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Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ Category

Recently I was asked what I knew about evangelistic treasure hunts. Not much was the answer. I’d read a couple of blogs here and there, but for those completely new to it, here’s a short video of practitioners from the States:

Here’s what I like…

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

I affirm all these values.  But for these very reasons I want to question the practice of treasure hunting- and I mean genuinely to “question” it. I’m a newcomer to this and in no position to dismiss it. But here are some initial thoughts that explore the foundations of the church’s mission.  If this starts a dialogue about it, then good and I’m more than willing to be educated about these things… But I wonder whether treasure hunting in practice ends up undermining all the positives listed above.

1. They want to “take it to the streets”.

I’m all for taking the gospel to the streets (see links at the bottom of this post). But that’s the issue: what exactly are we taking to the streets?  What is the mission of the church?  Put it another way: For what purpose is the church sent into the world?

(Notice that this question is different to “What are all the things the body of Christ gets up to, week by week?” The church is involved in many activities, but asking why it has been sent into the world is a significantly different question.)

My expanded thoughts on the church’s mission can be found here and here but for now let me draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and especially…

We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

Essentially, the mission of the church is not “service” in the abstract, with proclamation fitting underneath (see diagram).  And it’s not “service” on one hand and “proclamation” on the other (the context in 2 Cor. 4-5 makes that clear).  Mission is proclamation – setting forth the truth plainly (v2), with “service” fitting underneath.

Scrivener_what_is_our_mission-pic

Proclamation is the umbrella activity – everything else fits explicitly under the preaching of Christ as Lord.  If this is the case then the footing on which you engage the world matters.  And the footing ought to be proclamation.

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul is adamant that preaching the weak-looking cross is the way forward. He contrasts it with the demands of the Greeks (for wisdom) and the Jews (for miracles) and he insists that preaching is how we engage.

In the past I’ve taken flak when arguing against “wisdom-first” mission (i.e. evidentialist apologetics).  Now, in the interests of offending all people equally, let me argue against “power-first” mission too.  As we’ll see, I’m not against wisdom or power in the cruciform sense – but I think there’s an explicit order and a context for these things…

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

This is a brilliant value to hold.  The trouble is the practice of treasure hunting looks like it undermines that value. One of the distinctive features of treasure hunting is going after the few and passing by the many.  The beauty of open air is that it’s the one form of evangelism that seeks to be as indiscriminate as God’s own evangelistic purpose.  He has placed us where we are so that all people might find him (Acts 17:26-27). Therefore a way of evangelism (i.e. open air) that seeks to reach a locality as a locality is a wonderful reflection of God’s universal love.  If you want to reflect God’s universal love, I’d recommend open air over treasure hunting which is unnecessarily particular.

3. They see people as “treasure.”

This is nice, and a great reflection of the true meaning of Matthew 13:44-46 – we are the treasure and we need to be found.  Of course the other word – “hunt” – is not so nice.  But maybe the hunted don’t mind?

My reservation here is something that also applies to open air, but I think the whole set-up of treasure hunts amplifies the danger: non-Christians are not marks to hit, or scalps to win.  We’re not interested in “gaining converts” but in offering Christ.  If you ask me, the writing up of targets sets up the whole enterprise in a questionable way. Far better to speak from a fullness than to need responses.  It’s not about you achieving your witnessing goals, but about you emptying yourself for your hearers.  There seems a very great danger of commodifying your listeners with treasure hunts.

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

Full disclosure – I’m not from charismatic circles.  The churches I grew up in were as dogmatically anti-charismatic as they were anti-liberal.  For years I thought evangelicals were defined by what we didn’t believe in: we weren’t liberal and we weren’t charo’s. That’s my background.  And yet, very often when I’m doing open air evangelism I’ve ended up praying for someone in need – whether for physical or emotional healing or for God to come through in some situation or other.  I don’t consider myself “gifted” to heal in any charismatic sense, but I’ve prayed for it often enough. Everyone street evangelist I know ends up praying for people – for healings, for “breakthroughs” in personal situations, for whatever. You can’t offer Christ without talking to people in need, and you can’t be a Christian without wanting to help those people.

