November 30, 2020

Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (1)

Sunrise on Spring Fields (2018)

Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (1)

We begin the Pentecost season with a Sunday series of excerpts and reflections from Scot McKnight’s new book, Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us.

Scot is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL, author or editor of some sixty books, and he writes at the popular Jesus Creed blog.

I am happy to consider Scot a friend and mentor. He taught at Trinity when I was a student there in seminary and was instrumental in helping me when I first began writing for Internet Monk. And he’s a great Cubs fan. That in itself shows you that he is open to the Holy Spirit.

• • •

A key word in the title and text of Scot McKnight’s book about the Holy Spirit is “open.” And he begins by recounting his own story of not being open to the Spirit. He was raised in a non-charismatic Baptist church where the true Trinity was “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures.”

They had amassed a list of theological reasons why the charismatics and Pentecostal Christians were wrong in their teaching and emphasis upon the Spirit:

  • The (glitzy) gifts (such as tongues, prophecy, and miracles) were for the apostolic period only.
  • In the New Testament, not every conversion led to speaking in tongues, so tongues cannot be seen as the sign of conversion.
  • There are not two baptisms— one by water, one by the Spirit— but just one baptism.
  • The Holy Spirit does not want all this attention. The Spirit gives testimony to the Son, so this charismatic stuff must be wrong.
  • Christians who are obsessed by the Holy Spirit are the most prone to theological error and to chaos. Eventually their enthusiasm and mysticism will cool, and Pentecostals will be like the rest of us. Either that, or they will turn to some kind of heresy.
  • Those who are most enthralled with the Spirit are the most shaped by their inner experiences— emotion and personal feelings. They also are the least theologically trained.
  • Charismatics believe in a two-stage theory of salvation: first you become a Christian; next you get the second blessing or you get filled with the Spirit or you enter into the Higher Life or you get fully sanctified and perfected and become sinless.
  • We need to focus on salvation and justification and the cross. All this talk about the Spirit distracts from that focus.

This is quite similar to the list I was taught to think by in my Bible college days at a dispensationalist school. We virtually identified the Spirit with the scriptures and limited the Spirit’s work in our lives to illuminating the words of the Bible to us, using those words to “transform us by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).

However, over the years Scot (and I as well) have experienced a change of heart and mind about the Holy Spirit, becoming much more open to viewing the Spirit’s work from an “outside the Book” perspective. Here’s how he describes his “conversion” and why he hopes this book will help others experience the same change:

This book attempts to make clear what the Bible reveals about God’s Spirit. Readers can also see it as the story of my conversion from the anti-charismatic movement to an affirmation of the centrality of the Holy Spirit and the importance of the Spirit for the Christian life. I have come to believe, along with theologian Clark Pinnock, that the Spirit works in “a hundred thousand ways” and that it is not my responsibility to do anything but to be open to the radical and sometimes surprising flow of the Spirit in our world. I believe that is what the Bible teaches, and I hope the time we spend pursuing the truth about the Holy Spirit will lead you to a similar belief. (p. 20)

To that end, Scot encourages us to pray the following prayer, a most fitting petition on the Feast of Pentecost and all the days that follow:

Lord, I am open to the Holy Spirit.
Come to me, dwell in me, speak to me
so I may become more like Christ.
Lord, give me the courage to be open.
Lord, I am open to the Holy Spirit.
Come, Holy Spirit.


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    How shall we sing the majesty.

    An amazing Pentecost Sunday from an Anglican High Church out ‘in the sticks’ of New South Wales, Australia.

    I am so glad I went today. (I go every Sunday) The.Church was packed and the congregation wore red.
    The Church was filled with red helium balloons from which hung a cardboard dove with crepe paper streamers of red and yellow. Sounds tacky but from the high vaulted ceiling the dove seemed to descend.
    For the procession into the Church, three young boys in red cassocks and white surplices held aloft The Processional Cross and lighted candles.
    Two Lay Readers and our Rector with red chasuble followed.
    Great sermon, good kids talk with play sheets for them to fill in during the service.
    Sunday School in on hold as the Hall is being renovated.
    We sang all the correct hymns and ended with the season’s Blessing and the sang the great AMEN.
    Such joy, beyond measure.
    The Pascal Candle was extinguished.

