“Holy Ghost” Review

*As a preface to this review, I was not able to finish “Holy Ghost” during its free premiere because I paused it and when I returned, the free showing was over. I saw around 60+ minutes of the film. While that means I missed some of the film, I do not believe anything could have happened to change what the first hour or so communicated. If it did, let me know.

In case you have not seen the documentary “Holy Ghost”, it is a documentary about the Holy Spirit. It follows a number of men as they travel around the world, meet random people, pray and talk with them. There are also clips of interviews with different people scattered throughout the film. While it is about the Holy Spirit, the film is almost equally about evangelism. The vast majority of the film is about the Spirit encountering (i.e. touching, blessing, meeting, healing, etc.) unbelievers, usually on the streets at random times. Therefore, I will comment on the documentary as one about the present work of the Spirit and evangelism.

As a film concerning evangelism, I would expect to hear a lot about the person and work of Jesus. Evangelism is about communicating the good news that Jesus, God in the flesh, died and rose for sinners. In fact, as a film about the Holy Spirit, who serves to make much of Jesus (John 16:14), again I would expect to hear a lot about the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Spirit testifies to the gospel.

However, in “Holy Ghost” you do not hear much about Jesus. Jesus’ name is mentioned a lot, but beyond mentioning His name, not much is said about Him or His work, namely His cross. The good news that Jesus came, died for our sins, and rose from the dead was communicated only 2 times that I marked in the 60+ minutes of the film I watched.

Now, you may quickly wonder, “Is this blogger dude just arguing about semantics? Did they preach the gospel, just not in the way he would like it to be preached?” The clearest I can be about what I am saying is that in almost every interaction I saw, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ was not mentioned at all; the gospel simply was not communicated or announced, period. Most of the interactions were not distinctly Christian whatsoever. The name of Jesus may or may not have been used, but I learned next to nothing about who Jesus is, what He did, and whether or not I need to believe in him.

This alone shows this film to be in serious error. However, there is another question to ask: if these “evangelists” were not sharing the gospel the vast majority of the time, what message were they sharing? I do not want to misrepresent what I believe the filmmakers were going for, so I will do my best to sum up what I believe to be the message of the film (one that they would agree with).

I think the message of “Holy Ghost” is that God is a personal God, who wants a relationship with people, and meets people by His Spirit. The Spirit usually and consistently encounters people in physical and/or emotional ways, and these physical and/or emotional encounters are signs of His love.

(Let’s be clear, I believe God is personal, wants right relationship with people, and meets us by His Spirit. However, people of many different religions can also believe that. That is not distinctly Christian. It is not enough to classify as the gospel. It is too vague).

Let me compare the message of the film with the Bible. The problem the Bible says we have is sin and guilt; the message of the film is that our problem is that we have not encountered the Spirit in a supernatural way, so as to know God loves us and wants a daily, personal relationship with us. Sin and guilt are rarely mentioned in “Holy Ghost”; even when it is mentioned, which is maybe 2-3 times, it is hardly, or not at all, explained. Compare that to sermons in Acts, or the fact that Paul spends the first 2 or so chapters in Romans unpacking sin and guilt, bringing it up again and again throughout Romans.

Now, the reason to communicate about sin and guilt is to communicate the good news of the Bible! The good news is the Bible announces a solution for our sin and guilt: the righteous life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ; not our obedience, Spirit-filled walk with God, or anything in us. Compare that to the film.

The solution the film offers to the problem they communicate is a supernatural encounter with the Spirit, accompanied by a vague message about being loved by God, or Jesus. The “gospel” given in the film is to begin walking or living in the Spirit (again, there were about 2 times I heard the gospel preached. Although, even then I think I could argue that both times it was slightly to heavily overshadowed by the message of “be touched by the Spirit”; that will be hard to explain on a blog though).

Wait, am I saying we should not walk by the Spirit, as Paul says in the New Testament? Of course not! What I am saying is that your hope, as a guilty sinner, is not that you would start living in right relationship with God. That is your very problem! You and I have refused to do that and could never do it perfectly. You and I have rebelled against God, rather than trusting, loving, and obeying Him. We need a Savior to do that for us; Jesus. Yet, the overwhelming message of the film is that what you need now is the Spirit’s power to begin walking with God and obeying Him (Todd White, somewhat randomly, emphasized that very point in his intro at the premiere of the film).

