Category Archives: books

God’s Empowering Presence – Resource

by Scott

I believe very much that, for any true student of theology wanting to grow in their pnuematological understanding, especially for all continuationists, then an extremely solid resource to own is Gordon Fee’s work, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Fee, himself is a New Testament scholar and professor emeritus from Regents College in Vancouver, Canada. He is also an ordained minister in the Assembly of God church. You can read more of his credentials here.

Nevertheless, this book is a treatise unlike many others, standing in at just over 900 pages long. So I would say this is more a study resource, rather than a bed-time read.

What is truly unique about the book is that it analyses every single mention of the Holy Spirit and his work within the letters of Paul. Fee doesn’t start with Romans (as that is the first Pauline letter in our NT canon), but rather with 1 Thessalonians, which is considered one of Paul’s early letters. He then moves on to 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus and, finally, 2 Timothy.

The last 100 pages or so deal with important theological topics on the Holy Spirit including such themes as the Spirit as eschatological fulfilment, the Spirit as God’s personal presence, the soteriological Spirit, the Spirit and the people of God, and then answering what all of this Pauline pneumatology means (which includes touching on Old Testament and intertestamental pneumatology). And, of course, there is an extended bibliography.

You can see that some of this work implements his writings from other works, like his commentary on 1 Corinthians or his work, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God.

The only pneumatological resource that could be considered better is if an author took up the challenge of providing commentary on every verse in the New Testament that speaks of the Holy Spirit and His activity. Maybe it’s out there, or maybe it will be released one day. But I suppose that would be at least a 2-volume work weighing in at a 1500+ page length.

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Richard Foster on Silence and Hearing God

by Scott

Over at my personal blog, The Prodigal Thought, I have regularly been posting stirring words from Richard Foster’s classic, Freedom of Simplicity, as I have slowly moved my way through the book. Here are some thoughts of his on practicing silence and how this can help us hear the voice of the Lord:

One way to nurture simplicity is through the discipline of silence. Society is dominated by the inane notion that action is the only reality. Please, for God’s sake and your own, don’t just do something, stand there! Come in and enjoy his presence. Sink down into the light of Christ and become comfortable in that posture. Open the subterranean sanctuary of your soul and listen for the Kol Yahweh, the voice of the Lord. To do so gives us focus, unity, purpose. We discover serenity, unshakableness, firmness of life orientation. (p113)

These are extremely challenging words in the busied and hurried life of today. For some, they might sound New Age, but this is simply about drawing in close to the presence of God’s Spirit who resides within the believer, all to know the Father’s leading voice in our lives.

I, for one, want to quiet my heart before the Lord on a regular, even ongoing, basis.

Real Life Example of Hearing God

by Scott

I think it is continually important to give actual, real life, down to earth examples of what it is like to hear the voice of God and even to prophecy. Most people need this to help bring these things ‘out of the clouds’ and into real life on planet earth. I’ve posted a few examples in the past of such instances in my own life and in the lives of others (here, here and here). And I wanted to post another example.

This comes from Richard Foster’s book entitled Freedom of Simplicity. I have recently been posting a few quotes and short excerpts from the book, food for thought, if you will. But here is an example of Foster sharing a time when he heard the voice of Lord direct him in a particular situation.

Allow me to share with you a very small experience, but one that may help you to see what I mean. This occurred at an especially busy time in my year. I was preparing for a weekend trip that involved speaking at three different churches. The financial arrangement was for each church to take up a little offering on my behalf when I had finished speaking. As I was meditating on what God desired of me for that weekend, I had the strong impression that I was not to take any money at all from these churches. For some time I struggled over this directive, for we were counting on the money to meet several obligations. The struggle further revealed an inward greed that I thought had been exorcised long ago. Finally, I felt clear that this was what I had to do if I was to be obedient. I shared this with my wife, for I felt we had to be in unity on the matter. She released the money much more easily than I, noting that perhaps there would be some people in the meetings who needed to know that ministers of Christ were not always after their pocketbooks.

