Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Whose Afraid of the Holy Spirit?"

There's a new book out, published by, entitled Whose Afraid of the Holy Spirit? An Investigation into the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today, ed. James Sawyer and Daniel Wallace. Here's a description of the book:

The origins of this book came in the early 1990’s when both editors (Jim Sawyer and Dan Wallace) were facing trauma in their lives and in the lives of their families—traumas that their rationalistic theological training had left them unequipped to deal with. According to Sawyer and Wallace, “The propositions of our theology left us cold, and failed to speak vitally to the pain we each felt. Independently, as scholars trained in the evangelical cessationist tradition we came to grips with the spiritual sterility of that tradition. As we shared our personal ‘war stories’ we discovered similar trajectories in the development of our understanding of the reality and necessity of the personal and existential work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Doctrine and biblical knowledge alone simply did not cut it.”

While not endorsing what they consider to be the excesses of Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, and the Third Wave, Sawyer and Wallace have embraced what they have tentatively called pneumatic Christianity. They contend that the way much of evangelical cessationism has developed is reactionary and reductionistic. Rather than focus upon scriptural images of the Holy Spirit as a presence deep within the soul of the believer, many cessationists have reactively denied experience in opposition to the Pentecostal overemphasis upon experience, which at times supplanted the revealed truth of scripture.

Gerald Bray and J.I. Packer, along with about a dozen others, contribute essays along these lines. Wayne Grudem wrote both a foreword and an afterword for the book. Here are some excerpts from his reaction and interaction:

This is a remarkable book. I came away thinking that there is much more common ground than I had realized between thoughtful, Bible-based cessationists and thoughtful, Bible-based Pentecostals, charismatics, and other evangelicals who believe the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit continue today…

My overall expectation is that the book will be widely welcomed among many in the cessationist tradition who have been longing for some biblically based, academically credible leaders to give them this kind of theologically sound argument for “progressive cessationism” (my term for what I read in this book), and thereby to give them a sort of permission to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work in various ways today. This may include being much more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s moment-by-moment guidance through the day, or praying with more expectant faith for the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work, or allowing times of personal and corporate prayer and praise to be much more filled with exuberant joy or sorrowful sobbing and weeping in response to the Holy Spirit’s presence, or talking openly with others about the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s life without fear of being accused of doctrinal error or dangerous subjectivism. If these things happen more frequently in cessationist circles, I am sure the authors would be thankful to God, and I believe that God also would be pleased because these things would be indications of a deeper personal relationship with himself….

What a remarkable book! I expect that its publication will mark a significant turning point in the ongoing debate over the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in the church today. It gives articulate expression to a kind of “progressive cessationism” that rightly safeguards the primacy and sufficiency and unique authority of Scripture in guiding our lives today, but that also leaves the door open for Christians to welcome the Holy Spirit to work in ways that have not been seen frequently in cessationist churches. And I think that charismatics, Pentecostals, and other non-cessationists who read this book will be surprised at how much common ground they find with these authors, not least in their evident love for our Lord Jesus Christ.