The question of whether or not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit have continued on or have ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture is an issue still being debated today. The former is known as “continuationism” and the latter being known as “cessationism.” The book that I will be reviewing by Thomas R. Schreiner Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter will be a defense of the cessationist position.
First, it is important to point out that Schreiner gives credit where credit is due to his fellow continuationists of which he was formally one of them, “To Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and Sam Storms. Beloved friends and coworkers in the gospel of Christ.” Schreiner is not writing as someone who has an ax to grind against continuationism. Rather, he is speaking respectfully to friends as a friend and working through the text of scripture explaining why it is that one might see a case for cessationism in the New Testament.
At the beginning of the book, Schreiner does a number of notable things. He begins by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the charismatic movement showing that there are areas where charismatic churches can provide a reasonable challenge to non-charismatic Churches. Moreover, there are areas of opportunity where charismatic churches can likewise learn from non-charismatic churches.
In the following chapters, Schreiner lays our 10 observations about spiritual gifts. Such observations like, they fall under the Lordship of Christ, we are to be reasonable in considering these gifts, it is God who is the distributor of gifts, there is no place for attitudes of superiority and inferiority as it pertains to the spiritual gifts, without love these gifts are useless, etc. What begins to emerge from these observations are foundational teachings or a theology of spiritual gifts.
Chapter six, I have to admit, is the chapter I found most interesting. It is here that Schreiner discusses the gift of prophecy. For Schreiner the gift of prophecy is not necessarily what I had always believed it was. Schreiner defines prophecy as a message from God given to an individual used to edify or warn God’s people. This is different with the common understanding of prophecy as the teaching of the Scriptures, the view that I was given. According to Schreiner a prophecy is a revelation not generally accessible.
Here is where this discussion gets interesting (to me at least). If prophecy carries with it a significant amount of weight because after all, it is the word from God then what is its roll in the church today? Taking from Paul’s teaching in Ephesians the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. Therefore if prophecy still exists today how are we to understand Paul’s statement in Ephesians 2:20. Are we to say that the Apostle and Prophets are still on the task of building the foundation of the church? So if prophecy has ended then what are continuationists doing when the claim to be prophesying? To this Schreiner says they are sharing impressions.
Next, he takes up the issue of “tongues”. He looks to the Pentecost event for a definition of what tongues is. Schreiner sees tongues as a language not known by the speaker but understood by others. From this, he concludes that those who claim to speak in Biblical tongues (as in Pentecost) are not speaking a language as in the type of language that can be understood by others, but instead are making ecstatic utterances.
Schreiner offers some common arguments for cessationism and gives some candid criticism of them. His main argument for cessationism follows from the purpose of the apostle and prophet in laying the foundation of the church. It seems to make sense if the foundation of the church has been laid and recorded then what more is needed?
I have to admit, prior to reading this book I tended to stay away from the discussion because there are so many genuine believers on either side. I’ve have been encouraged through this book to continue to pursue truth in the Pauline context of love. Schreiner’s book provides a broad perspective of the various arguments that have been given with a clear defense of the cessationist viewpoint. However, I still see this as an outstanding read regardless of your position or lack thereof.
My personal rating 5 out of 5 stars.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”