Jonathan Edwards, my Favourite Cessationist (Blog #12 on the Holy Spirit)

Edwards

Jonathan Edwards is almost certainly America’s best theologian. Edwards lived in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 18th century and was a part of the Reformed tradition and the Puritan heritage. He was a pastor. He was a preacher. He was a verifiable genius. He was part of a revival that is now called the Great Awakening.

As a follow up to my last post, I want to point to Edwards as being a unifying theological force in this discussion/debate between continuationism and cessationism (see previous post for definitions of these words). Edwards was a cessationist. He preached that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit ceased at the end of the apostolic age of the church.

But it is my belief that Edwards provides warnings and cautions to both continuationists and cessationists. For continuationists, Edwards warns us not to put too much stock in our personal spiritual experience. In his classic work The Religious Affections Edwards cautions that enthusiastic experiences cannot provide the basis for our relationship with God – true religion is a matter of the heart (the affections – motives and desires) and so experiences do not guarantee true religion. So we should be cautions of experience and the subjective.

And at the same time since Edwards prioritized the affections, he believed strongly in the life-giving, vital and dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer! Regarding his own intimate experience of the presence of God, Edwards wrote:

Now, if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered

brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper!

If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be

all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, glorious distraction.[1]

In other words, while we should not put too much stock in our experiences of the Holy Spirit, it is really important that as Christians we have a strong and healthy experience of the presence of God in a way that our affections are set ablaze. This is a correction to some charismatic tendencies where (perhaps) the subjective aspects of the faith are prioritized, and it is also a correction to cessationist tendencies where (perhaps) the rational aspects of the faith are emphasized. In conclusion, cessationists and continuationists, read more Edwards!


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival,” in The Great Awakening, vol. 4 of Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. C. C. Goen (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 341.

Advertisements

For Continuationism (Blog #11 on the Holy Spirit)

1411812_91168033

The Gospel Coalition recently published two posts: one argued for cessationism and the other for continuationism. Cessationism is the belief that the so-called extraordinary gifts of the Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.) ceased when the apostles died or soon after. Continuationism teaches that these gifts continue today. I recommend reading these posts as a general introduction to this discussion.

And this is a difficult discussion. Many teachers I deeply respect are cessationists: Tom Schreiner, J.I. Packer, Doug Wilson, John MacArthur and others. Many I respect are continuationists: John Piper, Wayne Grudem, D.A. Carson, C.J. Mahaney and others. My background is largely cessationist. Most churches I’ve been a part of have been largely cessationist and for all intents and purposes I’m a functional cessationist – I’ve never spoken in tongues, never witnessed miraculous healing. I don’t believe in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit after conversion and I firmly believe the canon of Scripture is closed.

And yet the Scriptures keep pushing me to believe in continuationism! There are two scriptural arguments for continuationism that I find extremely compelling. The first comes from Acts 2:1-13 when the Spirit descends in tongues and then Peter clearly explains that this event is fulfilling Joel 2:28-32 where the Spirit descends on all flesh. Joel, like the other Old Testament prophets used the language of the Holy Spirit being poured out to describe the inauguration of the New Covenant era and the restoration therein (cf. Isaiah 32:15-16; Ezekiel 36:26-27). The New Covenant will be an era in which the Holy Spirit reigns. Therefore, the nature of Old Covenant prophetic fulfillment suggests that the gifts of the Spirit will be experienced during the entire New Covenant era, not just the apostolic age of the early church.

Second, when I read the (much debated) passage of 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 I am totally persuaded that Paul’s original, inspired intent is to teach that the extraordinary gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 will pass away when Jesus “the perfect”  returns. Trying to change what this text clearly means feels to me like playing fast and loose with Scripture, a problem so common in our day!

Therefore, I conclude that the Bible teaches the continuation of the gifts and so we should “earnestly desire” them with discernment, care, unity, and love, holding firmly to Scripture as ultimate authority, and being alert to some of the dangers and abuses that have emerged in some charismatic circles (1 Cor 14:1). Much more could (and perhaps should) be said but this blog post is already getting too long…

The Psychological Model of the Trinity (Post #10 on the Holy Spirit)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Whenever we discuss the Trinity we should start with the humility to recognize that we are finite creatures trying to grasp something, or Someone, way beyond us. Yet we must also recognize that the Trinity is fundamental for Christian orthodoxy – so we ought to try!

