October 22, 2020

Riffs 3:19:07: Responding to Dan Edelen’s “The Holy Who?”

201.jpg“I’m not a supporter of the Emerging Church, but I’m sympathetic to some of the reforms they’re calling for in the Church as a whole. Yet I’m utterly mystified that a reform movement could be so lacking in any concept of the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology in the Emerging Church? I’ve not heard one peep about it. As far as I’m concerned, any reform movement that perpetually leaves out the mention of the Holy Spirit is nothing but flesh-centered hogwash.” -Dan Edelen, “The Holy Who?”


Always one of the more provocative writers on the web, Dan Edelen has stirred up a grande discussion with the charge that not only is contemporary evangelicalism without a proper emphasis on the Holy Spirit, but the emerging church in particular fails in its attempt to be a reform movement by leaving out the entire “concept” of the Holy Spirit (“not one peep”) and in amounting to “flesh-centered hogwash.” (I’ll wager that term’s never been used before.)

I’m generally a big fan of Dan’s writing, though his perspective as a charismatic and a revivalist differs widely from mine as a post-evangelical reformation Christian humanist who largely rejects the evangelical notion of revival. I’ll commend Dan’s article to you, and after you’ve read and digested it, I have a few responses. (Dan, I respect and love you as a brother, so don’t think I’m trying to be all up on it.)

When you’re ready, here we go.

1. First of all, Dan, let me invite you over to the liturgical side of the emerging church, where I can assure you an emphasis on the Holy Spirit is present in a classically balanced, ancient and orthodox way. I have written asking evangelicals to reclaim the “Third Great Day” of the church’s calendar, i.e. Pentecost, because that season of the spirit occupies MORE THAN HALF of the Christian calendar. The Holy Spirit is prominent in ancient liturgical prayer. The Book of Common Prayer, Lutheran Liturgy and even Roman Catholic liturgy are strong on the Holy Spirit. The Anglican liturgy is full of the Spirit. So I will “amen” your call, but I hope you will consider that all is not as lost as some of us once thought. It’s just somewhere we were told we shouldn’t look. An increasing number of us have rediscovered the treasures in the attic.

2. I agree with you that an imbalanced theological use of the Bible is present in many places where the Holy Spirit needs to be. But I am far more concerned with the counterfeiting of spiritual reality with manufactured religious experience. Evangelicals wrestle with the role and reality of the Holy Spirit. True spiritual power is rarely recognized as such. Emotion, numbers, demagoguery, entertainment, technology, pragmatism- all are called “the work of the Holy Spirit” by evangelicals. The genuine fruit of the Spirit, and the genuine marks of that presence, will take evangelicals far out of the lines, boxes, rhetorical predictability and self-centered Pharisaism that mark so many who are sure they know what God will always do. I would suggest that many of talk much of the Holy Spirit might be themselves surprised at what the Spirit IS doing that they refuse to see or admit. (“God couldn’t be working through them. They aren’t in our denomination.”)

3. Interestingly, I find that John Macarthur was considerably on target when he said this in a sermon series called “Whatever Happened to the Holy Spirit” (one of my favorites):

The Charismatic Movement has contributed to the current deemphasis of the Holy Spirit’s role in sanctification by misrepresenting the ministry, baptism, filling, and illuminating work of the Spirit. That has led many to attempt to perfect in the flesh what was begun by the Spirit. We need to understand what the Bible teaches about the Spirit’s work if we’re to grow spiritually…A chief way that the Holy Spirit has been misrepresented is His exclusive association with miracles, signs and wonders–anything extraordinary. He is presented as the magical member of the Trinity who moves in ways that are either seen, felt, or heard. As a result the internal, sanctifying, purifying work that the Spirit does in the heart has been severely downplayed.

Indeed. I agree completely that the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement in the west has a lot to answer for in the demise of a Biblical emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

The Prosperity Gospel. Hyper-individualism. An emphasis on the trivial and the silly. Benny Hinn. Paula White. Rod Parsley. TBN. Filling teeth. The laughing revival. On and on. If mainstream Protestants have squandered their moment to influence the world through liberalism, what can we say about the legacy of Charismatic/Pentecostalism, in the west particularly? Gnosticism of the highest octane variety is alive and well.

My Vineyard friends would say “but at least an emphasis on the Holy Spirit was recovered.” Much the same could be said of Montanus. I am grateful for Gordon Fee, Jack Hayford and thousands of Charismatics would have courageously resisted the errors and excesses in their own ranks, but Macarthur is EXACTLY right: I wouldn’t go to most Charismatic churches, not because I am afraid of their emphasis on the Spirit, but because of what they emphasize as the work of the Spirit, as the dangerous excesses and errors that grow there.

