Monday, June 07, 2010

Word and Spirit

My post on preaching yesterday prompted a good and interesting question from a reader that I have been pondering.

"How could 'a man of the word' preach a message from the word that was not also of the Spirit since the Spirit inspired the word - and how could a 'man of the Spirit' preach something of the Spirit that was not also of the Word, since the truly Spirit-inspired preacher is a preacher of the word, and not his own thoughts.

Word and Spirit are vital but is it really possible, even theoretically, to have one without the other?"

I rarely do theology on the blog largely because there are far more capable people than I who I like to point you too- this is a place of resources and not my wisdom ( because there isn't much of it sadly). The last big debate on Cookiesdays was "Would Jesus wear slacks?" which is not exactly something Karl Barth ever addressed.

Firstly a point of clarification. It would have been more helpful for me to say 'people more focussed on the Spirit' and 'people more focussed on the Word' in my last post and my interest is I supposed one of measure. I desire preaching that is full of the word and full of the Spirit. In simple terms, my reader is absolutely right - it is not possible to have the word without the Spirit. However, the Church in the 20th century following the Azusa Street awakening and the birth of pentecostalism has debated the question of what it actually means to 'have the Spirit' or 'be Spirit-filled' and whether there is there a difference? Is a preacher who is 'Spirit-filled' a better one than one who is not? Can you be Spirit-filled and not Word-filled and focussed? If we receive the Spirit when we a born-again then surely we are all equally Spirit-filled? What about the Spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Cor 12 and are they all for today? There are lots of questions but being Word-filled and Spirit-filled sounds like the best combination.

We are currently preaching through Acts and only this morning discussed the next text in our series which is Chapter 8 and verses 15-17 are often cited by pentecostal theologians:

'When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had only been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit'

One definition of preaching used in the 'The Beauty of a Sacrificed life' is the Philip Brooks phrase 'communicating truth through personality.' So we must first have truth- I learnt in this sermon that Tom Wright recently said that having visited many charismatic churches in the UK almost all of them he visited failed to refer at all to the word in their preaching. Spirit-filled but word absent-is that possible? Also, in this definition is 'a personality' that is hopefully 'full of the holy Spirit' (Acts 7:55) as was said of Stephen or the seven 'who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom' (Acts 6:3) This was something that was tangible to those who observed them. Dr Luke clearly writes that these people had something of God that was able to be seen and experienced that was possibly something more than presenting a three point expository sermon read from a piece of paper full of wisdom gleaned from multiple commentaries (which are of course the thoughts of men but can often be wise, wonderful and full of insight).

Anyone who has been around preaching and preachers for a while will have experienced preaching that seems to have been given an additional measure of power and testimony that seems Spirit-given. I remember hearing this man (this recent talk is well-worth a listen and reflecting on) tell a large gathering of Pastors that he fasted and prayed in tongues constantly for eight months asking God for a greater anointing of the Spirit (Luke 11.) He seems to have a few stories to tell as a result including people being raised from the dead but interestingly having heard him preach I would describe him very clearly as Spirt-focussed?

This is a huge subject that has sadly at times divided the church and to this day sometimes separates the tribes in evangelicalism. I can only skim the surface in this post. Here are some things to help you explore this more. Martin Lloyd-Jones is one man who thought about all this more than most during the 20th Century and his book 'Joy unspeakable' and this excellent talk called A passion for God's exalting power will give you an overview of his conclusions. I recently read Francis Chan 'The Forgotten God: reversing the tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit' which I found helpful. Also, this excellent book called More has really really helped me understand what is means to receive more of the Spirit when we already have everything. It includes the wonderful stories of preachers like Billy Graham and George Whitfield. The EMA conference this year is on the Holy Spirit which is an encouraging thing and might be worth anyone interested in these matters attending.

I am not sure if I have answered the question so if any of you wise folk out there can help then feel free to chip in. I'm keen to learn and hear from others.

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