One of the perennial struggles in church life is balancing our approach to the work of the Holy Spirit. On one side of the evangelical continuum, there are self-conscious “cessationists” who believe that the “sign gifts,” such as prophecy and speaking in tongues, ceased with the closing of the New Testament canon. On the other side, we have charismatics and Pentecostals who so heavily emphasize the sign gifts that they sometimes evaluate a believer’s commitment to Christ according to their exercise of tongues or other charismata.
These issues have engendered endless theological debates, but there’s no question that the charismatic side of the continuum is winning on the global stage. The phenomenal growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has been dominated by charismatic theology. Even churches that would be considered mainline in the west routinely hold healing and deliverance services there, with worship that even some moderate western charismatics might regard as uncomfortably exuberant.
Into the debate over the Holy Spirit comes Chad Norris’s Signs, Wonders, and a Baptist Preacher. Norris’s autobiographical book tells how he went from an anxiety-ridden Baptist youth preacher, to a still imperfect but joy-filled conduit of the Spirit’s power, frequently receiving words of knowledge, and witnessing healings and other miracles (though apparently not tongues).
Norris’s folksy story will disarm or frustrate readers, depending on their perspective. If you go into this book suspicious of “charismatic chaos,” as John MacArthur once put it, you will come out more suspicious. If you go in wishing to see miraculous works of the Spirit manifested in your life, and in your church’s, you will no doubt find the book charming and encouraging. If you’re looking for a theological defense of the charismatic gifts, however, you won’t find it here. All Norris offers is one man’s experience of bringing the supernatural into his day-to-day grind of family, ministry, and fighting inner demons (which, to Norris, can sometimes be literal demons).Sometimes Norris risks the trivializing of the works of the Spirit – I failed to see the point, for instance, of his praying for the resurrection of a dead office plant. (It was raised to life by Monday morning.) And I thought it was notable that one of his very last anecdotes has Norris weeping uncontrollably, not at a move of the Spirit, but at a Coldplay concert anthem. How does one sort out the difference between an authentic work of God, and all the other inputs we receive?
Nevertheless, I think that Norris, as confident as he is about the ministry of the Spirit, makes an important caveat – not everyone is healed in his book, and it is not because of a lack of faith. Unlike some proponents faith healing, Norris leaves room for the mysterious providence of God to heal, or not heal, at God’s discretion.
Even if we don’t come down where he is, Norris prompts evangelicals to ask good questions – and old questions – that surge during times of revival. What can we expect from the Holy Spirit, not just in theory, but in practice, on an everyday basis? What does it mean to “walk by,” “live by,” and “keep in step with” the Spirit (Gal. 5), in the midst of our routines? Chad Norris has answers; so should we.
I’d be interested in reading recommendations on this topic in the comments section. Who are the best authors on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church? Thanks!
This post is part of a Patheos Book Club discussion of Chad Norris’s book.