Andrew K. Gabriel’s “Simply Spirit-Filled”: A Book Review

I am grateful to Andrew Gabriel for the opportunity to review Simply Spirit Filled: Experiencing God in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019).

Andrew K. Gabriel (PhD, McMaster Divinity College) serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Vice President of Academics at Horizon College and Seminary in Saskatoon, SK. He is a member of the Theological Study Commission of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (with which he is also an Ordained Minister) and the author of three books, including The Lord Is the Spirit: The Holy and the Divine Attributes.

Gabriel’s desire for his readers regarding the life of the Spirit in “Simply Spirit-Filled” is that they be: “Open, but not gullible. Discerning, but not cynical. Engaging, but not fanatical. My hope is that you would be simply Spirit-filled” (10). His style of writing is approachable and engaging offering an intelligent, but readily accessible read for persons from teenagers to adult with any concern for the Spirit (whether wrestling with basic questions, or just seeking a deepened engagement). Personal anecdotes, testimonials, and reflections permeate the chapters and offer pastoral insight in leading others alongside for living as those who keep in step with the Spirit.

After sharing briefly about his personal spiritual journey in chapter 1, he opens in chapter 2 discussing two experiences typical in many Pentecostal and charismatic settings: shaking and being “slain in the Spirit” (he refers to these two as “shake and bake”). Sifting through multiple Biblical texts which have been used for supporting such experiences, Gabriel helps the readers to discern ways of hearing Scripture more properly with regard to experience, but also to remain critically humble in enjoying what the Spirit may in fact  be doing.

Chapter 3 engages issues of hearing God speak to us. The interweaving of personal story and Biblical/theological reflection calls for readers to reflect more carefully along with Gabriel on the ways in which the Spirit is in fact already speaking. To become better listeners. To attune ourselves to hearing well. (This chapter bears many similarities to the ways I continually seek to counsel church-goers and students toward hearing what the Spirit is saying…an issue which often creates tremendous anxiety especially for young college students).

Chapter 4 broaches the subject of tongues. Here he specifically provides responses to three common challenges to speaking in tongues (tongues are only a sign of Spirit baptism, tongues are just for a few people, and it’s “magical” or it’s “just me”). In the end, he clarifies the spiritual gains of speaking in tongues and along the way offers some brief comments toward interpreting Paul in 1 Corinthians well with regard to Paul’s understanding of the place and function of tongues within the life of the Church.

Chapter 5 engages the health-and-wealth/prosperity gospel and “Word of Faith” theology in light of God’s plans to heal and bless. Here he even names numerous such preachers/teachers in order to at least highlight some specifics of what he is addressing before addressing a healthy (pun intended) approach to healing and wholeness. Gabriel’s discussion of “faith” and the many ways it gets abused (usually with regard to someone else’s “faith”) turns to pointing toward a trust in God when we do not understand or do not clearly see an answer as we might desire. Regarding praying for healing, he comments, “If you think you must use a specific technique or formula when praying for healing, you may have a hangover from prosperity teaching” (118). His response, ask for healing and trust God. It remains God’s gift to give.

Chapter 7 concludes this book with a portrait of what it might look like to be Spirit-filled. To be Spirit-filled is to be captured by the love of God…a love which answers in love for God and others. This is to be “spiritual” in the language of Paul…to be ones guided and in step with the Spirit as those who are yielded to the life of the Spirit among us making us to be more like Jesus.

As a tool for reflective devotional purposes, Gabriel provides a prayer in relation to the contents of the chapter along with numerous helpful pointed questions regarding the chapter’s contents. These provide a direct resource for making use of this book for a personal devotional reading, group study, Sunday School, or discipleship, thus adding to the overall value of the book for continued deeper consideration and application. Gabriel is to be commended as a scholar for producing such a work that may prove to bear much fruit for the wider Church should it gain its needed wide reading. Pastors and church leaders would benefit greatly from reading this volume and finding ways to either lead congregations through its contents or to preach and teach upon the topics laid out with specific attention to the Biblical texts discussed.

One notable curiosity from my reading, Gabriel does not discuss the Spirit at all in chapter 5 (on faith and healing) all the while the gifts of “faith” and “healings” belong as gifts of the Spirit given to the body of Christ. His discussion of the topic is pastorally careful and reflective, but seems to lack the integration of the role or function of the Spirit specifically in the processes of faith and wholeness here (though he takes up the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 6). While one will find him offering multiple engagements toward perceiving the life of the Spirit in the other chapters, this chapter could have used a clarification throughout toward faith as the work of the Spirit in us (as gift even) along with the life-giving enjoyment of the Spirit who purposes to make a world fit for our God and Father and His glorious Son, King Jesus.

