Response to Patton’s ‘Why I’m Not Charismatic’

Scott and Marv over at To Be Continued have just finished the last of the 8-part series “Response to Patton’s ‘Why I’m Not Charismatic’”  (a 22-page PDF file).  They’ve done a good job in critiquing Patton’s paper and causing us, in every position, to consider our own arguments more carefully. [ Added: …and here’s their response all on a 43-page PDF file ]

Were the tongues “distributed” or “divided” in Acts 2:3?

When I first read in Acts 2:3 about how the early Christians received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (or glossolalia), I learned it from the KJV’s rendering of “cloven tongues”.  However, this is not necessarily an accurate picture of what may have happened in Acts 2:3.  Different translations differ in how they portray the appearance of the flame of Pentecost. This may also impact our theology of the charismata.

How is it rendered in the original Greek?  It uses διαμερίζω (“diamerizō”, divide, part, cloven). The word diamerizō may be defined in several ways: literally in distribution or in appearance, and also, figuratively in dissension.  We can rule out the third: dissension. This leaves us with either distribution or appearance.

Greek: καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρὸς καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐφ᾽ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν,

The NRSV, ESV, CSB and KJV all seem to portray flames (or tongues of fire) being “divided” (in the sense of being split in half), and resting over their heads. (Notice first picture below on the left with the divided flames).  The NRSV/ESV/CSB renderings interpret diamerizō in such a way that it leads the readers to view the flame as the object of the matter.  As a result, the reader will focus on the physical appearance of the flame, rather than, the action of the flame.

ESV: And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
CSB: And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

NRSV: Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

When I read the New English Translation (NET), I noticed that the flame is not “divided” (in the sense of not being split in half), but rather, it is “distributed” and “spread out” amongst the people.   Notice NET’s rendering of “spreading out”  projects an action of distribution, rather than, a static image of physical appearance. The word diamerizō may be interpreted as being distributary or dispersionary, which is also in line with the Spirit’s nature of distributing gifts or charismata. This helps the reader to perceive tongues in a more active sense (like fire in a raging forest fire).

NET:  And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.

The Revised English Bible (REB) use of the word “distributed” also portrays an image of tongues of flames being distributed in the  dispersionary sense.  This rendering of diamerizō is dynamic too.

REB: And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one.

The NLT, however, completely avoids making any interpretation regarding the appearance or distribution of the flame, all though it tends to focus on its appearance rather than action. Perhaps its translators didn’t know how to properly render diamerizō.

NLT  :  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.

The TNIV could be interpreted either way.

TNIV: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

I tend to prefer the NET bible’s rendering because it allows for γλῶσσα (“glōssa”) to be interpreted as a language that is dynamic and is actively spread out or distributed to others, rather than a tongue of flame being a static object.   The REB is my second choice.

Pentecost: Festival of Harvest (Weeks)

Mexican Pentecost icon
Mexican Pentecost icon

This coming Sunday, May 23rd, marks a very special day in the church calendar: Pentecost Sunday.  The term “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, meaning fiftieth. Fifty days after Passover, Jewish people celebrated Shavuot (also called Festival of  Weeks or Harvest/Reaping (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot) as found in Lev. 23:15–21; Exo. 23:16. Jewish Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts for the post-exilic Jews.  Diaspora Jews made pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

For Christians, this celebration of Pentecost has been a long tradition.  It is one of the most important celebrations after Christmas and Easter.  Since about the 2nd century, Christians have since celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  This was witnessed or testified by the charisms/charismata being endowed up0n followers of Christ during the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem.  This day marks the birth of the universal church of Christ on earth and many churches will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians regard the word “Pentecost” with greater relevance for today because they claim that the gifts (“charismata”) of the Holy Spirit are still being practiced today, and to a greater extent in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Testimonies and claims concerning the charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g., Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12) being exercised in the church seem to be less frequent in the northern hemisphere (i.e., North America, Europe) and more frequent in the southern hemisphere.  Why?

