I’ve not read many books about spiritual gifts from a charismatic perspective. Therefore, I recently worked through Sam Storm’s book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, to learn more about charismatic theology/practice. As a Reformed Christian, I’m not charismatic, but I do want a proper understanding of this movement. Below is a brief review of this book.
There are ten chapters in this book: 1) When Power Comes to Church (an introduction), 2) Right? Wrong? (10 myths about charismatic/spiritual gifts), 3) Words of Wisdom and Knowledge (prophecy and utterances), 4) Faith and Healing, 5) It’s a Miracle (miracles in the church), 6) Prophecy and Distinguishing of Spirits, 7) Who Said God Said? (knowing the Bible in order to test prophesies), 8) What is the Gift of Tongues, 9) Tongues and Interpretation, 10) Letting Your Gift Find You. There’s also an appendix on how to pray for healing and one on “when a gifted person falls.”
Storms does give several charismatic stories in attempt to prove his points. One worth mentioning is his account of a prophet telling a friend that God was going to send a comet to prove that the church should have a 21 day period of prayer and fasting. The comet came. This man also said God spoke to him in a dream telling him about a drought and famine, and the next summer was dry (see chapter five). There are other similar stories of dreams, healings, and revelations.
This book was a reminder to me of why I am not a charismatic. The way Storms explains the passages of Scripture in view (such as 1 Cor. 12) were unconvincing, subjective at times, based on probables at other times, lacking in OT references, and without solid exegetical or theological support. I was also troubled by Storms’ logic based on experience and emotional appeal (I’m thinking of the logical fallacy of “playing to the gallery”).
Here are some phrases I found unsettling:
“To reject spiritual [charismatic –spl] gifts, to turn from this immediate and gracious divine enabling, is, in a sense, to turn from God. …In denying them, we deny Him” (p. 13).
“If you are not earnestly desiring to prophesy, if you are not praying for an opportunity and occasion to speak prophetically into the lives of the church and other believers, you are disobeying God!” (p. 111).
“It is a sin to despise [charismatic – spl] prophecy” (p. 141).
I also disagree with Storms’ discussion of faith. He says there are three different kinds of faith: conversion faith (the faith through which we’re justified), continuing faith (the daily faith we have), and charismatic faith, which “appears to be spontaneous and functions as the divinely enabled condition on which the more overtly supernatural activities of God are suspended” (p. 60). Storms says charismatic faith is not given to every Christian, and it is a special faith that enables a believer to trust God to bring about a sort of blessing not promised in Scripture (p. 61). Storm then goes on to talk about five levels of faith for healing. To divide and dissect faith in this way is unhealthy at best. Here Storms is at odds with the historic confessional understanding of faith: there are not “faiths” that we have as Christians, but “true faith” in Christ alone for justification by grace alone. I’m not saying that Storms is denying justification by faith alone, but his discussion of faith is not in line with the Reformation; one should remember this when reading Storms’ other works.
I don’t recommend this book, obviously. I realize that Reformed theology doesn’t have all the answers to Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 12, but its answers are better and more biblical than that of charismatic theology. This book has reminded me of this fact! As Richard Gaffin and others have said, Scripture is sufficient for us today; we no longer need prophets and revelations.
Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2012).