Life with the Paraclete: Trust


My sermon this afternoon addresses what happened in Charlottesville yesterday in a real way but not as directly as this moment warrants so I want to talk about it directly up front, even though we’ll come back to it as we go. I started this series last week so you would know what your new pastor is all about so this isn’t reactionary. Nor is it mere coincidence because the Spirit knows how to line things up and also because what went on in Virginia yesterday is not an anomaly or something that came out the blue. It’s also not merely a “Southern problem.” The racism we saw put on public display yesterday in Charlottesville is a pervasive part of the American story. From the way the earliest colonizers interacted with the native Americans they encountered in this new-to-them world, through a national economy built on slavery, through the period of brutal subjugation in the Jim Crow South and barely-more-subtle discrimination in the rest of the country, all the way down to the present where racism most often takes the form of colorblindness and things like the war on drugs are used to continue the division and harm of the previous eras behind a thin veneer of respectability. All too often we follow the letter of our civil rights laws with a self-righteousness that blinds us to the many ways we violate the Holy Spirit’s call to live in loving unity, cherishing the image of God in each other, and loving all our neighbors as ourselves. We stand with the lawyer of the Good Samaritan passage who asked, “who is my neighbor?,” by which he really meant, “who is not my neighbor, who do I get to exclude from the onerous demands love places on me?” To which Jesus replied, “who are you being a neighbor to?” There are no exclusions to neighbor. The neighbor is the person you meet when you open your door, at the restaurant, the coffee shop, on the sidewalk, in the car next to you at the red light, at work, at school, standing on the corner asking for money, waving a Nazi flag, living in Iran or North Korea. Every human being is a precious creature made in the very image of God. Every human being is our neighbor. Followers of Jesus must hear again and again the command our Lord gives, the demand our King places on us: love our neighbors. We must obey this command to remain followers of Jesus. Except we can’t because it’s too hard and we are too sinful. Did you see the picture of the folks carrying torches on the UVA campus Friday night? Did you notice how normal they look? They don’t look like monsters. They don’t look like irrational, hate-filled, racists. They look like our neighbors. And they may be coming here next, so we need to be ready for seeing some of our actual neighbors marching for hate. Is it that hard to imagine people from Alachua or Spring Hill or even right here in Gainesville waving Nazi flags, wearing tee shirts with quotes from Hitler, making the awful Heil salute? Whenever we see something as awful as displayed in Virginia yesterday, an immediate reaction is to create mental separation from the perpetrators. “What is wrong with them?” “How could they think and act like that?” Denial is the first stage of grief and one we come back to often in the grieving process. But we have to resist that urge. We have to become able to see our own sin by the light of those tiki torches. That’s the only way any progress gets made on this. We can denounce white supremacy all day long, but if that comes across as creating more separation, we’ve only made matters worse. We can’t use the tools of hate to defeat hate. Only love can conquer hate. We can only overcome the hate, sin, the demonic principality of racism, and the toxic ideology of white supremacy, by joining in the mission of the Paraclete.

