In my religious tradition (churches of Christ) we have had an uneasiness with the Holy Spirit. As with most areas of doctrine, when a person has seen something handled poorly, a tendency can be to run so far to the opposite direction that he or she ends up leaping from one ditch into another. Despite our much more charismatic origins at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, the larger part our movement has gravitated away from anything that remotely resembles Pentecostalism. It is a very rational approach to theology and ecclesiology that has largely carried us, and there are some things I would readily celebrate about this part of our tradition. I love how much we value Scripture, and how we have held up the Bereans as role models, who showed great personal nobility in their daily “search” of the Scriptures.
In more recent years, I think many in our movement have begun reconsidering our relationship with the Holy Spirit, and how in our effort not to be overly attributive to or demonstrative of the Holy Spirit, we may have ended up stifling the Spirit.
I would readily commend my friend Leonard Allen’s book Poured Out as a place to start if you want a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and our history with the Spirit. Leonard’s book is helpful in that is accessibly written for a general audience, but in being so, it does not compromise on academic rigor. Most importantly, I think he helps to get us onto a path that isn’t merely going to propel us back into another ditch. As he demonstrates, the Spirit of God is key to the mission of God. As the 21st Century Church in the West is having to begin thinking like missionaries again in our own culture, it is fitting that we are open to the Spirit-breathed Scriptures as well as the movements of the Spirit in the Church.
The Spirit of Christ, Alive in Our Hearts
I wanted to share something from my favorite Swiss 20th Century Theologian: Hans Urs Von Balthasar. If I were required to limit my entire library to 4 or 5 books, his book The Grain of Wheat would make my list. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have read it and been deepened. His thinking is that for the Spirit to be alive within our hearts, it will not be a coercive takeover. It happens when we cultivate our hearts into a place where the Spirit is welcome.
I have tried to illustrate some of the principles that Von Balthasar teaches. The Son peers into our hearts, looking to see if the Father’s will is alive there. With my love and devotion, am I eagerly seeking what God seeks? Do I love the things that God loves? Has God’s will increasingly become my own will?
The Father peers into our hearts, looking to see if the image of Christ is being formed within us. Am I growing in love, compassion, and mercy? Do I seek to serve rather than to be served? Am I willing to be emptied of my own ego and agendas so that God’s will can be true in my life?
When the Father’s will is alive in my heart and
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”