Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Trinity Love

I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is essential (in the sense that it is most consistent with) a theology of love. The Bible says that God is love. I am of the school of thought that LOVE is God's core characteristic. Indeed, all other 'attributes' of God are simply His love playing out in context. I believe belief in the Trinity is part and parcel with this theology.

The Father, Son & Spirit are, and always have been, a loving relationship. In trinitarian thought, love is not just something God does... love is something God is. God is a loving relationship. There was never a reality where only the Father existed. If such a time had existed, love could only be at best a potential attribute to be displayed at some future date.

In Islam, for example, God is rigidly one. He created, primarily, in order to have creation submit to Him. How could love be a core characteristic for Allah if, before creation, He was without relationship entirely? Likewise, how could the Christian God have love as a core characteristic without any essential relationship? The Christian God is love. The Christian God is the loving relationship b/w Father, Son & Spirit.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Spiritual Gifts: Dangers

Spiritual gifts are powerful and, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. The subject of spiritual gifts comes with four main dangers (flowing out of 1 Corinthians 12-14).

First, there is the danger of dismissal. There are a  number of reasons why someone might dismiss spiritual gifts. Maybe they've been led astray doctrinally (cessationism) or they are revolting again excess (charismania). Maybe they just aren't interested in serving ('just say a prayer' mentality). In any case, it is clear spiritual gifts are not to be ignored or dismissed. By no means should they be forbidden. By every means they should be eagerly desired.

Second, there is the danger of deception. The devil loves to counterfeit genuine spirituality. There are prophets and there are false prophets. There are teachers and there are false teachers. The church must be on guard. They must search the Scriptures. They must have discernment. They must have the gift of distinguishing between spirits. Otherwise the devil will be able to use false gifts to lead people astray.

Third, there is the danger of disorder. Spiritual gifts are exciting. But in the excitement some people forget that the gifts exist for the edification of the body. The display of spiritual gifts should not be a free-for-all. God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. Everything should be done in an orderly way. There are far too many examples of order being ignored in favor of so-called freedom. We need to rid ourselves of the thinking that anything having to do with the 'Spirit' must be without structure.

Fourth, there is the danger of division. Some gifts are displayed more prominently than others. This creates space for the twin temptations of pride and depression. A prominently gifted person may start to think they don't need the others. Someone with a behind the scenes gift may start to question their worth to the Kingdom project. Such mistaken notions lead to division within the body of Christ. The reality of this led Paul to spend a lot of ink on the body metaphor and on defining love in the middle of a discussion of spiritual gifts.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Spiritual Gifts: Number

Just how many spiritual gifts are there?

In my reading, I've come across many answers to that question. It really depends on how one answers some key considerations, such as:

What biblical LISTS are listing spiritual gifts?
What biblical non-list verses mention spiritual gifts?
Are there 'extra-biblical' spiritual gifts?

A related question, which we will deal with separately, has to do with whether some of the gifts are actually duplicated in other passages while using slightly different words. For now, however, I simply want to share my thoughts on these 3 important questions.

What biblical LISTS are listing spiritual gifts?
There are many lists in the New Testament. For example, there are lists of apostles, lists of virtues, and lists of vices. There are also, indisputably, lists of spiritual gifts. What is not indisputable, however, is which lists belong to this collection. The most common understanding is that the lists are found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. I find this quite agreeable (with one caveat that I will mention in answer to the 3rd question).

What biblical non-list verses mention spiritual gifts?
We should not trap ourselves into thinking that all spiritual gifts must have been mentioned in list form. There are some spiritual gifts (usually using the same Greek word(s) for gift) mentioned in isolation from the bigger lists. There is debate on most of them as to whether the biblical authors intended them to be considered as spiritual gifts, but in most cases I find no reason to reject them as such. Some of the suggested additions would be gifts like hospitality, singleness, marriage, vows of poverty, martyrdom, music, and craftsmanship. My inclusion of these will make even more sense in light of my answer to the third question.

