Book Review – Theology with Spirit (Henry Lederle)

Word & Spirit Press were kind enough to send me a copy of Theology with Spirit: The Future of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements in the 21st Century, by Henry I. Lederle to review. Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in the history of the charismatic movement, and have previously reviewed Andrew Walker’s Restoring the Kingdom and John Fleming’s Bind Us Together.

This book takes a broader perspective, and attempts to trace the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements right through to the present day. Obviously this is a huge task, but Lederle has managed to compress the story down very effectively to highlight the main characters, movements and theological ideas, and it makes for a fascinating read. Of particular interest is the way he seeks to link in the theological developments with the transition from modernity to post-modernity. He sees the initial opposition from cessationists as evidence of a modernist worldview infiltrating the church.

I already knew a bit about the Asuza street revival, but there is much in this book that was new to me. It is interesting to read his analysis of the effect of Pentecostalism on Roman Catholocism, Orthodoxy, along with other “communions”. Especially helpful is his concise explanations of the theology of different key groups such as the Wesleyan holiness movement, the oneness Pentecostals and the Latter Rain movement.

Following on from the roots of Pentecostalism, he moves onto the “second wave”, or denominational charismatic renewal. He includes a helpful analysis of the broad range of views on Spirit baptism, that departed from the initial Pentecostal positions.

Under the heading the “third wave”, he differs slightly from Wagner, and defines the third wave as independent charismatic churches. He considers several groupings, including “Restorationist”, “Dominion”, “Empowered Evangelicals” (e.g. Wimber), before finally moving on to “Word of Faith”.

This is where it gets interesting, since although Lederle has been very even-handed throughout, he does have an affinity with the Word of Faith movement, and was a lecturer for many years at Oral Roberts University. While he accepts the movement has come in for some deserved criticism, he feels it has now self-corrected its exesses, and identifies and defends four theological contributions the movement makes.

The latter part of the book explores the future of Spirit movements, including a review of various new papers published by young charismatic and pentecostal scholars, many from ORU. He also takes some time to explain his own unique take on Spirit baptism (a “dimension” with “events”), which I must confess to not fully understanding (probably need to re-read this a few times).

He concludes the book with the claim that he believes the Word of Faith churches will be at the forefront of the spread of the charismatic movement in the coming years, and interestingly, does not predict much success for the apostolic networks Peter Wagner has identified as being so significant (see my recent review of Dave Devenish’s book on apostles). I have no idea whether he is right, but I am sure he is correct when he identifies several countries in the global south that have been deeply influenced by Word of Faith theology.

He argues that the four Word of Faith disctinctives (1. the Believer’s Inheritance; 2. the Authority of the Believer; 3. Positive Confession; and 4. Prosperity), when articulated correctly, are all perfectly biblical ideas, and when properly understood are not the heresies they are often accused of being. And indeed, his carefully nuanced explanations of these four ideas are not as objectionable as the more bluntly stated versions I am more used to hearing.

In summary, I would say that the first half of this book is superb and will be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. He has clearly done his research well and his analysis is very interesting. This part of the book would perhaps have benefitted from footnotes, but there is a good bibliography at the end.

The second part of the book caught me off guard. As someone from the more reformed end of the charismatic spectrum, I have grave concerns about the teaching I hear coming from the Word of Faith movement, and do not have a positive opinion about the “prosperity gospel”. It certainly is possible that some critics have misunderstood or misrepresened them – that has happened to almost every group within the church at some point. If Lederle is right about the future prominence of this movement, then it would perhaps benefit us to be more aware of what they are actually teaching, in order that we can make an accurate and biblical evaluation and critique of their contribution to Christian thought.

Book Review – Spirit of Truth and Power

This collection of papers from the Ninth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, published by Rutherford House, who kindly sent me a copy for review, features 12 papers on the subject of the Holy Spirit.

1. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament – David C Searle
One of the key arguments in this is that ministries of the Spirit did not change as dramatically as some have suggested from Old to New Testament. In other words, the types of thing the Spirit is said to do in the NT he also does in the OT. The basic idea seems plausible, but it seemed more an assertion that this is the case rather than a successful proof.

