Sitting Down with John Piper to Talk about the Role of History and Biography in the Life and Ministry of a Pastor

At the recent Theologians on the Christian Life conference, hosted by Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, I had the opportunity to sit down with John Piper for an hour to talk about the role of history and biography in his life.

Here are some of the questions I asked:

    • Do you recall your early experiences with biography? Did you read missionary biographies s as a boy?
    • How were were biographies particularly helpful to you when you began pastoral ministry?
    • Why does biography seem to have a different effect on us than just collecting a list of principles we might learn from a life?
    • When did you decide to make pastoral biographies a part of your annual pastors conference?
    • Why do you think it’s helpful for pastors not only to read biography but to present it as well?
    • Can you walk us through your general approach to read and preparing such messages?
    • What is the difference between the approaches of a George Marsden and a Iain Murray when it comes to doing history in general or in particular with someone like Jonathan Edwards?
    • How do we process our historical heroes—like a Martin Luther King or a Jonathan Edwards or a Martin Luther—who saw so much and got so much right having such significant blindspots and being unrepentant in unrighteous attitudes and behavior?
    • How do you think your life and theology would be different if you hadn’t encountered C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards?
    • What is it about J. I. Packer in particular that causes his work to have a timeless quality and his ministry to have such a spiritual impact?
    • Of all of the men you did biographies on, who would you most like to . . . hear preach? ask a theological question? receive personal counsel?

For more videos from the conference, go here.

For the book series, go here.

For Piper’s collection of 21 biographies in one volume, go here.

See also my post, “Why and How John Piper Does Biography.”

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Should You Pursue a PhD?

I routinely get questions from undergraduate and master’s students, at Baylor and elsewhere, about applying to PhD programs. Here is some of my standard advice to those thinking of pursuing a PhD and a career as a college or university professor.

How do I choose a PhD program? I had a wonderful experience in my graduate program at Notre Dame, especially because of the particular historian (George Marsden) with whom I worked. Many people make the mistake of thinking “school” instead of “adviser” when considering PhD programs. Not that the quality of school is irrelevant—there are some lower-quality PhD programs out there that do not offer adequate financial or academic support to current students.

But typically the most important issue in considering a program is the faculty with whom you plan to work. This includes your prospective dissertation adviser, as well as professors who might compose your field supervisors and doctoral committee. If you are an undergrad or master’s student, and as you continue to read in your field, are there particular scholars whose work you really admire? Are those professors still active, and do they work with graduate students? This is one of the best ways to think about where to apply—the focus is on particular professors, not so much an institution.

Should I apply to a PhD directly, or to an MA program?
 I was a political science major as an undergrad, so it made a lot of sense for me to switch to history for an MA before I applied to PhD programs. It helped me get my bearings in a new field (even though I had been a history minor) and made me a much stronger candidate for PhD programs. If you are not sure a doctorate is for you, a terminal MA can make a lot of sense. You can apply directly from a BA to a PhD in most cases, but students with only a BA will obviously have a harder time justifying preparedness for the PhD.

How hard is it to get in? At strong programs, it is phenomenally difficult to gain admission. If you do not have at least a 3.7+ GPA, and 90 percent+ percentile scores on the GRE (verbal and analytical for humanities programs), you probably will not receive serious consideration. These programs often have far more applicants than spaces, sometimes accepting fewer than 5 percent of those who apply. Be honest with yourself about your credentials. Even some people with 4.0 GPAs and perfect GRE scores do not get in everywhere they apply. Thus, you are going to have to apply to multiple programs if you are serious about pursuing a PhD—including a range of “dream schools” and “backup options.”

What about the job market? I hear it is rotten. As I have noted before, the job market is indeed terrible, and anyone going into a PhD program needs to take a broad, flexible view of what they might do career-wise at the end. There can actually be a few more opportunities if you would be open to teaching in either a Christian or a secular school environment (Christian schools sometimes struggle to find candidates who have both a serious PhD and a serious faith), assuming that the secular schools in question do not get scared off by signposts in your c.v. that you are a Christian.

If you are a Christian thinking about graduate school, let me say this: we desperately need serious, thoughtful Christians to be active in academia and publishing, as a matter of Christian witness to both students and other professors. Being a professor is a great life, assuming you can get a job. But graduate work is not for everybody.

— Information about Baylor’s graduate program in history, which offers both PhD and MA degrees.

This post originally appeared at Patheos.

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The Theology and True-Life Tragedy behind Hallmark’s Hit Show, ‘When Calls the Heart’

Daniel Silliman (PhD, Heidelberg University) is a Lilly postdoctoral fellow at Valparaiso University. A U.S. historian, he is writing the history of bestselling evangelical fiction, including Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly. As the season finale for When Calls the Heart airs this Sunday on the Hallmark Channel—based on Oke’s series—I asked Silliman if he could help us understand the author and the evangelical tradition behind the series and the books.

When Calls the Heart doesn’t look like a theology of suffering. The Hallmark Channel show is a sweet and sentimental drama, telling the story of a cultured young woman who takes a job as school teacher on the Canadian frontier in 1910. She faces challenges. She learns lessons. She finds love, inner strength, and a supportive community.

The show is finishing its fifth season this month. And it’s a big hit. More than 2.5 million viewers are expected to tune in for the finale on Sunday, April 22. The show has already been renewed for a sixth season, and the first four seasons are available on Netflix. Online, the show has an active fan community, including a “Hearties” Facebook group with more than 60,000 members.

“It’s feel-good TV,” The Washington Post reported, explaining the appeal. “The main characters do the right thing. The problems get worked out. The guy and girl . . . always end up together.”

Mother of Evangelical Romance Novels 

The story, though, with all its sweetness and light, is built on a real reckoning with tragedy. It comes out of an evangelical tradition that addressed itself to the burdened and brokenhearted.

When Calls the Heart is adapted from a novel by the same name by Janette Oke (b. 1935).

Oke, now 83, is the mother of evangelical romance novels. She wasn’t the first to write a romance novel with evangelical themes, but her success established the market for the genre, and made “evangelical romance” its own market category.

Her first novel, Love Comes Softly, sold an average of 500,000 copies per year for 20 years after its publication in 1979. Oke went on to write seven more novels in the series, plus three other series, plus another series with a co-author, more than a dozen standalone novels, some children’s fiction, and a number of devotionals.

She has had a profound and under-appreciated influence on many evangelicals, shaping their imagination. She has told story after story of evangelical faith, story after story about how a woman could trust God.

Oke had a conversion experience at 10 years old. She was Janette Steeves, then, the child of farmers on the Alberta prairie. In 1945, she was invited to an evangelistic summer camp for children. Her parents weren’t churchgoers, but they let her go, and it changed her life.

The camp was run by the Missionary Church, an association of Mennonites who had embraced revivalism. One thing that set the Missionary Church apart in Western Canada was its women ministers. On the “needy prairies,” the church authorized at least two dozen ministering sisters to organize revivals, preach, and plant churches. The church in Hoadley, Alberta, for example, was founded by Pearl Reist. In the middle of the Great Depression, 38-year-old Reist took over a pool hall, built a pulpit out of wooden crates and pews out of nail kegs, and began to preach. Eleven years later, the church was sponsoring farm children for a summer camp at nearby Gull Lake. The evangelist, that summer, was another ministering sister named Beatrice Speerman Hedegaard.

Hedegaard preached to the prairie children about yielding their lives to Christ. It wasn’t enough to read the Bible stories, she said. It wasn’t enough to believe God existed. It wasn’t enough to say that Jesus died for your sins. To really believe, you needed to turn everything over to Jesus and truly, totally, give your life to God.

Young Janette sat through altar call after altar call, her heart beating hard, her palms all sweaty. She wanted to go forward. She felt a longing that almost pulled her out of her seat, she wanted to go forward so bad. But she was afraid she’d be embarrassed in front of all the other children.

Finally, one night, Hedegaard didn’t give an altar call. Instead of asking people to come forward, she told the children if they wanted to give their lives to Jesus, they should just raise their hands. Janette’s hand went up. Then Hedegaard said, if your hands was up, you should come forward.

Remembering this episode years later, Oke mostly remembered the feeling of relief as she went forward. She felt free. She was free from embarrassment, free from shame, free from the fear that kept her locked in her seat for so long. It was, she said, just a “wonderful realization of forgiveness.”

This became the core of Janette Oke’s theology. She believed in the power of yielding your life to Jesus and trusting God.

Her favorite hymn was written by a Linda Shrivers Leech, a Methodist organist. The hymn goes,

God’s way is the best way

God’s way is the right way

I’ll trust in him always

He knoweth the best

It’s sweet. And some might think the theology sentimental. But Oke found this practice of trusting God was sturdy enough to bear up under the greatest sorrow. This was the hymn she sang to herself at 22, when she had a miscarriage.

Reckoning with Reality

Janette married a young man from the Missionary Church, Edward Oke. In 1957, the young couple moved from Alberta to Indiana, where Edward took classes at Bethel College. He was going to be a minister. She was pregnant.

They had only just arrived and unpacked their belongings when Oke had a miscarriage. She was alone in their $65-a-month apartment, far, far from her mother and sisters. There was no doctor, no trusted friends, and no pastoral counseling.

It was just Janette, her pain, and God.

Oke laid down on a fold-out bed and cried. And as she cried she decided again to give everything to Jesus. She decided to trust him and she gave him her baby and her sorrow. She sang the hymn again,

God’s way is the best way.

God’s way is the right way.

I’ll trust in him always.

He knoweth the best.

The next year Edward graduated and started seminary at Goshen College. He took a position as an assistant minister at a nearby Missionary Church, and Janette started working in the mailroom at a manufacturing company. Sometimes she taught Sunday school. Life seemed to be good to the Okes.

Then Janette got pregnant again.

Her joy was mixed with fear. Oke prayed, though, and felt comforted. She gave God her baby and her fear. It comforted her.

Oke gave birth to a son in October 1959. But the infant had a heart murmur and an enlarged liver and the doctors didn’t know why. They whisked him away and tried to save him while Oke lay in her hospital bed, unable to do anything. Then they came back. Her son was dead.

In her apartment, alone, she thought the same thing over and over again: I didn’t even get to hold him. I didn’t even get to hold him. She spent days looking at the empty crib, just crying.

She said to God, “I know I said you could take him—but I didn’t promise not to cry.”

Let Go and Let God?

Sometimes this revivalist theology is summarized as “let go and let God.” And sometimes, it’s understood as a kind of prosperity gospel. If you give up and surrender, it’s said, God will give everything. Abundant life! Fullness. Your days will be sweetness and light.

But for Oke, that’s not what it meant to let go and let God. To really yield and really give everything to God meant also giving up any idea of what abundant life was supposed to be like. You couldn’t trust God and get a Mercedes. You could trust God and get God. You couldn’t yield your pregnancy to God and get back the baby you always wanted. But you could know Jesus was holding your baby, your mourning, your deepest pain, and know he loved you—loved you so much—and your sorrow was his sorrow, your loss was his loss, your ache was his broken heart.

If you give your life to Jesus, Oke believed, you can know how much he loves you, and his love can comfort when life is hard.

This is the theology Oke put in her romance novels. Her first novel, published by Bethany House in 1979, starts with a woman suddenly widowed, alone and afraid on the frontier. By the end of Love Comes Softly, the protagonist tells God, “Ya be comfortin’ me, and I be grateful for it.” She says, “I thank ye, Lord, that ye be teachin’ me how to rest in you.”

