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Holy Spirit

Abstract and Keywords

Although the Spirit has always been important in Trinitarian theology, Pentecostal and charismatic movements (as well as Vatican II in the Roman Catholic Church) have invited renewed attention to the work of the Holy Spirit. This change includes evangelicalism, where the voices of the global South and parts of Asia (now numerically the majority of evangelicals) tend to be charismatic by Western standards. This article examines elements of pneumatology that are most significant in light of both New Testament sources and these global concerns. Evangelical theology's emphasis on Scripture influences the focus on biblical themes in most of this article. In keeping with the growing charismatic emphasis in Christianity, theologians such as Karl Rahner and Jürgen Moltmann have emphasized the ideally charismatic nature of the church that values the giftings and participation of each member. Evangelicals vary widely in worship styles, reflecting both denominational and cultural distinctions. Whether the issue is salvation, moral behavior, mission or ministry to one another in Christ's body, God's own Spirit is the only sufficient empowerment.

Keywords: Holy Spirit, evangelicalism, Trinitarian theology, charismatic movements, pneumatology, New Testament, God, empowerment, worship, Christianity

Although the Spirit has always been important in Trinitarian theology, Pentecostal and charismatic movements (as well as Vatican II in the Roman Catholic Church) have invited renewed attention to the work of the Holy Spirit. This change includes evangelicalism, where the voices of the global South and parts of Asia (now numerically the majority of evangelicals) tend to be charismatic by Western standards. This chapter seeks to emphasize elements of pneumatology that are most significant in light of both NT sources and these global concerns.

Contemporary Pneumatologies

In keeping with the growing charismatic emphasis in Christianity, theologians such as Karl Rahner and Jürgen Moltmann have emphasized the ideally charismatic nature of the church that values the giftings and participation of each member. Likewise, many (including Moltmann and Clark Pinnock) seek to articulate the value of glossolalia in Spirit-experience. Against charismatic subjectivity and modern individualism, many resist the modern urge to privatize and subjectivize faith, including spiritual experience; thus some insist on a wider role for the Spirit than theology has typically emphasized. Some (like Wolfhart Pannenberg and Moltmann) develop the biblical perspective of the Spirit's role in creation and sustenance (e.g., Ps 104:30), reemphasizing the Spirit's immanent cosmic role. Many also emphasize the Spirit's activity in all humanity, not just among believers in Christ. Feminist theologians often emphasize feminine aspects of the Spirit (a feminine noun in Hebrew, though neuter in Greek).

(p. 160) Evangelical theology has tended to focus on a narrower range of concerns, although it does not always exclude such wider discussions. Thus, for example, Pinnock and Amos Yong have explored the Spirit's work among people of other faiths in addition to that among Christians; the strong majority of evangelicals, however, continue to focus on the Christocentric experience of the Spirit dominant in the NT. Many (such as Donald Bloesch) seek to bring word and Spirit together. While evangelicals currently hold diverse views regarding gender, many Pentecostal and charismatic theologies expect the Spirit to empower all believers for ministry regardless of gender.

Evangelicals have historically emphasized especially the objective word (Scripture and Christ), and today often wrestle to connect both the objective word (emphasized, for example, by the magisterial Reformers) and the subjective Spirit (emphasized, for example, by Pentecostals or early Friends). Evangelical theology's emphasis on Scripture influences the focus on biblical themes in most of this chapter. Likewise, the new dominance of Pentecostal and charismatic movements (as broadly defined) in global evangelicalism, which is increasingly influencing global evangelical theology, shapes considerations about which issues this chapter must emphasize.

The Spirit as a Person

Reasoning from the baptismal formula in Matt 28:19, Athanasius (c. 295–373) concluded that the Spirit was a divine person like the Father and the Son. The Cappadocian fathers emphasized the Trinity; one of these, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), noted that while the OT revealed especially the Father and the NT more fully the Son, believers in the age of the Spirit increasingly understood the distinct person of the Spirit. The Council of Constantinople in 381 declared that the Father, Son, and Spirit share the same glory and are due the same worship.1

Like other Christians, evangelicals are Trinitarian and regard the Spirit as a divine person distinguishable from the Father and the Son. (Because modalists are few and usually isolated from the Christian theological mainstream, I omit discussion of them here.) Although the biblical evidence does not always emphasize the distinct personality of the Spirit, the distinction sometimes appears. This is clearest in Trinitarian formulas (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:13 [14 in some versions]; Gal 4:6), and in John 14–16, where Jesus sends another advocate like himself (Jn 14:16), who acts in very personal ways (14:17, 26; 15:26; 16:7, 13–15). Although the masculine pronouns there simply reflect the corresponding noun paraklëtos (“advocate,” “intercessor,” “helper”), like the usual neuter pronouns fitting pneuma (“Spirit”), the activities parallel those of Jesus himself elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel.2

Because affirmation of the Spirit as a person is rarely a matter of controversy among Christians, I focus below more on activities of the Spirit emphasized in the (p. 161) NT. In the NT the Spirit is the indispensable element of power for the believer's life with God, whether in becoming a new person in Christ, living the Christian life, empowerment for worship and sharing Christ with others, or various gifting for ministry to others.

