We Got Spirit, Yes We Do: a book review

Every year Wheaton college hosts their annual Theology Conference. These gatherings host scholars discussing pertinent theological topics. While Wheaton and its conference are broadly evangelical, they gather an impressive range of scholars from various biblical, historical or theological disciplines and church traditions. The 2014 conference, The Spirit of God: Christian Renewal in the Community of Faithhas just been published by IVP Academic (edited by Jeffrey Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones). In it, you will find historic, fresh and challenging perspectives on the Holy Spirit and his work in the church and world.

Part one of the book, explores biblical and historical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. In chapter two Sandra Richter gives a ‘bird’s-eye-view’ of the work of the Holy Spirit through out Scripture. In chapter three, Gregory Lee compares the pneumatology of Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo, representative voices from East and West, discovering a great deal of commonality. In chapter four, Mattew Levering examines Thomas Aquainas’s theology regarding the Filoque clause that was added to the Western version of the Nicaea-Constantinople creed. In chapter five, Jeffrey Barbeau recovers the pneumatological insights implicit in Charles Wesley’s conversion (on Pentecost, May 21, 1738–a few days before John Wesley’s famous Aldersgate conversion). In chapter six, Oliver Crisp describes the insights of Reformed Pneumatology. Chapters seven and eight describe the Pentecostal movement. Allan Heaton Anderson profiles the global Pentecostal movement, Estrelda Alexander focuses on the African American Pentecostal experience.

Part two explores doctrinal and practical perspectives on the Holy Spirit. Chapter nine wrestles with the role of the Spirit in hermeneutics. Here, Kevin Vanhoozer expertly untangles the lack of pneumatology in many approaches to biblical interpretation and presents the crucial, formative role the Spirit has. In chapter ten Amos Yong explores the Spirit’s role in creation and Michael Welker does the same for salvation in chapter eleven. Geoffrey Wainwright presents the Spirit’s role in the liturgy of the church (chapter twelve). Doug Petersen talks about Pentecostals and social justice (chapter thirteen). In chapter fourteen, Timothy George explores the Spirit’s role in Christian Unity. The concluding essay (by Barbeau and Beth Felker Jones) argues three basic premises: (1) The Christian life should reflect our worship of the Triune God, (2) Christian theology is fully pneumatological and (3) Christian practice should be characterized by love.

Like all multi-author works, there are some stand out essays. Barbeau’s essay about Methodism and Charles Wesley’s contributions to pneumatology is quite good. As is Vanhoozer’s recovery of the Holy Spirit for hermeneutics. I found both of these chapters insightful–the first for offering an anatomy of conversion with an eye toward the Spirit’s work, the second for making hermeneutics spiritual. Yet my favorite chapter is Crisp’s presentation on Reformed pneumatology. Crisp hones in on the Spirit’s role in uniting us to God (and the Reformed, dogmatic presentation of that), and he offers two principles. The first is the Trinitarian Appropriation Principle (TAP) which posits that where one person of the Trinity is at work, all members are likewise at work (99-100). The Intentional Application Principle (IAP) claims that the aim at every Divine action is the telos, our union with God and the transformation of creation at the end of  the age (101). The second principle names the peculiar pneumatelogical dimension to God’s work. While Crisp extrapolates from the Reformed Tradition (Calvin and Brunner, and the various confessions), these are insights appropriate for the whole church. Beyond these three chapters, the essays are generally still quite good.

Unity in diversity is especially important in a volume devoted to the  Holy Spirit’s work. Of the fourteen contributors to this volume, three are people of color and three are women. The ecclesial diversity is somewhat greater. One of the contributors is Catholic, there are Pentecostals, Reformed, Methodists, and a Baptist (this book may be more ecclesially diverse than this, I am not sure of everyone’s denominational affiliation). Lacking is a Greek Orthodox perspective on pneumatology, though at least a couple of essays present on and interact with Orthodox perspectives (see especially Lee and Levering’s chapters). There also is not a Mennonite pneumatology here. I’m not sure what the specific Mennonite contribution would be, but since that tradition has helped shape my Christology and ethics I am curious about what Anabaptism may bring to the discussion.So certainly this group may have been more diverse, but it still does a fairly good job of presenting a good cross section of theological perspectives.