John 16.8-9: The Paraclete will convince the world about sin and justice and judgment: about sin, because they do not trust me;
I began last week by trying to explain what the words “Paraclete” and “elencho” tell us about the nature of God and the divine mission Jesus is describing here. I can’t go over all that again today but the keys to remember are that Paraclete describes the Spirit as One who comes alongside us as One who is radically for us, supporting us, encouraging us, directing us forward toward our best possible selves and actually empowering us well beyond what would be possible on our own (more about that in a minute). The Spirit advocates to the Father and Jesus on our behalf and advocates to us directly about following Jesus (we’ll get into more of that next week). And the verb here describes just that sort of action: advocating, persuading, convincing. The old translation “convict” is only helpful if we think of how someone who loves us might talk us into exercising, eating better, taking our vitamins, or something like that. Not in the sense of a courtroom conviction and subsequent punishment. This is an encouraging to do what is best for us – and yes that often involves hard work we are avoiding.
There are a few more things I want to point out about the grammar of our passage. First, this is a single sentence. Yes, I’m spending four weeks preaching from one sentence. 40 dense pages of my dissertation on this one sentence. What makes this significant is that the Paraclete is the one acting throughout this thought and the action being done through is this persuading/convincing action. And the object being acted upon throughout is the world. The Paraclete will convince the world. The rest of the sentence is an explanation of what the Paraclete will convince the world of and how the Paraclete will convince the world. Today and the next two weeks are about the what and how. The other factor to bear in mind here is who is being addressed. Jesus tells all this to his followers as they are walking from the Last Supper to the garden where he was arrested. Earlier in this last discourse, Jesus told them:
John 14.15-17: If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
In our sentence for this series, Jesus is saying the Paraclete will convince the world. But he’s already said the world can’t accept, see, or know the Paraclete. So how is the Paraclete going to convince the world of anything? That’s where we come in church. Jesus is telling his followers this – Jesus is telling us this – because we are participants in this work. The Paraclete convinces the world about sin, justice, and judgment through the life and witness of the church in the world. The Spirit persuades those who don’t trust Jesus through the lives of those of us who do trust Jesus. Which only works to the extent that we live lives that look like we trust Jesus. This is the only us/them separation that exists for followers of Jesus. There are those who trust Jesus with our lives and those who don’t. And those of us who have begun the adventure of living a life trusting Jesus have only great sympathy for those who haven’t yet, because we know all too well how hard it is, how often we fail at it, and how we often can’t decide which is scarier, shrinking back from trusting Jesus or stepping out and risking to trust.
Now your translation probably doesn’t use the word “trust” in this verse at all. Your translation probably uses the word “faith” (or “believe”) which is the standard English translation of the Greek word “pistis.” As your pastor, this is one of main points of influence I want to have in your lives and in the life of our church – redefining “faith” as “trust.” This is partly based on a grammatical point but more importantly is based on a shift we need to undertake in our theology and philosophy. In other words, it’s not that “faith” is such a bad translation as it is that as people living in modernity (and postmodernity) have adopted a very anemic understanding of what “faith” names and entails. We have come to misunderstand “faith” as mostly a matter of mental assent, agreeing to a certain set of ideas, adopting a certain statement of faith (even the name perpetuates this misunderstanding). This is really hard because even in calling it a “misunderstanding” I am playing into the hands of how we approach such things on this side of the Enlightenment. We are convinced that getting our thinking right, coming to the “right” ideas is the first step, the most important step, that everything else flows from our mental aspect. But this was not the approach Jesus took. He told people like Peter, “follow Me.” If they followed (not all of them did), Jesus let them do stuff like pray for healing or cast out demons well before they understood what Jesus was teaching. They often showed remarkable slowness in coming to understand. But what they exhibited was obedience. They trusted Jesus enough to do what Jesus said, even when they did not understand what Jesus was teaching or what He was up to. Faith is not mental assent, faith is obedience. Faith is trusting the Spirit enough to follow those nudges we get and act on them.
I posted the other day that “theology cannot be ideology” and that “theology can only be ideology in the service of idolatry.” I was thinking of this message when I posted those. I’m not sure but I’m hoping a little math(ish) explanation will help. Any word that ends in “-ology” means “the study of” or “words/discourse about” a given topic. It comes from the Greek word “logos” which means “word.” So “biology” is the study of life (“bios” is the Greek word for life). “Theos” is the Greek word for God, so theology is the study of God, or more precisely a careful examination of the words we use to describe God, our experiences of the divine. There are typical ways people talk about God, and those reveal much about how we understand life, ourselves, our ethics, etc. “Ideology” is the study of ideas or ideals, those conscious or unconscious principles we each live by. What I was saying in those posts is that Theology ≠ ideology. So a little math. If we factor out the -ology it looks like this: (God)(-ology) ≠ (idea)(-ology). The (-ology)’s cancel out and we’re left with the root idea here: God ≠ idea – just to repeat how difficult this is, I just called this an idea. Grr. God is not reducible to a human idea or set of ideas.
We talk with limited, halting, faltering words about the God of the universe. We dare with finite, forgetful, landlocked minds to fingerpaint pictures of the Infinite Creator of all that is – 98% of which we don’t know anything about or have any experience of. And each of us winds up with some set of ideas that we are partial to. They make sense to us – they make sense of us – so we assume they work for everyone else too. But they don’t because the person who lives next door to us has a very different experience of life and the world that leads them to a different set of ideas. And the person who lives across town has an experience of life and the world so radically different from us that our set of ideas makes no sense to them at all. Even though we’re speaking the same language, rooting for the same teams, eating the same food. Go to the other side of the world and the competing sets of ideas there are beyond radically different – we can hardly enter into conversation with the various “sides” in other contexts because we don’t understand the context, or the ideas, or the people invested in them. And then still, all these different ideas about life, the world, human nature, the divine – none of them have anything more to do with the real God of the universe than any of the others, or than ours do. This is what Jesus confronted. He came to his own people as the Son of Yahweh and they could not understand or accept him or his teachings because they didn’t understand Yahweh at all. They didn’t understand Moses or the prophets or their own story as Israel. Their ideas were badly off track from the truth that Jesus revealed. How much less on track are the ideas that we bring to the table? God is not an idea. God is Transcendent Being and all our ideas are crap we make up. None of our ideologies are sacred. None of them will save us. Every last one of them is a sinful, idolatrous creation of people just like us determined to live this life apart from radical obedience to Jesus Christ.
