After 5 posts examining The Really Good and The Good aspects of David Platt’s Radical, we are moving on to some of the less positive aspects o my review. This, too, will take 4 or 5 posts as we examine The Bad and The Really Bad.
After 5 posts examining The Really Good and The Good aspects of David Platt’s Radical, we are moving on to some of the less positive aspects o my review. This, too, will take 4 or 5 posts as we examine The Bad and The Really Bad.
I don’t usually post full posts from other blog pages here. However, as Roger Olson is such a fantastic theologian and exemplifies what good, Christian scholarship and debate should look like, I want to post his review here.
Discussion of Bell’s Love Wins is now allowed here for those who can truthfully say they have read it. If you post a comment about Bell’s book be sure to say whether you have read it.
I finally received my copy yesterday. (Sometimes I think mail has to arrive in my city by Pony Express!) I read it last evening and this morning.
First, it is obvious to me that early critics of the book were wrong and they owe Bell an apology. Nowhere in the book does Bell affirm universalism. (Let’s not quibble about what “universalism” means; we all know what the critics meant–that Bell was saying everyone will eventually be saved, go to heaven, and leave hell empty. He nowhere says that.)
Bell does say it is okay to “long for” universal salvation. So did Pope John Paul II! I’m sure some critics who jumped the gun and attacked Bell for promoting universalism without reading the book will come back around and use that to support what they said. But they are not the same. To long for universal salvation is not to affirm it.
On page 114 Bell says “So will those who have said no to God’s love in this life continue to say no in the next? Love demands freedom, and freedom provides that possibility. People take that option now, and we can assume it will be taken in the future.” And nowhere else in the book does he say that eventually everyone will say yes to God’s love. His emphasis on freedom as necessary for love requires him not to say that. Can he hope for it? Who is to say he can’t?
The point is–universalism is the assertion that eventually all will be saved. Nowhere does Bell assert that.
Bell continues in that chapter to say that hell is getting what we want. This is simply another way of saying “Hell’s door is locked on the inside”–something I think C. S. Lewis said. (Or it may be someone’s summary of Lewis’ The Great Divorce.)
Chapter 6 is about what is usually called inclusivism–that salvation through Jesus Christ is not limited to those who hear his name. (I’ve discussed problems with restrictivism here before.) I find nothing in that chapter that Billy Graham has not said. (Go to youtube.com and look up Graham’s responses to questions from Robert Schuler.)
While reading Love Wins I kept thinking “This sounds like C. S. Lewis!” In his Acknowledgments Bell thanks someone for “suggesting when I was in high school that I read C. S. Lewis.”
One thing I disagree with in Love Wins (and I disagreed with it in The Shack) is Bell’s affirmation that God has already forgiven everyone through Jesus Christ. I believe God has provided everything for forgiveness, but forgiveness depends on acceptance of God’s provision. I don’t know how to reconcile universal forgiveness with Jesus’ statement that the Father will not forgive those who refuse to forgive. Of course, if “forgive” means “forgive everyone of the guilt of original sin,” then I can accept universal forgiveness (which is how I and most Arminians interpret Romans 5). But I don’t think that’s what Bell means.
Those who accused Bell of teaching universalism based on promotion of Love Wins jumped the gun and owe him an apology. I won’t hold my breath.
Vilifying anyone based on what you think they are going to say is clear evidence of bad judgment; it breaks all the rules of civil discourse. It is part of what I mean by “evangelicals behaving badly” and illustrates what I call the fundamentalist ethos.
Perhaps the time has come for moderate and progressive evangelicals to say “Farewell neo-fundamentalists.” There’s no point in prolonging the long kiss goodbye. We are two movements now–fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists, on the one hand, and moderate to progressive evangelicals on the other hand. This painful parting of the ways happened between the movement fundamentalists and the new evangelicals in the 1940s and 1950s. It is happening again (among people who call themselves “evangelicals”) and the time has come to acknowledge it as, for all practical purposes, done. It’s just a matter now of dividing the property.