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I was provided a complimentary pre-publication copy by Andrew K. Gabriel for review purposes only for this review and am offering my review freely.

On the Holy Spirit (for children)

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Cover of the 1993 update

I picked up a copy of a delightful children’s book at a rummage sale this last weekend: The Holy Spirit in Me by Carolyn Nystrom, illustrated by Wayne A. Hanna (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981).*
This small 30 page book (part of the Children’s Bible Basics) offers just about one of the finest summations of a Biblical (and practical) theology of the Spirit in succinct and simple terms. It is written about the person and work of the Holy Spirit as creator, inspirer of Scripture, anointer of Jesus, seal of sonship, the one Jesus’ baptizes his followers in, charismatic endower, indwelling keeper, sanctifier, helper, empowerer for witness to Jesus, reminder of what Jesus has done and said, enabler to love others, advocate in prayer, and producer of the life of God in us.
One example page states:

Ephesians 1:13
Ever since the day the Holy Spirit filled that room where people waited, He lives inside each person who believes in Jesus. He is God living in me. He will never leave me, and I will never leave him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book and think it a great introduction to small children on the role of the Spirit in the world and in their lives.
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* The cover used is from the 1993 update that used Eira B. Reeves as illustrator.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit from a Neo-Pentecostal Lutheran

I have been lecturing in one of my classes for a few weeks on the Neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic outpourings of the Spirit in the wider Church. Today I showed that class a 9 minute video of Harald Bredesen (a Neo-Pentecostal Lutheran minister) sharing about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is short, practical, simple and to the point. I followed this by closing the class session with a call to the students to both ask and receive the promise of the Father. It is my prayer to see the furtherance of the move of the Spirit throughout the Church regardless of affiliation. Come, Holy Spirit!
Harald Bredesen on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Hermann Gunkel on the Holy Spirit

German theologian Hermann Gunkel
German theologian Hermann Gunkel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been reading Hermann Gunkel‘s first book Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes nach der populären Anschauungen der apostolischen Zeit und der Lehre des Apostels Paulus (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1888) as part of my thesis research.*  It is a brief, but altogether striking volume that was an unexpected gem by the hand of this Old Testament scholarly father of form criticism.
According to Gunkel, “Almost without exception, only those events that impinge on human existence are described as activities of the Spirit” (15). His argument is essentially that Paul was a thorough-going pneumatic, not to be confused as inferring that the Spirit was simply some inward ethical conscience or propulsion. In fact, he argues that there must be a distinction maintained between theologizing about the Spirit for doctrinal formulations and pneumatic experiences as such (8). The pneumatic experience of life is regarded as central (particularly to Pauline practice and congregations).
It was the pneumatic experiences of the Early Church which offered the evidence of God’s Spirit. Such evidence (particularly glossolalia, according to Gunkel) functioned to testify to possession and indwelling by God’s Spirit. Ethical behavior was the manifested proper use of such gifts of the Spirit. But Paul never made a move to a simply ethical/moral S/spirit as so many others of the Second Temple period (eg, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo, etc.). Paul could not conceive of the Spirit as less than enabling powerful manifestations, but that the ethical belonged still to the supernatural working of God’s Spirit.
While he admits (even requires) that the OT understanding of the Spirit of God was powerfully demonstrative, he likens such activities of the Spirit to insanity (5). And his understanding of Paul does not seem to reach much further. Gunkel almost seems to regard Paul as someone who has sadly embraced the pneumatic, when he seems so reasonable elsewhere in discerning other matters of faith.
All in all, I am struck by Gunkel’s emphasis upon the demonstrative pneumatic activities of the OT and NT despite his reluctance to accept such for our own day (at least as a supposed “reasonable” person might know better).**
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* Translated by Roy A. Harrisville and Philip A. Quanbeck II as, The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1979, 2008). The citations in this post follow this English translation and pagination.
** He does actually state that such phenomena have simply “retreated” rather than actually disappearing altogether, and that they are indeed still “present…among us” (4).

The Spirit in the World

Today is Pentecost Sunday and I was asked to cover the adult Sunday School class since our normal teacher was gone.  I, of course, knew what the content would cover and did not really prepare as I usually do.  Instead, we discussed the passages from the lesson (Acts 8, 10-11, 19) and what it means for the Spirit to be poured out on the Samaritans who had professed faith in Christ, the Gentiles who were “God-fearers” and were only afterward baptized into the name of Christ, and the Ephesian disciples of John the baptizer who received the baptism of the Spirit at the hands of the apostle Paul.