The Spirit and God's Activity

I have categorized the biblical evidence somewhat arbitrarily; all of it involves the Spirit's person, power, and presence. In this section, I survey the Spirit as the foretaste of the coming age, as the revealer of Jesus, as God's active presence, and as the power for worship acceptable to God.

The Spirit of the Coming Age

In many eras and parts of the world, evangelicalism has been associated with eschatological interest, although evangelicals have varied widely in their views (for example, from amillennial to postmillennial to premillenial). Nevertheless, evangelicals, like other Christians, have often neglected a central aspect of early Christian pneumatology: the NT's frequent portrayal of the experience of the Spirit as a foretaste of the coming age.

The prophets often spoke of God pouring out his Spirit in the future time of Israel's restoration (Isa 44:3; 59:21; 61:1; Ezek 36:27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28–29). With some exceptions (like the Qumran sectarians), most Jewish groups in Jesus' era believed that the Spirit was no longer active to the degree experienced by the OT prophets, effectively relegating the most dramatic activity of the Spirit to a future time. On the feast of tabernacles (Jn 7:2, 37) Jerusalemites listened to passages about the eschatological rivers of water from Jerusalem or its temple (Ezek 47:1–7; Zech 14:8). Jesus fulfills this expectation by promising the Spirit (Jn 7:37–39).

Early Christians associated the Spirit with Jesus' resurrection (Rom 1:4; 8:11; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 3:18) and their own coming resurrection (Rom 8:10–11; 1 Pet 4:6; cf. Rev 11:11). When Jesus spoke of both the Spirit and his coming kingdom, his disciples asked what they regarded as the obvious question: was Jesus about to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:4–6)? Jesus answered by distinguishing the time of his kingdom's consummation from the present eschatological era between his comings: Spirit-empowered witness to the nations was part of the prophetic promise (Acts 1:7–8; see Isa 43:10, 12; 44:3, 8). After recognizing theophanic signs that could be associated with the end-time, such as wind (Acts 2:2; cf. Ezek 37:5–10, 14) and fire (Acts 2:3; cf. Isa 66:15; Lk 3:9, 16–17), Peter declares that the Spirit associated with Israel's restoration was already being poured out “in the last days” (Acts 2:16–18).

Other sources also recognized that the eschatological era of the Spirit had already dawned: thus believers already had the “first fruits” (beginning of the (p. 162) harvest) of the Spirit, guaranteeing their resurrection (Rom 8:23), and experienced a foretaste of the future restoration by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:9–10; cf. Heb 6:4–5). The Spirit was the “down payment” of their future inheritance (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13–14), marked them for future redemption (Eph 4:30), and enabled them to await future vindication (Gal 5:5). The Spirit in effect actualized God's kingdom in the present (Rom 14:17).

Because other Jewish groups may have criticized early Christians for claiming a Messiah without Israel's visible restoration, one of the key elements of early Christian apologetic was the Spirit's dramatic activity in Jesus and in his followers. In their view, the messianic (“kingdom”) era, while not yet consummated, had already begun; the Spirit's activity confirmed Jesus as God's anointed and themselves as his followers. Living in eschatological expectation, recognizing their continuity with the biblical prophets, early Christians expected the Spirit to make a discernible difference in believers' lives, a foretaste of the kingdom. The Spirit involved a lived experience rather than a doctrine to be acknowledged yet dissociated from life. The best of evangelical religion, like the best of Christian faith more generally, reflects this confidence, although theologically evangelical faith is as capable as any other of becoming experientially nominal.

The Spirit Reveals Jesus

Trinitarian theology historically emphasizes the relationship among members of the Trinity, often even describing the Spirit in terms of the love between the Father and the Son (Augustine). The Christocentric focus that evangelicalism shares with much of Christendom fits not only the NT gospel message but also the promised activity of the Spirit. The divine Spirit in the NT is the Spirit of Christ (Jn 16:14–15; Acts 2:33, 38; 16:7; Rom 8:9).