How is this good news? Living in the Spirit won’t wash away your sin and guilt; a random encounter with the Spirit, or a miracle, will not put you at peace with God. Only the bloody death of the Son of God can do that; and it is received not through a healing-miracle, or a special “word from God,” or a tingling in your hands; it is received through faith when someone hears the word of the gospel. Yet this message is almost entirely absent from the film (at least in the 60+ minutes I watched).

Rather than emphatically pointing people to the cross of Jesus, the sure sign of God’s love for the world (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-8), people were pointed to sensations they felt while being prayed for; and rather than using those supposed miracles to affirm the gospel, they simply told people God loves them, but nothing about how God has loved them in Jesus, at the cross; or why Jesus came to die.

This is my greatest problem with the documentary. Most of it is not distinctly Christian or biblical. But I have yet to mention the film’s dealings with the Holy Spirit, what they believe about the Spirit, or the supposed miracles performed, which is actually why the documentary was made; to teach us about the Holy Spirit.

The big idea in the film is that the Holy Spirit is incredibly active and is very eager to be evidently active in our lives. The activity of the Spirit in the movie is by and large the giving of prophetic words from God and miracles. The miracles performed dealt a lot with physical sensations, maybe tingling in hands and arms; and random other healings of physical problems.

Let me affirm that the Trinity is not, “Father, Son, and Holy Bible”. I have never met anyone who thinks that. Without the Spirit’s powerful work in the world, we are toast. The Spirit gives us new life (John 3:1-15), faith (Eph. 2:1-9), and repentance (Acts 5:31), not to mention the transformation he brings in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23) and all the amazing things He can do.

With that, here are my concerns about the film’s message about the Holy Spirit:

When performing the supposed miracles, you will find that it is as if the Spirit is at the mercy of the one praying. Even though the film communicates the great eagerness of the Spirit to speak and perform miracles, He seems rather hesitant in the film. I find in more charismatic circles that while the activity of the Spirit is emphasized, people are told they have the ability, explicitly or implicitly, to block His work; they can “miss” Him easily.

For instance, many “words” received are vague or not as detailed as they could easily be. I always wonder why God doesn’t just straight up tell these people, “This dude has a metal plate in his wrist from breaking it skateboarding.” Rather, the “word” is often vague, like, “metal,” in which the person is asked if they have metal in their bodies.

Also, rather than performing miracles immediately, like Jesus and the apostles did in the Bible (ex. Acts 3:1-9 and/or John 9:1-7), the miracles sometimes took a while. The one praying had to repeat over and over again for God to “double it” or do it (whatever “it” was) “more”. “Double it, double it, double it. “More God, more, more, more.” This kind of praying is not in the Bible. One man even told God that he gave him “permission” to work in another person’s life. Is the Spirit so eager to work that He is waiting on my permission to do stuff? That sounds insane.

This idea that the Spirit has put the ball in our courts to unleash, release, or unlock His power is just self-dependent, subtle, and surprising legalism. The Holy Spirit works not because I earn Him or unlock Him, but simply because He wants to. No permission needed.

Lastly, as a documentary, it simply was not honest in many of its assessments. Often, the “miracles” performed were nothing more than people feeling a tingling sensation in their hands and/or body. But is that a miracle? (Right now, hold out your hands, focus on them, think about how they feel. Feel that?). At one point some of the evangelists ran in to an owner of a bar at her bar. They chalked this up to the Spirit’s guidance. But how many times have you run in to the owner or manager of a bar? Is that the Spirit leading you? Are you willing to put that on camera and promote it to the world as a miracle? Apparently they were and that makes me distrust them.

I’m not claiming anyone in this film is intentionally lying; however, I think they themselves are fooled by the “miracles” they are performing. If you want to learn more about false miracles, go here.

If you made it to the end of this, you need to know I believe there is far more grace in Christ than sin, wonkiness, weirdness, or unbiblical(ness) in this movie, and the lives of those endorsing it and involved in it. I just wish they proclaimed it. All the errors I mentioned are no match for God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

I hope the film makers and those promoting this film repent and rest in Jesus’ grace, found in the word of the gospel. I want them to repent of ignoring and, intentionally or unintentionally, twisting God’s Word. I want them to proclaim the gospel of the Bible, and not a “gospel” of Spirit-encounters or Spirit-filled living. There is no snark in this: I’m thankful God will not wait for their permission or mine. He is better than that.