As we discussed these passages, I was struck by the presence and work of the Spirit throughout the world among all people.  We discussed that it was God’s Spirit no longer remaining with the antediluvians in the days of Noah, and God’s indwelling Spirit which sanctified David.  It was also God’s Spirit in the unborn John son of Zacharias and Elizabeth that gave testimony to Mary the mother of our Lord.  That same Spirit was present and at work even as the teachers of the Law accused Jesus of casting out unclean spirits by the power of the evil one. 

Through this conversation, I confessed to my congregation that indeed we are simply partners with the Spirit who is present and always has been.  It is about our relationship (read: yielded, obedient, etc.) with the Spirit that affects in what manner we speak of the Spirit being present.  We join the Spirit’s already ongoing work.  This is why I can affirm that any of us are ever drawn to salvation, because the Spirit is at work even while and where the Church is not.  However, at the feast of Pentecost, the Church discovers this new-found relationship to the Spirit that drives them to live as the Spirit lives…as those who carry the good news of Christ Jesus come into the world by the Father, crucified, died, buried…raised to life and ascended to the right hand of God.  It is a new day for the disciples of Jesus who have now discovered in the Spirit another “advocate” (a term notably difficult to translate from the Greek) who is like Jesus and reveals Jesus in and through them to a waiting world…a world where the Spirit is already at work to redeem and restore.  This is the Spirit in the world (to be fair…I probably should check out Karl Rahner’s book by the same name).

So I was wondering what your thoughts on the presence and activity of the Spirit in the world might be?  Or is the Spirit only present in the Church in your way of reading the Scripture?

Abandoning Heaven

As I’ve worked my way through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, I’ve become convinced that the notion of “heaven” should be rejected as falling short of orthodox Christian confession.  What do I mean by such a thing?  It strikes me that our world largely embraces the notion of “heaven,” but that is not the confession of the historic Church.  We do not confess belief in “heaven”, but in “the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting”.  It is not faith in the Christian sense that is necessary to believe in heaven (most everyone I know believes in “heaven”), but it is Christian faith that is essential for belief in Christ Jesus leading to the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.  These two beliefs should not be confused.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not abandoning the truth of God’s presence and kingdom as now, but not yet.  What I’m abandoning is the contemporary embrace of “heaven” as a place of disembodied existence.  This fails to account for the very bodily resurrection from the dead of which Christ is the first-fruit.  As the Church, we confess, and long for, a bodily existence that is transformed by the life-giving power of the Spirit which is in Christ Jesus.  Our bodies will most assuredly be raised at the last day, even as we already are living resurrected lives of obedience…yielding our very lives to the Spirit.

Talk of “heaven” though is a disembodied talk.  It is a talk of immaterial “spiritual” existence.  It is not the Biblical doctrine of last things.  The end is an end where the dead in Christ are raised because they have died and been buried with Christ.  This has everything to do with bodily life now.  It is not a sloughing off of this body and an immaterial entrance into a better plane of existence.  It is the transformation of this body, because this body belongs to Christ as we yield all that we are to the obedience of Him.

So I reject the notion of “heaven” and embrace the resurrection and life everlasting…where death has been swallowed up in victory!  Come, Lord Jesus!

N. T. Wright's Justification and the Cry of the Spirit

I finally finished my paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting in March on N. T. Wright’s view of justification.  If you are interested in reading it you can do so over on my Scribd page HERE or following the link through my “Writings” page (the footnotes are a bit goofy due to Scribd’s manner of formatting, but can be followed despite this).  This paper is supposed to eventually go to print (sometime this year) as part of an edited volume of the five papers that will be presented as a part of the N T Wright panel on justification (though I still don’t know the details of this edited volume).  Here’s the lineup for Memphis’s presentations and the title/s:

Pentecostal Responses to N.T. Wright

Jenny Everts, Hope College, Chair

Glen Menzies, North Central University, Presenter
“Vocations of Israel and Israel‘s Messiah”

Joonho Yoon, Drew University, Presenter 
 “By Faith in Work or by Work in Faith?: Rahab‘s Justification from the Perspective of Neither New or Old”

Christopher Green, Oral Roberts University, Presenter
“Who Do I Say I Am?: A Pentecostal Response to N.T. Wright‘s Proposals on Jesus‘ Messianic Self-Understanding”

Rick Wadholm, Providence Theological Seminary, Presenter
“N.T. Wright’s Justification and the Cry of the Spirit”

Frank D. Macchia, Vanguard University, Presenter
“The Church and the Economy of Salvation: An Interaction with N.T. Wright‘s Theology of Justification by Faith”

I’d love to know what anyone thinks of my paper.  :-).

Worship of the Living and the Dead

Strange are the self-worshipers, since they worship carrion.