It was Augustinianism in a bonnet, in a made-up prairie patois. It was evangelicalism for the everyday lives of women who knew how life could be. It was story for all those who are weary and burdened, who just wanted to give the weight of their lives over to Jesus. It resonated with a lot of people.

Hallmark Version

Janette Oke’s faith in yielding to God doesn’t always translate to the TV series. When Calls the Heart is not plotted around conversion, and the religious elements are mostly relegated to the background, the moral norms setting the scene like the Canadian landscape. There are no revivals and no born-again experiences, as there are in the books. Brian Bird, who co-created the show with Michael Landon Jr., explains the show is trying to be more subtle. He says, “I believe all human beings have these violin strings running through our souls. These strings, when you pluck them, they reverberate with certain themes like forgiveness and redemption and sacrifice and courage and banding together to help one another.”

An estimated 2.5 million viewers will tune in to those reverberations on Sunday. More will watch it when it goes to Netflix, probably later this year. And some of those will glimpse in the show the deeper theology behind the original books—an evangelicalism contextualized and addressed to burdened and brokenhearted women.

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David Brainerd’s 300th Birthday

April 20 marks the 300th birthday of David Brainerd, the celebrated missionary to Native Americans and protege of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards’s publication of Brainerd’s journal made Brainerd an enduring inspiration to many Christians, including missionaries, for a century and more after Brainerd’s untimely death at 29 years old.

In 2010, I published a review of John Grigg’s excellent book The Lives of David Brainerd (2009), which should give you a taste of the significance of Brainerd’s career and legacy.

In this important book that should be read by scholars of American and British evangelicalism, John Grigg provides a compelling biographical portrait of Brainerd, one of Christian history’s most influential missionaries. It offers new information on episodes such as Brainerd’s famous expulsion from Yale, which may have been precipitated by more persistent, abrasive radicalism than Brainerd simply declaring that tutor Chauncey Whittelsey had no more grace than a chair. Grigg posits that Brainerd’s experiences at Yale challenged him to break out of his staid, prosperous background in Haddam, Connecticut, yet his upbringing reined in Brainerd’s radicalism, leading him to seek readmission to Yale and to repudiate separatism. . . .

In 1742, when Ebenezer Pemberton of New York arranged a meeting for him with agents of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, who recruited him to work as a missionary to Native Americans. By that point, Brainerd was more than ready to take up a mission to Native Americans as a way to resolve the agonizing tension between the glory and fractiousness he experienced in the radical revivals.

From 1742 to 1745, Brainerd wandered from one mission to another. The close attention Grigg gives to Brainerd’s rambling provides an excellent picture of both Brainerd’s own vocational struggles, and the cross-section of evangelical churches of New England, Long Island, and the Middle Colonies. Grigg thinks that Brainerd gravitated toward an Indian mission because it might have allowed him to avoid the divisions rending the colonists’ churches. But he also wished to find a group of Indians who would respond to his preaching, and he went a long time without seeing any Native Americans convert, except for his translator, Tatamy. Brainerd received offers in 1744 for pastorates in Connecticut and Long Island, but he resisted, even as he continued regularly to visit Presbyterian congregations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and presided over a number of conversions there that reminded him of the fervent days at Yale.

His preaching among Native Americans took a positive turn in 1745, however, when he went to the Indians of Crossweeksung, New Jersey. There he led a considerable revival among the Delawares that garnered notice across America and Britain. Grigg believes that the Crossweeksung Delawares, as a settlement of displaced refugees, were particularly open to Brainerd and Tatamy’s preaching because the Indians’ religious traditions and sacred sites were disrupted or lost.

Moreover, Brainerd at least tolerated the Native Americans’ longstanding emphasis on dreams and visions of the divine, maintaining a strain of radicalism that Brainerd’s patron and biographer Jonathan Edwards tried to downplay. Although Grigg’s focus on this sustained, pragmatic radicalism represents a new interpretation of Brainerd—others, including myself, have emphasized his post-Yale transition to moderate evangelicalism—it seems plausible that Brainerd may have indulged the mystical experiences of some Indian converts, especially when he did not fully understand their testimonies because of language barriers.

As the Crossweeksung community faced pressure from colonial authorities to relocate, Brainerd’s health also entered massive decline, and he left New Jersey to convalesce in Massachusetts in 1747. Grigg has no patience for the romantic tale of Brainerd’s deathbed relationship with Jerusha Edwards, and he abruptly dismisses the story as an irrelevant invention of the nineteenth century. . . .

Brainerd’s posthumous celebrity would be minimal without Jonathan Edwards’s publication of The Life of David Brainerd, which became one of Edwards’s most influential writings. Grigg shows that Brainerd became Edwards’s representative Christian, a person who experienced a powerful conversion but who remained fervently devoted to God to the end, in stark contrast to the formerly zealous Northamptonites who turned against Edwards in the late 1740s.

Grigg helpfully places Edwards’s editing of Brainerd’s diary in the context of his feud with the Northampton Church. Edwards also removed indiscreet references to visions and provocative theological notions from Brainerd’s account, leaving a solidly moderate yet thoroughly serious Christian for generations of evangelicals to admire. But his devotees put Brainerd to a variety of uses and presented updated versions of Brainerd appropriate to current culture. John Wesley, for example, published an edition of Edwards’s Life of Brainerd that painted Brainerd as a sober, self-sacrificial Arminian. Admirers from William Carey to Jim Elliott reflected on Brainerd as the ideal missionary, willing to sacrifice health and court death in the name of Christ.

This review appeared as “The Lives of David Brainerd: The Making of an American Evangelical Icon. By: Kidd, Thomas S., Church History, Sept. 2010, Vol. 79, Issue 3.”

See also John Piper, “His Suffering Sparked a Movement: David Brainerd (1718-1747)

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Gossip, anyone?

“Let’s pray first!” I overheard the two sitting at the next table at my favorite coffee shop, before they sipped their coffees and nibbled at their bizcochos. I smiled, pleased to hear people stopping to pray in a public place.

My smile was soon to fade.

  • So they bowed their heads.
  • And prayed.
  • And as soon as they finished, launched right into an angry running attack on a person who wasn’t present. The target was another church member who was engaged in some sort of ministry with them.
  • And kept it up for a good 45 minutes.

(It’s cool – they’re just “networking”!)

Now, I promise, I was trying hard not to eavesdrop, but they were very passionate, and I didn’t want to give up my comfy chair just to avoid hearing them.

I have just spent some time in Romans, and 1:29-31 seemed relevant here – I have marked the sins that this pair may have been committing.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. [And if they were not telling the strict truth about their “frenemy,” one could tack deceit on to the list]

And if we do what we’re supposed to – read the Bible in its context – the horror keeps piling up: this list is Paul unpacking what he meant by “God gave them over to a depraved mind” (Rom 1:28).

Paul goes on in Romans 12-13 to show how Christians ought to treat one another:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is goodBe devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…Live in harmony with one another. (Romans 12:9-10, 16)

All commands can be “summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. (Rom 13:9-10)

So here they are, gossip and slander blended in with the grossest sins Paul can think of. Gossip is not “networking,” it’s wickedness.

Nevertheless: As unappetizing as their rapid-fire attack was, I cannot stand in judgment on them. In fact, what brought me up short was this thought: “I’m sure I have done the same, and will do it in the future – is this really how I sound?”


  1. Plenty of evangelicals today read Romans 1:18-31 and deduce from it that “Paul’s main meaning is that homosexuality is evil and offends God!” Paul would almost certainly have shaken his head in disbelief and told us, “My main meaning was that all kinds of sins, be they gross or polite, are evil and offend God.”
  2. Along that same line: is the NIV, which I used above, a “gay” Bible? Not at all. And misrepresenting its translators, especially based on the fifth-hand information that is typically found in those ominous YouTube videos, is also a sin. I challenge anyone who thinks that the NIV is “loose” on homosexual sin to look it up first-hand: See also my article here,
  3. As a side note, 1:29-31 take the form of a “vice list”, as is the “fruit of the Spirit” list in Gal 5.
  4. The reader is invited to look at my brief commentary on Romans:

“Gossip, anyone?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica


Decision Making and the Will of God


Deut. 29:29

Acts 15:1-28

As we all feel keenly right now, ECF is in a season of critical decision making.

How do we decide on a new associate pastor? What kind of processes do we need to implement and how do we make up our minds?

These are big, necessary and important questions. What I would like to do this morning is spend some time on the root topic of Christian decision making in its basics for each one of us; and then try to apply some of those things to our current circumstances.

I am truly hoping this will relieve anxiety for some who have struggled in this area in their Christian walk, as well giving us some solid direction as we move ahead in our corporate decisions.

I will tell you that at one time in my own life, I knew what it was to suffer from a high degree of decision paralysis brought on by a number of factors some of you may identify with as well.

  1. I seriously wanted to make Godly, Christ honoring decisions, and feared somehow missing what some call “God’s perfect will”. The idea that God has one best choice for you in everything in life – from THE person God has chosen for you to marry to THE absolute profession you should undertake to whether or not you should read a certain passage of Scripture that day – or in our case, how do we know THE guy God has for ECF?

As we press ahead today, I think you’ll find that being caught in that web is not only frustrating and paralyzing, it is also almost wholly unnecessary.

2. I also feared making mistakes. Not just the idea of missing God’s perfect choice. Hidden in that thought is the idea that if I pick what God really wants, that will mean things will go smoothly, successfully and I’ll have perfect peace about it. When none of that is guaranteed in God’s Word.

Remember, all of the Apostles were perfectly in God’s will and suffered rejection, persecution and apart from John – all suffered martyrdom. Things did NOT go well. As a matter of fact, Paul’s detractors traded on that very idea – if he was really God’s man, would he really suffer as much as he did? YES!

Mistakes can and will be made. All under the watchful eye of our sovereign and loving God. And not every mistake is somehow sin or even displeasing to Him. But if I look for signs and omens and stuff like that, I can soothe my conscience that I did what God showed me, and if it blows up – best case, I can blame Him! Worst case? I begin to doubt Him for not bringing about what I thought or felt sure He told me. Then what do I do?

3. It all seems so spiritual. And don’t’ we all want to think of ourselves as spiritual? Why use common sense when you can get a tingle or a chill and think your being really “led”? But it is a trap. Chills and tingles can be the result of all sorts of things. EXAMPLE: WJ

Well then – what SHOULD we be doing? Fortunately, God’s Word is replete with counsel, so we don’t need to walk in the dark.









I. PRAYER: As with all things in life, our habit of bringing our needs, concerns, decisions and circumstances before God is vitaPhilip. 4:6 reminds us:  “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Making the need for a decision made known to God in prayer is just part and parcel of the Believer’s everyday life. We lay out matters before Him, asking for His wisdom, for clarity in reasoning and trusting Him in it. We’ll come back to this before we are done. But one thing is sure, this is where the Christian begins – on all matters except where I already know the will of God as clearly expressed in His Word.

In truth, there are some things we never need to pray about. I never need to ask God if I should cheat on my wife, beat my kids, steal, blaspheme His name, get drunk, slander anyone or murder my neighbor.

Nor do I need to pray about the ridiculous. I do not need to ask Him if I should grab onto a high voltage wire, drink bleach, spend more than I earn, try to create a new primary color, live without oxygen,   break my own leg just to see what it feels like or convert to Ba’haism.

Both of these make a mockery of prayer. But in making true decisions, prayer must be our starting and ending point.


We are to be occupied with what God HAS revealed, not what He has NOT.