I have a friend who serves as the chaplain at Oxford for the Oxford American Mission. He’s a well known academic and theologian in those parts and is often on the radio debating and defending Christian beliefs against the likes of Richard Dawkins and others.
Here’s a word-for-word transcript from a recent conversation I had with him about the degree to which American Christians will pursue disunity with each other over tertiary matters of doctrine or things we don’t fully think through.
ME: So, is it just me or do British theologians just sit around and laugh at how easily ignited American theologians get about matters they don’t fully understand? I can just see NT Wright sitting back in his rocking chair with a pipe saying, “Uh, hello, Rob Bell’s not saying anything I haven’t said before!”
KENNETH: LOL! In all due respect, we often shake our heads in wonder at the things that “ignite” our American brethren! I suppose it has something to to with our very different contexts. In America, Christianity is still the dominant world view so you have the “luxury” of inter-necene debates over (at times) rather obscure matters of doctrine. We don’t have that luxury here. If we don’t circle the wagons against our common enemy, we won’t have much left to defend! Peace, K.
Interesting, isn’t it, how the dominance and power of “Christian culture” produces more disunity than unity, but when Christians are on the margins of a society, they seek unity with one another and forget about petty arguments about doctrines that are really springs in a trampoline (you can remove one and the trampoline still jumps) and not the legs of the trampoline (you remove this and the whole thing falls).*
I am not innocent in this. So I would like to apologize to any and all whom I have offended by taking secondary doctrinal issues and promoted disunity and schism instead of compassion, love, and understanding. I am sorry for igniting the wagons instead of circling them.
*That metaphor may have seemed a bit stretched, but that’s only if you don’t know where it comes from.*
This is the introductory piece of several posts that will just be my random thoughts on preaching and theology. I don’t know if it’s really a ‘series’, but I’ve got some thoughts I want to get out. Enjoy.
Due to the Enlightenment’s bifurcation of theology and preaching, the former being “academic” and the latter being “practical,” the modern church has assumed there exists little, if any, legitimate link between theology and preaching. This lamentable disjointing has led the church either to accentuate the aesthetic aspects of preaching to the abandonment the theological, doctrinal, and exegetical aspects, or to assume that the aesthetic aspects, the embodied aspects, have minimally to do with the content of the message.
In one sense the special effects have stolen the story, supplying us with a lot of flash and bang but presenting precious little in the way of plot line and character development. In another sense, the style of delivery is essentially ignored, assuming an almost Gnostic, disembodied, intellectual approach to the homily.
If the church is to recover any sense of herself in the postmodern world it is imperative that she recover her practice of preaching as both technical and theological practice. The goal of the following blog posts will lie not so much in arguing for a dialectic of academics and aesthetics, but in articulating that these two are not antithetical conceptions. We will delineate a theology of preaching that reunites the academic and the aesthetic aspects in their full, uncompromised beauty. If God put theology and preaching together, let not the modern preacher tear them asunder.
Obviously, there will be more to come….
Man, if you can’t trusts the Calvinists to make this kind of observation, how can you trust them to make biblical, exegetical, or theological observations?
*If you’re on of my Reformed friends – you know I had to post this for you
As a Baptist in a Wesleyan school, I have been really reserved in writing about John Wesley…impressed as I am by the man. Nevertheless, I will break my silence here in some thoughts on Wesley’s doctrine of Entire Sanctification; a doctrine which I think is vital for the contemporary church.
John Wesley, knowing there were numerous misunderstandings of his position on Entire Sanctification, in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection, felt the need to solidify his position by releasing some of the baggage that had been attached to this doctrine by others. He did this, initially, through explaining what he did not mean by the doctrine. To this we will initially turn.
Wesley did not hold that an entirely sanctified person is perfect in knowledge. Undoubtedly, Wesley knew not only the limits of his own knowledge, but maybe even more practically, he had seen how a concept like “perfect knowledge” could be used within an ecclesiastical community to oppress the powerless (those without perfect knowledge) and wreak all kinds of evil. Furthermore, because there is no perfect knowledge, Wesley believed that it was essential for him and his ministers to continue to study and pursue the life of the mind.
