Monday, July 22, 2013

Views on the New Testament spiritual gifts

Within Christian-denominated churches there are various beliefs about the extraordinary spiritual gifts -- tongues, miracles, gift of knowledge, etc. The two extremes are that either none are operable today or that all are operable. Between these two extremes and all along the continuum are sundry systems of belief. My goal is to sort these views out, particularly as they might be held by Baptists, into a list or categorization that "makes sense" to me.

There are sundry lists already in existence, which offer pros and cons. In its simplest form, believers are either "cessationist" (believing that the extraordinary gifts have ceased) or "continuationist" (believing that the extraordinary gifts continue to be operable today).

Mark Heath saw the "common division of evangelicals" in three distinct groups -- cessationist, open but cautious, and charismatic -- though he felt the three divisions were "over-simplistic". The "Open but Cautious" description was developed for the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views. Heath notes that many in the “open but cautious” camp are in practice “closed and critical.”

Perhaps one of the best known list is the "four views" presented in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: Four Views, edited by Wayne Grudem. The editors actually saw five distinct views which they condensed to four for the purposes of the book. They are:
1. Cessationist View (by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.) --  no miraculous gifts today; they were for the apostolic age
2. Open but Cautious View (by Robert L. Saucy) -- they do not have a theological persuasion against extraordinary spiritual gifts, but they are not convinced that the things which proceed under the name is actually a work of the Spirit
3. Third Wave View (by C. Samuel Storms) -- they believe the Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion, that tongues is not necessarily for all, but that signs and miracles should accompany the gospel.
4. Pentecostal/Charismatic View (by Douglas A. Oss) -- they believe all gifts are in operation today; the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift subsequent to conversion rather than occurring at conversion; tongues is a sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Charismatics and Pentecostals share many characteristics that distinguish them from the first three groups, but do not hold the same theology across the board. For example, some Charismatics may believe that tongues is a sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, while Pentecostals may hold that is a necessary and only sign of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.)

For my own understanding and purposes, I have developed the following categories of the views of gifts.

I. Cessationism - believe that the miraculous gifts have ceased
1. a priori cessationism: a priori is deductive, or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions (e.g. before the fact of or without hearing tongues, they do not believe it)
2. a posteriori cessationism: a posteriori is inductive, or derived by reasoning from observed facts* (e.g. after the fact of hearing tongues, they do not believe it)
3. e contra cessationism: (Lat. on the other hand) on the one hand they hold cessationism of tongues, miracles, prophecies, but on the other hand they believe in the continuation of what they would not consider "extraordinary" spiritual gifts (e.g. teaching, helping or administrative gifts)**

II. Continuationism - believe the miraculous gifts are operable in the church
1. open but cautious continuationism; "open" because they have no theological persuasion that extraordinary spiritual gifts have ceased, but "cautious" of the things often attributed to the  work of the Spirit
2. moderate but full continuationism; occupies a "moderate" position between the other views of continuationism, but "full" or complete in their acceptance of extraordinary spiritual gifts
3. charismatic and pentecostal continuationism; differentiated especially by their viewing that the Baptism of the Spirit (and associated gifts) is a second work (or second blessing) of the Spirit which is subsequent to conversion

There are some problems with the above categorization. Some people believe the miraculous gifts have ceased and that some believe the miraculous gifts are still operable. That is simple enough. It is the positions that fall in between that are harder to classify. For example, some believers are non-cessationist in regard to certain spiritual gifts -- e.g. teaching, helps or administration. On the other hand they are cessationist regarding revelatory and sign gifts such as prophecy and tongues. Further, “a posteriori cessationism” and “open, but cautious continuationism” are practically the same thing. Yet, those who prefer the term “a posteriori cessationism” seem to feel more comfortable within the cessationist camp, while many who describe themselves as “open, but cautious” seem to be hopeful that the claims of operable spiritual gifts could be true. So this distinction might be one more of outlook rather than theology. These points are where the two distinct views of Cessationism and Continuationism come together and practically merge.

(To be continued)

* This terminology was coined by Bart Barber, who writes, "An a posteriori cessationist (which I am) I am defining as someone who, if he were to encounter something resembling the biblical gift of tongues, would acknowledge it as such, but who sees no evidence of that gift in operation in present-day Christianity."
** I coined the term e contra cessationist to somewhat parallel the Latin of the other two cessationist terminologies; it is workable but not as clear or appropriate as the other terms. I am "open" to other suggestions.

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