Deut. 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Christian decision making is NOT an exercise in trying to discern the things God has kept from us – but being occupied with what He HAS revealed.

So many Believers are paralyzed from making decisions at all, because – in an honest desire to serve God well – think they need to detect some supernatural leading above and beyond the Scriptures.

Christians are remarkably free to make all kinds of decisions, even very difficult ones, if we will ask a few clarifying questions. Questions we’ll get to before we’re done. But for now, we need to realize that our first concern is making sure we know what God HAS said, and keeping in line with that – rather than trying to figure out if God is sending out coded or secret messages of some sort that we have to be spiritual enough to detect and then act on.

Am I preoccupied over something which is not a matter of plain revelation in His Word?

  1. The Holy Spirit illumines FIRST and foremost through His WORD.

Am I acting according to Biblical teaching and principles?

Have I taken the time to find out what those are?

Leave IMPULSES to things that are INDIFFERENT. That is the subject for another sermon another time. The Holy Spirit DOES at times prompt us in certain things – but that is not how we make our basic decisions.

As we read in Acts and 1 Cor., all “direct” influence of the Spirit is subordinate to His Word.

Leviticus 19:26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes.”

Isaiah 8:19 “And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?”

FLEECES (a major topic for another sermon) – for Gideon is not commended for using the “fleece” method, it was in fact a sign of his own unbelief, cowardice and God’s patience with him – not an endorsement) OMENS, SIGNS, and CHILLS are not our guide.

So too, coincidences are not necessarily divine communication. Just because you suddenly run into an old flame on Facebook does not indicate it is God’s will for you to run off with him or her. EXAMPLE: HP – Church choice. JV – John Piper pic.

  1. TEST EVERYTHING: The principle here is exceedingly simple – Isaiah 8:20 “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”
  2. Do not automatically assume a sense of PEACE means all is well, or that a sense of AGITATION means all is ill.

Jesus agonized in the Garden. He was NOT at peace.

And on the flip side, the angelic appearances in the Bible all had to be accompanied by “fear not”. Agitation was not an indication all was ill.

III. PRUDENCE:  The Holy Spirit leads 3rdly through WISDOM. Foolishness the Bible tells us is sin.

Am I using the spiritual gift of gray matter? It is in my estimation the most under utilized gift God gives His people.

In the portion we had read in Acts 15, the apostles were confronted with a huge issue: Do gentile believers have to follow the Mosaic law in order to be saved? The debate threatened to split the entire Church.  So what did they do?

Acts 15:6–7 “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said…”

They rehearsed Peter’s history in how the Gospel had spread.

They rehearsed what they already believed about the Gospel: Acts 15:11 “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

They listened to how God had worked through Paul and Barnabas with the gentiles.

James then summarized their discussion and suggested a solution. (13-21)

Acts 15:22–23 “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter:”

What did NOT happen is that with Peter, Paul, James and other apostles there, no one stood up and said: “I’ve got a revelation” or “a word from the Lord.”

They debated, talked and reasoned their way through which ended in them writing to the Church at Antioch: Acts 15:28 “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:”

They took their process as the very leading of the Holy Spirit!

Do I take to heart the experience of those who have gone before me?

The Holy Spirit has provided leading in the COUNSEL and EXPERIENCE of others.

Have I talked with others of mature Christian walk & experience?

 PLANS: I won’t belabor this point. In what we’ve seen so far, we have example after example that these men and women of God made their plans in accordance with what they knew from God’s Word and using their best wisdom – they acted on their plans and committing them to the Lord, were willing to have those plans interrupted or changed as God intervened providentially.

PROVIDENCE: The Holy Spirit directs through PROVIDENCE.

Providence, the outward circumstances of our lives as arranged by God also play a role.

We see this carried out in a very graphic was in Paul’s ministry.

Acts 16:6–10 “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

PRAYER: We come then full circle back to prayer – and keeping with the Word, taking advantage of our best wisdom, making our plans – and then committing them into His hands, knowing that He cares for us and knows our desire to serve Him well – We trust Him with our decisions.

VII. PROCESS: This then brings us to the practical process. How do we do this? And I have some suggestions which grow out of what we have just studied.

QUESTIONS – Asking ourselves the right questions. This may be as shocking to you for its simplicity as it is for its freedom.


Will my choice prevent or hinder me from doing anything God expressly commands me to do in His Word?

Will my choice cause me to do anything God expressly forbids me from doing in His Word?

Have I weighed to pros and cons, and am thus using my best wisdom and counsel?

Father, if this is not the best choice, please intervene providentially.

What would that look like in our present case?

Hiring an associate will not prevent us from doing anything commanded in God’s Word. In fact, it will facilitate it.

Hiring an associate will not violate any prohibition in God’s Word.

Our collective wisdom sees the need.

We make our plans and commit it to Him.

Praying about it!

Making sure our candidates are those who meet the Biblical qualifications. Committee, Elders, Congregation.

Examining them as best we can within our providential constraints.

Discussing it all among ourselves so as to make the best use of our collective wisdom. And here is where we need everyone’s candid input. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. We need to know what our various and many eyes saw, ears heard and hearts and minds thought. Especially email us so thoughts, observations, opinions and ideas aren’t lost, but all factored in.

Does this candidate best fill the specific needs of this congregation at this juncture in our history?

Making our choice – putting our plans into motion.

Committing all of this into the hands of our Father – trusting Him in it.

In the case of Matt Gibert, we followed the process and God in the end answered and interrupted. Not necessarily because he was a bad choice, but for His own reasons. We can trust Him.

And we can follow the same process now. We are not required to hire either of the ones before us at present. But all things considered, we may well hire either one – or continue looking. All in prayer, and all looking to our loving, faithful Father to see us through.

We don’t have to discern THE guy. We do as Scriptures calls us to, and we will get a guy – in God’s good grace. Who is best for us in this place at this time under these circumstances. We can trust the Father.



Five Great Books on African American Evangelical History

There has been a lot of discussion lately about race and evangelicals, some of it spawned by ERLC and TGC’s phenomenally successful and provocative MLK50 conference. Anyone wanting to foster understanding and Christian love between people of different ethnicities will also need to read in a multicultural way. So much attention gets focused in evangelical and Reformed circles on the likes of John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, but we all need broader historical exposure than a short list of white men, no matter how inspiring those men might be.

In that spirit, I wanted to offer a list of five great books on African American evangelical history.

  1. Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (revised ed., 2004). This authoritative yet readable book is one of the classics of African American history generally. It remains a great starting point for anyone wanting to know about the development of the black church in the slave South. (I have a well-worn copy sitting within reach on my desk.)
  2. Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars (2017). In this much-needed book, Mathews explained how traditionalist African American pastors did not fit easily into modernist or fundamentalist camps in the early 20th century, but instead crafted their own kind of evangelicalism. (See my TGC interview with Mathews here.)
  3. Thabiti Anyabwile, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes (2009). If I had to pick one African American church leader I wish more Christians knew about, it would probably be Haynes. A Revolutionary War soldier, Haynes went on to become a pastor of a largely white church in New England, a critic of American slavery, and an advocate of the New Divinity theology of Jonathan Edwards’s successors.
  4. Jon Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (2005). The former slave Rebecca Protten had a life story that makes for a fascinating read. The Caribbean-born Protten became a Christian through the Moravians, and she became a major evangelist in her own right, spending time living and ministering in the Caribbean, Germany, and West Africa.
  5. Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (2011). Although not exclusively focused on evangelicals, this is an excellent overview of African American Christian history from Harvey, one of the top historical experts on the subject.

See also “7 Books on the White-Black Racial Divide You Should Read.”

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The ‘Ultracharismatics’ of Corinth and the Pentecostals of Latin America as the Religion of the Disaffected

Originally published as: “The ‘Ultracharismatics’ of Corinth and the Pentecostals of Latin America as the religion of the disaffected.” Tyndale Bulletin 56.2 (2005): 91-110. This is a detailed exegetical study, more technical than most of what I post on this blog.

To download the article as a pdf, click here Ultracharismatics in Corinth and in Latin America. La versión en español AQUI.


This paper arises from research on 1 Corinthians within a Latin American milieu. It shows the value of studying God’s word from non-First World perspectives, particularly with regard to the themes of societal status and the charismata in the first century church. The majority opinion is that 1 Corinthians was written to correct a ‘pneumatic enthusiasm’, with such diverse components as the denial of the resurrection, egalitarianism and triumphalism. It would follow that the teaching about the charismata in chapters 12–14 is directed against that same outlook. We will argue that the majority of the letter is addressed to Christians who dabbled in philosophy as a sign of their upward mobility. But then, using sociological insights from Roman Corinth and from the contemporary Latin American church, we will propose that chapters 12–14 speak to the marginalized of the church. They had turned to the showier charismata as a means of creating an identity for themselves in a church where the elitists received all the attention…as well as invitations to the table of other rich Christians. Thus while the bulk of the letter is a harsh rebuke to the arrogant elitists, chapters 12–14 are directed to the marginalized ultracharismatics, showing them that all of God’s gifts must be used in the loving service of the body.

1. Introduction: 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the scope of the letter

In 12:1 Paul responds to a written question regarding the gifts of the Spirit.[1] The main issue was that some were ignoring apostolic custom, which the apostle reaffirms in chapter 14. For want of a better label, we will refer to them as ‘ultracharismatics’. Given Paul’s response, we will argue further down that tongues were causing some – whether it was their intention or no – to withdraw inwardly from the group dynamic of the assembly. What is more readily obvious from the text is that their noise and unintelligibility tended to overwhelm those who wanted to unite the group with teaching, song, or prophetic revelation (14:26). John Hurd is not quite on the mark, therefore, that chapters 12-14 are ‘one long attack upon the notion that speaking in tongues was the single or the best manifestation of the Spirit at work in the Church’.[2] This may have been the specific issue in the letter from Corinth, but Paul’s larger criticism has to do with using any charism without due care to the church’s need for corporate edification.

Much confusion has been caused at this juncture by the introduction of the word ‘ecstatic’, a term of slippery definition. Nothing in chapter 14 necessarily demands the experience of higher consciousness. Nor do we see evidence that the Corinthians were taking their cue from the frenzied behaviour of pagan prophecy.[3]

Glossolalia in Corinth dated rather from the founding of the church, Paul himself being an energetic practitioner of that charism (14:18). But what was the source of this new ultracharismatic wave that arose in the three or so years since his first work in that city, and how did that relate to the other Corinthian failings? And how do chapters 12-14 fit in with the rest of Paul’s letter?

1.1 Was one of the parties of 1 Corinthians 1:12 ultracharismatic?

It would be neatest to hypothesize a single cause for all the Corinthian problems if that were deemed feasible. In that case, the ultracharismatics would be a manifestation of a root theological aberration.

