Surprised by the deficiency of the Spirit

worship singingAs I wrote about in Hearing God Speak regarding my master’s thesis, one of the books I interacted with was Surprised by the Voice of God  by Jack Deere. If you are not familiar with the book, Deere writes about the need to hear the voice of God beyond the Bible, namely through dreams, visions and prophetic utterances.  Deere proposes that in order to have a vibrant walk with the Lord, we need to model the way in which God spoke to the people in the Bible, namely the prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself.  He uses a plethora of examples, including his own, that portrays a staid and rather lifeless Christian existence by relying on the Bible alone and the inability to really hear from God. This is contrasted with an energized Christian walk that relies on the ability to hear God speak beyond the Bible. The thrust of his proposal is that if you want to really experience the Holy Spirit then the Bible is not enough.

Unfortunately Deere’s proposal echoes a view that I believe many Christians have adopted about the work of the Holy Spirit especially related to the Bible and our Christian walk. T To varying degrees, it is the idea that the Holy Spirit is only partially present in Bible and that if we really want to experience the Holy Spirit it requires going beyond the Bible to “hear the voice of God.”

I propose that this position undermines the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in relation to the biblical text. It presumes that the Holy Spirit cannot be fully active with just Bible reading alone or if the preacher simply reads and explains the text. Now Deere does not dismiss the power of Scripture, since he does have a chapter entitled God Speaks Through the Bible. But the thrust of his proposal is that it is insufficient. But I don’t think it adequately relates the Holy Spirit’s involvement revelation, which is how God made himself known.

Deere’s premise rest on the fact that the Holy Spirit began the age of revelation in the book of Acts, which gives us a prescription for how we should hear from God [1] Well, if we see that Scripture is a product of revelation, that is how God made himself known, that prompts us to go back to Genesis and follow along as His story progresses. The covenant promises and acts of God in relation to his people unveil a progressive revelation, in which he provides the Law and to which the Prophets testify.  The people and miracles that he used were for the purpose of revelation, which unrolls progressively through Israel’s history with the expectation of fulfillment of covenant promises. The progressive revelation culminates in the Son so that the fullness of the Godhead is revealed in the Son (Colossians.2:9; Ephesians 1:9-19). The Son fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18) and all the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20).

So looking at Hebrews 1:1-2, it makes that all things done prior to the Son’s unveiling were for the purpose of that unveiling and there is a shift in how God spoke, which is the word of the Lord.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. But in these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

The Old Testament foretold, the gospels unveil, the apostolic letters explain and Revelation finalizes. Prophecy of Scripture is equated to the word of the Lord; God the Father speaking in His Son through the prophetic and apostolic witness through the written word concerning the Son – “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).  Prophecy relates to the word of the Lord about Himself.

But I think what is significant to see is the Holy Spirit’s involvement in this, especially concerning God’s trinitarian outworking. Peter said that that the prophecy of scripture did not come from men but from God “as they were moved along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).  In prophecy, the Holy Spirit communicates the will, heart and mind of the Father and he is the one influencing them concerning what God wants to communicate. So if the men who were moved by the Spirit also wrote down the prophecy concerning the Son, then Scripture is a product of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, 2 Timothy 3:16 indicates that Scripture is breathed out by God. So the words we read are spiritual because they are from the Spirit of God who testifies concerning the Son.  All Scripture concerns prophecy of the Son, the word of the Lord.

When Christians make statements that indicate the Bible is good and needed but the supernatural is something else, this in essence denying the Spirit’s power to speak through the all encompassing supernatural nature of Scripture. I’ve actually heard some go so far to say that Holy Spirit cannot be found when reading through written pages. But just as the Holy Spirit was actively involved in prophecy,  he is actively involved in Scripture because he is the means by which men wrote Scripture. This doesn’t mean the words become spiritual. They are not turned into magic bullets that become whatever we want them to mean, but trying to understand as best as possible what the author meant them to mean in whatever setting he was addressing anchored in the testimony of Christ throughout.

So when we read Scripture, according to how the author intended, aligned with the full unveiling in His Son, we can expect for the Holy Spirit to be fully active. God is there. We should then ourselves be aligned with the Spirit and open to hear what God is saying through his word. This also has ramifications for how the Bible is preached and taught. When the preacher proclaims the word of the Lord according to the overarching narrative of Scripture, this opens the door for the Spirit to work through the Word. He will move us, woo us, convict us and energize us. There is no need to invent spiritual meanings or applications. Scripture is sufficient. But if it is preached or we read it piecemeal, detached from it’s story of redemption through Christ or as a book of moral principles, then we probably will experience the same lifeless existence of Deere’s examples and certainly look for other ways to hear from God.

[1] Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 53


One thought on “Surprised by the deficiency of the Spirit

  1. robert brokaw January 17, 2017 / 8:15 pm

    This was helpful. I have been reading Deere’s book. My church is having Deere come for a seminar. I had many misgivings about the book, so I went to the internet to see if there were any good responses and found your blog. Thanks.

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