on Spiritual Gifts

spiritual-giftsAndrew 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 kenneth_berding(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!

a thought on “grace”

I recently picked up a copy of Siegfried Schatzmann’s A Pauline Theology of Charismata (Hendrickson, 1987).  It is his PhD dissertation from SWBTS.  It’s a packed 103 pages of reading and highly technical reading on the use of “charismata” in Paul’s letters.  It’s a good work.   As well one should he starts out exploring the etymology of the concept and it is quite interesting.  Consider the following:  (sorry I am not able to access Greek fonts at this time so you will forgive the transliterations and keep reading?  Thx!  🙂 )

Xarismata is derived from the root word xaris.  Whereas the former is used sparingly, the latter occurs profusely both in secular Greek literature and in the NT.  Xaris, in the Pauline letters generally translated as “grace,” and xarismata, the unique NT term for “gift,” develop from the stem, xar-.  “Grace” is probably Paul’s most fundamental concept by which he expresses the event of salvation.  It is crucial to understand, therefore, that “grace” does not, for Paul, convey the notion of God’s disposition or attitude towards mankind but rather God’s gracious “act.”  Rudolf Bultmann appropriately summarizes the foundational character of xaris in Paul as “God’s eschatological deed.”  Paul’s Theology is this appropriately described as “charitocentric”; xaris denotes God’s “fundamental gift of salvation” to humanity.  By no means must this be construed to mean that Paul considered “grace” as God’s generous act in the past only.   Every cursory study of such passages as Rom 3:24, 5:15, and Eph 2:5,8, shows that grace, as God’s eschatological event in Christ, is experienced in the present and also transforms and characterizes existence in the present.  This understanding of xaris, then leads to its correlate, xarismata.  Yet, the further probing into the significance of the relatedness of these terms mus await the exegesis Rom 5:15, 16, and of 6:23.

This is interesting.  So often we talk about grace as God’s unmerited favor towards us, and probably this is true, but as seen in Schatzmann, it in fact refers to God’s act of salavation!

Yes, this is interesting.

on commentary writing

Stanley Porter has written a scathing post on the quality of commentaries written on the book of Romans in the last 30+ years.  It not a pretty picture.

Here it is in part:

I recently reviewed about fifty commentaries on the book of Romans as part of a major writing project. I included commentaries from John Bengel’s of 1742 to the latest that I could get my hands on. I wanted to examine the state of play in commentary writing on Romans over most of the modern period. I eliminated the popular and “application-oriented” commentaries, and concentrated on those that present themselves as treatments of the text of Romans. If any book of the New Testament should bring out the best in commentary writing, Romans should be the one—and was I sadly disappointed.

No, I did not read through every commentary, but I concentrated on their introductions and especially Romans 5:1-11, a passage that I have written on many times and hence know something about. I wanted to see how up-to-date each commentary was for the time in which it was written (note this!), in the following areas: Greek language and linguistics, textual criticism, theology, literary and epistolary and rhetorical issues, audience concerns, and history of interpretation.

whew!!  Read more here.   Dave Black has a few words himself where he states:

7:16 AMGood for Stan Porter. He’s had the courage to say a few things about modern commentaries that others would never dare to mention. It’s time we stopped making excuses for repetition and mediocrity. If you’re going to say something, say something new and important. People don’t read commentaries critically nowadays it seems. No matter how shallow or mundane, we extol every new commentary that comes off the press. After all, how dare we criticize Dr. So-and-So’s latest work? We almost worship commentators, like we do war heroes. Just try criticizing U. S. Grant for messing up his early assignment in the Western Theater. Someone is likely to fire back, “How can you blame him? He was drunk at the time.” Porter is right. America has produced few really great commentaries in the past three decades. It’s a little presumptuous of publishers to fawn all over their latest works. Most of us who have reached middle age have discovered that there’s not much new under the sun. Today’s sensational new commentary is very much like the sensation of 30 years ago.

Like many I too must feel ashamed for my addiction to commentaries, or kool-aid or whatever.   I took years of biblical language studies in seminary, I should know better!  🙂  I mean, if you know how to study the Bible and can access the Greek and or the Hebrew, you could, in a sense, write your own commentary!   The problem is we are too busy to do all that ourselves and think we must have nothing less than an earned PhD in order to engage the Bible ourselves.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Okay, so I might not put out as smart a commentary on Romans as say, Dogulas Moo did, but hey, I bet with some careful reading of the text and honest exegsis, with some background reading and thinking, you could do a half decent job yourself.

There is one key book many should consider though, if you feel too dependent on commentaries and that is one put out by none other than the late great Fredrick W. Danker known as Multipurpose Tools for Bible Study (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003). This book is simply a must have!

Blessings,

Phoebe the Expositor of Romans?

Scot McKnight posts about Mike Bird’s argument that Phoebe delivered Paul’s Letter to the Romans to that congregation and was that letter’s first expositor!  I love it!  Here is the repost below – give it a read!

