Showing the Spirit

February 2, 2018

A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14


“Although I find no…(charisma) biblically established as the criterion of a second enduement of the Spirit, I do find that there are degrees of unction, blessing, service, and holy joy, along with some more currently celebrated gifts, associated with those whose hearts have been specially touched by the sovereign God. Although I think it extremely dangerous to pursue a second blessing attested by tongues, I think it no less dangerous not to pant after God at all, and to be satisfied with a merely creedal Christianity that is kosher but complacent, orthodox but ossified, sound but soundly asleep.”


I have never read a book with more of a careful tone than this one. Carson’s exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 oozes with caution, and the caution is timely; the issue of spiritual gifts seems to be the single greatest area of disagreement amongst evangelical churches in the West. I regularly hear “charismatic” and “non-charismatic” used as the first labels by which to differentiate Bible-believing churches. Perhaps the greatest delight in this book is that anyone, charismatic or non-charismatic, who insists on a binary distinction between the two will be undoubtedly disappointed. Submission to Scripture often leaves one doctrinally lonely, and Carson laments early on that he is simply unable to condone either side of the debate as it is classically construed.


Showing the Spirit is utterly comprehensive and utterly compelling. Not only are all spiritual gifts discussed in 1 Corinthians (and others) given their proper place, but so is baptism in the Holy Spirit, various forms of worship, extra-Biblical revelation and Christian gender roles to select some issues at random. It is, quite simply, the best book that I have read on spiritual gifts. Maybe this is because of its expositional rather than thematic nature; a thematic survey of the issue would allow disagreement because of the sheer volume of Scripture. Inevitably, something would be left out. Instead, the unpacking of 1 Corinthians 12-14 leaves much less room for oppositional manoeuvre.


Carson’s character is also clearly disclosed. His dealing in oftentimes technical discussion in an accessible manner shows his desire for serious meditation from the reader, any reader, rather than bludgeoning through his masterful Greek-handling. He is firm but gentle, and his conclusions emerge from an outflowing of humility. He is quite content with stating plainly when he does not have an answer. His common-sense reading of Scripture denotes a clearly Christian handling of the Bible. Not once can one detect bitterness, animosity or unreflective bias.


I believe that this book is yet another outworking of a more general move of God in the last thirty or so years to unite the charismatic and conservative-evangelical traditions. This outworking manifests itself in a desire to have a higher view of Scripture than of church tradition. Perhaps surprisingly, many evangelicals have a very high view of church tradition indeed, albeit unconsciously; Catholics are (largely justly) criticised for a monumentally high view of church tradition affecting Bible-handling, whilst we are largely absent minded about our own lenses, systems and structures we have in place as we open up Scripture. I unreservedly recommend this book to everyone; all flavours of the charismatic, all flavours of the non-charismatic, and whatever lies between.



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