This is not a scholarly monograph but a collection of essays (originally lectures). The authors do not agree on every point, in either theology or historical detail. Still books like this give you a taste of various perspectives. I thouroughly enjoyed this romp through (mostly) Evangelical pneumatology. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Forty Days for Breathing Deeply: a book review

A few years ago I read Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for the Inspired Life. I wrote a gushing review of it.  My enthusiasm for that book was due in part to the way Levison unfolded the mystery of the Spirit’s presence in scripture in a number of ways, and connected it to everyday life. While my previous run-ins with the Holy Spirit focused on his role in convicting us for sin, empowering us for mission, and ecstatic experience, Levison helped me enlarge my frame to see how the Spirit sustains us with his breath, and is active not only through ‘events’ but through habits, decisions (and a lifetime of decisions), and meditation. Levison also explored how the Spirit poured himself out on God’s people (not just individuals but communities). While Fresh Air was a popular level book but full of rich insights

It is about three years later and I am again reading Levison. This time it is a devotional, 40 Days with the Holy Spirit. In forty daily readings, Levison reflects on Spirit’s presence and activity in the Bible through seven verbs:

  • Breathing– the ruach, Spirit Breath, which sustains each of us.
  • Praying–the listening, receiving and Abba-whisper of the Spirit.
  • Practicing–the long-haul of Spiritual formation.
  • Learning–the way meditating ( gnawing) on the Scripture opens us up to a deeper experience of the Spirit.
  • Leading–How the Spirit inspires, equips, sustains, empowers leaders.
  • Building–How the Spirit forms (and re-forms) vibrant communities of faith.
  • Blossoming–How the Spirit transforms us into what we were meant to be.

Each of the forty entries begins with a scripture, a brief meditation from Levison on the theme, a space for personal reflection and a space to ‘breathe’–a short prayer to the Holy Spirit.

As with Fresh Air, I am inspired by the texts that Levison includes here. The devotional format demands a slow read and thoughtful lingering. Also Levison’s meditations treat forty different scriptural passages. He is a perceptive reader and he treats some ‘Spirit’ passages that are overlooked (i.e. looking at the Spirit-breath of Job, how the faithfulness of Joseph allows him to exhibit the Spirit, the intimacy of Jesus’ breath in the Johannine Pentecost, etc). Also Levison’s prayers are artful and inspiring. Where I am not always a ‘devotional’ guy, I felt drawn in by Levison’s depth and insight.

Often when we talk about what it means to be ‘Spirit Filled’ we hold up a small dimension of the Spirit’s work in our lives. This book will lead you deeper into the life of the Spirit where we will encounter his wisdom, his inspiration, his daily teaching, his empowerment, his sustaining us through suffering, his enabling us to persevere and grow in grace, his guidance, his constituting community his transformative work. . .  If you are looking for a devotional which will enlarge your vision (and experience) of God, look no further. Five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

On Having a Prayer Life: a book review

I had a mentor once who warned me of the danger of reading about prayer without praying. There is no shortage of books on prayer which describe prayer’s power, methodology, theology and practice. I have found many of these books thought-provoking and a few inspiring. But some books remain opaque to me–either too deep for me to grasp with my own shallow practice of prayer or too dry to set my heart ablaze. Mary Kate Morse has written a book on prayer which is theologically rich, warmly invitational and inspirational. A Guidebook to Prayer presents twenty-four ways to deepen your relationship with God and enter into the practice of prayer.

Morse describes prayer as ‘a love relationship involving the interdependent union of the Trinity’ (17).  Thus she doesn’t emphasize the duty of prayer but the way we attend to our relationship with Him. She says, “Rather than asking ourselves, ‘am I praying each day?’ we should ask ourselves, ‘Am I in a love relationship with God today? Am I living like Jesus today? Do I smell the sweet breath of the Spirit today?'”(17).

