I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about the Holy Spirit lately. Having been in the Vineyard for a number of years, I have seen the good, bad and the ugly regarding how the Church understands and experiences the Spirit. (And I too have been guilty of all three.)
I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is essential for the Church to explore and recover the Spirit’s role within the context of God’s Story. Just as the contemporary Church needs to be re-evangelized into God’s Story regarding salvation, being the God’s people, Christ, and end-times, we must also be re-evangelized regarding the Spirit.
When we drift from the story, we experience what Gordon Fee describes:
“Historically, Spirit movements have a poor track record within the boundaries of more traditional ecclesiastical structures. From my perspective, the fault lies on both sides: reformers tend to burn structures and try to start over (and when they do they only create a new set of structures for the next Spirit movement to burn down); those with vested interests in the structures consequently tend to push Spirit movements to the fringe – or outside altogether. Thus there is a hardening of ‘orthodoxy,’ on the one hand, that tends to keep the Spirit safely domesticated within creeds and office; and on the other hand, when Spirit movements are forced (or choose) to exist outside the proven tradition(s) of the historic church, there is a frequent tendency to throw theological caution to the wind. The result all too often is a great deal of finger-pointing and name-calling, without an adequate attempt to embrace both the movement of the Spirit and existing tradition(s) simultaneously.”
In this state, our understanding and experience of the Spirit is disconnected from what the Spirit is all about within God’s Story. We can then become guilty of attributing something to the Spirit that may not be the Spirit, while completely missing the Spirit at other times.
I believe key to the renewed discussion of the Holy Spirit is a renewed discussion of God’s Story, especially as understood by Paul. He’s the one who provides us with the bulk of the New Testament witness about the Spirit’s life and power in God’s people. Again, Gordon Fee is helpful by providing the necessary starting point for this exploration:
“We [must] try to enter into the Pauline world at the one crucial place where his presuppositions tend to be radically different from those of the later church, but are the absolutely basic ‘theological’ or experiential framework for everything he experienced or thought. For Paul, through the resurrection of Christ and the subsequent gift of the Spirit, God himself had set the future inexorably in motion, so that everything in the ‘present’ is determined by the appearance of the ‘future.’ It is necessary for us to start here, not with ‘theology’ proper (the doctrine of God as such), because this is the experiential starting point for Paul and the early church.”
In other words, understanding the Spirit today requires us to understand the sweep of God’s Story, especially the final chapter. Before Christ, the Story seemed to be pushed from the creation story. But as we enter the chapter about Christ, the Story has gained momentum and climaxes. Now it is not being pushed from the past, but by being pulled from the future that God has set in motion. The future forms a kind of “tractor beam” upon creation, humanity and the Church, drawing us further toward the finale of God’s Story. It is within this momentum that we live our lives and in which the Spirit is at work.