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From Mike Bird, who does for Phoebe a bit of what I do for Junia in Junia is not Alone. Dr. Michael Bird (PhD, University of Queensland) is Lecturer in Theology at Crossway College in Queensland, Australia.  His research interests include the Gospel of Mark, Pauline theology, New Testament theology, and evangelical ecclesiology.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me” (Rom 16:1-2 TNIV).

I love messing with my students. Yes, I know it catches them off guard, but exposing their assumptions and ignorance is both enjoyable and actually educational too. When I get to my Romans class, I ask the students four questions:

So who actually wrote Romans?

“Paul,” they immediately reply in chorus.

“No,” I retort, “Who physically sat down and penned the letter to Paul’s dictation?”

Blank faces, deep thoughts, then some bright spark will blurt out, “Oh, oh, that guy, what’s his name, um, Tertius.”

“Correct-a-mundo” comes the teacher’s approving reply who points students to Romans 16:22 which says, “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Rom 16:22 TNIV).

Moving on…

So who delivered the letter to the Romans then? Who was Paul’s envoy?

Confused faces, odd looks: how can they be expected to know that?

“Turn with me to Romans 16 then” and together we read the text.

Then we have a cool discussion about the meaning of “deacon,” “benefactor,” and the role of letter carriers in antiquity. It gives a good starting point to talk about Christian ministry and patron-client relationships in the context of the Greco-Roman world.

“So then, if Phoebe is a deacon, Paul’s benefactor, and he trusted her to take this very important letter to the Romans, then Phoebe must have been a woman of great abilities and good character in Paul’s mind. Do you agree?”

Heads nod in agreement.

And if the Romans had any questions about the letter like ‘what is the righteousness of God?’ or ‘who is this wretched man about half-way through?’ who do you think would be the first person that they would ask?

Eyes wide opened, some mouths gaping, others looking a bit irritated.

Then I provocatively add: “Could it be that the first person to publicly read and teach about or from Romans was a woman? If so, what does that tell you about women and teaching roles in the early church?”

The end result is an “Aha” moment for some students, confusion and frustration for others.

Then comes the big question…

Think about it people. This is Romans—Paul’s letter to unify the Roman churches and to prevent a potentially fractious cluster of ethnically mixed house churches from ending up like Galatia where there were painful divisions over Law and Halakhah—the oral interpretation on how exactlyto obey the Law. This is Paul’s effort to return to Jerusalem with all of the Gentile churches behind him. This is Paul’s one chance to raise support from the Roman churches for a mission to Spain. This is Paul’s gambit to answer rumors about his ministry that he’s either anti-Law or anti-Israel. This is Romans, his greatest letter-essay, the most influential letter in the history of Western thought, and the singularly greatest piece of Christian theology. Now if Paul was so opposed to women teaching men anytime and anywhere, why on earth would he send a woman like Phoebe to deliver this vitally important letter and to be his personal representative in Rome? Why not Timothy, Titus, or any other dude? Why Phoebe?

Some students nod in agreement, others flick through to 1 Timothy 2:12, others sit back and just think.

I’m careful to make the point that this is not the be all and end all of debates about women in ministry. There are other texts, contexts, and interpretations that we have to deal with. This text won’t answer questions for us about who to ordain either, they have to be answered elsewhere. But I point out that taken at face value, Paul evidently had no problem with women having some kind of speaking and teaching role in the churches. I think Paul’s commendation of Phoebe and her role as letter-carrier to the Romans shows that much. What is more, we should also commend women like Phoebe today!

Book Review: Walking in the Spirit.

It is with thanks to Angie from Crossway Publishers that I offer a review of Kenneth Berding’s short book Walking in the Spirit (Crossway, 2011).

My wife didn’t like me too much for saying this but if there were ever a book that could be truly described as “how to be a Pentecostal or Charismatic, without actually being one…”. Ken Berding’s latest book Walking in the Spirit would be it!  Really, I don’t mean to be presumptuous or condescending on purpose but the things Berding talks about in this book is what you hear about in your average Pentecostal church on a fairly regular basis.  For the average Pentecostal or Charismatic Christian (not the fringe folk you see all too often on Scott Bailey’s blog) this is what living the Christian life is all about, Walking in the Spirit. Hearing the voice of the Spirit in one’s heart and life; walking and or living in the power of the Spirit; praying in the Spirit (not necessarily in tongues); hoping in the Spirit (for the eschatological fulfillment of all things); living life led by the Spirit of God and so on.  This is the essence of what it is to live the Spirit led life.  Well, that is how I see it anyways.

Dr. Berding (PhD, Westminster; Prof at Talbot) then, has written a tightly focused work centering on one of the more significant passages in the Bible on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, Romans 8. It is not a scholarly work and does not interact too much with major scholarly commentaries on Romans.

