An Informal Chat with Bible Scholar, Dr. Craig Keener

Posted: December 13, 2007 by Rick Hogaboam in Interviews, Pentecostal/Charismatic Interests, Theology
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Craig Keener-

Ph.D. (New Testament and Christian Origins): Duke University
M.Div.: Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
B.A.: Central Bible College
Over half a million of Craig’s books-some for academic and some for general audiences-are in print, including The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (InterVarsity Press) The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Hendrickson); and commentaries on Matthew and 1-2 Corinthians (both for Eerdmans).
Three of his commentaries have won Christianity Today book awards.
Dr Keener has also published numerous articles in various journals and magazines, including The A.M.E. Church Review, Christian History, Christianity Today, Evangelical Quarterly, Pneuma Review, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Expository Times, and Prism.

I want to thank Dr. Craig Keener for his time. I was prompted to contact Dr. Keener after reviewing his book, “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts”. I have also read portions of “Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit in the Church Today”. This correspondence is only intended to shed further light on Dr. Keener’s thoughts on some of the issues raised in these books. It needs to also be mentioned that this chat was informal and should be taken as such. It was approved for posting on my blog so long as it is recognized that this does not represent the careful research Keener would engage a book or scholarly article with, but this is rather a “chat”. If you are interested in ordering any of the many published books by Dr. Keener, please visit the following link: 


Me:  I have found your scholarship in “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts” helpful in my  research. It seems that your conclusion with regards to Peter’s application of Joel’s prophecy extends to the Gentiles who would now comprise a “New” Israel. Is that your understanding? A strict Dispensational hermeneutic minimizes the extent of Joel’s application to gentiles, maintaining that it is yet future. Covenant theologians (and I know that you know all this, but just restating this for clarification) view Joel as applying completely to Israel, as inclusive of gentiles who have the faith of Abraham. I see that you are a Pentecostal/Charismatic (as am I) and it is interesting to note that a Covenantal approach best aligns with the Pentecostal/Charismatic hermeneutic of Acts 2:14-21. What are your thoughts?

Dr. Keener: I wouldn’t see Gentiles as comprising a New Israel (replacing Jewish people), but rather grafted into the covenant people (with unbelieving Jewish people being broken off).  That is what a lot of people mean by “new Israel” anyway but I just wanted to clarify it; the Gentiles are in a sense viewed as converts to the epitome of Jewish faith.
But you are right, this is definitely not dispensationalism!  Where the dispensationalists have it right, I think, is that Romans 11 does (on my reading) refer to a final turning of the Jewish people to faith in the Messiah at the end (which I would understand as a grafting back in of many Jewish branches into the covenant, through faith in Jesus).  But again, a lot of covenant theologians now believe this, too.  I just try to do my exegesis honestly and see where it will lead.
I am charismatic/Pentecostal (I am ordained in a non-Pentecostal denomination but am definitely and openly charismatic).  I reflected on those issues more in “Gift and Giver” (Baker, 2001).  That is one of my least technical books, yet one of my favorites!
I have always felt like “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts” was one of my weakest books (it would have been better if the publisher had left on it my original title, which merely promised sample studies on the themes of the Spirit’s prophetic and purifying activity; when they gave it the broader title I tried to adjust the introduction to fit, but really, the book is not aptly named!)
My Acts commentary will deal with Acts 2 in much more detail but it probably won’t be out for a couple more years.

Me: As for Romans 11, I have met Covenant folks who do see a massive turning of ethnic Israel to CHRIST, which is important to qualify. Thanks for your feedback on that.
I’m excited to hear about a coming commentary on Acts. I have just received and am reviewing D.L. Bock’s work and am pleased with it thus far.
You mentioned that you are charismatic and I am curious as to what your thoughts are on constructing a charismatic liturgy. Basically, there are many contemporary Pentecostal/Charismatic churches that are functionally non-charismatic (no exercise of the charismata). I was wondering if you thought whether a truly Charismatic church should indeed actively practice and encourage Spiritual gifts every Sunday morning. If not, can it be said that a church is truly charismatic if they are not seeking the exercise of the gifts? This has been bugging me because I am Charismatic and trying to work through this issue for practical ministry. I know some churches relegate the exercise of gifts solely to home groups or prayer meetings, but such seems to defy the body metaphor Paul uses in describing the gifts, which he sees as useful for the whole body, even the “uninformed” (through prophecy).

Dr. Keener: The churches Paul exhorted regarding spiritual gifts were house churches, with probably 20-40 people or thereabouts.  The dynamics there would be different than in a megachurch (like the Jerusalem church’s meetings in temple courts); in smaller settings, each member can contribute something, whereas if thousands of people tried to do that, it would be impossible.  So there are structural issues based not on theology so much as group dynamics.  In general, the smaller the group, the more participation that would likely be possible.  Smaller prayer meetings could undoubtedly have more prophecies and utterances in tongues than Paul permitted in Corinth (coming closer to “ALL prophesying one by one”).  Larger churches might have more restrictions and fewer participants.  This raises the question, though, as to whether there is not great value in having small enough structures that we all get to be involved in.  On the other hand, childcare facilities and youth programs at big churches have advantages (by pooling more resources).
Having said all that, ideally, all other factors being equal, we should be pursuing gifts.  The key is to make sure they function optimally for the edification of all members, since edification is the gifts’ goal.

