Blog Archives

Spiritual Gifts in the Blogosphere.

Spiritual gifts have been quite the hot topic in the blogosphere lately. If you’re interested, here are a couple of really good resources that you should check out.

Vern Poythress’ essay “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analagous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit within Cessationist Theology” has gotten a few nods lately as being an excellent resource on the topic. But, if you don’t have time to read the whole thing, check out Matt Perman’s excellent summary.

Don’t forget the continued dialog between Michael Patton and Sam Storms on Why I Am/Not Charismatic.

And, the video below is an interview Doug Wilson did with Mark Driscoll on cessationaism, with particular emphasis on revelatory gifts.

Water, spirit, and life: dry bones made new again

You’re standing by the Jordan River waiting for your turn. In the middle of the river, John the Baptist is just straightening up from baptizing your friend Joseph, water streaming down his arms and dripping from his beard onto Joseph’s head.

Suddenly John stiffens, eyes wide with surprise.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29)

Um, what now?

This is the One? Are you sure? After all this time, could it really be?

Well, if it’s actually him, then surely he’ll do something cool next—fight some Romans, make water flow from a rock, or eat a locust. Well, maybe not the locust. John does that a lot, and it’s pretty disgusting.

And then the weirdest thing happens, not what you were expecting at all.

The One gets baptized (Mt. 3:13-17).

And, as he rises from the water, what looks a bit like a dove—only more ethereal and glorious—comes down from the sky and settles around his head and shoulders. Could that really be the Spirit of God? What’s going on here? Who is this guy?

Then.…the voice.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Do you see what’s happening here? Water, spirit, life. The Spirit of God descending on the Son of God to bring the life of God to the people of God. The Promised One is here!

That’s why John the Baptist gets so excited when he says that this is the one who would come and baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Without the Spirit no one can enter into the Kingdom (Jn. 3:5) because the Kingdom is all about God’s people being brought to life by God’s Spirit so that they manifest God’s glory in creation. And, Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit to God’s people without measure (Jn. 3:34) because he is the one who is full of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Jesus is the Promised One who brings Spirit and life into the world again.

To a woman caught in a spiral of sin and shame, Jesus offered himself as the living water who would restore her to true life eternally (Jn. 4:14). To a crowd more interested in the spectacular and the miraculous, Jesus offered himself as the bread of life who would satisfy their deepest cravings (Jn. 6:35). To a woman crushed with grief over the death of a loved one, Jesus offered himself as the resurrection and the life—the one who would defeat death and bring hope to a people lost in despair (Jn. 11:25).

Water, spirit, and life returned to a broken world.

And, Jesus brought new life for the whole person. The lame walk, the blind see, the leper is healed…broken bodies restored to life. This wasn’t just some “spiritual” life that renewed our inner selves but left the rest of us relatively untouched. No, when Jesus offers new life, it’s new life for our whole being.

Dry bones. Everywhere you look, the lifeless bones of your people. Dead. Empty. Hopeless.

Then He comes.

And everywhere he goes, spirit and life seep into the parched skin of a once-dead people. He spreads it around like an overly exuberant flower girl at a wedding, unabashedly scattering multicolored petals of joy on the surprised guests.

God promised. Jesus came. Life returns.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

Dem Bones, Dem Bones (When He Comes 6)

We have several houses in our neighborhood that really get into the Halloween spirit. Every year they’re decked with all kinds of scary things—witches, ghosts, goblins, giant spiders, black cats (any of kind cat would work for me), and pumpkins carved to demonstrate what a psychotic dentist could do to you if he really wanted.

And, without fail, each yard has its own supply of skeletons. Now, I can understand how most of those other things would be scary, but skeletons? What exactly is a skeleton going to do to you? They don’t have any muscles, so I’m guessing they can’t run very fast. (Actually, without muscles they shouldn’t be able to move at all, making them even less scary.) And, if they did somehow manage to catch you, what are they going to do, poke you with a finger? Those bony hands can’t be very good at holding onto things, so good luck using a knife or any other weapon. And, they don’t really have any special powers. I’ve never heard of skeletons suddenly being able to fly, cast spells, or shoot fireballs from their empty eye sockets. They do have teeth, but they’re generally not very sharp. So I suppose your worst case scenario is that the skeleton would catch you napping and start gnawing on your leg. Unpleasant, but not terribly scary.

