God gives each person a spiritual gift, choosing from four different lists Paul wrote. We identify that gift by taking a written test. Then we do something in the church that goes along with whatever the test says God specially enabled us to do.
That’s the American evangelical view of spiritual gifts. I’ve taken many such tests, and have largely bought into this whole view of spiritual gifts. It fits the way we Americans think–testing, quantifying, scientifically validating, etc. And yet, certain elements have nagged me:
- Why do the results of these tests sound so much like natural or learned abilities?
- Why do the results change over time, just like the results of personality tests? As I mature, change, learn new things, develop new abilities–why would that change a gift God has given me?
- Why do the tests disagree on which “gifts” should be included?
- The descriptions of the gifts always seem to be written from the perspective of Western Christian churches. But as I learned long ago, if a concept from an American church doesn’t also fit a church in Calcutta or the African jungle, then it’s not the Gospel–it’s just an American cultural interpretation.
- Why didn’t the Apostle Paul include a Spiritual Gifts Test for the Corinthians to use?
I’m reading a book by Biola University prof Kenneth Berding called, “What are Spiritual Gifts? : Rethinking the Conventional View.” He dismantles the view that the tests propagate, arguing that the gifts should more properly be viewed as ministry assignments or functions. They are not things for which we’ve necessarily received some special enablement; in fact, God often calls us to do things out of weakness, not strength. It makes SO much sense to me. And I’m only partway into the book.
Berding says Paul loved using lists, and he identifies 100 of them (a list being four or more items grouped together). He says Paul’s lists follow a purpose or theme, which he usually clearly identified. Each “spiritual gifts” list had a different theme.
- Romans 12:6-8: functions of members in the church body (serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy, prophecy).
- Ephesians 4:11-12: persons whose job is to equip the saints for ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers).
- 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: supernatural manifestations of the spirit (tongues, healing, prophecy–9 total).
- 1 Corinthians 12:28-30: ministry assignments in the church (teachers, administrations, tongues, helps–9 total).
We shouldn’t lump all the items in these lists as “spiritual gifts.” That’s not what Paul intended.
The next four chapters deal with each individual list in its specific context. I’m really eating this up. It invalidates the Spiritual Gifts Test Industry, but it sure makes sense. So far.