Evangelicals and the Holy Weirdo

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25.

I heard a comedian once refer to the Holy Spirit as a “weirdo”. At least in practice, many evangelicals might agree with him.

As a version 1.0 evangelical growing in faith in the 1970’s, my life was immersed in that generation of cessasionists. That is, all supernatural gifts ceased with the Apostles, the theology being that once the Scriptures were committed to velum, God saw no need for extra-Biblical prophecy, healing, ecstatic utterance and the like to continue. The indwelling of the Spirit was not, it was taught, an event subsequent to, but part of the conversion experience.

As a junior camp counselor during Christian Service Brigade, I befriended two of my team members who I saw as “on fire” for God. One evening after our communal campfire, they went off by themselves to pray. They later came back from the forest, reporting they saw the vision of a bright light which they interpreted as the working of the Holy Spirit. Their bunks were cleared the next morning.

One of my uncles married a woman who became deeply immersed in her pentecostal church. He got involved as well. And so I asked him how he was getting along, speaking in tongues. He replied, “it helps if I have a few beers in me.” And I remember being invited by friends to their charismatic church. As if on cue, members of the congregation began a conga-line around the perimeter of the sanctuary.. It seemed less spontaneous than contrived. So un-Presbyterian. Those personal glimpses permeate my evangelicalism, reinforcing the impression that full outpouring – the experiential reality – means the baptism in the Holy Spirit à la Benny Hinn is normative.

It’s not. Neither are the so-called evangelical luminaries that go on about their MAGA direct line with God, yet have no connection through the Holy Server. Declarations about what they demand God make happen in America seems to me more like they are trying to lead the Holy Spirit, instead of the other way around. I’m sure many professing Christians never personally experienced Jesus in the first place.

It’s this background of negative experiences that convicted me that the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete – is more a ghostly helper alongside, than the divine spirit that dwells inside the Believer. Nice to have, but not clue in how it works. After all, we have the Bible – the fourth member of the Trinity to guide us. Jesus already spoke to us through that book; what more do we need?. Frankly speaking, we evangelicals – imbued with the scholastic tradition as we are – trust in the Lord with all our hearts but and lean on our own understanding; We often act as if we disbelieve in the Spirit of Jesus.  Or, he is like a topical ointment we apply instead of the heart surgeon we need him to be.

Scripture tells us the Holy Spirit isn’t a side-kick or add-on, he permeates the very soul of every believer. The Spirit divides soul and spirit, both joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. I know the Holy Spirit resides within me. I never intend to quash him. But I feel deep inside there is something missing in my innermost evangelicalism. And I recoil from the words of James Packer, when he says “supernatural living through supernatural empowering is at the very heart of New Testament Christianity, so that those who, while professing faith, do not experience and show forth this empowering are suspect by New Testament standards.” Those are fearful words, especially for those prone to lead with a leash so the Holy Spirit doesn’t go out of bounds, and get beyond our control.

We evangelicals substitute reading verses from the Bible to give us the strength we lack through lack of reliance on the Spirit. We rely on the Scriptures to teach us how to truly trust God.. Deep down, many of us don’t trust the Spirit’s vocation to do that. Dwight Moody had the courage to say “the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him”. Could it be that we are afraid that the Holy Spirit would lead us into the sorts of places we’d rather not go? Letting loose of control is scary. Maybe the Spirit is not the weirdo; we neurotic, apprehensive Christians are.

What do you think?

One thought on “Evangelicals and the Holy Weirdo

  1. I’m definitely not a charismatic [ sign gifts etc. ] though I don’t want to be an absolutist about how God can choose to work. The work of the Holy Spirit in my life is at best opaque to me anyway.

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