So, why are skeletons scary? I think it’s because skeletons represent a human person without life—no flesh, no spirit, no warmth…no life—an empty person. And, that’s scary.

Now, imagine that you’re standing in a valley with the hills rising all around you. Shifting your weight a bit, you hear a crunching sound. You assume at first that you’re standing on some dry leaves, but that impression flees as soon as you look down. Bones. Dry, brittle bones all around your feet. Slowly you raise your eyes again and see that the entire valley is filled with skeletons—jumbled piles of blanched bones blanketing the valley floor. And, imagine that these aren’t just any bones, these are the bones of your people—your families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, all turned into dry bones and scattered uselessly across the ground. Not very pleasant , is it?

That’s what Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 37:1-14). God showed Ezekiel the nation of Israel as a valley full of dry bones. Because that’s what Israel had become: a people separated from God, sapped of life, discarded among the nations. East of Eden.

Walking around among the bones, Ezekiel is struck by how dry these bones are. That might seem a little odd. Of course the bones are dry. Why wouldn’t they be? The point, though, is not simply that the bones were not wet, but that they were without Spirit. The Bible routinely associates the Spirit of God with water and life (e.g. Jer. 17:3; 31:12; Ezek. 47:9). So, in the vision, the very dryness of these bones shows that they are without Spirit, without the life that only God’s Spirit can provide. The bones are God’s people without God’s Spirit.

Notice the stark contrast between the Valley of Bones and the Garden of Eden. The Valley is dead and dry, but the Garden contained life, water, and Spirit. In the Valley, God’s people are separated from him, cut off from the source of life. In the Garden, God’s people walked intimately with him, bringing him glory throughout creation. The Valley is east of Eden. And, God’s people are in the Valley.

But, God offers more. The coming one, the one that God has been promising since the Garden, he will also bring with him a new spirit for God’s people. He will be the one on whom God puts his Spirit (Isa. 42:1). And, when he comes, God will pour out his spirit “on all flesh” (Joel 2:28). All of God’s people will receive God’s spirit again.

And, when the promised one brings the promised Spirit and pours it out upon God’s people, the Valley of Bones will again be filled with life! “Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 37:5-6).

Think back to the Garden. When God created Adam from the dry dust of the earth, he breathed into him the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). But, Adam rejected the God of life and was separated from the source of life. Here, God demonstrates his faithfulness to all of humanity by again breathing into his people the breath of life. He will not allow his people to remain trapped in the Valley of Death, but he promises that he will again restore them to life.

When he comes…God’s people will live again.

[Read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel Book page.]

Flotsam and jetsam (1/12)

The temperance movement reacted to a real social and medical problem. We should not dismiss it as a product of Victorian prudishness. But then a focus on reducing alcohol abuse morphed into the conviction that it was a sin for any person to take a drink, period. This was a simpler approach, but it is not biblical.

Can a well-placed expletive positively stir the soul? If something is deemed inappropriate for children, should it not be sold through “Christian” distribution channels? Can Christian art impact us positively through things that offend us? Is the act of “offending” a counter-Gospel act?

My basic thesis is this: The assumptions required for such homiletic detours are irresponsible both to yourself and to your audience, and they misunderstand the way in which God works in the life of the church.

  • Robert Miller sparked a lively discussion with his argument that human dignity should not be the ground of Christian ethics (see also here and here). I found the discussion particularly interesting for Miller’s argument that main competing ethical systems (utilitarian, deontological, virtue) are incommensurable and that theologians cannot pick-and-choose aspects of each without lapsing into incoherence.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)

A Klingon Christmas Carol

A lot of good links over the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting.

  • PZ Myers points out that Answers in Genesis has been guilty of using history jacking (hijacking your browser history to discern what sites you’ve been visiting) and using that information to categorize visitors. Interestingly, although they have a distinct category for “Christian” users, if you’ve visited creationmuseum.org, joelosteen.com, or beliefnet.com, you get categoriezed as “other.” HT James McGrath and Stuart.

Let me suggest, in fact, that whenever we communicate to non-Christians that we have found it and that they have not, that we have been chosen and that they have not, that we are the apple of God’s eye and that they are not—whenever we assume that stance, consciously or not, we are communicating something other than the gospel, the Good News.

