I Believe in the Holy Spirit (Revised)

(Paperback - May 2004)
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Christians throughout the ages have confessed, bI believe in the Holy Spirit, b yet the Holy Spirit has often remained a shadowy figure, relegated to the fringes of many Christiansb faith. In other quarters, the rise of the charismatic movement has made the Holy Spirit a focus of heated controversy. In this new edition of his widely popular book, Michael Green traces the doctrine of the Holy Spirit through the Bible and addresses the issues drawing so much attention today. Enriched by Greenbs extensive teaching, pastoral, and personal experience, I Believe in the Holy Spirit is one of the clearest, well-balanced books ever written on this subject. Comprehensive in his approach, Green includes needed discussion on the relation of the church to the Spiritbs work, the meaning of the gifts of the Spirit, and the need to affirm the ongoing value and challenge of Spirit-based renewal movements.


  • SKU: 9780802827678
  • SKU10: 0802827675
  • Title: I Believe in the Holy Spirit
  • Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
  • Date Published: May 2004
  • Edition Description: Revised
  • Pages: 350
  • Weight lbs: 0.86
  • Dimensions: 8.46" L x 5.38" W x 0.76" H
  • Features: Table of Contents, Bibliography
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: THEOLOGY
  • Subject: Christian Theology - Pneumatology

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit


The Christian Church has always had a good many professing members who are rather like those disciples at Ephesus who, when asked by Paul, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' replied, 'No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit' (Acts 19:2). Of course, this group at Ephesus must have heard something about the Holy Spirit if they listened at all attentively to John the Baptist, but they did not realise that the promised Spirit was available for them; that he could make a difference to their lives. Many adherents of all denominations have been in the same state. They have, of course, heard about the Holy Spirit, but have either put it all down to typical ecclesiastical in-talk, or assumed that it was not intended for ordinary folk like themselves. For all practical purposes, the Holy Spirit could be discounted. Christianity was a matter of churchgoing, of soldiering on and trying to do one's best, and of believing in the existence of God and the historical life and death of Jesus (even if his deity and his resurrection were not to be taken too seriously).

Imprisoned in Church .?

On the other hand, there have always been people in the Christian Church who were very sure about the Holy Spirit. It was simple. He was the divine backer of their particular emphasis in theology and practice. A good deal has been written in recent years about Primitive Catholicism, the tendency apparent even within the New Testament period itself to domesticate the Holy Spirit, to make him the perquisite of the Church. The man who is validly baptised or rightly instituted into office in the Church is assured that he has the Holy Spirit.

. or Bible?

It is not only Catholic Christendom which has been guilty of seeking to domesticate the Holy Spirit in this way. Protestants have been no less anxious to do so, for the Holy Spirit is a disturbing influence. Let him therefore be paid lip service, but for all practical purposes be shut up in the Bible where he can do no harm. Let his presence attend the confessional statement of our particular brand of Protestantism. Let the bizarre and miraculous elements which the New Testament documents narrate about his activity be relegated to those far-off apostolic days: it would be very embarrassing and doctrinally untidy if the Holy Spirit were to speak to men today, or to enable miracles to be performed and men to speak in tongues not their own. The Bible, accordingly, is the safest place for the Spirit. That is where he belongs; not in the hurly-burly of real life.

. or theology?

There was at least this to be said for the mainline Catholic and Protestant positions. They were comprehensible and clear, if narrow and restrictive. However, since the growth of biblical criticism in the last two centuries, and the revolt against authoritarianism in the past fifty years, there has been a marked tendency to seek the Holy Spirit in other quarters. Since we can no longer be shackled by the authoritarianism of a discredited Bible and a crumbling Papacy, it is to the human spirit that we must look for inspiration. To begin with, liberal theologians thought of the Holy Spirit of God as speaking to contemporary man through those elements in Bible or Church tradition which accorded best with their own insights. Pope and Bible were dethroned, to make way for the Professor of Theology. But unfortunately he did not last very long, and his views were soon considered out of date by his successors. Why, then, should it be assumed that the Holy Spirit was particularly active in professors? Surely this was a hang-over from the scholasticism of an infallible Bible and the authoritarianism of an ecclesiastical teaching office?