I told the pastors of the first two churches that any offering should be given to the poor or disposed of in whatever way they saw fit. Although surprised at my unorthodox request, they were congenial to the idea. But I arrived at the third church just as the service began, and so had no opportunity to explain my concern. I was relieved, however, when they did not take up an offering for me, and assumed that the matter was settled.

It was late when I finally arrived at the home where I was to stay the night. As I walked in the door my host handed me a check of an amount that was, for me, considerable. It was from the church. I protested, but they mistook my concern for modesty and insisted with such vigor that I let the matter drop.

I wish I could express to you the experience I went through that night. There was the check lying on the nightstand, mine to take. I did not want to cause offense or seem ungrateful, after all, the money had been given for me. Maybe this last church should be considered an experience separate from the others. But what about the earlier directive – it had seemed quite clear. Back and forth I went. Finally, I had about decided that I really should take the money rather than cause any trouble, but I determined to review my decision once more in the morning when I was rested. I invited God to teach me while I slept if he desired.

When I opened my eyes the next morning it was unmistakably clear to me that I could not – must not – take the money. A period of meditation only intensified the conviction. With considerable trepidation I explained to my hosts as best I could why I was not able to accept the gracious gift. The moment I finished there rushed into me an unspeakable joy. Though outwardly I tried to remain calm, I was being filled with an overwhelming sense of the glory of God. Once alone in the car I shouted and sang and blessed God. I did not have to be controlled by money! I could live in obedience! It was wonderful, jubilant ecstasy, and although the profuse exuberance lasted for perhaps twenty minutes, the sense of deep warm joy flowed over me all day long. (I was pleased to learn later that the church decided to give the money for refugee work in Cambodia.)

I don’t want to give too much commentary to the story above, as I think it speaks volumes itself. But suffice it to say, I believe this is a beautiful account of hearing God and responding in obedience. And, even more, here is a great example of Foster weighing what he believed was a directive from God, and weighing it with his covenant partner, his wife. This is always a very healthy perspective as we learn to discern the voice of God. I’ve shared about this before, our spouse being one of five major gifts we have been given to help us discern the voice of the Lord.

I hope this is another example that helps make hearing God’s voice more and more real.

Two Books and an Interview About the Holy Spirit

by Scott

Over at Between Two Worlds, blog of Justin Taylor, he recently posted an article that tells of two books on the Holy Spirit by author Graham Cole. Cole is currently professor of biblical and theological studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The two books are He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (which is a more theological work) and Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers (which is a more accessible book to all people).

It seems Cole is more of a cessationist, but his book receives a positive recommendation by C.J. Mahanney (a continuationist) for both books.

But, more interesting on Justin Taylor’s blog is a short interview between him and Cole. There are four specific questions discussed, but I thought this one about the Spirit’s filling in Ephesians 5:18 presented some good things to chew on.

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We are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). How do we do that?

A great question!

The first thing to notice is that Ephesians 5:18 is addressed to a congregation.

Next, it may be translated “Be filled by the Spirit!” In fact, in context Paul is contrasting the sort of behaviors you see in a pagan assembly (e.g., drunkenness) and what is to characterize a Christian one (e.g., making melody in your [plural] heart [singular] to the Lord and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ).

In my view, it is not about power for service for the individual. We obey this command when our Christian meeting is filled by the Spirit with these kinds of practices. Then we truly are the temple of the Holy Spirit that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2.

However, Paul specifies no steps. So what’s the way forward? I suggest Acts 4 provides a paradigm case. These early Christians gathered in the face of persecution and prayed for boldness to proclaim the gospel. Interestingly they did not pray to be filled with the Spirit. And what did God do? He filled them with the Spirit and they spoke boldly indeed. So I would counsel if you want to be filled with the Spirit, set your heart and life prayerfully on the next step of Christian faith and obedience and you will be filled with the Spirit.

