Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Holy Spirit

Bryan L has a post in which he argues for the tendency of those prescribing to calvinism to have a low view of the Holy Spirit in relation to their doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (P in the TULIP acronym, which describes the salvation process in calvinist theology).

I think he is right in many cases (there are some charismatic calvinists). He is arguing that the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints seems to not "really take into account the experience of the Holy Spirit in the believers’ lives as evidence of their salvation."

I would like to take it a step further if I may (at some risk), I think the same can generally be said of Evangelicalism at large - here it is dangerous to generalize because once you do - someone breaks the generalization.  I think Evangelicalism tends to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Why do I think this? Well, there are several reasons.  
  1. First off, open just about any Evangelical Systematic Theology book (with the exception of Grudem and maybe Grenz) and you find only short sections on the person and work of the Holy Spirit - Millard Erickson's Christian Theology has only 36 pages on the person and work of the Holy Spirit as compared to 181 pages related to Christ and 298 pages on Knowing God.  Though this is only one example, I think it is fair to say that the Holy Spirit often gets the short end of the stick in much Evangelical theology.
  2. Evangelicals have a problem with the role of "experience" in faith life and practice.  The is probably largely due to the excesses of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave/Apostolic movements - though I say more toward the excesses of Charismaticsand Third Wavers than the Pentecostals per se.  For many evangelicals use of the "e" word (as I call it) is not valid in most conversations regarding receiving the Holy Spirit (otherwise they say that for Charismatics experience trumps scripture).  Rightly so, many believe a new believer receives the Holy Spirit at salvation, but wrongly so, they insist that experience has little if any factor in the receiving of the Holy Spirit - so it is by faith and not by sight.  Part of this lies in a cessationist point of view that what happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4ff) was a transitional event and meant only for starting the church and ending with the last of the Apostles.  In my opinion, I see no basis for this claim whatsoever, though Cessationist base this on their interpretation of "when perfection comes" in 1 Cor 13:10 (they see it as the Cannon of Scripture, I and others see it as related to the Parousia).   This is pretty much a never ending debate.  
  3. Other Evangelicals may not be completely cessationist yet will want to know where the tongues of fire and the wind are if the event in Acts 2:1-4 is still normal or normative.  
  4. There is also the worry of being too over focused on emotionalism (media video footage never helps in this case) which is confused with experience.  Emotionalism and experience are not synonyms.  I think the claim to emotionalism is more rhetoric than fairness - how one responds to experience is going to be different for each person and is to be guided by Scripture.  
  5. Many evangelicals (and calvinists) will insist that the primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is to give witness to Christ - so a truly Spirit-filled person and assembly will be a Christ-centered - Christ exalting person/assembly.  I agree with this completely.  At the same time I believe the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the church is multi-faceted.  He will teach us all things and remind us of Jesus' teachings (Jn 14:26);  He will guide us into all truth (Jn 16:13); He will make Christ known to us (Jn 16: 14-15); he will tell us what to say when we are under pressure or when we are persecuted (Mk 13:11). Even so, there is also the issue of charismatic empowerment.  The individual believer will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on him or her - power for what?  Power for witness to Jesus (in both word and deed) - this is the essence of Spirit Baptism (cf. Acts 1:8 realized in Acts 2:4ff).   With this empowerment, I believe, comes the gifts of the Holy Spirit as seen in Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, and Ephesians 4:11 (these are offices but still gifts - "he gave some to be...").  
I recognize I am not complete and may be inaccurate in my assessment but I think I am on the right track - both Reformed and Evangelical Theology, in general, tend to play down the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the community of faith.  

In Reformed Theology it is the Sovereignty of God.  In Evangelical Theology it is the Supremacy of Christ.  In Pentecostalism it is the Power of the Holy Spirit.  I think each have their pluses and each have their own excesses.  Instead of pitting them against each other I think there is plenty of room for blending all three in to a solid Biblical Theology of our Triune God.

However, the blending has yet to take place and is presenting many problems for Pentecostals because Evangelicalism has infused the movement and is causing much doubt and uncertainty in exactly who the Holy Spirit is and how he works in a person's life.

Please don't get me wrong, there many good and excellent aspects of Evangelical Theology - they are just weak on the person and work of the Holy Spirit and I think to a fault.

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At 11:44 PM, Blogger Tim Ricchuiti said...

A question for you: what do you think about the early church and the creeds of the early church, which also seem to opt out of saying much about the Spirit?

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Well, Paul talked a whole lot about the Spirit, he writings are nearly all that is about, well, he's staunchly monotheistic and trinitarian but still, just read Gordon Fee's God's Empowering Presence.

As to the creeds, the first council of Constantinople (383?) confirmed the deity of the Holy Spirit saying he is "the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified."

But you bring up a good point that besides affirming his deity and his essence in the Trinity there aren't a lot of extended writings about the Spirit in the Church Fathers (as I know about).

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Celucien L. Joseph said...


Nice post. I totally agree with you. Evangelical Christians are afraid of the Holy Spirit:)



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