Sometimes with good apologetic and evangelistic motives we will point to all the OT prophecies about Christ and then run down a list of all the NT fulfillments. There is truth here, but if we set things up as “here’s the prediction; here’s the prediction come true” we are bound to confuse people. We may even cause people to doubt the prophetic witness rather than trust it.

These Pentecostals are widely read in biblical and theological studies, immersed in the latest trends in missiology, even leading the way in some areas of theological reflection such as the Holy Spirit and world religions.

Our attempts to read Paul, in other words, will come up short to the extent that we either (a) neglect the narrative flow within which the cited verse occurs in its original OT context, or (b) allow that OT context to be entirely determinative for what the verse means in Paul.

Today, the monastery is a vibrant stronghold of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox monasticism. And at first glance, it even seems impervious to modern Ethiopia’s fast-changing society. But it, as do all facets of Ethiopia’s monastic culture, confronts new realities and an uncertain future.

Flotsam and jetsam (9/7)

Eccentric Existence 12 (the Spirit)

[We’re continuing our series on David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology.]

With chapter 12, Kelsey is ready to move on the second part of his 3-part approach to theological anthropology. As we discussed a while back, Kelsey takes an intentionally Trinitarian approach to theological anthropology: “It is the Father who creates through the Son in the power of the Spirit; it is the Spirit, sent by the Father with the Son, who draws creatures to eschatological consummation; it is the Son, sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, who reconciles creatures” (122). Having completed his reflections on God relating to create as Father, he is now ready to move into his discussion of God relating to draw his creatures to eschatological consummation as Spirit.

And, since Kelsey sees each of these three perspectives as different narratives with their own narrative logic, each also serves as a legitimate starting point for a theological anthropology. They are all “equi-primordial” (449). In other words, for Kelsey, you basically have to start the anthropological enterprise over again every time you move from one narrative to another. Having recounted the basic shape of a theological anthropology told from the perspective of creation, Kelsey now wants to narrate a theological anthropology from the perspective of eschatology. Thus, “part 2 promotes an analogous set of anthropological proposals that are held accountable to canonical Christian Holy Scripture’s narrative of God relating to all that is not God to draw it to eschatological consummation.” And, for Kelsey, this means that particular attention must be paid to the role of the Holy Spirit in theological anthropology.

Kelsey argues that a primary function of the Spirit in the NT is to draw humans to eschatological consummation and that this “is an aspect of creatures’ most embracing and most necessary context” (443). As part of humanity’s ultimate context, human persons simply cannot be understood adequately apart form an understanding of the Spirit in his relation to human beings and their destiny. This in itself is notable in Kelsey’s theological anthropology.  Many anthropological projects make no effort to reflect on the importance of pneumatology for anthropology. And, Kelsey does more than any other recent theological anthropology that I am aware of to probe what this might actually mean for the shape and content of a truly Christian theological anthropology. Thus, although Kelsey was clear at the very beginning that theological anthropology must be christocentric, it is also quite evident that he thinks this christocentric shape requires a strongly pneumatological emphasis as well. (Indeed, Kelsey’s work serves as a great example of the fact that a truly christocentric theology will always also be both trinitarian and pneumatological. Done well, there is no real tension between these.)

As we’ve noted several times in our discussion of this book, Kelsey is fond of complexity. At least, he’s very comfortable with it, and he feels no need to reduce the complexity by offering systematic ways of organizing complex data. And, this is no exception. So, surveying the NT data, Kelsey concludes that there is no simple way of categorizing the diverse ways in which the Spirit relates to human beings.

New Testament texts, both by the structure of their narratives and by the metaphors they employ, characterize the Spirit’s way of relating to human persons in a wide and not entirely consistent variety of ways. However, a certain bipolar pattern is consistent. The Spirit is regularly characterized both as persons’ environing context always already there and enveloping them, and as intimately interior to them. (444)

This bipolar pattern will guide much of Kesley’s reflections. He reflects on the many ways in which the Spirit serves as one who is always-already shaping our proximate contexts while at the same time shaping us as human persons in the most intimate ways. Thus, unlike other anthropologians who take the time to reflect on the significance of pneumatology for anthropology, Kelsey does not do so by reflecting exclusively on how the Spirit affects the “inner” person. Indeed, Kelsey rejects any such simple dichotomy between inner and outer.

