Where the Spirit is, there is (holy) chaos

Mark Galli, in his new book, Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit, says this:

So Christianity, like all religions, is a good thing. Unfortunately, for the fans of religion, the Holy Spirit is not as interested in religion as we are and, whenever there is an opportunity, has a way of subverting it.

There aren’t enough books on the Holy Spirit; some of those that exist are clumsy. But there is to my knowledge no book like this one: a kind of run through the Bible as the Story of God’s Spirit at work and what happens — catastrophe and chaos — when the Spirit enters.

Religion, Mark says, is “a safe place to have God and morality without the holy chaos of the Spirit.” This is a book meant to be read by savoring it and pondering. It’s not a theology book; it’s ecclesial reflection on life in the Spirit and how God’s holy chaos subverts what we want into what God is doing.

Is the Spirit still what Francis Chan calls the “forgotten” God? Why?

This book is filled with stuff like that previous quotation. “… the NT teaches that this world, and every life in it, is a catastrophe, beyond tinkering, beyond remodeling. The gospel is about the cross, which puts a nail in the coffin of religion. The gospel is also about resurrection — not an improvement nor an adjustment, but the breaking in of a completely new life, because the old life has been obliterated. It’s about the Holy Spirit introducing holy chaos — the toppling of religion that has become an idol — so that people can know liberation.” In his description of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1 Mark Galli calls the Holy Spirit the “Mischief Maker.”

A good way of describing what happens when the Spirit invades life is the word disruptive.

It’s all a “eu-catastrophe” — a good kind of catastrophe. One after the other. Life exploding into form all over the place. Genesis 3 is another one: the exile establishes some ground rules what Pentecost will resolve, another eucatastrophe.

The Bible through the lens of God’s holy chaos at work.

First chaos and catastrophe and then eucatastrophe. Chaos reveals power and control and seeks to undermine it.

Love, faith, obedience, and freedom — the elements of the Christian life ruled by holy chaos from the Spirit.

All of this shifts us, and each of these gets a good chapter, from focusing on the horizontal to the vertical, from justice to grace, from optimism to resurrection, from marketing to witness, from managing to being managed, from shame to obedience and from power to promise. Ah, but one more: from utopia to church. The holy chaos of the Spirit brings freedom, but we are never the same again. Sometimes we limp as a result; other times we dance.

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  • Eucatastrophe! I smell a Tolkien lover.

  • EricW

    There is a church in the D/FW metroplex here with that name http://www.theeuc.com/

  • Among Pentecostals, He’s not forgotten; in fact the Father tends, from time to time, to be forgotten in the pursuit of the Spirit’s empowering presence. I like to joke sometimes that if you’re not into “organized religion,” we’re about as disorganized as you can get.

    That has its detriments, of course. Not all that chaos is Spirit-provoked. You’ll know it’s Him by His fruits.

  • Ah, now that is fascinating. All of my life I have heard the phrase, “God is a God of order, not of chaos.” It’s usually flung out in women’s groups as an impetus for keeping your house clean. Yes, seriously.

    But I have long felt that that God (must’ve been the Holy Spirit) didn’t mind chaos at all, that indeed, choas could be creative and productive.

    I’ve noticed too, that in the real/physical/tangible life it seems that if you can hold on thru the chaos (and even find peace thru it) that you will come thru to the other side to find that you have experienced tremendous growth of one kind or another. I think that our tendency – or at least what we have been taught – is to avoid the chaos at all cost, that it is ungodly, even. Instead, I have come to think that we need to enter it, welcome it, and ride it out. That’s not to say that I would “seek” it out, but it seems to come on its own, regardless, throughout the business of the everyday life.

    Sounds like an excellent book – I’ll have to put it on my list.

  • T

    I don’t know if I’m loving the language yet, but the author is saying something very important. When I discuss the Spirit with people, I often hear this quoted by those who see little to no problem with the status quo regarding faith and practice with the Spirit: “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.” True enough. But does that mean that the Spirit does not do things that confuse people, even his followers? Ha! Does this mean we always understand everything the Spirit does? Ha! The disciples of Jesus were in a near constant state of adjustment for 3 years. And even after that, read Acts! People are not generally instantly filled with perfect understanding of all the Spirit is doing and how he is doing it. It seems several people are trying to play catch up for much of the book of Acts, not to mention the gospels. But we’ve taken this “author” verse to mean something it never meant for the NT church (let alone the people of the OT), namely: if something is God’s doing, it will always fit our current paradigms and match our understanding of things. Ha!

    Another way to say it is this: God may not be the author of confusion, but what if we are already confused as a matter of our own brokeness, but we don’t know it? Won’t his redemptive work naturally perplex us at first? If his ways are not our ways, will his ways not surprise and even sometimes offend? We are confused. In order to wake us up and move us forward, the Spirit acts. As the author of this book seems to prove, the Spirit is not adverse to being disruptive to existing patterns of thought or action if he wants to lead, nor does he explain himself fully to us before acting.