Are there 'extra-biblical' spiritual gifts?
I don't see why not! We have no reason to believe that Paul, for instance, was attempting to compile a complete list of spiritual gifts. Indeed, we have plenty of reason not to believe that (since each list contains both overlap and distinction). Paul included examples, perhaps picked especially for the recipients of each letter. There are probably lots of 'extra-biblical' gifts. This is why I have so willing to accept non-list gifts and (to fulfill my promised caveat) the lists from the controversial ending of Mark 16 (whether it is original or not, there are no good reasons for rejecting its list of sign-gifts).

Answering these questions in these ways will make it impossible to do a COMPLETE study of the spiritual gifts, but that's OK. My only aim is to do a helpful study.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Spiritual Gifts: Categories

I've come across DOZENS of attempts to categorize the spiritual gifts. I don't think categorizing them is very important, but it may be helpful for those hoping to better understand them. It could also be somewhat harmful, if we fail to recognize that our categories are extra-biblical and imperfect. So keep in mind that what you're about to read is just my attempt to be helpful. I do not insist upon these categories dogmatically.

I believe that some of the spiritual gifts are PRIMARILY intended as signs pointing toward the authority of Jesus and His movement. Sign gifts witness to unbelievers, perhaps especially those who are religious seekers. They tend to be on the more sensational side insofar as they are intended to get the attention of people so that they open themselves up to the Gospel.

Some of the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture (and seemingly many of those not mentioned in Scripture), may be classified as serving gifts. Since loving sacrifice is central to Christianity, it is not surprising that service gifts make up a category among the spiritual gifts. Serving gifts often look like applications of the fruit of the Spirit. Those with these gifts often work behind the scenes.

A third category of gifting has to do with speaking. It is not that those given spiritual words to share are not servants that necessitates a third category, it is that revelation from God is integral to the church being and doing what it is called to be and do. We need a word from God and those who have been given speaking gifts bring those words to us effectively.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spiritual Gifts: Definition

I'm going to be blogging about spiritual gifts in preparation for a teaching series on this subject. I'll start with a working definition. This definition is fresh in that I made it up after doing my research, but it is subject to further insight.

Spiritual gift
A special ability, proficiency, or status that God providentially grants to particular individuals by the Spirit for the purpose of continuing Jesus' work of drawing unbelievers and building up believers.

By 'special ability' I refer to gifts largely disconnected from the person's previous experience. By 'proficiency' I mean the heightening or sanctification of a previously existing God-given talent. By 'status' I am including certain offices, institutions, and states of existence that are gifts of God to the church.

God gives these gifts providentially, by His wise choice, to particular people (not to everyone). Of course, the main recipients are Christians. That being said, there may be circumstances where a non-Christian individual is given a spiritual gift for a specific purpose.

The purpose of spiritual gifts is to continue the work of Jesus Christ. The church is the body of Christ on earth. Nearly all of the gifts were demonstrated in his 3+ years of ministry. There are 3 main ways that God uses spiritual gifts: 1) As a sign to unbelievers to confirm His presence 2) As a means to growing the body of Christ in maturity and 3) as a way of meeting basic human needs.

I think that this definition is broad enough to account for the biblical material and yet concise enough to be useful for discussion.

Monday, November 11, 2013


The Matthew Never Knew has recently passed 300,000 all-time hits

Did it take almost a decade? Yes

Were most of those me? Probably

This milestone will also serve as a transition point. I have tentatively decided to start blogging more often. Maybe not quite as often as I did from 2005-2008, but more than I did from 2011 till today (check the post amounts in the blog archives on the left). The posts will mostly be about theological things that I've been thinking, series' that I've been teaching, and excerpts from books/curriculum that I've been writing.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

BBC Blog-List Retiring

In 24 hours I am retiring the BBC Bloglist (located on right hand side of my blog). For many years it served as a hub for friends from Bethany Bible College (now Kingswood University), but most everyone has switched to facebook or simply stopped blogging. I am going to be re-focusing my own blog a bit and think it's time to make this move.

Just wanted to post this explanation in case anyone from BBC is still reading this and wonders why it is gone.