    Sumptuous morning tea followed. No one wanted to go home.
    We were caught up in the significance of Pentecost.
    Next week the Holy Trinity, can we match today?

    May God bless us all.


    • Christiane says

      “The Church was filled with red helium balloons from which hung a cardboard dove with crepe paper streamers of red and yellow. Sounds tacky but from the high vaulted ceiling the dove seemed to descend.”

      It sounds wonderful, Susan.

  2. Christiane says

    While ‘Pentecostals’ are certainly the most visible and well-known group of those who call upon the power of the Holy Spirit, they are not the only ones by far. The Church has called down the power of the Holy Spirit for millenia and it is done often in the course of ministry. There are many ‘names’ in the liturgy for the Holy Spirit, God, but one favorite is ‘The Comforter’. For those moments where the Holy Spirit is asked to intervene, the Church has prayers that have a way of transmitting the compassion of God to someone in need of comforting:

  3. John barry says

    In have never heard any church refer to the Trinity as the Father Son and Holy scriptures. In most evangelical churches the Holy Spirt is with us always . What seminary taught this? What organization does fully credit the Holy Spirt as part of the Trinity? What group denies the power of the Holy Spirt aka Holy Ghost?

    Learn something everyday

    • They won’t teach it explicitly. But it’s there. Sola Scriptura denies other sources of inspiration or authority such as reason, church tradition and spiritual experience. It’s scripture alone, and it can become idolatrous.

      There’s an irony: the 9Marks movement makes a big deal of “the local church” to the point where the local church almost becomes a Sixth Sola. Although they may deny “church tradition” as authoritative, they set it up within their own system.

      Related note, a bit cessationist: my wife recently went to a women’s conference and one of the exercises was to determine their spiritual gifts. Two notable absences on the list were healing and tongues. But “shepherding” was included. The material came from Lifeway, a Southern Baptist publication.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Wait! Are you telling me that spiritual gift exercises might be skewed by the organizations preparing the exercise to include or exclude gifts of the spirit that they do or don’t believe in?! And …I might have a spiritual gift not included on all the exercises I’ve done in the past?!?!


        (Sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts. So is cynicism.)

        • (Sarcasm is one of my spiritual gifts. So is cynicism.)

          Me too. It’s a good thing they’re not really gifts.

          John MacArthur has quite an influence on evangelicals even if they’re not aware of it. He’s a cessationist (no gifts since the age of the apostles) but not everybody is as strict. People tend to mix and match. I mean, why no healing included in that list? And yet we often pray for healing during services, even laying on hands.

  4. John barry says

    Should be does not fully credit Holy Spirt as part of Trinity.

    • John no one actually teaches “Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.” That was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying how Scot’s church actually lived out their faith — confining the Spirit’s work to the Bible.

      • Rick Ro. says

        And, without naming names, we hear a bit of that “scriptures uber allies” here at IMonk from a few commenters now and then.


      • Patriciamc says

        That’s a trap many churches fall into, that and Paul as the savior.

        • senecagriggs says

          In my decades of Evangelical church attendance, I’ve never heard the Apostle Paul equated with the Savior That would be flat out blaspheme.

          • Rick Ro. says

            He gets propped up pretty highly in some circles; I have a few Calvinist friends who quote nothing but his epistles. And I think that’s the point. Not sure how often these friends read anything else.

          • Patriciamc says

            They don’t say it literally and would be horrified at the idea, yet they make him a savior in practice, an idol of sorts.

          • Patriciamc says

            This is a perfect example of the difference between tongue-in-cheek/hyperbole and the literalist mindset. Then, the literalists read scripture in a literal way while the ancient Hebrews frequently used hyperbole to make their points.

      • John barry says

        M thanks , I take everything in a literal way especially when I am so hungry I can eat a horse.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Some thirty years ago, I knew two gamers:

          One’s favorite expression was “Shoot me if I’m wrong!”
          The other was a perfectionist who took EVERYTHING literally.

          I still marvel that both these guys are still alive.

  5. I find myself having to discipline my mind to be open to the Spirit. It is not because of years of anti-spirit theological training, but from years of being part of groups which were “open to the Spirit.” I witnessed so much abuse about the concept of the work of the Spirit, but worst of all, was the dishonesty. We lived in a “magical” world where reality was so distorted that it was difficult to navigate back to the real world once that phase was over. So, of course the Spirit is real and central in Christian teaching. But for some of us, it is like growing up with a very bad father and having to keep telling ourselves that there are good fathers out there.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I hear ya. Being around people who tout the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the clothes they wore that day gets a bit tiring, and makes one skeptical of the Real Deal.

