I am reformed and charismatic. I hold both a Reformed view of soteriology (the doctrines of grace) and a charismatic/continuationist position and practice.
For many this can be perplexing (I completely understand). For some this simply cannot be (I completely understand).
So I’m often approached by pastors who either were raised in the cessationist position or simply assume the cessationist position, and who desire to study the charismatic/continuationist position.
Yesterday, on the blog I answered the question I’m most frequently asked (on recommended cross-centered books). Today, here is the second most common question I’m asked:
“As a charismatic/continuationist, what books would you recommend on the person and work of the Holy Spirit?”
Whether you are a pastor or a Christian interested in studying this topic, here are the books I recommend for further consideration of what Scripture teaches. I’ll begin with a book for pastors, then provide a list of books for a general audience, and close with the two books I’ve most recently read on the topic.
(1) For pastors:
Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14 by D.A. Carson
If asked by a pastor where to begin a study of the charismatic/continuationist position, I would recommend this book. Be it favorable or unfavorable, often our thinking on these topics is shaped by personal experience. But we must always begin by examining Scripture.
Dr. Carson’s masterful exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 provides both theological discernment and wise counsel about the Spirit’s work, all grounded upon the text of Scripture. He is not advocating a position per se. He addresses charismatic and non-charismatic positions throughout and commends and corrects when appropriate. This book is simply a must-read for pastors that gets to the questions a pastor must grapple with as he leads a church in this direction.
I was struck in my most recent reading of my copy of this book (now worn to the point of detached pages). In the introduction, as Dr. Carson describes the contemporary scene in evangelicalism, I looked back and saw that this is copyright 1993. Now, 15 years later, I read this book and am immediately affected by the continuing relevance of this book.
For example, Carson writes,
When God graciously manifests himself in abnormal and even spectacular ways, the wisest step that the leaders participating in such a movement may take is to curb the excesses, focus attention on the center—on Christ, on loving discipleship, on self-sacrificing service and obedience, on God himself—and not on the phenomena themselves, and still less on a theology or course that attempts to institutionalize the phenomena. (p. 179)
How I wish I had been introduced to this book at the outset of my journey and charismatic experience! An early study of Showing the Spirit
would have made a difference in my life. Too often in the charismatic movement, experiences are pursued and exalted but not carefully considered or evaluated from the clear teaching of Scripture. Those who criticized the experience were viewed skeptically.
Dr. Carson’s careful and thorough study of 1 Corinthians 12–14 will protect from error and excess. It will also preserve and promote a genuine understanding of the ongoing, broad work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian and a local church.
Bottom line: Carson reflects upon Scripture and in doing so he provides theological discernment and wise direction. Highly recommended and especially for pastors.
(2) General List:
Here is a brief list of books I recommend for a pastor or or general Christian readers desiring a thorough study on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
1. The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts by Max Turner
(3) Most recently read:
2. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (especially pages 1,016–1,090)
3. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views edited by Wayne Grudem
4. Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: Five Views edited by Chad Owen Brand
5. God’s Empowering Presence by Gordon Fee
6. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today by Wayne Grudem
7. The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms.
Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Six Crucial Questions by Graham A. Cole
Though Graham Cole is not a familiar name at present to many, he is professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and was previously the principal of Ridley College (University of Melbourne).
I recommend Engaging with the Holy Spirit
for its content but I also enjoyed the overall structure of the book, too. I think pastors should consider the structure as a series of sermons to teach this topic to a church (not necessary all of these topics or in this order).
Here are the chapters:
1: What Is Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
2: How May We Resist the Holy Spirit?
3: Ought We to Pray to the Holy Spirit?
4: How Do We Quench the Holy Spirit?
5: How Do We Grieve the Holy Spirit?
6: How Does the Holy Spirit Fill Us?
This book helpfully addresses questions that pastors and other people have about the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Most helpful, Dr. Cole isolates a number of passages that at times people can find confusing or perplexing as to how these passages apply to their daily life and their present, immediate experience of the Holy Spirit and relationship to the Holy Spirit.
He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by Graham A. Cole
Another title from Dr. Cole I recently completed. And I really liked this book.
Though I don’t think he is a charismatic/continuationist, I really appreciated his tone and attitude. I found Dr. Cole to be not only careful in his treatment of Scripture, but humble and gracious as well.
He carefully balances his approach toward those in the charismatic/continuationist position—both appropriately commending and at times appropriately critiquing:
Positively speaking, great expectations of God is a defining characteristic of the charismatic movement in mainline churches and of Pentecostal and Third Wave churches. In the light of this, the open but discerning position means a certain generosity toward those who are enthusiastic for Christ and who believe in a living God who acts in history today, but whose theological skill in articulating the nature of their experiences, ministries, and gifting may be lacking. For example, someone may speak of how the Holy Spirit has given them the gift of prophecy, whereas to my mind when I hear them speak, it sees more like an expression of Christian wisdom. Genuine gifts from God and experiences of the Lord may simply be misdescribed. It is all too easy to dismiss the experience rather than to explain the way of the Lord more accurately as Priscilla and Aquila did with Apollos (Acts 18:26). (pp. 257–258)
I love the humility present here. He is arguing for “a certain generosity toward those who are enthusiastic for Christ and who believe in a living God who acts in history today.” I think this is a man who has humbly observed and interacted with charismatics/continuationists, and he does not doubt either the genuineness of their conversion or the genuineness of their ongoing relationship with and experience of the Holy Spirit.