This focus on how prayer cultivates our friendship with God is a welcome alternative to approaches that treat prayer instrumentally (i.e. what does prayer do?) or in a utilitarian way (i.e. what do I get out of praying?). Instead Morse invites us to see prayer as our participation in the life of the Trinity.  A Trinitarian framework for thinking about prayer is the organizational framework for her book. The Twenty four ways of ‘praying’ are presented under the headings: ‘God the Father,’ ‘God the Son,’ and ‘God the Holy Spirit.’

In Part One, Morse  focuses on the Fatherhood of God. She begins with a  ‘community prayer’ which evokes  both the divine community (The Oneness of God) and the ways God’s people have publicly prayed as a community for millennia (the unity of the Church). She includes both Jewish prayer (i.e. Praying the Psalms, the shema ) and praying set prayers with a prayer book (i.e. The Divine Hours, Common Prayer, etc.).  Morse reflects on various attributes (His holiness, His loving-kindness,  His Worthiness) and activities of God (His creation, His resting, His activity) as invitations to different ways of prayer. She describes ‘creative prayer’ (making something as an act of prayer), work prayer (praying as part of your vocation, contemplative prayer, confession, blessing and worship.

Part Two reflects on Jesus’ example. The incarnation invites us into a whole new way of being. Praying in Jesus name means experiencing Him in his Humanity, in His lordship, in His servant nature–as reconciler, as love embodied, as teacher, as sufferer, as savior and as the head of the body. The prayers in this section invite us into a whole new way of being drawing on Christ’s example. Morse presents some classic prayer practices (i.e. the daily examen, lectio divina, the sacraments) with other prayers which invite us to put on the character of Christ. With Jesus we are invited to pray (and live) simply, as servants. At times this means we pray playfully aware that God is with us in our joys. But we enter into suffering and relinquish our need to be in control, learning that God is with us in our sorrows.

Part three describes the experiential dimension to our prayer life in the Spirit. The prayers that Morse collects in this section explore the Spirit’s ministry of intercession, discernment and guidance. The Spirit is what enables to experience God’s presence, His protection and deep joy. Thus the prayers in this section invite us to receive from God.

I find the Trinitarian framework helpful and inspiriting. I read this book with an eye towards practice and have attempted some of the prayer exercises that Morse suggests for individuals. However, each chapter includes suggestions for practice in groups, or with partners. This makes this an ideal resource for small groups,  prayer-partners, or really anyone seeking to deepen their relationship with God. Morse really has a gift for presenting these practices in a way that includes seasoned pray-ers and spiritual neophytes. This is the sort of resource that is accessible to anyone wishing to enter the life of prayer. But this a book meant to practiced and not just read.

Morse has G. K. Chesterton quote at the beginning of her introduction which says, “The difference between talking about prayer and praying is the same as the difference between blowing a kiss and kissing.” More so for those of us who are perennial ‘readers of prayer books.’ We are even further removed from the conversation. I am a better reader than I am a pray-er. However Morse’s book has inspired me and I have made plans to do each of the partner exercises with my wife over the coming weeks. This book holds out a means to deepen our prayer-life and our participation in the life of the Triune God. I give this 5 stars: ★★★★★

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

The Holy Spirit in the Catholic Tradition: a book review.

As the publishing arm of the ecumenical Community of Jesus, Paraclete has published a number of books from a range of theological traditions. Their Holy Spirit series boasts books from the Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal traditions. I have reviewed a number of these books here before and have found them immensely helpful. A few of these books are downright fabulous! Jack Levison’s Fresh Air and Amos Yong’s Who is the Holy Spirit? are standout volumes but every single volume is good.  Each book manages to illuminate the Spirit in a way that honors their peculiar denominational tradition. These are lay-friendly books, but they are theologically astute.

The Gift: Discovering the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Tradition lives up to the quality of other books in this series. Alan Schreck, professor  of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville is a specialist in Catholic doctrine, church history and the teachings of Vatican II; however this is not just a book about Catholic dogma. Schreck has an eye for how we can deepen our spiritual experience by praying for the Spirit to do his work in our lives.