Unsurprisingly, Kelsey argues throughout that this pneumatological approach requires us to see both the “already” and the “not yet” of human being. Although the Spirit is already with us as both proximate and ultimate context, the fact that the Spirit is the one drawing us toward eschatological consummation means that there must always be some element of futurity in the Spirit’s relation to us.

Finally, the fact that the Spirit comes as both gift and promise means that we can rule out any idea that the human person alone has the responsibility to bring about the eschatological consummation through his or her own efforts.

The adventus character of eschatological blessing rules out use of metaphors of human creaturely action to build or co-create the eschatological kingdom of God. It also rules out use of metaphors of a cosmic physical or spiritual evolution into the eschatological kingdom. (453)

We certainly have a role to play in our own development, but the gift-character of the Spirit and the already/not yet nature of eschatological consummation means that we must anticipate the future as gift and promise. Grace is not an addendum to nature, but has been there from the very beginning.

Gerry Breshears on the nature and purpose of speaking in tongues

GUEST POST by Gerry Breshears

I’m preaching on this passage at Grace on August 15 so I’ve been reading and re-reading and studying a lot. I’m realizing that the view of tongues I’ve held for a long time isn’t the most likely one. So with any change like this, I’m running it by lots of people. Reading the Bible in the community of faith is so important. The more diverse the community, the more likely getting past the mistakes of one.

So I start with the purpose of the gift of tongues. Acts 2:11 says they were declaring the wonders of God. I’d taken that as evangelistic, but on reflection and comparison with 1 Cor., I’m thinking it is praise.

1 Cor. 14 adds these points:

Tongues are to God by the Spirit (2, 28) where prophecy is to other people. That direction is so obvious. I don’t know how I missed it up to now.

Tongues are a language with informational content, not ecstatic babbling as with pagans. This is very clear in Acts 2 but also in his reference in verse 10-11. There is much debate about whether it is human languages or if it can include language of angels. That seems an open handed issue right now.

Tongues edify the speaker (4, 28) where prophecy edify the congregation. I’d always taken that as dismissive of tongues, but I think I was wrong on that. Lots of things build me and it’s good. Col. 2:5, 8 say put off sin and 3:12 says put on fruit of the Spirit. That edifies me so I can be more Christlike and a better member of the community. The error would be self-indulgence, something the Corinthians and not a few Americans are into (!!). Building myself is very good if it helps me be a better Jesus follower.

Paul is quite positive about tongues, just not in the public gathering of the church. I’m not sure how I missed his statement that he would like everyone to speak in tongues (14:5). Yes, prophecy is much preferred in the gathering but that does not mean tongues have no place. He is quite clear that he speaks in tongues a lot (14:18), but not on the gathering. That’s the place for prophecy to strengthen, encourage, comfort, edify, instruct (3,4, 26, 31).

Tongues are for prayer (14:14) from the heart. Of course there is also prayer with the mind, i.e., in a known language. Both are good in their proper place, it seems. Some prefer spirit prayer while others prefer mind prayer. Neither is a higher spirituality, it seems. I think Romans 8:26 speaks to this when it says “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” So the groanings there are the Spirit at work helping us when our mind and understanding fail us and we don’t know how to pray. That groaning certainly could come out of my mouth, I think.

Tongues are for praise (14:16) just as they are in Acts 2:11 and 10:46. That isn’t helpful for the congregation unless it is interpreted or explained as Peter did in Acts 2.

In the gathering Paul does not speak in tongues though he does speak a lot, evidently in his private devotions. Where the Corinthians were seeing their public use of tongues as a mark of their high spirituality. Paul shows them that it is a sign, but a sign of God’s judgment on their prideful self-indulgence! Hearing Babylonian in the streets of Jerusalem in 586 BC was a sign that God’s judgment had come to sinful Judah (he quotes Isaiah 28:11 a statement of His judgment in 14:21). Similarly, it is not a blessable thing if unbelievers hear all the confusion of public tongues and walk away thinking the people and their God is crazy.

So I’m thinking the central idea of the gift of tongues is private prayer and praise to God in an unknown language.

That’s what I’m thinking in outline. I’d love to get input!

Flotsam and jetsam (7/8)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/3)