. or congress?

Perhaps it would be better to seek the contemporary witness of the Spirit in ecumenical discussions, where all could contribute their special insight and the Holy Spirit would, doubtless, be found along with the majority of the votes at the end of the day? I have been to enough ecclesiastical congresses which have claimed that the voice of the Holy Spirit lay behind the votes of the big battalions to be sickened by it. It was not a habit of the Holy Spirit in biblical times to be identified with the views of the majority!

. or wider?

Often we are invited to take a broader view of the whole scene and to discover the Holy Spirit at work in Buddhism and communism, in humanism and atheism. Is it to the Holy Spirit, then, that I must assign Buddhism's denial of the possibility of forgiveness, or communism's cavalier attitude to truth and human life, or the self-satisfied man-centredness of much contemporary humanism? This broad interpretation of the person and work of the Holy Spirit is somewhat confusing, to say the least. The whole subject bristles with problems.

. in the Renewal?

Is it surprising that against a background as inchoate as this a new and virile movement should have arisen, central to whose belief is the power and reality of the Holy Spirit? At the beginning of the twentieth century there were no Pentecostals. Now they number many millions drawn from almost every nation on earth, and almost every denomination too. The characteristic emphases of this movement can be seen from glancing at some of the book titles published on the subject in recent decades. It is, first and foremost, The Haven of the Masses, a movement of the people; neither dominated by its ministry, nor dependent on foreign indoctrination. They Speak with Other Tongues, which is embarrassing and distasteful to many non-members of the Pentecostal scene. The claim that they and they alone have The Baptism with the Holy Spirit, in contrast to water baptism which marks the rest of Christendom, and the conversion which figures as largely in Evangelical theology as does confirmation in Catholic. As at the Beginning the gifts of Pentecost have been renewed to a parched Church, and It can happen to Anybody. For the Church of God's frozen people this is the Pathway to Power; individual and Church alike areGathered for Power. The Third Force has come into the Christian spectrum, and it is a force to be reckoned with. Healings, exorcisms, tongues, prophecy are merely the spectacular tip of the iceberg, the heart of which is a living, loving, believing Christian fellowship.

What has God disclosed?

What, then, in the face of these many and conflicting voices, is the Christian to make of the Holy Spirit? Where shall we begin? It is important to remember that we are mere human beings, talking about God. And it is not possible for us to know anything at all about him unless he is generous enough to disclose himself. Without revelation we cannot say anything about the Lord who is Spirit. St. Paul makes this very clear. 'What person can know a man's thoughts,' he asks, 'except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God' (1 Cor. 2:11). In other words, it takes God to reveal God. And Paul claims that God has done so, through the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to men who possess the Spirit. Accordingly, the purpose of this book is to examine what the Scriptures, particularly in the fuller light afforded by the New Testament, have to teach about the Holy Spirit, and to relate their message to our own situation.

Theologians often distinguish between God as he is in himself, and God as he has revealed himself to us. It seems to me to be both useless and presumptuous to attempt to pierce the incognito of the essential Godhead. It is quite enough for me to try to grasp the way in which God has disclosed himself to us. And without too much distortion, you could say that it is a drama in three acts.

