The Gift, the Giver and the Given to

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’.

April May 2012 192_Suncloudwater
Source: RL2012

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).

Source: RL2013 ‘Hunting for fireflies’

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.[1]

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[2]). 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.

Related reading:

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

[1] ‘Christ as the object of relationship and the Spirit its enabling subject’ (Smail 2002, p.46)
[2] ‘The Spirit is the gift, the Father is Giver and the Son is the recipient of that gift’ (Smail 2002, p.49)

2 thoughts on “The Gift, the Giver and the Given to

  1. godanalytics says:

    I like your intro. It gets into writing a lot of things I ponder in regard to the “spirit.” It opens up a can of worms for me though…it always does……LIKE, what is the “Spirit” to an educated person and what is the “Spirit” to an uneducated person? Can or does God only reveal himself to us through an increase of knowledge about what/who the Spirit is……LIKE only through reading the “Scripture”…..or will God give us that knowledge of his presence sort of magically? What I’m saying seems confusing and that is exactly how I feel when I read through the Bible and see all of these “spirit” references. I can’t keep it all sorted out.


  2. Rod Lampard says:

    Hi Anna.

    Some good thoughts. In regards to the Holy Spirit we are empowered to proclaim Christ – Good News; Gospel Law (Evangelical Ethics). As you may know, John wrestled with Gnostics – an esoteric cult who claimed to have special knowledge; privilege .

    I think that is why we see a lot of the reference to the Spirit in verses such as Jn.14:17, Jn15:26, Jn. 16:13, 1 Jn 4. John is being very specific for good reason, which could almost be viewed in a polemical sense. Of course there are scholars who discount the historical reliability of John’s gospel as they consider it a product of the latter Church. I do not hold this view, although I acknowledge it.

    Even if the scholarly suggestions about the reliability are proven right, it does not explain the references to the Holy Spirit made by Luke in: Acts 1:2, Acts 2 & Acts 4:8.

    I do not see the holy Spirit as a magical presence. Rather if anything it is a mystery held in tension with an experienced reality. It is always important to view the Holy Spirit in a Trinitarian context because God exists as such – in relation to Himself in other words he is always viewed as existing within a relationship – The Holy Spirit is always and no other than God’s Spirit – the Spirit of truth, of Jesus the Christ. Knowledge of the Spirit begins with acknowledgement of it. E.g.: Faith is the evidence of things unseen – the author of Hebrews (11:1) tells us. Or as some put it “I believe in order to understand”.

    Currently, I see the Spirit as the revealer of the revealed God (Karl Barth) – an enabler, enlister, empowering creativity (Heb,2:4). A breath. A Wind (John 4). A wonderful gift who in Freedom (2 Cor.3:17-18) brings us into the heart, life and presence of God (a deeper relationship with God). The Giver of life. An ever present reality constantly proclaiming Christ in conviction, comfort and counsel (C.H. Spurgeon). A persistent pursuer whose purpose is grounded in the renewal of all things created. In some sense He exists as a boundary and a passport.

    Sorry for the wall of text response. As you can tell, I am also working through it theologically and probably will always be on that journey.



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