Open to Every Which Way the Spirit Blows: a book review

Being open to the Spirit once meant, for me, attending a charismatic church. There the works of the Spirit were front and center—prayers for healing and deliverance, prophetic words, ecstatic utterance. It was good for me to be there, to cultivate an experiential openness and allow the winds of the Spirit to blow where they would. Unfortunately, not everything I’ve experienced and witnessed at that church was the move of the Holy Spirit. I witnessed poor discernment, unhealthy dynamics, and psychological manipulation. It took me years to sort out the difference between being open to the Spirit and just being weird.

McknightOpentotheSPiritScot McKnight’s Open to the Spirit is a great overview of how to cultivate an openness to the Spirit’s movement, that attends to the Spirit’s purposes for us. McKnight is a New Testament scholar, and professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, author of a gazillion Christian books and is a popular blogger at Patheos. This is a popular level book designed to help ordinary readers enter into and appreciate what it means to be open to the Spirit. Nevertheless, McKnight is a New Testament scholar and he seeks throughout to root his description of the Spirit’s work in the biblical text, and where appropriate, he interacts with various other biblical scholars (notably, Gordon Fee, Jimmy Dunn, Jack Levison, NT Wright, Daniel Wallace, Monica Coleman), but this remains a non-technical book, with plenty of personal examples from  McKnight’s faith journey.

McKnight explores being open to the Spirit in five areas. In Part 1, he describes being open to the voice of the Spirit (e.g., the Spirit’s witness in pointing us to Jesus, in the written words of Scripture, in prophetic utterance, and in the Spirit’s wordless, groaning intercession for us). In Part 2, he discusses being open to the Spirit’s new creation in us (e.g., God’s presence in our lives, in the Pentecost, in a new baptism, in our transforming inner self and in giving us new power).

Part 3 talks about being open to the Spirit in Christian community, in inspiring the cruciform style of Christian leadership in the way of Jesus, and in an other-oriented spirituality of love. Part 4 explores what it means to be open to the Spirit’s sanctifying work—the assurance of life in Christ, our growth in freedom and holiness (e.g. the ‘fruit of the Spirit) and living towards the good.

Finally, part 5 explores being open to the victory the spirit brings over sin, victory in communication (e.g. tongues, prayer, and evangelism), victory over sin and death, victory over demonic powers, structural evil and victory in worshipping God.

Because McKnight focuses on the role of the Spirit in the Bible (with a special focus on the New Testament), he acknowledges and describes charismatic phenomenon without laying the emphasis on the strange and esoteric. McKnight’s emphasis is always on what the Spirit of God wants to accomplish in us if we allow ourselves to be open to the Spirit’s multifaceted work in our lives. Each chapter explores a dimension of the Spirit’s work and closes with a question asking if we are open to the Spirit’s work (e.g. “Are you open to the Spirit who speaks in the Living Word and takes you to Jesus?” – pg 27; “Are you open to the Holy Spirit who brings you new power?”- pg 95; “Are you open to the wild freedom of the Spirit?” -pg 147; “Are you open to the Spirit who grants victory in communication, sometimes in miraculous ways?” -pg 179.

Three times McKnight includes a prayer of openness to the Spirit for readers to pray as they read (in the introduction, on page 70, and on page 204):

Lord, I am open to the Holy Spirit.

Holy Spirit, Come to me, dwell in me, speak to me

so I may become more like Christ.

Lord, give me the courage to be open,

Lord I am open to the Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit


McKnight’s goal is that in reading the stories he shares (his own and others) and in reflecting on the Spirit’s movement throughout the biblical text, we will be open and the Spirit of God would move in us. This is a good book to read prayerfully and expectantly. Are you open to the Spirit? Sometimes the Spirit moves in weird ways, but always with the purpose of bringing us into a deeper experience of the Kingdom of God. McKnight names the way the Spirit directs, intercedes, inspires, renews, brings intimacy with God, knits Christian community together, and compels us to work toward healing and justice, to the glory of God.  I give this five stars. – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from the blogging for books program and Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my honest review.


Putty in Christ’s Hands: a book review

Putty Putman, AKA “Heart-throb” Rob Putman (okay, maybe just Rob Putman, I don’t know), was finishing up his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the University of Illinois when the reality of the Holy Spirit came rushing into his life. Today. he is the founding director of the School of Kingdom Ministry (SoKM) in Urbana, Illinois, as well as serving in leadership roles in preaching and executive teams for the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. He wrote Living Like Jesus: Discovering the Power & Impact of Your True Identity to help Christian’s experience more fully the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst, and the experience of forgiveness, righteousness, and authority Christ offers as we share in his Divine Presence and are transformed into His likeness.

