“Full Gospel?” Part 10 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 10 “The Holy Spirit”

“Full Gospel?” Part 10 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 10 “The Holy Spirit” May 11, 2012

Part 10 of Response to The Gospel as Center: Chapter 10: “The Holy Spirit”

The chapter’s author is Gospel Coalition member Kevin DeYoung, a minister of the Reformed Church of America.

Like many other chapters of The Gospel as Center, this one does not provide the fodder for controversy and criticism one might expect. For the most part it is a straightforward exposition of traditional Protestant doctrine of the Holy Spirit as person, God and distinct from the Father and Son. One statement with which I might quibble is that “the Son and the Spirit are [not] one in terms of their being.” (174) The author continues by saying their oneness is in their “shared redemptive activity.” However, unlike some neo-fundamentalists I know, I won’t jump on that but practice a hermeneutic of charity and interpret it as meaning nothing more than that the Son and Spirit are not the same person (as in modalism). I just think the choice of language is unfortunate and could be misleading.

The author continues by describing the work of the Holy Spirit as: convicting, converting, applying, glorifying, sanctifying, equipping and promising.

DeYoung clearly believes that conversion is solely the work of the Holy Spirit; he makes no mention of any human response that is not itself a gift of the Spirit. That is, of course, a symptom of monergism. This excludes from believing the full gospel all synergists, including evangelical synergists (Anabaptists and Arminians). This ignores, of course, all the biblical imperatives to believe and receive and repent, etc. When it comes to sanctification DeYoung offers at least a hint of personal involvement that is not already the Spirit’s sole work.

Many evangelicals will object to DeYoung’s insistence that there is no “second blessing” of Spirit baptism subsequent to conversion (179-180). For him, Spirit baptism is simply our union with Christ at conversion/regeneration. Every true Christian is already Spirit baptized. I think it is possible to read the New Testament differently. DeYoung equates Spirit baptism with being “baptized by one Spirit” into one body which many evangelicals interpret as water baptism, distinguishing that from Spirit baptism which is a second work of grace. He interprets 1 Cor. 12:13 as referring to Spirit baptism—something common to all Christians. It is possible to interpret that as referring to regeneration only and not at all to Spirit baptism as that is referred to in Acts.

All evangelicals believe that every true Christian received the Spirit at regeneration and were inserted into the body of Christ at baptism. SOME evangelicals (and not only Pentecostals and charismatics!) believe there is a second work of the Holy Spirit called being “filled with the Spirit,” the “enduement with power,” every Christian’s own “Pentecost.” Some of them believe it is always accompanied by the sign gift of the speaking in tongues. In my opinion, DeYoung’s treatment of this debate is shallow and dismissive of the second blessing tradition. He seems unfamiliar with that tradition’s concept of the second blessing as being “filled” with the Spirit. On the other hand, it would probably be best for that tradition to use only that language and drop baptism language for the second blessing. The problem is, as I often say, Scripture is not as clear about this subject as we would like.

Another area where I don’t so much disagree as think DeYoung’s exposition and argument are shallow is “The Holy Spirit Glorifies” (180-182). There he focuses entirely and exclusively on the Holy Spirit’s glorification of Christ. That does rightly come first. But he brushes aside in too cavalier a manner the Spirit’s glorification of believers (2 Cor. 3:8 and 2 Peter 1:4). As expected, he is only interested in God’s glory and not at all (so it seems) in God’s glorification of us which is a New Testament theme. The fullness of that is, of course, eschatological, and its purpose now and then is to unite us with God to his honor and glory but also for our transformation and glorification. I see no problem in highlighting that as the New Testament does. It seems to me contemporary neo-Calvinists are allergic to anything, even biblical passages, that refer to our glorification as if that would somehow detract from God’s.

Also as expected, DeYoung vilifies inclusivism as “horribly mistaken.” (182) But, once again, his exposition of it (because it is not really one thing!) is shallow and even distorted. Not all inclusivists believe non-Christian religions are means of grace for salvation. His argument against inclusivism is that it detracts from the glory of Christ. I don’t follow his reasoning there at all. As often, I detect in this discussion that a certain view of God’s glory is pitted against God’s love as if extended his love to those who never hear of Jesus Christ (in this life) somehow diminishes Christ’s glory.

Finally, DeYoung talks about the controversy between “cessationists” and “continuationists” and seeks to please both sides. He says they have more in common than they disagree about. (186) He says “One of the encouraging signs in the evangelical world is how cessationists and continuationists have been able to partner and worship together in recent years, realizing that their commonalities in the gospel are far greater than the issues that separate them with regard to spiritual gifts.” (186)  Really? Where and when has that happened? Is he aware that the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and several seminaries have required missionaries and professors to sign statements that they do not speak in tongues even in private (as a personal “prayer language”) on pain of being fired?

I think cessationism is simply silly in that it is inconsistent with something most cessationists loudly proclaim—taking the Bible seriously as God’s Word for us today. What I wonder is how a group as devoted to biblical authority as The Gospel Coalition can include cessationists who clearly fly in the face of Scripture out of fear of fanaticism and/or (out of) accommodation to modern naturalism.  I can’t think of any other reasons for it. Appeals to 1 Cor. 13:8-10 simply won’t cut it. “When the perfect is come” cannot refer to the completion of the canon. The other reasons DeYoung gives in support of cessationism (185-186) are equally insipid. Now, neglect of the supernatural gifts is not necessarily the same as theological cessationism. And that’s another issue. But to claim that cessationism is consistent with faith in Scripture as God’s inerrant Word seems to me illogical.

I grew up in a form of evangelical Christianity that proudly proclaimed itself “full gospel”—implying that other forms of evangelical Christianity (such as cessationism) are “partial gospel.” I now think that all forms of Christianity are partial gospel; there is no truly “full gospel” Christianity; we all have much to learn from each other about the full meaning and implications of the gospel. We all have various forms of truncated gospel. I weary of those who proclaim that they and they alone have the “full gospel.” However, cessationism does seem to me a good example of a theology that has consciously rejected a portion of the New Testament as irrelevant to today for no good reason and therefore obviously, at that point, has a truncated gospel and stands in need of correction. DeYoung fails in that.

Overall, I was disappointed with this chapter’s lack of emphasis on the interior work of the Holy Spirit and our believing and receiving response to the Spirit’s initiative and empowering presence. The emphasis falls mainly on the objective work of the Holy Spirit as if we (especially in conversion) are puppets or mere objects being taken over and controlled by the Spirit without our consent or cooperation. That is not, in my opinion, New Testament or true evangelical Christianity. I realize it is part of Protestant orthodoxy, but that’s just because it’s been around a very long time. To me and to a very large segment of evangelicalism, the neglect of our free participation in the Spirit’s work in conversion by repentance and faith is pernicious to the power of the gospel message.

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