Next, Wesley also did not believe the “perfect one” could escape making mistakes. “We cannot find any ground in Scripture to suppose, that any inhabitant of a house of clay is wholly is wholly exempt from…ignorance or many things; or to imagine any is incapable of mistake.”
Furthermore, the Christian who has attained perfection must not assume that she is beyond falling to temptations. Indeed, “no state of grace is so lofty that one cannot fall.” Said person has no room for thinking that she will not be surrounded by various temptations, for the Bible makes no such promise to her. The only promise lies in the ability to find a way out of the temptation.
By way of summary, a few other things should be noted. Wesley did not believe in this life that a Christian could ever “arrive” spiritually speaking, nor should the believer ever expect to attain any kind of sanctification which frees them from infirmities.
Entire Sanctification as Circumcision of the Heart
John Wesley ardently believed that when Christ saves a person, He saves her from all sin and saves her to serving God with an undivided heart. This comes first of all from his primary theological stance that it is absolutely impossible to be “half a Christian.”
Christ, through the Spirit, does such a work in the believers life that they develop a “habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus.” The experience of this work involves a total death from sin, from evil thoughts, and sin and every evil passion is conquered by love.
The reference to “thoughts” and “passions” is important here, as it highlights the fact that much of Wesley’s emphasis lay in inward religion – a right disposition of the heart. The means by which this inward disposition is developed lies in growing through grace. Positively speaking this means the Holy Spirit becomes gradually more resident in the believers heart such that loves is inculcated in a real and enduring way. Negatively, growth in holiness entails the displacement of unholy tempers and affections, a radical, ‘”cutting” work that results in nothing less than the death of the carnal nature.
The ultimate telos of this process is having the mind of Christ. Faith, hope and love are viewed in relation to the goal of having the mind of Christ. To the extent that a person has the mind of Christ, and thus these characteristics, they fulfill the royal law of Christ. It is “for the sake of propagating this (entire sanctification) chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.” In other words, according to Collins, Perfection is the chief goal of our salvation.
This process, however, is exactly that – a process. There are certainly aspects of our salvation and sanctification which take place at the moment of our conversion and justification. However, from that moment on there remains a growing in graces which spurs the believer on to loving and knowing God more. Sinlessness becomes increasingly important to the believer and, though there is a sense in which certain sins will immediately fall off of the new believer, God has also provided us the ability, through the Spirit, to defeat other sins which tempt us sorely.
That said, there is a sense in which entire sanctification occurs instantaneously. The death incurred at regeneration immediately and effectively displaces and destroys the carnal nature itself. “Entire sanctification, like justification, occurs in a moment simply because this supernatural work of grace represents the utter favor of God and is nothing less than a sheer gift.”
In other words, “There is indeed an instantaneous, as well as a gradual, work of God in his children.” Wesley brings this out quite clearly when he answers the question, “When does inward sanctification begin?” He states, “In the moment a man is justified. From that time a believer gradually dies to sin, and grows in grace.”
Objections to Wesley’s Doctrine of Entire Sanctification
Recent objections to Wesley’s doctrine of Entire Sanctification have run along the same lines as the older objections – and, as then, they still betray fundamental misunderstandings of what Wesley was really saying.
Wesley held that it is not necessary for the Christian to commit sin. Though Entire Sanctification could only be attained by a mature believer, there was nevertheless the ability, even within the most novice Christian, to defeat the power of sin and not succumb to the temptations thereof. For Wesley, to deny this reality was to deny that God had truly saved us from all uncleanness.
Among those who rejected Wesley’s position regarding the necessity of sin were the Calvinists which Wesley had rows with about other doctrines as well. This suggests, then, that the real issue for many people is not whether the doctrine can be found in some form in the biblical text, but what other doctrinal presuppositions filter the way we read these texts.
George Whitfield, like many contemporary Calvinists, believed that God caused sin to remain in the believers life in order to serve as a continual reminder to the believer of their perpetual need to cling to God alone for their salvation and sanctification and to keep her humble before God. As Whitefield said, “There must be Amalekites left in Israelite’s land to keep his soul in action.” In other words, Whitefield felt Wesley was really quite naïve concerning the reality of sin.