2. Trinity of Life and Power: The Relevance of Trinitarian Theology in the Contemporary Age – Bruce McCormack
McCormack starts by arguing that we must come to grips with the Reality of God as he really is, and resist attempts of our own to define him (particularly from a political or pastoral perspective). We must start with the Bible, not councils. He starts to examine the Biblical evidence for the relationship between Father and Son, particularly noting the theme of the Son’s subordination to the Father, which he argues is not limited to the economy of salvation. He is concerned that, in fear of subordinationism, some have attempted to eliminate this element of subordination from their definition of the Trinity. But the Trinity is not a democracy of persons. Another interesting point he makes is that the fact that the Holy Spirit has been called the “anonymous person” of the Godhead is not necessarily a problem. In fact, the Holy Spirit wills this to be so, since he has a very self-effacing ministry, and thus “we make a mistake if we try to make the Holy Spirit an independent interest in his own right.” The discussion does get quite technical in a couple of places (e.g. on “perichoresis”), but there is some interesting stuff in here.

3. ‘And from the Son’: The Filioque Clause in East and West – Nick Needham
This paper is essentially a historical overview of the controversy between East and West over the ‘Filioque’ clause. He explains the varying positions and emphases of those in the early church, moving on to deal with the controversy over the addition of the clause itself, before an interesting section examining the diversity of opinions amongst modern protestants. Overall it is a well explained paper, but the fine details of the point under discussion can get quite confusing.

4. ‘The Spirit Moved Over the Face of the Waters’: The Holy Spirit and the Created Order – Colin Gunton
Explores various passages linking the Spirit with creation, and laments that the early church Fathers did not give us much help on the role of the Spirit in creation. He quotes Luther who says “it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive”. He has an interesting section on the eschatological significance of the Spirit in creation: “Wherever the Spirit is, there the true end of creation is anticipated”. Again a very learned paper which was hard to follow in places for a  theological novice such as myself. The most interesting part for me was his discussion of the Spirit and culture, and whether cultural artefacts (whether works of art or methods of farming) can be considered in some way as inspired by the Spirit.

5. The Holy Spirit in the Life of Jesus – Donald Macleod
Starting by affirming the uniqueness of Christ, Macleod then asks whether it was simply due to his divine nature supporting his human nature. He gives five good reasons why this is not the case, arguing there is overwhelming biblical evidence for the Spirit’s constant presence in the life of Jesus. He draws a helpful connection between the Spirit and the Father – it is through the Spirit that the Father ministers. He argues (as does Hawthorne in the Presence and the Power) that Jesus must have been filled with the Spirit from the womb if John was (Luke 1:15).

He goes on to discuss how Jesus was led by the Spirit, and how the Spirit gifted him for ministry and empowered him to perform miracles. He is particularly emphatic about the role of the Spirit at the cross: “[Jesus] owed his triumph entirely to the ministry of the Holy Spirit”, and points out that it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:11). A helpful paper that is essentially going over the same ground that Hawthorne does at greater length.

6. The Spirit and Biblical Hermeneutics – Francis Watson
Watson sets out by outlining two popular conceptions of the relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures, both of which he rejects. The first view is that “the Holy Spirit bridges the gulf between the text and ourselves, causing what was written then to become divine speech now, addressed to us”. In other words, according to this view, you don’t worry so much about what it originally meant, you just pray for the Spirit to illuminate the text for you.
The second view he rejects is that the Spirit is associated above all with the church, and so we look to the church to lead us into an interpretation of the meaning of the Bible, and that means our understanding may change – the Spirit will again and again cause the Bible to be read differently.
The issue with both views is that they view the Spirit as a solution to some problem with the text. He turns to Acts 2 to show the inextricable link between the words of Scripture and the events of Pentecost – “The Pentecost event is interpreted by Scripture, but Scripture in turn is interpreted by the event.”

7. Proclamation in the Power of the Spirit – Timothy Ward
We have been taught to be suspicious of discourses of power, and the sermon is a prime example. Some preachers seek to avoid this by avoiding any kind of proclamations or exhortations, preferring to share, reflect and imagine. “Preaching goes as tragically astray when it muses and reflects on those matters which it should be proclaiming, as it does when it confidently proclaims what the preacher cannot know”. Ward emphasises the role of the Spirit at work on both the preacher and the congregation. The faithful biblical preacher’s task is best described as “a contemporary re-enactment of the speech act which was performed in the original authoring of the text”. It is vital that the preacher has allowed the Spirit to apply the message to their own life before preaching it.

