Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (1)
We begin the Pentecost season with a Sunday series of excerpts and reflections from Scot McKnight’s new book, Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us.
Scot is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL, author or editor of some sixty books, and he writes at the popular Jesus Creed blog.
I am happy to consider Scot a friend and mentor. He taught at Trinity when I was a student there in seminary and was instrumental in helping me when I first began writing for Internet Monk. And he’s a great Cubs fan. That in itself shows you that he is open to the Holy Spirit.
• • •
A key word in the title and text of Scot McKnight’s book about the Holy Spirit is “open.” And he begins by recounting his own story of not being open to the Spirit. He was raised in a non-charismatic Baptist church where the true Trinity was “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures.”
They had amassed a list of theological reasons why the charismatics and Pentecostal Christians were wrong in their teaching and emphasis upon the Spirit:
- The (glitzy) gifts (such as tongues, prophecy, and miracles) were for the apostolic period only.
- In the New Testament, not every conversion led to speaking in tongues, so tongues cannot be seen as the sign of conversion.
- There are not two baptisms— one by water, one by the Spirit— but just one baptism.
- The Holy Spirit does not want all this attention. The Spirit gives testimony to the Son, so this charismatic stuff must be wrong.
- Christians who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit are the most prone to theological error and to chaos. Eventually their enthusiasm and mysticism will cool, and Pentecostals will be like the rest of us. Either that, or they will turn to some kind of heresy.
- Those who are most enthralled with the Spirit are the most shaped by their inner experiences— emotion and personal feelings. They also are the least theologically trained.
- Charismatics believe in a two-stage theory of salvation: first you become a Christian; next you get the second blessing or you get filled with the Spirit or you enter into the Higher Life or you get fully sanctified and perfected and become sinless.
- We need to focus on salvation and justification and the cross. All this talk about the Spirit distracts from that focus.
This is quite similar to the list I was taught to think by in my Bible college days at a dispensationalist school. We virtually identified the Spirit with the scriptures and limited the Spirit’s work in our lives to illuminating the words of the Bible to us, using those words to “transform us by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
However, over the years Scot (and I as well) have experienced a change of heart and mind about the Holy Spirit, becoming much more open to viewing the Spirit’s work from an “outside the Book” perspective. Here’s how he describes his “conversion” and why he hopes this book will help others experience the same change:
This book attempts to make clear what the Bible reveals about God’s Spirit. Readers can also see it as the story of my conversion from the anti-charismatic movement to an affirmation of the centrality of the Holy Spirit and the importance of the Spirit for the Christian life. I have come to believe, along with theologian Clark Pinnock, that the Spirit works in “a hundred thousand ways” and that it is not my responsibility to do anything but to be open to the radical and sometimes surprising flow of the Spirit in our world. I believe that is what the Bible teaches, and I hope the time we spend pursuing the truth about the Holy Spirit will lead you to a similar belief. (p. 20)
To that end, Scot encourages us to pray the following prayer, a most fitting petition on the Feast of Pentecost and all the days that follow:
Lord, I am open to the Holy Spirit.
Come to me, dwell in me, speak to me
so I may become more like Christ.
Lord, give me the courage to be open.
Lord, I am open to the Holy Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit.