There is no doubt that 1 Corinthians 12-14 are some of the most debated chapters in the whole Bible. Several camps have formed over these passages (thinking of charismatics and non-charismatics, terms that Carson uses throughout the book). The main issue is how the Holy Spirit manifests Himself in our lives as believers and whether this involves the gifts of signs and wonders such as tongues-speaking, healing, etc. This is without a doubt an amazing passage that gives us so much to learn about the Spirit of God.
Carson splits his book into two sections, one (which is a large majority of the book) is a chapter by chapter exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14. He ends heading towards what he calls a “theology of spiritual gifts.” This is where he takes the time to reflect on these issues more broadly, such as tongues-speaking, revelation, the charismatic movement, pastoral concerns, etc. This was the highlight of the book for me. The exposition was detailed and bit technical, but the reflections in the end rounded everything out and gave Carson a chance to express his own views on the subject with more freedom.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Carson’s rightful critique of the historical abuses of the charismatic movement and its unbiblical expressions, such as the prosperity gospel, extreme views of a second-blessing of the Spirit, and an over-realized eschatology and triumphalism. These have their major issues and Carson is right to expose these errors. While this is a large part of his reflections, Carson also takes time to critique the non-charismatic side for too quickly writing the charismatics off as incredible and ecstatic. Its clear that Carson leans towards the non-charismatic side, but he has done a great job in paving the road for both sides within a biblical framework.
Here are some balanced quotes from Carson:
“If my exegesis is even approximately correct, there is no biblical warrant for teaching tongues-speaking as the critical and normative evidence of a certain level of spiritual experience or vitality. This is not to return surreptitiously to an anti-charismatic position and automatically rule out every instance of alleged tongues-speaking without further examination or reflection.” (p. 223)
“the charismatic movement has challenged the church to expect more from God, to expect God to pour out his Spirit upon us in ways that break our traditional molds, to call into question a theology that without sufficient exegetical warrant rejects all possibility of the miraculous except for regeneration.”(p. 236-237)
“Both parties must expand their horizons: the charismatics should not feel they have some exclusive claim on the Spirit, and the non-charismatics should not be writing them off.” (p. 32)
In order to see how Carson reaches these conclusions, check out this book! If you read carefully and patiently, you will gain much from it, especially in Carson’s handling of 1 Corinthians 13 and the importance of love in connection with the body of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Carson’s main argument is that Paul’s purpose in 1 Corinthians 12-14 was not to “stifle the Spirit, but the burden of his appeal is to control the extremes and to focus attention where it properly belongs,” which is on love and building each other up as the body of Christ (p. 235). I learned greatly from this book on the importance of not limiting the Spirit’s role in our lives and in the life of the Church, as long as this is within a biblical framework set out in His own Word.
If these passages have left more questions than answers for you, then this book will be of great help! For pastors, teachers, and dedicated students of God’s Word, this is definitely a tool to have in your arsenal!
Read & Repeat