So Jesus takes people with highly incompatible ideologies and puts us together to do life together. He couples together Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector. Paul the Pharisee and Barnabas the Businessman. But we’ve been fighting against this since basically the beginning of the church. Most of the books of the New Testament were written to help people in the early church live together in unity across all these same fault lines that plague us. Unity across all boundaries: race, gender, economic status, age, physical or mental ability, ideology. Especially ideology. The Spirit convinces the world it can trust Jesus by creating communities of people who live in peace across all these lines of division, communities where people who would otherwise be enemies love and care for each other as neighbors. But churches succumb to the way of the world and wind up dividing along all these lines, especially ideology. We create statements of faith and elevate our ideas about God onto the throne of God and worship the idols we create. That’s nothing new. We’re no different than Aaron and the Israelites worshipping the gold cow they made out of their own jewelry. And when we see people exhibiting vile ideologies like the deadly white supremacy riot in Charlottesville yesterday, we tend to respond with a competing ideology. We wrongly think we can force a better ideology on them and use violence to attain a peaceful outcome. But violence always leads to more violence and an ideological war is not what Jesus has called us to. There were clergy and other people of faith out yesterday trying to bear witness to faith in Jesus. And if the racists come here to put on another ugly display, we will be asking ourselves, what should the church do? What should our church do? Jesus is answering this question in our text for today. The church communicates to the world that it can trust Jesus by being a community of people who trust Jesus, which means becoming a group of people who trust each other. This is what our church must do. We must do all that we can to obey the nudges of the Spirit pushing us to become a community of people who trust Jesus and trust each other, specifically trusting each other across racial, gender, age, economic status, and ideological lines. We don’t have a quick, easy answer. We only have the hard work of a long obedience in the same direction of becoming a community of people where enemies become friends, where love grows between people the world thinks can’t love each other. A love for each other that is radical, shocking to the world. That is what the Paraclete calls us to.
And we have to lay this right on the table – this is not easy. This is hard. You know our old Vineyard saying: faith is spelled R-I-S-K. That is nowhere truer than right here. This is at the heart of what I mean by replacing “faith” with “trust” in how we understand and live out this life together in Jesus. Mental assent says, “I believe a parachute will deliver a person who jumps out of an airplane safely to the ground.” Sure. But that’s not faith. That’s not trust. Trust is strapping the parachute on and jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet. The reason churches retreat from being communities that bear witness that Jesus can be trusted is that we don’t often actually trust Jesus with our lives. It’s not comfortable. It doesn’t feel safe. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. It makes us question our prejudices. It’s easy and safe to look on in disgust at those awful people who were in the streets of Charlottesville yesterday. It’s a lot harder to ask ourselves about the racism that lies in our own hearts or our prejudice against people who disagree with our politics. We can’t participate with the Paraclete in convincing the world of its racism if we’re not willing to let the Spirit convict us of our own prejudices. 1 John was written specifically to people who were having a fundamental ideological break. It was about the sin of prejudice that John wrote:
1 John 1.8: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Don’t mishear this. This isn’t about sin generically. It is specifically about the sin of prejudice. We all do it. There is prejudice in my heart. And there is prejudice in your heart. This is the real RISK we run in trusting Jesus, that our hearts will be exposed and we will be confronted by the Spirit and forced to decide between following Jesus or clinging to our prejudice. This isn’t new and it never ends. Remember how Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and thousands followed Jesus? Then he preached to Cornelius and saw first hand as the Spirit opened the door and brought the Gentiles into the church. He went back to Jerusalem and argued for the inclusion of the Gentiles to the church leadership. Some time later, this same Peter, champion of faith, acted like a racist bigot in Antioch, refusing to eat with Gentiles, mostly because he caved to peer pressure and refused to stand up to his brothers in Christ who were wrong in their thought and practice. Still, that’s no excuse. Peter proved the remaining prejudice in his heart through his actions. In Galatians 2, Paul relates how he confronted Peter to his face in front of everyone because he sinned and led others to sin along with him. In that same context, further in the letter, Paul makes this statement:
Gal. 3.26-28: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through trust, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
We are one because we trust Jesus. That’s what our baptism signifies – that we are giving our lives and bodies over to trusting and following Jesus, to obeying this Paraclete who convinces the world to trust by leading us into community with each other. We risk in small ways – “can I pray for you right now?” – and then we learn to risk in large ways, life altering ways. The Spirit is going to lead this church to take big risks. The Spirit is going to ask us to trust Jesus, to demonstrate that by jumping out of the plane. We will be able to measure how well we are doing in obeying by how diverse our community becomes and how diverse our leadership is. The church that trusts Jesus is racially diverse. The church that trusts Jesus has women leading. In the church that trusts Jesus, rich and poor people are close friends. In the church that trusts Jesus, young and old people speak into each other’s lives prophetically – in both directions. In the church that trusts Jesus, people with very different ideologies feel welcome, become friends with those who think very differently, and together experience the Spirit drawing them beyond their ideologies, away from their idolatries. This is risky business. Kingdom business is always risky business. It doesn’t happen more because it is so risky, so hard, so hard to sustain.
But there is hope. We’ll talk more about hope specifically next week, but this isn’t just a tease for that. There is one very important aspect of the trust I’m talking about that I haven’t mentioned and it’s also right here in this sentence if we can see it. Remember I said the Paraclete is the one doing the convincing work here and convincing is the work being done. The Spirit convinces the world to trust Jesus by creating communities of people who trust Jesus. The Spirit creates communities of trust. The Spirit creates trust. We become people who trust Jesus and trust each other, not by some force of our own wills, not by just jumping out of the plane. The parachute is important. Don’t jump out of a plane without a parachute on. And what makes the parachute work? The wind. Air. The Spirit is the one who makes this work. The faith/trust I’m talking about comes from the Spirit. Trust is a gift of the Spirit. Trust is a fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 13, Paul said,
These three remain: trust, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.
This comes in the context of 1 Cor. 12-14, where Paul explains the charismata, the gifts of the Spirit, things like speaking in tongues and prophesying. The “love chapter” is the most important part of Paul’s teaching here and this sentence is the apex of the whole thing. The church fathers named these three: trust, hope, and love the “theological virtues.” That means these three are essential to living the Christian life and they come into our lives from outside – they are infused in us by the Holy Spirit. And to be clear, this isn’t controversial, this isn’t something that only Pentecostals and charismatics and folks like us teach. Across the whole Christian church throughout its history, the church has taught that God initiates the conversion process. We differ on how the process proceeds but everyone agrees that a person who comes to faith is responding to something the Spirit is doing to us and in us. Otherwise, we somehow are saving ourselves which makes the work of Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection null and void and no Christian thinks that. So faith is infused in us. The Spirit empowers us to trust Jesus. This is exactly what Jesus is saying here. The Paraclete enables us to trust Jesus. The Spirit empowers us to trust each other. If we will participate, the Spirit grows trust in us and will grow us into a community foundationally marked by trust. The more we grow into that, the more the Paraclete can convince the world to trust Jesus through us. The thing about people who trust – they are also people who are trustworthy. We can be known in Gainesville as trusting and trustworthy people. The Spirit will infuse trust in us and grow that trust in us. Then we will prove Jesus over and over. And more and more people will learn just how sweet it is to trust in Jesus.
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
I’m so glad I learned to trust Him,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend
And I know that He is with me,
Will be with me to the end.
Oh, how sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to trust His cleansing blood
And in simple faith to plunge me
‘Neath the healing, cleansing flood!
Yes, ’tis sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just from sin and self to cease
Just from Jesus simply taking
Life and rest, and joy and peace.