9780800798529Putman aims at enlarging our vision of the gospel of Jesus (chapter 1). In chapter 2 he describes the gospel he thought he knew—Jesus the sin sacrifice for humanity. He acknowledges that this is part of the gospel, but he posits that this doesn’t give us a full picture of the life in the New Covenant which Jesus ushered in.  In chapter 3, he examines how the Fall (Genesis 3) turned humans into broken image bearers, caused our loss of dominion (because we handed it over to Satan), and broke our relationship with God (61-62).  Chapter 4 discusses how the problems present in the Fall were addressed in Jesus (our identity and authority restored, and we now live with Christ in us.

These first four chapters, provide kind of the theoretical framework for what follows. In chapters 5 through 7, Putnam describes how the gospel transforms us: makes us new, gives us a new nature,  and forgives us and frees us from the demands of ‘the law.’ In chapter 8, Putnam explores the reality of the Kingdom of God as a demonstration of God’s power, made evident primarily through signs, wonders and the driving out demons. In chapter 9 through 10, he encourages us to walk in the reality of Christ living in us, transforming us into his likeness, us living from this new center, and bringing God’s presence with us wherever we go.

There are a number of things about this book I want to commend. First off, one of the ways Charismatic Christians challenge me, in a good way, is to be expectant about seeing God’s supernatural activity in this world, now. Putnam, expects God to act in his life. He expects Christ’s presence to transform a believer’s life. This kind of expectancy is really good. Secondly, I think Putnam names the problem of a too narrow definition of the gospel (e.g., sin management and getting into heaven when you die), and posits a bigger, more expansive vision of what life in Christ is like—a lifestyle characterized by Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s authority, and Christ’s divine presence. There is something inspiring about that! Third, I think Putnam’s emphasis on our transformation into Christ’s likeness is profoundly right. Fourth, there is a missional awareness in Putnam’s writing of how we carry Christ’s presence to the world. This is all very good.

Nevertheless, I had some issues with the book. While I applaud Putnam’s widening of the gospel, from a Shekinah-Pie-in-the-Sky-when-you-die promise to something more expansive and transformative, he doesn’t interact with much biblical scholarship, some of which would have sharpened his case. For example, N.T. Wright, Matthew Bates, Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard have all wrote important books widening our understanding of what the gospel is. The only one of these guys referenced is Scot McKnight, briefly, in a Christianity Today article (not The King Jesus Gospel or a Fellowship of Differents). These scholars would sharpen his vision of the New Covenant we are called to live in. In fact, Putnam’s book is almost wholly lacking in any substantive references.  His biblical languages references are Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s, and The Blue Letter Bible, with no more recent or comprehensive scholarship in biblical languages, theology, or biblical studies. There are 5 good quotes from church fathers on page 168, though, sp I guess that’s something.

Also, I find it problematic that he prioritizes signs and wonders, and deliverance as ‘the Kingdom of God.’ Clearly these are meant as signs of the kingdom which demonstrate God’s authority, but by seeing them as the central, and fundamental demonstration of the Kingdom (in opposition to Satan), Putnam spiritualizes and depoliticizes the kingdom language of the Gospels (Gospel is also political language in the first century, but not covered here). He calls on Christians to pray for healing (which I do), but social concern seems to take a back seat to these more otherworldly, supernatural demonstrations of power. He does eventually get to social transformation:

The Kingdom is bigger than healing, deliverance, or prophecy. It  includes financial breakthrough and social equality. It involves people growing in the wisdom of God and finding innovative solutions to the problems of society. It includes people coming into relationship with Jesus and broken familes and relationships made whole. (154).

But while the end result may be social change, “The first link in the chain is the miraculous, and the miraculous is meant to be woven through all facets of the Kindom of God, redefining our world” (154). Perhaps, but Jesus wasn’t crucified for healing the blind and the lame. He was crucified for chasing the money lenders out of the temple, for challenging the status quo, and unsettling the powerful from their thrones. There is a political dimension to the Gospel of the Kingdom that is under-represented here.

Thirdly,  I am occasionally troubled by the direction Putnam goes with his theology. For example, he argues that the Law (Torah) was not God’s original intent for Israel but was given to them as an afterthought when the Exodus community was too afraid to approach God (Ex 20):

The Israelites asked for a different relationship from what God intended. They basically told Moses, “We don’t want to be priests. We want you to be priests. we want you  to be the priest. We don’t want direct access to God. We want something between God and us to protect us because He’s scarey” (125).