4. There are two dimensions to the work of the Holy Spirit that are neglected even by those who emphasis the Spirit: Judgment and Creativity/Diversity. It’s not the purpose of this essay to unpack those concepts, and you know your Bible well enough to see what I am saying. The Spirit is at work, but comfortable, white, middle class suburban evangelicals are not real interested in a work that would turn over their consumeristic temple of entertainment, rock their economic world or fill their church with women leaders, artists pushing envelopes, hip-hop music and multi-media poets. Give us Third Day. Hands in the air everybody.

5. The Holy Spirit is not the “Look at me!” member of the Trinity. He is present where Jesus is worshiped, glorified and followed. I am sad to hear your assessment of the emerging church. Your choice of terms surprises me. I second those who suggest Hirsch’s Forgotten Ways as a possible recalibration. As thousands of emerging Christians reject the pragmatism, reject the show, reject the unholy concepts of leadership and the accompanying personality cults, reject the complex for the simple, reject the individualistic for the communal and the political, they are recovering a Spirit-led and Spirit empowered emphasis on Jesus and his Kingdom. Fleshly hogwash? You do know the difference between Ed Young, Jr. and Scot Mcknight don’t you?

6. YES….let us speak more of the Spirit. As the creed says

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

Dan has started an important conversation. God bless him in what he is seeking to say. I hope it continues.


  1. This is an excellect post and rejoinder to Dan’s (intentionally, I think) hyperbolic post.

    My concern is that those who need to heed it most will not, choosing instead to defend themselves even though they are not being attacked. Why is it so difficult for so many of us to accept criticism from those outside our own theological comfort zone? I have learned as much or more from my critics than from those who agree with my observations. We all say we need to grow into Christlikeness but, when someone actually points out an area where we might be deficient, we act like we’ve already arrived and don’t need input from anyone, thank you very much.

    Well, this is more of a rant, I suppose, than a comment. Again, I appreciate your insights and remarks here.

  2. Michael,

    Ironically, I have very little quibble with anything you’ve said here. I kept reading thinking the guns would come out sooner or later, but I feel remarkably unscathed. 😉


    1. I was saved in the Lutheran Church, so I’m very well acquainted with liturgy. I wish more Evangelical churches had some–SOME–sort of liturgical grounding. And I’m very aware of the way the Spirit is discussed and presented within liturgical circles. We absolutely need that perspective. Where we might differ is whether the liturgical view captures the entirety. I don’t think it does, but then no one denomination or theology today seems to cover all the bases. I’ve been in enough different churches to know where the blindspots and strengths lie. But by all means, lets hear what the liturgical churches have to say in pneumatology. The charismatics and Pentecostals (as well as everyone else) desperately need their insights!

    2-3. Michael, no charismatic blogger has taken greater pains than I have to address phony, heretical, and downright blasphemous “moves” within the charismatic/Pentecostal community:
    I think you and I are on the same page on this. On the other hand, I’m also not a fan of the “let’s kill it all off so nothing bad can ever get through” theology that some espouse (like MacArthur). A gift of discerning of spirits exists for a reason. I wish we’d learn how it works!

    4. You’ll get no arguments from me. We agree.

    5. I’ve been around the Emerging Church for a few years, have known folks who attend emerging congregations, and have read extensively. I spent a few years on The Ooze and racked up several thousand posts worth of conversations with folks there. Yet it seems the number of times I can count mention of the Holy Spirit would barely fill all my digits. I’m not the only one saying this, either. Andrew Jones has noted the strange lack of talk within the Emerging Church about the Holy Spirit, as have other well-known names. Jones has also wondered why so few emerging churches are charismatic or Pentecostal. So it’s not just me who is saying this. In fact, I’m mouthing a lot of what I’ve heard other Emerging leaders say.

    6. Ironically, I’m currently reading The Forgotten Ways and it’s one of the reasons why I wrote my post. Almost every hot book within the Emerging conversation ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS starts with science. ALWAYS. I sometimes wonder if the leaders within the Emerging Church are all sociology majors because the second they try to make a point or offer a solution, here comes the sociological studies. It wouldn’t be so bad if these studies were used to illustrate problems, but it’s hard to escape that reality that they’re just as often used as part of the solution, too. Now I’m not anti-science by any means, but this obsession with crafting our spiritual responses around what the latest demographic study reports automatically stymies the Spirit. Instead of asking, “What is the Spirit saying?” as we should do (and the first century Church did), the Emerging Church has this tendency to ask, “What are the sociologists telling us the cultural drift is saying?” That’s the arm of flesh right there–let’s try to reason this out and create a response. Yet I look at the Bible and I can’t see that the early Church functioned that way. I hear a lot of talk about Ancient/Future within the Emerging Church, but the way the ancients listened to the Spirit first doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen. And I know that’s a generalization to some extent, but I wish I’d pick up an Emerging tome that would shatter this mold of going to the science and then dwelling there, all the while leaving the Spirit out of the picture. If that’s the model, then give me Edwards, Tozer, Murray, and their brethren.