On charismata: cessationism vs continuationism

Over at Parchment and Pen, Michael Patton has a post on “Why I am not Charismatic“. Blogger, TC Robinson at New Leaven has also posted his reaction on Patton’s post, and on Augustine here too.

Patton, President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, calls himself a de facto (soft) cessationist. However, he is open to the spiritual gifts. I personally have friends who were raised as cessationist but became continuationist due to evidence that the charismata (gifts) are still in existence today. Personally, I don’t think the cessationist view has strong biblical footing. Its claims tend to be weak and seem to be based on narrow interpretations and man-centered theology that isn’t scripturally-based.  The continuationist view, on the other hand, has a very strong position based on scripture and theology and is backed by the history of many early church fathers. But enough about my personal view…Read Patton’s post linked above.

A new blog on continuationism that I’ve just come across is continuationism.com (“To Be Continued…”) whose authors are Scott Lencke, a Reformed charismatic, and Marvin Cotten who has been a bible translator with Wycliffe [edited]. Check it out.

Holy Spirit is making disciples of all nations

The Holy Spirit is on the move today.  World missions once flowed out from western nations, but today, world missions is flowing out from southern nations into other southern nations.  Our image of Christianity as a western thing is changing.  The old image of missions and evangelism is also dead.  Our idea of the western world being the place where Christianity goes out from into the rest of the world is now long gone no longer true.  An average Christian is no longer a rich Caucasian person from Europe or North America.  The normal average Christian today can be described as a poor woman or man living in, e.g., West Africa, China or Brazil.

In 2004, there were more Roman Catholic baptisms in the Philippines than in Frances, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.  This is the latest thing that the Vatican obsessed with.  South Korea is already the number one missionary nation in the world.  Korean evangelical-pentecostal missionaries are going forth into all the world preaching and teaching the gospel and are willing to be martyrs for Christ. Western Christianity is dying but global southern Christianity is growing at an astounding rate.  It is like an unstoppable freight train that is roaring through the global southern hemisphere of the world.

Today, the Great Commission is happening in the South where healings and miracles are an integral part of the gospel.   The teachings of Christ cannot be separated from the miraculous acts of Christ. For global south Christians, to minimize the gospel to mere philosophical teaching would be a dishonest and unsound.  “Global south Christianity is a healing movement….global south churches are a healing movement,” says Philip Jenkins.*

Demonic possession in liberal Christianity is minimized to a level of merely psychosomatic illness—but not so for global south Christians.  The Luke 8:26-39 is read as a real historical story because these exorcisms and healings are happening every day in global south churches. This is not only a normal thing happening in pentecostal churches, but this is also a normal in traditional mainline churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. Countless healings also happening in Roman Catholic masses during the Blessed Sacrament.

Decades ago in the west, no one would have thought that Charismatic type of Christianity would become so dominant. Today, Charismatic-pentecostal Christianity, which recognizes the move of the Holy Spirit’s gifting as a present-day reality, is the 20th century’s number one religious phenomenon.  This is definitely not a passing fad; it is a long-lasting movement that will make an indelible mark on the universal Christian church forever.  The Holy Spirit is on the move today.

* I was inspired to write this post after listening to Dr. Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University, and author of the book Next Christendom (2002). He spoke at 2005 National Vineyard Conference (where there are also sessions by Dr. Gordon Fee of Regent College) (Hat Tip: Justin K).

The evangelical church in the UK is on the rise

In mainline Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian churches, we are seeing a constant and continual drop in church attendance.  Something has got to change!

But when we look at evangelical churches, attendance tend either remain stable or are flourishing.  What is the difference?  What are evangelical churches doing that is different?

In relation to my previous post “Will evangelicalism decline or continue to expand?“, I noticed from an article from the UK newspaper  “The Independent” that the evangelical church in the UK is now growing.  [HatTip: Rachel Marszalek ]

“Church of England pews may be empty, but the fields of Somerset are rocking with a series of evangelical festivals this summer….. As the leaders of Britain’s more mainstream denominations scratch their heads and debate how to revitalise their congregations, evangelical Christianity in Britain is going from strength to strength. The number of evangelical churches in Britain has risen from 2047 to 2,719 since 1998 and their followers now make up 34 per cent of Anglicans, figures show.”