8. Word and Spirit in Conversion – Paul Helm.
Helm begins by exploring two incompatible answers to what secures our acceptance before God – a moral justification (through infused or personally acquired righteousness), versus a forensic justification (classic Reformation doctrine). He examines the charge that forensic justification logically leads to the justification of antinomianism. He counters this with some interesting arguments from Turretin to help show that while faith alone justifies, that does not mean that faith can exist alone, apart from other virtues such as love. He argues that “faith does not contribute causally to justification, any more than does obedience. Faith is essentially receptive…”. He concludes by observing that the first view of acceptance leads to obedience motivated by fear, while the second has obedience motivated by love.

9. The Holy Spirit in the Life of the People of God – Bob Fyall
Fyall begins with the interesting observation that although Calvary and Pentecost cannot be repeated, they must be reappropriated. He discusses the role of the Spirit in various aspects of church life, and generally rejects the charismatic approaches to meeting structure and spiritual gifts. He uses Eph 5:18 to show how Spirit-filled worship entails singing and teaching. He concludes the essay with reflections on the Spirit’s role in preaching and mission.

10. Acknowledging the Paraclete: Tertullian on the Spirit – David F Wright
Wright begins by telling us that Tertullian espoused ‘New Prophecy’ (Montanism). Then follows a discussion of Tertullian’s theology of the Spirit that goes largely over my head. It is not made any easier by the fact that Wright himself concedes that Tertullian’s arguments can be complex. Of interest was the discussion of Tertullian’s belief that the Spirit could reveal new (and typically much stricter) standards of morality, and how he felt they could be protected from being duped by an evil spirit.

11. ‘God has framed unto us wings of his Spirit and Word’ Peter Martyr Vermigli on Word and Sprit – Peter Ackroyd
The Reformers generally believed that “the primary vehicle of the Spirit’s work, the normal dispensation of the grace of God, was the Word of God.” Peter Martyr was a Reformation-era pastor-scholar, well known at the time, and the first half of this paper recounts his story. Martyr had an emphasis on the Spirit in his writings. He explains the Spirit’s role in union with Christ as “The Spirit grafts the believer into Christ, and grafts his dispositions, property, sense and ‘motions’ into us.” Like Calvin and Bucer, he emphasised the Spirit as teacher. On the relationship between Word and Spirit, Martyr believed that it is the Spirit who is Christ’s agent of regeneration; but the word is the instrument of his work. He believed that study of the Scripture was not possible without the help of the Holy Spirit.

12. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revival and Renewal – David Smith
Smith starts off by noting the postmillennial optimism of early evangelicalism. He moves on to question some of the assumptions even in Reformed circles about what the Bible teaches on revival. He points out that even in the NT we see the revival fires of Pentecost cooling somewhat. He challenges those who are optimistic about revival as to whether this prevents them facing up to the challenges of discipleship and mission in a post-Christian culture. “The confident announcement that revival is breaking out around us obviously reassures Christians who are deeply troubled by the loss of a Christian culture, and enables them to hang a ‘Business as Usual’ notice on the door of the church.” He goes on to argue that “Whatever the prospects for revival may be, the greatest priority of the churches in the Western world is surely missiological in nature, and this will involve a process of biblical reformation…” He also questions whether all that we call revival is indeed to be considered a genuine advance, citing the tragic story of Rwanda as an example. However he concludes on a more positive note, noting the rapid growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere.

There is plenty in here that I found stimulating and interesting. However, some of the essays are quite technical and theologically dense, meaning that this will not be a particularly accessible book to those who have not already done some college level studies. Having said that, despite getting lost in a few places, I did glean a number of useful insights along the way. It is currently available for half-price – £5 on the Rutherford House website.

Book Review–Joy Unspeakable (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

This book contains 24 sermons from Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones is of course well known and highly regarded in evangelical circles for his outstanding preaching gift. However, the position he argues for in this book is a controversial one, particularly amongst those who otherwise would agree with his every word.

In this book, Lloyd-Jones builds a biblical case that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience from conversion. He sees it as the most urgent need for the church of the present day to be baptised in the Spirit, which he believes is the same thing as saying that we need revival.

The first chapter establishes his conviction that the baptism or “sealing” with the Spirit is distinct from conversion. Amongst many examples he gives, he points to Jesus’ own experience of being baptised with the Spirit. He is keen to emphasise the experiential nature of the baptism – it is a kind of “drenching” with the Spirit.

The chief marks of the baptism he highlights are a great joy, a real assurance, and power for witness. He does not believe that it is directly related to sanctification, although it is of course a great encouragement to growth in holiness. He urges those who do not have “joy inexpressible” to seek the baptism. He does not believe that the baptism can only be received once.