  • T

    In a nutshell, our understanding of the “confusion” verse is often at odds with calling ourselves “disciples.” If we already knew and understood everything, we wouldn’t be disciples, but masters. Being confused from time to time is part of the deal for disciples. Don’t let anybody tell you different!

  • JKG

    Have you ever been whitewater rafting? Life in the Spirit for me feels like that. It is rough if you attempt to work against the river, but a wonderful and exhilarating ride when you find the flow of it. You can try to work out your own will, but generally can only hurt yourself.

  • Scot McKnight


    On whether I’ve been white-water rafting:


  • God is a God of order. But our order is not necessarily His. So, what sometimes might seem out of order to us is just God establishing His order.

    Likewise, if God’s ways sometimes are confusing to us, it is because we started out confused and God is trying to straighten that out in us. I hate to us a cliche, but sometimes we need a “paradigm shift.” And if something seems to rub our fur the wrong way, it might help if we turned around the other way.

  • Pat Pope

    This vinidicates what a former pastor was trying to teach at my last church, but boy oh boy, you quickly find out who’s serving religion and who’s not based on the reactions. I guess I should be more sympathetic to those who have their systems of thought upset, but when you’ve spent years in the Church and you’re still clutching on to old ways of thinking with no openness to even considering another way, it’s kinda hard for me to feel for those people. It’s as though some have purposely dug their heels in and said, “we’re not moving!” Sad, really….

  • dopderbeck

    Yes, But…..

    Ok, up to a point I love all this Barthian-immanent-existential stuff about the freedom of the Spirit and the critique of “religion” and so on….

    Yet, what God establishes in the sending of the Spirit is the Church. And what God provides the Church for its edification and ministry is the sacraments (at the very least, of baptism and the Eucharist) and the liturgy (at the very least in the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” of our worship). And how God administers the Church is through human beings called to serve as overseers (at the very least Elders and Deacons, and probably Bishops too). And how God instructs the Church is via the Spirit’s speaking historically and diachronically in the Church through scripture, sacrament, and liturgy.

    In other words, God incarnates his mission in the human institution of “religion,” an invisible Church made visible in its tangible, historical life in the world.

    Pneumatology without Ecclesiology is a mistake.

  • Paul D

    Makes me think of the Celtic image of the Holy Spirit as a Wild Goose. God does not lead us on a “wild goose chase.” Rather, the Wild Goose someimes chases us and stirs things up. I used to have a small dog that regularly ventured into a neighbor’s yard, only to chased back home-yipping and ears flapping wildly-with the neighbor’s goose hot on her heels. Chaos and Joy! A great image of the Spirit at work. I look forward to reading Galli’s reflections.

  • Good points, dopderbeck. On the charismatic side of the spectrum (which is the part I inhabit — if we had a chandelier at my church, you would find me swinging from it from time to time), the danger is in being fascinated by the novel and rejecting tradition merely because it is tradition. If you criticize some new idea or interpretation as being out of step with the character of God or just a poor handling of the Word, you might be slapped with a charge of the “spirit of religion” or “man-made tradition.”

  • TSG

    I really liked K.W. Leslie’s comment. No mention of His fruits in the post.

  • Randy Gabrielse

    I like the white water rafting metaphor. The debate about order versus chaos seems to presume that God’s order is in line with what we see as order [that is good orderly Reformed order by the way :)] The wild goose chasing the dog back from the neighbors’yard is a good image of what the Spirit reminding us that our order is not God’s order.

    Randy G.

  • That Galli – he loves to stir the pot as well from time to time. Wondering if this is another nuance to that live about foolishness to the Greeks?

    As an aside – have to read this as well, looking at those shifts in focus relates back to the idea of better seeing what Gospel (here Scot’s King Jesus Gospel I think)is all about beyond solely salvation.

  • TJJ

    Sounds like a good counter balance to the “let’s keep things safe and orderly and predictable and boxed up” approach of too many churches/christians.

  • Susan N.

    Scot #8 – 🙂 A moment when your One.Life flashed before your eyes? White-water rafting would be the last thing on earth that I’d ever do — no need to check that off on my bucket list, just once, either! Too funny.

    Holy Spirit and chaos… This reminds me of my study in the Book of Exodus this week (Ch. 19-20). God settled on Mt. Sinai in smoke and fire and thunder; Moses came close, but the Israelites recoiled in fear and said, “That’s O:K, Moses, you go ahead and hear God, then tell us what He said.” I was looking in the Book of Acts at the Day of Pentecost, and Hebrews 12 in cross-reference. Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire that settled on the worshipers; God is a consuming fire…

    Sanctification and transformation is messy and hard, and sometimes scary. But God is working something good in the refining process. How is it that so often when things are chaotic and imperfect in our lives that God seems distant? Does our understanding of a holy God not jibe with a Creator that would be right in the center of our messes, with us?