So, according to Putnam, God gave Israel Torah as a concession and it was not part of his intent. The Law brought wrath and Israel now needed a redeemer because the Law introduced the notion of keeping score (128). If you follow the logic, Putnam makes it sound like the cross because of a necessity because of something God did, and not fundamentally because of God’s plan for human redemption. This is antinomian and it problematizes Jewish spirituality. Jesus came not to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5: 17). I can’t follow Putnam too far down the road.

Fourthly, I simply don’t buy every charismatic experience that Putnam describes in this book. It is not that I don’t think that God can’t or does not heal. But when Putnam describes how he felt his vertebrae come apart while he was playing with his daughter, and was healed at the moment he thought: Jesus lives in me, I call B.S. (Bible Study) on his whole anecdote (170). This sounds too Word of Faith-ish for my tastes.

So while I liked elements of this book, I still found enough that bothered me. In the end, I could only give this a middle of the road review, three stars. – ★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review

Treasure in ‘Dark’ Places: a book review

I grew up in the Christian Missionary Alliance and I love a good missionary biography. They tell the story of those on the field, giving all, and living sacrificially to share the good news about Jesus. They speak of trusting God and seeing the miraculous, alleviating suffering and seeing real transformation in people’s lives and in whole communities. So I picked up Leanna Cinquanta’s book, Treasures in Dark Places, with interest, looking to see the way God worked through her ministry to set people free, including some of the over 25, 000 girls abducted annually in the region of Northern India where she serves as a missionary.  Cinquanta founded TellAsia Ministries and through her influence, more than 10,000 churches have been planted in areas which are only 5% Christian. I was excited to here about her work there and the ways she trains up indigenous leaders to do the work of the gospel.

9780800798161And she does tell about some of that in her book. Treasure in Dark Places speaks of her call to missions, and her experience of the supernatural at home and abroad. She shares some stories from the mission field nd she tells of growing up and feeling the call towards missions, some of her experiences of God along the way (prophecy, miracles, etc).

However, I felt like this book was more about her than about the mission itself. I heard her story of her call, but the mission was vague on the details and I am fuzzy as to what she actually does to combat sex trafficking in Northern India. There are few disconnected stories.

I am a crypto-charismatic and I like hearing stories about the miraculous. However, I didn’t feel like I was offered much in the way of a compelling narrative here. The details are too sparse, and we hear dramatic encounters but not much on the hard work of ongoing relationships. On the plus side, Cinquata does refer to the people she encounters in India as God’s treasures whom she is working to liberate. This mitigates some of my discomfort with calling a region of dark-skinned people a spiritually dark place (though it still bugs me).

In the end, I just didn’t connect with this book but I am glad for the mission and the ways Cinquata has extended the welcome of God’s Kingdom in northern India. The book itself I give two stars.

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review

Spirit Empowered Theology: a book review

With over 65 years in ministry and with conviction and experience of the Spirit moving in power Charles Carrin, D.D. has compiled a one-volume resource aimed at helping ordinary Christians understand, articulate, and experience the Christian life.

9780800798178  Spirit-Empowered Theology is comprised of 300 questions organized under headings which are roughly reminiscent of a traditional systematic theology. Carrin discusses who God is, who we are, the nature of Scripture, the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection,  the Kingdom of God, the Church, the five-fold offices of the church, Spiritual gifts, deliverance ministries, the foundations of faith, doctrinal variations, various heresies, God’s plan for Israel, significant events and people in Christian history,  Creationism, the Covenant and the meaning of various terms.

As this is a concise overview of the Christian Faith, theology, history and practice (from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective), the answers to the 300 questions Carrin poses are brief. Carrin has an index but no bibliography or footnotes (though he obviously referenced a number of works in compiling this resource).  His consulting editors include John and Carol Arnott, Bill Johnson, Stephen Chitty, R.T. Kendall, Randy Clark, Michael Peterson, Leif Hetland and Jack Taylor (19).  This list favors pastors and practitioners who are open to manifestations of the Spirit (Kendall may be the one theologian in the mix). Notably absent from the list are folks like Amos Yong, Wolfgang Vondey, Frank Macchia, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen or other scholars from a maturing Charismatic/Pentecostal academia. Even Wayne Grudem’s charismatic friendly Systematic Theology is never referenced. This isn’t so much a criticism but an observation. This may be a ‘theology’ but it is conceived as a practical resource, not an academic tome.