Pentecostals and charismatics however should not assume he is uncritically “on their side” in this debate. Though he rigorously refutes cessationism, he also critiques certain charismatic ideas as well. Perhaps most notable is his stress on the sovereignty of God in giving the baptism and gifts. He rejects any assumption that you simply have to follow certain steps to receive them, or that they can be “claimed”. He is highly suspicious of anything that could be interpreted as psychological manipulation or the power of suggestion. Instead he urges people to earnestly seek to receive the baptism, but at the same time indicates that we cannot force God’s hand.

He manages to show tremendous balance throughout. He is aware of the danger of quenching the Spirit on the one hand, and of gullibly being led into error on the other, and is equally forceful in warning against both. Perhaps most impressive is his determination to follow the Scriptures wherever they lead, even if that put him at odds with many of those who moved in the same reformed evangelical circles. He was determined not to interpret Scripture in light of our experience, but to evaluate our experience (or lack of it) in the light of Scripture.

Throughout the book, he illustrates his points with stories of people throughout history who have met with God in remarkable ways. Some have criticised him for making the baptism seem “out of reach” to ordinary people by focussing on these particularly exceptional examples. But that would be slightly unfair, since he takes pains to point out that this experience is available to all kinds of people, even those with the most level-headed of dispositions. Others criticise his emphasis on the sovereignty of God by appealing to Luke 11:13 as a promise that we will receive when we ask. However, he does address this concern, and again it is his determination that we settle for nothing less than the real thing that prevents him from endorsing various charismatic attempts to guide people into receiving the experience.

Although this is quite a long book, I would say it remains essential reading for those wanting to fully examine the biblical evidence on the matter of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He shows how almost all the evidence in the gospels and Acts points in this direction, and is willing to interact with all the counter-arguments that are usually raised (including 1 Cor 12:13). Most importantly though, it stirs up a hunger to personally receive more of the Spirit, and calls us to earnest prayer for our churches to experience true revival.

Book Review–The Presence and the Power (Gerald Hawthorne)

I’ll start straight off by saying this is one of the best books I have read all year. On almost every page I found myself wanting to underline something, but since I had borrowed it from a friend, I couldn’t. I may have to buy my own copy just to be able to do so, although sadly it seems to be currently out of print.

In this book, Hawthorne sets out to explore the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus. He looks at how the Spirit was involved in Jesus’ conception and birth, and goes through his childhood, his baptism and temptation, his teaching and miracles, and right through to his death and resurrection. What is surprising is how few others have tackled this subject in a sustained manner. Hawthorne is a Professor of Greek, and this book is fairly academic in feel. However, his devout faith and reverence for Christ shines through.

The first chapter gives a brief introduction to who the Holy Spirit is, since the gospel writers seem to take for granted that their readers are already familiar with the person of the Holy Spirit. Hawthorne also addresses the question of who Jesus is. He makes a special point of underscoring the full humanity of Jesus, something that no orthodox Christian would deny, and yet a truth whose implications are not always fully recognised.

The central thesis of the book is that “the Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality”. In other words, he makes the bold claim that all that Jesus accomplished is not merely attributable to his divinity, but rather to the fact that he was a human filled with the Spirit without measure.

Lest anyone suspect him of emphasising the humanity of Christ at the expense of his unique divine nature, Hawthorne also enumerates several ways in which Jesus was unique: he was sinless, his ministry was unique, he was aware of a special relationship with God as his Father, and, most significantly, he was the pre-existent Son of God.

The bulk of the book deals with the life of Jesus in stages. First of all, a chapter deals with the conception and birth of Jesus. He argues that Jesus, like John the Baptist, was filled with the Spirit from the womb. He claims that Jesus’ humanity was comparable to that of Adam’s before the fall – free from sin but also susceptible to sin. Jesus’ sinlessness was therefore a choice, not merely a logical necessity.

Despite there being very little biblical material available, Hawthorne also explores the role of the Spirit in the boyhood and youth of Jesus. He argues that it was the Holy Spirit who was filling Jesus with wisdom, and equipping him for ministry. He reminds us that Jesus is not presented in the gospels as a superhuman child, but one who followed the normal patterns and means of growth and development.