It should be clear, however, that the issue for Whitefield doesn’t appear to be with Wesley’s take on certain biblical texts, but rather the necessity of sin in the believers life which must be present by the sovereign purposes of God. In other words, Whitefield’s theological assumptions preconditioned him to reject Wesley’s reading of the biblical texts and hence Wesley’s teachings concerning Entire Sanctification.
Conclusion: Entire Sanctification as a Community Project
Wesley is clear, even when he is not saying so overtly, that Entire Sanctification is a community, not an individual, project. If , indeed, it takes a village to raise a child, how much more the case that it takes a persevering Christian community to raise mature, sanctified, perfect children of God.
This teaching, though, is not restricted to just the community of the Methodists. Wesley believed that that doctrine extend out and was accessible to all the church of God no matter the denomination or the geographical location. “Indeed, the doctrine of perfect love belonged not simply to the Methodists but to the whole church, to the universal community of faith.”
It behooves the church of God all over the world, no matter the denomination, to take heed to Wesley’s teachings concerning this doctrine. Yet, the people called by Wesley’s name must not cease to remember that Wesley himself did not think this doctrine was exclusively his, but belonged to all Christians without reserve.
Personal Reflections on Entire Sanctification
Coming from a Baptist tradition, thoughts on Entire Sanctification are relatively new to me. That said, though the language Wesley uses is nowhere explicitly found in Scripture, there is no doubt that the concept of Entire Sanctification is there. What, indeed, would be the points of Paul’s striving for the perfection in Philippians if, in fact, attaining this goal was impossible? Why would Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 5 to “be perfect as God is perfect” if this perfection were not attainable? To be sure, there is a sense in which absolute perfection is not possible in this life (as Wesley, himself, notes), but to deny that there can be a putting to death of sinful desires in this life is to have a rather pessimistic and incomplete view of what God has done for us in Christ and through His Spirit. The sinful nature has been crucified. Human nature is no excuse. Perfection ought to be the goal of every Christian.
 John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. (Orlando: Relevant Books, 2006), 32.
 Kenneth J. Collins, The Theology of John Wesley, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 298.
 Wesley, 32.
 Collins, 298.
 Collins, 299.
 Wesley, 32.
 Wesley, 3.
 Kenneth J. Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 49.
 Collins, John Wesley, 195. Such a gracious activity often occurs in the communal context of the church, through the means of the Word and Sacrament, and is generously manifested in works of piety and mercy – in a faith, in other words, that is ever active in love.
 Ibid., 195. That is, the propensity of original sin is purged, as a consequence of efficacious grace, a heart bent toward backsliding is cleansed.
 Ibid., 258.
 Ibid., 195.
 Ibid., 200.
 Wesley, 27.
 Wesley, 38.
 Collins, John Wesley. 116.
 Ibid., 258.
This post has actually taken a different route than I originally intended. After examining the text, itself, I want to say that I think the Calvinist argument from this text has more legitimacy than I originally thought. However, I cannot affirm the implications of their arguments. I believe Calvinists and Arminians can both affirm the Calvinist reading to some degree, but I believe the implications of said reading is where we will part ways – necessarily.
The text is clear that God intended to ultimately bring about the salvation of Jacob’s house through the selling of Joseph into slavery. This is little different than God using the evil actions of Pilate to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus. In both cases God has a plan in mind and he uses the evil actions of men to work out that plan. The goal is always determined.
However, again, this does not necessarily entail that God determines the evil actions themselves. Notice in our passage, Genesis 50:20, that God has intentions that are his own (to bring about good) and the brothers have intentions all their own (to work evil). That God fully knows their actions and intends to use them to bring about his original plan is not problematic. God intended to have Joseph be the means by which Jacob’s household was saved. And God, possibly, even made Joseph ready to be the savior through suffering. But, the evil actions of Joseph’s brothers are their own and the text never connects God’s determination with their actions.
I truly think this distinction is subtle enough that almost everyone can get on board with it. For those who can’t…
Even if we fully affirm the suggestion that this passage points to God actually ordaining/determining the actions of the brothers, here are some consequences which I think are unavoidable and undesirable.
