Rethinking the Terminology of “Spiritual Gifts”

Rethinking the Terminology of “Spiritual Gifts”

In my experience, there is a lot of confusion, in both culture and theology, surrounding the Holy Spirit and “gifts” He brings.  That confusion often leads to divisions within the One Body of Christ.  The solution, in part, lies in rethinking the words we use to express the biblical teaching of “spiritual gifts.”

Greek to English

The phrase “spiritual gifts” comes from the English translation of some rather unusual and difficult Greek words. When we study the Bible it is important that we understand what these words mean. There are only two Greek terms used to denote the “spiritual gifts” (πνευματικός and χάρισμα) and both terms are commonly translated the same way. The difference between these words only becomes apparent in the English when we look at the context in which each word is used.

Language Concepts

First, let us deal with the term “spiritual”. In our modern culture “spirituality” is separated from the Holy Spirit and by-in-large the word has lost meaning (secularized). Consequently, the continued use of the term “spiritual” tends to depersonalizes our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should consider using the more personal term “Spirit” in its place. However, let me hasten to add that my proposal in no way suggest that all use the term “spiritual” is wrong. The goal is to let our terminology better reflect the biblical idea that a gift has been given to us in relationship and for relationship. Our words should reflect this very intimate expression and experience of faith.

Second, let us deal with the word “Gift”. This word is used in the New Testament to refer to the person of the Holy Spirit Himself and to our covenant-salvation with God. When the word “gift” is used in connection with the concept of “spiritual gifts” it has the unfortunate effect of detracting from the true biblical intent.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Acts 2:38-39
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself”Acts 10:45
And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.

To make sure we never confuse the two concepts of the “gifts” we are given by the Spirit and the actual gift of salvation through the Spirit, we should reserve the word gift for use only in reference to the Holy Spirit as He brings the promise of salvation.

Proposed Alternatives

The alternative word I propose is “giftings.”  Giftings means “little gift” and should be used instead of “gift” when referring to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit within the Body of Christ. Using the term ‘gifting”, helps make clear the difference between the manifestations of God with the ultimate Gift of our common salvation.Summary

To bring the most clarity to this often confusing topic I propose substituting the terms “Spiritual Gifts” with the following terminology

“The Spirit’s Giftings”


“Giftings of the Spirit”

This proposed alternative to the traditional renderings is superior for the following reasons.

  1. It rectifies the cultural distortion of the word “spiritual.”
  2. It emphasizes the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
  3. It emphasizes the intimate relationship we have with the Spirit of God.
  4. It makes clear the difference between the One Gift of the Spirit for salvation and the many giftings of the Spirit for the edification of the Body.
  5. It emphasizes the fact that these giftings are the property of God’s Holy Spirit given at His discretion.
Stuff Jesus Never Condemned

Stuff Jesus Never Condemned

For many Christians, the trend is to only consider the negative words of Jesus in their moral decision making. The argument goes, “If Jesus didn’t condemn it, then neither should we.”

In his article, “The Jesus Clown Car”  David Paul Kirkpatrickthe former President of Paramount Pictures and the former Production President of both Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, makes just this argument when it comes to same-sex behavior. He writes,

“Yet when I searched in the New Testament for anything that Jesus may have said about homosexuality, I found nothing. The closer I got to God, the more I understood that His heart is my heart, His breath my breath. When looking at Scripture through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, I saw same-sex attraction as a gift from God, not an imprint from the fall. And understanding that meant I could rest easy, knowing that I was no abomination before God: that I was nothing more (and nothing less!) than one of His precious, dearly beloved children.”

Hmmm… this is a novel approach to suggest that morality is determined not by the positive vision of holiness Jesus preached (so we can safely ignore his teaching on marriage in Matt 19:4-6), but instead, we should let our morality be defined ONLY by the things Jesus specifically declares are sinful.

With this  popular argument in mind, I thought it would be helpful to list of 24 things Jesus never condemned.

Stuff Jesus Never Condemned

  1. A 40 year old man having sex with a 7 year old girl (or boy)
  2. Kicking puppies
  3. Throwing babies over a bridge
  4. Carbon emissions
  5. Capitalism OR Communism
  6. Drowning kittens
  7. Selling Crack Cocaine
  8. Speeding
  9. Drunk Driving
  10. Sex with horses
  11. The Knockout Game
  12. Self-mutilation (Jesus actually endorses that one as good in Mat 18:9)
  13. Nuclear war, War for Oil, the War in Iraq, or war of any kind
  14. Putting a “Kick Me” sign on the weird kid’s back
  15. Child Pornography
  16. Cannibalism
  17. Plagiarism
  18. The Cleveland Browns
  19. A ménage à trois
  20. A man with 6 wives
  21. A woman with 17 husbands
  22. Insider trading
  23. Cyberbullying
  24. Gun ownsership

So there it is… just some of the stuff Jesus never condemned, so according to the theology de jour… “go and follow your heart.”

Or maybe, just maybe, instead of trying to make arguments from a negative, there is another, more positive, way to approach holiness.

Fairness is Ethics for Narcisits

Fairness is Ethics for Narcisits

My 9 year old was watching an old 90’s rerun of Saved by the Bell.  The lead character Zach was put in detention for violating the rules and using the Principle’s phone to enter a radio contest.  In response to Zach’s rule-breaking, he was put in detention and Principal would not let him leave to claim his prize.  How did Zach respond to his punishment?  He turns to his fellow students and proclaims, “This is not fair!”