Me: You mentioned that Paul was speaking to house churches, so wouldn’t his guidelines about 2-3 speaking in tongues, prophesying apply? Meaning that it would not be conceivable for everyone to prophecy in a small prayer meeting? Unless you understand the “one by one” to be different from recognized prophets who speak, which is under the guideline of 2-3.
Also, I graduated from the King’s College, founded by Jack Hayford and got to glean his thoughts on some of these issues. He thought it was okay for uninterpreted tongues in both declaration and song to go on in a “believers” service where there is no “uninformed” person present. However, I have always thought that Paul was concerned about the edification of all and therefore necessitated interpretation in all cases so that others can affirm with an, “Amen”. What are your thoughts?
Charismatic ministry is messy. I got to spend some time with Gordon Fee several years back and discussed many of these issues I now raise. He admitted that is tough to construct a “charismatic liturgy” of sorts because of so many variables. He reminded me that we would have no guidelines at all if the Corinthians weren’t abusing the gifts in the first place…Imagine where we would be without 1 Corinthians? Who knows? God saw to it that we have it, so  phewwwwww. 

Dr. Keener: The house churches may have had 40-50 people.  A prayer meeting with 5-10 people would, I think, have fewer restrictions.
I don’t think the issue is just no unbelievers present (although that is one of Paul’s points), but also edification.  I do think if it is a service for believers and they move into a level of worship with all praying simultaneously rather than listening to anyone in particular, that praying or singing in tongues is as legitimate as praying or singing in any other language.  We do have situations in the OT where groups of prophets all seem to have been prophesying together rather than taking turns (cf. 1 Sam 10; 1 Sam 19), but these situations differed from most of our “services” today—probably more an opportunity for the prophets to grow in their experience of prophetic anointing than an exercise in mutual edification.  But in 1 Chron 25 we have charismatic liturgical worship—Levites prophesying in giving thanks and praise in the temple; I believe that this was undoubtedly orderly, given the descriptions of it in Scripture.

Me: Thanks for your time. Keep those books coming.

  1. Daqvid says:


    Waht was your thesis on? IT looks as though it was on something on the Spirit in Acts.

    Rave you read Gerald Hawthorne, “The Presence and the Power” and an excellent little book, by Roger Stronstad, “The Charismatic Theology of ST. Luke”?

  2. rickhogaboam says:

    You can check my thesis info out at “Who is Rick Hogaboam” on my blog. I also have my thesis bibliography listed on the side of my blog if you scroll down. I haven’t checked out Hawthorne’s book, but did read and enjoy Stronstad’s contribution. I take it that you have read these books??? Did you read the discussed Keener book?

  3. David says:


    Yes I have read those books; Stronstad was influential in my thinking. I have probably read more on the Spirit than any other topic. I have also read Sam Storms material as well, both from his books and website. I had him speak at our church a couple of years ago on prophecy. I got connected with him while looking at past DG conferences and was surpirsed to see that he spoke there and find out that he and John Piper are good friends. BTW, Piper did a pastors conference on Spiritual gifts after his staff spent some time with John Wimber in the late 80’s or early 90’s. Wayne Grudem had some good things to say pastorally on prophecy and Don Williams was excellent, both pastorally and inspirationally. He has an incredible blend of scholar’s mind and a pastors heart!

    And yes, I have read Keeners book.

  4. rickhogaboam says:

    You are well read my friend. I did listen to the conference Piper did years back, I think 1991, on Spiritual gifts. His biography on Lloyd-Jones was excellent. I did appreciate the contributions from Grudem, Storms, and Williams.

    I must say that Grudem is most influential in my understanding of prophecy today.

    Sam Storms is most influential upon my understanding of the purpose of the charismata and basically killed the cessationist argument in his contribution to the Zondervan Counterpoint series.

    Stronstad is most influential in my adherence to a distinct empowering aspect of Spirit Baptism that is to be distinquished from the soteric and sanctifying work of the Spirit. I don’t adopt the neccesity of subsequence with Spirit Baptism, but do think that our soteriology needs to encompass more than soteriology and sanctification. The Holy Spirit empowers for tasks, etc.

    Gordon Fee has also helped shed light on Pauline Pneumatology as being functionally charismatic in nature.

    Did you enjoy having Sam Storms visit? I have long thought that I would love to invite him to a local church hosted conference. He has the rare giftings to contribute on Spiritual gifts, Reformed Theology, Historical Theology, or on Jonathan Edwards. He is good for about a handful off different conference focuses.

  5. Daqvid says:


    Sam was great for our body. He was and has been a great resource to me for pastoring the charismata. My only desire would be to have someone of his teaching ability with the gift of prophecy to demonstrate it.

  6. […] with Craig Keener I came across a casual conversation on Rick Hogaboam’s blog by way of the Gordon Fee Appreciation page on Facebook.  It is […]

  7. Mark says:


    Your work is of interest to me cause history and culture is sometimes eiser to understand through the scope of religion. While I was raised Catholic as many, I lost heart at a young age and regret it for as i do not have the religious background and basic scriptoral knowledge of thoes that stayed, I do however have a love of history, art and politics. While many will see the two prior mentioned topics as seperate to the one of religion I like to see how they relate. While this is obviously not ur subject listed and you have dove deeper than I probably ever will in the subject of religion, your knowledge leds me to believe that perhaps you could put me in the right direction for personal enrichment. Have you any recomendations of books related to the subject of the correlation of religion, and how it affects the acts of a particular culture in a given period of history. This must seem like a broad sword compared to the needle work that ur used to but your recomendations would be greatly appretiated.

    Off hand was wondering if your book covers the correlation of the gosphel and the acts of muhhamad as they are both set as depictions on one should act to follow the path of God. Now by this I mean to cause no controversy I simply ask for my own personal gain. In short. What is the correlation if any, to the Gosphel and its relation to the bible and the works of muhhama calphi and its relation to the Koran? If my question is misplace simply disregard. Thank you for your time.

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