Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? A Book Review
Daniel B. Wallace and M. James Sawyer, eds. Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2005. ix+319 pp.
Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit? is a series of essays about the Holy Spirit’s ministry today. Many authors build their cases from Scripture, although others come from either a historical or modern ministry perspective. These essays are important because they are written from a cessationist perspective, for cessationist believers. Cessationists believe that certain gifts of the Spirit ceased with the end of the apostolic period of writing the New Testament (ca. AD 95), and a relevant question for cessationists, then, is “What is the Holy Spirit’s ministry today, since his sign gifts have ceased?” That is what the contributors to this book seek to answer. Below are the essays and their respective authors. My following review will focus on three of the essays.
- “The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible and Its Connections to the New Testament,” Richard E. Averbeck
- “The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16: Interpretations and Implications,” Daniel B. Wallace
- “The Spirit and Community: A Historical Perspective,” Gerald Bray
- “The Witness of the Spirit in the Protestant Tradition,” M. James Sawyer
- “The Ministry of the Spirit in Discerning the Will of God,” J. I. Packer
- “The Spirit’s Role in Corporate Worship,” Timothy J. Ralston
- “God, People, and the Bible: The Relationship Between Illumination and Biblical Scholarship,” Richard E. Averbeck
- “The Holy Spirit and the Arts,” Reg Grant
- “The Spirit in the Black Church,” Willie O. Peterson
- “The Holy Spirit and Our Emotions,”David Eckman
- “The Holy Spirit and the Local Church,” Jeff Louie
- “The Holy Spirit in Missions,” Donald K. Smith
- “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures?” M. James Sawyer
The first two essays I will focus on in this review are the two that most positively affected me. This first is Dr. Wallace’s contribution, “The Witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16.” My preferred translation is the ESV, and like many other translation, the ESV Romans 8:16 reads, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Wallace counters arguments for translating the verse as “with our spirit” as well as providing direct arguments for translating the verse as reading “to our spirit.” His arguments are very persuasive, and I believe they unlock Paul’s original intended meaning for this verse. This contribution is important to the work as a whole because it effectively argues that an important aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry today is assuring believers of their salvation.
The other essay that most affected me personally was Dr. Averbeck’s second essay, “God, People, and the Bible,” which I quoted in my last blog post. The thesis of his essay is that another aspect of the Holy Spirit’s current ministry is to illumine biblical truths to Christians so that their lives are transformed to be more loving both of God and of other people. He applied this general truth to biblical scholars, such as seminarians and pastors by arguing that they should not merely seek to unpack the grammatical, historical, and literary meaning of a given Bible passage, but biblical scholars should also seek to unpack the application of that passage to their audience. As Averbeck writes,
Love is of primary importance in our lives as Christians, even as biblical scholars. In fact, it seems to me that one of the most important goals we could set for our scholarship is to bring the word of God to bear upon the people of God in such a way that they go forth and love God and people better. … Not only “do we get it?” but are we keeping others focused on “getting it” by the way we do our scholarship and our teaching? (154)
While Wallace’s article on Romans 8:16 was probably the most exegetically exciting of the essays, Averbeck’s essay on the importance of “God, People, and the Bible,” to biblical scholarship, whether written or taught, was the most convicting and challenging to me personally. If Wallace’s essay most stirred my mind, Averbeck’s essay most stirred my heart.
Again, most of the essays in this book were like the ones I above reviewed in greater detail. Some, however, were more akin to the essay I review in this paragraph, Jeff Louie’s “The Holy Spirit and the Local Church.” Louie’s topic seemed somewhat repetitive of Ralston’s article (“The Spirit’s Role in Corporate Worship”), and where Wayne Grudem in his “Response” appended to the book was more critical of Ralston’s essay, I am more critical of Louie’s. Don’t get me wrong: Louie had some valid insights and a rather needed encouragement for prayer to be a greater part of a congregation’s corporate worship. He was spot-on that prayer should have an important place in corporate worship, but I believe he went too far in writing:
When Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temple in Mat 21, he said, “My house will be called a house of prayer.” Though our churches cannot be equated with temple worship, the principle of prayer being at the center of corporate worship can be applied. If we are to have churches that have the spiritual vitality of Christ, prayer must be one of the focal points of our ministries, if not the main focus. (225)
Prayer is not “at the center of corporate worship”; from the human end, the preaching of God’s Word should be the center of public worship. Paul charges Timothy, one of the first post-apostolic church leaders, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). In his final letter, Paul charges Timothy similarly: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul instructs Titus likewise: “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Finally, Hebrews 13:7 describes church leaders as “those who spoke to you the word of God,” and Paul in 1 Tim. 5:17 identifies church leaders as those who “labor in preaching and teaching.” There is no mention in these verses of prayer being “at the center of public worship.” No! These verses rather indicate that preaching is the central role of pastors leading in public worship and thus the center of public worship.
Don’t get me wrong; prayer is vital to public worship! Prayer is vital in preparing our hearts for public worship. Prayer is vital for admitting our need of the Holy Spirit to apply the sermon to our hearts. Prayer is vital going from corporate worship so that we would “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). BUT prayer is not “the center of public worship.” Preaching is the center of public worship. And I feel like Louie also unnecessarily degrades the preaching of God’s word by saying,
I used to enjoy preaching the most. I still look forward to proclaiming the word of God, but now I deem it a greater honor to lead the people in prayer. I have come to the conclusion that I would much rather have the people talk to God than listen to me. Who am I compared to God? (229)
The humility of these words is encouraging. Humility is a virtue, and I applaud the evidence of it in Louie’s life! However, I believe he went too far. Preaching that is from God’s word and communicates the point of a biblical passage to a congregation is not a man merely spouting his opinions; it is God speaking his word through that man! Notice the importance that Paul puts not only on a preacher’s personal holiness but also on the content of his sermons: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). As Paul furthermore says in Romans 10:17, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
I heartily agree with Louie that we are nothing compared to God, but I disagree with him that prayer is more important than preaching. Further, I believe that it is wrong to say, “Either prayer is most important, or preaching is most important.” I believe it would be better to say, “Although preaching is the most important aspect of public worship, prayer is a vital aspect of public worship in preparing for worship, participating in worship, and living life in a stance of worship even when apart from other believers.” I don’t think we should pit prayer against preaching. Each has their own important place within public worship. We certainly don’t have to demean preaching in order to properly uphold and affirm the value of prayer in public worship. And don’t get me wrong; Louie made some excellent practical suggestions for how to better include prayer in public worship. I found his example of allowing time for silent prayer in response to the sermon very appealing and even preferable to some other options. I just think he went a little too far in somewhat demeaning preaching in order to uphold and affirm the importance of prayer.
That disagreement with Dr. Louie’s essay aside, this book was a wonderful read. For any of you who are interested in learning about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to believers today, this is a great book. If you struggle with the Holy Spirit’s relationship to the application of Scripture in our lives, this is a great book. But what these writers said best, they said from Scripture. Whether or not you read this book, John 14-17, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 2, Galatians 5, Ephesians 1-2, and Revelation 2-3 are examples of Bible passages that you should read to get a better picture of how the Holy Spirit works in our lives today. Because ultimately, the Bible’s record of the Spirit’s work is what the Holy Spirit himself inspired (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).