BEN: I quite agree with you about the purifying role of the Spirit in a believer’s life, John however seems to be talking about a coming judgment on Israel if they do not repent and turn, and there the imagery doesn’t have to do with cleansing from within but rather with judgment from without. And why the phrase baptize with Spirit AND fire if the latter is just a dimension or function of the former? One of the trends in this book is to try and make the audience see the more demanding aspects of the roles of the Spirit and not just focus on the gifts and fruit of the Spirit. I agree with this. There are surprising aspects to the roles of the Spirit. The Spirit is not called Holy for nothing. And you are right that both John and Jesus call for generosity to others as part of repentance of one’s narcissism and acquisitive tendencies. “Sell all you have and come and follow me” says Jesus to a potential disciple. This however doesn’t have to do with judgment on sin, so much as self-sacrifice as a disciple. Help us better parse the way Jesus himself sees the various roles of the Spirit.
JACK: These are a few questions. I’ll divide my answer into two.
Spirit and judgment
In light of the Old Testament, Spirit and fire does suggest judgment from outside. So I write, “It would soothe to expunge this association of the Holy Spirit with fiery judgment. It would be ill-advised, too.” Later, I write, “No, we cannot be rid of this fiery spirit of judgment that will characterize Jesus’ ministry, that will bring a change in epoch, that will catalyze an unparalleled division between believers and unbelievers, between the followers and opponents of Jesus, between family members even, though it will not always be easy to discern who are the insiders and who the outsiders” (pages 36-37).
Spirit and self-sacrifice
Judgment and self-sacrifice are related—not distinct. This is apparent in John the Baptist’s sayings. In An Unconventional God, I note that the saying about judgment is the third block of John’s sayings. It follows practical advice about being satisfied with wages and not extorting money (Luke 3:10-14). There is an intimate connection between judgment and sacrifice, and that lies in the presence of the Spirit. If we truly live by the Spirit, in simple self-sacrifice (you say it well, Ben: “repentance of one’s narcissism and acquisitive tendencies”), then the judgment of Spirit and fire will not singe and scorch. In the logic of the gospel, life in the Spirit, in practical, even financial, terms, keeps us secure during the onslaught of Spirit and fire.