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Incarnational Evangelism (Ministry Monday)

Last week I listened to a panel discussion around college ministry and the goodness below was probably my favorite part, concerning something I have thought about for quite some time.

I used to be primarily an evangelist sniper. I don’t know a ton about snipers in the military, but I assume the big idea is: get in, take a shot, and get out. A don’t know why a sniper would want to stay hidden for any longer than he needs. The goal of a sniper is to get the job done with one quick pull of the trigger. And when snipers take their shot, they are on the trajectory to give up their hidden location, which means they need to get out.

tract 1I either was trained as an evangelist sniper, or I just didn’t pick up what was being put down (which is a legitimate option I consider). I learned to find my target (some random person), make my approach (usually walking), take a shot (share the gospel), and get out (deuces). Tracts were what I was used as my round. All for the purpose of communicating the gospel of life.

My heart’s desire, though muddied with sin, was to introduce people to Jesus. However, over the course of years, sharing with hundreds of people, I rarely saw people meet Jesus. I’ve always hoped that hundreds met Jesus out of my sight, my conversations having been used by God. But I don’t know. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

I’ve always heard and/or thought the “opposite” approach, “relational evangelism”, is ineffective or a copout; either too slow to reach the masses, or just a way to make friends in the name of evangelism without ever actually sharing the gospel. So for years I stayed away from it. But for a while now, my thinking has been reforming.

Around minute 21:30 of the discussion, Rupert Leary, a college pastor, begins to talk about how to best communicate the gospel with non-Christians. His wisdom is as follows.

His revolutionary (for some of us) idea is that we must do incarnational evangelism. He says that incarnational presence is a “non-negotiable”. Incarnational is a big word meaning essentially in this context to be present with people. Jesus is God incarnate in the flesh, or God with us; God present with us.

He says we must build relationships with non-Christians on their turf. Too often we want non-Christians to come to us, our church gatherings, our church events, etc. Yet no American missionary who wants to reach people in Africa tells the Africans to move to America. They go to them. And we must also. We go to non-Christians, build a relationship with them if they want, and stay with them.

Leary applies Jesus’ promise to his disciples in Matthew 4:19 that he will make them “fishers of men” to say that we must be patient. Incredibly patient and incredibly present. Fishers of fish must be patient and stay present, and so must we. Leary tells his college students to aggressively pursue relationships with non-believers and wait months to talk about spiritual things, unless they bring it up. If you learned evangelism like me, that practice probably makes you nervous.

You may be nervously thinking, “I bet this Leary guy and his church doesn’t reach very many people!” Well, you may be very wrong. The church he pastors at has the goal of planting 1,000 churches by 2050 (click). I doubt a church-planting church like that would allow a college pastor to be on staff who doesn’t really have a heart to reach a lot of people. Know what I mean?

Evangelist snipers have it easy. I don’t need to know the gospel in a very comprehensive way, because I have a tract. I don’t need to then know how to communicate it, because I have a tract. I don’t need to hang around sinners and their sin (as if I don’t sin anymore), because I am in and out in maybe 10 minutes. I don’t need to expose my life to someone else, because I am not going to hang around very long.

Sounds like this kind of evangelism may be my copout sometimes.

In-and-Out evangelism doesn’t seem to work in our culture. In today’s culture, people are not primed and ready to listen to a message as massive as the gospel for 1 minute, stare at an aesthetically boring tract, and then suddenly surrender all (of course, the Spirit can do whatever the heaven he wants to do; but God uses means to save, and I am arguing maybe we need to change our “means” to better reach more people).

When someone tries to convince me of something, I naturally want to know something about them. Do they really believe it? Can they answer some of my questions? Do they really care about me believing what they believe? That all takes time. In the same way, I think we need to recognize that non-Christians want to get to know other Christians, learn more about what they believe, ask questions (some of which may stump you and me), and dialogue more. We should stick around for all that.

It takes deep love to walk with a non-believer, listen to their questions, and receive their rejection for weeks, months, and even years. It is not that hard, in America, to give your memorized schpeal for a minute and walk away. It is hard to stick around; to do incarnational ministry for a long time, like Jesus did.

We should get in people’s lives, show them our transformed lives as a testimony to the gospel, let them see how much we need the gospel everyday, communicate the gospel, and call them to repent and believe in Jesus. As we do it, let’s not put a timeline on it. Stick around for the long haul. Be present.