I love that treasure hunters pray for folks on the streets – I do it too.  But I have great reservations about encountering folk in order to tick off clues, and about leading with ‘power’, when Paul tells me to lead with the word of the cross (see points 1 and 5).

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit’s work in mission.

This is wonderful. The prayerful preparation involved in Treasure Hunting is great.  May we all learn from it.  Also cultivating a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit’s leading throughout our evangelism is priceless.  “Spirit, help me… Open his/her eyes” is my constant prayer in open air work.  But let’s ask: what is the work of the Spirit?

I fear that too often we make an equation between the Spirit and what Enlightenment people think of as “the supernatural“. Since modern people (Christians included it seems) have booted God “upstairs”, we consider this world as a “natural” realm of cause and effect. But then Christians come along and say “Yes, but there’s also another realm over and above called “the supernatural” and it’s all about un-natural, unexpected stuff happening.”   And so essentially Christians agree with the naturalists about the basic structure of reality, we just insist that cause and effect aint all there is – there’s also freaky stuff.

What will evangelism look like then?  Well, we’ll want to introduce unbelievers to this other realm.  And so “the miraculous” seems a perfectly appropriate way in. Trouble is, the Spirit is not so much the Spirit of “the supernatural”, He’s the Spirit of Christ.  The way the realm of the Spirit breaks into this world is in the Anointed One.  Heaven meets earth in Jesus and every meeting we try to arrange between unbelievers and God needs to reflect that.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul has rejected the tactic of giving “Jews” the “miraculous signs” they demand. He thinks that will undermine his message. Nonetheless in chapter 2 he says he wants his evangelism to demonstrate the Spirit’s power (v4).  Ok great. What form will that demonstration take?  It’s not in wise and persuasive words and it’s not in miraculous “powers”. It’s in preaching the cross (2:2).  There the Spirit shines His light with almighty power (1:18). There is the meeting of heaven and earth.  And Paul says, it’s very possible to distract non-Christians from that centre.  It’s very possible to empty the cross of its power (1:17).

Lest we ever do that, let’s determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is the whole focus of the Spirit’s work.  Let us then, as Spirit-filled, Spirit-dependent witnesses, make  Christ and His work our focus.  That is truly Spirit-ual evangelism.

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Here are some older posts on how I try to share Christ publicly…

First Contact Evangelism Seminar

Open Air Preaching with Wesley and Whitefield

Open Air Preaching

Open Air Ideas

Open Air Doesn’t Have To Be Flashy

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Dev points us to Peter Leithart reflecting on nature and super-nature.  It’s reminded me of some diagrams I’ve been meaning to draw for a while…

Maybe it’s been since the Enlightenment and/or maybe it’s come through Aquinas with his Aristotelian nature/grace divide, but either way… Today we tend to imagine the interaction of nature and “super-nature” like this:

Nature is the solid and certain thing.  And it has its own self-determined course.  But every now and again this ethereal, super-natural world shows up and freaky stuff happens.  Then it’s back to business as usual.

Of course once you grant the certainty and self-sufficiency of “nature” you’re already committed to explaining away all “freaky stuff.”  And, hey presto, naturalism.

Many of us will know how infuriating it is to engage with an atheist who has already defined God out of the equation through assumptions like these.  There is, perhaps, only one thing more infuriating.  That is the Christian who shares the atheist’s assumptions but protests loudly: “No, seriously guys, God is really at work because I could tell you some seriously freaky stories…”

No, no.  We need to frame the whole thing more biblically.  I suggest, like this:

It’s the old creation that is, in some sense, less real than the new.  It is subject to futility and plunging down into death.  There is an arrow here – there is a direction – but under Adam, that direction is downwards.

Overall however there is progress because the second Adam has come.  And He brings new creation.  The reality of this in-breaking kingdom holds true in Christ Himself and spiritually we belong to that new reality, even as we wait in this passing age.

See the Leithart article for more on this eschatological view of “supernature”.

But let’s ask:  What does it look like for God to show up?