Another chapter explores the Spirit at the baptism and temptation of Jesus. His reconstruction of the event is fascinating. Rather than assuming that Jesus set out with the expressed intention to get baptised by John and then begin his public ministry, Hawthorne suggests that as Jesus listened to John the Baptist’s sermon, he was stirred by the Spirit to respond in obedience. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that he knew that a voice from heaven would speak to him, assuring him of his sonship, nor that he would then go into the wilderness. His Spirit baptism changed the trajectory of his life dramatically.

He points out that the voice from heaven in Luke 3:22 addresses Jesus personally. It was for his benefit. Though he was aware from the age of 12 of a special relationship with the Father, it is possibly only at this point that he learns more fully of his true identity. Or as Hawthorne puts it “Jesus’ awareness of sonship was subject to growth and development, perhaps even to a degree of uncertainty, in need of constant illumination and affirmation.”

The next chapter looks into the Spirit in the ministry of Jesus. Again, Hawthorne has many interesting suggestions in this section, including the possibility that Jesus claiming to have seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven was a prophetic vision rather than necessarily a memory from his pre-birth existence with the Father. He also makes a compelling case that even Jesus’ miracles were not performed by virtue of his divine omnipotence, but through the power of the Spirit. In addition to surveying the explicit mentions of the Spirit, Hawthorne has also gone to some lengths to find implicit evidence for the Spirit in the gospel accounts, particularly in the use of the words exousia (authority) and dynamis (power).

The final chapter surveying Jesus’ life looks at his death and resurrection. Whilst the gospels are largely silent on the Spirit’s role in these events, the rest of the New Testament is not. He looks at various scriptures including Rom 8:11, 1 Cor 6:14 and 1 Tim 3:16, exploring the role of the Spirit in raising Jesus from the dead.

A number of the arguments put forth in this book have the potential to be highly contentious. Whilst in charismatic circles the concept of Jesus performing miracles by the Spirit’s power is more commonly accepted, it certainly is not agreed with everywhere. And perhaps even more sensitive is the suggestion that Jesus had to learn who he was rather than being perpetually aware. Hawthorne deals with this first by surveying church history and highlighting a number of heretical christological views that have been rejected by the church over the ages. He warns that “in a legitimate concern to preserve at all costs the deity of Jesus Christ, many contemporary teachers of the church have followed the lead of the ancient fathers and have become de facto Docetists”.

This leads him to discuss “kenotic Christology”. The original proponents of this thesis suggested that Jesus “emptied” (Phil 2:7) himself of the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence. Hawthorne distances himself from this view, but follows Vincent Taylor in proposing a modified form of it, in which Jesus willed to renounce divine prerogatives in order to live as a human. In other words, the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence were present but not operative. He chose to do his miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than that he had no other option. Taking this view avoids the problematic conclusion that other evangelicals have come to that Jesus had some kind of dual consciousness – an omniscient, omnipresent one, and a human one.

A final chapter explores the implications of his findings for the followers of Jesus. If he is right, then Jesus set an example that we really can follow, if we too are filled with and yielded to the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles is a book that demonstrates what is possible for ordinary people to do under the influence of the Spirit. “The Holy Spirit is God present and active in the lives of Jesus’ followers not to make life rich and comfortable for them, but to equip them to fulfil God’s mission for them in the world.”

This is a rich and thought-provoking book, and I am not yet sure how to what extent I go along with his conclusions. I would say he makes a very compelling case, and one that makes a lot of sense to me. In particular, I think this makes for a much more trinitarian christology, since it presents Jesus as living not only in close communion with his Father, but in complete dependence on the Spirit. So this book comes with a very high recommendation from me. It is not particularly long (less than 250 pages), but it took me a while to get through it since there is a lot of material to digest and ponder. I’d be very interested to hear what others who have read it think.

Holy Spirit Reading List

My friend Mark Mould and I have been plotting the next Saturday Morning Theology course to run at our church. This time we want to cover what is known as “pneumatology”, or the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (the last two were on ecclesiology and soteriology).

We’re putting together a reading list of good books that we have read on doctrine of the Holy Spirit, along with some others that we want to read as part of our preparation. It is not a list of books we completely agree with, as we want to take in a variety of perspectives. I would be interested in any further recommendations you have. I’ve linked to the ones I have reviewed on this blog.

My talks include one on the Baptism in the Spirit (maybe I will revisit some ideas I blogged about a while back), one on Word and Spirit (which I have tonnes of notes on, and might turn into a blog series at some point), one on Jesus and the Spirit (I’m hoping Hawthorne’s book will be particularly helpful for this one), and one on the Spirit in church history from the Puritans through to the present day (I’m particularly looking for book suggestions for what the Puritans said on the Spirit, and I also want to read a bit on the theology of the holiness movement).

