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

Amen.

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.

 

A Kid Friendly Pentecost: a kid’s book review

We are a couple of weeks away from Pentecost—the celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh: wind and fire, young and old seeing visions and dreaming dreams, and women and men speaking with other tongues. Acts 2 tells the story of one-hundred-and-twenty disciples gathered and waiting, surprised and vivified by the Spirit’s presence, knit together as one family—the church—the body of Christ.

the-day-when-god-made-church-a-child-s-book-about-pentecost-4The Day When God Made the Church: A Child’s First Pentecost Book by Rebekah McLeod Hutto (illustrated by Stephanie Haig) provides a way for parents, educators and ministers to share the story of the Holy Spirit’s coming with young children. With Haig’s vivid illustrations, Hutto narrates the rush of wind, the crowds confusion and highlight’s from Peter’s sermon. She stresses the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the joy and new life given by the Spirit to all who respond to the good news of Jesus.

Hutto is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister at Brick Presbyterian Church where she serves as Associate Minister for Christian Education and Discipleship. She manages to tell the story of Pentecost in an engaging way that is simple enough for a three or four-year-old to apprehend,  and true enough to events that older kids and adults (big kids) will also find it instructive.  Haig’s artwork includes ribbons of color and fire, people, animals and symbols. There is a variety of skin tones included among Jesus’ disciples, signally the diversity of the body of Christ.

This is a short picture book (paper back, 32 pages long) but it captures well  the birth of the church. I recommend this book for parents, Christian education directors, Sunday School teachers who want to share the joy and Good News of the Spirit with their children. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Pentecost

From Prince Caspian: 

Lucy buried her head in his mane to hide from his face. But there must have been magic in his mane. She could feel lion-strength going into her. Quite suddenly she sat up.

 

I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said, “I’m ready now.”

 

Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan, “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.(151)”

 

Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Lion of Judah,

  We are fearful people

   who fail to bear witness to Your presence.

   Fill us with your Spirit–

                     the Spirit of Love,

                     the Spirit of courage,

                    the Spirit of  gentleness,

                    the Spirit of power,

                    Spirit of Christ.

By your Spirit you have bound us together as a Church

and commissioned us to share your Kingdom presence 

with your world. 

 

May your Spirit embolden us so that all the earth may taste your renewal. 

May the Spirit be our strength and our guide.