There are times when the text of a book takes a hold of you. It leaves you changed for the better. Thinking clearer.
If there were any recent events that might exemplify this for me I would have to say that it occurred with my reading of Tom Smail’s book, ‘The Giving Gift: the Holy Spirit in Person’.
Smail’s text is 214 pages long. Which is still a considerable work even when matched against other texts regarding the study of the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology).
My initial thoughts about this book were fraught with caution. Mainly because of negative experiences with Pentecostalism, experiences, which frankly, far outweigh any positive stories worth sharing. (Yeh. Not being melodramatic – they are bad.) They don’t read well for some Charismatic’s who claim to be a conduit of ‘’physical manifestation’’ for the Holy Spirit every Sunday.
In a lot of ways though I still lean towards a Pentecostal understanding of ecclesiology. In fact I’d say I favour its focus on God’s freedom, the Holy Spirit and ecumenical dialogue. So I don’t deny that these physical responses can exist in a genuine way. I do however remain sceptical about how often the focus turns towards the individual experiencing them as a ‘’move of God’’, and how the focus ends up being directed away from Christ, the cross and the life-giving journey that follows (eternal and otherwise – discipleship).
You would be right in thinking that an unhealthy focus on “manifestations” is totally inconsistent with the charisma (gift of the Spirit) poured out on the church as a whole by the Father, and not just on individuals who seem to project a superior spiritual connection to God.If this is so and Smail is right, how does the distraction, caused by ”manifestations” not become misdirection? Surely community is lessened the more an individual takes centre stage in this context.
Needless to say, I found it difficult to travel further into the subject. However this critical enquiry was a crucial encounter as it affirmed some of my conclusions, and challenged me to dig deeper.
From the start Smail insists that the Holy Spirit is not about showmanship or glorifying select individuals.
He uses a floodlight analogy (2002:31) asserting that the Spirit’s purpose is not to outshine the Son or blind people from seeing the Son. We are reminded that the Holy Spirit is not about putting on a show to draw attention to itself. Smail asserts that the Spirit’s purpose is twofold. He invites us into the light that is illuminating the Son directing our attention to Christ. (Ps.36:9)
He points out:
‘A Christian becomes charismatic NOT when he or she speaks in tongues and prophesies but when they confess the Kurios (Lord) and Abba (Father)’ (Smail 2002:13 & 46).
In other words, according to Smail, if you are a Christian you are a Spirit filled charismatic – empowered (Jn.3:8). Just not in the stereotypical sense now attached to the word.
A little further into the text and Smail relates this empowering with Peter’s response to Jesus in Matthew 16:17. Here there is an ‘explicit contrast between the one confessed and the enabler of the confession’ (Smail 2002:48). Ergo the Spirit empowers our Yes to God (2002:46). I.e.: We do not answer this by ourselves; we confess this for ourselves (Smail 2002:49) because God is for us.
It is helpful that Smail attempts to map out the Spirit’s identity and purpose stating that:
‘the Spirit’s action is personal’ (2002:33); the ‘Spirit acts in the service of the Son who receives from the Spirit; a mutual subordination’ (2002:25).The Spirit is distinct from us and the Son but is connected through its own life-giving presence.
In a controversial, but useful statement Smail writes that the ‘Father and the Son, each in his own way are the givers of the Spirit’ (Smail 2002:15 & 49). The Spirit is then understood as the ‘primary gift’ (2002:16); the one who enables ‘repentance and faith’ (2002:19). Other than Jesus, Mary (and probably Joseph) is the quintessential New Testament example of this response; the human “Yes” to God. The Spirit is a gift; charisma, and like Mary, a response to this gift is required.
Secondly, any ‘new beginning in Christ takes a ‘creative act of God’ (2002:27).
This implies that I cannot force the gift onto others or manipulate the creative act to suite my own purposes because the ‘Spirit (breath of God) is in us, with us, but never becomes part of us’ (2002:21).
‘When our attention is most focussed on Christ, we honour the Spirit’ (2002:31). ‘Our relationship to Him is always a relation of persons not a merging of spirits; the One who gives Himself to us is one who is and remains other than us and distinct from us’ (Smail 2002:35).
It was not easy to be redirected towards a right theological position. Affirmation mixed with correction was welcome even though it was difficult to process.
Consequently, Smail’s discourse allowed me to see things a little clearer.Thankfully any conditioning in this area was worked out in the struggle to reconcile what I was seeing with what I was reading in the scriptures. Smail’s text had great deal to do with providing some solid theological grounding here and for that I am grateful.
Borlaise, C. 2006 William Seymour: Azusa Street Revival, A Biography Chrisma House, Strang LM. FL (Recommended)
Chan, S. 1998 Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life InterVarsity Press Downers Grove IL
Spurgeon, C. Holy Spirit Power Whitaker House 1996 NK PA (Recommended)
Pinnock, C.H. 1996 Flame of Love: A theology of the Holy Spirit InterVarsity Press Downers Grove IL
Smail, T. 2002 the Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person First Academic Renewal Press Ed. Limo, Ohio