In seven chapters, Schreck synthesizes the wisdom of the Catholic understanding of the the Spirit. In chapter one he describes  the person of the Holy Spirit as presented in Holy Scripture and in the Tradition.  He describes what the Old and New Testament say about the Spirit, what the Councils and Creeds came to declare about the personhood of the Spirit and the Augustinian understanding which was most influential in the Western Church. Chapter two examines the history of Catholic devotion to the Spirit. Schreck describes various orthodox movements which sought to emphasize the Spirit.

Chapters three though five describe the ministry of the Spirit. Chapter three focuses on truth, chapter four focuses on holiness and sanctification and chapter five expounds on gifts of the Holy Spirit.  While every Christian would agree that the Spirit leads us into all truth, convicts us of sin and leads us to be transformed in the image of Christ and gifts us for ministry and mission. Schreck illuminates a Catholic understanding of the Spirit’s role in each of these. The Spirit leads us into truth and empowers us to speak it boldly, but ecumenism that denies or downplays truth revealed to the church should be questioned.  Holiness is the goal of the Christian life, but in the Catholic understanding, this is described by our cooperation with God in the grace he has given us through the Spirit. The Spirit gives gifts to individuals and orders of the church, but Schreck demonstrates how we are to understand this in relationship to the institutional church.

In chapter six, Schreck describes the relationship between the Spirit, the church and Mary. Church was birthed at Pentecost and is constituted by the Spirit and his work. Mary is the first disciple and member of the church. In the Catholic tradition, Mary intercedes for us to the Father, but whatever grace is in her is derivative. She is the recipient of God’s grace and exemplary for her fiat to the incarnation (her ‘yes’ to God).  Like the Spirit, Mary points us to Jesus, the Divine Son of God. Mary is not to be understood as the Third person of the Trinity or someone who usurps the Spirit’s role, but as the prime example of someone who cooperates with God and reveals the maternal aspects of God’s character.

In the final chapter Schreck discusses the Spirit in the Catholic church today. He focuses on the Catholic charismatic movement and the emphasis of Vatican II on the Spirit’s work. Schreck gives a generous and a positive assessment of these while acknowledging that many Catholics will not feel called to join up with movements devoted to the Spirit’s work. Nevertheless all Catholics should appreciate how the Spirit enables, enlivens and empowers the Christian life.

An appendix collects several prayers and reflections on the Holy Spirit which can be incorporated into your daily prayer time.

I appreciate Schreck’s articulation of Catholic teaching. Throughout this book Schreck comments on the Catechism, Vatican II and Catholic theologians live Hans Urs von Balthasar, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) , Yves Conger, John Paul II, and Vatican II.  He gives a careful and reasoned defense of Catholic teaching on the Spirit and draws out the implications for our lives.

As a non-Catholic reading this book, there are areas where I disagree with Schreck rather sharply. However I appreciated Schreck’s description of Catholic teaching and practice.  In addition to having a good grasp on Catholic dogma, he seems to also be an apt apologist, anticipating many of the difficulties protestants like me face. I found Schreck generous and evenhanded in his presentation and do not hesitate to commend this book to you. Catholics will obviously benefit most directly from this book. As a non-Catholic I gained a greater appreciation for Catholic teaching and  the insights of the theologians that Schreck culls together. This is a great short book on the Spirit in Catholicism. I give it four-and-a-half stars.

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


The Spirit Filled Life Bible: a bible review

I first had my eye on the Spirit-Filled Life Bible a decade ago. At the time I attended an expressively Charismatic church and was hungry for a study Bible  rooted in good scholarship but open to the winds of the Spirit. I liked the look of the Spirit-Filled Life Bible and almost purchased it several times, but didn’t because I wasn’t a big fan of the New King James Version (NKJV) version of the Bible (I already had several Bible’s in that translation and found it wanting in several respects).  However the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible piqued my interest when I saw that it was available in the New Living Translation (NLT). The NLT can be justly criticized for occasionally allowing a smooth translation obscure the meaning of the text, but it is one of the translations I have read through the whole Bible a few times so I have developed a fondness for it.  I hope that with Thomas Nelson Books and Zondervan being a part of Harper-Christian there is a future possibility of a NIV version of this Bible coming out.