Necessary, Yet Undesirable, Implications of a Purely Calvinistic Reading of this Text
First, humans are not to be held responsible for their immoral actions.
Why do I say this? Because in the context of this passage, Joseph’s brothers think Joseph is going to punish them for their evil deeds. But Joseph, in light of his understanding of God’s sovereignty and ultimate purposes of salvation, affirms that they will not be punished. They are not to be held responsible precisely because God was the determiner of their deeds. The responsibility of the human agents, then, is minimized. When God acts deterministically, in this passage, the human agents through whom he acts are not held liable. As Joseph says, “So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (vs. 21) He will not hold them accountable.
Second, in light of the first point:
If the determinist perspective is true, when a child is molested or a genocide breaks out, not only can we not hold the violators accountable for their actions, but we also must remind the victims that it was God’s action that brought this about and therefore they should not be angry at the oppressors.
These two consequences, to me, are the logical end of using this passage as a starting point for how God universally works. I say, rather, that this passage is an exception which proves the rule and should not be taken as normative.
Determination and What is Normative
Finally, even if I’m wrong here – and Lord knows I always have the potential for that – there’s a sense in which there is still no need for this text to be normative. That is, it is hermeneutically fallacious to take a single text and make it normative for the way God must always operate. In other words, it is wrong to take a specific statement (especially a contestable one like this!) and universalize it. Both Arminians and Open Theists affirm that God does, in fact, determine certain things (such as the death of Jesus on the cross which happened before the foundation of the world!). But that these things are noted in this way suggests to me that they are not normative. Rather, God’s determinative actions are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Contextually, this means that the extraordinary act of God in saving Jacob’s family meant that He took an extraordinary amount of action in this event. He is demonstrating His providential hand in redemptive history by ensuring that Jacob’s family be saved. Therefore, as Greg Boyd notes, “Under these extraordinary circumstances it should not surprise us to find God involved in extraordinary ways. This text should therefore not be taken as a proof text of how God usually, let alone always, operates.”
Proving Their Point: What Calvinists Need to Textually Demonstrate the Superiority of Their Answer:
In the end, however, I would agree with anyone who says that I did not prove Arminianism from this passage! I have no problem with such a critique. As I said, the Calvinist reading is possible and even likely (on a restricted, localized level). But I believe they are imparting a larger theological/philosophical reading onto this text to come to the conclusion they have. For my part, I think the “text says nothing nearly precise enough to support a particular theory of sovereignty and human freedom to the exclusion of all other competing accounts.”
If Calvinists want to prove their position from this text, to the exclusion of others, they need to provide the following evidence:
I actually don’t find the Calvinist reading here all that exegetically wrong. I think their implications from their exegesis, however, are where their errors lie. Did God sovereignly act in the events of Joseph’s brothers? Yes! He intended to bring good out of them. However, this in no way entails 1. That God determined their actions or the evil of their actions, or 2. That, even if he did determine their evil actions, God’s actions here are normative and universal. These are inferences that the text simply does not support. To me, these conclusions come about because of a larger philo-theological framework guiding their interpretation. Indeed, if they took their inferences to the logical conclusion, they end up with no human responsibility – which is exactly what Arminians/Open Theists have been complaining about for years.
In the end, I agree with self-proclaimed Calvinist Walter Brueggemann concerning this text, “This phrase has been endlessly problematic in theological interpretation, as it has lent itself to all kinds of scholastic notions of a blueprint for determinism…[yet] the Old Testament includes no notion of a plan in such a specific and rigid sense.” In other words, it’s not necessarily that the Calvinist’s exegesis here is lacking, but more that they read too much into this text – whether it be through reading their notions of soft-determinism onto a text which simply can’t bare that weight OR through universalizing a very localized incident.
 I want to thank Hank over at Think Wink for his helpful response to my original post. I hope here to find some common ground, though, of course, there will always be some disagreement. Hopefully it will become smaller and smaller, though, as we analyze the text.
 Walls, Dongell, 150.
 Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament. 355. I say self-identified b/c Brueggemann has called himself a Calvinist, but I’m not so sure most Calvinists will identify with him.
The Enlightenment, autonomous individual, that rugged, Marlboro man who needs nothing but his own cigarettes and skepticism, has fallen on tough times. To some extent Postmodernity is the driving force of decay, falsifying our sense of self and reviving the idea that humans find their truest identity within community. I’m skeptical of what kind of community can ultimately be produced under a postmodern worldview, but whatever the case we can at least rejoice in the resurgence of the old axiom, “No man is an island.”
So it is with the Spirit: The Spirit of God is not an autonomous self. The Spirit finds identity within two communities: The community of the Trinity and the community of Ecclesia – the church. Ever longing to bring these two communities into union, the Spirit actively comes forth from the Father in wooing joy, enjoining the church to greater participation in the divine nature.
The biblical picture of the Spirit is divine power and life. Within the Trinitarian community, the Spirit as power and life is the means by which the persons of the Trinity love one another. In Augustine’s terms, as cited earlier, the Spirit is the “bond of love” within the Trinitarian dance.
As the bond of love, the Spirit is seen here in terms of relationality. The Spirit relates to and submits to the other persons of the Trinity without losing individuality and identity. The community is not forced upon the Spirit in the sense of overshadowing the Spirit as an individual person. But neither is the individual person of the Spirit the primary concern overriding the community. Within the Trinitarian community there is a dance of love whereby each member sacrificially loves the others and places the others above themselves. This is essential to the nature of God and therefore to the nature of the Spirit.
Community of Ecclesia
The Spirit is not restricted to heavenly relationships, but has willfully and ecstatically chosen to participate in the human community we call the church. “Spirit brings persons together in heaven and on earth, being both the medium of the communication of Jesus with the Father and the medium of our communication with brothers and sisters.”
The Spirit is the bond of love between the church and her savior. She sweeps the church up in her arms, carrying us to the Father, urging us to further sanctification, and all the while liberally lavishing on us the love of our Lord.
Yet the Spirit is not merely a force pushing us to God; the Spirit leads us with a chord of gentleness and compassion, convicting us when we fall behind, bestowing grace on us when we fail, and grieving with us when we mourn.
Furthermore, the relationship of the Spirit to the church is not just vertically oriented. The Spirit moves us to further union with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Spirit works amongst Calvinists and Arminians, Complementarians and Egalitarians precisely because none of these systems can fully conceptualize Ruach. The wind cannot be constrained in our canisters of theological conjecture.
The love of the Trinitarian community was perfect before the Creation. Yet that perfect love desired (did not need) someone to share its love with. God created humanity and called out Israel and then the church as the object of His affection. God desires to draw us, through the Spirit, into that Trinitarian dance of love whereby there is mutual submission and communion. The Spirit is the church’s answer to its individualism and self-focus by wooing us to participation in Trinitarian love. We were “created in the first place to reflect God’s own perfection, and [our] destiny is to participate in the very life of God.”
 I qualify this statement because there are aspects of Postmodernity which cling ferociously to the myth of the autonomous individual. So, it is neither the final answer nor is it the only challenge to individualism.
 I hope to expand on these thoughts later, so excuse what is left out in this brief rundown.
 Let me add at this point that I do not think the Spirit is restricted to Ecclesia either. But I will spell that out in a later post.
 Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love. 39.
 Pinnock, 41.
A few months ago I wrote a post charging myself with being Too Skeptical for the Holy Spirit. I lamented, really, the fact that my Pneumatological Hermeneutic of Suspicion is always in over-drive. A few weeks later I wrote a post delineating those Christian beliefs I considered Dogma, Doctrine, Opinion or Heresy. Theotica pointed out that my Dogmas (those things I considered essential to the Christian faith) were overwhelmingly Christological. I realized, in frustration with myself, I had very little to say about the Holy Spirit.
A Hermeneutic of Suspicion is not entirely responsible for this. My tradition (Evangelical/Southern Baptist) rarely touches on the 3rd person of the Trinity. It’s hard to develop a thoughtful theology when there’s no consistency within the community’s rhetoric.
