“Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to control your life, Alyssa Mae?”
My mom’s lips pressed into a thin line as she waited for an answer, sort of. This question was, around my house, rhetoric.
I had no good answer, just a stew of conflicting thoughts, but I wanted to be good, so I’d try and let the Holy Spirit control me, sort of. The fact is, I didn’t (don’t) really know how that was (is) supposed to happen. What does being “controlled by the Holy Spirit” look like? And, if I let him control me, does that mean I have to drink the kool-aid and be a Jesus Freak?
I knew about tongues of fire (Acts2:1-13) and I knew about the babbling charismatics. I knew about selfless servants who turned the other cheek so often they’d morphed into doormats. I knew about missionaries. I knew about those rare few people I’d met who were truly happy, joyful Christians. That last group of people seemed to have their souls dialed in with the Holy Spirit best. But how? How could I emulate them? Was it safe to do so?
Well, first of all, I’d have to stop being so rebellious, so inquisitive. I’d have to stop wanting my own way and questioning everything. Then I’d have to become willfully willing to extricate my will and thoughts and passions from my being in order to make room for the powerful Holy Spirit. Then, I’d have to open myself up to the risk of what he’d make me do: be a missionary? a submissive wife? an utterly fashion-bereft Sunday School teacher?
Nope. Not for me. I decided I didn’t care much for the Holy Spirit. God, the creator and father of all and final word on justice, on the other hand, well, I couldn’t deny his position. I accepted God the Father.
Jesus? He loved me. He was my savior and friend. He freed women from so much oppression, healed the lame and sick and befriended the marginalized. He died on the cross and rose again! I dug Jesus. So, I decided that if the Word of God, my Bible, was inspired (2 Timothy 3:16) by God (which the Holy-Spirit-fire-breather had something to do with) that I would look to the Bible to round out the trinity.
Because the Holy Spirit wanted to fill me, control me, direct my destiny, I avoided him.
And furthermore, just the idea of the Holy Spirit made me feel badly about myself. Scarlet-cheeked shame, a knot in my stomach, the whole shebang. I eventually cast off the idea of being a “good Christian” deciding it was impossible. I would be myself. After all, God the Father made me. Jesus saved me. The Bible told me that I couldn’t be separated from God’s love. So there.
Part of my problem with the Holy Spirit is that he hadn’t made a very good first impression. I couldn’t figure him out. Yes, I knew that Jesus poured out his spirit on the first century church, and that the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christians throughout the centuries and over the full-range of the earth meant that Jesus wasn’t a crazy cult-leader from the middle-east (I studied my Bible!). I knew that the Holy Spirit made this Christianity thing legit. Christianity stood the test of time and persecution, centuries of illiteracy, communism and humanism and all the other “isms” because of the Holy Spirit. The reality and power of the Holy Spirit lends street cred to Christianity.
But my own impression of the mysterious “Holy Ghost” –as my King James Bible so cryptically named him—resembled a disturbing piece of modern art.
I know now that I perceived the Holy Spirit through the lenses of others.
Imagine your curiosity if you knew you were to meet someone incredibly influential and powerful at a dinner party. Many of your friends knew him, but the information you got before the party was conflicting. Their descriptions left you wondering: is this a powerful guy or a sham, a con-artist? And why does everyone get so worked up about him? The Holy Spirit, poor third-member-of-the-Trinity, had a bad reputation before I ever really met him. I had issues with the Holy Ghost.
First, I was a Christian since roughly the time I could tie my shoes.
I never “experienced” the before and after sensation that converts to Christianity describe. I never knew darkness of soul, a deep loneliness or hopelessness before coming to Jesus as my savior. I believed because I was taught to believe. Later, when I chose to accept these beliefs as my own because I understood and made the decision with fuller maturity, I didn’t know what to do with this member of the godhead that so many others “experienced”. Plus, his determination to control me was repelling. Further, how could I experience the Holy Spirit without manufacturing that experience myself and if I did have a supernatural encounter with this member of the godhead would I have to lose all sense and logic and be an emotional charismatic?
Second, I was raised in a “cessationist” pedagogy in line with my Anabaptist roots (Grace Bretheren).
In seeming diametric opposition, cessation theology and experiential theology are camping on different sides of the Holy Spirit river.
Cessation theology in its basic terms insists that the more colorful manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, physical healing, and prophetic speech (or the uttering of new revelation or future events), through Christians filled with the spirit ceased after the apostolic age (after all the apostles, Paul, Peter, James, John, etc. died). The experiential approach to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit focuses more on the phenomenon of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of the believers, beginning at that crazy Pentecost where the wind whipped and the tongues of fire rested over their heads and everyone spoke different languages. This theology insists that phenomenological interaction between believer and the Holy Spirit continues on in ways that allows the Holy Spirit to do way more than merely control a person: he fills, and slays and empowers and leads that person into all manner of worship and ministry, as well as behavior.
This leads me to where I am today: an unconvinced cessationist, fully grounded in fundamental theology who attends a Four-Square denomination church that resides on the middle ground between the snake-handling Pentecostals and the “frozen chosen” fundamentalists. (Is there a Frozen joke here? Let it go?)
When a local pastor, Jeff Kennedy, told me about his upcoming book, Father, Son and the Other One, I was intrigued.
I’d like to make peace with the Holy Spirit. And while Jeff doesn’t claim to be writing the final, decisive word on the personality and work of the Holy Spirit, I appreciate his whole-God approach to exploring the question: “Who is the Holy Spirit and why should I care?”
This excerpt from the introduction shed light on the fact that I may not be alone in my search for understanding the Holy Spirit, that perhaps divisive stances on the theology surrounding his person are all a bit reductionist in attempting, with human understanding, to box in the ultimate power that cannot be contained: the Power of God.
“We must embrace the Spirit by faith. And this is sometimes risky business that will shred the safe nests we’ve feathered within the church. A comfort zone, by definition, is an anxiety-neutral space where we are never challenged and where we avoid anything that may be “unsafe”. But God never intended the Christian life to be anxiety-neutral. We need all of the resources of heaven to meet the challenges of “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).
After all, that’s were we spend most of our time.
That’s where we live.”
I know that I am steered by fear, that I seek anxiety-neutral situations nearly all the time. I don’t much care for drama. But I also know that to risk is to better understand what it means to live. To hover near the edge of death taught me that really experiencing life is more than merely drawing breath. So, as I read along in Jeff’s book, I hope you’ll join me as I blog (and digest) about this person of God who scares me, who is totally unsafe yet predictably perfect in nature, the mysterious Holy Spirit.
A little more about Jeff Kennedy and where you can get your own copy of Father, Son and the Other One.
Jeff Kennedy is the executive pastor of adult ministries and discipleship at Eastpoint, a large and thriving church in the Pacific Northwest. He also serves as an adjunct professor of religion at Liberty University Online. He holds a BA in biblical literature, a master of religion, master of religious education, and is finishing a doctoral degree in discipleship (he did!). When he is not teaching, writing, training leaders, or grading papers, he is spending time with his wife and four happy children.
(That’s from the back of the book – and wow! Jeff is a smart dude! But, I absolutely love his approachable, slightly irreverent even, writing style. He uses myriad illustrations and life-stories to illuminate the text. I think this is a smart, relevant read.)