The  New Spirit-Filled Life Bible combines the  detailed comments of a study Bible with a charismatic friendliness which strives to be open to where the Spirit is moving in the text.  So in addition to the standard notes at the bottom of the page and the center column chain-references, there is 41 themed articles on “Kingdom Dynamics,” sections entitled “World Wealth” which points to important Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible, and “Truth-In-Action” sections which offer practical applications from every book of the Bible.

Having delved deeper into what this Bible has to offer, my excitement for it is somewhat subdued. Generally I like the notes (they are not perfect but the notes are not inspired, the Bible is) and the “World Wealth” sections.  I respect Jack Hayford (executive editor of this Bible) as a Charismatic-Pentecostal leader without personal scandal.  However some of the contributors to the articles in this book, are unfortunately influenced by the prosperity gospel. For example, Paul Crouch writes a “Kingdom Dynamic article on how to ‘get your miracle. (1207)’ This emphasis seems wrongheaded to me.

Also, I felt that the “Truth-in-Action” tables at the end of each book occasionally miss the point.  The table at the end of the book of Amos , encourages readers to see how Amos calls us to godliness and personal holiness (1101-2). However the theme of justice and how we treat the poor is not discussed (cf. Amos 5:10,11). Thus the focus seems to be more on personal experience than social implications. This is unfortunate as it seems to miss the whole tenor of the prophetic literature that Amos is a part of. I see this same dynamic with other books as well.

I think charismatic Christian will benefit from reading and using this Bible and happily commend it. However, there are limitations in the notes here and this marginal notes should not be treated as sacred writ. There is more to the Bible than this Bible tells you so.  I give this book 3.5 stars. I do however  find it valuable enough to keep using it for personal devotional use.

This hard cover edition is a quality product and I am very happy with the value of this Bible.

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

Spirit Baptist: a book review

Chad Norris was a preacher. He went to seminary at Beeson Divinity school and studied under Calvin Miller and Robert Smith, jr.  He was passionate about following God and living for him. But he struggled with depression and panic-attacks. He hungered for  a ‘New Testament’ experience of God. A fresh reading of the gospels (especially John) and  an attentive heart to where he felt God was leading, led Norris to a greater openness to the Spirit.  Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher is his story.

Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher by Chad Norris

Written with grace and good humor, Norris describes his journey into supernatural ministry. As pastor of Spiritual Formation at City Church in Simpsonville, SC, Norris has led mission trips and healing services.  His story tells of his own experience of healing and deliverance and his attempts to follow where the voice of God led him.  He is a bit of a goofball but this is a fairly even-handed account.

What I liked  about Norris’s story is that he doesn’t argue that being open to the Holy Spirit means you have to be as weird as you possibly can. His description of his  healing services is of a quiet grace filled moment where he and others pray for people. He acknowledges that some people still have to take medication and don’t get healed, and looks for the grace of God in the lives of those who suffer (he calls them the real ‘heroes’).  Ultimately though, Norris’s point is not just for people to experience the supernatural gifts. He wants people to know intimacy with God. This is his emphasis throughout.

I also appreciated that Norris is comfortable talking about pain and hard experiences. He doesn’t paint the Spirit filled life with Pollyanna brush strokes and he’s had his share of painful experiences.  He does commend Spiritual experiences because God is a supernatural God. What he presents here is not a formula.

Norris tells us that it was his reading of scripture which led him to a richer experience of the Spirit; yet this book doesn’t present a fresh reading of the Bible. It is more of a memoir of one man’s spiritual meanderings and the events that have shaped his life and ministry. Taken for what it is, I really enjoyed the book and I think Norris hopes that people will hear his story and be inspired to re-read the gospels for themselves and hear the voice of God calling them into a deeper experience of Him.  The book closes with a prayer that you can pray but there is no ‘how to’ in the text.  If you are to experience

I liked this book because I like Norris’s storytelling and his story. He is funny and the book is a quick read.  I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

The Sixth Station

Veronica Wipes His Face

They say that St. Veronica wiped Your face.

It’s not in the book, but I hope it’s true.

The horror of the moment

and Your utter desertion makes me hope,

on Your behalf,

that you felt the compassion of this saint.

But was she there?

I don’t know. But from her

we learn to contemplate

Christ who set his face like

flint towards Calvary.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.