Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?
I have a lot of knowledge about the Holy Spirit. I have a biblical basis for understanding his unique role in the Trinity. I know he is present in my life and guarantees my eternal salvation. He is my counselor and he empowers all Christians.
And yet I am afraid to talk about the Holy Spirit explicitly in daily life. I'm scared of miracles - of supernatural manifestations of the divine. I don't have 100% certainty of when I'm walking with the Spirit. I'm suspicious of people who claim to regularly experience the Spirit's power in a tangible way and the way they talk about it. I'm uncomfortable when Christians say "I felt the Spirit leading me. . ." I've always seen this lead-in as impossible to argue with and a spiritualized excuse to justify an action.
And yet it's good to express confidence in one's faith. And Jesus does indeed promise the Spirit will guide us into truth. And there's so much biblical evidence for what the Spirit does. So I, a struggling cessationist, find myself troubled by my skepticism about the Spirit - as if I have missed out on something vital concerning the Christian life. If a Christian worship gathering is just about expounding a text and giving encouragement, how is it any different from a TED talk? Where is the manifestation of the Spirit's power?
I used to call the Holy Spirit an "it". Like the way I referred to unborn babies before I became a parent. I know now he's not an "it" but sometimes I treat him like an "it". Having been brought up and now pastoring in a non-charismatic church context, the Holy Spirit has always resembled an untamed monster that has to kept properly restrained by the confines of scripture, reason, and tradition.
What happens if you let it loose? Havoc. Healing. Crazy things. Strange words coming out of people's mouths. People falling on the floor, slain by the invisible creature unleashed.
But if the Spirit is God then he cannot be a beast. He cannot be out of control and driven by manic impulses. So what am I afraid of?
I'm afraid of certain specific manifestations of the Spirit. I'm uncomfortable with healing, miracles, exorcisms, tongues, and prophecies. I'm not saying they're not possible. I'm not used to them and I have witnessed and heard about excesses and abuses. I don't pretend to have the discernment to know when the Spirit is leading and when He's not.
A friend lent me Francis Chan's Forgotten God (subtitle: Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit) recently. I got through half of it and it was quite good. Chan gives a wake-up call to the church to stop neglecting the confidence, intimacy, courage, and encouragement that comes from being led by the Spirit. The third member of the Trinity wants and has so much good for us. My only concern was the book, as with some of Chan's teaching I've heard, is that it places too strong an emphasis on how the Spirit is supposed to show up in our lives. Sometimes I feel Chan talks more about activity than identity. Chan repeatedly says that if we understood the Spirit then our lives would not look the way they do. I agree but focusing on the external manifestations feels like putting the cart before the horse. Everything the Spirit offers us is a byproduct of understanding our new creation identity in Christ. Living according to our identity in Christ IS living by the Spirit. They're inseparable and this presents a far more integrated vision of how the Spirit works in our lives. It's too easy to dichotomize the different persons of the Trinity when they always operate in unison. Unfortunately, my background lopped off the third person of the Trinity so addressing any specific aspects of the Spirit is going to feel awkward as I fumble around trying put his head back on his body.
I also have a couple friends who have also been on a journey out of cessationism. They're farther along than I am and I think they're scared too because even though the Spirit is controlled, he is unpredictable. For a couple years now, I've evaded materials they've shared with me. But now I'm ready to stop running away.
And here's what I'm convinced of: Our church doesn't talk much about the Spirit.
It's like sex.
Sure God made it but it's bad out of the right context and therefore we should avoid talking about it unless it's about what not to do. And we talk it/him intellectually and abstractly but we rarely mention how it/him is supposed to work. But not talking about it/him doesn't mean it/he will go away. I would rather we be explicitly opposed to charismatic teaching then remaining silent and pretending he just works covertly. God shines light and this exploration is important.
So it's time to start talking about him and how he's supposed to work. And since I have the Holy Spirit, I know I don't have to be afraid of him. What ultimately what I'm afraid of is having to change my conception of who God is. And that's both scary and exciting at the same time.