It’s not really an either/or, but in Spiritual Gifts Reimagined (SGR), I present an understanding of spiritual gifts that is Jesus-centered rather than Spirit-centered.
What does Jesus have to do with spiritual gifts? In Paul’s most direct comment on that, in Ephesians 4:7-10, he tells us to picture it this way: as the resurrected Jesus is ascending to heaven—he is showering us with our gifts. Have you ever read much about that in a book on spiritual gifts? I haven’t either. Yet here we have this explosive picture of Christ as the ascending victorious warrior who has gifts to share. (Paul connects the warrior role to Christ here by citing Psalm 68.)
Neither in Romans nor in Ephesians does Paul say it is the Spirit who gives gifts (it’s either God or Christ). Nor does Peter when he mentions gifts. To the Corinthians, who are already very focused on the Spirit, Paul acknowledges that gifts are an expression of God’s Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-13). And then he moves on to emphasize Christ’s body and love.
If spiritual gifting is an expression of Jesus the triumphant warrior sharing with us the benefits of his victory, then we’re talking about spoils, aren’t we? Paul is inviting us to imagine that and feel its impact and be drawn into its meaning in our lives. This Christ-centered thinking about spiritual gifts invites us into the story—Christ’s story. And to the gifting stories of each of us.
I call this different way to think about gifts “The Journey View.” This Jesus-centered, story way of thinking about gifts, points us to discovering how gifting and growing are actually the same journey in Scripture.
Make no mistake: the Spirit has a rich variety of essential ministries in Scripture and in our lives. When it comes to gifts, he serves as a frame around the gripping picture of Jesus—Christ’s journey of living his unique mission, his victorious gift-giving, his grace, and his body (the church). This important Spirit-frame focuses us not only on Jesus but on our own following of Jesus in the journey of growth and gifting and discipleship.
In SGR, I teach how this view arises out of Scripture, looking at “cross wisdom” in 1 Corinthians and in Jesus’ example and call to follow him. This Jesus-centered understanding of gifting moves beyond the learning of lists, taking of tests, and utilitarian idea of what gifts are. It draws us into the drama of following our Victorious Warrior Christ in the battles of our journeys.
Dr. Ken Berding (in What Are Spiritual Gifts?) may have been the first to publish the idea that the emphasis on the Spirit in the conventional view of gifts is a misunderstanding of Paul and inconsistent with the apostle’s theology of the Holy Spirit (see his chapter 17). I agree, and want to further say that, in our thinking about gifts, the Scriptures point us toward focusing more on Jesus than on the Spirit.
For a broader and more detailed explanation and defense of a Jesus-centered understanding of spiritual gifts, check out Spiritual Gifts Reimagined: The Journey View.
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