In keeping with the philosophic milieu of their era, the Eastern church fathers emphasized transformation by vision of the divine; the NT model for divine vision was Moses, who was transformed by his encounter with God's glory (2 Cor 3:7–18). But whereas philosophers sought to contemplate a deity of pure intellect, and Jewish mystics sought visions of God's throne, early Christians found the locus of the vision and knowledge of God where God had revealed himself, in Christ (Jn 1:18; 14:7–9; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; 3:1–2).

The Spirit, often associated with prophecy in the OT and early Jewish sources, continues this Christocentric revelation of God. When the Spirit comes, he recalls what Jesus already taught (Jn 14:26); testifies about Jesus (15:26); glorifies him (16:14); reveals the things of Jesus (16:15); and speaks what he hears from Jesus (16:13) as Jesus shared what he heard from his Father (15:15). Probably in conflict with the synagogue authorities' epistemology, John believes that the Spirit will enable Jesus' followers to continue to experience him (14:17, 23). Prophets offered many claims to speak by the Spirit; the only secure claims, however, were those that concurred with the standard of the Jesus who came in the flesh, described in the Fourth Gospel (p. 163) (1 Jn 4:1–6). That is, the true Spirit of God would always be in accordance with the canonical Jesus.

In some sense, the Spirit continues to reveal Jesus even to the world. Paraklëtos, “helper” (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) sometimes meant “intercessor” or, in a forensic context, even “advocate.” The Spirit is also a “witness” (15:26). Yet the Spirit also “prosecutes” the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (16:8–11), presumably through believers, to whom he comes (16:7). The description of the Spirit's activity in 16:8–11 parallels activities of Jesus elsewhere in John's Gospel (3:20; 5:30; 8:21, 46; 12:31; 14:30; 15:22–24), suggesting that the Spirit continues the active ministry of Jesus to the world.

The Spirit's Christocentric revelation appears often in the NT. The Spirit also empowers testimony for Jesus (Rev 19:10; Acts 1:8) or guides their witness (Acts 8:29; 10:19). The Spirit reminds believers that they are God's children (Rom 8:16) and of God's love for them in Christ (Rom 5:5–8). Many Majority World evangelicals may also find special interest in the Spirit's power to face conflict and suffering (e.g., Mk 1:7–13; 13:11; Acts 13:51–52).

God's Presence

Historically, Christians have understood the Spirit as uniting the church to God. The OT spoke of God's Spirit with his people both in the past (Neh 9:20; Isa 63:10–11, 14) and future (Ezek 39:29; Hag 2:5). In the NT, as well, the Spirit actualizes God's presence among his people. Jesus promised to bring his followers into the Father's presence (Jn 14:2–6); the Spirit who had been with them in Jesus' ministry would now reside in them (14:16–17; Rom 8:9, 11), along with the Father and Son (Jn 14:23; cf. 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13). Believers should thus recognize God's presence with them continually.

The Spirit and Worship

Evangelicals vary widely in worship styles, reflecting both denominational and cultural distinctions. In the NT, one mark of true believers is that they “worship by the Spirit,” in contrast to dependence on a holy place or an outward ritual rooted merely in specific ethnic traditions (Jn 4:20–24; Phil 3:3). Just as the NT contrasts the inadequacy of the flesh with the power of the Spirit in the moral sphere (Gal 5:16–23; Rom 8:2–11, esp. 8:8), so the only worship appropriate to an infinitely holy God would be worship inspired by God's Spirit.

OT narratives about prophetic or charismatic worship probably offer the primary background for the NT “worship by the Spirit” (cf. e.g., 1 Sam 10:5–6). This includes priests and Levites in the temple “prophesying” in worshiping God (1 Chron 25:1–5), the setting that generated many of the psalms (2 Chron 29:30). (God inspired both prophecy and praise, and some psalms moved between them, e.g., Ps 46:1, 10.) We should not of course read these narratives through modern lenses of what “charismatic” worship must or must not include: for example, (p. 164) prophetic worship in the temple was supremely orderly and organized (1 Chron 25:1–8). The essential point is that God is so holy that God's own presence and power are needed so that people can worship him adequately. It is God's inspiration that distinguishes between mere music about God and worship to him.

The Spirit and Transformation

The Spirit's empowerment extends even to becoming a believer and living the Christian life. Because evangelicals agree on most of these details but debate especially one aspect of this empowerment (namely, whether “baptism in the Spirit” involves conversion or a subsequent event), I start with that debate. Then I turn to the Spirit and conversion, moral fruit, and mental transformation.

At Conversion or after Conversion?

Evangelicals divide concerning definitions of “baptism in the Spirit” and the nature of experiences subsequent to conversion. I briefly summarize here the current debate before turning to an approach that I believe can synthesize some of the best insights of various approaches.

