I’ve really been enjoying talking about the Spirit as part of theology class the past couple of weeks.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in looking at the Spirit as part of the trinity has been…
‘How do we talk about the Spirit in church?’. It seems this is a bigger issue that you might think!
As we saw in class, the Biblical testimony about the Spirit is that he always points to Jesus. He’s even referred to on a couple of occasions as ‘the Spirit of Christ’ or ‘the Spirit of Jesus’. The Spirit is involved in the unity of the body of Christ, making Jesus known, transforming Christians to be like Jesus and working in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus. Of course he is at work in creation and the new creation as well, but even that has its centre in Christ.
In other words, the Spirit is not the Lone Ranger. Perhaps he’s more like Tonto (or is that just really unhelpful? …maybe).
JI Packer says, perhaps more helpfully, that the Spirit works like a Floodlight, always lighting up Jesus so that people can see him, while not bringing attention to himself. John 16:12-15 certainly is evidence for that.
So with all that in mind, what sort of language is helpful to use about the Spirit in church, and even in our own personal devotional times? There is not one verse (to my knowledge) that talks about praying to the Spirit. Also never are we told to worship the spirit. In fact in Revelation we see worship of the Father and of the Lamb, but no mention of worshipping the Spirit.
So I don’t think there is anything wrong with praying to the Spirit (maybe Romans 8:26 may be helpful) or worshipping the Spirit (after all a divine part of the Godhead), but what language should be used in general?
In class I suggested that on reflection of all this, that thanksgiving to God might be the right approach. At the end of this lecture I felt full of thanks to God for the gift of the Spirit. So in liturgy and song, maybe when we want to talk about the Spirit, perhaps thanksgiving might be the most appropriate format?
Evangelical churches are often suspicious of ‘Spirit’ language in church, which I think is sad. It seems to me that the emphasis should always be Jesus, but we must work harder at figuring out what are good ways that we can acknowledge the Spirit as being fully God and his work amongst as being of the utmost importance.
I’m big on theological college.
I study at one, I encourage others to consider studying at one and one day I’d like to work for one.
I’m a walkin’ talkin’ seminary salesman.
And so it gets my goat when I hear things like this.
“Why would I waste time at Bible College when I could be doing ministry?”
“Bible College is only necessary if you’re going to be ministering to academics.”
“Bible College will turn you out jaded and dry up your passion for God.”
“Ministry apprenticeships have to replace Bible College – that’s how Jesus did it!”
I don’t have the time or the space right now to address each of these fully, but for the record here’s my spiel on why Bible College/Theological College/Seminary is so important to those who wish to enter into church ministry.
Theological Colleges should have one aim. To form Christians for ministry.
Colleges should not be primarily a place to gain academic knowledge, or good grades, or a degree or even good theology. All these things are good, but the end goal must be to equip men and women to be better able to pray, worship God, read the Bible and communicate the gospel of Christ to the lost.
I grew up being told that Bible College would dry out my soul. This idea comes from the recent tendency of society to devalue the mind and emphasize pragmatism. And so instead of the theological college we have ministry apprenticeships and ‘ministry’ colleges that will teach you how to ‘do’ ministry, but with very little theology, church history or even Bible.
This is an incredibly unwise approach.
The greatest thing about being at theological college is time.
Time to study.
Time to think.
Time to critique.
Time to weigh and wrestle.
Time to converse with lecturers and students.
Time to go deep and go broad.
Ministry apprenticeships are great. I’m currently doing my second one. But when you’re in ministry you simply do not have the time to think for yourself. As Ridley lecturer Dr. Rhys Bezzant said, ‘Ministry apprenticeships don’t train people to think critically, they train people to keep the cogs turning.’
Blogger and college lecturer Ben Myers says that the key theological question is ‘Who is this God who comes to us and meets us in Jesus Christ?’. A whole lifetime is not enough time to answer this question, but the three years you spend on it in college will prepare you for a lifetime of ministry.
That is, ministry to all sorts. Everyone from socially-withdrawn goth culture to ivory tower academics. From the average blue collar worker, to the CEO. From the middle-aged Caucasian, to the Kono of Cote D’Ivoire. As a friend said to me, ‘the more we have to contextualize the gospel, the more good theological grounding is essential, to guard us from getting it wrong’.
I think some young ministry guns shudder at the idea of enduring three (or four) years of study. Its so important to gain some patience and to realize that three years is but a drop in the ocean, and its worth every second.
‘Look carefully then how you walk,
not as unwise but as wise,
making the best use of the time,
because the days are evil.’