News like this in the UK is very encouraging. I can still remember constantly hearing about how the church in the UK was on the verge of dying but it has seemed to resurrected due to a revival in the evangelical/charismatic movement.  For this, I’d like to say: “Praise God! God is on the move in the UK.”

Some might ponder if it’s just some gimmick.  I have no doubt that there is no gimmick.   I think mainline churches have a lot to learn from evangelical churches.  Evangelical churches are simply more in tune with God’s clear sense of mission and evangelism than mainline churches.  Evangelicals are clear in encouraging that every disciple should engage in personal evangelism.  How evangelism is engaged may vary widely.  Worship may also vary widely.  Not all evangelical congregations use drums or electric guitars. Some are still in the stone age using organs, but the commonality is in the attitude of the believer: everyone is encouraged in the teaching and preaching to have a mindset of fulfilling God’s mission on earth.  For some of you reading this, this is pretty old hat and may seem strange I’m talking about this like as if it was exciting and cutting-edge missional stuff. But for the old church world, evangelism is  like a bad word.

The source of this mindset or attitude, I think, is the experience of God’s love.  When believers experience the love of God in their lives in a spiritual way and also in a tangible way within the congregation, the Holy Spirit transforms the believer into a Christ-loving individual.  When the individual loves the Lord God, one will understand the importance of sharing the love of Christ with others around them.  This might translate into an engagement in some type of evangelistic activity, either on a personal level or congregational level.  That’s how the gospel transforms people and an entire society.

A new wave of the Holy Spirit’s work in the church has emerged

This is my response to the recent posts at InternetMonk.com on the “Coming Evangelical Collapse” (Part 1 and Part 2) and comes as my personal response just after I made my first post (here). I’m sitting here on Sunday night thinking: “Okay, the church seems to be waning” but I ask myself if Christ is still the lord of the church? I believe he is. Michael Spencer may be pessimistic (and perhaps also realistic) about the old-school evangelical church in North America, but I think he may be missing what God is doing around the world. Sorry Michael… but with all this bad news in the decline in evangelicalism, I do not think God is done with the evangelical churches, or even the mainline churches. In fact, I dare say that God will revive the evangelical churches and mainline churches.

Jesus is the Lord of the church and will always be the lord of the church. We humans may try to usurp God but think we can figure him out but God is going to confound us intelligent humans by doing something unintelligible. God will transform his church. Who is to say that the evangelical church that iMonk is speaking of will not change? I believe the Holy Spirit will do his work and move in a new and sovereign way to renew Christ’s church. It will look radically different from the old form. It may be scary to us but not to the new generations of new Christians who will enter this new church that will emerge.

Let’s never forget what God has done throughout the recent history of the church. God used Martin Luther and John Calvin to give birth to the churches of the Reformation (i.e., Lutheran and Reformed). The Holy Spirit used Luther and Calvin because the Pope, and those high up in the ecclesiastical ranks of the Roman Catholic Church, denied certain evangelical truths. (Note: let’s not get hung up on theology at this point, which can be debated until kingdom come). Later, God used evangelical revivalists such as John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney to give birth to the evangelical churches because the churches of the Reformation became complacent. Then God used Charles Parham and William J. Seymour to give birth to the pentecostal churches because evangelical churches became complacent. Now God is using new generations of charismatics to give birth to third and fourth generations of Pentecostal-charismatic churches because the first wave of Pentecostalism has become complacent. Each generation of churches have neglected an important aspect of God’s truth and reality so the Holy Spirit has raised up a new generation to include important aspects of God’s truth in his church today. Today, a new wave that has emerged in the charismatic movement is spreading like wildfire around the world. However, God is not ignoring the older church denominations either. I believe God is merciful and will revive the older mainline and evangelical churches. I do not believe that God wants to throw out the old for the new.