Don Williams: Theological Implications of the Third Wave

For the opening session of the Society of Vineyard Scholars, I shared clips of a recording of a Don Williams talk from 1986 at a Vineyard Conference in Anaheim, CA. Here is the full text and audio of Williams’ very powerful, very moving speech (scroll to the bottom to download the mp3 and PDF files):

Don Williams

“Theological Implications of the Third Wave”

Vineyard Conference, Anaheim, CA 1986


I’ve been asked to speak tonight on the theme of the theological implications of the Third Wave. Without really trying to define the Third Wave, my understanding is that the first wave could be identified as the Pentecostal movement, the second wave being the charismatic movement that broke out in the 60’s, and the Third Wave is what you and I are involved in in this conference this week. And I do want to reflect with you a bit on some theological implications, which means that this is going to at least begin as a more didactic discourse than a popular exposition and I’m asking that you kind of work with me. It’s a little late in the evening and what have you, but if you’ll try to work with me a bit, hopefully the Lord will have some things to give to us.

The first thing that I want to suggest is that you and I are involved in an assault on some of the major assumptions and presuppositions of Western civilization as it presently exists. Rifkin and Howard in a book called The Emerging Order a few years ago defined the charismatic movement as a frontal assault on the modern, scientific worldview. They went on to say that literally millions of people are no longer living in that worldview which characterizes Western civilization. The issue before the church today is that we as a church have done what the New Testament church refused to do. Lesslie Newbigin said that we have syncretized, we have accommodated the Christian faith to the cultural environment in which we live. Which means that the Christian faith has largely been accommodated to the Enlightenment and to the rationalisitic worldview that determined the thought of the Enlightenment. And so, the Third Wave is an assault on the assumptions of the Enlightenment. Spinoza, who was the father of modern biblical criticism and one of the major philosophers of the Enlightenment, simply said that nature and God are the same virtually. That nature’s order is God’s order, therefore for God to violate nature’s order would be for God to violate Himself and He wouldn’t do that. And thus the order of nature is the only vehicle through which the order of God is communicated.

Now, you and I were largely raised in this worldview. My father, who is an engineer, raised me in the Newtonian worldview, although he didn’t know it, when he taught me that there’s a place for everything and everything needs to be put into its place. My father spent his life organizing reality with the assumption that it could be organized. And all you have to do is find a proper place for everything and you can get it there. Now my secondary education in the modern worldview came from my mother who was a social Darwinist. And my mother taught me something related to the survival of the fittest, namely, that the goal of life was to leave the world a little better than you found it. While my dad was busy putting everything into its place, my mother was busy improving it. And that’s a certain tension in which I lived. But these assumptions of evolutionary progress, of a rational order to a rational universe, these were the assumptions that determined my upbringing and I suspect much of your upbringing.

Now, the Third Wave, and into this closed system comes the in-breaking of kingdom power. And so the assumptions of the Enlightenment are under assault. But to be honest with you there is also a post-Enlightenment worldview and I suppose that worldview informs much of what Peter Wagner would call the rock generation, in the rock church. And the assumptions of the post-Enlightenment are simply that this is a chaotic world, it’s a world of drugs, of nihilism, of relativism, of moral anarchy, and insanity. And there is no order. Carl Becker in some lectures given at Yale University in 1931 said that it has taken us in the West eight centuries to divest ourselves of the Christian framework of reality. And he said now we simply view existence as a blindly running flux of disintegrating energy. And then Becker went on to say, what is man that the electron should be mindful of him? Man is but a foundling in the cosmos, abandoned by the forces that created him, un-parented, unassisted, and undirected by omniscient or benevolent authority, he must fend for himself and with the aid of his own limited intelligence find his way about in an indifferent universe. Becker then says we can sum up the modern mind this way with an epigram from Aristophanes, “Whirl is king, having deposed Zeus.” And while I was brought up in the framework of the Enlightenment, the generation behind me, of the counter culture, of the 60’s that dismantled that worldview, is the generation of chaos. And while kingdom power is breaking in from the Third Wave on the structure of the Enlightenment, kingdom order is breaking in on the chaos of the post-Enlightenment. And the Third Wave is the cleansing of the church from her intellectual idolatry, syncretism, and capitulation to the modern world, rational or irrational.

