The Holy Spirit: Lord and Life-Giver
It’s a bit of a low blow to poorly review a literary/artistic work when you are charging it with not being what you expected it to be. For example, when I was 8, my art teacher asked us to draw and color…I think it was a landscape. Now I have never really been a great artist, mostly because I’ve been colorblind since birth (though I did have a brief phase during my adolescence in which I won a prize from a local art gallery for my pencil and black ink rendering of some shadowy, comic book-esque superhero). So when it came time for me to draw a landscape, and I spent the time grabbing any color I felt like and making scribbles all over the place, when our work was done my teacher kicked me out of class, called my mother, and had a conference that afternoon. She told my mother that my work was unbecoming of an eight-year old. My mother blinked at her and said “what’s becoming of an eight year old in art class?”
The story is not directly equivalent, but the meaning shines through ( I hope): it’s not fair for me to set expectations for Satyavrata’s book- that he had no intent of keeping – and then criticize him for not doing so. However, the marketing of this book has made it particularly difficult not to.
This book is part of an IV Press series called “Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective”, with John Stott as the consulting editor. I was excited about his role as consulting editor, given that I tend to agree with the sizable chunks of the theologies of the evangelical Anglican types (like J.I. Packer, Stott, NT Wright most notably).
Satyavrata is an Assemblies of God (AoG) pastor in India and president of Buntain Thoelogical College. AoG is a pentecostal denomination, and it is my current denomination, though I am not a pentecostal. They are kind of enough to keep me around.
So anyway, given the above, I expected that this would explain a bit about pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit) with a particular eye toward the Indian view of it. I expected this view to be a bit post-colonial – not sounding particularly Western in its orientation. And I expected it to be grounded in orthodoxy, given that Stott affixes his name to it.
While I can safely say that it is within the bounds of orthodoxy, I did not get a particularly “global perspective” with this book. What I mean in this: I didn’t really learn much about how the Indian church, or the southeast Asian church with whom Satyavrata is in dialogue, orients itself toward the Holy Spirit. In the few instances that Satyavrata does interact with the “third world-view” (if you’ll pardon my expression as such), it is to correct errors in it. This is helpful, since too often those who try to be sympathetic to the global church just agree wholesale with their interpretations of faith and worship. However, Satyavrata does not articulate a position that is particularly Eastern, global, or post-colonial. This could just as easily be written by an Anglo-American theologian.
What I Like about this Book
I’ll end on some thoughts about what I like about this book. I think if you are oriented toward a more “via media” (middle way) of looking at things (I use this in the place of ecumenical, since that can be too loaded), a sort of C.S. Lewis orthodoxy of “what basics can we all agree on?”, then this book is a fantastic introduction if you want to learn more about the Holy Spirit. Satyavrata is anything but sectarian. In fact, one of the most useful chapters is a historical overview of the view of the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the church. This was massively helpful for me. It might be too general for some, but I think it is a good introduction for someone like me who generally does not have a lot of pneumatology under his belt.
Here’s what he has to say about Anabaptists:
…the Anabaptists believed in an imminent age of the Spirit and also denied that baptism was a means of grace. Menno Simons, their most influential leader, regarded Christ alone as the preeminent sign of grace, and baptism as more a pledge of obedience than a rite of conversion. Water baptism must be administered only to those who have turned to Christ already and been baptized with the Holy Spirit. This marks the beginning of a life guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, who then reproduces the nature of Christ in the life of the believer. Simons ephasized the Spirit’s anointing, through which Christians are bestowed with spiritual gifts. He also taught that the Spirit enables God’s will to be expressed through the consensus of the believing community…
…In addition to the baptism of the Spirit and by water, the Anabaptists also believed in a baptism of fire and blood. Strong emphasis began to be placed on the baptism of blood, generally referring to martyrdom and outward suffering in the world This was also sometimes applied corporately to the believing community as a whole rather than the individual, the basis of an important emphasis on the suffering of the righteous remnant.
…the various Anabaptists sects were more open to [spiritual gifts]. They witnessed many occurences similar to those observed in the Pentecostal movement today, including healings, prophecy, tongues, and dancing in the Spirit. However, despite some of these similarities with contemporary Pentecostals, there are marked differences. Most significantly, for Anabaptists, the baptism of the Spirit is primarily associated with salvation and involves suffereing; for Pentecostals, Spirit baptism is an endowment of power for ministry, a joyful experience rather than endurance under trial.
Any thoughts on that?
Satyavrata also deals with the doctrine of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” charitably.For those unfamiliar with this concept, here’s my pathetic attempt at a definition: the baptism of the Holy Spirit is anevent, subsequent to regeneration, justification, and conversion (in whatever order you put these), in which the believer receives a greater outpouring of/blessing by the Holy Spirit. It is believed that this baptism is accompanied by spiritual gifts and tongues.
Some charismatics/pentecostals believe that one is not saved without the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (an error), others believe that the Holy Spirit is not active in you unless you have this particular baptism (an error), others believe it is simply a greater and deeper experience of the Spirit (closer to truth). While the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an individual experience (in that each believer is individually gifted), it can occur corporately since it is an event. This is why missionaries in some countries tend to be more “charismatic”, since (from their perspective) they have experienced events where thousands of believers at once are baptized with the Holy Spirit in a very Pentecost-like way. Satyavrata likens this Pentecostal distinctive to other historical understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit, such as the Roman Catholic notion of “confirmation” and the Puritan notion of the “sealing of the spirit”.
Rather than looking at the content of the book, as I am, and saying “this doesn’t seem particularly global”, one could say that an introductory text devoted entirely to the Holy Spirit is in and of itself a testimony to the global mark upon Christendom. It is no secret that the third world is more open to a charismatic understanding of the Holy Spirit than the West, even if the third world can sometimes stray toward Unitarianism of the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, Protestant theologies have tended to give more space to christology, soteriology, and theology (doctrine of God proper) than pneumatology. There are of course significant outliers to that assertion (John Owen’s work on communion with the Holy Spirit being one that comes to mind immediately). As such, one could benefit greatly from having this book on your shelf next to the Western systematics, christologies, etc. that tend to crowd the bookshelves of doctrine geeks.