Well God is at work in the Old Creation and intimately so, it’s just that Old Creation goes from life to death.   This is God’s alien work, but His work nonetheless.  Overall though His proper work is the renewal of all things under the feet of Christ (from death to life).  Therefore the signs of His coming kingdom are restoration and recreation.  Freaky is not really the point.  New life is.

I have some friends who appreciate my emphasis on “the word” but wish I would equally emphasize the work of the Spirit.  I long more and more to be a man of the Spirit but they mean something different by that phrase.  When pushed on how Spirit-filled ministry looks, they point to miracles, tongues and words of knowledge.  They are adamant that the word – proclamation, preaching, teaching – is absolutely vital.  A necessary foundation.  But, they say, we also need God to show up.  And, again, when pressed on what they mean they point to experiences in worship, of being slain in the Spirit and miracles.  These are the unmistakeable signs that God is alive and well and active in His world.

I just wonder whether a Christianized version of the Enlightenment worldview is going on.  “Nature” equals the ordinary operations of church – church structures, preaching, band practice.  But when God shows up it’s freaky stuff.  There is normal life that grinds along according to rules and regulations.  Then there is the Spirit who, almost by definition, works outside of structures.  Regularity and order is fine.  But Spirit equals spontaneous and sporadic.

What would it look like to see the work of the Spirit in the context of the second diagram?  Here word and Spirit are not two spheres of activity (one being “natural” and the other “supernatural”).  Word-and-Spirit is the way the gospel of Christ is proclaimed.  And in that context we see new life.  Through the gospel, the Spirit spotlights Christ.  He opens hearts to Jesus.  He draws believers to their Lord and to each other.  He empowers the church to live in love.  And yes He heals today, of course He does.  But the healing is not the point where God shows up.  Both the word of the Kingdom and the signs of the kingdom (which include all kinds of new life) are the work of the Spirit.

 

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For years I prayed for the fruit of the Spirit every day.  (Galatians 5:22f)  Yet, looking back, I prayed for the fruit in an altogether fleshly way.

How so?  Well basically my prayers were petitions for the moral character of ‘love, joy, peace…’ as abstract qualities. I would judge my own spiritual walk that week by how loving, joyful, peaceful… I had been. In short I had turned the fruit of the Spirit into a check-list of works which I either did or didn’t practice that week.

One morning, as I was praying for the fruit, I got an image of the Spirit coming to my door with a huge basket laden with choice fruits.  And my response was to say ‘Thanks for bringing the fruit.  Just leave them inside the door and I’ll see you later!’

I wanted the fruit not the Spirit.  I wanted the fruit apart from the Spirit.  Yet the fruit is fruit of the Spirit. It grows organically as the Spirit unites me to Christ, the true Vine.  Henceforward I prayed for the Spirit Himself – He communicates Christ to me as a sheer gift.  As I receive Him by faith, so the fruit grows.

Yet how quickly we turn gospel into law.
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We have endless substitutes for the actual, dynamic, personal presence of the Spirit in our thinking.  Here’s a sketch of just a few off the top of my head.

Of course, many of these can be means by which the Spirit works. Yet if they are cut off from the Source they have no life in them:

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Doctrine of Omnipotence

An a-topic, abstract power is assigned to God.  This is all rather than the active and immanent Person who is God’s Power – the Spirit of Christ.
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Doctrine of Omnipresence

We say “God is here” because we believe ‘God is everywhere‘ in an abstract sense.  Rather than acknowledging the indwelling personal presence of the Spirit of Jesus.
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Doctrine of Omniscience

This happens in, for instance, biblical interpretation.  Often the living nature of the Spirit-breathed Word is replaced by a doctrine of God’s omniscience in the original authorship of the Bible.  We have faith in God’s omniscience – that He inspired the text thousands of years ago in such a way that it would speak to every generation.  This takes the place in our thinking of the Spirit as the Dei loquentis persona (God speaking in person).  Instead of the dynamic, contemporary ministry of the Spirit, our spotlight falls on an ancient omniscience.  A fossilization of the living word?