Secondly, with the Third Wave there is the recovery of functional biblical authority for the church. Walter Kauffman, who was a professor of philosophy at Princeton University accused the theologians of what he called gerrymandering the text. It’s a political metaphor, as you know in California especially, when you want to get your party a majority in office, you simply redesign the congressional or electoral districts and legislative districts and in redesigning them you are able to put your party into office hopefully. Kauffman says that the proof texting method employed by the theologians is exactly this, they take the Bible, they redistrict it and redesign it to make their appropriate theological points. But the Third Wave refuses to do that and says that there is no canon within the canon, that the whole of the canon must be taken as the authoritative word of God to the church. And thus we must end the philosophical control which lies behind the proof texting. For example, Schweitzer in his Quest of the Historical Jesus asserted that a basic axiom of modern historical criticism is simply to deny the supernatural. And therefore when Schweitzer went to the Gospels he put a sieve, poured the Gospel through the sieve like you’d pour sand through a sieve, and all the miracles bounced out on top of the sieve and they were immediately rejected as non-historical. But in a certain sense Karl Barth answered Schweitzer challenging this in his assertion that revelation begins with a critique of philosophy and that the Word of God must be set free from philosophical control. Once this takes place, then God can speak for Himself and He is no longer dominated by philosophy that determines in advance what we will discover from the Scriptures.

The Third Wave also is a demand for the actualization of the fruit of biblical theology. Once again, Schweitzer in his book The Quest for the Historical Jesus insisted that Jesus should not be interpreted from a rational point of view, rationalistic point of view, from the Enlightenment or a Romantic point of view, or from the ethical liberalism of the late nineteenth century. He insisted that Jesus must be seen in the context of first century Jewish apocalyptic, that worldview in which God is engaged in warfare against Satan, there’s a battle between good and evil, there’s a messianic time clock that’s ticking, that God is sovereign over history, and it is rushing toward its appointed end which is the judgment of God. And Schweitzer said, although his theology I cannot accept, Schweitzer’s historical demand I affirm unequivocally, namely, Jesus must be seen in the context of first century Jewish apocalyptic. And once you put Jesus in that context then your worldview must be reconstructed.

While Schweitzer saw Jesus in pursuit of a kingdom that never came, C. H. Dodd came along and corrected Schweitzer by asserting that the NT teaches, “realized eschatology,” that Jesus didn’t try to force in a kingdom that refused to come, in fact, he brought the kingdom into this world. And those great eschatological truths, and that great hope Israel embraced, the coming of the Messiah, the establishment of His kingdom, the conquest of the power of Satan and his demonic hordes and what have you, that all of that actually broke into history in the coming of Jesus and in His proclamation that the kingdom of God is at hand, namely, the kingdom of God is within reach.

Oscar Cullmann came along and introduced the concept of eschatological tension, that we live between the times, that yes the end stands before us, yes the end has broken in in the ministry of Jesus, and we therefore as the church are living in this tension, between the consummation that has begun and yet is to be ultimately in the future finally fulfilled. Now what I’m saying to you is the Third Wave insists that the Bible must be taken in its entirety, the Third Wave insists that there must not be philosophical controls on the Bible which predetermine its results, the Third Wave insists that New Testament eschatology is not an ancient mythological system to be demythologized but it is in fact the revelation of the reality of God and the truth about the world in which we live. And those who study New Testament eschatology should come to crisis – and they don’t. And that I find is one of the great ironies of my own education. Because in 1956 I read Dodd’s book The Parables of the Kingdom and in 1958 I read Cullmann’s book Christ and Time. These books I knew for decades before I knew their reality. And what is happening with the Third Wave is, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and with the manifest presence and power of God in the midst of His church, good theology is becoming normative Christian experience once again. And so we must insist upon recovering the functional authority of the Bible for the church. Rather than pursuing the battle for the Bible, we are committed to pursuing the Bible for the battle.

Now there is, it seems to me at the same time, therefore, a renewal of theology. And I would like to move very rapidly through this. One of the things we are simply aware of and experiencing is the depths of evil. Part of the Enlightenment assumptions have to do with the goodness of nature and the goodness of human nature therefore. And the whole assumption that there is personal supernatural evil is looked upon as medieval and mythological. But our experience, carved partly out of the history of the twentieth century and then carved as well (and John White spoke so eloquently about it), carved out of our ministry experience in the context of the work of the Holy Spirit, is that there is personal supernatural evil. There is a kingdom of the evil one and his demonic hordes. And thus there’s a recovery of the depths of evil over against simply a humanistic view of you might say natural and historical evil as a vestige of human nature that will evolve away as we grow up into our inherent goodness.

At the same time, then, there is a reawakened sense of the doctrine of total depravity which of course doesn’t mean we act as bad as we could but that we all have that potential and everything, like King Midas, everything that we touch is tainted and turns, not to gold, but to ashes. The Bible says that we’re dead in trespasses and sins and that’s a pretty absolute statement about the human condition and human nature. The Bible never appeals to our free will. The Bible isn’t a great advocate of you making a decision for Christ. The Bible talks instead about our spiritual darkness and death and despair into which God moves in all of His grace and mercy. And so as we recover a sense of the power of supernatural evil at the same time we are divesting ourselves of the shallow assumptions of the Enlightenment and getting in touch with the depths of human depravity as well.

