Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter. By Thomas R. Schreiner. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2018. 172 pp. Paper, $16.99.
This book is very irenic in nature. Thomas Schreiner says that the issue of spiritual gifts is not a “first-order” doctrine (p. 2). Devout Christians can have different opinions. He was at one time a continuationist, believing that the sign gifts were operative today. This was in large part due to the teachings of D. A. Carson (p. 4). He is currently a cessationist but admits he might be wrong. Schreiner stresses the idea that we should discuss the issues and not be polarized.
In the first chapter of the book, he says that the charismatic movement has both positive and negative aspects. Charismatics and non-charismatics can learn from each other.
Schreiner places the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible into two broad groups: speaking and serving (p. 27). It is not surprising that when it comes to the gifts of healing and tongues, he argues as a cessationist that if the gift exists, the person exercising such a gift must be able to exercise it on a regular basis (p. 22). Just because a person prays for somebody, and a healing takes place does not mean that we see the gift of healing in operation. This reviewer thinks this is an excellent point that is often not made during discussions on spiritual gifts. In the same vein, Schreiner says that even if a person speaks one time in a foreign language which he does not know, such as on a mission field, this is not the gift of tongues (p. 89).
Most readers of the JOTGES will agree with Schreiner when he maintains that all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith (p. 58). He recognizes that the Book of Acts, particularly the example of the Samaritans in Acts 8, is a unique period of time in church history. The Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Apostles from Jerusalem placed hands on them because God did not want there to be a breach in the church between Jews and Samaritans (pp. 55-57, 145).
Schreiner also makes other points about spiritual gifts with which this reviewer agrees. The purpose of all gifts is the edification of the church. Ecstatic utterances without cognitive content, which is often seen in charismatic churches, do not meet that purpose (p. 79). He believes that every Christian has a spiritual gift. One particular point that he makes is that it is not important for the believer to know his particular gift. If a believer is serving in a local church, he will use his gift whether he knows what that gift is or not.
When it comes to the gift of prophecy, Schreiner rejects the notion that it refers to preaching. The NT defines it as giving God’s people “spontaneous revelations” from God. Such utterances are infallible (p. 99). Schreiner argues that since there are no new revelations from God, the gift of prophecy has ceased.
The same thing could be said for the gift of being an apostle. Apostles and prophets gave revelation from God and were the foundation of the church. Once the foundation was laid, and the NT Scriptures were written, they passed from the scene (p. 157).
Schreiner walks a kind of tightrope when it comes to present day claims of tongues. He says that in the NT, tongues are known languages. However, “tongues” today are not languages. But even though present day tongues are not Biblical, they are not evil. Schreiner suggests they might be a kind of “psychological relaxation” for those who practice them. The same thing could be said about modern “prophets.” They are not evil but are giving people their “impressions” (pp. 130-31).
In keeping with the irenic nature of the book, Schreiner gives arguments for and against cessationism. He says the strongest argument for non-cessation is 1 Cor 13:8-10. These verses say that the gifts will stop at the Second Coming of Christ. The strongest arguments for cessationism are that there are no more prophets or apostles, and we do not see the regular, consistent use of sign gifts (p. 157). In any case, we should not “demonize” one another over differences in this area (p. 171).
I recommend this book for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is informative in that it shows that there are some non-charismatic evangelical scholars who hold to the non-cessationist view. Also, Schreiner makes many good general observations about spiritual gifts. The weakness of the book, in this reviewer’s opinion, is that Schreiner downplays the importance of certain aspects of the subject. If the gifts of tongues and prophecy do not exist today, those who claim to be practicing them are in error. It is not simply a matter of “relaxation” or of giving the people of God one’s impressions. To claim to be giving a prophecy without that utterance coming from God is not a trivial, second order matter. While peace is a noble pursuit, such teachings have caused much harm in the history of the church and in the lives of many believers.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society