He does carry a concern—and I think appropriately—that theological skill may be lacking or appears to be lacking at times, in articulating the nature of experiences, ministries, and gifting.
If I were interacting with the author, he would likely disagree with my positions on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but he wouldn’t dismiss either my position or my experiences. That attitude and approach is present throughout this work and has made me a fan of Dr. Cole.
And I appreciate his discernment. Later in the book he writes a section on “Discerning the Spirit” (pp. 273–276). He opens this subsection by writing, “Discerning what is a genuine work of God’s Spirit in today’s world is a tricky matter.” He then sets out three criteria for discernment: (1) the scriptural test, (2) the Christological test, and (3) the moral test. Within the Christological test, Dr. Cole writes,
He [the Holy Spirit] has not come, as we have seen in previous chapters, to thematize himself but Christ (John 14–16). Christology is at the center, not pneumatology.
A great Christian leader of an earlier century, Bishop J.C. Ryle, suggested that the gospel may be spoiled in a number of ways.…We can spoil the gospel when the NT sense of proportion is lost and pneumatology becomes our primary emphasis rather than Christology. The idea in some charismatic circles, for example, that “the major compass point for moving ahead in active ministry” is not “the cross” but “charisma” is extremely troubling. (pp. 274–275)
I recall reading this thinking, “Dr. Cole, you are more kind and generous and patient than I am.” I find that final phrase, “is extremely troubling,” to be very tactful. Had I been interacting with the author as he fashioned and finished this sentence, I would have said, “It’s not only troubling
, but bogus
and emphatically unacceptable
.” But I admire Cole for his gentleness and humility. I hope one day to be like him.
Cole concludes the book with these excellent words,
The magnificence of the Spirit lies in this self-effacement or divine selflessness. For this reason believers are rightly called “Christians” not “Pneumians.” (p. 284)
I come away from this book with a fresh awareness of the present, active, broad work of the Holy Spirit.
After reading all the books I’ve recommend (or even some of the books—or even just one of the books!), I believe your awareness of the person and work of the Holy Spirit and your response to the Holy Spirit will more closely align with the teaching of Scripture for your joy, the edification of the church, and the glory of God.
[PS: Tomorrow (Sat.) C.J. addresses the third most common question. The answer includes some Super Bowl predictions. Stay tuned!]
MIDLOTHIAN, VA—This past Sunday C.J. traveled to Virginia to preach at KingsWay Community Church
. After the meeting, C.J. enjoyed lunch with the small-group leaders of the church, addressed them from 1 Corinthians, and fielded questions.
In light of 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
, C.J. encouraged the small-group leaders to identify evidences of God’s grace in those they love and serve, and provided a “starter’s kit” on how to accomplish it.
In part he said,
Most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace. What a privilege and joy it is in pastoral ministry and small-group ministry to turn one’s attention to ways in which God is at work, because so often people are unaware of God’s work. And much of God’s work in our lives is quiet; it’s not “spectacular.” It’s rarely obvious to the individual, and normally it’s incremental and takes place over a lengthy period of time.
So, informed by Paul’s leadership I want to interact with everybody by identifying an evidence of grace, because if they are Christian I know God is at work in their lives. What a joy it is to discern where and how God is at work, draw people’s attention to it, and celebrate God’s grace in their lives! The fact that we get to do this—how cool is this?
And I also know this is critical preparation for any correction that genuinely needs to take place in their lives. Because identifying God’s work in their lives gives them faith for the correction they might be in need of, and they can consider that correction without collapsing under that correction being unaware that God is at work in their life.
See, Paul’s correction of the Corinthian church is effective because he has faith for this church. When we correct people, they can tell whether we have affection for them and faith for them. I sadly know what it’s like to correct somebody where I neither had affection for nor faith for—as if the correction alone was sufficient and most important. That is not true. This is not an expression of the character of God and that is not biblical leadership.
I would encourage all of us to restrain ourselves from correcting someone until we have developed, to some degree, affection for them and faith for them.
So how do we identify evidences of grace?
Here is the “starter’s kit” I recommend for recognizing evidences of grace. (It’s a “starter’s kit” but you will never outgrow or exhaust it.) Just take two categories, the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. Work from those two categories and lists, study those lists in the Bible, look up from studying those lists, and look at Christians around you. You will see God at work everywhere you look.
God is working. God is very busy. God, give us the eyes to see how you are at work so we can identify that, draw people’s attention to it, celebrate it, and assign all glory to God for that work!
-C.J. Mahaney, addressing the small-group leaders of KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, VA (January 27, 2008).
Related: For more on this topic, see C.J.’s address “Grace and the Adventure of Leadership” delivered to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel on January 24, 2006.