Carrin’s theology affirms traditional Christian doctrine: God is One and Three, revealed to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. Salvation comes through trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord and the efficacy of his death and resurrection, the Bible is God’s Word and contains the truth about God, Jesus, us, the world, and the coming Kingdom.  As a ‘Spirit-Empowered’ resource, Carrin emphasizes the experiential dimension of the Christian life (i.e. signs and wonders, prophesy, healing, Spiritual gifts, deliverance, etc). This Charismatic perspective pervades and there is no pretended objectivity on this point.  For example, after a matter of fact summary of What cessationism is (146-47), Carrin writes, “This is religious absurdity. Ignore it.” (147).  It is also pretty clear that he favors an Arminian perspective over Calvinism (207-209).

The Christian history sections (Part 14 and 15) are underwhelming for me. Carrin does a nice job of highlighting significant moments in Christian history, but with 1-5 paragraphs per entry, these events are brief sketches without much color. The profiles of significant figures in Christian history are even briefer (a paragraph apiece). You could find out more about these events and people from Wikipedia (and in many cases actually have footnotes to chase down for research). There is more a chronology of events/people as good historiography would give more in the way of context and analysis. As a lover of Church history, this section of the book is a disappointment, though it was interesting to see which events/people Carrin chose to highlight.

There are other aspects of the book where I didn’t find myself in complete agreement with Carrin (i.e. his discussions of science and Israel come to mind). However, I think a resource like this which provides Charismatic laity with practical and pastoral answers to theological questions is to be applauded. With the brevity of answers, this almost a ‘bathroom reader’ of Charismatic theology.  It is also an at-a-glance resource when particular questions arise. I appreciate Carrin’s summary of (his perspective on) demonology, demonism and Spiritual warfare.

I give this book three-and-a-half stars and recommend it for Charismatic lay folk. If theology and church history is your jam, you will find Carrin overly brief, and lacking in nuance on a number of points. However, if just want a quick resource which is traditional, responsible and friendly to a charismatic worldview (and open to the Spirit’s movement), this is a good book for you.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Ministering with Power: a book review

I met Jordan Seng once. I  have friends who attend his church and have wonderful things to say about him, but our only meeting was while I was part of a leadership class at Bible Institute Hawaii.  Seng came and lectured on supernatural ministry and had us pray for healing for our classmates.  While I questioned parts of what he shared with us that evening, I remember feeling disarmed by his humble and gracious demeanor.

Seng’s new book, Miracle Work describes his approach to supernatural ministry.  Seng encourages Christians to pursue the power to work miracles–to heal the sick, cast out demons, deliver prophetic words and intercede with power.  Seng admits that talking about the supernatural is kind of ‘out there’ (7), but he sees the value in trusting God to work his power in people’s life. This book is subtitled “a down-to-earth guide to supernatural ministries,” and Seng is relatively down-to-earth, you know, for a prophetic type with a PhD.  He weaves together practical advice for doing direct supernatural ministry with anecdotes of the Lord’s power at work in his ministry and congregation.

So how does one get the power to work miracles? Seng presents what he calls ‘the power equation” (and apologizes for how cheesy and infomercial-like that sounds)(55). The power equation is

    Authority + Gifting + Faith + Consecration = Power

Seng isn’t arguing that power comes with mathematical precision, but his approach acknowledges multiple variables in effecting miracles (contra some ‘word of faith’ teaching). ‘Authority’ is derivative and comes through walking in obedience to God. ‘Gifting’ denotes that people are uniquely gifted by God for particular ministries (i.e. the gift of healing, the gift of prophesy, etc.). The ‘faith’ of the minister and the recipient also  impact our capacity for miracles. ‘Consecration’ describes a process of self sacrifice by which increases our ability to minister with power. Seng’s equation illustrates that a multiplicity of factors combine together to make up (Christian) spiritual power. A person may not have the gift of healing, but because of their faith, their consecrated life and their lifestyle of obedience, God may work healing through them. Conversely, a gifted prophet may ‘lose’ power by not attending to their spiritual health or healing can happen even when there is a lack of faith. The Bottom line is the things that help you cultivate intimacy with God also increase your power to minister in His name (74).

There are lots of stories through out the book but in five practical chapters Seng describes the various supernatural ministries. There is a chapter on healing, deliverance ministry (casting out demons), prophecy, intercession and receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What sets Seng’s book apart from other primers on supernatural ministry, is his avoidance of prescribed method or technique. He doesn’t have ‘magic words’ or ‘special prayers.’  Even when he does give a ‘technique,’ he is careful to note the secondary importance of method. In his chapter on healing, he writes:

Technique is not the key  to healing; having the Supernatural power of the Lord is the key.  But we have to go about healing in some fashion and we will probably benefit from some basic approach to build and adjust as opportunities for power present themselves.