(Spiritual Sayings of Kahlil Gibran pg. 53)

Oh, that we would recognize our death, as the very dry bones filling the valley of Ezekiel’s vision (Eze.37)!  Our sins have slain us and we are destroyed.  We lay scattered in all our macabre regalia…kings and paupers, priests and prophets, farmers and soldiers, clergy and laity.  How will we ever be saved if we cannot even cry out for lack of flesh for our dry bones, lack of breath to cry out to the only One who could answer?  Where is that one who will speak to the valley of dry bones and prophesy that we might be clothed with flesh and flesh clothed with skin?  Where, again, is that breath from the Living LORD that will blow and fill that valley and fill that mighty army to live as we were created to?  May the Spirit of Life speak through His people and give life to all who hear and may these dry, dry bones live and be made flesh and be filled with the breath of life!  And may we truly worship the Lord and Giver of Life and not the dry, dry bones….

Forever Listening to the Spirit

I recently read something by Lesslie Newbigin (that great missionary statesman of the twentieth century) that struck a chord with me.  He wrote the following concerning the Jerusalem congregation’s recognition of the validity of the Gentile mission that Peter had just returned from (Acts 10-11):

“They were silenced because they had to recognize something new. Jesus had never spoken or acted to call in question the law of circumcision (as he had called in question the law of the Sabbath). The Church was entering a new way which it had not trodden before. Nor did the Church formulate a new policy in this matter by reflection upon and development of the remembered words of Jesus. It was a fresh action of the living Spirit which confronted the Church with the necessity for a new decision. ‘The word of Jesus is not a collection of doctrines that is in need of supplementation, nor is it a developing principle that will only be unfolded in the history of ideas; as the Spirit’s proclamation it always remains the word spoken into the world from beyond’ (Bultmann). But this word is the word of Jesus; it is not another word. The work of the Spirit does not lead past, or beyond, or away from Jesus.” (The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B.Eerdmans, 1982, pp.216-7)

We, as well, cannot simply treat the Scriptures as a comprehensive list (or we may end up being no different than some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ own day–unless we take the New Pauline Perspective on the Pharisees as genuine) of do’s and don’t’s. In every age we are called to listen to the voice of the Spirit which is the voice of the Lord Jesus speaking to His Church the very words of his Father. None of this is to suggest that there will be any discord between what God has spoken, is speaking and will speak. The Scriptures are our measure, but the Scriptures are not simply words that can be adopted apart from the working of the Holy Spirit within us. This means that in all of our hearing, we must press in to hear exactly what the Spirit is saying and once we have heard…to obey.

Remember Me…

As I was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2007) today I was struck by several comments made in regard to “remembering” (specifically in reference to John’s Gospel account) and how they might relate to the “remembering” of the Lord’s Supper. In light of the “remembering” concerning Christ that occurs after the resurrection of our Lord (and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit), there is something profound that occurs at the table of the Lord.
The Resurrection teaches us a new way of seeing…it makes it possible to enter into the interiority of the events into the intrinsic coherence of God’s speaking and acting (pg.232).
The “remembering” is not simply an intellectual assent to bare facts (like remembering some event that occured in the past), but a “remembering” that is vivified by the Holy Spirit; it gives life to those who “remember” and death to those who partake of it in an “unworthy manner” and thereby are disdaining the body and blood of Christ (see 1 Cor.11:27-30). It is a “remembering” that incorporates us into the hidden life of Christ; incorporates us into the very real life of the Trinity.  It is a “remembering” that changes everything…it is both of thought, word and action.  It is a “remembering” that bridges the gap of 2000 years and participates in the ever present life of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus who is now seated at the right hand of the Father where we are already present with Him (Eph.2:6) and where He is already present with us by His indwelling and empowering Spirit (Matt.28:20).
This remembering is an understanding under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; by remembering, the believer enters into the depth of the event and sees what could not be seen on an immediate and merely superficial level….This remembering is no mere psychological or intellectual process; it is a pneumatic event [i.e., an event imbued with the Pneuma, or the Holy Spirit]. The Church’s remembering is not merely a private affair; it transcends the sphere of our own human understanding and knowing. It is a being-led by the Holy Spirit, who shows us the connectedness of Scripture, the connection between word and reality, and, in doing that, leads us “into all truth” (pgs.233-234).
I certainly reject transubstantiation concerning Communion, but affirm a real presence of Christ by the Holy Spirit that does not actually involve a changing of the elements of the bread and cup. Christ is truly present in the “remembering” that is empowered by the Holy Spirit…the “remembering” that proclaims Christ Jesus death until he comes again (1 Cor.11:26).  May we “remember” until that glorious Day!