After some reflection on my previous post “Theology and ‘the Supernatural’ in the Life of the Church,” I feel compelled to attempt to restate my point in a much more simple way. Last Wednesday, I took my small group through a scaled down version of some of the weighty themes of theology and supernatural experience. It was a disaster. I tried to cover too much material with not enough time and I ended up confusing the issues more than clarifying them. I could kick myself. I will forever remember the blank looks and squinted-eyes when I made comments like “the activity of the Spirit is not irrational, but it is non-rational.” I think I ended up sounding non-rational. Aghhh….
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane.
A much more simple way to make my point would have been to say that we are going to be a church that is devoted to both the Scripture and the Spirit.
It seems like I have rubbed elbows over the last 18 years with Christians who tend to go to one extreme or the other. Either they embrace the Scripture to the exclusion of the Spirit or they embrace the Spirit to the exclusion of the Scripture. My point is that we need an integration of both the Scripture and the Spirit.
Furthermore our Christian life needs to be defined in terms of Scripture over the Spirit. Our understanding of the Scripture ought to guide and shape our spiritual experience and not the other way around. Christians who define their faith by mystical, spiritual experiences never end up in a good place. God has given us the Scripture as the vocabulary to define our spiritual experience.
I am not suggesting that Scripture can be understood and lived out in purely rational terms.
I am not suggesting that having all the right information from the Scripture about God is sufficient for the Christian life.
I am not suggesting that the work of theology is only done by the power of reason.
I am suggesting (and firmly stating) that Scripture, and not the Spirit, is our final authority. This position is the standard for Evangelicals and for most Pentecostal/charismatics who I include within the Evangelical stream. Traditionally, Pentecostals and charismatics have been “people of the book.” Charismatics movements that desire experience over the teaching of Scripture typically burn out or dry up.
I know there are some who would say, “Are you saying that the Scripture is more reliable than God?” Of course not.
Here is the issue— I do not doubt the reliability of the Spirit’s guidance, but I do doubt my ability to hear and understand him perfectly. Remember that the Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Only the biblical writers were so inspired by the Spirit that their writings are unquestionably reliable. I can trust Paul when he says, “The Lord told me,” because God the Holy Spirit was using him to write Scripture. I cannot always trust some guy who says, “The Lord told me,” even if he has big hair, tacky clothes, a big TV ministry, and the title “Prophet” in front of his name. The Holy Spirit does speak, guide, direct, counsel, convict, and prompt people today. He does, on occasion, grant Christians experiences which are mystical, other-worldly, and transcendent. I have cherished the spiritual experiences—the divine encounters—that I have had with the Holy Spirit over the years, but I cannot build my faith on these. Experiences with (in?) the Holy Spirit are signposts on my spiritual journey, but they are not the soil in which my faith is rooted. Scripture as watered by the Spirit is the only fertile ground in which I can grow.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV All Scripture is God‑breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
…I’m beginning to believe what the scriptures tell…