Whether sitting in the plush, movie theater seats of a megachurch preaching on the dunamis of the Holy Spirit, or in the ordered pews of a fundamentalist assembly teaching on the rigid power structure established for the ecclesia, Christians in the 21st century inevitably come to terms with the third person of the Trinity.
This renewed biblical emphasis on who the Holy Spirit is holds as much promise as fear of abuse. More positively it signals how the innumerable tomes on God the Creator and Jesus Christ the Redeemer need a complimentary emphasis on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit–something that is just starting to historically emerge. While there are fleeting references to certain groups of Christians that emphasized the working of the Spirit, such as the Montanists, Waldensians, or radical reformers, few compare to the widespread nature of the pentecostal movement as witnessed in America today. This brings up the dangers. It’s the stereotypical prosperity lined pockets of the preacher who promises total healing, and blames the failure of this on the believer’s lack of faith. Fabrication and lies follow what, for all intents of purposes, have become a business of magic tricks that includes everything from “growing” the limbs of people with back pain to a so-called prophet who can guess your best friend’s name from childhood. Today, all of this occurs in the name of the Holy Spirit.
The reasons for this desire are manifold, as suggested by Daniel L. Migliore in Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Why emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit?
- It’s a protest against “depersonalization and bureaucratization,” “domination of form over vitality, structure over purpose, external authority over free consent” (233).
- It’s suggestive of an emerging interest in pursuing a deeper relational faith that is characterized by “genuine love and lasting friendship, and for the spiritual resources” (244).
- It’s about moving the objective reality of salvation into a personally appropriated and transformative, if not participatory power.
- It’s a cure for burnout, pastoral and lay alike, and fuel for pursuing greater peace, freedom, and love in the world.
- It’s indicative of a growing appreciation for how the Holy Spirit is prominent in both the Old and New Testaments (something that is often lost in theological circles that in the last century have tended to focus on Christology).
Emphasis is everything. Even in the coldest corridors of cessationism there is talk of the power of the Holy Spirit to create, sustain, save, reconcile, liberate, renew, and consummate. In fact, they might argue that our initial salvation is the Spirit’s power and not our own natural doing; “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Emphasis is everything. If attention is on the personal, is there an expectation of tongues? Healing? If the stress is on the collective, is there an expectation of prophecy? Interpretation of tongues?
There is much to be said about how the Holy Spirit enables us to do things that we could never achieve of our own volition, and each interpretation is potentially correct. Biblically speaking, what matters most is a truthfulness to represent how the Holy Spirit is speaking to an individual or a collective body of people. It’s really about honesty and a genuineness; to do otherwise is to commit the worst sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. With this knowledge, some groups safeguard against blasphemy by quenching the Spirit, almost kicking Him out of His own church; while on the other end of the spectrum some groups apply extra-biblical attributes to the Holy Spirit.
Finding the proper balance requires honesty and a genuine desire to seek God in ways that might even fall outside of the everyday and that ring of the supernatural. To a man who never cries, a few simple tears may bring the greatest comfort. Jesus and the Spirit have a relationship that is reciprocal and interdependent, and every word of God can bring us in closer relationship with the Holy Spirit.