In 2009, Time Magazine labeled the “New Calvinism” as one of the top 10 ideas changing the world. While always up for debate, one of the distinctions of the New Calvinism is the emphasis on continuationism — the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit such as prophecy, healing, and tongues have not ceased with the canon of Scripture, but continue to function today. Since the release of the article, the tribe has only grown and enjoys the recognition from prominent leaders such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Matt Chandler, among others.
But perhaps the most articulate advocate of all things continuationism is Sam Storms. In his new book, Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of The Holy Spirit In Your Life, Storms provides a handbook on how to practically employ the gifts of the Spirit both in the life of the Christian and in the life of the church.
Today, Storms stops by the site to chat about his new book. You can find our conversation below.
Dr. Storms, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat about your new book. I noticed that you dedicate your new book to Wayne Grudem. Why? How much of an impact has Grudem had on the Reformed Continuationist movement?
I dedicated the book to Wayne for two reasons. First, we’ve known each other for many years and have become close personal friends. I wanted Wayne to see this in the dedication, to feel the affection and appreciation I have for him as a Christian brother, and to bring attention to his faithful contribution to evangelical biblical scholarship.
Second, Wayne has had a tremendous impact on the Reformed Continuationist movement. His book on the spiritual gift of prophecy is the “go-to” text when this subject comes up, and anyone who wants to interact extensively with the issue must address Wayne’s excellent and thorough treatment.
You’ve written much on the miraculous spiritual gifts in the past. How is Practicing the Power different from other books you’ve written on the subject?
This book is different in two important respects.
First, most of my earlier writing was devoted to defending the validity of miraculous gifts today. I interacted with the arguments of cessationists and tried to demonstrate from the biblical text that there is no good reason to conclude that God no longer bestows these gifts on the church.
Practicing the Power, on the other hand, is designed to help pastors and individual Christians implement, facilitate, pursue, and practice the gifts in the life of the local church and in their own personal walk with Christ. It is a practical handbook, so to speak. What I do in this book is provide practical suggestions on how to exercise these gifts in a way that is rooted in the biblical text and avoids the sensationalistic errors of certain “charismatic fanatics” in the world today.
I get a sense this book is written for continuationists. What I mean is that it doesn’t seem as if you’re trying to convince cessationists with this one volume. Am I right?
Yes, you are right.
However, I hope cessationists will read it. I think one of the reasons why they oppose miraculous gifts today is that they don’t believe it’s possible to practice them in a way that honors Christ and the sufficiency of Scripture. My book is designed to show them wrong in that regard.
In the opening of the book, you mention that you often get inquiries from Christians who theologically align as continuationists but functionally act as cessationists. They’re stuck and not sure what to do. So, what do you tell them?
What I told them for years is what I write about in this book! In fact, I was hearing from pastors, church leaders, and individual believers at the rate of a couple of dozen a week and I grew weary of writing the same answers to each of them. It struck me that a book on the subject would be helpful.
“Often the offense is not about the biblical validity of the spiritual gifts for today, but a rejection of the association with the charismatic subculture.” This is an insight you made for those who reject the doctrine of continuationism. Much damage has been done from those who profess Christianity who have done bizarre, unbiblical things in the name of “charismatic” theology. What can biblical continuationists do to repair the damage? Is it even repairable?
The primary thing they can do is to differentiate themselves from those who make claims and engage in practices for which there is no biblical basis. More often than not those who engage in outrageous and embarrassing behavior are at the far, extreme end of the Word of Faith movement or what is known as the Health and Wealth gospel. I also think that continuationists need to dig ever more deeply into Scripture, to devote themselves to verse-by-verse expositional teaching, and to remain rooted in gospel-centrality in all of ministry. Of course, there will always be fanatics and extremists who are in the “business” of “ministry” for personal gain and power. There’s probably nothing we can do about that. But we shouldn’t let the fear of “guilt by association” prevent us from moving forward in the pursuit and practice of what the NT so clearly teaches.
One more thing. Honestly, you ask if this situation is “even repairable.” Sadly, probably not. All the more reason why practicing continuationists such as myself and Wayne Grudem need to stay rooted and grounded in God’s inspired Word and continue to identify error when we see it (in a loving and gentle way, of course). Let’s not forget that most of those who engage in certain practices that we regard as extreme and sensationalistic are likely our brothers and sisters in Christ. They probably mean well, but need to be held accountable for any false teaching that emerges from their ministries.
In your book, you say that the spiritual gift of prophecy is the most important and most challenging gift to employ in the church. Why is it the most important? Why is the most challenging?
I may have exaggerated a bit in saying it is “the most important” gift. But Paul does put it close to the top of the list in 1 Corinthians 14. It is the capacity of prophecy to build up or edify others that makes it so vital to the life of the church. The challenge comes from the fact that cessationists typically argue that the on-going validity of any “revelatory” gifts of the Spirit compromises or undermines or in some way threatens the finality, sufficiency, and authority of the biblical canon. I don’t believe this is true, once we understand properly what the gift of prophecy is and how it genuinely operates in the body of Christ. But this fear on the part of cessationists certainly presents us with a substantial challenge that needs to be addressed.
Practically, what does it look like to practice the spiritual gifts on a Sunday? What about throughout the week?
In short, it is difficult to practice some of these gifts in large Sunday corporate gatherings. At our church we always, every Sunday, pray for the sick and we make room for prophetic ministry when we think it appropriate and helpful. But the exercise of other gifts is best suited for small group gatherings. I provide some guidance on how to implement the gifts in both settings in this book.
Finally, let’s pretend that I’m a pastor and I read your book. I know I need to make a change, but I’m not sure what do next. Well, what should I do?
Don’t be afraid of the Holy Spirit! Nowhere in the NT are we told to fear the Spirit or his gifts or what he might do through us and for others by means of their exercise. So the first step is to go to God in prayer and repent for having quenched the Spirit by suppressing or forbidding or merely neglecting the gifts of the Spirit that God has provided. Then begin slowly to pray for their manifestation and have in place in advance a plan for how best to implement their exercise in your church. The latter is what I have tried to provide pastors in this book.
Learn More About The Gifts of The Holy Spirit
Practicing the Power will release on Tuesday, February 7th. You can get your copy here.
Let me give you two more links to consider:
First, visit SamStorms.com for more resources from Storms and Enjoying God Ministries.
Second, Storms is hosting the first ever Convergence Conference from October 5th-7th in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The aim of the conference is to “challenge and equip followers of Jesus to eagerly embrace both the functional authority of God’s Word and the full range of miraculous gifts of the Spirit, all to the glory of God in Christ.”
The main speakers are Sam Storms, Matt Chandler, and Andrew Wilson, among others. If you’re looking to learn more about the “Word and Spirit” combination in the life of your church, this conference is for you.
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