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Jon Ruthven

This paper was written by 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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    c. Soteriology As implied above, in traditional Protestant theology Luther's soteriology is essentially limited to "faith in Christ [that] overcomes sin, death, and hell and gives life, righteousness, and blessedness." The Calvinist tradition varies only in details. Later Evangelicalism similarly sees the core of its mission the theme of the cross as it expresses the substitutionary atonement, forgiveness of sin and subsequent sanctified (moral) living, mostly focused on attaining heaven.[38] Certainly no one would wish to minimize these themes.

    Recent studies, in biblical theology, however, have confirmed the impulse of classical Pentecostalism toward a "full gospel" soteriology, including a normative place for physical salvation (healing, deliverance from demonization, etc.) in human existence.[39] However, instead of implicitly placing physical healing in the traditional ordo salutis as a subset of sanctification, the trend is toward understanding the physical power of God as an essential part of NT soteriology, i.e., as the "down-payment/firstfruits/taste . . . of the Spirit/powers of the age to come."

    Content analysis here again, can make a contribution. The Protestant hermeneutic which marginalizes the Gospels and Acts from theological input at least partly lies in the fact that the term, , in the Synoptics almost exclusively and immediately refers to healing or physical rescue rather than to the traditional theological understanding of "salvation" from sin and hell. We cannot, of course, hang the whole doctrine of soteriology on one word, but the Gospels and Acts also portray a highly charismatic mission of Jesus and his followers--a trait that ill fits the more narrowly-framed, traditional gospel.[40]

    When we ask, "when confronting the world soteriologically, what did Jesus and the early church actually do?" a huge, and ignored, part of it was manifesting the charismatic power of the Spirit. Certainly, the amountof space devoted to healings, exorcisms, revivifications, etc., in the public mission of Jesus is remarkable: Matthew 44%, Mark 65%, Luke 29%, John 30%, with Acts devoting 27.2% of its total space. Accounts of miracles performed only among or by the disciples were not included, e.g., nature miracles, resurrection stories, etc.

    This type of charismatic activity does not essentially change withintheChristian communities after the churcheswere established. What was at first presented as the gospel of God s power, continued as the gospel of God s power (e.g.,1 Cor 1:4-7), as some would have denied (1 Cor 2:4-5; 4:19-20; Gal 3:5; 2 Tim 3:5). The experience both of the presentation of the gospel in power and the living out of the gospel in power in Christian communities depended not on accreditation of apostles or their teaching but upon faith (Rom 12:6; Gal 3:3; Jas 5:15).

    d. Faith served in traditional Protestant theology as one of the three key "solas" and was primarily defined over against "works"--the referents of both terms competing as the means of "salvation."[41]  Reformation scholastics developed the dichotomy of "saving faith" (for every Christian) and "miraculous faith" (limited to the apostolic era as proof of doctrine).[42]

    Biblical Theology tends to ignore these two artificial categories, designed to alienate "normal" faith for "salvation," from "extinct" faith for "extraordinary" gifts of the Spirit,[43] though the doctrine of faith is so central to Reformation theology, even biblical theologians assume somewhat more traditional categories and emphases. Biblical theology, however, is more willing to recognize the connections of faith and the mighty works of Jesus and others: that while faith has Jesus or God as its object, the immediate result may be healing or deliverance, not simply limited to "salvation" as traditionally defined. One way of framing the idea of faith is that it represents a revelation and a divinely-empowered response. Thus faith is a central gift of God to mankind, the perceptual link (the and --the proof or experience of the future fulfillment) between the promise God s graces and their appropriation. Hence, "gifts of faith" (1 Cor 12:9) could represent the basic revelatory assurance of receiving all the gifts variously listed throughout the NT.

    Content analysis shows that a substantial proportion--about one-half--of Jesus' teaching to his disciples dealt the the areas of faith and prayer, most often in the context of miracle stories.  A preliminary analysis of the pist- family of words (faith/believe) in the NT, shows that, where the context is explicit as to the intended result of faith, 93 of 230, or over 40% of the passages refer to healings or other acts of power.[44] Moreover, in the Gospel of Mark, for example, major miracle stories, which occupy a large amount of the text thereby indicating strong emphasis on a theme, point the reader explicitly to an unusual, tradition-breaking, aggressive faith in the quest for wholeness (2:1-12; 5:1-20, 21-43; 6:30-56; 7:21-37; 8:14-29; 10:46-52).[45] This highly charismatic NT emphasis on the intended result of faith is scarcely mentioned in traditional systematics texts, where faith is almost exclusively tied to some aspect of the ordo salutis.   As with the other major doctrines of the NT, above, the doctrine of 'faith' strongly connects to a broad and normative charismatic experience.

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