One approach is to see them as a theological party. A century and a half ago, F. C. Baur’s ‘Tübingen theory’ or Tendenz criticism saw in the four names of 1:12 a proof of his understanding of the epistle and indeed of all of early Christianity.[4] He used Hegelian philosophy to pit the reactionary judaizing devotees of Peter against the forward-looking universalistic adherents of Paul. That is, the historical struggle of thesis and antithesis in Corinth and elsewhere was consciously doctrinal. Since Baur there have been plenty of theories, although typically with a rejection of his Hegelian grid, as to what doctrine these two, three or four theological groups promoted and which might have been the party of the ultracharismatics.[5]

Another view, one that sometimes bleeds into today’s majority view (see below) is that Corinth was infected with a single competitor to the Pauline gospel, the Tendenz of Gnosticism.[6] This assumes that Gnosticism was – at least in seed form – contemporary with nascent Christianity, not just a later heresy. Hence, the Corinthians rejected the bodily resurrection of the saints and were devoted seekers after γνωσις/gnōsis (see 1:5, 8:1, 13:8). Walter Schmithals has been the key proponent of this viewpoint, but his attempt to correlate a Corinthian heresy with what is known of Gnosticism raises serious methodological questions about the existence of Gnosticism in the first century and about evidence from the epistle that does not fit a Gnostic model.[7] This is why some today prefer to link this γνωσις/gnōsis with a mystical wisdom tradition derived from Judaism.[8]

1.2 Was ultracharismaticism related to realised eschatology?

That this is now the conventional explanation is indicated when Jerome Neyrey could make the offhanded comment: ‘As everyone knows, some members of the Corinthian church claimed to share already in the power of Jesus’ resurrection’.[9] These analyses discern in Corinth a wave of ‘charismatic enthusiasm’, ‘over-realized eschatology’ or ‘pneumaticism’.[10] Gordon Fee gives a clear example:

  • To begin, ‘the key issue between [Paul and the Corinthians] is a basic theological problem, what it means to be pneumatikos’. (Fee: 10)
  • Thus the Corinthians claim that we reign as kings now; we should not suffer now: ‘Paul sees their present boasting [in 4:8] as tantamount to their supposing the final reign of God already to have begun’. (173)
  • Holiness has to do with the inner person, not with the physical body: the Corinthians excused their visits to prostitutes because they ‘looked for a “spiritual” salvation that would finally be divested of the body’. (257)
  • Marriage is an anachronism: ‘they are above the merely earthly existence of others; marriage belongs to this age that is passing away’ (269)
  • Gender distinctions no longer apply; women should put aside the veil: ‘their spiritualised eschatology also involved some kind of breakdown in the distinction between the sexes’ (498)
  • They claim to speak in the tongues of angels with a full eschatological endowment of the Spirit: ‘they believed that they had already entered into some expression of angelic existence’ (631)
  • There is no (future) resurrection, but the resurrection is spiritual or is realized eschatology: ‘In their view, by the reception of the Spirit, and especially the gift of tongues, they had already entered the true “spirituality” that is to be (4:8); already they had begun a form of angelic existence…in which the body was unnecessary and unwanted, and would finally be destroyed’. (715)

That is, the Corinthians had overblown Paul’s own teaching on realized eschatology and charismatic gifts, and this explains their triumphalism and their peculiar use of glossolalia. Those who disrupted the meetings with tongues were the same individuals who gloried in their wisdom, boasted of being kings and thought themselves beyond normal sexual purity. Paul controverts them by underscoring the ‘not yet’ of his eschatological message (especially in 4:8; 13:8-12; 15:23-28).

A unified theory such as the Gnosticism and/or enthusiasm views has the attractiveness of simplicity. But this cannot in itself incite us to oversimplification or the selective use of evidence, the weakness that many see in Walter Schmithals’ approach. I find even the ‘pneumatic-enthusiastic’ theory unconvincing, no more so than when we come to chapters 12-14, where there is little evidence of doctrinal disagreement between Paul and the ultracharismatics. His objection as found in the text is social and doxological: it has to do with the practice of the charismata within worship. Thus of late there has arisen the explanation that the abuse of glossolalia is not the fruit of a different eschatology, but of sociological factors, especially status competition within the house churches.

1.3 Were the factions in 1 Corinthians 1:12 part of a quest for social status?

a) The quest for status in Roman Corinth

We are rich in new sociological insights into Roman Corinth, nourished by a century of archaeological work that has only grown more fruitful in the last few decades.[11] Corinth was a city of relatively easy upward mobility. The acquisition and conspicuous display of knowledge was a powerful status indicator. If ‘not many were wise’ (1:26) when they were converted, this did not prevent them from social climbing through (as the apostle saw it) pseudo-intellectual show.

Amusingly, this insight corroborates an older interpretation (see John Chrysostom, the Introduction to his Hom. 1 Cor.; also 4.4): that the Corinthians had gone awry through a craving for philosophical wisdom. They sought through rationalist speculation a deeper truth than was offered in the cross, and from that a higher status. They competed in courting powerful friends by inviting them to banquets and in sponsoring popular teachers as clients. These Christians were open to the influence of prevailing philosophical trends, such as Stoicism, leading them to reject the resurrection of the saints while at the same time confessing the resurrection of Jesus. Their attraction to Apollos, Cephas and Paul (and to a Christ-party?) was based on the status their persons communicated. And Paul’s unease at receiving financial support stemmed from his unwillingness to be adopted by a patron on the make for a famous apostle as a client.[12]

b) Paul ‘theologises’ problems that the Corinthians don’t necessarily view as theological

We may go one step further: it is not evident from the text that there was consciously doctrinal factionalism in Corinth. Paul takes issue with the partisans of 1:12, not for any peculiar doctrinal slant, but because of the partisanship itself. He resolves the problem by showing all partisans in chapters 1-4 that they misunderstand the newly revealed (and by its very nature, unifying) cross-gospel. He thus theologises something that they did not understand to be a doctrinal issue.[13]

c. What does this have to do with the ultracharismatics?

Let us explore whether the abuse of glossolalia was primarily a sociological phenomenon.

  1. Were tongues a quest of the social elite?

What if ‘social climbing’ is the key to their pseudo-philosophising, their disdain of conventional morality, and their banquets? Some scholars wonder if a display of tongues was also part of this same bag of tricks to accrue status. In this reading, the ultracharismatics would tend to have come from the ‘haves’ of the church. John K. Chow states that ‘speaking in tongues could have been used by the powerful to denigrate the less spiritual people in the church’.[14] Richard A. Horsley (‘Spiritual elitism’) wishes to pin the blame on Apollos for introducing Philonic thought into Corinth, making their elitism, denial of the resurrection, and the pursuit of prophecy and tongues a product of Sophia devotion. Dale B. Martin[15] goes to the greatest lengths by arguing that tongues were already an accepted status symbol for society’s powerful, in or out of the Christian church. He writes that ‘in the absence of the critical perspective provided by modern “rationality” glossolalia in Greco-Roman culture – like esoteric speech in other premodern cultures – would generally have been perceived as connoting high status’ (‘Tongues’: 558). It ‘seems almost always to be the property of leaders within groups’ (561). Thus, Martin moves away from the modern assumption that tongues are associated with the lower class, to some debatable data that they may have been acceptable within the elite, and then to the conclusion that tongues were a status indicator. However, this is precipitously a priori reasoning that turns out to be ill-supported by the data. The single conceivable Jewish parallel occurs in Testament of Job 48-50, where Job’s daughters speak in angelic tongues. The Greco-Roman parallels suggest an altogether different interpretation.

Faced with such meagre data, some scholars, particularly Martin, collapse glossolalia and prophecy into the single category of ecstatic speech. That is, if prophecy gave status, then tongues produced the same status. But as Christopher Forbes makes clear in his meticulous study Prophecy and inspired speech in early Christianity and its Hellenistic environment (released the same year as Martin’s The Corinthian body, 1995), the sign of spirituality, especially in Judaism, was prophecy, and not glossolalia; in fact, glossolalia was almost certainly not a known category.[16] This harmonizes with Paul’s analysis in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 where he clearly distinguishes between the two charismata.

  1. Did tongues convey an apostolic aura?

Again, we turn to Chrysostom for insigt: he traces the fascination with glossolalia not to Judaism or Greco-Roman society but rather to apostolic precedent. Since it was the original Pentecostal charism, and was practiced by Paul himself (as the Corinthians were well aware, 14:18), then tongues anoint one as more authentically apostolic.[17] This turns up two centuries earlier in Irenaeus, Haer. 5.6.1:

For this reason does the apostle declare, ‘We speak wisdom among them that are perfect’, terming those persons ‘perfect’ who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as Paul used himself also to speak.[18]

This passage is cited by Martin (Corinthian body: 90-91), who draws the conclusion that tongues were associated with the elite of Greco-Roman society. But this is absolutely unconnected with Irenaeus’ point, which is to show that spirituality has to do with possessing the Spirit, not in denying the fleshly body.

If the apostle has earlier urged the power elite to seek true wisdom from the Spirit, not from philosophy, then who better than ultracharismatics to plumb the divine mysteries (cp. the use of μυστηριον/mustērion in 2:1 NA-27, 2:7 and 4:1 with 13:2 and 14:2)? The ultracharismatics might seek status in what they perceived to be an apostolic, not a societal, value.

  1. Did tongues allow some members to retreat into themselves in the cultus?

Paul underscores that while the ultracharismatics were being built up as individuals, this could not be the purpose of any charism. By definition the church is corporate (12:19), and no one body part can function alone in God’s administration.

The main sin of some Corinthians was acting in the cultus as if ‘I have no need of you’ (12:21) and ‘I am not responsible for your edification’ (cf. 12:7, 14:3-6, 12, 17-19, 26, 31). They may not have declared this aloud or developed it theologically; but de facto they worshipped as if they could interact with God (14:2) apart from interacting with the body – and their feeling of personal psychological exhilaration only confirmed their instincts. The apostle sees their reliance on tongues for status as boastful in 12:15-21, but it would be typically Pauline if this were his own analysis of what their self-sufficiency meant rather than a literal reporting of what they were actually doing.[19] We may, however, legitimately apply the category of ‘status’ to this phenomenon – the ultracharismatics knew themselves to be independent agents while other Christians were not, and their resulting speech was loud and confusing.

Let us look back from the 20th and 21st centuries to see who might have been attracted to glossolalia in Corinth.

2. Proposal from the perspective of Latin American Pentecostalism

            2.1 Class friction is one factor in the Corinthians’ problems

Once we cast doubt on the theory that glossolalia’s appeal was for the upwardly mobile or elite class, another possibility suggests itself, one that has had strong echoes in Latin American Christianity (not to mention in other global Christian subcultures) since the second half of the 20th century. That is, that the ultracharismatic wave in Corinth was a by-product of the gap between rich and poor, between strong and weak, between the informed and the superstitious hoi polloi.

It is probable that there existed socio-economic tension in Corinth, as is shown in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.[20] Paul has heard about what is going on prior to the Lord’s Supper; he speaks to the elite, but on behalf of the disenfranchised of the church, represented perhaps by ‘Chloe’s people’. In a landmark work, Gerd Theissen forcibly argued that ‘the conflict over the Lord’s Supper is a conflict between poor and rich Christians’ (151). Corinthians with pretensions to society were holding private dinners before the Christian meeting in order to impress their powerful friends; later in the afternoon, ‘…the Lord’s Supper, instead of providing a basis for the unity of the body of Christ, is in danger of becoming the occasion for demonstrating social differences (160)’.[21] The other believers were made to wait outside while the elite enjoyed a leisurely dinner in the triclinium and received the flattery of inclusion.[22] In another age, Prince Hamlet would joke about that same old axiom: ‘Why should the poor be flatter’d?’ (Hamlet, Act III, scene 2). For his part, Paul theologises their dining pattern and shows that the gospel must be applied even to dinner parties. With prophetic insight he links the high death rate in the church with the shaming of the have-nots.