Back to Ephesians 5. When we as a congregation prayerfully fill our meeting with the practices set out in Ephesians 5:19-21 we can trust that our assembly really is the temple of the Spirit. In these practices the focus shifts from me to the Lord, and my brothers and sisters.

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Click here for the rest of the article at Between Two Worlds.

Surprised by the Power of the Spirit – Book Review

by Scott

A few decades back, there were not many solid biblical and theological resources available on the Holy Spirit from a more charismatic or Pentecostal (or continuationist) perspective. But such has drastically changed in the past few decades with a plethora of resources on continuationism now available to Christians. Here is a short but solid list at my co-authored blog, To Be Continued.

One such continuationist theologian is Jack Deere with his book, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit. He also has authored Surprised by the Voice of God, which I hope to dip into one day in the near future.

Deere is an interesting case, and you will see this in the book as he shares his own story. He had been an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary (from now on DTS), which has been known for its cessationist position throughout the years. But, as Deere shares his story of moving from cessationism to continuationism, he tells of a phone call that changed his life forever. This phone call set into motion a chain of events that left him convinced that the Holy Spirit and all of His gifts are still available to body of Christ today.

In the end, Deere had to leave DTS, as his new found continuationist beliefs did not allow for him to stay within the confession of faith of the seminary. From reading the book, you get the sense that the parting of ways was not nasty, but I’m sure it was not easy for either sides – Deere or DTS. My colleague here at To Be Continued, Marv, can share more insightful thoughts about Jack Deere, as he had Deere as a professor at DTS and was also part of the Vineyard movement of which Jack Deere was also a part of as he worked closely with founder John Wimber for a time. But it seemed the parting of ways with the seminary was done respectfully, and I say that because I did not sense any animosity from Deere in the book, which is a great plus.

One of the things I liked about the book was that it included storied accounts throughout the book – Deere’s transition to continuationism and practical examples of the charismata of the Spirit in his own life and others. It wasn’t just theology. For me, I don’t need the theology. I am convinced of continuationism. Instead, I like to be encouraged with accounts of God’s power at work through the Spirit amongst the body of Christ. That is what stirs me most.

Still, for those who are unsure of the continuation of all spiritual gifts, or who may even be antagonistic to such, the theology in the book is solid, looking to be grounded first and foremost in Scripture. Thus, I think it worth a read for any continuationist or cessationist that is looking to faithfully interact with a continuationist perspective of Scripture.

A warning for someone who is more cessationist: I am confident you will find statements that you will not like. What I mean is that, at times, Deere does not butter things up. There are times when he makes very poignant and honest statements. I believe he feels he can make such statements because he was once a cessationist and can address what he sees as ‘holes’ in the cessationist view. I don’t say this in some ad hominem way, as I am aware there are some who have moved from continuationism to cessationism. Still, there are times when he is forthright with some of the cessationist arguments that I believe fall short of faithfulness to the biblical text.

For example, chapter 5 is entitled, The Real Reason Christians Do Not Believe in the Miraculous Gifts. He shares a few reasons why people do not believe in the miraculous gifts, but he points out one major reason: because they have not seen miracles in their present experience.

That is a major argument for cessationists. And the reverse would probably be true of most continuationists. One reason we believe they still exist is because we believe we have experienced and seen examples of such gifts of the Spirit. Interesting how our experience shapes our theology. We must recognise this. It’s not evil and ungodly. It’s a reality of every Christian (and non-Christian). I share more along these lines in this article and this article.

One of the things I didn’t fully agree with Deere about, which isn’t that major, came from chapter 5. He states that a false assumption of cessationism is believing that the apostle’s healing ministry was the same as the gift of healing. First off, he notes there is an assumption amongst some cessationists that the apostle’s could heal automatically, any time they wanted, at will. But that is far from even the biblical record.

