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Kenneth Berding: What Are Spiritual Gifts?


Kenneth Berding, What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking The Conventional View (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 368 pages, ISBN 9780825421242.

After reading and re-reading this book (4 times now), I would like to thank Dr. Berding for putting together this in-depth single volume reference of the traditional spiritual gifts. There are 129 pages of appendices and notes with a detailed 24 page subject and scripture index. This extra effort makes it easy for any person to look up a particular item of interest. His verse by verse translation comparison (with Greek text) is beyond helpful. Most importantly, his message is clear: Christians waste too much time trying to discover their “spiritual gift” is instead of serving in the ministry God has for them. For Berding, “spiritual gifts” are the ministries themselves and not an enabler for ministry. We Pentecostal/charismatics will obviously object to his conclusion, but his one point is well worth considering. Do not ask, “God, how can I discover the special abilities that you have given me?” Instead ask, “God, where do you want me to serve?” (35).

Kenneth Berding is Professor of Biblical Theological Studies at Biola University.

A healthy tension does exist between viewing gifts as an empowerment or the ministry opportunity/office to serve. The whole point of Spirit empowerment is for witnessing, edification, encouragement, exhortation, and service. Thankfully, Berding gives a small concession by allowing 1 Cor.12:8-10 as a special ability, but this allowance is overwhelmed by the repetitive drum beating of ministry versus special abilities. Honestly, the purpose the Grace Gifts we receive is for ministry, so putting the purpose statement as the first priority should not alarm us. However useful this book is for the study of the traditional gifts, a vacuum remains in providing a clear picture of the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit through His involvement (gifting) in our lives. Let us look at the Berding’s agenda and bias.

A healthy tension should exist between viewing gifts as an empowerment and as a ministry office.

Perusing the note pages reveals much. His data comes from ten years of teaching a reformed theological approach to the Pauline Epistles dealing with apologetics and polemics of reformed doctrine. He basically ignores Moses’ spiritual episode in Numbers 11, or Exodus 31:3; 35:31 or the spirit activity in Ezekiel, Joel and Micah. Luke’s record of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist in the womb is not mentioned. The Spirit fillings of the upper room, Peter, Paul, the disciples who were filled, and all who should be filled according to Eph 5:18 are skipped. The Gospel of John has much to say about the Spirit’s activity, as does Revelation—but little of this is mentioned. Additionally, many of his references are from the 1970s, and he heavily relies on Dr. Gordon Fee with his expertise of Pauline theology instead of balancing Biblical support with the other inspired writers besides Paul. He, like many non-charismatics, bases his pneumatology on a corrective rebuke from the Pauline Epistles instead looking at a complete Biblical perspective. There are also excellent resources available from other Pentecostal theologians like Horton, Menzies, Strongstad, and Lim which he does not source (except briefly in a note for David Lim). He wrongly identifies George Barna as a theologian instead of a researcher. Lastly, it is troubling to see paraphrased versions of the Scriptures, like the Living Bible, being used alongside of actual translations to prove his point.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2011

About the Author: Robert V. Huckleberry is a professor of aerospace studies at Bowling Green State University and is currently preparing a missional church plant targeting college students.

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