Our communal avoidance of the Spirit is borne out of at least two factors: 1. we are afraid allowing the Spirit to have control will turn us into Pentecostals, and 2. our view of the Bible restricts our Pneumatological experiences.
Let me explain the second point.
I’ve always loved the authoritative emphasis Evangelicalism places on the Bible. While in certain respects I have no problem with this, I also feel it has led to an unfortunate dichotomy between the Scripture and experience; a dichotomy which is, itself, not scriptural.
John Stott argues in his discussion on the Holy Spirit, “God’s purpose for our lives is to be found in Scripture and not in experience.” Stott argues the Holy Bible, above our experiences of the Holy Spirit, should direct our Christian lives. He says this primarily because he distrusts experience, not because he distrusts the Holy Spirit. The Bible must be the medium of the Holy Spirit.
But here’s the fundamental flaw: All our experiences of the Spirit, including the illumination given by the Spirit to understand the Bible, are still experiences. As Ruether says, “Human experience is both the starting point and ending point of the circle of interpretation.” There’s nothing outside of experience (or the text!). This distrust of experience is an epistemological left over from the Enlightenment, not from a biblical worldview.
The problem with appealing only the Scriptures, and avoiding experience, is not only that everything is an experience, but the Bible only Speaks of experiencing the Spirit. Experience is how the biblical authors knew the Spirit. They didn’t have a Bible on which to rely.
The Luke-Acts narratives, for example, spill over with experiences of the Spirit’s outpouring. Furthermore, Paul appeals to his audience, not to only search the Scriptures (the Old Testament) for their awareness of the Spirit, but to look within their own communal experiences for evidence of the Spirit’s work:
What, don’t you know that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit?
If there is any consolation in Christ, any comfort from His love, any fellowship of the Spirit, then make my joy complete…
Indeed, some of Paul’s statements only make sense with the assumption that his churches experience the Spirit: Did you receive the Spirit by works of Torah or by believing what you heard? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now trying to gain perfection by the flesh? (Gal. 3:2-3). His question only works because of the experiential quality of their reception of the Spirit.
Paul assumes his audience will acknowledge, from experience, the Spirit’s work among them. Paul is no Enlightenment scholar suspicious of experiencing the Spirit. He see’s the Spirit at work in his churches, in his mission, and in his life. This is no subjective reality to Paul: don’t you know!
By placing the Bible above the Holy Spirit, we’ve in essence claimed the Bible is objective and public knowledge and the Spirit’s activities are subjective and private. In this, we’ve not only violated our Scriptural foundation, but we’ve denied the 3rd person of the Trinity out of a preconceived, prefabricated, position of suspicion. For all our arguments about the Historical Jesus, maybe we need to reexamine the ways we’ve abandoned the Historical Spirit.
Part of the churches New Covenant is that the Spirit of God will personally abide with the people of God. This is not an abstract doctrine waiting to be delineated; it is an experience – an experience of a person. When the church gathers, God is present in person. Until we regain this personal, relational, experiential aspect of the Spirit, our churches will continue subject themselves to Enlightenment philosophy instead of the biblical worldview we claim we posses.
The person of the Holy Spirit, not the Bible, is the down-payment of God’s eschatological promises (Eph. 1:14). The Spirit in our midst reminds us that God has already purchased his church and the victory is already won. Christians ought to be the most hopeful of all people for we have the Spirit in our midst reminding us that God has already defeated sin and death. By our failure to experience the Spirit in our midst, we are robbed of that personal assurance.
In the end, this is what I wanted to communicate:
 The SBC even has a restriction on its missionaries – if a person has ever spoken in a “prayer language” they are disqualified from missions work
 Quoted by Walter Kaiser, “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit as the Promise of the Father: A Reformed Perspective. Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: 5 Views. Ed. Chad Owen (Nashville: Broadman and Holeman, 2004), 15.
 Rosemary Radford Ruether, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Ed. Letty M. Russel Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1985.
 Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), 87.
 I suppose the pragmatic denial of the Spirit’s fundamental personhood is another reason my tradition doesn’t trust Spirit experiences.