Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 27, 2010

Richard B. Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost: Studies in New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979).

I heard Gaffin interviewed on the Reformed Forum podcast a month ago and requested the volume via interlibrary loan.  Below are some running notes I set down as I read through Gaffin’s work.

“The work of Christ in its entirety may be said to consist in securing and communicating to the church at Pentecost the gift (baptism) of the Holy Spirit” (14).  Gaffin goes on to support this affirmation by noting John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:29-34, parr.), and Peter’s emphasis on the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33).

In the interview, Gaffin highlighted the parallel between John’s water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism in the structure of Luke-Acts: “At the Jordan, the Spirit was given to Jesus, by the Father (Luke 3:22), as endowment for the messianic task before him, in order that he might accompalish the salvation of the church; at Pentecost, the Spirit, received by Jesus, from the Father, as reward for the redemptive work finished and behind him, was given by him to the church as the (promised) gift (of the Father).” (17)  Jesus himself highlights the connection in Acts 1:5: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

I appreciated Gaffin’s emphasis on the Spirit mediating the presence of Christ to believers.  So,
* The promises of Jesus’ coming and presence in John 14:12-23 ought to be understood in reference to the
Spirit’s coming, not so much as postresurrection apperances or the second coming (19).
* Similarly, Matt 28:20 (“I am with you always”) is “not to be understood only in terms of Christ’s omnipresence by virtue of his divine nature, but also and perhaps primarily in terms of the presence and activity of the Spirit” (20).
* “The Spirit is the powerfully open secret, the revealed mystery, of Christ’s abiding presence in the church.” (20)
* “The gift of the Spirit is nothing less than the gift of Christ himself to the church . . . In this sense the gift (baptism, outpouring) of the Spirit is the crowning achievement of Christ’s work. It is his coming in exaltation to the church in the power of the Spirit. . . . Without it, the work that climaxes in Christ’s death and resurrection would be unfinished, incomplete.” (20)
* [And as a side note, this may help us to understand the parallelism between Col 3:16 (“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”) and Eph 5:18 (“Be filled by the Spirit”)]

Gaffin argues that because Pentecost is integrally conjoined with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, it is a one-time historical event, non-repeatable and not a model for Christian experience (23).  Along this line, Gaffin avers (rightly, in my opinion) that while Acts 1:8 may be applied “derivatively” to believers today, it was a command “not addressed indiscriminately to all believers, regardless of time and place, but directly only to the apostles, and concerns the foundational task of bringing the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome completed by them. . . . Most assuredly the local congregation . . . is not ‘Jerusalem’!  Rather we today are part of ‘the ends of the earth’ reached by the gospel in the period beyond its foundational spread.” (23-24)

An interesting note: it is not unusual for the disciples to be characterized as cowering, fearful — almost paralyzed — as they wait for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, at which point unshakable boldness takes hold.  But Gaffin points out that in Luke 24:53, “the eleven and those that were with them” (v. 33)  “were continually in the temple blessing God.”  Gaffin suggests that the context (disciples on the road to Emmaus) suggests the content of their praise was focused on the Christian gospel, and that the location (“in the temple”) indicates this was public or “at least not deliberately secluded,” and the time note (“continually”) indicates it was not a one-time occurrence.  In other words, the setting of Acts 1:13-14 and 2:1 is probably not quite the same as John 20:19 (“the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews”).

Gaffin defines spiritual gifts thus: “any capacity of the believer, including aptitudes present before conversion, brought under the controlling power of God’s grace and functioning in his service.” (48)  Further,

The way to determine our spiritual gifts is not to ask, “What is my ‘thing’ spiritually, my spiritual specialty, that sets me apart from other believers and gives me a distinguishing niche in the church?” Rather the New Testament on the whole takes a much more functional or situational approach.  The question to ask is, “What in the situation in which God has placed me are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word and deed (cf. I Peter 4:10f.)?” “What are the specific needs confronting me that need to be ministered to?”  Posing and effectively responding to this question will go a long way not only toward discovering but also actually using our spiritual gifts. (53)

[This approach strikes me as helpful, given the differing lists of spiritual gifts in the NT as well as the lack of formal explanation of what each of the gifts looks like.  While Gaffin does not say so in this paragraph, I would expect that one person’s gifts would cause him to perceive certain “needs” in a given situation, while another person’s gifts would cause her to look from a different perspective and see different needs.  So for instance, one believer might hear of an accident that put a widowed sister in Christ in the hospital and totaled her car, and immediately be burdened to give something to her toward a new vehicle.  Another fellow-believer might immediately feel the desire to rush to the hospital to sit by her side and comfort her with Scripture.  The thoughts of yet another fellow-believer might turn to the need for child care and cause her to offer to keep the kids while their mother is in the hospital.  These responses / burdens / perspectives likely reflect the “giftedness” of each of the fellow-believers.  Me?  I’d probably offer a good book for her to read while she’s in the hospital!]

I found Gaffin’s paragraph “The Trinitarian Character of the Gifts” very helpful and worth quoting in its entirety (emphasis mine):

To refer to the gifts listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 as spiritual is only partly correct and may miss the larger picture.  Because of the functional unity between the Spirit and Christ, dating from the exaltation of the latter (I Cor. 15:45), their work is inseparable.  Accordingly, in Ephesians 4:7ff. the ascended Christ gives gifts.  Further, the Spirit in all his activities is “the promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; cf. 2:33), so that the more general references to God as the giver of gifts (Rom. 12:3; I Cor. 12:28), in keeping with Paul’s customary usage, refer implicitly to the Father.  At any rate, I Corinthians 12:4-6 (cf. Eph. 4:4-6) provides an expressly trinitarian, fully theological perspective on the bestowal of gifts.  The gifts are not only the Spirit’s, but Christ’s and the Father’s, and this breadth in outlook is necessary for correcting a by no means imaginary tendency to one-sided emphasis on the Spirit in the matter of gifts in the church. (48-49)

1 Cor 14 speaks of evaluating prophecies, and Gaffin is no doubt right (given NT parallels) that the notion is not so much separating the wheat from the chaff in a given prophecy, but discerning whether the prophecy as a whole is genuine. (71)

Gaffin suggests thought-provokingly that in Rom 8:26-27, where “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” we should not understand “our weakness” to be so much “particular struggles and difficulties peculiar to one believer in distinction from others” (although that may be involved).  Rather, “our weakness” is “the weakness-‘sufferings’ of ‘the present time” (8:18), . . . . ‘the present evil age’ (Gal 1:4), which in its sinful corruption and futility (Rom. 8:20) continues to unfold until its final destruction at Christ’s return (I Cor. 15:23-28). . . . All told, ‘weakness’ is the mode of the believer’s entire existence in ‘this present evil age’ with all the limitations, suffering, and temptation to sin this existence involves (cf. Heb. 4:15).” (85)

Gaffin has a good section on tongues as a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor 14:22) on pp. 102-109

“We frequently overlook that all special revelation, including Scripture (with all its perfections: authority, necessity, sufficiency, clarity), is a ‘mirror’ for the present order of ‘seeing dimly,’  a temporary aid which will pass away, along with everything else that constitutes our knowledge here, at the coming of that ‘seeing,’ which is ‘face to face.’   The Bible on the pulpit is a sign to the congregation that it is a pilgrim congregation, that the church is still a people ‘on the way.'” (111)


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