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Craig S. Keener’s Gift & Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey

The organization of the book is motivated by Keener’s perspective on the need for revival and a fresh outpouring of God’s Spirit today. The author’s main concern is that many people are no longer able to discern and recognize the work of the Holy Spirit. In addition, a confusing array of different interpretations of the biblical texts that deal with the manifestations of the Spirit’s work have left many Christians wondering about the correct understanding of the biblical truth. Keener suggests that the biblical text urges us to be more open to appropriate manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we should conform our experience to the witness of Scripture rather than Scripture to our own experience. Consequently, Keener urges his readers to discern the continuing presence of all spiritual gifts reported in biblical times in their own lives. For Keener, the Gift and the Giver have not changed, and the biblical witness offers all principles and examples necessary for the discernment of God’s continuing work in our lives today.

In spite of the appeal to a wider audience, many Pentecostals will likely not agree with Keener’s perspective on Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues. For example, he suggests that “tongues” in both Acts and 1 Corinthians refer only to genuine languages and that, consequently, any manifestation of tongues today should also be the same. It is Keener’s personal experience which discredits the theological perspective held by many Pentecostals that tongues can also be spoken in a heavenly language. Here, Keener’s principle of using personal testimony to verify and apply his interpretation of a biblical text is confronted with the reality that others have witnessed and described the language of tongues in equally credible terms and therefore hold different interpretations of the visible or audible manifestation of spiritual gifts.

Nevertheless, Keener’s concern in this book is primarily pastoral rather than dogmatic. For him, the emphasis should be placed on the Giver not on the gift, and faith in the reality of a genuine gift does not mean that all manifestations of that gift are also genuine. In other words, Keener does not suggest that his interpretation should be accepted as normative. Instead, he directs the focus away from the diverging interpretations of Spirit baptism and its (sometimes excessive) manifestations toward a discernment of the Spirit’s work as a whole and the purpose of spiritual gifts for evangelism, mission and unity. Keener wishes to provide resources for today’s Christians who are often overwhelmed by a myriad of voices that take them into different directions. Gift & Giver urges all Christians to reexamine the biblical message of the Spirit’s empowerment for the various tasks God has assigned us in the Church and in the world today. In that capacity, the book is a valuable contribution to a better understanding of the Holy Spirit for today.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey

 

Editor’s note: Read John Lathrop‘s review of Gift & Giver in the October 2017 issue of Jurnal Jaffray, the online journal of Jaffray Theological Seminary in Makassar, Indonesia.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2005

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Reader in Contemporary Christianity and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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