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Max Turner: The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today

 

Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today, Revised Edition (Hendrickson Publishers/Baker Academic, 1998), 383 pages.

The purpose of this work is to explore the significance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The book consists of two parts. The first part examines the development of New Testament pneumatology through an understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the intertestamental period. The second part analyses the significance of the New Testament witness (Luke-Acts, John and Paul) for a contemporary theology of spiritual gifts by examining the nature and purpose of three predominant gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament (prophecy, tongues and healing) and their significance in the Pentecostal and charismatic communities today. The first part offers an excellent example of the anti-cessationist argument, whereas the second part relates the perspectives on spiritual gifts held by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements to those of traditional Evangelical forms of Christianity. The result is a work that crosses disciplinary boundaries and begins to ask questions about the appropriation of the New Testament witness on spiritual gifts for the Christian life today. It is this aspect that has already made The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts a classic of its discipline.

As can be expected, Turner finds in the Old Testament and intertestamental periods a primary witness to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy, wisdom and revelation. Nonetheless, while some would argue that this activity of the Holy Spirit is “merely” an empowering activity, Turner argues that it is indeed necessary for God’s work of salvation, providing not only the power of God’s holiness but also the very life of Israel as the people of God. Turner then suggests that the writers of the New Testament further developed this theme. Luke, John and Paul portray the Spirit of prophecy as the life-giving Spirit transformed by the event of Jesus Christ, Pentecost, and an implicit Trinitarian theology. For Turner, this understanding offers a coherent New Testament theology of the gift of the Spirit to believers, which is best explained in terms of a broad one-stage conversion-initiation paradigm instead of the classical Pentecostal two-stage paradigm of conversion and subsequent empowerment.

Max Turner is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at London School of Theology.

From the Pentecostal perspective, a one-stage model of the Spirit’s reception would collapse the distinctive work of the Spirit of empowerment and prophecy into the reception of the soteriological work of the Spirit at conversion. This would eliminate the most crucial aspect of contemporary Pentecostal theology, namely, that the baptism of the Spirit is theologically distinct (at least logically, if not chronologically) from conversion. Proponents of the one-stage model, on the other hand, argue that the New Testament witness shows only one giving of the Spirit and not two distinct acts, so that the Spirit of conversion is also the Spirit of empowerment. According to this view, conversion and empowerment represent one ongoing activity and not a subsequent and theologically different giving of the Spirit. Turner’s work upholds the argument of the latter group and proposes that there is only one gift of the Spirit to believers which affords the entire experiential dimension of the Christian life. The book will undoubtedly remain an important contribution to the ongoing debate of this subject matter, and no serious participant in the discussion can afford to neglect Turner’s insight into the arguments.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 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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