Act One: on from Eden

Act One is a long one. It lasts from the beginning of the world's history until the coming of Jesus Christ. It comprises the whole history of the people of Israel until the coming of the Messiah. The Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the three divisions of the Old Testament Scriptures) combine to teach one basic lesson. It was this. There is one God, and no runners up. That is the lesson Abraham learnt in polytheistic Ur of the Chaldees. It had to be learnt time and again by his descendants throughout the succeeding twenty centuries. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the only deity. The other gods of the heathen were idols (literally 'nothings' in Hebrew). The downtrodden captives in Egypt at the time of the Exodus came to realise that Yahweh, the only self-existent one (Exod. 3:14), was a mighty deliverer who could be trusted. The Mosaic Law underlines the fact that their whole social, religious and daily life must be governed by loyalty to that one God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. They forgot the message times without number. The Old Testament records them running after false gods, the gods of the nations round about them, whenever opportunity offered. Elijah has to drag them back from the worship of the heathen fertility gods introduced by Jezebel. Hosea has to recall them to Yahweh, their first love, when they have gone and committed adultery, like Hosea's own wife, with some other 'Lord' on whom they have lavished their worship and devotion. Jeremiah and Isaiah never tire of reminding the people that there is one God who can save his people, and that all other refuges are in vain. At last the lesson got home, and in the last two centuries before Christ, the Jewish people gave signal proof of their loyalty to the one God. Under the Maccabeans they withstood the attempts of Antiochus to overcome their country and shatter their religion. Later, under Roman occupation, they maintained with unbreakable courage their strict monotheism; so much so that the Roman governor did not even dare to bring his standards into Jerusalem lest the medallions on them depicting the emperor should be thought to infringe the Second Commandment. Roman coinage struck in Palestine carried no image of the emperor. Indeed, when Pilate produced a coin which had an augur's staff on its obverse, it could well have cost him his job; for an augur's staff smelt of pagan religion, and that could not be tolerated in Judea. Finally, as everyone knows, Jewish faith in the one God who alone was fit to govern Israel led to the Great Revolt of A.D 66-70. It culminated in the capture of Jerusalem, and the destruction of that temple whose empty Holy of Holies eloquently proclaimed the greatness of God whose name was too holy to mention and whose nature was too inscrutable to copy by any image. Act One was complete. Israel knew beyond a shadow of doubt that there was one God, the Creator of the whole world, who had disclosed himself in a special way to their nation.

Act Two: on from Bethlehem

But this one who could not be named with impunity, who could not be copied without distortion, still remained very much beyond our ken. In Act Two God comes in person to make himself known. After years of scrutinising Jesus of Nazareth, of listening to his teaching, of watching his character, of observing his miracles, after witnessing that shameful death and experiencing that glorious resurrection, the men who had known him best were sure of it. This man had brought God into focus.

'God, who spoke of old in many and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us in a Son. Him he has appointed the heir of all things. Through him he created the worlds. He reflects the glory of God, and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by the word of his power.'

'In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form.'

'He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth . all things were created in him and for him. His is the priority over everything, and in him all things hold together.'

'No man has ever seen God; the only Son, himself God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.'

In words like these Paul, John and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews struggle to express the unheard-of claim, that they themselves would have deemed blasphemous but for the irrefragable evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that God had indeed visited and redeemed his people. The one it was unlawful to name had taken the name of 'Emmanuel' ('God with us') and 'Jesus' ('God saves'). He had done just that; lived with them, and saved them from a doom and a captivity worse than that which gripped their forefathers in Pharaoh's Egypt. They could no longer plead ignorance of God. He had become one of them, their contemporary. In Jesus all of God that could take on human expression had been expressed. God, they had come to see, was Christlike. Act Two was complete. The one true God was not only over them as their Creator. He had come alongside them, to reveal himself to them in human terms, and to rescue them from the self-induced estrangement into which they had fallen.

Act Three: on from Pentecost

Act Three began at Pentecost, and it has not ended. Nor will it end until the completion of God's purposes for this world at the return of Christ. God the Creator, the God who had come alongside men in Jesus, now made himself available to come within their very personalities. It is inconceivable that anyone sat down to think out any doctrine so intrinsically improbable as the Trinity. It was forced upon them by experience. Convinced as they were of the unity and uniqueness of God, the disciples became confident that he was present in Jesus. After Pentecost, they became assured that their experience of God's activity in their midst and in their mission was nothing less than the continued work and presence of Jesus among them. Accordingly, they did not shrink from speaking indifferently of 'the Spirit of God' and 'the Spirit of Jesus' or 'the Spirit of Christ'. Jesus of Nazareth was now the prism through which the various shafts of light in the Old Testament about the Spirit became luminous and in focus to them.

An analogy such as I have just drawn in this three act drama of salvation can be dangerously misleading. It could lead to what the theologians have called 'Modalism', as though God disclosed himself in these three successive modes or forms - forms which do not correspond to any differences in his own nature, but are merely adopted for our benefit. I do not think that this will do. The ministry of Jesus provides sufficient refutation. On the one hand he is conceived and baptised by the Holy Spirit, and promises the gift of that Spirit to his followers after his death.



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