Friday, March 11, 2005

Surprised by the Power of the Spirit?

This book was given to me by Bill Lees and the mission support guys at Wycliffe Baptist Church. It tells the story of professor Jack Deere's journey from cessationism to charismatic theology in the 1980s, leading to his dismissal from Dallas Theological Seminary and a move into the Vineyard Church.

The charismatic theology Deere teaches centres on the ongoing presence of miraculous healing in the church today, and some comment on prophecy - which a later book expands. Through the ministry of John White (author of The Fight), Jack Deere encountered healing and deliverance for the first time in the late 1980s. This, he tells, led him to examine the Bible afresh, and also to meet Vineyard founder John Wimber who influenced him greatly.

Deere outlines many of his newfound concerns about his prior cessationist theology along with many of the concerns people have about charismatic theology. His declared intent is to examine scripture on his own terms, admitting that experience influences both his new charismatic theology, and his prior theology. His observations on Dallas interview processes, challenging students to found their convictions (such as the deity of Christ) in scripture rather than tradition are provocative.

One argument is often stated in the book. Deere argues that a new believer left in a locked room with a bible would conclude that the miraculous is a normal part of Christian life. This thesis seems compelling but also slightly flawed. As one who believes in the value of scholarship and the ministry of teachers (as presumably Deere does) I'm reluctant to presume a new belivers conclusions to be entirely correct! It's not entirely impossible but neither is it guarenteed.

Deere directs us to examine the Scriptures for ourselves to find our theology there. This is something we all ought to do on all matters. The danger with books that instruct in good bible handling is that we trust them too easily. Deere's words ought to be tested in the berean style he commends. Deere is honest about the abuses of the miraculous in the church, but one wonders 12 years after he wrote is book, whether many have heeded his words. My own experience of the charismatic movement, has been of much enthusiasm and less caution.

Suprised by the Power of the Spirit was written in 1993 (notably, pre-Toronto) and I can't comment on any of Deere's other theology or works since, but this book is one of the most careful examinations of the issue I've seen. It is encouraging to see Deere's experience tested against scripture since this is not always the case. I was also encouraged to see God's transforming lives in the stories he tells.

As with all Christian books it should be weighed and tested against the Bible. A cursory google search indicates that many vigorously disagree with Deere and they should be listened to. Whilst Deere makes many careful arguments from scripture there are others texts that I would have appreciated further discussion of which were merely cited, and other overlooked.

Inevitably, as someone whose theological position has changed radically, Deere is hailed a hero by many and a heretic by others. The benefits of his book will (ironically) vary by experience. Some will find his story useful to ground their experience in scripture. Others who are suspicious of the charismatic movement may find it helpful to at least understand more of the issues invoved and hear him out.

I'm not entirely convinced by his case, but I find that Surprised by the Power of the Spirit offers much helpful insight. Reading the book has awakened me again to both study the scriptures more intently, and to look for the Holy Spirit's power at work in my daily life and those around me.

Further reading:
Sam Storms on Divine Healing
"Are Miraculous Gifts for Today" edited by Wayne Grudem, in which Sam Storms writes the third wave view that Deere supports whilst interacting with Cessationist, Cautious and Pentecostal views.

What frustrates me about books such as Deere's is not so much they desire to see God miraculously at work. I sympathise, and actually agree that God is miraculously at work in his church. What sadly seems absent in the desire to seek miracles is any emphasis on those works that strike me as most displaying God's power through the Holy Spirit.

1. The Spirit as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3v14) to bring the presence of God to dwell with sinners because of Jesus death.
2. The power of the Spirit to give boldness to speak about Jesus to the world that remains under God's judgement until they repent and believe in him(Luke 24v45-49, Acts 1v8).
3. The power of the Spirit to fight against the sin in my life (e.g. Galatians 5v16-17) which I need far more than any healing or miracles. In fairness to Deere he does address this a bit, but too often sin is viewed as something that hinders full-life rather than the terrible offense to God that it actually is.
4. The Spirit who inspired the Bible. Whilst I accept prophecy as ongoing in the church it pains me when we think it more likely that we'll hear God there than when God's Word is read and preached. The old word is still God speaking.

A theology of the Spirit that builds from here remains centred upon the gospel and can never get caught in excesses that distract from the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the Spirit must direct our attention to him, and if our vision is on him and hearing his word then we'll be on the right track!