Instead, he seeks to talk specifically about a life led by the Spirit and draws his points from the text of Romans 8:1-24.  In a lot of ways it reads a bit like a 7 part sermon series on the Holy Spirit since he fills the texts with plenty of personal stories and anecdotes and points of application along with questions for consideration at the end of each chapter (hint, hint, wink wink, for those wanting to do something like that in their congregation).

It is a short book with only 112 pages (7 chapters) of main text with two appendices one of which he seemed to write to calm some scholars down who might read the book (it addresses some basic academic issues with regarding the passage, i.e., some OT in the NT stuff with regard to the use of the “law”).  It could easily be read in one sitting but I think the better approach would be to read one chapter at a time and let the concept and points sink into one’s heart and life.  Personally, I found it quite stirring and am still feeling the effects of having read it).

Each of the chapters talk about a different element of the work of the Spirit and follows the flow of the text so the first chapter hits on the first instance of the work of the Spirit in the passage.   So, for example, one chapter focuses on what it means to set one’s mind on the things of the Spirit.  Another focuses on what it means to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Yet another, what it means to be led by the Spirit, and what it means to know God as our Father by the Spirit (no, Abba doesn’t mean “daddy”), to hope in the Spirit and also what it means to pray in the Spirit.

FWIW, I actually agree with him that “praying in the Spirit” is not about tongues per se, but, that it is to pray in conjunction with, or alongside the leading of, the Spirit.  For example, all too often a person gets sick or is injured in some fashion, prayer requests go out for quick healing and such for said person.  Well, to the consternation of many, it should be asked, is this the leading of the Spirit as to how we should pray for this person?  Maybe we should simply pray that they be strong through the process and so on.  How is the Holy Spirit leading us to pray regarding various situations?  That is what it is to be led by the Spirit.

So, if you want to be invigorated in your “spirit-ual” life and walk this book is certainly a good place to start.  I really do recommend it to any and all, and even maybe especially to scholars who tend to get all too heady about stuff (not that there is anything wrong with that per se).

Blessings.

On Romans 14:1 and 15:7

John Dave over at the Near Emmaus blog posted notes from a lecture he attended given by Robert Jewett – author of the Romans commentary in the Hermeneia series by Fortress Press (Romans: A Commentary (Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible).  Jewett sees Romans 14:1 and 15:7 as the heart of the letter (I agree).  There are some excellent points but this was one that stood out:

Second, it moves one past forgiveness and it emphasizes unconditional acceptance. Unconditional acceptance does not mean that one is allowed to stay in the same place, but that one is accepted where they are at and throughout the journey of being conformed into the image of the Son.

I think this is the heart of the problem in the USAmerican Church today.  We just really have trouble accepting each other, even unconditionally.   Unfortunately we have our pet doctrines, our shiboleths, and we have insisted on them to the point that we have so broken our fellowship with one another that I wonder how the Body of Christ can even been deemed recognizable.  I mean, even with the whole situation regarding Pastor Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins.  Rather than be a topic of discussion and encouragement to one another it has been a terribly divisive issue.  Instead of being open to talking with one another we say, “Farewell Rob Bell.”  And I think this is atrocious!!   Perhaps we may not agree about all things with each other, but one thing is for sure and without a doubt.  We have failed each other.  We have failed to follow Paul’s admonition to the Romans and to us in 14:19 –

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

I have yet to see how this has worked out anywhere, let alone the Christian biblio/theo blogsphere.  Where has there been even an inkling of effort to let this “discussion” lead to peace and mutual edification.  Shame on us American Christians!  Of all people we should know better.

Interview with Craig Keener

there is a two part interview with Craig Keener over at Nijay Gupta’s blog talking about Keener’s recent commentary on Romans in the New Covenant Commentary SeriesPart IPart II.

Here is a quote in part:

CK: How about something like: “The good news is God’s power to save everyone who believes, whether Jews or Gentiles, for God’s righteousness is revealed in it …” (Rom 1:16-17)… Oops, that doesn’t sound very original.  How about: God’s way of righteousness is the same for both Jew and Gentile: depend on God for transforming righteousness.

The problem for an exegete is that every word I just said is loaded and debated, and I can’t say it without remembering that!  There is a heavy emphasis on “believe” (I can’t type Greek letters in this email program), but I think modern western Christians have a terrible time with that word because of its subjective connotations for us since Kant and Kierkegaard.  We try to work up a feeling of faith or suppress doubt, and miss the point.  Faith is not its own object.  When Jesus talks about a mustard seed of faith (sorry, remember I am still transitioning from my work in Gospels), his point is that it’s not how much faith you have, but in whom your faith is.  The faith may be tiny but if it is in a very big God, God is more than big enough to make up for it.  The point is not to have some subjective experience of undirected faith, but to put our trust in the One who is ultimately trustworthy.

Well, it’s obvious just from this that Keener’s commentary on Romans will be a significant one and one that cannot be left out or not purchased by any and every pastor/teacher.  It’s that simple.   Go read the rest.   Be Blessed!