Although Puritan and Reformed “sealers” (like Richard Baxter) believed in a subsequent work, most Reformed thinkers emphasize the reception of the Spirit at conversion, viewing this experience as “baptism in the Spirit.” Most Holiness and Pentecostal movements emphasize a baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion; sacramental traditions that affirm baptismal regeneration usually claim, in a similar way, a second work of the Spirit at confirmation. (Sacramental traditions also can envision an experiential “release” of the Spirit already imparted at baptism, as often in charismatic Catholic and sacramental Protestant theologies.) John Wesley had emphasized a second work of grace producing greater inward purity; some of his followers began to call this experience “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some other evangelicals, including some in the Reformed tradition, also spoke of a second work, “baptism in the Spirit,” often for empowerment for service (D. L. Moody; A. J. Gordon; R. A. Torrey; Andrew Murray; F. B. Meyer; earlier Charles Finney).

Such expectations influenced the early twentieth-century Pentecostal movement; some evangelicals, reacting against Pentecostals, then became more vocal against this position. The twentieth-century shift to Pentecostalism constituting a major face (in many places even the primary face) of evangelicalism in the Majority World today (although Pentecostals and especially charismatics do not share a single, unified view) makes dialogue all the more important. Whereas some Western evangelical academics were once dismissive of Pentecostal perspectives, the tone of today's discussion has become much more respectful and often welcomes diverse perspectives.

(p. 165) The debate proves less serious once its contenders get past semantics: virtually all participants agree that the Spirit is somehow received (normally in the most important way) at conversion; nearly all likewise concur that believers can have experiences with the Spirit subsequent to conversion (indeed, not just a single one). A significant part of the debate involves the labels given to the different experiences. (Many who argue for a subsequent experience also allow that the experience they emphasize can sometimes occur simultaneously with conversion.)

Some of the difficulty in the debate is that the biblical evidence supports both positions, in that “baptism in the Spirit” is used broadly and sometimes differently by different biblical authors. Thus when John the Baptist announced that Jesus would baptize in the Spirit and in fire (Matt 3:11//Lk 3:16), he contrasted how Jesus would deal with the repentant (the Spirit) and with the unrepentant (fire; cf. Matt 3:10, 12). While all the repentant would be baptized in the Spirit, John summarizes here all Jesus' eschatological activity by the Spirit, not dividing it into various aspects. (Although John envisions a gift to all the righteous, he knew that this end-time outpouring would include prophetic empowerment; Joel 2:28–29.) When Jesus speaks of being “born from the water of the Spirit” (as Calvin and many other exegetes translate the Greek construction in Jn 3:5), he may play on the traditional Jewish image of proselyte baptism to refer to a spiritual proselyte baptism, an immersion in the Spirit. In such passages, baptism in the Spirit would seem to involve conversion, whatever other nuances may be present (see most clearly 1 Cor 12:13).

By contrast, Luke seems to focus on a particular aspect of the Spirit. While the Spirit may be received at conversion (Acts 2:38–39; cf. Lk 3:16), Luke does not usually emphasize the regenerative activity of the Spirit. Instead, he focuses on power for witness (Acts 1:8), expressed in terms of speaking by divine inspiration (2:17–18; cf. 2:4). What is more, the particular aspect of the Spirit he emphasizes, while implicitly provided in conversion, sometimes appears to be experienced subsequent to conversion. Some (notably Dunn) have argued that the Samaritans, who received the gospel with joy and were baptized, were not yet converted before the apostles laid hands on them to impart the Spirit (Acts 8:12–17). Most Acts scholars, however, while appreciating Dunn's treatment of the Spirit in Paul, question his approach in Acts 8. Likewise, some see in Pentecost a subsequent empowerment for Jesus' disciples (though Pentecost might be a special case); many think Paul already “converted” before he was filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:5–17); and certainly other fillings occur subsequent to initial experiences in Acts (e.g., 4:8, 31; 13:9).

Luke ties together the promise to the first disciples with the promise to all believers with various designations: being “baptized” in the Spirit (Acts 1:5, addressing the “apostles”) involves the “promise” (1:4; 2:33, 39), hence the “gift” (2:38), a promise to all believers (2:38–39). This constitutes “receiving” the Spirit (1:8; 2:38; 10:47; 19:2), but at least in 8:15, 17, can happen after conversion. (Indeed, “filling” with the Spirit in 2:4 can happen multiple times; 4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9.) Thus, while Luke concurs theologically with other NT voices that believers receive access to every aspect of the Spirit at conversion, he also seems to allow (whatever the ideal) that believers can embrace or experience some aspects of this empowerment subsequently. This claim (p. 166) should not be controversial: just as most acknowledge that various discoveries or experiences of, or obedience to, biblical truth have revolutionized lives of some who were already believers, there is no reason to deny that believers can experience empowerment subsequent to conversion even if that grace was already implicit beforehand. Because Luke is the one NT witness narrating how early Christians experienced the Spirit, we should take his evidence seriously. Both theological traditions we have noted thus have some claim to represent Scripture's witness.

