Randy White | June 18, 2023

In our current Dispensation of Grace, the empowerment of believers is not dictated by the presence of specific spiritual gifts, but is instead dependent on the transformative power of grace, which is universally accessible to all believers.

The Misunderstanding of Spiritual Gifts

Due to an attempt to apply all of Paul’s writings to the dispensation of the grace of God in which we live, spiritual gifts (charismata) are required by each and every believer. However, since the charismata were specific manifestations that have not been experienced by most believers, the “evangelical industrial complex” (EIC) gets more and more complex in its attempts to reconcile this deficiency.

The ultimate problem with spiritual gifts teaching in the church today is that it fails to help believers rest in the transformative power of grace that is universal among believers, instead insisting that believers need to discover something more. What follows is three further problems to the EIC approach to spiritual gifts.

Resorting to Jung

In the New Testament, spiritual gifts were clear and immediate manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power. Speaking in tongues, for example, was immediately recognizable (Acts 2:4), and the gift of prophecy was clearly spoken and understood (Acts 21:10-11). These gifts did not require introspective discovery or self-exploration.

In contrast, modern programs designed to help believers discover their spiritual gifts are characterized by complexity and require introspection and self-analysis. This approach is at odds with the straightforward nature of spiritual gifts in the New Testament.

The EIC has resorted to using Jungian psychology, such as personality types, to help believers discover their “spiritual gifts.” However, such theories can distort the biblical understanding of these gifts, turning the focus inward on the individual’s psyche and experiences rather than outward on living life in the fullness of God’s grace.

The New Testament presents spiritual gifts as clear, tangible demonstrations of the Spirit’s power for the edification of the church, while the modern approach has turned the discovery of spiritual gifts into a complex, introspective process.

To help us understand the problem of using Jungian thinking to discover spiritual gifts, I’ve included a comparison chart below:

Jungian Psychology Biblical Christianity
God is an impersonal force or archetype within the collective unconscious. God is a personal being, actively involved in the lives of individuals, capable of love, communication, and relationship.
The human psyche is a mixture of different forces needing integration. There’s no concept of inherent sinfulness. Humans are inherently sinful due to the Fall (Genesis 3), requiring salvation.
Individuation: A journey of self-realization and integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Wholeness and redemption come through God’s grace and transformation, not through self-effort.
Synchronicity: Events are connected by meaning, not necessarily by cause-and-effect relationships. The archetypes of the collective unconscious provide a framework of meaning that shapes our experiences and understanding of the world. Free Will and Human Responsibility: God has given individuals the freedom to make choices and chart their own course. While God is sovereign and can intervene in human affairs, He permits human decisions to play out and respects our free will.
Truth is discovered through introspection, dreams, and exploration of the unconscious mind. The Bible is the ultimate source of truth and guides the life of the believer. |

The Need to Redefine

The gifts mentioned in the Bible were clear manifestations of the Spirit, requiring no discernment. Charismatic theology centers around the presence of “charismata,” or manifested gifts. However, most of the EIC rejects charismatic theology and has had to redefine or remove the biblical gifts of the Spirit. Here are some examples:

  • Tongues (Glossolalia): This gift, as depicted in Acts 2, was a clear, miraculous ability to speak languages the speaker had not learned. This was a public sign that served to validate the apostolic message. In many non-charismatic circles, the gift of tongues has been either dismissed as no longer active (cessationism) or reinterpreted as a “private prayer language” which deviates from the public, verifiable nature of the gift as presented in Acts.
  • Prophecy: In the Bible, prophecy often involved direct revelation from God about future events or specific guidance for His people. It had to be 100% accurate or the prophet was to be considered false (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). However, many non-charismatic groups have redefined prophecy to mean something more akin to “inspired preaching” or have dismissed it as a gift no longer active in the church today.
  • Healing: Miraculous healing in the New Testament was immediate, complete, and verifiable. In many non-charismatic circles, however, the gift of healing has been either downplayed, spiritualized (e.g., viewed as more about “spiritual healing” than physical), or viewed as a gift that has ceased.
  • Miracles: In the New Testament, the working of miracles was a public, undeniable demonstration of divine power. Some non-charismatic groups, however, may interpret this more metaphorically, as in the “miracle” of a changed life, or downplay the presence of such manifestations today.

These shifts can be seen as attempts to reconcile a belief in the presence of spiritual gifts in every believer with a reality that often does not reflect the New Testament manifestation of these gifts.

The Non-Existent List

Another issue with the teaching of spiritual gifts in the EIC is that they are unable to provide a definitive list of what these gifts are. When you compare lists, they never match up. If this is such a Biblical concept, wouldn’t it be easy to develop a Biblical list?

While the New Testament mentions spiritual gifts in several places (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), there’s considerable disagreement among scholars and denominations about what exactly constitutes a “spiritual gift” and how many there are.

  • Differing Counts: The count of spiritual gifts varies depending on the source. Some lists include around 9 gifts (often focusing on the more overtly supernatural gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10), while others extend to 20 or more, incorporating roles such as leadership, service, and administration.
  • Added Gifts: Many spiritual gift lists in the EIC include items not explicitly named in the Biblical texts, such as “intercession,” “craftsmanship,” or “music.” These additions often come from a desire to acknowledge the diversity of talents in the church body, but they blur the lines of what is biblically defined as a spiritual gift.

These factors illustrate how the concept of spiritual gifts, as it is currently taught and understood within much of the EIC, is not as clear-cut or universally agreed upon as it might initially appear. This reality can challenge the assertion that every believer has a specific spiritual gift, as the criteria for what constitutes a “gift” can vary widely depending on one’s source or theological perspective.

Next week we will look at the Biblical use of charismata, the transition away from gifts, and will recontextualize spiritual gifts in a grace-setting.