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

Becoming people who tell the truth part 2

Understanding what it means to become people who tell each other the truth involves two basic parts. First, we need to think about what “telling the truth” means and then ask how we go about becoming people who do that, whatever that is. It might seem like “telling the truth” is the sort of thing with a definition so obvious that it needs no explanation, but I find the sort of things with assumed understandings are usually the ones that need the most explaining. They are often kind of hard to unpack and explain and (maybe for that reason) carry many misunderstandings.
genie-tell-her-the-truth     The first thing to know is that “telling the truth” is a moral claim. We can know this because everyone would say that telling the truth is something we *should* do. Should lets us know that we’re in the realm of moral actions, that is, actions we would look at and say they were either good or bad, right or wrong. It is right and good to tell the truth. It is bad and wrong not to tell the truth. As obvious as that sounds, we get into very non-obvious territory as soon as we try to nail down all those bad and wrong ways of not telling the truth. We assume that the opposite of telling the truth is telling a lie, but deciding what is or is not a lie can be really complicated (do you remember, “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is?”), and more than that, it sets us up with a binary thinking that is not helpful. Telling the truth is not one choice of two, it is one choice of many choices. Some of those other choices aren’t as bad as outright lying (or even as bad as grammatical obfuscation), but that doesn’t make them truth telling either.
     The way I have found it most helpful to think about moral actions, including truth telling, is through the ancient understanding of the virtues. Laid out and preserved for us by Aristotle, this way of thinking tells us four basic things. First, everything we do and say are moral actions. There’s really no such thing as a nonmoral action. You might want to contest the absoluteness of that claim, but really, if you think about it like that, that everything you is some degree of good or bad, you will find it helpful in shaping your life in positive ways. There’s really no downside to being attentive to the moral weight of your actions and speech.
     Second, virtues operate at the level of habit. These aren’t things we typically think about as we’re doing them. If anything, we reflect on them afterward. Which is why such reflection can’t be a bad thing. If you get stuck trying to make decisions, that’s not because you are thinking about morality too much (though you could use that as an excuse) but because you don’t have an established habit of practical reason (what Aristotle called phronesis and we usually translate as “prudence” – but that word has pretty much lost its meaning). Most of the time, we make decisions and then rationalize them after the fact. Which means we’re acting out of habit more often than we probably realize.
     Third, virtues are understood as a median point between two vices. The easiest example is probably courage. Courage is a virtue. It involves feeling the proper amount of fear and acting accordingly. Cowardice is a vice of feeling too much fear and having that debilitate your actions. Recklessness is a vice of not feeling appropriate fear and acting without the important input that fear brings. I will explain in part three how truth telling is a median point with vices on either side.
     Fourth, virtues are deeply interconnected. You don’t really excel in one without doing the others well. As I will explain in part 3, telling the truth often requires a great deal of courage (and prudence too among other virtues). Aristotle explains that the virtues fit together in the holistic forming of a virtuous person. As you can see from the courage example, this is not just about doing the right thing. It is also about feeling the right thing and thinking the right thing. If you have a courage problem, you really have a fear problem.
     And that is the one weakness in Aristotle’s explanation. He doesn’t really tell us how one goes about becoming a virtuous person. He describes what such a person looks like, how it all fits together, but the actual formation part is lacking. If you have a fear problem, how do you go about overcoming that? What I found life-altering is the answer Thomas Aquinas gives to that key question. The answer is the Holy Spirit. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas rehearsed Aristotle’s account of the virtues (in their ascending order) and on top of those he added the “theological virtues,” namely, faith, hope, and love as the highest virtues one can have. These three are called “theological” because they come to us as the Holy Spirit places them in us. They are gifts of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, those baptized in the Spirit as followers of Jesus. For good measure, Aquinas also described the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit as further examples of biblical proof that the Holy Spirit fills us and then works to rehabilitate us, making us into virtuous people.
     When I first read that, coming from the Pentecostal-holiness tradition, my head exploded. This is it. This put all the pieces together for me. The Pentecostal movement began as a holiness movement. People had a deep desire for God to transform how they were living their lives. God answered by pouring out His Spirit on people. The gifts of the Spirit were immediately evident. And it really changed how people lived their lives. They became morally better. The same thing happened with the Charismatic Renewal, with the Jesus People, with the Third Wave. People cried out to God because they were not very virtuous and couldn’t manage to become so on their own. God responded and filled them with power to change their daily lives. Aquinas says love (or charity) is the highest virtue and the shape the rest of them take, because love is the infusion of the Spirit’s own Self into us (“God is love”). Once our hearts are inflamed with the loving, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, everything begins to change. For our purpose here this means truthful speech has to be loving speech in order to be truthful speech. (Which is another way of stating Paul’s admonition: “Speak the truth in love.”)
     All of which is a long way for me to get to my point. The most important, most fundamental aspect of becoming people who tell each other the truth is just this – we have to become people filled with the Holy Spirit. We have to become people whose emotions, thinking, speech, and actions are reordered by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. And I have two points of good news on this front.
     First, this means it’s not up to us, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to try to muster up stuff in our own strength. The Spirit will come and enable us. And the first thing we should do is to pray for such a move of the Spirit upon us and in us. Until God shows up, we’re just marking time.
     Second, some of us already have a built-in framework where we can practice this. For those of us in the Vineyard movement, this is precisely what we understand prayer ministry time to be. We wait on the Spirit to give us what to say to each other and then we say that. We don’t say everything we get from the Spirit (many times we specifically get direction how to pray and what not to say) and we don’t just offer opinions. In my experience, Vineyard people are really good at doing this in prayer time. That is a Spirit-infused habit we have cultivated. What I’m suggesting is that we take that practice outside of ministry time and make it our normal mode of speech.
     In part three, I will lay out a continuum of speech, with truth-telling the virtuous center surrounded by a range of non-truth-telling options.