The Spirit Purifies and Makes New

Christian theology has always noted the role of the Spirit in salvation. Seeking to counter merely nominal faith as well as to missionize non-Christian areas, evangelicals have particularly stressed the Spirit's role in conversion. German Pietism and the British evangelical awakening emphasized being born again supernaturally, an emphasis that pervades global evangelicalism today. The biblical basis for such an emphasis involves not so much an emotional experience (although in much of evangelicalism it has been understandably emotional) as a supernatural transformation (Jn 1:12; 3:3–8; Gal 4:29; 1 Pet 1:3, 23; 1 Jn 2:29; 5:1, 4). Following the metaphor of birth, however, such an initial transformation is the beginning of eternal life. It imparts the character of the begetter (Jn 3:6; 1 Jn 3:9; cf. 2 Pet 1:4)—moral aspects of God's nature (we discuss this further below as the “fruit of the Spirit”).

Although early Judaism developed especially the OT association of the Spirit with the activity of the prophets, some sources also associated the Spirit with purification (following Ezek 36:25–27). John's Gospel develops this association, contrasting traditional religious associations of water. Jesus relativizes the value of ritual purification (John 2:6–10), is greater than the Samaritan holy site of Jacob's well (4:10–14), and offers healing that sacred Jerusalem's pools could not provide (5:5–9; 9:6–7). More critically, Jesus' baptism in the Spirit is greater than John's baptism (1:31–33). In Jn 3:3–5, Jesus may speak of a spiritual proselyte baptism, a baptism in the Spirit (implicitly greater than traditional proselyte baptism with water).3 Purifying “water” in 3:5 and 4:14 is probably symbolic for the purifying Spirit (7:39).

The Fruit of God's Presence and Character

The Eastern church has historically emphasized the Spirit's role in transforming believers to share the divine life and character. Theologians such as Moltmann have lamented the sometimes exclusive association of the Spirit with redemption; some, like Pinnock, have sought to reappropriate the Eastern church's emphasis on union with God. Although many evangelicals (for example, in the Holiness tradition) have shared this emphasis, the evangelical emphasis on conversion has obscured this emphasis on spiritual character for some. Some Western evangelicals have tended to define their faith theologically, and some Pentecostals and charismatics have tended to define it in terms of spiritual power for ministry. Because it has not been a controversial (p. 167) distinctive, the “fruit of the Spirit” has generated less discussion, although some (like Wesley or the early Indian Pentecostal Pandita Ramabai) have spoken of love as the greatest sign of the Spirit. Edwards, who is sometimes called the premier evangelical theologian, said love is “the sum of all virtue” because it is the Holy Spirit. William Seymour, an African-American at the heart of the early Pentecostal revival, emphasized Spirit-empowered love to cross ethnic barriers, exemplified symbolically by the geographically diverse crowds on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5–11).

In Scripture, the Spirit not only initially transformed those who transferred their allegiance to Christ but also caused them to share God's moral character. Some of Paul's detractors insisted that Gentile Christians must obey the law to be true members of God's people; Paul countered that the law of the Spirit was what produced the righteousness taught by the law (Rom 7:6; 8:2–4; 2 Cor 3:3, 6–8, 17–18); those who obeyed the Spirit would fulfill the real moral point of the law without depending on its external (and specifically Israelite) form (Gal 5:16, 22–23). Although Greeks also spoke of righteous character not needing external laws, Paul alludes especially to Ezekiel's promise that God would put his Spirit in the hearts of his people so they would obey him from the heart (Ezek 36:27; cf. Jer 31:33). Paul insists that believers must depend on the Spirit (and God's work in them) rather than flesh (mere human ability) to perform righteousness.

Paul contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit that comes naturally from depending on God's Spirit, who lives in believers (Gal 5:19–23). Love fulfills the law (5:14); those led by the Spirit are not “under” the law (5:18), for the Spirit causes them to love (5:22), and the law will not oppose such a lifestyle (5:23). Paul is no antinomian: the issue is that the law is now internalized rather than merely an external standard; because the Messiah had come, the promised new covenant meant that the Spirit wrote God's law in the hearts of his people (see Jer 31:31–34; Ezek 36:25–27, noted above). Jewish people spoke of “walking” according to God's commandments; Paul encourages those who have life by the Spirit to “walk” by the Spirit (5:16, 25). The life of the Spirit should not exhibit pride and competition, but loving, humble service (5:13–15; 6:1–3).

