After spending over ten years of my spiritual journey being shaped by the charismatic renewal something began to happen to me in 2004 and 2005. I became aware that the “charismatic” label seemed not to fit me anymore. For a long time, I proudly wore the label “charismatic,” but something happened. I was no longer reading books by Pentecostal/charismatic authors. I was no longer investing in relationships with those who call themselves “charismatic” Christians. I slowly began to see the unhealthy values of the charismatic movement (which I called charismania). I went to a gathering of Pentecostal/charismatic pastors and church leaders and I realized I no longer fit in.
Something had changed.
Something had changed in me.
I left Maggie’s Farm.
I had a “head full of ideas that were driving me insane.” While my friends in the charismatic renewal lived with a “bedroom window made out of bricks,” I began to look outside of Pentecostalism and saw a wealth of knowledge about God and his church outside of the charismatic establishment. I wasn’t mad at anyone; I just needed to move on:
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
– Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm” (1965)
I felt like everyone wanted me to continue to endorse a spirituality that was a mile wide, but only an inch deep. I was bored. I was trying to be who I know God wanted me to be, but I could not become that person if I only drank from the charismatic stream. I could not continue to grow on the Charismatic Farm, so I left. But…I never stopped believing in the power, presence, and person of the Holy Spirit. From Primal Credo, Chapter 8:
I believe the Holy Spirit is God. The Spirit shares all of the attributes used to describe God’s nature. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Spirit is God, but the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Christians have faced the temptation since the beginning of the church to speak of the Spirit as something less than personal and relational. Augustine described the Trinity in terms of lover, the one being loved, and the love shared between the two. Love is indeed a part of God’s nature, and Augustine’s description of the Trinity attempts to describe God in relational terms with the Holy Spirit as the personification of love. However, a personified virtue like love is still less than a person. If the Holy Spirit is God, he must be as personal and relatable as God the Father and the Son. The biblical descriptions of the Spirit are nothing less than personal. He is not a power or energy. He is nothing like Luke Skywalker’s force from the Star Wars universe. We refer to the Holy Spirit as “he” and not “it,” because the Spirit contains all the personal attributes of God. He becomes our experience of God, making God very real to us in our lives of worship.
I believe the Holy Spirit interacts with God’s creation. The Old Testament bears witness to the unity and oneness of God. The New Testament testifies to the plurality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When we begin to read the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament, fingerprints of the Trinity begin to appear. In the very opening lines of Genesis, we see “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit hovered over creation and served as God’s instrument in the act of creation. As God spoke creation into existence by his very breath, vestiges of the Spirit can be seen. He works also in God’s special creation—the human family. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and gives us a new birth into God’s kingdom. He empowers us, speaks to us, and gives gifts to build us up and enable us to serve others. The Holy Spirit makes the difference between empty religion and a real relationship with the Triune God by making our encounter with God experiential. We know God not by memorizing a collection of God-facts; we know him by personal encounter. We experience his grace, his forgiveness and kindness, his promptings, his healing, his glory and beauty not by categorizing information about God in a mental checklist; we know God personally and experientially by the Holy Spirit who gives us access into the very life of God.
I believe in the Holy Spirit and refuse to allow him to be co-opted by religious fanaticism. Not everything promoted as the “moving” of the Holy Spirit is actually the work of the Spirit himself. Our belief in God the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of holiness and truth, requires a discerning ear to what some well-meaning Christians claim to be the activity of the Spirit. Too often the Holy Spirit has been maligned by emotion-infused propaganda, which may generate excitement for God but fails to produce lasting fruit, the evidence of the Spirit’s presence. Gandalf, the wizard of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, warns Frodo through a poem not to dismiss a potential friendship. The poem opens with words remarkably reminiscent of the Holy Spirit:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
The Holy Spirit may not always sparkle the eyes of religious fanatics. He very often may not feed their need for sensational novelty, but his roots are deep in the heart of the church. As we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, we can have great confidence in his ability to keep us free from the frost of spiritual apathy.