451 (at Chalcedon) to settle disputes over the deity and humanity of Christ in one person. We should not be surprised if these complex questions about the work of the Holy Spirit could not be resolved in two days!” Point well taken.
In reading the book one gets an immediate sense of the complexities related to miraculous gifts. Ultimately it all comes down to interpreting the biblical data. The author’s all leave no stones unturned in their theological and exegetical presentations. They all present well written essay’s with good arguments. Obviously, they all can’t be right. However, the spirit with which they write is right. They articulate their arguments cogently and compellingly and yet all recognize that their own view has deficiencies and weaknesses. However, each scholar makes an excellent case for his view.
As for the areas of disagreement there were many. The big idea conveyed by Gaffin and Saucy is that Jesus and the Apostles miracles were unique in relationship to God’s Redemptive Historical Plan (Gaffin) and God’s working in the new covenant program of God (Saucy). Gaffin came at his view through the lens of the Redemptive Historical method of interpretation (He is a Covenant Theologian). Whereas Saucy as a Progressive Dispensationalist had a little different take on the uniqueness of the miraculous events that took place during this period of history. Both Gaffin and Saucy believe that we no longer have Apostles and that the fact that we no longer have Apostles and a ‘closed canon” matters significantly in why the miraculous gifts operated differently in the New Testament, then they do today (if at all). Thus for Gaffin and Saucy there is definitely a distinction drawn between then and now with reference to the expectation of miracles. They argue extensively both theologically and exegetically to demonstrate the significance of the new covenant, the openness and closing of the canon, and how the Apostles’ and Christ’s ministry were needed and specific to that time of Redemptive History (New Covenant) – and therefore, no longer necessary today.
On the other hand both Storms and Oss make solid exegetical and theological cases for why the miraculous gifts should continue today. They argue from Joel and Acts specifically – that these are indeed the last days, and that there is no particularly good reason (biblically or theologically) why we don’t need the miraculous gifts any less now, than they did in the New Testament. They make the case that the cessation of gifts is simply not taught at all in the New Testament. I think the biggest problem they have is in regards to “Apostles” and where do they fit in today?
The primary weaknesses of Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments are with reference to “Why” miraculous gifts have ceased. They also do an inadequate job of explaining the myriad of these miraculous realities today – with virtually no comments about the plethora of miracles taking place in the 10/40 window for instance.
As for Storms and Oss they do an inadequate job of dealing with Saucy and Gaffin’s arguments with reference to consistency in their interpretation with reference to the gift/office of “apostleship”. If there are no longer apostles than how are the other miraculous gifts substantiated?
All the author’s were particularly weak in bringing out specific examples of the miraculous gifts today – both examples, and their practice or function in their own churches. Of course this wasn’t so much an issue for Gaffin as a cessationist, and for Saucy as a ‘non-expectant-continuationist’. However, I would have liked to seen more interaction with the miraculous experiences and claims of those representing the continuationist perspective. Sam Storms provided some examples, but Oss provided precious little in this regard.
Each author gave a huge amount of weight and space in their writing to the theological/exegetical basis for their views and very little to the experiential/practical basis for their positions. I would have liked to have seen more balance here. Especially because the title of the book was “Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?” I think the book would have been longer, but more balanced and really dealt more with the ‘today’ aspect of miraculous gifts rather than just the “then” aspect.
The areas of disagreement highlighted by Grudem fall under various categories:
“(1) Expectation. Because of differences in understanding the way in which the Holy Spirit ordinarily works during the church age, the authors differed significantly in their expectations of how we should expect the Holy Spirit to work in a miraculous way to heal, to guide, to work miracles, to give unusual empowering for ministry, and to bring things to mind (or reveal things to us).
(2) Encouragement. Because of differences in understanding what we should expect the Holy Spirit to do today, the authors also differed in how much they think we should encourage Christians to seek and pray for miraculous works of the Holy Spirit today.”
(3) There was disagreement on what to call ‘prophecy’ today and whether or not it should be considered ‘inspired’ of God. According to Dr. Saucy, God can bring things to mind today, but this should usually be called personal guidance not prophecy. Dr. Gaffin beleives that the gift of prophecy was restricted to the giving of Scripture and ended when the New Testament canon was completed.
(4) “Although all the authors agreed that God can still work miracles (including healing), Storms and Oss maintain that people today can have that gift, Gaffin limits it to the apostolic age, and Saucy, while open to the gift today, would examine claims to miracles with great care and caution (he felt that, historically speaking, miracles seem to be especially prominent in church-planting situations).”
(5) “Regarding the gift of speaking in tongues plus interpretation, according to Gaffin and Saucy these two gifts, when put together, constitute Scripture-quality revelation from the Holy Spirit. Gaffin believes that these gifts only functioned during the ‘open canon’ situation when the New Testament was incomplete. When asked what is happening in the lives of Christians who claim to speak in tongues today, Gaffin is not sure but believes this activity is probably just an ability to speak in nonsense syllables. He is also open to being shown from Scripture that this activity is helpful to certain people in their prayer lives, though he would still not call it the gift of speaking in tongues. To Saucy, while Scripture does not rule out tongues today, many modern expressions do not conform to the scriptural practice or purpose of tongues…
Storms and Oss, on the other hand, hold that speaking in tongues is not a revelation from God but a form of human prayer and praise–it is the Christian’s own human spirit praying to God through syllables that the speaker does not understand. Storms and Oss believe this gift continues today. Oss adds that tongues is prompted by the Holy Spirit, can also be used by God to convey a message to the church, though not a Scripture-quality word. Both Storms and Oss also hold that the gift of interpretation is simply the ability to understand what the tongue-speaker is saying in those words of prayer and praise.”
