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Perspectives on Pentecost: New Testament Teaching on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
Book Review by Fred G. Zaspel
It was about twenty-five years ago when I first read this book, and reading it again today I was struck once again with the quality of work Gaffin has given us. His grasp of redemptive-history, of course, is well known, and his exposition of the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost makes this book a significant contribution to anyone’s study of the Holy Spirit and his gifts. I really don’t recall reading a book on this subject that I have found more satisfying.
Of foundational importance in this book is Gaffin’s unpacking of the once-for-all significance of Pentecost, in turn, christologically, pneumatologically, ecclesiologically, and then individually for each Christian. This exposition of Christ’s baptizing with the Spirit is solid and clear, and it immediately clears away much that is otherwise confusing to many about the work of the Spirit in Acts and in believers today.
In the next chapter Gaffin provides some structural observations about the Spirit’s gifts to the church that are again helpfully clear and that establish a necessary frame of reference for later discussion. Here he takes up such matters as the distinction between the gift and gifts of the Spirit, an assessment of the common but misleading charismatic - non-charismatic terminology, the Trinitarian character of the gifts, and the service/ministry orientation and purpose of the gifts, concluding with a very practically helpful and needed clarification of the question of identifying one’s own area of giftedness.
Next, his lengthiest chapter, Gaffin provides a biblical analysis of the gifts of prophecy and tongues. This of course steps into more controversial territory, but his treatment is careful and judicious, and it is firmly grounded exegetically. He rightly distinguishes between Old and New Testament “prophets” and identifies the gift of prophecy as revelatory, bringing “to the church the words of God in the primary and original sense.” Prophecy is not preaching. As he summarizes, “A basic difference between prophecy and preaching is that the prophet has no text. The prophet reveals the Word of God, the preacher expounds that Word.” He then understands tongues as a subset of prophecy in which the Spirit does not utilize the speaker’s existing language capacities. His treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:14 here is careful, impressive, and convincing.
Finally, Gaffin takes up the most popularly-pressing question of the cessation of certain gifts. Beginning with a demonstration of the temporary character of the apostolic gift he establishes that some gifts were, indeed, given only for the “foundational” period of the church. Again, his close eye to redemptive-historical theology serves him well here. His association, then, of the prophetic gifts with that apostolic-foundational period is compelling, and, I think, accurate.
Whether or not one agrees with Gaffin’s conclusions regarding cessationism this book would doubtless prove to be a helpful resource. His approach is carefully exegetical, and his treatment of the broader subject is a needed help. Certainly all sides will find it profitable reading and would find their own thinking sharpened by it. It deserves a new hearing. Very highly recommended.