But when Deere refers to the ‘miraculous gifts’, he is not just speaking of healings or miracles, but the nine gifts associated with 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. And because this text, and others, make it clear that these are distributed to the whole body of Christ, he would look to differentiate between the apostle’s ministry in these gifts and the body of Christ’s ministry. He specifically states:

‘The third thing I discovered is that, taken as a whole, the apostles are presented by the New Testament as the most gifted individuals within the church. Although I am sure the apostles received charismata, just as others in the body of Christ, the New Testament never describes their healing ministries with the term charisma. The miraculous ministry of the apostles is designated by the phrase signs and wonders.’ (p69, italics his)

This could simply be a case of appealing to silence, meaning that something must be true because the opposite is never stated in Scripture (hence, there is silence on the matter). Thus, because the Greek word, charismata, is never used in connection with the use of the miraculous gifts amongst the apostles, then their use of such must have been a different category. Again, I’m not sure this fully holds up.

Still, another problem is that non-apostles like Stephen and Philip were used in such miraculous ministries described as ‘signs and wonders’. See Acts 6:8 and 8:4-8. I would not exclude ‘signs and wonders’ from those who were not apostles. And I wouldn’t try and dichotomise the miracles and healings of the ‘normal’ body of Christ from the signs and wonders of the apostles. I don’t think it’s fully sustainable.

Another example is that Paul tells us he speaks in tongues more than all of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:18). And, remember, Deere groups all nine gifts from 1 Corinthians 12 into the ‘miraculous gifts’ (see p68). But his argument is that the apostle’s use of these gifts is more connected to ‘signs and wonders’. Yet, within the Corinthians context, is Paul’s use of tongues that which is for the whole body, or that which is just for apostles, or both? Well, tongues can be utilised as a sign itself (see 1 Corinthians 14:20-25, though this passage has caused much discussion). So, I’m still not sure such a distinction holds up. But, in the end, this is not of huge consequence to the belief in and utilisation of all the gifts of the Spirit. Moving on…

Not only is the book a theological resource for a case for continuationism, but it is also a very practical help at times. Not just with storied accounts of healings or prophecies or words of knowledge, though those give great encouragement, but also with counsel and wisdom in regards to seeking God and the work of His Spirit, even within churches that are cautious or in cases where one would like to encourage their leadership to be open to these gifts.

The final thing I would like to point out is that, in his Appendix B, Deere takes time to address the issue of the existence of apostles today. Most who know me will know that I am an advocate for present-day apostles. I have written plenty in a series on this topic, of which I still have 2 or 3 more articles I would like to post. I also have preached on this topic before – you can download the messages by clicking here.

So I was interested to read his thoughts on apostles today. And, actually, Deere is not closed to the idea of present-day apostles. As a summary to the Appendix, he pens these words:

‘I do not know of anyone today whom I would want to call an apostle in the same sense that I would call Paul an apostle. I am not willing, however, to rule out this possibility, because I do not think the Scriptures rule it out.’ (p275)

This is where the discussion gets down to the nitty-gritty. If apostles exist, are they in the same vein of a Paul, John, Peter, etc? Or are they ‘lesser-than’ apostles? I believe apostles exist today. Would I say they have the same ministry-anointing as Paul? Not really. But I still believe apostles are people of authority, of revelation, who are foundation builders-layers, and who help equip the body of Christ in varying ways, helping us be an apostolic (sent out, mission-minded) people.

For those ‘on the fence’ with regards to the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit for today, these thoughts on apostles today might cause one to immediately reject Jack Deere as a viable source to consider. But such should not be the case. This work is a solid biblical and theological case for contiunuationism, even if one rejects the idea of apostles today.

Deere is faithful to not only address the cessationist perspective on particular passages of Scripture and theology, but more importantly he is faithful to present a positive, biblical-theological case for continuationism. Hence, it’s not written as a slap to cessationists. Rather it is a signpost pointing to the ‘charismatic’ work of the Spirit amongst God’s people in this present age. Such was one major purpose of Pentecost.

Therefore, I recommend that continuationist, cessationist, and everyone in between look to interact with this book as they think through the validity of the continuing work of the Spirit in all his varying gifts for the body of Christ.