Book Review – Forgotten God (Francis Chan)

This is the first book I’ve read from Francis Chan. By all accounts his “Crazy Love” is an excellent read. And Tim Chester gave this book a ringing endorsement this week too.

The book is subtitled “Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit”. As someone who has come from a charismatic background, it does seem a little strange to hear the Holy Spirit referred to as the “Forgotten God”. If anything, those in my circles are often accused of an over-emphasis on the Spirit. Which perhaps explains why I really felt as though I was not quite in the “target audience” for this book.

Chan seems to be aiming at a popular level, perhaps at those who rarely read theology books, and at those who theologically occupy a middle ground somewhere between cessationism and full-blown pentecostalism.

The first two chapters are devoted to urging us to be willing to completely rethink our opinions on the Holy Spirit, returning to the Bible. This is sound advice, but I didn’t feel he went on to overthrow any existing beliefs I had. His chapter on the theology of the Spirit is only the briefest of overviews of Biblical teaching on the Spirit.

Scattered throughout the book are short biographical accounts of people that Chan considers to be “Spirit-filled”. The focus is (perhaps deliberately) not on those whose lives have been characterised by miracles or supernatural gifts, but on those who showed extraordinary godly character (fruit of the Spirit) and who took bold steps of faith to serve the poor. It is a helpful reminder that the Spirit-filled life is not always necessarily a spectacular one.

There is a chapter on the importance of having a real relationship with God through the Spirit. Chan picks out “comfort” and “volume” as being two things that hinder us from truly connecting with God – we are too comfortable or too busy to have a deep relationship with God (see Tim Chester’s post for these obstacles to intimacy).

Another chapter warns against being so focused on God’s will for your life (i.e. your future plans) that you forget to follow him in the now. He reminds us that we do not invite Jesus to follow us around, but we are to follow him. The call to take up our cross is a call to a radical faith. And this is Chan’s passion – that we would settle for nothing less than a life sold out to following Jesus – a life following the Spirit. He argues the same for churches in the final chapter. It is too easy for a church to rely on simply doing things well. But even if it brings growth, without the Spirit, it is meaningless.

Overall I felt there were many things about the Holy Spirit that were left unsaid in this book. And to be fair, Chan has deliberately kept the book short and accessible. He has a great way with words, and it won’t take you long to read through. The book’s chief strength is not as a theology of the Spirit, but as a challenge to live radical lives following the lead of the Spirit. It would be a good place to start for a Christian who has thought little about the Holy Spirit before. And the call to a more radical, wholehearted following of Jesus as we are led by the Spirit is one that all believers and local churches, desperately need to heed.

William Temple on Christlikeness and the Spirit

In John Stott’s Radical Disciple, in a chapter on Christlikeness, he cites William Temple:

It’s no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can’t.
And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it; I can’t.
But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his.
And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like his.

Stott concludes:

God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit

Book Review – Fire and Blood (Mark Stibbe)

In this book, Mark Stibbe explores the relationship between the work of the Spirit and the work of the cross. He recognises there is a divide in evangelicalism between those whose primary emphasis is the cross and those whose primary emphasis is the Spirit. Some are after holiness, others healing; some ask for more of the cross, others for more power. Stibbe seeks to show in this book that the two are not necessarily in opposition to one another – the Spirit leads us to the cross, and the cross leads us to the Spirit.

Part One of the book explores the fact of the cross, and in particular highlights the role of the Spirit. The Spirit’s role in the Old Testament was to give the prophets a vision of what was to come – the suffering Messiah and his exaltation. He then moves on to consider the life and death of Jesus. Jesus was not just man of the cross, but man of the Spirit. The Spirit anointed Jesus for works of power and for affliction.

The Jordan experience was an anointing for sacrifice as well as an empowerment for service.

Stibbe argues that the Spirit enabled and empowered Jesus right to his death. Though he was lonelty, he was not alone. He sees evidence of the Spirit’s presence in Jesus’ prayer of “Abba, Father”. Drawing on Gordon Fee’s commentary, he shows how Col 1:10,11 reveals that the power of the Spirit is not always for signs and wonders, but is also power for endurance and patience. This is the power of the Spirit that Jesus experienced at the cross.

