A New Testament scholar discusses a subject that has confused sincere Christians through the ages: the identity and function of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
Scot McKnight, 64, a New Testament professor at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Ill., Argues that many Christians in the West remain closed to the Spirit and are hampered by fear when it comes to entering relationship with Him and to tap into His power.
In an interview with The Christian Post, McKnight offered three reasons why many American believers in Jesus miss out on the Holy Spirit: a lack of education, a lack of experience, and fear. His latest book, Open to the Spirit: God in us, God with us, God transforming We, which was published last month, explores more than a dozen biblical themes relating to the Holy Spirit, particularly how it is at work in the world today.
“In the Church there is a great ignorance, a lack of knowledge of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit or the importance of the Holy Spirit,” McKnight said when asked to comment on the joke some make when they refer to their church as being a “Father, Son, and Holy Bible” type place.
Unfortunately, the frame of reference for many Christians regarding the Holy Spirit is informed by strange individuals they may have encountered in their lives who have claimed strange things about the Holy Spirit or wacky phenomena they have. seen on Christian television, he explained. Such experiences make people extremely cautious, but that great caution often results in a “let’s not talk about it” type of approach and the Holy Spirit ends up being almost entirely forgotten, he said.
“And the fear is that if we surrender to Spirit, we lose control. And if we lose control, who knows what might happen? to keep us away from our cherished and precious little sins. “
Another element of fear when it comes to the Holy Spirit is change, he said.
“If we surrender to the Spirit then we are no longer in control of our life and we must listen to the Spirit guide us.”
The fear that things will get strange when the Spirit moves in a group, such as someone speaking in tongues or receiving a prophetic word, is also of great concern, he added.
“A lot of people are very uncomfortable with that sort of thing. They’d rather go to church and sing a few songs, hear a good Bible-based sermon, sing another song, clap their hands and go home. But the idea that God, the Holy Spirit, can step in and our schedule being interrupted or extended can be frightening to many people. “
McKnight unveils in chapter 6 one of the most important functions of the Holy Spirit – that he intercedes for us and through us. And he believes the Spirit does this more often than most realize.
“The Spirit in us from God longs for what God wants,” McKnight said, citing Romans 8 where the apostle Paul explains how the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness … with too many groans. deep for words “.
This deep groan is a deep yearning, a “longing for goodness, for justice, for righteousness, for love, for peace, for reconciliation … so that all creation may be released to give glory to God. “, He explained.
“And because that moan is kind of a testament to the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives, I think we end up praying a lot more than we realize.”
“In our desires for what is right, in our hopes and expectations, in our aspirations, we actually pray, rather, the Spirit prays through us and in us.”
Christians don’t need to be too hard on themselves if their minds drift into reverie during their prayers, he said.
“I believe in our daydreaming sometimes we think ‘Oh, I stopped praying and I was just dreaming.’ No, this reverie is part of this groaning ministry of the Spirit within us. Our reverie takes us into our world and launches us into the dreams that God has for us.
Much of the misunderstanding in the Church and resistance to openness to the Holy Spirit arises from colloquial language and jargon, words and phrases that are often not explicitly biblical, but some, namely Pentecostals and charismatics, however, use it to describe Him and other spiritual things.
McKnight stressed the importance of distinguishing between what the Bible actually says with its words and the need to use the terms as they are used in the text, while recognizing that sometimes in our development theological and our intention to clarify “we tend to use terms to make sense of their own, and then they start to get technical. “
What is sometimes called in Pentecostalism the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, for example, is one such phrase that confuses many Christians. This phrase is often used to describe a subsequent experience or filling of the Spirit after coming to Christ and after baptism with water, which in the Christian faith is done in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“I am thinking of using [baptism] because it’s OK. This is good, this is the way people talk. But that’s not really what the New Testament means by baptism, but at the same time we know of experiences like this by people, ”he said, adding that he had personally met God from this way.
McKnight had a typical evangelical education in which as a child he made a sincere profession of faith in Jesus and received him to live in his heart by faith. At 17, he had a powerful experience with the Lord which, even though he did not speak in tongues, still marked him for life.
“It completely reoriented everything about my direction in life and what I would do,” he explained, “it was nothing less than an immersive experience.”
He called this encounter with God a “filling” of the Spirit instead of a “baptism” of the Spirit, but noted that his grandmother would have labeled it as such if he had spoken in tongues.
“So we have to be careful and careful in the terms we use,” he reiterated.
“What people describe as baptism in the Spirit, to me, is largely confirmed by experience. People know that. We know that is how people experience the Spirit. So I think that we just have to admit it and say, “God works His way in the lives of different people, and people are open to the Spirit at different times in their lives. And when they are, the Spirit can rush in and make huge changes in people’s lives. “
Materialism also extinguishes openness to the Spirit, he continued, which plagues much of the Church in the West.
Westerners, Americans and Europeans, live in what author Charles Kraft has called a “closed universe,” McKnight explained.
“We live in an empirical, materialistic world, that if it’s not scientific or demonstrable – we can’t touch it, see it, smell it, eat it – then it’s not real.”
In the minds of many Westerners, especially in certain secularist tendencies, the “real” is largely confined to the material, but these mentalities are also present in the church, he stressed. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the world’s population lives in an “open” universe; people who have no philosophical objection to the spirit realm, who have no problem with spiritual things being “real”.
“So [Westerners] must work hard to open up to an “open” universe, “he said.
The reasoning that exists within the cessationist camp of the Church – those who believe in the gifts of the Spirit such as healing, tongues and prophecy are no longer active because they ceased with the death of the last apostle – c is that if you just let the charismatics and others who are open to the Spirit will start to create bad ideas, a fear supported by the bizarre antics and weird teachings of the televangelists, he explained, well that he didn’t mention anyone in particular.
“Now, if you study the history of theology, some of the craziest ideas come from the most open to the Spirit, so we have to recognize for various reasons why people have bad theology,” McKnight acknowledged.
Most importantly, McKnight stressed that he hopes readers will pray the invoking prayer he wrote in Open to the Spirit, and that his book encourages people to open up more to his presence.
“When we read the scriptures I don’t think we should end by asking the Spirit to apply it to our lives. But we need to become mindful of the reality that whenever we look at the scriptures we are reading the scriptures of God. is at work, because the Spirit that inspired this scripture, who created this scripture, is alive and at work every time we approach it.