2.2 Class divisions may explain the existence of an ultracharismatic group

It is a feature of the Latin American church that Pentecostal fervour may be correlated with low social and economic status. When in the mid-20th century it became a grass-roots movement rather than an import from the North, Pentecostalism exploded among the poor.[23] Among other blessings it gave them the sense of identity that they badly lacked. Juan Sepúlvada writes of the Brazilian church that whereas in society and in church they were marginalised, ‘in pentecostalism every believer is a direct and legitimate producer of his or her religious world. They thus defy not only the traditional way of doing religion, but the very structure of a classist society’, though in non-political ways.[24]

Bryan Wilson in his paradigmatic study Magic and the millennium describes some American (and other) tribal sects as ‘isolationist’, that is, leading to ‘the establishment of a separated community preoccupied with its own holiness and its means of insulation from the wider society’.[25] We must not take this too far, since Pentecostals congregate with like-minded Christians and form churches, denominations and quasi-denominations. Yet Wilson does provide us with a legitimate half of the picture: ‘In adopting the denominational model of the Protestant missions, the thaumaturgical movements have transformed the Protestant demand for “every man a priest” to “every man a thaumaturge”…[however] the individual’s charisma must be validated in a charismatic community, in which the gifts are manifested in some sense for the corporate benefit’ (170). We must add to this the other truth, that within such communities, individuals might practice their charismata in isolation one from the other.

In Latin America, socio-economic class is only relatively static: conversion to the gospel, for example, has provable benefits for the marginalised. These come almost immediately when there is freedom from alcohol abuse and family disintegration and the introduction of a new work ethic. In the next generation there may be university education and rising social status. This can lead to a shift, not only in status, but also in theology, as extreme Pentecostalism appears less and less relevant to second- and third-generation believers.[26]

Besides upward mobility for Christians, there is an intramural rearrangement of status. After decades of growth Latin American Pentecostalism has developed its own hierarchy, often at odds with prior status arrangements.[27] But here we must remember that Corinth is far from this situation. The ultracharismatics of Corinth are redefining status but have no opportunity – perhaps no desire – to seize power. We will be wary of referring to their activity as direct subversion. Their aim is to affirm to themselves and to others their own value, thereby undermining the values of the higher class through a mystical inside track with God.[28]

In Corinth, the poor and disconnected stood no chance of impressing others with books and hired philosophers and clever banquet conversation. Instead, these Christians would excel in areas where worldly status did not matter, in fact, was an impediment: they were ‘speaking not to human beings but to God’ and ‘uttering mysteries in the Spirit’ (14:2). Within the cultus, the ultracharismatic not only experienced direct contact with God, but also was released from dependence upon his or her ‘betters’ for teaching and administration.

2.3 1 Corinthians 11 and 12-14 as two sides of one issue

The περι δε/peri de in 12:1 (‘now concerning’) makes it likely that the Corinthians had asked about the πνευματικα/pneumatika.[29] Despite the absence of περι δε/peri de in 11:2-16, it is likely that the Corinthians had also written about veils for women. 11:17-34 deals with the Lord’s Supper: had the Corinthians questioned Paul about it, which the apostle also does not bother to mark with περὶ δε/peri de? In this case, no. It was more likely that his information had arrived unofficially, from the alienated. No-one was abusing the rite itself (contra Conzelmann: 14; Meggitt: 190), but a crime does comes to light if one examines it, as Paul does, in connection with the feast given beforehand (so Lietzmann; Thiselton; Garland). Thus, he interrupts his responses to the official questions and responds to the unauthorized one:

  • The Corinthians had written: Concerning meetings of the church (no περι δε/peri de) – How serious were you when you said that women had to wear veils in the meeting?
  • Paul answers that he had been quite serious. 11:2-16
  • Paul then interjects, drawing from other sources of information from Corinth (again, no περι δε/peri de) – And by the way, while we’re speaking about your meetings: don’t you know that the Lord’s Supper should show the church at its most unified in love? 11:17-34
  • The Corinthians had written: Concerning (περι δε/peri de) the spiritual gifts – Is it really true that this new manner of speaking in tongues is a sign of spiritual depth? 12:1-14:39

In other words, the apostle himself chose 11:17 as the location for his teaching on the Lord’s Supper. Yet readers may well wonder why this section does not follow immediately on chapter 10, which after all had had to do with sacramental meals, the unity of the body of Christ, the principle of surrendering one’s ἐξουσια/exousia to build up ones fellow Christian, and the crime of giving offence to the church of God (10:32). Remove 11:2-16 and with some minor smoothing the text would flow very well.

It could be that 11:17-34 is here simply to provide balance for the epideictic ‘I praise you in X, I do not praise you in Y’ formula. But we propose instead that section is intentionally placed here, and that there is a stronger connection between 11:17-34 and chapters 12-14 than is obvious from the surface. The section ends with the elite and the marginalised eating apart. It is at this point Paul turns to their question about spiritual gifts. He goes into a long discussion where once again he touches on the unity of the body and the supreme value of love. He finally makes plain in chapter 14 what is in hindsight hinted at in 12:28-31, that it is the charism of glossolalia that some had been misusing.

Is it possible that 12:1 follows 11:34 because they are two sides of one and the same issue, that is, flaws in the assembly that follow from class tension at Corinth? On the one hand, an elitist group divided the church with its exclusive dinner invitations, a minor social convention that would have gone unquestioned by most. Yet Paul sees it by extension as a violation of the Lord’s Supper and punishable by sickness or even death (11:30). On the other hand, some were overusing tongues in the assembly and withdrawing into themselves. Although they too were in error, the ultracharismatics at least shared Paul’s appreciation of the centrality of the Spirit. The apostle merely channels their energy toward a higher value, that the true person of the Spirit uses his/her charism for others. They erred only in being ‘childish’ (14:20; cp. this with the stiffer language in 3:17, 4:8, 4:21; or 11:18-19, which I take to be ironic and addressed to the elistists[30]), but no one would be struck dead for using glossolalia too much.

2.4 Abuse of tongues was an ‘anti-status status symbol’ and means of withdrawal

The factions in 1:12 were fighting each other for status. At the same time, tongues came to be a symbol – better, an anti-status symbol – a reaction against the ongoing status contest. These ultracharismatics were perhaps not partisans of any of the spokesmen of 1:12; they were excluded or withdrew from that competition, and perhaps found it disgustingly opposed to the gospel they had been taught.

Is it plausible, as we will now ask, that while the whole epistle is directed to the entire church, certain portions are for particular individuals or groups? Naturally, any such theory must be tentative: one might think, for example, of the notion that the two Thessalonian letters were written, one to Jews and one to gentiles. Yet in 1 Corinthians especially, there are strong internal indicators that Paul is addressing now one, now another group. First, he points out that some Corinthians were following the Greek error of seeking ‘wisdom’ (1:22); presumably others were not, but all Corinthians will hear chapters 1-4. Some built wisely on the apostolic foundation of the church, but all ‘construction workers’ will listen to the warning to the reckless builders in 3:10-15. One person sued a brother, but now everyone will have to sit through the lecture (6:1-8). Some went to prostitutes, but all will be warned (6:15-20). The whole church hears in chapter 7 teachings given to people of specific civil status; the ‘knowledgeable’, the weak, and those in-between all attend to all the teaching of chapters 8-10. In chapter 14, he speaks now to women, now to the whole church; he mainly corrects those who abused tongues, but also to those who might abuse prophecy, or (chapter 12) any charism. Later, ‘some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead’, but all of them will hear the proofs for the apostolic doctrine. Thus there is precedent for a hypothesis that a sub-group addressed in one section of the letter is not identical to one addressed elsewhere.

1:10-4:21 and 11:17-34 reproach the upwardly mobile. But in chapters 12-14 Paul points out that others too are trying to compete, albeit in a backhanded way. It was only in the church meeting that they could break out and be special: no one could forbid them from being either self-focused or the noisy centre of attention, as this was the Spirit’s work. And at last it would be the elitist, the one least likely to want to look odd or foolish, who would feel like a ‘foreigner’ (βαρβαρος/barbaros, 14:11). Paul, for his part, throws all members of the church into that reprehensible social category – for whether a member is gifted with tongues or not, all members are hearing other members speaking strange languages; ironically, even the ultracharismatics are at some level being alienated by the charism. But in the end, we must modify the thought of Thiselton, who says that ‘the “gifted” seem hardly to care if less “gifted” believers somehow feel estranged or second-class’.[31] This is to read it backwards: rather, the gifted were misusing their gifts because they had already been made to feel second-class, not least in being held off from the triclinium.

There are parallels of this throughout church history, although our examples have to do with prophecy rather than glossolalia:

  1. Status and hierarchy: Montanus provides some useful comparisons to the Corinthians. He was regarded as evil partly because he bypassed the church hierarchy of Phrygia, continued prophesying after being excommunicated and relied on his prophetic gift and magnetic personality to command his followers.[32] There also existed a tradition that he was a recent convert (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.16) and that had been a pagan priest before his conversion (Didymus Caecus, Trin. 3.41). His charismatic gifts probably helped him to make the lateral leap from priest to prophet without a loss of status.
  2. Urban status: Since Montanism was a primarily rural movement, it suffered from the prejudice of city-dwellers. Besides, it did not fit easily within the orbit of church hierarchy, whose bishops were situated in cities.[33]
  3. Status and gender: Irenaeus was no enemy of charismatic utterance by men or women (Haer. 3.11.9; see also Justin Martyr, Dial. 87-88). Still, he was entirely willing to shelve his egalitarianism when his opponents found support among women, whom he thought gullible and emotionalistic. In 1.13.1-3 he complains of a certain Marcus, who ‘devotes himself especially to women’; he gets a woman to prophesy by playing on her emotions, ‘her heart beating violently’. The polemicists Hippolytus (3rd century) and Epiphanius (4th) also objected to women charismatics…but again, only when they prophesied for the opposition.[34]

Thus new converts, rustics, women, and the generally disenfranchised found new status and self-affirmation by sidestepping the ecclesiastical structure and engaging in untraditional, marginal charismatic activity. Likewise, the ultracharismatics in Corinth were rebuffing the Roman system of status that had fascinated some of the church. So what if the arrivistes in Corinth valued the ability to teach with rhetorical skill? The poor could retreat into glossolalia, worshiping God in the Spirit and at the same time hiding their lack of sophistication behind the cloak of indecipherable speech.

2.5 Paul’s response concerning the charismata

Paul’s rebuttal runs as follows:

  1. Yes, glossolalia is a true charism. Yet, isolationist and untranslated glossolalia in no way builds up the church; in some ways it harms it.
  2. The aim of any charism is to build up the church, not the gifted individual. Anyone who is spiritual will also – primarily – excel in agapē and thus have edification as his/her goal. Besides, individual prayer can be done at another time and place.
  3. Therefore: speakers in tongues should pray for an additional charism, for example interpretation or prophecy.

This all clarifies how key is the paean to Christian love in the middle of this three-chapter complex.[35] Rhetorically, Paul steps back and dictates an egressio, a generalizing exhortation. He shows in chapter 13 as he did in 8:1-3 that their root problem is a lack of agapē.

There are pastoral implications to Paul’s method in the epistle. He strips the elitists of their worldly baubles; but he also takes from the marginalised their sole status chip, which likewise is distracting them from true service. For the sake of Christian love, they are told to cease ‘stepping out’ of the body of Christ into an individualistic experience. Their glossolalia is community property, and must be translated for all; or they are to prophesy and to submit their message to the discernment of the others; or perhaps they are to teach, but be limited to their rude, unmannered style – but all this and more is possible with the Spirit’s power.[36] The gospel’s solution is not retreat, nor flight, nor subversion, nor acquiescence to the existing order established by the ‘strong’, but intentional, voluntary, spiritual (Spiritual) service in agapē.

