A few decades back, there were not many solid biblical and theological resources available on the Holy Spirit from a more charismatic or Pentecostal (or continuationist) perspective. But such has drastically changed in the past few decades with a plethora of resources on continuationism now available to Christians. Here is a short but solid list at my co-authored blog, To Be Continued.
One such continuationist theologian is Jack Deere with his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. He also has authored Surprised by the Voice of God, which I hope to dip into one day in the near future.
Deere is an interesting case, and you will see this in the book as he shares his own story. He had been an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary (from now on DTS), which has been known for its cessationist position throughout the years. But, as Deere shares his story of moving from cessationism to continuationism, he tells of a phone call that changed his life forever. This phone call set into motion a chain of events that left him convinced that the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts are still available to body of Christ today.
In the end, Deere had to leave DTS, as his new found continuationist beliefs did not allow for him to stay within the confession of faith of the seminary. From reading the book, you get the sense that the parting of ways was not nasty, but I’m sure it was not easy for either sides – Deere or DTS. My colleague here at To Be Continued, Marv, can share more insightful thoughts about Jack Deere, as he had Deere as a professor at DTS and was also part of the Vineyard movement of which Jack Deere was also a part of as he worked closely with founder John Wimber for a time. But it seemed the parting of ways with the seminary was done respectfully, and I say that because I did not sense any animosity from Deere in the book, which is a great plus.
One of the things I liked about the book was that it included storied accounts throughout the book – Deere’s transition to continuationism and practical examples of the charismata of the Spirit in his own life and others. It wasn’t just theology. For me, I don’t need the theology. I am convinced of continuationism. Instead, I like to be encouraged with accounts of God’s power at work through the Spirit amongst the body of Christ. That is what stirs me most.
Still, for those who are unsure of the continuation of all spiritual gifts, or who may even be antagonistic to such, the theology in the book is solid, looking to be grounded first and foremost in Scripture. Thus, I think it worth a read for any continuationist or cessationist that is looking to faithfully interact with a continuationist perspective of Scripture.
A warning for someone who is more cessationist: I am confident you will find statements that you will not like. What I mean is that, at times, Deere does not butter things up. There are times when he makes very poignant and honest statements. I believe he feels he can make such statements because he was once a cessationist and can address what he sees as ‘holes’ in the cessationist view. I don’t say this in some ad hominem way, as I am aware there are some who have moved from continuationism to cessationism. Still, there are times when he is forthright with some of the cessationist arguments that I believe fall short of faithfulness to the biblical text.
For example, chapter 5 is entitled, The Real Reason Christians Do Not Believe in the Miraculous Gifts. He shares a few reasons why people do not believe in the miraculous gifts, but he points out one major reason: because they have not seen miracles in their present experience.
That is a major argument for cessationists. And the reverse would probably be true of most continuationists. One reason we believe they still exist is because we believe we have experienced and seen examples of such gifts of the Spirit. Interesting how our experience shapes our theology. We must recognise this. It’s not evil and ungodly. It’s a reality of every Christian (and non-Christian). I share more along these lines in this article and this article.
One of the things I didn’t fully agree with Deere about, which isn’t that major, came from chapter 5. He states that a false assumption of cessationism is believing that the apostle’s healing ministry was the same as the gift of healing. First off, he notes there is an assumption amongst some cessationists that the apostle’s could heal automatically, any time they wanted, at will. But that is far from even the biblical record.
But when Deere refers to the ‘miraculous gifts’, he is not just speaking of healings or miracles, but the nine gifts associated with 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. And because this text, and others, make it clear that these are distributed to the whole body of Christ, he would look to differentiate between the apostle’s ministry in these gifts and the body of Christ’s ministry. He specifically states:
‘The third thing I discovered is that, taken as a whole, the apostles are presented by the New Testament as the most gifted individuals within the church. Although I am sure the apostles received charismata, just as others in the body of Christ, the New Testament never describes their healing ministries with the term charisma. The miraculous ministry of the apostles is designated by the phrase signs and wonders.’ (p69, italics his)
This could simply be a case of appealing to silence, meaning that something must be true because the opposite is never stated in Scripture (hence, there is silence on the matter). Thus, because the Greek word, charismata, is never used in connection with the use of the miraculous gifts amongst the apostles, then their use of such must have been a different category. Again, I’m not sure this fully holds up.
Still, another problem is that non-apostles like Stephen and Philip were used in such miraculous ministries described as ‘signs and wonders’. See Acts 6:8 and 8:4-8. I would not exclude ‘signs and wonders’ from those who were not apostles. And I wouldn’t try and dichotomise the miracles and healings of the ‘normal’ body of Christ from the signs and wonders of the apostles. I don’t think it’s fully sustainable.
Another example is that Paul tells us he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18). And, remember, Deere groups all nine gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 into the ‘miraculous gifts’ (see p68). But his argument is that the apostle’s use of these gifts is more connected to ‘signs and wonders’. Yet, within the Corinthians context, is Paul’s use of tongues that which is for the whole body, or that which is just for apostles, or both? Well, tongues can be utilised as a sign itself (see 1 Corinthians 14:20-25, though this passage has caused much discussion). So, I’m still not sure such a distinction holds up. But, in the end, this is not of huge consequence to the belief in and utilisation of all the gifts of the Spirit. Moving on…
Not only is the book a theological resource for a case for continuationism, but it is also a very practical help at times. Not just with storied accounts of healings or prophecies or words of knowledge, though those give great encouragement, but also with counsel and wisdom in regards to seeking God and the work of His Spirit, even within churches that are cautious or in cases where one would like to encourage their leadership to be open to these gifts.
The final thing I would like to point out is that, in his Appendix B, Deere takes time to address the issue of the existence of apostles today. Most who know me will know that I am an advocate for present-day apostles. I have written plenty in a series on this topic, of which I still have 2 or 3 more articles I would like to post. I also have preached on this topic before – you can download the messages by clicking here.
So I was interested to read his thoughts on apostles today. And, actually, Deere is not closed to the idea of present-day apostles. As a summary to the Appendix, he pens these words:
‘I do not know of anyone today whom I would want to call an apostle in the same sense that I would call Paul an apostle. I am not willing, however, to rule out this possibility, because I do not think the Scriptures rule it out.’ (p275)
This is where the discussion gets down to the nitty-gritty. If apostles exist, are they in the same vein of a Paul, John, Peter, etc? Or are they ‘lesser-than’ apostles? I believe apostles exist today. Would I say they have the same ministry-anointing as Paul? Not really. But I still believe apostles are people of authority, of revelation, who are foundation builders-layers, and who help equip the body of Christ in varying ways, helping us be an apostolic (sent out, mission-minded) people.
For those ‘on the fence’ with regards to the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit for today, these thoughts on apostles today might cause one to immediately reject Jack Deere as a viable source to consider. But such should not be the case. This work is a solid biblical and theological case for contiunuationism, even if one rejects the idea of apostles today.
Deere is faithful to not only address the cessationist perspective on particular passages of Scripture and theology, but more importantly he is faithful to present a positive, biblical-theological case for continuationism. Hence, it’s not written as a slap to cessationists. Rather it is a signpost pointing to the ‘charismatic’ work of the Spirit amongst God’s people in this present age. Such was one major purpose of Pentecost.
Therefore, I recommend that continuationist, cessationist, and everyone in between look to interact with this book as they think through the validity of the continuing work of the Spirit in all his varying gifts for the body of Christ.