Andrew Ferris has posted an updated interview he had with Ken Berding on his 2006 book What Are Spiritual Gifts?: Rethinking the Conventional View (Kregel) that I think is well worth your time to read and consider. Especially in light of Tim Gombis’ recent post, Disnefying Spiritual Gifts.
What Berding does and Gombis too, is take the whole longstanding notion of what spiritual “gifts” are and turns it on its head! Traditionally and probably also because of our highly individualistic culture in the West we tend to view view the “gifts” in terms of the individual and in terms of abilities. what can an individual person do with the gifting or abilities the Holy Spirit has given him or her: teach, pastor, faith, knowledge, healing, serving, etc.
Berding re-thinks this conventional view – he turns it on its head. Instead of a spiritual abilities view it is about ministry – a spiritually empowered ministry. Consider the following from the interview:
Could you summarize some of the reasons you think the spiritual ministries approach is correct—as opposed to the special abilities approach?Yes, let me limit my response to ten reasons. If you want to see these explained more fully (along with other key arguments), you will need to take a look at the book. But these will get you started.
1. Many people assume that the Greek word charisma means special ability. This is a misunderstanding of how words work and confuses the discussion.
2. Paul’s central concern in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14—the “spiritual gifts passages”—is that every believer fulfills his or her role in building up the community of faith. That’s what he’s writing about; that’s what he cares about. The Corinthians, not Paul, were the ones who were interested in special abilities.
3. Paul doesn’t use any ability concepts in his extended metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. His illustration is all about the roles—or the ministries—of the various members of the body.
4. The actual activities that Paul lists in Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 can all be described as ministries, but they cannot all be described as abilities.
5. The idea of ministry assignments is a common thread that weaves its way through Paul’s letters. The theme of special abilities is not an important theme in his writings.
6. In approximately 80 percent of Paul’s one hundred or so lists, he places a word or phrase that indicates the nature of the list in the immediate context. There are such indicators in all four of Paul’s lists. This is significant because indicators such as the words appointed, functions, and equipping instruct us that we must read these lists as ministries.
7. When Paul uses the words grace and given together, he’s discussing ministry assignments—either his own or those of others—in the immediate context. This combination appears in two of the three chapters that include ministry lists.
8. Paul talks in detail about his own ministry assignments and suggests that, just as he had received ministry, all believers have also received ministry assignments.
9. The spiritual-abilities view suggests that service should flow out of our strengths; Paul says that sometimes—though not always—we’re called to minister out of weakness. The weakness theme in Paul’s letters does not work with the idea of spiritual gifts as strengths.
10. Neither Paul nor any other New Testament author ever encourages people to try to discover their special abilities; nor is there any example of any New Testament character who embarked on such a quest.
There you have it. You can read on to learn more but I think this is a much needed paradigm shift in thinking about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of both the believer and the believing community, the People of God. I am not sure where Berding stands on the issue but I see this as a highly egalitarian view not just of the gifts (keeps individuals from being elevated over others) but of ministry in general. It really does put service back into the purpose and intent of the ministries of the Spirit. Helps to downplay the “disnefying of gifts” to take this view. This is good stuff!