Fruit such as love and peace have corporate implications. In a context of ethnic division between Jew and Gentile, Paul emphasizes that the Spirit provides unity for believers (Eph 4:3), who together become a united temple for God's worship by the Spirit (Eph 2:18–22). The Spirit generates “fellowship” (2 Cor 13:14; Phil 2:1–2) and love (Col 1:8).

The Mind of the Spirit

Whereas some segments of evangelicalism have highlighted the mind (and even been accused of embracing rationalism), others, particularly with backgrounds in U.S. revivalism or groups socially marginalized from the mainstream, emerged with (p. 168) a suspicion of education and reason. As the academy has grown less hostile toward the latter groups and their own opportunities for education have increased, the dichotomy has diminished, but it persists in some circles.

One helpful approach to such conflicts may be Paul's teaching about the Spirit inspiring the mind and perspectives. Whereas some charismatics have emphasized only the Spirit's witness to the human spirit (Rom 8:16), Paul seems interested in the mind as well as the spirit, the rational as well as the affective aspect of the human personality (1 Cor 14:14–15). The “renewed” mind reflects the new era in Christ, not the present age (Rom 12:2), hence considers how to serve others (12:3–8). The Spirit provides a mindset involving life and peace, contrasted with that of flesh (8:5–7; cf. Is 26:3). Just as only the person knows their own heart, so only God's Spirit knows God's heart and can reveal it to believers (1 Cor 2:10–12). Paul declares that believers have the mind of Christ by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:16). (He echoes here Is 40:13, which has “Spirit” in the Hebrew and “mind” in the Greek version.)4

The Spirit and Empowerment to Serve Others

I briefly survey here gifts and cross-cultural evangelism. Reports of charismatic phenomena pervade the church's history, albeit more in some periods than in others.5 When the Montanists claimed to revive prophecy in the late second century, more traditional church leaders countered by appealing to the continuance of “orthodox” prophecy. Firsthand and secondhand accounts of healings and exorcisms abound in the church fathers (and other surviving documents from antiquity). Augustine initially believed that miracles had ceased, but later retracted that view. He admitted that the sick were not always healed nor did the baptized always speak in tongues, as he thought characteristic of an earlier era; nevertheless, he knew of many miracles. In just two years of record-keeping, his diocese documented over seventy miracles, and he was aware of many not included.

By the fifth century such phenomena apparently declined, especially in the West, but they never died out, as stories of saints and mystics (e.g., Hildegard of Bingen) testify. Miracle claims abound especially in the East (e.g., Constantinople and Ethiopia), though many medieval reports are shrouded in hagiography. Many sought healings through saints' relics, perhaps as a point of contact for faith with the apostolic past (cf. 2 Kgs 13:21).

Charismatic phenomena appeared at various points in modern evangelicalism, including in the First Great Awakening (1740–1742, reported by Jonathan Edwards). They were even more prominent in the ministry of John Wesley (1703–1791) and the early Methodists, spilling over into the Second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth-century United States. While the value of suffering predominated in much (p. 169) of nineteenth-century evangelical theology, reports of healing ministries in Britain, Germany, and Switzerland combined with the spirit of faith missions to generate increased emphasis on divine healing by the late nineteenth century. Healing claims were a hallmark of late nineteenth-century radical evangelicals and were adopted by early Pentecostalism.

Biblical evidence regarding the Spirit's empowerment is not limited to such activities, but that it includes them challenges the sterility of some Western Enlightenment assumptions, assumptions rejected by most Christians in the Majority World. Indeed, some Western evangelicals who have charged some movements in the global South with elements of syncretism (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) have rarely reckoned with how deeply the worldview of deism may have shaped their own syncretism.

The Spirit Gifts Believers for Service

Three NT passages connect the image of the body with diverse gifts (Rom 12:4–8; 1 Cor 12:8–30; Eph 4:4–13), developing an image of diversity and unity familiar in current political and philosophic discourse. Divine grace (charis) empowers these gifts (charismata; Rom 12:6; 1 Pet 4:10; cf. Eph 4:7), and God grants individuals the faith to serve in these different functions (Rom 12:3, 6). More to the point here, God's Spirit energizes and empowers these gifts (1 Cor 12:4, 7–11). Just as the believer's moral life depends on God's power, so does the believer's service to other believers.