      • I remember a real debate breaking out in my college group about it being sin for men to wear colored underwear (only whitey-tighties). Why? Because colored underwear were “part of the gay agenda to emasculate men” and wearing those would quench the spirit.

        • And people wonder why I’m post-evangelical…

        • I wear colored underwear for one reason and one reason only – my wife bought it and put it in the drawer. NOW I find out it’s quenching the Spirit. Thanks a lot Fruit of the Loom. Thanks a lot!

        • One of my daughter’s teachers had a bunch of “proverbs” posted on her office door. My favorite was “The color of one’s underwear should remain a mystery.”

          So, if colored jockey shorts are unbiblical, will we need underwear police in the church foyer?

          I’ve often said that there’s no end to legalism / authoritarianism. But maybe I’m wrong. This IS the logical conclusion to it.

          • Robert F says

            Someone should market Biblically acceptable underwear as Fundy Undies. I think a lot of money could be made, bringing together two things the Bible places above all others: modesty and capitalism.

            • john barry says

              I believe the Mormons have special underwear. It Depends on my diet what type of underwear I I wear not divine instruction

        • Boxers or briefs? Another great theological debate!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Talk about First World Problems…

    • Christiane says

      I don’t think we have to be all the time consciously ‘open’ to the Holy Spirit. The reason I say this is because we are told this in the sacred Scriptures:

      ” 26 . . . . . the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words ” (from Romans 8)

      I have a feeling we are being ‘cared for’ but not to the extent that our free will is impaired. And I think this caring is given to all the children of God, not just given to those of our ‘own tribe’, so to speak.

      • Christiane says

        “” In spite of the all-powerful strength of God’s merciful hand,
        which touches, enfolds and bends the souls with so many inspirations, calls and attractions,
        the human will remains perfectly FREE, unfettered, and exempt from every form of constraint and necessity.”
        (Francis DeSales)

      • If the fruit of the Spirit is Love, I would contend that being “open to the Spirit” would primarily entail being open to opportunities to show love to others.

        • Mike, you just gave me an epiphany. The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control,” but the final eight all come back to the first on the list, love. Did they teach us that in Sunday school and I missed it?

          • Because the word “fruit” is singular, it is possible that the text can be read as “The fruit of the Spirit is love; that is, joy, peace, etc.

            If I recall correctly, that was an insight I received in seminary.

            • Christiane says

              I like this viewpoint very much. It makes sense to me coming from that perspective of the fruit of the Holy Spirit being received and shown forth (shone forth) in the life of the person. 🙂

              Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

              AND, your viewpoint also permits that ALL may experience this love and act on it, not just those who may identify as ‘charismatics’ . . . we are told that God lives in those who love, and they in Him, and that opens up the Holy Spirit to ‘go where He will go’ in this world, and we know He cannot be bound by the ‘boxes’ of our sometimes restrictive theological doctrines, thanks be to God. 🙂

            • I knew that fruit was singular, but I took it to mean that the 9 in the list were one package. I guess they are, if they’re all subsets of love.

              • Christiane says

                Hi Ted,
                If ‘God is love’, then I figure they’re all subsets of love, considering the Source.

    • I, too, have to remind myself to be open to the Holy Spirit. Just speaking for myself, I’m very much a “word” person, and do not have too much imagination when it comes to Christianity, not an artist, creative person at all. Given that, starting this year, I’ve felt the need to open myself up to the things of the spirit more, not just for the experience, but in a recognition that there are things about G-d that are beyond my imaginings, and that I mentally cannot shut the power of the Holy Spirit out, expecting the Spirit to act in a certain manner to satisfy how I think it should act. It’s been interesting, no being “slain in the Spirit”, no seeing things, or speaking in tongues, but a closer touch of the Holy in my daily walk of faith has been the result. Because of this newness of approach, I’m much, much less judgmental about movements of the Holy Spirit in other churches and prayer settings; I’m trying to be open and free about the Holy Spirit, and it’s helping my relationship with God immensely.