    Anyway, I hope this clears up some things. Thanks for stoking the fires.

  3. One last comment.

    Just so I retain some street cred among the Emerging folks out there, later this week I plan on dismantling the anti-mysticism bent some “traditionalists” have been on lately.

    So see, sometimes I do defend Emerging Church ideals.


  4. Thanks for the interaction Dan. I don’t think a bit of sociology or church history is vacating the role of the HS is growing the church in its firt few centuries. You know what I’m saying….Hirsch may not be writing a theology of the HS, but he is showing the early church wasn’t the gimmick worshiping entertainment empire we call evangelicalism.

  5. I think if Dan wanted to say that he felt the e.c. was lacking balance in regards to the Holy Spirit, I would have little problem with the rest of his post. But Dan makes a categorical statement – see his “not a peep” and the e.c. conclusion – “flesh-centered hogwash.”

    He then cites Andrew Jones statements on a need for a deeper understanding of the HS in the emerging church in an attempt to prove his point (in the comments on his blog post) – which disproves his “not a peep” statement – but that doesn’t change his statements or conclusion. (I think the TSK would be shocked to know he’s involved in “flesh-centered hogwash.”)

    Maybe what we have here is a whole new sub-category of the blogosphere, the TCs and Dan is vying for the Challies position.

  6. Couple of thoughts (neither of them directed at Dan Edelen specifically, just sparked off by reading your post).

    1. There is a charismatic tendency to imply (or even state outright) that the person and work of the Holy Spirit had been neglected until, well, basically until the Azusa Street Revival and/or the charismatic revival of the 1960s onwards.

    When I first returned to the Christian faith, I was quite influenced by the charismatic movement for a while (experiencing the “Toronto blessing”, “speaking in tongues” etc), and took this claim at face value. Then I encountered people like Spurgeon or Ryle or the Puritans or the Reformers talking about the Holy Spirit all the time, and the emphasis on the Spirit’s work in Eastern Orthodoxy and so on. Frankly this left me feeling pretty angry and betrayed by the claim that the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism had “rescued” the Holy Spirit from neglect.

    Don’t worry, I’m over it now ;-), but it does make me put the claim that the emerging church “perpetually leaves out the mention of the Holy Spirit” in a certain context.

    2. Your reference to Montanus is highly appropriate. My recollection of my days in charismatic circles is that there is a tendency to see Montanism not as a dangerous heresy that was rightly rejected by the catholic church, but as a (perhaps slightly over-exuberant) charismatic revival movement that was quenched by the institutional church. See, for example, Michael Green’s “I Believe in the Holy Spirit”.

  7. Bill,

    If you would like me to admit I’m being hyperbolic, I’ll say it, “I’m being hyperbolic.”

    But not by much. At some point the sheer number of words spoken within the EC about all other topics begin to drown out the very rare few spoken about the Holy Spirit, and the mathematical limit approaches zero.

    As has been noted here and from EC commenters regarding my post, most people in the EC agree that next to nothing is being said about the Holy Spirit. I got almost eighty pages into The Forgotten Ways a hot new reform-oriented book before the Spirit was mentioned, and then only in passing. That’s par for the course. I’m frankly staggered that I continue to see this lack of attribution to the Spirit of anything that is happening in the EC; it’s almost pathological. That some EC leaders are only just now beginning to take note shows the depth and intractability of the problem.

    Again, I’m simply noting what some EC leaders have noticed!

    IF the EC continues to go this route of downplaying the Spirit’s role, then I fear it is the arm of flesh. IF it wakes up and starts attributing its direction to the leadership of the Spirit and not the cleverness ofg interpreting sociological data, then it may NOT go the arm of flesh route. The IF there is up to the EC. They can decide. That’s the gantlet I’m throwing down.

  8. John H,

    You are correct. The charismatic/Pentecostal side of things can become “holier than thou” with regards to their pneumatology. You’ll get no arguments from me on that.

  9. Actually Dan, what I think I’d like you to do is admit you used a nuclear device where a hand grenade would do. But I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

    You’ve set yourself up as judge and jury of the e.c. Let me know how that works out for you. As quite frankly, I’m a little tired of gauntlets being thrown down.

  10. I too have been writing and thinking a lot about this subject and it has been a hot topic of discussion at my blog. The first post in a series of posts startshere (“The Dangers of De-Emphasizing the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Everyday Life of Christians and then there are several additional posts with many comments. The conversation has been very enlightening.

    I love having read Dan’s article, from a charismatic viewpoint, and now yours, Michael, and seeing comments from Southern Baptists, charismatics, liturgical Christians, and more. May we all draw together in Christ bringing glory to Him so that the world will know that Jesus is for real!