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Assurance found in moral performance.

Romans 8:16 says ‘the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’  Few preachers I hear teach that assurance comes in the fellowship we enjoy with the Spirit.  An inward moral check is emphasized rather than the Spirit’s inward testimony.

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Fellowship of believers

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor 13:4) is not a Spirit-generated church-fellowship! Yet so many take it in this way. No, just as the love of God is an enjoyment of God in His love and just as the grace of Christ is an enjoyment of Christ in His grace, so the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is fellowship with the Spirit!
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‘Now but not yet’.

We often speak of this age (truly) in terms of absence and in-between-ness. We live in between the comings of Christ. This is all absolutely correct and vitally important. But let’s not forget the presence!  This is the age of the Spirit.  The Spirit’s presence is the ‘now’ in the ‘now-and-not-yet’.  Let’s remember Jesus said ‘It is for your good I am going away… if I go I will send Him to you’! (John 16:7).

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Fruit of the Spirit

At one time I was praying through the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5 and using these nine characteristics as a moral checklist.  I confessed my lack of fruit and prayed for more.  One day I was doing this and got a picture in my mind of the Holy Spirit coming to my door laden with a big basket of fruit and me saying to Him ‘Thanks Spirit, just leave the fruit and I’ll see you later.’  I was praying for fruit when I should really have been praying for the Spirit Himself.  These fruit grow organically from a relationship with Him.  Let’s desire Him and not simply His gifts.

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Application in preaching

So much preaching advice assumes that it’s the preacher’s job to bridge the gap between text and congregation.  Surely it is the Spirit’s work to drive home the Word to our hearts!  How often preaching is thought to really live when the preacher ‘applies’ the text to Monday morning and the ‘nitty-gritty’ of life.  Yet the Spirit, in living power, makes the Word alive and applies it to our lives in ways more nuanced, powerful and incisive than any preacher could.

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Human advice

In the realm of guidance
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Human aptitude

In the realm of gifts
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Apologetics

In the realm of evangelism
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Strategy

In the realm of Kingdom-work
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Oratory skill

In the realm of preaching

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Grammatical-historical method.

Text critical tools give the meaning of the Bible, not the Author Himself

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Any more we can add to the list?

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  1. Through Christ, the Triune God has already revealed Himself unmistakably in every aspect of creation so that humanity is without excuse.
  2. Against Christ, humanity has taken knowledge into its own hands and so barred the door against all claims from above.
  3. In view of Christ, God has handed humanity over to its chosen futility, locking the door from His side too.
  4. In Christ, God has entered this prison and manifested His eternal glory in time and space, even in human flesh.
  5. As Christ, humanity now has a perfect mind with which to comprehend God (and everything else) – one that is not only human but also in God.
  6. Out of Christ, His Spirit has been poured to incorporate us into the Man who knows.

This is what has already happened.

Here’s what happens when we forget 1:

We think:

  • That the universe is basically mute (when actually it’s preaching day and night)
  • That humanity is not really deaf – they’re listening hard but the sermon’s too quiet
  • That we, therefore, have to piece together proofs to amplify the sermon
  • That ‘evidence’ for God exists only in some limited aspects of the creation (e.g. fine-tuning)
  • That there are certain obvious pointers to “God” but ‘Jesus’ and ‘Trinity’ are actually pretty obscure
  • Therefore, that evangelism is a three-part process from creation to God to Jesus. (It’s the very opposite!)

Here’s what happens when we forget 2:

We think:

  • That humanity (or at least some humans) are actually truth seekers
  • That the mind is somehow less fallen than the rest of the person (rather than the centre of our enmity)
  • That fallen humanity is genuinely questing after the capital-T Truth when it makes its enquiries
  • That the way forward is to agree to their own systems of truth verification
  • Therefore that we need to find ‘evidence’ to submit to their systems

Here’s what happens when we forget 3:

We think:

  • Perhaps if our faulty grasping after knowledge was the problem, our true grasping after knowledge will be the solution. (Instead we should realize that the grasping was the problem!)
  • If we now reason properly we can reverse the fall. (But no, God has confirmed our decision and locked the door from His side).
  • Maybe God is pleased by our efforts to ascend to knowledge (rather than thwarting them – catching the ‘wise’ in their craftiness)
  • Maybe God will aid our efforts to shepherd an unbeliever up the mountain. (In His grace, He might aid the unbeliever but not our efforts)

Here’s what happens when we forget 4:

We think:

  • Christ is the cherry on the epistemological cake.
  • We can (or even should) should reason from creation to Christ (rather than Christ to creation).
  • Christ is one relevation among many (rather than the one Lens through which all must be seen)

Here’s what happens when we forget 5:

We think:

  • There remains within Adamic humanity a capacity for knowing God (rather than realizing that this capacity lies in Christ alone).
  • That the quality of our conversion, or ongoing knowledge of God, finally depends on our own reasoned response to God.  (At base it relies on Christ’s reasoned response to God).
  • Christians are rational individuals raised to a higher intellectual plain (rather than fools united to a Person who is Wisdom).
  • Once we have come to Christ we can know God autonomously.  (No, only in Him by the Spirit can we go on knowing God)

Here’s what happens when we forget 6:

We think:

  • Maybe we need Jesus to bring us to God, but it’s up to us to get to Jesus.  (No, it’s the sovereign work of the Spirit through the gospel word).
  • Maybe there are ways and means to get to Jesus apart from the Spirit-empowered word.  (No.  While the whole universe screams ‘Jesus is Lord’, the Spirit unblinds our eyes to these things only as He shows us Christ in the word).

…………………………………..

So then, these six events have already happened.  Acting like they haven’t happened or they need bolstering by our own efforts betrays the gospel that we proclaim.

The only thing that needs to happen now and the only thing that can happen now to remedy our situation is for the Spirit to sweep the unbeliever up into the Son’s knowledge of the Father.

And, lest we divorce the Spirit from the word, the only means by which the Spirit does that is the gospel word.

So get proclaiming.

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Something I think the Lord has been teaching me recently is to prize both these truths:

I am in Christ

 and

Christ is in me

I am clothed in an alien righteousness but also filled with an outworking Power.  My standing before God is entirely outside myself – in Jesus.  Yet my walk in the world is enabled by an energy that is no less heavenly in origin but that springs from a new core within – the new heart.  Will’s sermon on the New Birth is a great help in this direction.

Here are some more thoughts from Watchman Nee’s little book on Ephesians – Sit, Walk, Stand.  In this section he is moving from our ‘seated’ reality with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1-3) to our ‘walk’ in the world (Eph 4-5).

God has given us Christ.  There is nothing now for us to receive outside of Him.  The Holy Spirit has been sent to produce what is of Christ in us; not to produce anything that is apart from or outside of Him…We have been accustomed to look upon holiness as a virtue, upon humility as a grace, upon love as a gift to be sought from God.  But the Christ of God is Himself everything that we shall ever need… Our life is the life of Christ, mediated in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit Himself.

No wonder that this is Paul’s prayer as he transitions from the ‘seated’ reality to our earthly ‘walk’:

 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.  (Eph 3:14-19)

 

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For years I prayed for the fruit of the Spirit every day.  (Galatians 5:22f)  Yet, looking back, I prayed for the fruit in an altogether fleshly way.

How so?  Well basically my prayers were petitions for the moral character of ‘love, joy, peace…’ as abstract qualities. I would judge my own spiritual walk that week by how loving, joyful, peaceful… I had been. In short I had turned the fruit of the Spirit into a check-list of works which I either did or didn’t practice that week.

One morning, as I was praying for the fruit, I got an image of the Spirit coming to my door with a huge basket laden with choice fruits.  And my response was to say ‘Thanks for bringing the fruit.  Just leave them inside the door and I’ll see you later!’

I wanted the fruit not the Spirit.  I wanted the fruit apart from the Spirit.  Yet the fruit is fruit of the Spirit. It grows organically from a relationship with Him.  Henceforward I prayed for the Spirit Himself.

How quickly we turn gospel into law.
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