So, here is a model

1. Locate a sick person.

2. Place a hand on their shoulder and say,  “In the name of Jesus, be healed.”

That is pretty much it. (87)

Of course there is a lot of practical advice given along the way and some of it sounds suspiciously like ‘technique.’ For example. Seng commends ministers of healing to  build the faith of those we are ministering to by  sharing testimonies of healing (88-90).  This sounds like a technique to  me. But mostly Seng just encourages readers to set about practicing supernatural ministry and growing in it by doing it.  Because he values authenticity in ministry, Seng exhorts pastors to share both their victories and defeats (i.e. failed healing, botched prophecies, etc). because it builds trust and helps teach ‘the congregation to help with confirmation and discernment’ (158-9).

This is a thoughtful book and and I enjoyed reading some of Seng’s stories. Because I have trusted friends who attend his church, I find I trust Seng’s account of supernatural ministry. I believe he has participated in healing, deliverance and prophetic ministries and has been fruitful in doing it.  Reading this book makes me excited about what God can and will do for those who risk following him in this type of ministry.  This book made me hunger for more of the Spirit’s presence and power in my life.

That being said, I didn’t always buy his theological account of miracles and how to gain spiritual power. Occasionally I thought his use of scripture was more ‘proof texting’ than helpfully illustrating his points.  I also wonder if he gives any space for a ‘theology of weakness.’ For Seng, ‘healing is the default position.’ However I think of the thorn in Paul’s flesh he describes in 2 Corinthians 12 and how his wounds taught him the sufficiency of God’s grace. But I can agree with Seng that Christians sometimes are too quick to excuse their powerlessness in the face of suffering rather than risking to alleviate it..

My misgivings aside, I still give this book four stars. Seng has written one of the most thoughtful, practical and accessible guides to supernatural ministry.  While I demur from aspects of his theology, he still inspires me to pray bolder for more of the Lord’s power in my life and ministry. I value his witness as a practitioner more than his theology. If you read this, I promise you will be challenged to minister in the power of Christ.

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

What Would Dawkins Do?: a book review

Charles Sheldon’s book In His Steps inspired many Christians to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” if Jesus were in your situation. Author Robbie Dawkins turns that question on its head in his book, Do What Jesus DidWhile Sheldon’s classic novel focused on living out your faith with integrity and modeling your character on the life of Christ, Dawkins has a somewhat different tack. Dawkins urges Christians to actually do what Jesus did–things like healing the sick, speaking prophetic words, casting out demons or raising the dead.  It isn’t that Dawkins doesn’t appreciate how Christ models moral perfection for us to imitate, but he challenges Christians to experience the supernatural character of the Kingdom of God.

Dawkins is the pastor of a Vineyard church in Aurora, Illinois which ministers among the urban poor. In his capacity as pastor (and police chaplain for the city of Aurora) he has witnessed God change the lives of  all kinds of people (including leaders of the notorious Latin Kings gang).  God’s supernatural healing has broken into people’s lives as Dawkins (and other members of his church have prayed). He has seen people delivered from demonic oppression and God has blessed people through prophetic words. In this book, he offers practical advise for entering into supernatural ministry (in the tradition of John Wimber’s Power Evangelism).

Whenever I read a book like this that is chocked full of stories of healing and deliverance,  my first reaction is to be a little skeptical. I didn’t  know of Robbie Dawkins before reading this book and some of his stories are outlandish (as all miracle stories are). However Dawkins doesn’t just include success stories. There are stories of heartbreak and failure as well. In Dawkins’s chapter on raising the dead, he tells a succession of stories about praying for people to be raised from the dead, but none of the people he prays for are raised.  Dawkins talks about this as ‘pushing to failure,’ borrowing a term from the weightlifting world. In other words he says we should train ourselves by praying risky prayers for big things (like raising the dead), and we will grow in our capacity to see God move miraculously. There is a certain amount of practical wisdom in this: if you want to see God move miraculously in the lives of your community, then you should habitually pray for it.

I liked this book and hearing how God is working in Aurora was inspiring.  There are areas of this book I would critique (for example, I am suspicious of the reliance on techniques to effect miracles); yet I appreciated the tenor of this book. I am a quiet charismatic and affirm the reality of healing, deliverance, and prophecy for today. I appreciated Dawkins balanced presentation, though I felt the character/moral aspects of Jesus’ life were under-emphasized.  Dawkins comments several times how ‘if God can use him, he can use anyone.’ This is a humble and true statement about God, but can easily become an excuse for not developing one’s own character.  I think we should pursue holiness with the same tenacity that Dawkins pursues the supernatural.  These  criticisms aside, I give this book 4 stars.

I received this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review.