Because another chapter in this volume treats the gifts more specifically, we merely survey some of them here.6 Christ's gift grants various sorts of leaders to the church (Eph 4:7, 11); their role (implemented in various ways) is to equip all believers for the work of ministry, until the entire body comes to maturity in Christ (Eph 4:11–13). In Rom 12:6–8, the various functions include not only what we consider “supernatural” gifts like prophecy but also “natural” ones like support for the needy; our modern dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural” obscures the point that God empowers us for all these works. In 1 Cor 12, where Paul expressly attributes gifts to the Spirit, his first list begins with wise and knowledgeable speech, highly prized in Corinth, and ends with tongues and interpretation, excessively exalted in Corinth (12:8–10). Both sorts of gifts are open to abuse (e.g., 1 Cor 8:1). That Paul offers other lists of gifts even in the same context (12:28, 29–30; 13:1–2, 8, 9; 14:26) shows that he intends these lists to be ad hoc rather than comprehensive, simply examples of the sorts of ways God empowers believers to serve one another.

Because of problems in Corinth, Paul contrasts two of these gifts at greater length. In 1 Cor 14, Paul prefers prophecy to tongues in the public assembly because all profit from intelligible speech. Prayer in tongues was profitable publicly if interpreted; otherwise its value was especially for private prayer. Apparently Paul understood tongues as prayer with one's spirit, or the affective aspect of the personality, yet able to be interpreted in an intelligible form (14:14–15).

(p. 170) Using arguments from some Reformers (but most widespread in some dispensational circles), some evangelicals believe that particular gifts ceased either around the end of the first century or in following centuries. This position seems problematic, however, in that the same gifts, with the same evidences as in Scripture, have resurfaced periodically throughout history. It is also problematic to divide the gifts on the list: why should prophecy and tongues cease, for example, yet faith and knowledge continue? (One might respond that Paul refers only to a supernatural quantity of faith or means of knowledge, but “knowledge” does not normally bear that meaning elsewhere in 1 Corinthians.) Most exegetes find this approach to this letter unconvincing: the only text that mentions the passing of gifts (prophecy, tongues, and knowledge, 13:8–9) also designates the timing: when believers see Jesus face to face (13:10–12). Most exegetes assign that time to Jesus' return. (Other cessationists have appealed to apostles and prophets belonging only to a foundational era based on Eph 2:20, but this seems to press too much chronology into a building metaphor. Contrast, for example, Eph 4:11–13; Rev 11:10; 18:20.)

Other factors historically facilitated skepticism in the continuance of the gifts. One was the prevalence of an antisupernatural prejudice in Western philosophy since the radical Enlightenment.7 Another was some Reformers' reaction against irrational and unsubstantiated claims dominant in their era (both those associated with relics and those associated with some prophets who stirred political unrest). Careless claims today often invite the same reactions, yielding the same range of opinions.

In general, cessationism is stronger (though still a minority) among evangelicals in the West; the most abundant miracle claims dominate in much of the global South and parts of Asia.8 Most evangelical scholars today believe that the gifts continue, but do not believe that every believer must pray in tongues (the classical Pentecostal position). Nevertheless, both those who believe that some gifts have ceased and classical Pentecostals constitute sizeable numbers of evangelicals. (Indeed, although the numbers can be calculated differently depending on definitions, and views among them vary, many observers estimate over half a billion Pentecostals and charismatics today.) Whether or not employing the evangelical label, however, most of them also recognize the others as fellow members of the broad evangelical movement, because they emphasize the same gospel message.

The Spirit Empowers for Evangelism

Evangelicals emphasize evangelism and missions; biblically, dependence on the Spirit is central to this concern. Luke's first volume speaks of the Spirit empowering Jesus both to proclaim and to meet needs (Lk 4:18–19; cf. Acts 10:38), an interest also continued in his second volume, Acts. Acts, however, emphasizes the empowerment (p. 171) of Jesus' followers to continue his mission. Although Luke focuses on key figures like Peter and Paul, he recognizes that the Spirit is for all believers (Acts 2:38–39).

Developing an important biblical emphasis, early Judaism associated the Spirit most often with prophecy and the sorts of activities associated with prophets.9 This is also Luke's primary emphasis, reiterated by his Joel quotation in Acts 2:17–18: “your sons and daughters will prophesy.” But while Luke clearly believes in literal prophets and prophetesses (e.g., Lk 2:36; Acts 11:27–28; 21:9–11), his own interest is especially the “word of the Lord” in the gospel (e.g., Acts 8:25; 12:24). Echoing language from Isaiah, in what many regard as the “thesis statement” or program for Acts, Luke indicates that the Spirit will empower witness to the ends of the earth (1:8; cf. Lk 24:47–49). The rest of Acts illustrates this expectation. Dependence on God's power for proclamation and often for signs confirming that proclamation characterizes the rest of Acts.

