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 reluctantly got involved as well. And so I asked him how he was getting along, speaking in tongues. His enigmatic reply was, “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 performance. So un-Presbyterian. Those personal glimpses permeate my evangelicalism, reinforcing the impression that full outpouring, the experiential reality – means, like some weird uncle – the indwelling of 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 of these self-identified “evangelicals” never personally experienced Jesus in the first place.
It’s this background of negative experiences that had 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 many times I know I have. And I feel deep inside there is something missing in my innermost evangelical spirituality. 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 like me prone to lead with a leash so the Holy Spirit doesn’t go out of bounds, and get beyond our control. I agree with one of my spiritual mentors, Roger Olson. “Yes, most Christians are afraid of the Holy Spirit whether they would admit it or not… People tend to be afraid of what might happen if they open the door to the Holy Spirit. They read the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon and in the disciples on the Day of Pentecost and think ‘Well, that was a one-time event and we certainly don’t want that happening in our church!'”
We evangelicals substitute reading verses wrenched out of context for the benefit of our neat little systems to give us the strength we lack through lack of reliance on the Spirit. (Solus Spiritus Sanctus was never laid down as a pillar of Reformation faith). We lean solely 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. Fear causes us to recoil from a Christian life filled with joy and power, manifesting the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. 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?