May 23rd was Sunday morning “Church as usual”. A song, a “call to worship”, a singing session, an offering, a prayer time, the sermon, a closing song and a benediction. It did not strike me that May 23rd was Pentecost Sunday until about midway through my pastor’s sermon when he had made the same observation: nothing about the service that morning was particularly “Pentecostal”.
I more or less grew up within Pentecostalism. After my family became Christian we attended a Pentecostal church and I went on to enroll and attend a Pentecostal Bible College. So I should have been keenly aware of Pentecost Sunday, but I was not.
Since I have left the Pentecostal church and spread my theological horizon far beyond the cul-du-sac faith of Pentecostalism, I’ve observed a great irony: Pentecostalism lacks a robust and full theology of the Holy Spirit! This is ironic because it would seem that the Holy Spirit would be their specialty. But as I’ve explored other great traditions of the Christian faith it occurred to me how little of the fullness of the purpose of the Spirit I had actually been taught.
It seems perhaps that the reason for this is because the Pentecostal movement was birthed out of an experience which became the center of it’s circumference of existence. The Pentecostal movement sought to explain and understand what was happening in light of the scriptures and what ended up happening is that it’s theology and emphasis centered on Spiritual Gifts and Acts chapter 2 as the basis for its belief.
When the question is ever posed, “Why was the Spirit given on Pentecostal” the answer is almost always “so that we may have power”. Thus the two – 1) “Spiritual Gifts” and 2) “Acts 2” – became married in a very narrow theology of the purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Thus is my attempt to psychoanalyze the Pentecostal movement.
Here is another great irony: Since I have left Pentecostalism (in as far as I no longer attend a Pentecostal Church) my theology of the Holy Spirit has become so rich and robust that I get excited every time he is mentioned in my sermons, or every time I read my Bible; and in every theological subject I look at I see the role of the Spirit at work. It’s not just about Spiritual Gifts, it’s not just about Pentecost, it’s not even just about Spiritual Fruit! Here are a few of the deeper things I’ve come to grasp about the Spirit:
1. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit undid Babel
I first came to realize this point when I read Henri Blocher’s book, In The Beginning. where he parallels the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel with the Acts 2 account in the Temple. A direct result of the Fall was the fracturing of humanity beginning with Adam and Eve, escalating with Cain and Able and climaxing in the story of the Tower of Babel. Genesis 11:1 records these ominous words: “Now the whole earth had one language”, hinting that because of their evil desires they would soon have many languages and be divided (Genesis 11:8-9). In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit is given to undo the state of affairs Babel left us in (Acts 2:9-12).
2. The Holy Spirit fixes broken human icons
I discovered this excellent point when I read G.K. Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship. Humans were created as images (lit. “icons”) of God so that we could reflect his “likeness” and everything that goes along with that, into this world (Genesis 1:26). After the Fall we became what Scot McKnight refers to as “broken icons”, and began to reflect everything except the creator (Romans 1:23). One of the primary functions of the Holy Spirit is to fix humans (if I you will) by restoring us into reflectors of God’s image once again (2 Corinthians 3:18).
3. The Holy Spirit seals our birth certificate
Because Adam was a direct creation of God the scriptures refer to him as “Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:38). It is because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit that he was “called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The New Birth is a process which comes about unilaterally by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) where we become children of God (Romans 8:14-17). The metaphor is carried over into the idea of adoption where the Holy Spirit functions as our birth certificate guaranteeing our eternal inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14).
4. The Holy Spirit guarantees the Resurrection
Of the enemies introduced in the Creation account, the final enemy defeated is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). This Victory was won, not by the cross, but by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, a feat that was accomplished by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11)! If we have this Spirit in us – the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9) – then we can be assured that we too will experience a resurrection from the dead (again, Romans 8:11). So the Spirit was given as a “seal” (Ephesians 1:13) and a guarantee (2 Corinthians 5:5) of the future reality of redemption, justification and glorification (bodily).
Conclusion: Start Big and Move In
You’ll notice in this overview one consistent theme: The Holy Spirit was given on Pentecost to undoing the effects of the Fall! Any theology of the Holy Spirit must begin with this big picture – New Creation. We must first look at the meta-narrative, which drives the story of the scriptures from beginning to end, before the particulars can be taken up. The Spiritual Gifts – prophecy, tongues, interpretation and so on – absolutely must be interpreted within the larger framework of the “Creation-Fall-New Creation” paradigm, otherwise we run the risk of robbing the scriptures of their richness and preaching an arbitrariness of God (which is, in my opinion, a grave sin).