While we are seeing a decline in attendance and memberships in many all of the mainline protestant denominations in North America and Europe, the charismatic movement is spreading very rapidly around the world. In fact, it is spreading so fast that we in the western world cannot even begin to keep track of what is happening in the new church around the world. That is where the bulk of the growth is. In fact, the charismatic movement is even giving a re-birth to the old mainline denominations in the developing world (e.g., Lutheran, Reformed-Presbyterian, Methodist, including the Roman Catholic Church). It is through this charismatic revival that the old mainline and evangelical churches are being revived in the developing world through. (Old school theologians may not want to admit to the huge contribution of the charismatic movement but it’s true).

Furthermore, evangelical churches around the world are not dying; they are actually also growing very rapidly. This charismatic revival is reviving the evangelical churches around the world too. Baptist churches around the world are also growing. In fact the number of denominations around the world are increasing every day.

So even though the mainline denominations seem to be in the latter stages of life, and the old-old school evangelical churches (e.g., Baptists) are just entering the latter stage of life, God is reshaping and recreating a new church that will take the place of the old. I am not at all afraid of the future because Jesus Christ is still the lord of the church. Just as old wine is meant to be stored in old wineskins, and new wine is meant to be stored in new wineskins, Christ’s new emerging church will take a new shape and form that we will not recognize. We might be wise to put on our seatbelts and take hold of the handle bars, because God is birthing his church around the world that will surprise the old former Christian world.

A theologian #3: Rev. Carlton Pearson

Recently, I have been doing more reading and I have just finished reading The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Fundamentalism to the True Love of God by Carlton Pearson (ASUZA Press/Council Oak Books, 2007). Today, Bishop Pearson is considered a heretical pentecostal preacher who no longer believes in hell and believes that everyone will be saved. Proponents of universalism believe that whether or not one leaves this earthly life believing in Jesus Christ as the son of God, one will eventually be saved. This is the theology that Pearson has now accepted.

The rise and fall of Carlton Pearson intrigued me. Before being rejected by his congregation of 5,000, by his fellow pentecostal-charismatic clergy, and labeled a heretic, he was at the height of his pentecostal ministry in the charismatic world, but it all came crashing down. In his early days, he sang in the Oral Roberts gospel choral team, attended Oral Roberts University, and was noticed by Oral Roberts himself and taken under his wings. He was considered a protégé of televangelist Oral Roberts, and even sat on the Board of Regents at Oral Roberts University (ORU). But what a change of events when he announced to the world that he held universalist beliefs. He eventually lost the congregation he worked so hard to build. They left him. The church property went into receivership. He was no longer welcomed to speak at pentecostal conferences.

He begins his book discussing where he came from and where he has gone in his theology and ministry. Living a life holiness and evangelism defined his Christian life. He was as typical a Pentecostal as one could get. He also started the Asuza Conferences that brought in the big names like T.D. Jakes, and others.

Today, he has invited gays and lesbians to take an active part in the ministry of the church. The bulk of his book is spent discussing why he disagrees with the theologies of hell and damnation. He refutes the orthodox understanding of faith and grace. His book also begins with some quotes from the early church fathers. He also claims that most of the early church fathers were universalists themselves.

I was taken aback as I read his book, The Gospel of Inclusion. I could never imagine that a person of conservative evangelical influence could ever go that far away from one’s theology. By the end of his book, I got a slight feeling of insecurity because if someone like him I can go that far with his theology, who is to say that I might never go this far myself? When I look back and reflect on where I have been and where I am now, some might also consider me a heretic…but I’ll be quiet about that.

From what basis does Carlton Pearson build his theology? Is it the bible? Or is it from the writings of the early church fathers? I am cautious of putting the early church fathers on a pedestal simply because their theologies contradict one other’s. Some read their theologies as if they were the gospel truth but there is a hidden element of danger to doing so because it puts their writings on the same level as the holy scriptures. It is ironic that the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox church, and some from the liturgical Anglican and Lutheran persuasion hold that the historic faith of the ante-Nicene fathers are orthodox and apostolic. How can anyone claim that there is a true historic episcopate when the theologies of the early church fathers contradict one other’s theology? In my humble opinion, this simply does not square. Today, a part of the emerging church movement has placed a premium on the theologies of the early church fathers, but at what cost? Have they traded in theological truth for theological acceptance and inclusion of all religions?