When the Spirit first comes in Acts 2, the immediate sign that Peter identifies with prophetic empowerment (2:17–18) is worship in “other tongues” (2:4), apparently languages unknown to the speakers. Although this phenomenon is not mentioned in every instance of initial receiving the Spirit in Acts (hence is debated, for example, in Acts 8:17), Luke mentions it also in connection with two other outpourings of the Spirit (10:46; 19:6). Luke does note other fruits of the Spirit's coming, such as boldness (4:31; 13:9–10) and economic sharing (2:44–45; 4:31–35), but why does he mention tongues three times?

Given Luke's emphasis on the Spirit's power to proclaim Christ cross-culturally (1:8), tongues provided a useful confirmation of a primary purpose of the Spirit's coming. If God's Spirit could inspire believers to worship God in other people's languages, how much more could he inspire them to proclaim him to other people in languages shared by both? Many scholars find an allusion to the scattering of languages at Babel in Acts 2:5–11; now the Lord disperses his own followers to proclaim him throughout the world. The Spirit also empowers subsequent groups for the same task (10:46; 19:6). Ultimately, believers in all cultures share the same Spirit, hence become partners in the same global mission.

Late nineteenth-century radical evangelicals understood Acts 2 as referring to “missionary tongues” that would enable them to evangelize the world without needing to learn other languages. People prayed for such tongues, and early Pentecostals believed that the prayer had been answered. In the vast majority of cases, missionaries discovered that they still had to learn local languages to share the gospel, but missions remained a central emphasis in Pentecostalism. Some Pentecostals (like some other evangelicals) believed that the Spirit could also empower newer, indigenous churches (cf. Acts 8:15–17; 10:44–47; 19:6); this emphasis on Spirit-empowered partnership in the gospel has contributed to the growth of global Christianity. Evangelicals today claim a range of views, as noted above, between Pentecostal and cessationist. All can agree, however, about the common mission to which tongues in the Book of Acts points. The Spirit empowers God's people to sensitively share the good news about Christ across all cultural barriers, and to partner respectfully with believers in other cultures for the common mission of the church.

(p. 172) Conclusion

We have surveyed here only some of what evangelicals believe about the Spirit, and only some of the biblical evidence to which they appeal. Nevertheless, a common pattern emerges throughout this material. Whether the issue is salvation, moral behavior, mission or ministry to one another in Christ's body, God's own Spirit is the only sufficient empowerment. That is, important as beliefs are, doctrine by itself is not enough. Those who truly believe in God through Christ must depend on him, trusting the power of the Spirit he provides.


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                        (1.) For one detailed survey of historical and contemporary pneumatology, see Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 37–177.

                        (2.) See sources and discussion in Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 2 vols. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 953–969.

                        (3.) For this interpretation, see ibid., 537–555; also Craig Keener, The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts: Divine Purity and Power (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2010), 135–189.

                        (4.) For more details, see Craig Keener, “‘Fleshly’ versus Spirit Perspectives in Romans 8:5–8,” 211–229 in Paul: Jew, Greek and Roman, ed. Stanley Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2008); Keener, 1–2 Corinthians (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 39–40.

                        (5.) See, for example, Morton T. Kelsey, Healing and Christianity in Ancient Thought and Modern Times (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); Robert Bruce Mullin, Miracles and the Modern Religious Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); Amanda Porterfield, Healing in the History of Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

                        (6.) Among many useful studies of these gifts in the New Testament, see for example, D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987); Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament Church and Today, rev. ed. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998).

                        (7.) See Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), esp. 35–40, 71.

                        (8.) See, for example, Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 107; cf. also, for example, Christiaan Rudolph De Wet, “Signs and Wonders in Church Growth” (M.A. missiology thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1981); Tony Lambert, China's Christian Millions: The Costly Revival (Grand Rapids: Monarch Books, 1999); Asian and Pentecostal: The Charismatic Face of Christianity in Asia, ed. Allan Anderson and Edmond Tang (Oxford: Regnum; Baguio City, Philippines: APTS Press, 2005).

                        (9.) Robert P. Menzies, Empowered for Witness: The Spirit in Luke-Acts (New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 49–101; Max Turner, Power from on High: The Spirit in Israel's Restoration and Witness in Luke-Acts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 86–104; Keener, Spirit, 10–13, 31–33.