Note from CM: Whenever the subject of the Holy Spirit comes up, as it does in even the most traditional churches during the time of Pentecost, questions regarding “second blessing” theology, miracles, spiritual gifts — especially those involving supernatural manifestations such as speaking in tongues and prophecy — healing, and “God speaking” directly to the believer arise. Here is one post Michael wrote on the subject.
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Tuesday with Michael Spencer
A good and dear friend recently updated me on developments in her recent spiritual journey.
Let’s stop here. If you’re reading this, here’s a question for you: What do you expect to hear now?
Thought about it? Good. Let’s go on.
Most of what she told me about would go in the category of signs and wonders.
A prayer was answered with the sudden appearance of a rainbow, and so on. Mystical, personal stuff in the realm of answered prayers and personal experience. Her entire spiritual life is not studying scripture, but about what she describes as a “deep, personal experience of God” that includes His very real activity to show His hand in signs and wonders.
Scripture isn’t absent, but my friend’s journey is one where experience is leading and scripture is following. My friend is immensely happy, by the way, and closer to Jesus than ever before.
I had to immediately admit that this isn’t my journey and isn’t likely to ever be. I’m honestly afraid of anything in the category of “signs and wonders.” I’m very suspicious of any and all personal religious experience of this sort. I’m a skeptic when I hear most testimonies of miracles or signs. I tend to think that it isn’t true, is exaggerated or won’t last.
I’m ruthless to preachers in this regard. When I preacher talks off into a story of a miracle, sign or wonder, I’m wearing a helmet that says “Don’t try that stuff on me.” I’m kinder to regular Christian folk, but I’ve still got a skeptical attitude that the devil himself would admire.
I believe that religion, as a human phenomenon and by its very nature, creates a world where people believe that things happen that haven’t happened. The line between fact and reality goes very thin and takes a good bit of the week off.
I don’t find it at all unusual that a guy like Todd Bentley can say the last three rows at his meeting were all in caskets dead yesterday or that angels are tossing elephants around in the green room. And I’m not surprised that people believe him and defend him.
Now I won’t argue with you that there’s a problem with me in this area. (If you haven’t noticed.) Christianity is a religion of miracles that are essential to its existence. While I would stand by my frequent assertion that the number and frequency of miracles in the Bible is generally over-emphasized and exaggerated, I’m all signed up to affirm that the Bible is a record of miracles, signs and wonders.
I know that the Christian worldview is open to the intervention of God. I’m not a deist. I pray for God’s intervention all the time. I’ve experienced it. My family was once awakened from a sound sleep to discover our house on fire. How? By a noise in the street that I just happened to get up to check out….and thereby discovered the laundry room on fire. I’ve seen God answer prayer for my wife, my children, my mother and the ministry where I work.
But there’s no doubt that I have a bias in this area. Is it an over commitment to logic? An inevitable part of the Protestant use of the Bible? Residual damage from being a Calvinist?
There was a time, when I was a very young Christian, that I was part of a Charismatic prayer group that did little other than sing, pray for miracles and talk about miracles. When I left that chapter of my journey, I didn’t leave angry or hurt, but I wonder if I left feeling superior? Convinced I- at that time a dispensationalist- knew more than those kinds of people?
Have I spent so many years preaching, that I’m convinced God works by argument? By debate and verbal persuasion? How did I get so biased against the many other ways that God certainly uses to wake us up, draw us to himself and assure us of his presence?
Am I frightened by the unordered, uncontrollable aspect of God the Holy Spirit? Have I fled to the security of God working through chapter and verse so that I can understand him? Does my skepticism give me the illusions and delusions about God that keep my feeling safe and in control?
My friend’s spiritual journey hasn’t made her a raving loon. She doesn’t claim to hear voices or see visions. If she did, I don’t think it would turn her into someone bizarre and embarrassing.
My friend Pat had two heart transplants before he died a few years ago. When he came back from his first one, he was profoundly changed by a vision of Jesus on the cross, there in his hospital room. He told the story many times, with obvious and sincere emotion. It assured him of God’s love and salvation. After years of alcoholism and living far from God, he loved the cross of Jesus, and he believed he’d been taken to it that day.
I know a dozen explanations for what happened to Pat. Doctors can explain it to you. So can most psychologists and more than a few counselors. But the thing is, Pat didn’t see Jesus all the time, like Harvey the Rabbit. He saw the cross once, in a vision, and his life was changed. It was “outside the Bible,” but it was very much inside the Bible, too.
My friend’s journey isn’t an exposition of Romans. It’s a discovery that God is out there, beckoning her own to another chapter of loving God and loving neighbor. She’s sane as a judge. And she believes a rainbow appeared out of nowhere, just for her.
I’m the skeptic, and I assure myself that my skepticism makes me a believer in what God has said in scripture. (I mean, I have an ESV Study Bible!) But I have to face the fact that I’m often an unbeliever in the God beyond the page. I’m a skeptic about experiences happening today like those I read in the life of Abraham, Jacob and Moses.
Somehow, I sense that for all the theology I’ve imbibed, by faith and my connection with God are smaller. And while some will say that my friend and others have walked away from the Bible, I’m wondering if they have taken the Word into the Wild, where the God who surprises with signs and wonders still lives.