In the Eastern branch of Christianity, the Trinity is generally spoken of as three persons (they begin with the threeness of God) and then these three are shown to be one. That is called the “social model” of the Trinity. The Western branch has generally spoken of the unity of God’s essense and then how there is a threeness within this unity. That is called the “psychological model” because it goes back originally to Augustine (and to Anselm of Canterbury) who sought to find the threeness of God in the human psyche – soul, mind, and will.

Jonathan Edwards, following Augustine and the psychological model, said in an unpublished essay, that God’s perfect idea of himself is Jesus, who Scripture calls “the Word” or “Wisdom” of God. Wow! That sounds so strange, and yet, it so remarkably biblical (John 1:1, Proverbs 8:22-30, Hebrews 1:3). So we have duplicity in God – God and God’s idea of himself.

Then between God and Jesus, his idea of himself, emerges the Holy Spirit, who is the “bond of love,” that is, God’s own love for his idea of himself. To reach this conclusion Edwards simply points out some biblical passages that push us in this direction; Scripture says “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and it says “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Perhaps there is a divine reality behind this? Indeed, the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove as the Father said “This is my beloved son” (Matthew 3:16-17). There are certainly many passages of Scripture that connect the Holy Spirit in us with our love for one another (2 Cor 6:6; Rom 15:30; Col 1:8; Rom 5:5; Gal 5:13-16). So perhaps there is a biblical foundation to view the Spirit as the “bond of love”?

Now I am not sure how these three “modes of being” really are different persons. That is the difficulty of this psychological model, which is ultimately an analogy, and all analogies have shortcomings. But at any rate, I still find it helpful.

Also, here is a YouTube discussion on Jonathan Edwards and the psychological model between Joe Rigney (from Bethlehem Baptist Seminary) and Douglas Wilson (from Christ Church Idaho). I recommend the whole thing but the discussion of the psychological model starts around the 6:17 mark.

Deification (Post #9 on the Holy Spirit)

Eastern Theology has a word for the Holy Spirit’s work in salvation: deification (thēosis). This refers to the way that God in his grace restores the image of God in humans, making them share in the glorious and pure divine life, even as a distinction still remains between God and humans.[1] There is a mystery here that we should come to terms with – we are the temple of God. God the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our mortal bodies. Our bodies!

How awesome is this paradox? We are not God but God is in us and so we become holy and our very body, flesh and blood, becomes his dwelling place as we share in his life. We are renewed after his image. We are new creatures. A man named Henry Scougal wrote a book with a title that has always puzzled me: The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Wow! I get it now – God really lives within.

The reality of this should lead to humility and not pride, because the implications of this are both terrifying and encouraging. On the one hand, it is terrifying because of the high demand it places on us. For Paul, the reality that we are God’s temple means that we must be holy (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Since God is in us, holiness is totally necessary! Holiness is essential! And we all know how hard it is to be holy.

On the other hand, since the Holy Spirit is in us, God is strengthening us by his glorious power (Colossians 1:11). The Holy Spirit is causing us to become holy and that is encouraging – we don’t live the Christian life alone. We have his presence. We have his weapons. We have his resources.


[1] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), Page 69-70.

The Spirit’s General Work (Post #8 on the Holy Spirit)

There is no question that the Holy Spirit was at work in the creation of the world – He hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Likewise, there is no question that the Spirit is at work in providence – the maintenance of creation and the purpose of God in directing his creation. But if we look at the Bible one particular work of the Spirit comes up – the Holy Spirit gives life. In the natural world, all creatures get their life from him:

When you send forth your Spirit, they are created” (Psalm 104:30).

If he [God] should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15).

As Wayne Grudem has noted, this life-giving work of the Spirit in creation finds a parallel to his life-giving work in salvation.[1] It is the Spirit who regenerates, or brings life to, the human heart (Ezekiel 36:26-28; John 3:6-8). “The Spirit gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Titus 3:5). Furthermore, it is the Spirit who will give life to our resurrection bodies (Romans 8:11).

Therefore, I conclude that the general work of the Spirit is to give life. Does the Holy Spirit do other work than this? Yes of course – he inspired the Scriptures, he empowered Israel’s judges, he empowers us for holiness and service, he also gives assurance, guides, directs, teaches, and illuminates. But his general role in creation is to give life and it is in this regard that the general work of the Spirit and the special work of the Spirit are connected. The Spirit gives life to all, and spiritual, resurrection life to some, but ultimately at the end of all things physical and redemptive dimensions of life will harmonize as the life-giving work of the Spirit finds it’s consummation in the new creation.


[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)

The Spirit and Salvation – Part 2 (Post #7 on the Holy Spirit)

Image

One related topic to my last post on the role of the Spirit in salvation is the underlying trinitarian question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or from both the Father and the Son? This issue has been debated for centuries and it was a central reason the Church split in 1054 AD into East and West; the Eastern Church believed the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father only but the Western Church believed that the Spirit proceeded from Father and Son and inserted the Latin term “filioque” (meaning “and from the Son”) into the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.

Karl Barth argued strongly for the inclusion of the word filioque in the creed, for he believed that his procession from the Son grounded the communion between God and humans:

The Filioque expresses recognition of the communion between the Father and the Son…. And recognition of this communion is no other than recognition of the basis and confirmation of the communion between God and man as a divine, eternal truth, created in revelation by the Holy Spirit.”[1]

I am quite confident that the Bible teaches filioque in a number of passages (John 15:26, 16:7; Titus 3:5-7; Romans 8:9-10) and so this insight from Barth is a fascinating suggestion regarding the nature of our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit initiates salvation by taking the Word of God (i.e., Jesus, God’s Revelation) and revealing Him compellingly to the human heart (see Ezekiel 36:26-27 and John 3:5-8).

In other words, the procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son is directly linked to the Spirit’s vital role in revealing Jesus to believers, securing our salvation. So while it is true that the Spirit (God’s ruach) was at work in creation (Genesis 1:2), and He continues to be at work in God’s providential care of creation (Psalm 104:29-30), the primary, salvific work of the Spirit is to reveal Christ and apply the death/resurrection of Christ to sinners like you and me (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14).[2]


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics as cited by Warren McWIlliams “Why all the Fuss about Filioque? Karl Barth and Jugen Moltmann on the procession of the Spirit” in Perspectives in Religious Studies 22 (1995): 171.

[2] Contra Clark Pinnock, and thus it is not surprising to learn that Pinnock rejects the addition of the filioque clause. See Ibid., 177.

The Spirit as Theological Centre (Post #6 on the Holy Spirit)

Image

It is the conviction of nearly all Christians that theology is “Christocentric” – all talk about God revealed in the Bible revolves around the person and work of Jesus Christ. Moreover, all theology is Trinitarian. (Obviously…and yet not so obviously – it took someone like Karl Barth before the church really came to terms with this in the 20th century.) And on top of that, as nearly all theologians are now recognizing, all theology is eschatological, that is, all theology is forward-looking, or to use George Ladd’s famous phrase, there is an “already but not yet” aspect to basically every Christian doctrine (e.g. the kingdom has come, and yet it is still future; we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved).

Wolfhart Pannenberg adds another unifying factor to theology: the Holy Spirit. Central to Pannenberg’s view is that eschatology is really an expression of the Spirit’s work: according to Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “[Pannenberg] has shown us more clearly than anybody else the integral connection of pneumatology to the rest of the systematic topics, and thus the critical role of the Spirit of God in all God’s dealings with us from creation to sustenance to life to salvation to Christian community to the consummation of creation at the eschaton.”[1]

This is very exciting on a personal level – we are being saved by the increasingly evident work of the Spirit. He has made us a part of the inaugurated reign of God (John 3:6-8). He has made us experience a foretaste of the resurrection even as we await the resurrection of our bodies at Christ’s return (Romans 8:10-11). He is producing in us spiritual fruit like love and joy that will one day be characteristic of our perfected, resurrection life (Galatians 5:22-23). He is conforming us into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:5-4:6). What is especially exciting is that the salvation he works within us will overflow and bring about the complete restoration of creation (Romans 8:20-23).


[1] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and the People of God: The Pneumatology of Wolfhart Panneberg,” in Pneuma 26 (2004): 31.