Also see similar posts:
A theologian #2: Rev. Francis Schaeffer
A theologian #1: Rev. John Shelby Spong

Charismatic movement: God’s Spirit on the move today

Recently, Peter Kirk has stepped-up his blogging at Gentle Wisdom about charismatic issues, particularly about Todd Bentley’s ministry; and John Hobbins and David Ker have also blogged a bit about charismatic issues. Perhaps this was sparked by Pentecost Sunday. I’m glad someone is blogging about what is going on around the charismatic world.

Apparently, there is a spiritual revival happening at Lakeland, Florida with Todd Bentley’s ministry, and also in Dudley, England. I’m not familiar with what’s been going on in Dudley, England and Brownsville at Pensacola, Florida, but I have personally been a part of the Toronto Blessing at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. I have also heard Todd Bentley speak and experienced his ministry two times. The charismatic movement has been gaining momentum and is roaring full steam ahead in the world and is making an impact for God’s kingdom. There is a definite spiritual revival. God’s Spirit is leading many people to Christ and into a deeper relationship with Christ.

I recall my own experience with God the Holy Spirit. It was at summer camp at a Pentecostal church during my teenage years when I felt the fire of God flow through me. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I felt completely flooded with a joy. As a teenager, I felt for the first time, God’s holiness and my own human sinfulness, both at the same time. It was then that I realized how much of a sinner I was and how much Jesus loved me and how much I needed God’s forgiveness. The bible suddenly became a living reality to me and I no longer read it as a dry history book. I began to devour the word of God and read it with a passion and an understanding that the bible was the inspired word of God. I think this is where I got my passion for God’s word, even today. When I look back, I can say that it was a life changing experience because my faith was much stronger as a result of the infilling of God’s Spirit. The fruits resulting from this baptism by fire were life changing for me. I was transformed into a teenager who had doubts about God’s reality into one who was unashamedly a Christ-follower.

All though I am a charismatic, I am not a follower of the prosperity gospel. I do feel that there is error in this prosperity teaching. Some Christians get blinded by the teaching that God only brings prosperity and that persecution is somehow ungodly and unspiritual. This is a wrong understanding of prosperity and blessing. I believe that God has promised believers blessings but I believe it is blessings of a different type. God’s blessing is an inner blessing, as well as, an external blessing. God’s blessings also come in the midst of happiness and adversity. God’s blessings also come in the midst of joy and persecution for keeping one’s faith in Christ. The early church would have understood this very intimately. The church in revival in Asia and Africa understands God’s blessings but Christians there also understand how it feels to be tortured, ridiculed, and treated unjustly for their faith in Christ.

In spite of some false understanding and theology in the charismatic movement, there is a great moving of the Holy Spirit around the world that is unprecedented. Millions more are being drawn to Christ through the calling of God’s Holy Spirit. The charisms (gifts) of Holy Spirit are being given to believers to edify, strengthen, and bring healing to believers. It is for the extension of the reign of God on earth.

I have wanted to share this aspect of my Christian life publicly on this blog for a long time but did not know how to approach this. I want to thank other biblical bloggers who have blogged about this subject. It has motivated me to make this a more public part of my life.

Mediating translation comparison #3: TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB – Acts 2:3-4

The comparison series between mediating translations continues with the Acts of the Apostles, ch.2, the passage that deals with the birth of the church, and is in the spirit of Pentecost Sunday. It is also an admired passage for pentecostals and charismatics. (Note, the season of Pentecost, May 11 – July 27, is a part of the liturgical calendar of many mainline church denominations, including Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Orthodox).

Acts 2:3

TNIV:
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

HCSB:
And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

NAB:
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.