3. Summary

The ultracharismatics were drawn from the socially disaffected of the Corinthian church. They latched on to glossolalia as a means of turning inward to God but away from Christ’s body, especially during meetings. In so doing they snubbed the values of their social ‘betters’ by emphasizing their connection with God’s Spirit and their disconnection from the foolishness of worldly wisdom, flattery and status.

Latin America has had decades of development from a similar starting point. Today one may point to other features that have grown out from that matrix:

  • The rejection of ‘worldly’ values may take the form of anti-intellectualism. While on the one hand many Christians value education or see it as a divine blessing, others view it dualistically as a tool of evil. They contrast the charismatic power of Pentecostalism with the supposed sterility of groups that (also) value intellect.[37]
  • Battles regularly break out between Pentecostal individuals, leaders and groups about who is more charismatically endowed.
  • Charismatic leadership by women or the chronically poor, while formally affirmed, is in practice discouraged by an emerging hierarchical structure. In the case of poverty, it may be tacitly assumed that a true person of the Spirit would have left poverty behind.
  • Material prosperity is reinterpreted not as a sign of worldly class status (elitism) but as a sign of spiritual status (unusual faith that leads to prosperity).

Perhaps we see in Latin America what a Pauline church might have looked like had the ultracharismatics not gone unchecked. But let us be wary of reading a developed situation into a Corinthian church that had had only a handful of years to evolve.


[1] The referent of πνευματικων/pneumatikōn, if taken as the neuter gender, as in the NRSV, most English, German, French and Spanish versions, most commentaries. The neuter is indicated by the parallel in 1 Cor. 14:1.

[2] John C. Hurd, Jr., The origin of 1 Corinthians (2nd edn; Macon, GA: Mercer, 1983): 192. Hurd correctly rejects (186-87) that the church had asked about the discernment of spiritual manifestations, as thinks Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 29.1-3; also Wolfgang Schrage, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (EKKNT 7/3; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1991-2001): 3.117-26.

[3] See the full and convincing treatment by Christopher Forbes, Prophecy and inspired speech in early Christianity and its Hellenistic environment (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997). For a different view see Luke Timothy Johnson, ‘Tongues, Gift of’ in Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992): 6.596-600. As an example of the modern confusing of prophecy, glossolalia and ecstatic speech, see Richard A. Horsley, ‘Spiritual elitism in Corinth’, NovT 20 (1978): 203-312. On 228 he sets out to prove that ‘prophetic ecstasy is a climactic experience, perhaps the highest spiritual experience in Philo’s religion’. To be sure, in Heir 264-65, Philo does represent Abraham as being in a trance in Gen. 15:12: ‘[A] trance, which proceeds from inspiration, takes violent hold of us, and madness seizes upon us, for when the divine light sets this other rises and shines, and this very frequently happens to the race of prophets’ (Yonge version). But in the literary and religious context this has nothing to do with glossolalia, as Horsley would wish.

[4] See Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 (2nd edn; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988): 23-30.

[5] See the attempts of Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (ICC; 2nd edn; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1914): 11-13; Otto Kuss, Die Briefe an die Römer, Korinther und Galater (RNT; Regensburg: Pustet, 1940): 114, 120-21; T. W. Manson, ‘The Corinthian correspondence (I) [1941]’ in Studies in the Gospels and Epistles, ed. M. Black (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1962): 190-209; C. K. Barrett, ‘Christianity at Corinth [1964]’ in Essays on Paul (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1982): 1-27 at defining precisely the penchants of each of the four groups. We applaud that recent studies have tended to be wary of over-confident reconstructions of history, especially in cases like this, where the evidence is slim or nonexistent.

[6] Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth: an investigation of the letters to the Corinthians, tr. J. E. Steely (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1971).

[7] See for example the response by R. McLachlan Wilson, ‘How Gnostic were the Corinthians?’ NTS 19 (1972-73): 65-74.

[8] E.g. Birger Pearson, ‘Hellenistic Jewish Wisdom Speculation and Paul’ in R. L. Wilken, ed., Aspects of Wisdom in Judaism and Early Christianity (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1975): 43-66.

[9] Jerome H. Neyrey, Paul, in other words: a cultural reading of his letters (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1990): 34. Note especially the major new commentaries by Wolfgang Schrage; Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000); Thiselton’s seminal article, ‘Realized eschatology at Corinth’, NTS 24 (1978): 510-26. See also Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987); Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, tr. James W. Leitch (Hermeneia; Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1975): 14-16; D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: a theological exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987): 16-17.

[10] There is a confusion of tongues concerning these labels. Some proponents of the ‘enthusiasm’ view perceive it as a rejection of Schmithals’ Gnostic theory; others understand it to be the same theory; others still a modification of it. An important parallel between Gnostic, ‘pneumatic’, ‘charismatic’ or whatever models is that they tend to emphasize the same data and interpret those data in similar directions: for example, that ‘you reign already’ in 1 Cor. 4:8 is a theological-eschatological statement and not primarily sociological or attitudinal. We think that the ‘charismatic enthusiasm’ proponents should go back even further to examine what lies behind the exegetical conclusions of the ‘Gnostic’ school and see whether there are not better explanations of the specific texts.

[11] See especially Gerd Theissen, The social setting of Pauline Christianity: essays on Corinth, tr. J. H. Schütz (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1982); Andrew D. Clarke, Secular and Christian leadership in Corinth: a socio-historical and exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (AGJU, 18; Leiden: Brill, 1993); Ben Witherington III, Conflict and community in Corinth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995); Bruce W. Winter, After Paul left Corinth: the influence of secular ethics and social change (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001); the commentaries by Anthony C. Thiselton and Wolfgang Schrage. Special mention should go to the regular articles in the Tyndale Bulletin, particularly – David W. J Gill, ‘The importance of Roman portraiture for head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16’, TynBul 41 (1990): 245-60; ‘The meat market at Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:25)’, TynBul 43.2 (1992): 389-93; Dirk Jongkind, Dirk, ‘Corinth in the first century AD: the search for another class’, TynBul 52.1 (2001): 139-48; G. W. Peterman, ‘Marriage and sexual fidelity in the papyri, Plutarch and Paul’, TynBul 50.2 (1999): 163-72; David Instone-Brewer, ‘1 Corinthians 7 in the light of the Graeco-Roman marriage and divorce papyri’, TynBul 52.1 (2001): 101-15; ‘1 Corinthians 7 in the light of the Jewish Greek and Aramaic marriage and divorce papyri’, TynBul 52.2 (2001): 225-43.

[12] See the nice summary of patronage by Janet M. Everts, ‘Financial support’ in Dictionary of Paul and his letters (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993): 295-300.

[13] Some other examples of this ‘theologising of the social’ may be found in 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Phil. 4:2 within the context of the letter; 2 Thess. 3:6-12; Jas. 2:1-26; 3 John 9-11. We do not even begin to catalogue the examples in the gospels, Acts and Revelation.

[14] John K. Chow, Patronage and power: a study of social networks in Corinth (JSNTSS, 75; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992): 184-85.

[15] Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian body (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995): 88-92; but especially his article, ‘Tongues of angels and other status indicators’, JAAR 59 (1991): 547-89. Along this line see too Roy A. Harrisville, ‘Speaking in tongues: a lexicographical study’, CBQ 38 (1976): 35-48; David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BEC; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003): 586.

[16] Forbes: 262-63. See especially, Philo, Giants 61: Philo allegorizes Gen. 6:4 to mean that there are three types of human: those born of the earth (the carnal), those born of heaven (the intellectuals), and those born of God (priests and prophets). The prophets are not ecstatics, but intellectuals who have fixed their minds on incorporeal ideas. In this Philo is echoed by Origen, Cels. 7.4-7, who contrasts the true prophet with the Pythian – the true prophet is learned, the Pythian ‘unlettered;’ the prophet is a righteous man, the Pythian a sinful woman; when illuminated, the prophet receives a clear mind (7.4), the Pythian, a clouded mind.

[17]  Chrysostom, Hom. 1 Cor. 29.5, brings up the Corinthian view in order to refute it – ‘Now it was supposed that this gift [of tongues] was a great one: in the first place because the apostles received it, and also because many Corinthians obtained it. But such is not the teaching of the Word’. Unless otherwise noted, we will use the ANF and NPNF translation; the NPNF translation being garbled in this passage, we offer our own translation. Our view of Chrysostom is supported by Forbes: 12; Hurd: 281; Wayne A. Meeks, The first urban Christians: the social world of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984): 119 – ‘[One] means of gaining and using prestige and influence’ was ‘by behavior that the Pauline Christians recognized as directly manifesting the Spirit of God’; also Margaret M. Mitchell, The heavenly trumpet: John Chrysostom and the art of Pauline interpretation (HUT, 40; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002): 295 n. 451. For the sake of completeness, we must mention in passing the proposal of Antoinette C. Wire, The Corinthian women prophets: a reconstruction through Paul’s rhetoric (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1990) – through their greater participation in worship the women were gaining status, provoking Paul to restrict their freedom.

[18] We have amended with the italicized words the ANF translation, which apparently regards the last clause as a reference to the Spirit: ‘as he used Himself also to speak’. The section is extant only in Latin (PG 7.1137) – ‘Propter quod et Apostolus ait: “Sapientiam loquimur inter perfectos;” perfectos dicens eos qui perceperunt Spiritum Dei, et omnibus linguis loquuntur per Spiritum Dei, quemadmodum et ipse loquebatur’. That Paul is the subject is equally allowed by the Latin and better suited to the context. The early church made much of Paul’s charism of tongues; see John Chrysostom, In principium Actorum apostolorum 3.4 [PG 51.93; this is not the same as his better-known sermon series Homiliae in Acta apostolorum, PG 60], who argues that Paul spoke not with one charismatic tongue, but with many: ‘tongues more than you all’ (1 Cor. 14:18) taken as ‘more tongues than you all’.

[19] Thus we do not persuaded by the orientation of Theodoret of Cyr, cited in G. Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, VII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999): 117 – ‘…they did not use the gifts as they should have done. They were more interested in showing off than in using them for the edification of the church’.

[20] We must acknowledge the fresh viewpoint of Justin Meggitt, Paul, poverty, and survival (SNTW; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998), that there were very few middle- or upper-class Christians in the Pauline churches. He argues that Paul’s statements ‘Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?’ (1 Cor. 11:22) and ‘If you are hungry, eat at home’ (11:34) do not demand that his addressees own their own lavish peristyle homes. This may be so, but we counter that Paul’s references to people such as Phoebe, Philemon, and Aquila and Priscilla necessitated that at least some of the disciples possessed property. See too the interaction with Meggitt by Dale B. Martin, ‘Review Essay: Justin J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival’, JSNT 24 (2001): 51-64; Gerd Theissen, ‘The social structure of Pauline communities: some critical remarks on J.J. Meggitt, Paul, Poverty and Survival’, JSNT 24 (2001): 65-84; David L. Balch, ‘Rich Pompeiian houses, shops for rent, and the huge apartment building in Herculaneum as typical spaces for Pauline house churches’, JSNT 27.1 (2004): 27-46.

