A Commitment to The Spirit and The Word
The Christian landscape is rife with labels, divisions and even distain for those with whom we disagree. With respect to our experience with the Holy Spirit, two common camps are the “Word people” and the “Spirit folks.”
In his new book, professor Scot McKnight states, “I have come to believe, along with theologian Clark Pinnock, that the Spirit works in ‘a hundred thousand ways’ and that it is not my responsibility to do anything but to be open to the radical and sometimes surprising flow of the Spirit in our world.” 1 On one hand, statements like this are inspiring, if they point us to the unique work of the Spirit in every heart in which he lives. Because the Spirit is personal and indwelling millions, we could say that the Holy Spirit works in a hundred thousand ways in applying the word. Although the terminology of the “flow” of the Spirit is perplexing for sure.
On the other hand, if this means that the Spirit works in “a hundred of thousand ways” in augmenting what He has told us about Himself in the inerrant scripture, words that HE divinely inspired, then we have opened an experiential can of worms. How are we to know what is truly the work of the Holy Spirit or what is merely the imaginations of men? It could even be difficult to determine what is blatantly unbiblical (because in this case the Bible is not the final word anyway, is it?) Countless experiences could be fair game.
I do not believe the Holy Spirit gave us the Bible only to then play some kind of cryptic shell game with our minds and hearts. If the Bible is not a complete and sufficient sourcebook for the work of the Holy Spirit he was either forgetful and inadvertently omitted some vital truths or just decided to give us a perplexing “sampler” of ideas, in which case we might consider him a bit illusory. Never!
I had a Christian brother tell me that the Holy Spirit can do anything He wants. I responded by saying “Of course! He is God.” He went on to sarcastically comment, “The Holy Spirit can fill a jelly donut if he wants.” Indeed, he can. He can turn the sky yellow, make horses do the disco and cause mice to dance on the preacher’s head. But why would he? Does jelly “donutology” or Sunday “micecapades” on the pastor’s noggin exalt Jesus and advance the work of the gospel? I have to believe that the Spirit of Truth works consistent with the authoritative word He and our Lord Jesus have revealed about his purposes. Consider these balanced insights from other trusted voices.
John Calvin wrote, “He [the Holy Spirit] is the Author of the Scriptures: he cannot vary and differ from himself. Hence he must ever remain just as he once revealed himself there. This is no affront to him, unless perchance we consider it honorable for him to decline or degenerate himself.” 2
J.D. Greer prods us along with these words, “Christians… tend to gravitate toward one of two extremes regarding the third person of the Trinity. Some pursue experience in the Spirit apart from the word… Others, however, seek to know and obey the word without any interaction with, or real dependence on, the Spirit . . . But the Spirit and the word work inseparably. One without the other leads to a dysfunctional Christianity. Just as a toaster without a plug is useless, biblical knowledge apart from the Spirit is impotent.” 3 R.C. Sproul clarifies: “The Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the Word, but to separate the Word and the Spirit is spiritually fatal. The Holy Spirit teaches, leads, and speaks to us through the Word and with the Word not apart from or against the word.” 4
Writing in Charisma Magazine, David Ravenhill asserts, “The Word without the Spirit can be deadly and the Spirit without the Word can be deceptive. Just as a bird cannot fly with only one wing, so likewise we also need to maintain a balance between the Word and the Spirit and the Spirit and the Word if we are to avoid deception.” 5 I’ve heard the famous quote attributed to Stephen Olford, but many others have taken credit for it, “If you have the Word without the Spirit, you will dry up. If you have the Spirit without the word you will blow up. But if you have the Spirit and the Word, you will grow up.”
Finally, Christopher Ash adds some vital insight, “You cannot measure Bible and Spirit against one another. You cannot set Bible and Spirit side-by-side and say we need more of one or less of the other. It would be like saying, ‘Which is bigger, a meter or a liter?” Or perhaps – to use closer analogies – it would be like saying, “That was a good concert. I just wish we had a bit less of the violin and more of the violinist’; or to visit a workshop at say, ‘It seems to me you have too much of the carpenter and not enough of the saw’. The idea of keeping them ‘in balance’ is a confusion of categories. The Spirit is the Sovereign God, the personal eternal Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. No one and nothing can be measured or balanced against him. We cannot ever reach a point where we say ‘Right now we have enough of the Spirit. Let’s have a bit more Word’ or to say, ‘I think we got the balance wrong and we need a bit more Spirit’. We ought to see through the error of speaking of Word and Spirit in balance. We want to be joyfully unbalanced, setting no limits to the extent and depth of the Spirit’s work for which we long. For knowing the Father depends on him. But let us be sure it is the Holy Spirit we seek, for he has many rivals waiting in the wings to dress up in his clothes and mimic him.” 6
1 Scot McKnight, Open to the Spirit (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017)
2 Calvin, Institutes, I.ix.2).
3 J.D. Greear, Jesus Continued (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014),21-22
4 R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994), 121.
5 Ibid, Ravenhill.
6 Christopher Ash, Hearing the Spirit (Geanies Hous, Scotland: 2011) 15-16