(6) “Regarding any empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion, Oss calls this ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ the first time it happens; the other authors use different terms such as empowering or filling or anointing by the Holy Spirit.”
(7) “Though all the authors agreed that there may be several purposes for miracles, both Gaffin and Saucy see the initial authentication of the gospel message in the first century as the primary purpose of miracles, while Storms and Oss believe that other purposes, such as bearing witness to the gospel message in all ages, ministering to the needs of God’s people, and brining glory to God even in the present day, should receive equal emphasis.
(8) The empowering work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. “While Oss sees a pattern in the book of Acts whereby Christians experienced a single empowering work of the Holy Spirit (or baptism in the Holy Spirit) distinct from conversion, and sees speaking in tongues as the sign that signifies this, the other authors do not see such a pattern or encourage Christians to seek such a single experience distinct from their conversion and distinct from experiences of empowering that may occur multiple times throughout the Christian life.”
(9) The greatest area of disagreement was to what degree we should see the New Testament as a pattern for church life today by way of imitation. “Storms and Oss, throughout our converstaions, continued to emphasize that in all areas of life (such as evangelism, moral conduct, doctrine, church government and ministry, etc.), we should seem to take patterns of the New Testament as patterns we should imitate in our lives today. They challenged Gaffin and Saucy to explain why it was only in the area of miraculous works of the Holy Spirit that they were unwilling to take the New Testament as God’s pattern for us today.”
(10) Church life. “Churches holding to the views advocated by Storms and Oss include much more teaching and encouragement of people to pray for, seek, and exercise miraculous gifts (healing, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, miracles, distinguishing between spirits, and perhaps some others). But churches holding to views expressed by Gaffin, and to some extent by Saucy, do not encourage people to seek or pray for these gifts and do not ordinarily provide ‘space’ for them to occur either in large assemblies or in smaller home fellowship groups in the life of the church.”
In my opinion there were pro’s and con’s in each position presented. The value of this book is that each position is presented within a theological framework (whether Redemptive-Historical or Dispensational), exegetically based, historically nuanced, and given its modern significance. I think the presenters gave the most attention to the theological and exegetical elements. They gave lesser attention to the historical and current or practical ramifications of the issues. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t spend more time showing how their views actually function in their own ministries.
However, anyone can learn a lot from the presentations and the presenters. I appreciated the irenic spirit that was displayed throughout the writing. The positions were attacked non-ad hominem. The ideas and interpretations were attacked – not the men themselves. There was a spirit of gentleness and respect maintained throughout. All five authors spent two days in Philadelphia together in discussion and prayer after they had written and responded to one another’s essays.
I began my journey reading this book holding to an “open but cautious” position. I don’t think my position changed that much. However, I actually learned to appreciate each position more than I did before reading the book. I think I developed a greater understanding of each position, as well as a greater respect for each view. Grudem even comments at the end of the book that he believes that all five of them felt like they could all be elders in the same church – that would be very interesting indeed!
Though the authors clearly disagreed strongly on the continuation vs. non-continuation of the miraculous gifts for today, there was a consensus of affirmation on many things: (1) Agreement that God does heal and work miracles today; (2) An affirmation that God the Holy Spirit empowers Christians for various kinds of ministry, “and this empowering is an activity that can be distinguished from the inner-transforming work of the Holy Spirit by which he enables us to grow in sanctification and in obedience to God”; (3) Agreement that God the Holy Spirit guides us (but more study is needed in how the Holy Spirit uses our impressions and feelings); (4) Unity on the fact that God in his sovereignty can bring to our mind specific things, “not only (i) by occasionally bringing to mind specific words of Scripture that meet the need of the moment, but also (ii) by giving us sudden insight into the application of Scripture to a specific situation, (iii) by influencing our feelings and emotions, and (iv) by giving us specific information about real life situations that we did not acquire through ordinary means (though Dr. Gaffin holds this last category is so highly exceptional that it is neither to be expected nor sought; he prefers a term other than ‘revelation’ to describe these four elements). On this specific point there was the least agreement among the four authors.”
I highly recommend that Christians read this book for the following five reasons: (1) You will learn much about Christian history – in particular about the Redemptive Historical Method of biblical Interpretation from both a continuationist (Oss) and non-continuationist perspective (Gaffin). (2) You will learn how to argue for a position without using ad hominem arguments. Oftentimes when Christians debate on these issues it all comes down to attacking experiences or one’s sanctification status. All the author’s do a wonderful job treating one another as brother’s in Christ and speak the truth in love with gentleness and respect. (3) You will appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. You will see that these issues are more complex than you think. They involve weighty matters of hermeneutics, historical theology, biblical theology, systematic theology, exegesis, and real life application. (4) You will appreciate both the intellectual and emotional realities of your relationship with and understanding of the Holy Spirit. (5) You will appreciate the diversity and unity that we can have as Christians even when we agree to disagree. I think the presenter’s were all wise, thoughtful, thorough, clear, articulate, and humble. No one came across as having arrived. As they discussed the Holy Spirit I believe they were also manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. This book is a great example of the way Christians should approach differences – with dialogue, in humility, and pursuing the truth in community.