Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The role of the Spirit (Lovelace)

Richard Lovelace wrote Dynamics of Spiritual Life from a broadly Reformed perspective, but he wasn't dismissive of Pentecostal Christianity as most Reformed/Calvinistic writers are. He credits the Charismatic movements as key factors in the signs of renewal he saw appearing in American Christianity throughout the 1970s. As is often the case the movement that came to be known as Pentecostalism seems to have providentially arose in reaction to a deficit. In this case the widespread loss among churches of the belief in, and expectation of, the appearance of the supernatural power of the Spirit. "There is a vigorous faith in the supernatural operation of God in many Charismatic circles which the rest of the church should emulate." (p. 126)

That being said Lovelace goes on to argue that the distinctive mark of the 20th-century Neo-Pentecostal movement -- a second work of grace validated by speaking in tongues usually called "the baptism of the Holy Spirit" -- is exegetically unsound. Yet even as the author answers "no" to the question "must every believer re-experience Pentecost?" he argues that one of the primary elements of spiritual renewal (or revival) is "a very explicit recognition of the indwelling Holy Spirit as a counselor (parakletos, one called alongside) who is personally real and dynamically active in the life of a believer." (p. 130)

Lovelace makes a connection between the believer's subjective awareness of the Holy Spirit and his power in the believer's life. Too often we're practically like the Ephesian believers in Acts 19 who when asked by Paul if they had received the Holy Spirit answered "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!"

Here's a longer quote that I like:

This failure to recognize the Holy Spirit as personally present in our lives is widespread in the churches today. Sometimes the lack of recognition is intentional and theologically motivated, as in Fundamentalist or confessional churches which are afraid that too much emphasis on conscious communion with the Holy Spirit will lead to a lessened regard for Christ, enthusiasm, mysticism or Pentecostalism. More often it is simply ignorance. Even where Christians know about the Holy Spirit doctrinally, they have not necessarily made a deliberate point of getting to know him personally. They may have occasional experiences of his reality on a hit-and-run basis, but the fact that the pronoun "it" is so frequently used to refer to him is not accidental. It reflects the fact that he is perceived impersonally as an expression of God's power and not experienced continually as a personal Guide and Counselor.

A normal relationship with the Holy Spirit should at least approximate the Old Testament experience described in Psalm 139: a profound awareness that we are always face to face with God; that as we move through life the presence of his Spirit is the most real and powerful factor in our daily environment; that underneath the momentary static of events, conflicts, problems and even excursions into sin, he is always there like the continuously sounding note in a basso ostinato. (pp. 130-1)

I've appreciated Lovelace's balanced treatment of this subject. He's prompted me to examine and refresh my own personal relationship with the third person of the Trinity. In advocating the recovery of a vital experience of the Spirit in our individual and corporate life in Christ; he's right in line with Calvin, arguably the theologian of the Holy Spirit par excellence. More importantly, he's in line with the New Testament.

One more quote:

We should particularly recognize that growth in holiness is not simply a matter of the lonely individual making claims of faith on the basis of Romans 6:1-14. It involves moving about in all areas of our life in dependent fellowship with a person: "Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16 NASB). When this practice of the presence of God is maintained over a period of time, our experience of the Holy Spirit becomes less subjective and more clearly identifiable, as gradually we learn to distinguish the strivings of the Spirit from the motions of our flesh. (p. 131)

Quotes from Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979)

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