And what does this force us then to? It forces us to a recovery of the marvelous Gospel of the sheer mercy and grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ. And rather than human nature being exalted, Christ is exalted as His work is proclaimed. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote this concerning the Gospel: “the justice of God has received an abundant vindication by an obedience so perfect and a death so terrible rendered by so divine a person. If God Himself bows before His own laws what more can be done?” And the answer is: nothing, it’s all been done by Jesus Christ and his sacrifice upon the cross.

If then, as Paul says, Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the Gospel, and if we’re dead in trespasses and sin, and if it is the work of Christ objective and finished upon the cross that is our message, then the only way the world will come to know this message and embrace this Savior is by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. And I will just read my grocery list to you tonight because you know this so well. But it’s the ministry of the Holy Spirit that brings us to new birth and incorporates us immediately, whether we like it or not, into the body of Christ. You can’t join the church, you’re joined to the church by the work of the Spirit of God. There are no options to Christian community. When Jesus Christ calls us to Himself, he calls us to each other simultaneously. You are the body of Christ, Paul writes, and individually members one of another. So conversion and community must be organically linked and may God have mercy on the Lone Ranger Christians riding around southern California.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the work of empowerment. I will come back to this in a few minutes. Now I realize that once you get into this subject you get into controversy. The New Testament uses a variety of terms in describing the work and the power of the Holy Spirit. There is the phrase, ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit.’ Luke often speaks in the book of Acts of ‘the filling of the Holy Spirit.’ Paul speaks of ‘the sealing of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘the anointing of the Holy Spirit.’ Before you put your defenses against any one of these words or phrases, let me simply say to you, all of these words and phrases and others need to be embraced to describe, not a theological controversy, but a spiritual reality. And it’s a reality of power, the power of the Holy Spirit. And I don’t care what the language is that you use. Have you received the power of the Holy Spirit in your life? And you’ll know it if you’ve received it.

Then, of course, there’s the gifting of the Holy Spirit to edify the body of Christ. That gifting is situational and it becomes more constitutional as we mature into Christ and fulfill the offices that He is calling leadership to within that body. There is the healing ministry of the Holy Spirit through His gifts, 1 Cor. 12. There is the need for deliverance from demonic infestation, oppression. Once again, who cares about the language, there’s the reality that lies behind the language. The New Testament isn’t precise on these matters. But in 1 Cor. 12, Paul speaks of the gift of miracles, the gift of discernment, in terms of discerning demonic influence, and he warns the Galatians in Gal. 4 that if they go back under the law they will be going back into slavery to the elemental spirits of the universe, namely, demonic powers. And so there’s the deliverance ministry. And then, of course, there’s the formation of Christian character which is again the work of the Holy Spirit in Gal. 5.22-23.

The Third Wave also insists that the locus of authority for ministry is not fundamentally ecclesiological. It does not lie in the tradition of the church. Neither is it psychological, it does not lie in personal charisma through attractive pastors who ooze sexual sublimation out upon their congregations. Neither does the locus of authority for ministry lie in the political and economic realm, namely, the alliances of power and money within the church. The locus of authority, the Third Wave insists, is christological, it lies in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And as I mentioned earlier in the week, John’s word, or God’s word through John, that Jesus is speaking to us, especially to us clergy, “Give Me back My church,” is the call to the confession and the submission to Jesus Christ as Lord of the church. Once we submit to His Lordship, we’re then under His authority. It’s not our authority. We respond to His call, to His ministry, not our ministry. We are anointed by His Spirit, in His name, for His ministry, not our ministry, and by faith we exercise both the authority and the power of His ministry in the life of the church. A recovery, then, of the christological locus for the authority of ministry.

Next, the Third Wave insists on the release of the ministry of the laity. The Third Wave is calling the church to do what the Reformation promised and never fulfilled, namely, the priesthood of all believers. And the primary foundation for the release of the ministry of the laity lies in worship and you’ve experienced it here this week. As the congregation of God’s people engages together in worship you and I discover that we are all priests before God. We are all worshippers before God. We are all offering the sacrifice of the fruit of our lips to Him in praise and adoration and worship is no longer a spectator sport as it is in so many of our churches where in the words of the old cigarette commercial, “it’s what’s up front that counts.” I want to tell you it’s not what’s up front that counts. Corporate worship, then, is the basis for the release of the ministry of the laity.

Secondly, that ministry must take place within committed relationships. Lloyd Ogilvie speaks of small groups as the church in miniature. And in those small groups we discover that we are functionally members one of another. And there is the best place for the gifts of the Spirit to be manifested in ministry. There accountability is to be discovered. There care is to be learned. There love is to be given and received. We’re all members of the body of Christ. This then will issue as we discover that we’re all members, in us all being ministers in a life of personal discipleship to Jesus in the world.

The Third Wave insists upon the unity of the church and calls for the healing of the church. Francis MacNutt identifies four ways in which Jesus meets us. He meets us in the great Evangelical tradition through the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to be born again. He meets us in the wave of the charismatic movement in experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. He meets us through the sacramental tradition of the church where Christ comes to us in the broken bread and in the cup. And He meets us in the ache and the heartache of a society that cries out for healing and for care. He meets us in those who go to minister to the poor and thus minister unto Jesus. And within the Third Wave there is one great comprehensive stream that says Jesus Christ comes to us through these manifold ministries of the church and one is not to be set over against another. We must preach the evangelical Gospel, we must be empowered by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we must meet Christ in His sacraments, and we must move into the world and there minister to Him and discover Him in the lost and the lonely. He will be there in the crisis with us. And the church is to be healed by Christ meeting us through the great diversity within His church. When we recognize Him in our midst.