NJB:
and there appeared to them tongues as of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.

v.3: διαμερζω (diamerizō) means: to distribute, divide up, separate. It means that something is split, or separated into parts, or divided out to each person from a common source. I do not think that what they saw was a physical formation of cloven flames of fire (KJV). “Flames of fire” (HCSB, ISV) seems to make little sense; but rather, “tongues of fire” makes better sense (as I will explain later).

The rendering of “tongues of fire” leads me to draw a hypothesis. If tongues also means language, I leads me to wonder how a language could be physically divided up. I’m beginning to suspect that what they saw was a distribution of the gift of languages to each person there. It would make better sense that it was the Holy Spirit’s charism of ecstatic utterance being distributed or divided out to each of the recipients. Therefore, what they heard on the Day of Pentecost might have sounded like “languages of fire”. This rendering would be a better description of ecstatic utterances of what we know to be “speaking in tongues.” The charism of language (or glossalia), might have sounded like “languages of fire” to the writer of Acts. If so, perhaps this was what the writer was trying to express when he heard ecstatic utterances or ecstatic proclamation being spoken in so many languages or tongues. An alternate translation I provide is:

They saw languages, as of fire, being distributed and resting on each of them.”

Acts 2:4

TNIV:
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

HCSB:
Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.

NAB:
And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

NJB:
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak different languages as the Spirit gave them power to express themselves.

v.4a: The HCSB, NJB and ISV’s use of “different languages” is the contemporary definition of tongues. It was the various languages that were spoken when the Spirit filled the believers in Jerusalem. Tongue is also an organ of speech but when used in the context of Acts 2, “language(s)” is much easier to understand.

v.4b: At the end of this verse, the original Greek has αποφθεγγεσθαι (apophthengomai , utterance), which can mean: to speak out, speak forth, pronounce, or even to utter one’s opinion. The TNIV does not translate apophthengomai, perhaps to reduce a seemingly redundant idea (however, I do not think it is redundant). The HCSB renders this: “as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.” The NJB rendering of to express themselves” assumes that Holy Spirits utterance is of ones opinion. The NRSV and NLT also renders it as an ability. I disagree with these renderings because glossalia is a charism or gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not a natural ability, or an utterance of one’s personal opinion, but rather, it is suppose to be the utterance of what the Holy Spirit proclaims, speaks or utters through the believer. The RSV/ESV uses “utterance”. I feel the NAB’s rendering of: “as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim may be more accurate. I prefer the NAB’s rendering of to proclaim” because glossalia is the Spirits charism of proclaiming or speaking Gods word.

Also see related posts on mediating translation comparison—TNIV vs HCSB vs NAB: The search begins || #1: Romans 4 || #2: John 20 || #3: Acts 2 || #4: Acts 2b || #5: Matt. 10 || A Conclusion

Interesting posts on Christian pacifism and exorcism

Since I recently blogged about political theology in my last post, I have found an interesting conversation happening in the area of political theology at Doug Chaplin’s blog MetaCatholic, where he began blogging about the perils of Christian pacificism. In relation and in response to Chaplin’s post, Peter Kirk blogs on Gentle Wisdom about Doug Chaplin’s one-sided anti-pacifist views. Is pacificism for everyone? Should there be mandatory legislation to force everyone to participate in war, even if it is a just war? And is it right to force an entire nation to take a totally pacifist position and stand idly by to watch people get slaughtered by a mindless dictator committing mass genocide?

ElShaddai Edwards just blogged about his review of the HCSB Reference Bible. What caught my attention was ElShaddai’s recent post about exorcism in which he posted a copy of a letter someone had written about the casting out of demons. The discussion thread leads to another about the charismatic issue of tongues. This topic is not dead, as the cessationists would like to believe, because the rise of the charismatic movement and pentecostal churches around the world (particularly the southern hemisphere) will make this issue of charismata a more important topic of interest in the near future. Philip Jenkins has written about this in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity published in 2003.