What did Zach mean by “unfair”?  What Zach meant by “unfair” is that regardless of his actions, he should be able to do what he wants to get what he wants—his trip to Hawaii.

Zach did not regret breaking the rules.  Zach did not care about honoring his Principal.  All he cared about was claiming his prize and at any cost. Rather than ask forgiveness from his Principal, Zach plotted escape from detention.  No matter the cost, he was going to get the end he “deserved.”

In a world full of narcissists, there is no external “right” or “wrong”.  In a world where “truth” is centered in the desires of the individual, the only ethical concern is “fairness”, vis-à-vis, ‘fulfilling my desires my way.’

2001 Tweetable Quotes

2001 Tweetable Quotes

I love a good quote. Over the past 15 years I have collected my favorites and now I tweet them out on a regular basis through @jrmiller777. But for those who don’t like to take their smartphone into the bathroom, I wanted to offer a more traditional way to enjoy these quotes… thus an actual book with pages you can turn (unless you bought the Kindle version and then you are out of luck).

From Mark Twain to Margret Thatcher, the diversity of quotes in this book is sure to entertain, challenge, and inspire you. Most quote books are organized into categories, but make for very boring reading. This book is different because all the quotes; from Poets, Musicians, Theologians, and Philosophers, have been randomized so every time you pick up the book you will find fresh inspiration.

BUY IT @!.


BUY IT for Kindle!
Evangelically Sexy & The Gospel of Democracy

Evangelically Sexy & The Gospel of Democracy

James Montgomery Boice has written the following regarding what I call the “Evangelically Sexy” religion:

“What hit me like a thunderbolt several years ago is that what I had been saying about liberal churches in the 1960s and 1970s now can be said about evangelical churches too. Have evangelicals now fixed their eyes on a worldly kingdom and chosen politics and money as their weapons? About ten years ago Martin Marty, a shrewd observer of the American church, said that by the end of the century evangelicals would be “the most worldly people in America:” He was probably too cautious. Evangelicals fulfilled his prophecy before the turn of the millennium.”

On May 22, 2007, a young man named Mark David Uhl was arrested for possession of several bombs. Uhl was a freshman at Liberty University enrolled as a Religious Biblical Studies major. The early reports suggested that Uhl intended to use the bombs to kill the people who were protesting the funeral of Liberty President Jerry Falwell. His comments from October 26, 2006, seem earily prophetic.

“America, where are our leaders. Christians, where are our leaders. Uncle Sam needs soldiers to fight so our children may live free. God needs soldiers to fight so his children may live free.”

Fueled by comments on Uhl’s MySpace blog,  many quickly blamed mental illness for this young man’s actions and many rushed to distance themselves from Uhl.  The actions of this man, however, may be connected to a larger issue of a worldly faith that seeks to use the weapons of the world. It is my fear that the Church in America has been consumed with preaching a false “Gospel of Democracy” that inherently leads to this kind of activism.

Uhl studies at the feet of Falwell and his political-theology. Fellow Virginia evangelist Pat Robertson, citing Falwell’s stance against abortion and homosexuality, said “He [Falwell] was a champion of the fundamental values that we hold dear… He stepped on some toes.” And now it seems that the natural outgrowth of that toe-stepping gospel is coming to fruition.

It is no irony that Robertson sees Falwell as a protector of fundamentalist-evangelical religion. Both these men have been consumed by the use of the world’s power to advance the Kingdom. We only need to look back to August 2005 to see how Falwell, Robertson, and Uhl are really promoters of the same new gospel.

Following is the somewhat tongue-in-cheek post I wrote in 2005. I am reposting it here because it has great relevance for the discussion of Uhl’s alleged intent and how some Christians have distorted he Gospel of Jesus.

Who Would Jesus Assassinate (WWJA)?

It appears the answer to the question, “Who Would Jesus Assassinate?” is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or at least that is what Rev. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club has said:

“I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it. … We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

I would agree with one thing, Robertson is confused about God’s doctrine. Although Robertson has fought hard to keep the Ten Commandments on Government property, it seems he has not spent any actual time reading them (he might want to revisit #6). And amidst Robertson’s criticisms of Islam as a religion that promotes violence, it seems that Pat is convinced the best way to spread his Gospel of Jesus Christ is to kill people in cold blood. Maybe at the end of 2005 when Pat gives his prophecies for the coming year, he can provide a whole list of people he would like to see killed; a sort of WWJA list.

Seriously though, I think at best Robertson’s remarks demonstrate a tragic lapse in judgment, but maybe the greater concern for all Christians living in America is that these kinds of statements are par for the course when we put our love for a system of politics over our love for Christ. All of us Christians need to be aware that we are more than citizens of the USA; we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. Yet, if we allow our hearts to love democracy, more than God we will end up saying and doing things no better than what Pat Robertson has said. It is easy to think the solution to the world’s problems is killing evil men, but only when one has lost sight of the core of our calling as Christians to share the Salvation hope of Christ.

[Only time will tell for sure the mission Uhl had in mind, but it seems the course was set for Mark David Uhl. He became the “Loyal protector of whom he loves”, but what he loved was something far different than what Jesus loved. Jesus said “love your enemies”, but Roberson and Uhl say assassinate them.]

Now the choice is set before the rest of us. Make a choice and take a stand. Are you a servant of the Evangelically Sexy “Gospel of Democracy” or a servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The choice you make will set the course for the way you live and the words you speak.


On July 17, 2007, I contacted representatives for Pat Robertson at CBN and for the late Jerry Falwell at his ministry. I made them aware of my criticism and have given them a fair opportunity to respond to my post.

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