The Third Wave insists that mission is warfare for the world. It’s an assault upon the kingdom of darkness. It is an attack upon Satan and all of his demonic hosts and hordes. It is contention against the principalities and powers of this world. It’s a warfare not against flesh and blood. Therefore there’s a militancy. You see, Luther complained about the medieval church because the pope sat on a throne with a three-tiered crown on his head and lived in a palace and said as Christ is triumphant in heaven so the church must be triumphant on earth. And Luther said no, the church is not triumphant on earth. We are not the church triumphant. We will be that one day, but we are the church militant.

Now, I’m taking a slight issue with Peter Wagner. In the context of realized eschatology it is true that the kingdom has broken in upon us and the power of the Spirit is here. But we also live in this eschatological tension that the kingdom is yet to fully come. And therefore this is a militant life of warfare and suffering and persecution. And as we go against the powers of darkness they will not leave us alone. Therefore, we must not preach a naive Gospel simply of prosperity and false peace, we must be an army equipped for battle because that’s where we’re going. As we denounce the idols of the age the demons that lie behind them will expose themselves.

Tom Woodard is a dear brother of mine who is launching a missionary organization called Floresta which is coming from our church and now is embracing other bodies and other believers. The goal of this mission, which is operating in the Dominican Republic, is to re-forest a major part of the Dominican, and it’s a Christian development organization. And as God continues to move through Floresta, the economy of the Dominican Republic may well be turned around in very significant ways. Tom will be going to the Dominican next month. And we had breakfast together recently and he said, “You know, the more that I’m in the Dominican and the more that I deal with Floresta, I realize, number one the Dominican is not a poor country in terms of its resources, that it could have a relatively healthy economy for Latin America. And the problem of the Dominican is not the poverty of the people, which is rampant. The problems of the Dominican are the vested interests of the politicians and their corruption.” And Tom said, “As I go as missionary to the Dominican to help the poor, I know that I’m going to come against those principalities and powers that stand behind the political system of that country and keep the people in oppression.” That’s the warfare for this world.

Now the Third Wave, it seems to me, is engaged, and and you sensed it in what John White has said and other things in this conference, the Third Wave is engaged in a recovery of the heritage of revival. And I’ve put a little thesis here which would be fun to talk about at some leisure, namely, I denote in the Third Wave a tendency toward continuity rather than the discontinuity of a special apocalyptic theology. Now I put the word “tendency” in here on purpose. People do that when they don’t want to make absolute statements. [laughter] That’s a carefully chosen word, “a tendency toward.” You see, in the Pentecostal movement and in many respects in the charismatic movement, as it especially appeared in the crisis on the 60’s, which was a very apocalyptic moment in our country, you have kind of a special apocalyptic theology: ‘Now are the last days. God is pouring out His Spirit now. It’s the crisis moment. You know, the Ten Nation Confederacy is being gathered and the little horn and the big horn are coming and…’ [laughter] Have you been there? I was in a tent nearby some years ago [laughter] for a Saturday night concert when the tenth nation joined the Common Market. And 2000 young Christians got up on the chairs and cheered. That’s special apocalyptic theology. I think the Third Wave perhaps has a bit more humility in one sense because as we recover the roots of evangelicalism, which suffers from incredible amnesia [laughter] – really, demonic amnesia if you will – Satan hasn’t only blinded the minds of the unbelievers, he’s blinded the believers too in many respects. But as we recover our roots, we discover that we are a part of the renewing, reviving, restoring work of God that is the heritage of the church. And that again and again and again in the history of the church, God has brought the church to a state of awakening and revival. And where the mission of the church has advanced against alien cultures there has always been the movement of God in special power and special manifestations. And this sense of our own history is a great gift. It’s a great gift. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a book published after his death titled Joy Unspeakable – great Reformed biblical preacher from London, he was to the Reformed church what John Stott has been to the Anglican church – Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked the question, “Why is it in the twentieth century that the church in the English-speaking world in the West has experienced no revival? There was the Great Awakening, there were the great revivals that swept across nineteenth century America and England, there was the Welsh revival at the beginning of the twentieth century, no revival since then.” And Jones answers his question in a startling way. He says the reason why there’s no revival, there’s been no revival in the twentieth century is because prior to the twentieth century when the church was weak and worldly and impotent, Christians got down on their knees, the believing remnant, and prayed and called upon God and repented of their sins and poured out their hearts before Him, praying for the sovereign work of His Spirit to come again and awaken the church. But Lloyd-Jones says at the end of the nineteenth century the church accommodated itself to the modern scientific worldview, it became the technological church and rather than praying for revival with repentant hearts when the church is weak and worldly and impotent, we get a committee together and organize an evangelistic crusade. And that’s the poor substitute for revival.

Now I would like to conclude my remarks tonight by simply saying to you that for me the issue of all that I’ve said tonight turns on the question of whether the Holy Spirit has come, not only to open heaven’s door and give you a new nature, but to fill you with power. Can we know the power of the Holy Spirit in our generation? Can the church be awakened and renewed and revived? Can Jesus’ promise to us, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” be anything more than a theological dogma or a distant memory? The NT witnesses unequivocally to the manifestation of the power of God and the history of revival down through the generations witnesses to the fact that Pentecost is not simply a distant memory but it’s an ever present possibility if God in His sovereign grace and Spirit will move once again in our midst. And I would simply like to call your attention to the experience of a few men. And I’m not going to read all these tonight. I’m ending my remarks and I won’t be able to read all these quotes. But I have to read a few selected ones that I love.