Finally in the first section of the book, Stibbe shows how Calvary led to Pentecost, and in particular, how Pentecost marked a new era in how the Spirit relates to believers. He is now universally, internally and permanently available for all God’s people.

The second part of the book explores the life of the believer. How does the work of the Spirit relate to the cross-shaped life? One of the great advantages of exploring the cross with regard to the work of the Spirit, is that it results in a Trinitarian perspective on the atonement. The Father plans salvation, the Son does the work of salvation, and the Spirit applies our salvation.

The Spirit leads us to the cross in revelation. The cross leads us to the Spirit in regeneration.

He then explores the work of the Spirit under three headings: Jesus saves, heals and delivers. Every salvation is a miracle where the Holy Spirit reveals the power of the cross to an unredeemed mind. But also, the evidence of the New Testament is that even after the ministry of Jesus, the Spirit continued to work miracles of healing. Stibbe’s comments on healing are some of the most helpful I have come across. He does not believe that healing is automatic in the atonement, but at the cross, Jesus defeated the power that lies behind human sickness. As we live in the time between the ages, our prayers for healing are either answered with a “now” or a “not yet”.

Interestingly, he then goes on to argue for a trichotomous human nature (body, spirit, soul). So Jesus saves our spirits, heals our bodies, and delivers our souls, which Stibbe defines as the mind, will and emotions. The Spirit brings deliverance to us in regards to bondage in these areas too.

The final chapter starts by pointing out that the book of Mark falls into two halves – one of miracles, and one of martyrdom. From the first half we might deduce a theology of glory, but from the second, a theology of the cross.

the way of discipleship involves suffering as well as glory, martyrdom as well as miracles, the cross as well as the Spirit.

He goes on to apply this to our sanctification, which is also by the cross and the Spirit. Some emphasise the need for self-denial, for taking up the cross. Others simply focus on being filled with the Spirit. Both work together in our sanctification. Stibbe warns that the neglect of the doctrine of mortification has produced consumeristic believers who want the life of the Spirit without the crucifixion of their flesh. He brings the book to a close with some reflections on how the cross and Spirit help us to face our own death in a hope-filled manner.

This book has much to commend it, and should definitely be on the reading list of anyone who has struggled with the tensions between the differing emphases of the charismatic and evangelical camps. Mark Stibbe is a good writer and packs the book full of helpful illustrations, quotations from a wide variety of theologians and interesting bits of historical background. The thing I most appreciate about this book is how he brings some very necessary correction of emphasis to charismatic theology that has lost sight of the cross, but without ever doing so at the expense of the appreciation of the miraculous work of the Spirit. It is a shame this book is not more well known. If there is another book that explores the connection between the cross and Spirit so well, I am not aware of it (let me know in the comments).

Some Thoughts on ‘Treasure Hunts’

A new form of evangelism known as “treasure hunting” has gained popularity in recent years, stemming I think from a book written on the subject (which I haven’t read). The basic idea is that you spend a while praying for words of knowledge concerning specific people (e.g. someone called Brian, someone with a green jumper, someone with a knee problem etc). Then simply go out on the street, looking for people who match those descriptions, strike up a conversation (“I’m looking for treasure, and I think you’re it” – great chat up line!), and then offer to pray for them. For an idea of what goes on, have a browse through Simon Holley’s blog archives.

I have heard many exciting testimonies of people receiving healing, gratefully receiving prayer, engaging in deep conversations about the gospel, and accepting invitation to come to church or Alpha courses. There is a group here in Southampton who are attempting this form of evangelism, and I am hoping that the cell group I lead will be able to join them on one of their next excursions.

I do have to confess to having a few reservations concerning this method of evangelism, which mostly stem from the understanding of a “word of knowledge”. Much of what passes for words of knowledge often seem to me to be nothing more than lucky guesses (in fact, too often guesses that miss the mark totally). The idea that any random thought that pops into my head should be uncritically accepted as God speaking strikes me as a sub-biblical understanding of prophecy.

But enough negativity already. This technique, though somewhat unconventional does have a few important things going for it.

First, on a very pragmatic level, it provides a conversation starter. There is nothing more likely to end a conversation than asking someone “do you mind if I tell you about Jesus?” The whole idea of a “treasure hunt” provides a way to break the ice with a stranger, and allows the conversation to naturally move on to spiritual matters.

