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Jon Ruthven

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Jon Ruthven is a Professor of Systematic Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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Articles > Charismatic Theology > Can a Charismatic Theology be Biblical?

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Emphases within Key Evangelical Doctrines vs. Those of the New Testament

    This section examines four traditional doctrines of Evangelicalism which have evolved far away from their normative, biblical, charismatic emphases: a) the Holy Spirit; b) the kingdom of God; c) soteriology; and, d) faith. Each section begins with a traditional Evangelical statement of emphases within the doctrine, followed by some results of biblical theology which show a much greater charismatic emphasis in the NT, which in turn is followed by a refinement of contribution from content analysis, which even further expands the charismatic role in each doctrine.

    a) The Holy Spirit Wolfhart Pannenberg rightly complained that not only traditional Protestantism, but generally, "contemporary theology lacks a doctrine of the Spirit that corresponds to the biblical concept of the Spirit." [20] The doctrine of the Holy Spirit historically has been shaped by controversies only tangentially related to it, e.g., issues of personhood, essence, being, the Trinity, procession, ethics, the old liberal "geist" (community feeling and religious excitement, whence "Sunday School" enthusiasm!), etc. In traditional Protestantism the function of the Spirit is essentially to work within the ordo salutis . Hence, their classic texts on the Spirit dealt not only with the credal formulas, but also exhaustively with the Holy Spirit and vocation, in regeneration, in justification, in sanctification, etc., with perhaps a page or two devoted to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, which, since they had ceased retained only academic value.[21]

    By contrast, biblical theology has produced a fairly uniform profile of the Spirit which departs drastically from the traditional theological formulations in that the Spirit is associated primarily, if not exclusively, with acts of divine power, particularly in revelation, utterance, skills, and miracles. Certainly, statistical studies of the major terms for God's Spirit (ruach/pneuma) support the broad picture of the last century of biblical theology. [22]

    Content Analysis further refines these recent insights. In the Old Testament, statistically, of the 128 or so references to the Spirit (ruach) of God, the overwhelming percentage of contexts describe the Spirit s revelatory or miraculous activity, i.e., in prophetic revelation (76 cases), in the creation or sustenance of life (17), in charismatic empowerment for leadership (17), in bestowals of divine power for healing, miracles, special skills, etc. (15). The remaining cases of ruach appear as a metonymy for God.

    The NT shows similar percentages. Of the 279 cases or so of the divine Spirit in the NT (pneuma), the category of "prophecy" dominates (revelation 65 cases, revelation as OT scripture 10, inspired utterances 72, Spirit guided prayer 16, miracles 35 cases = 198 cases). Also, spiritual "life" 33, dominant attitudes (faith, love, joy, peace, freedom, fellowship) 36, and the Spirit of God acted upon 11 times. Thirteen more cases do not have absolutely clear contextual indicators describing the Spirit, though most of them could easily be construed as being highly charismatic, e.g., at Jesus baptism (his empowering), the great commission, the Spirit as a "guarantee" (fulfillment of Nu 11; Isa 59:21f.?), etc.

    So, normatively-if Scripture is our norm-to talk about the Holy Spirit is essentially to talk broadly of the Spirit of prophecy, and all the panoply of divine empowerment. To claim, then, an experience of the Holy Spirit is to claim some sort of divine revelatory or miraculous phenomenon. This includes, but certainly moves beyond, the revelatory experiences of vocation, regeneration and sanctification. To be "filled" with the Spirit probably represents a charismatic episode in which one is strongly and palpably expressing the Spirit. Hence, one ought not, on biblical grounds, assume that experiences of regeneration, sanctification, or scriptural illumination represent anything like the terminal works of the Spirit in this life. The biblical description of the Spirit necessarily involves a broad range of spiritual gifts and power whose relative value is determined by the occasion of ministry need. Closely related to the biblical picture of the Spirit as powerfully active, so also is the Kingdom of God.

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