The first comes from John Wesley’s journal, Jan. 1, 1739. And you must remember that according to Whitefield’s biographer, this marvelous two volume set that John White quotes in his notes and which I commend to your careful study, that England suffered from deism, the church was weak and impotent, there was a great spiritual vacuum, and England, secondly, was drunk on gin as California is high on cocaine. There was a terrible moral decline. And in that context, these men, Charles and John Wesley and George Whitefield, began to meet together and here Wesley now describes one night. He says, “Mr. Hall, Hinching, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutching, and my brother Charles were present at our love feast in Fetter Lane with about 60 of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us insomuch that many cried out for exalting joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’” No wonder! No wonder George Whitefield spoke to half the English-speaking world of his generation. No wonder his voice went out across vast multitudes in the open air unaided, forty to fifty thousand people hearing the Gospel through this man. No wonder the Methodist Awakening took place. How did it happen? How did they come against a church bound in its lethargy? How did they come against a nation so corrupt in its morality and so much in bondage to this world? How did these men do it? Here’s the secret. Here’s how. You want to know how? They prayed. They prayed. They prayed. “At three in the morning,” Wesley says, “as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us.” Here was the answer of heaven. Here was the anointing. Here was the infilling. Here was the baptism. Here was the work of God upon these men. It came upon us. We simply could throw ourselves upon the mercy of God and call out to Him and He answered and when it came they knew it. They didn’t know it because the Bible promised it. They knew it because the promise had now been fulfilled in their experience.

And Wesley says that they, “cried out for exalting joy and many fell to the ground.” You say, ah, but is that really genuine? [laughter] And the answer is not only in the greatest revival England ever knew, there’s answer enough. But the answer is even more theologically profound than that, the answer is in what Wesley says, “As soon as we were recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.’” That’s the work of God. For the glory of God.

I’ll skip over Finney. Charles Finney became the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. Converted out in the woods. Went back to his law office that night. Had a vision of Jesus on the day of his conversion. He said it was so real, “I thought the Lord physically was before me.” And Finney says, “I fell at my feet and poured out my tears.” And this went on for some time. Then he went back into the other part of the office late that night and he says, “I sat before the dying fire. I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit.” And Finney said, “I didn’t know anything about it. I hadn’t been instructed in it but waves and waves, “Finney said, “of liquid love flowed across me.”

Dwight L. Moody: “I began to cry as never before for a greater blessing from God. The hunger increased. I really felt that I did not want to live any longer. I kept on crying.” Moody was an evangelist at this time. “I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day in the city of New York, O what a day. I cannot describe it. I seldom refer to it. It is almost too sacred an experience to name. Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years. I can only say God revealed Himself to me and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.” You see, we honor these men, the Wesleys, Whitefield, Moody, and we don’t know what empowered them. We don’t know what drove them. We don’t know what Jesus through His Spirit had to do in them to make them the men He wanted them to be. No wonder the Evangelical church has lost her birth right.

All I can say to you as I conclude this evening is that by the sheer grace and mercy of God, I have a witness in my own heart to what these men experienced. In the middle 70’s I was pursued by a friend of mine who said, “Don, you’ve been a Christian for years. You’ve been an ordained Presbyterian minister. You were involved in the Jesus movement. You’ve seen a lot of things happen in your life. But you know, Don, you need the power of the Holy Spirit.” And I said to my friend Steve, you know, listen, I’ve been through this before. I mean I’ve gone to meetings and been prayed for, read the books, and exegeted the texts. I’ve read Dale Bruner’s A Theology of the Holy Spirit. And I’ve been through this before. Well, my friend had the graciousness to just not be pushy. But he kept reminding me periodically that I needed the power of the Holy Spirit in my life and one night he brought it up again. I condescendingly allowed him to read some passages from the book of Acts about the power of the Holy Spirit. And then we parted. I went to bed. The next morning I got up and I went out to my study to have a devotional time and I began to experience physical sensations which I had never experienced before. There was a tingling in my extremities. My pulse began to speed up. I began to feel light and I thought back to the previous night and I began to pray and I said, “Lord, is this from You or not? Do You want to do something more in my life than You’ve done?” And I knew at that point I had a decision to make. Was I going to go with it? And say, ‘Well, Lord, if this is from You rather than just, you know, indigestion from the spaghetti. If this is from You then – Do what You want to with me.’

And there was a little battle fought right there. And I thought to myself if the Lord has something more to do in my life, then I don’t want to miss out on it. So I went out into the hills of Glendale where I had often gone to pray as a young Christian, taking my Bible with me. And I sat there by myself and I began to feel an incredible joy welling up inside of me and I was delighted no one was around because really for the first time in my life I just wanted to praise God. And I began to pray out loud and praise Him and I was just being filled to overflowing and I was beginning to really worship Him and praise Him and the joy became so intense and so overwhelming that at a point English no longer could contain my joy. And God provided a gift then so that my praise could express, beyond English, the joy of my heart. And I simply say this tonight to sign my personal name. I don’t set myself up with these men. But I need to sign my name to the reality. Jesus is here. His Holy Spirit is being poured out upon us. This is our heritage. Let us not miss the moment of His blessing.

PDF: Don Williams