[21] This from the essay ‘Social integration and sacramental activity: an analysis of 1 Cor. 11:17-34’ chapter 4 in Gerd Theissen, The social setting of Pauline Christianity. See too his ‘The strong and the weak in Corinth: a sociological analysis of a theological quarrel’, chapter 3 in the same volume. Meggitt’s case (190) is weak here, that the eating is of the sacrament itself: ‘The community treated the elements of the Lord’s Supper (v. 20) as though they were constituents of a normal meal (v. 21) with the consequence that when the church came together to eat (vv. 20, 33) some consumed all the bread and wine quickly (v. 33), leaving others, who were less fast on the uptake, with nothing (v. 22)’. Meggitt has to concede that the gorging of food and the drunkenness with which Paul charges them is grossly hyperbolic. He argues that unless this was a love feast gone to extremes, then the only explanation is that it is the sacrament itself.

[22] Theissen (‘The strong and the weak in Corinth’: 125-29) has also reminded us that the poor of Corinth would have eaten meat only rarely, and perhaps only in conjunction with pagan feast-days. That hints that the strong who eat meat without scrupling in chapters 8-10 overlap with those who give feasts in chapter 11, where meat, fowl and fish delicacies would be served. This approach may likewise help us understand the weak brothers: they were outside the loop of the educated and did not share the ‘knowledge’ that the demons infecting the meat wouldn’t harm them. This has neat parallels in Latin American Pentecostalism, which tends to foster a Manichean dualism between God and the demonic. See Juan Sepúlveda, ‘Pentecostal theology in the context of the struggle for life’ in Faith born in the struggle for life, ed. D. Kirkpatrick (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988): 298-318, who attributes this dualism to ‘a real experience of the negativity and brutality of the world’.

[23] This is the same observation that Celsus made, albeit sarcastically, against Christians in general in the mid-second century, that its supposed nonsensicality made it appealing only to the uneducated classes. See Origen, Cels. 3.44; 7.4-7 and the careful analysis of Celsus’ view by Thomas W. Gillespie, ‘A pattern of prophetic speech in First Corinthians’, JBL 97/1 (1978): 74-95.

[24] Juan Sepúlveda, ‘Religion and poverty in Brazil: a comparison of Catholic and Pentecostal communities’ in New face of the Church in Latin America: between tradition and change, ed. G. Cook (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994): 72.

[25] Bryan R. Wilson, Magic and the millennium: a sociological study of religious movements of protest among tribal and third-world peoples (New York: Harper & Row, 1973): 24.

[26]J José Míguez Bonino, ‘The Pentecostal face of Latin American Protestantism’ in Faces of Latin American Protestantism, tr. E. L. Stockwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997): 69, states that ‘it may be that many Pentecostals are poor or marginalized, but as a whole they represent now a social and political force’. He wonders whether Pentecostalism is now ‘threatened by the same social factors that made its development possible’. See too Manuel J. Gaxiola, ‘The Pentecostal Ministry’, International Review of Missions 66 (1977): 57. For a useful overview of what happens when the formerly-marginalized become part of the elite, see W. J. Hollenweger, ‘The Pentecostal elites and the Pentecostal poor: a missed dialogue?’ chapter 9 in Charismatic Christianity as a global culture, ed. Karla Poewe (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994); also Paul Freston, ‘Charismatic Evangelicals in Latin America: mission and politics on the frontiers of Protestant growth’ in Charismatic Christianity: sociological perspectives, ed. S. Hunt, M. Hamilton and T. Walter (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1997), who charts the growth of middle-class Pentecostalism.

[27] André Droogers, Algo más que opio (San José, CR: DEI, 1991; also available in English as More than opium [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield]): 26; R. Andrew Chesnut, Born again in Brazil: the Pentecostal boom and the pathogens of poverty (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 1997), particularly Chapter 6: ‘Authoritarian assembly: Church organization’. Chesnut shows how a Pentecostal church (in this case, the Assembly of God in Brazil) may move toward a highly authoritarian leadership structure. Those who obey the head receive favors, and those who do not fail to advance. ‘In reality, the head of the church decides on important matters behind closed doors with a cabal of pastors’. (130) This has a historical parallel in Montanism. If Tertullian (Jejun. 11) touts a more democratic version of Christianity with his ‘[we] are all priests of one only God the Creator and of His Christ’, then his movement was swiftly moving toward a hierarchy as rigid as any: see William Tabbernee, ‘Montanist regional bishops: new evidence from ancient inscriptions’, JECS 1 (1993): 249-80. To take one example: although Montanism and some contemporary Pentecostals formally advocate a place for charismatic females in the leadership structure, with ongoing organization they may once more leave women and other marginalized groups on the sidelines.

[28] Wayne Meeks (120) speculates that there were two ‘different modes of power’ at work in Corinth. Thus, ‘conflict between possessed behavior [glossolalia] and more structured forms of power would not be surprising’.

[29] Contra Margaret M. Mitchell, ‘Concerning PERI DE in 1 Corinthians’, NovT 31, 3 (1989): 229-56.

[30] As does Richard A. Horsley, 1 Corinthians (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998): 159.

[31] Thiselton, 1 Corinthians: 799.

[32] Martin, Corinthian body: 89, uses Montanus to prove that glossolalia bestowed higher status in the movement, and that lower-status Montanists were such because they lacked the gift. We respond that glossolalia was not part of a uniquely Montanist experience, and that any assumption about what charismata the lower-class Montanists possessed is pure speculation.

[33] See D. H. Williams, ‘The origins of the Montanist movement: a sociological analysis’, Religion 19 (1989): 331-51.

[34] Cf. Hippolytus, Haer. 7.26; 8.12; Epiphanius, Pan. 49. See Gary S. Shogren, ‘Christian prophecy and canon in the second century: A response to B. B. Warfield’, JETS 40/4 (Dec. 1997): 609-26. See also Christine Trevett, Montanism – gender, authority and the new prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), who in my opinion leaves insufficiently explored some of the fascinating gender issues hinted at in the title.

[35] See James Patrick, ‘Insights from Cicero on Paul’s reasoning in 1 Corinthians 12-14: love sandwich or five course meal?’ TynBul 55.1 (2004): 43-64.

[36] So Calvin’s commentary on 1 Cor. 14:1.

[37] Concerning the challenge of theological education within the anti-education milieu of Pentecostal Chile, see Juan Sepúlveda, ‘El desafío de la educación teológica desde una perspectiva Pentecostal’, Ministerial Formation 87 (Oct. 1999): 35-41.

“The ‘Ultracharismatics’ of Corinth and the Pentecostals of Latin America as the Religion of the Disaffected,” by Gary S. Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica


Open Our Eyes Lord

50 Years Ago Tonight: The Final Speech of Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years ago tonight, 39-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final speech in Memphis, at the Mason Temple Church, an African American Pentecostal church. He would be assassinated the following evening.

In his book Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Great, Final Speech (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012), Keith D. Miller, professor of English at Arizona State University, offers an analysis of King’s use of biblical interpretation in support of the Memphis sanitation workers who were struggling to overcome poverty and to have their dignity as man recognized.

Miller summarizes the setting of King’s speech, and it is worth quoting at length.

Organizers scheduled an evening rally at Mason Temple on April 3, shortly after King’s return. But the formidable thunderstorm seemed to preclude a sizable turnout. Many of those who heard King on March 18 made the prudent decision to stay home, thereby dodging high winds, a tornado, lightning, and flood streets. Yet stout-hearted unionists and their supporters would not be deterred. Between 2,500 and 3,000 people braved the cloudburst to huddle in Mason Temple. . . .

Anticipating that only a tiny number of folks would defy the tempest and reach Mason Temple, King dispatched Abernathy to talk in his stead. Why would King speak to a nearly empty house? . . . [O]ver at least a year, he often seemed moody and depressed. . . . Year after year he hopscotched the nation, slipping into airports, then boarding, riding, and exiting planes several times per week, almost every week—all in an effort to resolve a knot of national dilemmas that often seemed insoluble. Following month after month of endlessly wearying travel and stress—his entire life a blur—King felt exceedingly depleted. Young observed that King suffered from a sore throat on April 3 and was “physically feverish.” He definitely needed to rest at the Lorraine Motel.

However, that was all to change when Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, and Jesse Jackson arrived at the church to find a larger and more passionate crowd, along with television cameras ready to record King’s speech. Locating a phone in the vestibule of the church, Abernathy called King at the motel and implored him to come. King reluctantly agreed.

As Bernard Lee edged King’s car through the thunderstorm, wind and rain lashed the roof of Mason Temple; its high, plain amber windows clattered. . . .

Around nine o’clock, wearing a black rain jacket with a red inner lining, King finally arrived. As he walked from the vestibule and into the sanctuary in full view of the crowd, listeners strained to glimpse him, stamping their feet, and cheering lustily. . . . Approaching the chancel, King quickly noticed Abernathy, Lewis, Young, and Jesse Jack sitting there. Several other ministers aligned beside them, all arranged in a slight curve behind the pulpit. The clapping grew louder and louder. Impeccably attired in a very dark brown suit; white shirt; and copper-tinged, dark brown tie, King soaked in the applause.

Under the rafters and a relatively low ceiling, King heard rain tattooing the metal roof and shutters lamming. He gazed at those who occupied almost all of the 1,969 seats that were bolted onto the floor, facing the pulpit. He also glimpsed two side balconies and a back balcony that, together, held 739 bolted seats. Many of those seats were also full, especially those in the back balcony. Others chose among the 435 seats in the one chancel, almost entirely eschewing the 591 seats behind it. Looking directly ahead, King easily spied the faces of Memphians who occupied the last row of seats on the floor. Those listeners sat only 120 feet away from him. Other at the farthest, back corner of the floor rested only 150 feet away from him. Sections of the back balcony held, at most, seven rows of seats. No one—repeat, no one—in the whole sanctuary perched more than 175 feet from the pulpit, and almost everyone was considerably closer. The architect of Mason Temple enabled between 2,500 and 3,000 people to hear King’s speech, and each of them sat literally close to the preacher. For his part, King could clearly see everyone facing him and beside him. And everyone could easily hear everyone else. . . .

[S]omewhere between 9:25 and 10:00, King entered the pulpit. In a city he did not want to distract him, at a time he did not want to speak, in a state of semi-exhaustion and depression, with possibly a sore throat and a slight fever, he surveyed his listeners. Competing with noise from heavy, intermittent rainfall, thunder, and banging shutters—silent at some point by loud, rumbling ceiling fans—he delivered “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” his final speech and possibly his best speech.

Although millions of Americans know something about “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” relatively few understand it well. Repeated endlessly on television and YouTube is a snippet of its final two minutes.

Millions have noticed only this snippet, in which, especially in hindsight, King appears to offer an eerily accurate prediction of his assassination the next day. But the entire hour-long speech obviously matters, not merely its closing two minutes. Inasmuch as a conclusion always finishes something, one can only grasp the conclusion of any narration by pondering the entire oration. . . . Like any other orator, King used the final two minutes to conclude what he had been developing throughout his address.

Perhaps Americans refused to consider the entire hours because, as numerous scholars and civil rights veterans have noted, Americans strongly prefer to treasure the earlier King while ignoring his later years. . . . King’s later years proved so radical that, for most Americans, lauding King means prizing a truncated, likable version of the earlier King while discarding the later, disconcerting King.

Miller observes that although “his final speech is very accessible, it is also exceedingly rich and sophisticated; it certainly warrants and replays careful attention by scholars and anyone else. Yet, despite its richness and importance, very few researchers examine ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ in any detail.” Miller’s book examines this “Bible-drenched oration.”

You can listen to the entire speech below.