Second, it encourages a reliance on the Spirit’s guidance. Even the most ardently non-charismatic groups I have done evangelism with have recognised the vital importance of being Spirit-filled in our witness. To pray for God to divinely guide us to those in whom his Spirit may already have been working in, as well as to trust him for the right words to say is surely the right way to begin any form of evangelism.

Third, it focuses not on apologetics, but on demonstration of God’s power. Important as apologetics certainly is – people do need to face and answer their questions concerning the truth of the gospel, often apologetics can be a red herring. A chance to pray with someone gives the opportunity for them to experience first hand the living God who hears and answers prayer.

Finally, it requires faith. The fear of looking foolish or getting it wrong holds many of us back from stepping out and telling others the gospel. Praying for someone in public is a risk – what if the prayer is not answered? What if they think you’re insane? And yet, it seems that so often God is pleased to act when his people have nowhere to hide, and have to trust him completely.

So it is not hard for me to see why God may indeed be blessing those who use this mode of evangelism. I tried to think of any examples of this being used in the New Testament. I suppose you could point to Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well in John 4. Though his meeting with her was apparently a chance encounter, the supernatural revelations concerning her circumstances certainly opened her up to consider Jesus’ message.

Or Paul, who had a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia (Acts 16:9). He saw this as God’s leading to evangelise in that region and off he went. Interestingly, he doesn’t appear to have attempted to find the man he saw in the dream. When he got there, he took the strategic approach of searching for devout worshipers of God (Acts 16:13) as well as taking advantage of the chance encounter with the slave girl (Acts 16:16).

So while I am not wholeheartedly endorsing the technique of “treasure hunt” evangelism, I do want to be someone who is full of faith, following the Spirit’s lead, and seeing God’s power at work in changing lives as people hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would be interested to hear of any readers who have done this, and what your thoughts and experiences were.

Convicted of Righteousness

8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11 ESV)

I have always felt that these verses in John are quite tricky to understand. From reading some commentaries, it appears that the Greek isn’t straightforward either. The concept of the Spirit “convicting” people of sin is not problematic, but what does it mean that he will convict people of “righteousness”?

One solution that I have heard is to take the word ‘convict’ to mean ‘convince’. i.e. The Spirit will convince people that Jesus is the righteous one. Or he will convince them of their need to be righteous. Not only does this require a modification in the meaning of the word convict between verse 9 and 10, but it is in danger of making the Spirit’s work into a merely intellectual persuasion.

Don Carson offers an interesting alternative take on what it means to convict the world concerning righteousness:

John loves to quote or allude to Isaiah, and Isaiah 64:5 establishes that all the dikaiosyne (righteousness) of the people of Isaiah’s day was as a menstruous cloth. Within the Fourth Gospel, this reading of ‘righteousness’ is eminently appropriate. (The Gospel According to John, PNTC, D A Carson, p537)

What does this make of the clarifying phrase: “because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer”? Carson explains that the Spirit is simply continuing an important aspect of the ministry of Jesus, confronting and challenging religious hypocrisy:

The reason why the Paraclete convicts the world of its righteousness is because Jesus is going to the Father. … [The] Paraclete … drives home this conviction in the world precisely because Jesus is no longer present to discharge this task.

Not all commentators are convinced by this. Köstenberger considers it plausible, but prefers a legal interpretation:

… the Spirit of truth in his legal function of parakletos is said here to prosecute the world on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus, who is declared just and vindicated in court. (John, BEC, Andreas Köstenberger, p472)

However, if Carson is right, this is a very provocative concept. All Christians know what it feels like to be convicted of sin by the Spirit, but have you ever been convicted of “righteousness”? We know the Spirit’s voice telling us that our bad temper, greed or impure thoughts are sinful and we need to repent, but have we ever considered that some of our religious good deeds could in fact require repentance too?

Repentance for empty legalistic ‘righteousness’ would take on a different form to repentance from sin. Repenting from sin involves stopping the wrong behaviour, but repenting from righteousness requires something even deeper. After all, the Pharisees regularly gave alms to the poor and prayed daily. Jesus was hardly intending for them to stop these activities. Repenting from legalism is therefore a change of heart rather than necessarily outward behavioural change.

Like many Christians at the start of a new year, I try to make resolutions concerning things like Bible reading and prayer, as well as other spiritual goals for the coming year. But we need to beware of turning from grace to legalism and doing the right things with the wrong motivation, or before long, we will find the Spirit convicting us of our shallow religious ‘righteousness’ and calling us back to a relationship with God based on delight and not duty.