Luther’s christian faith: as experience, intellect and reason

The Christian faith for some believers today might seem to primarily be one of intellect and reason. For many Catholic and mainline theologians, theology mainly functions in the cerebral. For pietists, evangelicals, and charismatics, one’s faith is generally not as cerebral, at least not to the extent as that of mainline theologians. Faith may be much more of an “experience” for evangelicals, and especially for pentecostals/charismatics. If I may continue to generalize, some mainliners have highbrowed Christians who treat their faith as primarily an experience. On the same token, evangelicals and charismatics have also high looked down upon mainliners whose faith is primarily intellectual. Should both camps continue to pride themselves on how they experience their faith?

To purely intellectualize or to purely spiritualize one’s faith to the exclusion of the other is not helpful to one’s spiritual growth as a Christian. To do so, one isolates oneself from being able to experience what a Christian should experience; that is, both an intellectually- and spiritually-driven experience. It is part of deepening and expanding one’s Christian faith. Spirituality and the intellect should go hand-in-hand.

Martin Luther, was initially trained in the scholasticism of the Augustinian order. He served as a Roman Catholic priest and also earned a doctorate in theology. His students addressed him in seminary as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther when he was alive in the early 16th century. His intellect was extremely sharp (as was Calvin’s). Many may not know that Luther had an enlightening spiritual experience as he was struck with lightening while traveling on a road. He received this experience as a sign that God was calling him into the ministry…and thus, he did enter the ministry. He once said that felt he was born again. He walked close to the heart of God and understood the spiritual experience as the school of Holy Spirit. Luther said:

No one can correctly understand God or His Word unless he has received such understanding immediately from the Holy Spirit. But no one can receive it from the Holy Spirit without experiencing, proving, and feeling it. In such experience the Holy Spirit instructs us as in His own school, outside of which nothing is learned but empty words and prattle.(1)

If Luther could say this as a trained scholastic, then who are we, or anyone else, to put down the spiritual experience of other Christians. One’s spiritual experience of Holy Spirit ought to be valued, cherished, and appreciated; not snubbed as a type of kindergarten faith. If we look at the history of spiritual and theological giants, I am sure that we can trace back their paths and find that they received a deep spiritual experience of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure John Calvin and John Wesley did too.

Holy Spirit, experience and love all work together. Where a real and personal faith exists, experience must follow. “Experience should also be seen as a criterion for faith,” says theologian Walther von Loewenich.(2) We learn to know God through Holy Spirit and he uses one’s experience as his school. Experience must be seen as a legitimate way to know God. If we can begin to appreciate the spiritual experience of pietists, and the intellectual experience of scholastic theologians, perhaps we may be able to come together and finally learn to appreciate a fuller and deeper experience of our Christian faith.

(1) W. VII, 546, 24ff; LW 21, 299.
(2) Walther von Loewenich, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1976), 94.

* above photo: Keble College (Oxford, UK), est. 1870 ou of the Oxford movement, which stressed the Anglo-Catholic history of the Anglican Church.

Holy Spirit is a name

Since my previous post on the depersonalization of the Holy Spirit, I found someone who supports my claim that we have depersonalized the Holy Spirit. Theologian Thomas C. Oden says: “The depersonalization of God the Spirit has occurred in the period of philosophical idealism.” He points out that: Hegel reduced the Spirit to a logic of history ; Tillich reduced the Spirit to an existential category of being itself, e.g., “dimension of depth”; Karl Barth used the expression: “mode of being”. Process theology reduced the Spirit to creative energy. Much liberation theology reduced the Spirit to political praxis. “Scriptural exegetes are therefore ill advised to consistently address the Spirit as it with the avowed intent of pointing to the Spirit’s self-effacing presence for it is precisely the free personal God who is becoming self-effacing, and the cause is not well served by calling the Spirit it,” says Oden (1). Have we have mistakenly reduced the person of the Holy Spirit to an impersonal analogy because we want the convenience of applying the Holy Spirit to our theology in order to give it more credibility? If we do not use personal language, God the Spirit will inevitably be reduced to some symbolic generalization.