For further reading:

Visit TGC Evangelical History

‘60 Minutes’ on Stunning New Advances in Reading Ancient Bible Scrolls

It’s not every day that the secular media does a feature story on Bible scrolls. But 60 Minutes recently did just that, with coverage on efforts by scholars to read thousands of damaged scrolls (which may contain biblical material, or other ancient Greek writings) of Herculaneum. Herculaneum was a neighboring city to Pompeii, both of which were devastatingly buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The conditions of their destruction also meant that parts of the cities were well preserved when buried in ash.

The 13-minute segment on 60 Minutes is a fascinating account of how computer imaging technology is opening possibilities of reading previously inaccessible scrolls. It is also a telling account of how academic rivalry can slow down innovation.

The key American scholar in the story, Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky, had already broken international news in 2016 by recovering the script of an ancient scroll from a burnt synagogue in Israel. The scroll turned out to contain text from Leviticus, with this transcription probably dating to the first or second century. This means that the scroll is probably hundreds of years older than originally thought. Its text represents a major bridge between the Dead Sea Scrolls and medieval copies of the books of the Hebrew Bible.

National Geographic did a report on the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll. Here is a key section assessing its significance:

“Since the completion of the publication of the Corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls about a decade ago . . . the Ein Gedi Leviticus Scroll is the most extensive and significant biblical text from antiquity that has come to light,” says study coauthor Michael Segal, a biblical scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Emanuel Tov, a fellow co-author and biblical scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says that the Ein Gedi Scroll specifically helps by refining the timeline of how the authoritative Hebrew Bible—also known as the Masoretic Text—came to be.

“There are clear signs of continuity of tradition,” he says. “It can’t be coincidental that the synagogue in Ein Gedi that was burned in the sixth century housed an early scroll whose text was completely identical with medieval texts. The same central stream of Judaism that used this Levitical scroll in one of the early centuries of our era was to continue using it until the late Middle Ages when printing was invented.”

Hopefully, the 60 Minutes story will help bring the most up-to-date technology to bear on the Herculanuem scrolls, and the treasures that are hidden in them.

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Easter Sunday Sermon – Our Certain Hope

Empty tomb with three crosses on a hill side.

Easter 2018

Acts 26:6-8

Acts 26:6-8 “And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”

We are all aware that some words we use every day, may have completely different meanings in other languages.

The word “gift” in English is the German word for poison.

Trombone in French means Paperclip.

And I’m told that “In Hebrew our English word pronounced ‘me’ means who, our word pronounced ‘who’ means he, and our word pronounced ‘he’ means she and ‘dog’ means fish.

Not only is this true with other languages, English words which have been around for a long time can change their meanings too.

When I was young, if something was hot, it only meant that it had a high temperature.

Then hot become cool. And cool become hot. And Michael Jackson taught us that bad was good. Green’s Dictionary of slang says “good” can refer to alcohol, phencyclidine, heroin or marijuana.

Not only that, but over time the word NICE in English originally meant silly or simple – it was NOT a compliment.

And the word SILLY originally meant that which was blessed or worthy instead of foolish.

NAUGHTY originally simply meant you had naught, or nothing. You were poor. It can be confusing can’t it?

And among many Biblical words which have changed their meaning over time, 2 especially have suffered a most sad and even destructive metamorphosis: FAITH, and the word I wish to key in on in this text today – HOPE.

FAITH has suffered in recent years, because it gets used in ways the Bible never uses it.

Faith is not, as is commonly thought by many: Believing in something without proof. Biblical faith is always based upon proof.

FAITH in the Bible is never simply generic belief or religion. It is instead believing the revelation of the character of God as it is revealed in 3 places: creation, His Word, and in His actions.

When the Apostle Paul was making his case on trial in the passage I just read, he could point to the fact that Jesus actually came as the Promised Messiah; that in His coming He fulfilled all the prophecies about Him in God’s Word; and that He then substantiated all of this in His own resurrection. They were substantial claims. Paul’s faith had a foundation. Ours ought to have the very same if it is truly – faith.

You see, we believe the Bible because it tells us the truth. The truth about God, about life, about humankind’s origin among other things. It accurately describes the brokenness of the human race, and the way of redemption from our separation from God and the devastation our sin has brought upon us.

It gives us accurate pictures of it all and sound reasons behind why things are the way they are.

It records all kinds of facts we can verify: Personages, places, events which can and have been verified over and over.

Biblical FAITH is based on God’s character, and what He has revealed.

Biblical HOPE, too is far different than the way we use the word hope today.

We use hope mostly in terms of wishful thinking. We hope something will resolve itself, or something will change for the better. We want something to happen and hope it will – with or without a substantive reason to believe it really will.

But in the Bible, the word HOPE is never used as mere wishfulness – like: I hope the Bills will win the next Superbowl – but always has the element REASONABLE expectation. So when it comes to things like salvation and the resurrection: HOPE is the faith based expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promised blessings to His people.

Let me repeat that. Hope is the REASONED expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promised blessings to His people. It is not imagined or baseless. It is a warranted expectation of good, rooted in the good promises God has made in His Word, to those who love Him.

So in our text here. Paul was arguing that he was on trial for the HOPE that Israel had always taught was to be looked forward to. Which hope in short, is the resurrection of the dead.

A HOPE that was both fully justified by God’s promises, and fully verified in Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead.

Let me go back to the text I began with. Acts 26:6-8 “And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”

Many of the powerful religious leaders in Jesus’ day were jealous of Him. If He was who He said He was, He had both a claim to the office of King over Israel, and as Messiah the very authority of God AS God. And as God, He kept uncovering their sin and corruption. And that was something they neither wanted to admit, nor to give an account for.

It would threaten their power base fatally. The solution? Simple, have Him killed.

What they did not know, what no one understood yet, was that He had all along planned to come and die.

I want us to see just 3 things that are of vital importance in this text  – all related to the HOPE that brings us all here today – the hope of resurrection from the dead.

  1. Note that Paul’s hope is connected to God’s promise to His people.

As far back as the book of Job, the oldest book in the Bible, the hope of the resurrection was articulated. And in all sorts of places this hope is reiterated over and over – which should lead us all to conclude as Paul Himself did that  “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Cor. 15:9

This is the true hope of everyone who is in Christ – that there is far more than this life, there is a life to come, in eternity, WITH the God and Christ who redeemed us from our sins.

Not a fabricated hope, but one firmly established in God’s Word.

  1. Note 2nd that the reality of the resurrection was so central, that God designed it to form the basis of Israel’s worship of God. Paul says it this way: “And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day.” And here we have to take very careful note.

For the Jewish way of worship, as established by God was all focused on man NOT being able to earn his way to God in righteousness. This, for 2 reasons:

First, the Law that God gave was an impossible standard that showed us our sinfulness and our inability to overcome sin and earn eternal life.

Secondly, every sacrifice and offering displayed God’s way of saving us: God Himself providing a perfect sacrifice, sufficient to atone for all our sin. Him, making the way for us to be declared holy by imputing our sin to a substitute, so that we could be treated as though we hadn’t sinned.

So the Bible teaches in Romans 4:22–25 when speaking of how Abraham was counted righteous: “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Christ’s righteousness put on the account of those who believe, so that when we are raised to stand before God in judgment – we have a glad and certain hope of not only of no condemnation – but of an eternal reward! This is the Gospel!

  1. Note 3rd that if we really believe that God is who He reveals Himself to be in His Creation, in the Bible, and in His self-disclosure in the incarnation – then this hope makes perfect, rational sense. It isn’t pie in the sky; an imagined or conjured up hope. It is a substantive and life-shaping hope. So Paul asks: “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?”

If He is the God of the Bible – this makes perfect sense.

Why not resurrection from the dead even as Jesus said it would be? John 5:25–29 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

If God is who the Bible says He is – Why not forgiveness of sins?

Why not the power to create a new heavens and earth?

Why not a hope that transcends even the grave itself?

Jesus’ own resurrection is the substantive, certain HOPE of everyone who has come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is not the mere wishfulness

It is the promise that Jesus made, that all who are united to Him in faith, in putting their trust in His atoning sacrifice for their sins on the cross – as dying in our place; taking the punishment we deserved for our rebellion against God’s rightful and absolute claim over our lives – would be raised just like Him when He returns, to gain the eternal rewards He purchased for us.

This is the hope offered to each one of you today in the Gospel.

The Bible says that before one believes the Gospel of Jesus dying in their place for their sins – we are truly hope-less. Ephesians 2:12 “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

But then 1 Thess. 4:13 tells us what it is like for those who believe: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

This is why we celebrate this day like no other – Because HE IS RISEN!

How this infuses the words of Jesus at the Last Supper with much fuller meaning.

For when He broke the bread and gave the cup on the night when He was betrayed, He said: 1 Corinthians 11:24b–26 “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Do this – and proclaim my death – until the day of resurrection.

How much more fitting then that we come to this table today.

Come gather with me, brothers dear

I’ve longed to sit and dine

To eat my final Passover

With you I own as mine

My time, at last, is now at hand

And though I’ve told you so

I know you do not comprehend

The means by which I’ll go

The truth, so hard for you to hear

Is, one of you this night

Betrays me to my enemies

And then will take your flight

Each one, not knowing what this meant

Asked, Lord, could it be me?

The hand that dipped the dish with mine

He said, that one is he

Then Judas pressing further asked

Rabbi, am I the one?

And Jesus said, “it’s as you say”

The treason had begun

Tis then that Jesus took the bread

And broke it as He blessed

Take eat, this is my flesh

For you – He this confessed

And then He took the cup to Him

And giving thanks He said

This is My blood I give for you

For sin’s remission shed

Now do these in rememb’ring me

When I am gone from here

For I’ll have nothing more until

The Kingdom does appear

Then going out they sang a hymn

And to the Garden came

Where Christ in prayer so agonized

In unimagined pain

He prayed the cup might pass from Him

Three times, He cried it still

But more, He prayed – not as I wish

My Father, as you will

He prayed till angels strengthened Him

And heavenly succor came

Then prayed His own the Father keep

In God’s own holy name

Until at last the traitor came

With those who take by might

Betraying Jesus with his kiss

They bound Him in the night

And to the High Priest’s mocking courts

They dragged and beat and spit

Brought forth their lying witnesses

Whose stories did not fit

Then off to Pilate’s judgment hall

They dragged Him in disgrace

And pled to have Him crucified

The Lord and King of grace

Then sent to Herod’s gawking gaze

He stood, but gave no speech

Thus Herod sent Him back again

For Pilate to impeach

The spineless Pilate caving in

And care-less, gave the word

To let the brutal torturers

Perform what Christ endured

More mocking still and agonies

He suffered at their hands

Their wicked taunts to prophesy

And jump to their commands

No mercy pleas escaped His lips

Not one condemning cry

He suffered as deserving all

In willingness to die

Not one defense He offered up

As Calvary’s path He trod

No murmuring, no loud complaint

Just yielding to His God

Then on the cross, His seven words

Forgive them, they don’t know

And to thief, today with Me

To paradise we’ll go

To Mary said: Behold your Son

John, make her your mother

Then: Father, you’ve forsaken me

More grief than any other

I thirst: He cried, in agony

It’s finished, then, He said

Gave up His spirit to His God

In death, then hung His head

But why no claims of innocence?

No word to change His fate

No syllable of self-defense

To set the record straight

Because, He took our guilt Himself

He bore it as His own

Though perfect in His righteousness

No sin had ever known

He willingly stood in my place

And took what I was due

And if by faith you trust His work

His blood redeems you too