I have also found other ancient sources that deal with the name of the Holy Spirit. An ancient creed used by the early church called Faith of Damasus (or Fides Damasi) states: “The proper name for Father is Father, and the proper name for the Son is Son, and the proper name for the Holy Spirit is Holy Spirit.” Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) stated that the titles for the Holy Spirit are called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit” (De Spiritu Sancto, Ch.9). Basil also said that the Holy Spirit is not merely a quality or attribute or emanation of God but is a distinct person within the Godhead. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross loved and adored Holy Spirit and addressed the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit. Augustine in Summa Theologica also also dealt with this issue of the Holy Spirit’s name. As a proper name of the Holy Spirit, the Vatican also states: “Holy Spirit is the proper name of the one whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord and professes it in the Baptism of her new children” (Profession of Faith, 691).

When we address other people we use human names because they are very personal to the person. It helps make a connection with the person when we call them by their name. How do we expect to make a connection with the Holy Spirit if we address him as “it” like as if he was an object, an impersonal being? Is this why our churches sometimes do not seem to treat the Holy Spirit as a real person in our worship?

See also: We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit

1. Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: The Word of Life, p.20.

We have depersonalized the person of Holy Spirit

How often do we hear “Holy Spirit” addressed by name? Very rarely…or almost never. Too often, we refer to the person of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or a “the”–which conjures up an image of an object, a mere thing like a dove, fire, wind, breath, etc. I have never been completely comfortable addressing the Holy Spirit as an “it” or with a definite article “the”. However, there are many occurences in the original Greek where “Holy Spirit” is referred to without the definite article “the”. For instance:

In Acts 4:31, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν ἅπαντες τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος. (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 2:4, the Greek does not use the definite article “the”: ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες πνεύματος ἁγίου. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “…filled with the Holy Spirit” but this might be more accurately translated as “…filled with Holy Spirit”. “Holy Spirit” is used in the same context as Acts 4:31 but note that “the” is added where it does not exist. Why is there inconsistency?

In Acts 10:47, the Greek does use the definite article “the”: τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον ἔλαβον (TNIV/NASB/NRSV: “…received the Holy Spirit”).
– however, in Acts 8:19, the Greek doesnot use the definite article “the”: λαμβάνῃ πνεῦμα ἅγιον. TNIV/NASB/NRSV translate this as: “received the Holy Spirit” but couldn’t this be better translated as “…received Holy Spirit”. The Spirit is also used in the same context as Acts 10:47 but “the” has also been added where it doesn’t exist. Why the duplicity?

There are numerous other occurrences where the definite article “the” is not used in the book of Acts: Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 8:15, 17, 19, 39; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9; and 19:2, however, there may be more. Why have all our English translations added the definite article “the” after “Holy Spirit” in places it does not exist? Why is the definite article “the” used and sometimes not used? I would like to know why.

Was Luke (the writer of the book of Acts) intending to refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner by not using “the” in the above verses? Possibly. It seems so arbitrary and ambiguous to me. Was it for the sake of uniformity or clarification? Perhaps. If “the” has been incorrectly added, this may have inadvertently contributed to our objectification and de-personalization of “Holy Spirit”. This is not surprising since we are made to refer to Him as a “the” or a mere “it”?

If the person of the Holy Spirit is a person just like Father God and Jesus, why do we not refer to “Holy Spirit” in a more personal manner? Scripture seems to allow for it. In most cases, to refer to the Holy Spirit using “the” may be scripturally correct. In other words, we could also be correct in addressing or referring to “Holy Spirit” in the same manner that we address “Heavenly Father, …” or “Dear Lord,…” Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, the Advocate, the Spirit of the Lord. If the person of Holy Spirit is a full member of the trinitarian Godhead, doesn’t the person of Holy Spirit deserve to be referred to in a more personal manner as we would like for ourselves?

There seems to be a subconscious depersonalization and marginalization of Holy Spirit in our translations. it is no wonder the Holy Spirit seems to be impersonal to many Christians. We have turned him into an object–a distant third member of the trinity–when we should recognize him in a more personal way. We have not learned to respect the person of Holy Spirit as we should and have relegated him to some mystical realm that is difficult to touch, like a wind or a breath.

See also: Holy Spirit is a name