“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.

Advertisements

Give Me (Light) Law or I Die!

If you asked me, “Hey, Collin, what would you preach, if it was up to you, to offend the fewest people?” Left to my own thinking, I would answer you by saying that I would just give people really good news, all of the time. Who does not want good news? When you tell someone you have good news and bad news, asking which they want first, the idea is that they only want good news, but must deal with the bad at some point.

I would think that preaching that offers the best news imaginable could not possibly offend people; it could not possibly stir up controversy. In fact, answering the opposite question, if I wanted to offend the most people, I would spend all my time telling people what to do (we don’t naturally like authority), and then, on top of that (which is already offensive), I would tell them they are failures.

This just makes sense to me. Good news = easy ministry. Commands and judgment = offense and controversy.

Yet, in some significant sense, I find the opposite to be true in ministry. The very thing I thought people would just love to hear, often times, rubs them the wrong way. It rubs me the wrong way! The very thing I thought we would not want to hear, well, is not always all that bad to us, or offensive. This is what I mean: as a Bible preacher, part of my job is telling people, including myself even as I preach, what they ought to be doing. We ought to be doing God’s will. Yet, I know that as a Bible preacher part of my job is to tell people, including myself, that we are failing miserably; for we all have sinned (see Rom. 3:23).

This is what I thought as a preacher I would be most nervous to talk to people about. This is the part of my message I thought would be most offensive to people. But I find that I do not get very nervous to talk about this, nor do I think that people are most offended by this.

I find that most people readily accept that they are not perfect; and if God’s Law demands perfection, they logically conclude they have not met His standards. I’m not saying this is always the case, or that most people I meet experience Spirit-wrought conviction leading to repentance. I’m also not saying this bad news is not at all offensive. It is. But what I am saying is that there is a logic here that a lot of people simply “get”.

I think it is the next part that I get most nervous (and most excited) to preach that causes the most offense. It is the next part of my message week in and week out that ruffles feathers and startles hearts, including mine. It is the part of the message in which I turn to tell people that there is nothing we can do about our sinful, guilty state and yet wonder of wonders, God has taken care of it all for us in Jesus, on the cross.

In case that seems weird, listen to Paul in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (emphasis mine). Paul says if he were trying to win the approval of others or people-please in ministry, he would not preach the message of Christ. The message of Christ is that we are “…not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 2:16). Yet, that is what he says is offensive.

How is this stuff offensive? This is good news! This is the best news! This seems so backwards.

I know, I know. It does to me too. But here is why the cross is offensive: we do not like being told there is nothing we can contribute to our salvation. Being told we failed is one thing, but being told we can’t make up for our failures is a whole-nother shebang. The American way is not perfection, but rising from the ashes, picking ourselves up again; that is our glory. We fail, but we always fix it.

But God does not offer us this glory. God’s message is not that we have failed but we can make up for it. God’s message is that we have failed and that He made up for it. The only thing we contribute is the failure. I find that in ministry it is this gospel of free grace for sinners that shakes us. We question, “Is this too good to be true?” This is what I get most nervous to say, wondering how many are going to question the message of Christ.

But screw it. It is all we have. It is the message of Scripture. I live to tell people about the scandalous grace of God, come down to us in the God-man, Jesus Christ, dead on a cross, risen from the grave, for you, and for me. All glory be to God alone.

Preaching the Gospel Too Much

It seems that all throughout the church (yes, in the church) there is this idea that you can talk about the gospel “too much”; that a preacher can preach the gospel “too much”; that an author can write about the gospel “too much”; or that a Christian can focus on the gospel “too much.”

It seems this accusation comes up when someone’s ministry focus, or center, or primary emphasis is the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that said sinners contribute nothing to their salvation except the need to be saved (i.e. their sin). Usually the solution offered to those preaching the gospel too much is to balance it out with exhortations to do something. The idea is that we should taper out talk, or focus on Jesus but add a counter “balance.” We ought to balance our gospel preaching with some encouragement to do good works.

Is this true? Is it true you can focus on the gospel too much? And is it true we should balance gospel-ministry with commands to do good works (in other words, balance it with the law of God)? No. And no. And no. Firstly, there is no such thing as focusing too much on the gospel (or, preaching, celebrating, or talking about the gospel too much). That is about as real as my farm populated by Big Foots (Big Feet? Big Fite?) in the Shire. And secondly, the idea that gospel-ministry needs to be “balanced” with the law to keep it from becoming too much of a focus is nothing more than mixing the law with the gospel, and thus obliterating the law and the gospel.

You can’t focus on the gospel “too much”. How does one go about focusing too much on the only hope they have in life and death? How does one emphasize too much the entire, climactic point of the Scriptures? How does one hear and trust in Jesus too much? As Tim Keller has said, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one ‘main thing’ of a church.” The gospel is the only thing we have going for us.

To further make this point, let’s unpack the idea that we should balance the gospel with the law. The Law of God is the sum total of God’s will for your life. And his will for your life is not that you would find the “one” meant for you, pick the “right” job, or go to the “right” college. His will for your life is that you would be perfect; that you would trust Him perfectly, love Him with everything in you, love your neighbors perfectly, and not only do the right thing, but want to do the right thing, all the time. Man, if we would just be and do this, the world would rock.

The question is, how do you balance the announcement that God saves imperfect people (Gospel) with “be perfect” (Law)? Well, you don’t. You can’t. The Law is vital, because it convicts us and drives us to our Savior. We need the terrible conclusion of the Law, even as Christians. But we need to keep it completely distinguished from the gospel. It is not the gospel. It is not a part of the gospel. It doesn’t balance the gospel.

The Law and the Gospel are not two ends of one spectrum in which you try to live in a nice balance. When we use the Law to balance the gospel, we simply mix and mingle the two, and thus twist the two into something they are not. The gospel becomes, “Jesus died for sinners (Gospel), and you need to go do something too (Law).” That is nothing but terrifying. If my salvation or peace with God depends on something done by me, then I have no salvation and no peace. But if it depends solely on Jesus and His work, then I am as saved as Jesus is crucified and risen.

We need the Law in its pure form too. It drives us to despair of ourselves and trust Christ alone. It lays out for us what is the good life with God. We must keep these separate, never mixing them (or “balancing” them with each other). In fact, if you go to a church that you think preaches the gospel too much, you are probably at the church you should be at.

Abandon the Playground

I find it interesting that Christians are quick, very quick to voice caution against preaching grace. We fear taking it “too far”. We fear neglecting the subject of Christian growth, obedience, and transformation. Some may even go so far as to assume that those who talk about grace “too much” (evaluated by their opinions) do not like the topic of sanctification or do not think it needs to be talked about it.

While I think those assumptions are logically unwarranted, there may be something about them that is more concerning than just the inaccurate conclusions made. What may be more concerning is that caution is raised quickly in the face of grace-preaching, but caution seems to be raised more slowly (should I say much more slowly?) in the face of law-preaching.

As an example, in my experience I think I have heard far more about the fruit of receiving God’s grace than I have about the nature God’s grace. I have heard far more about all the things Christians are called to do than all the things Christ did for us. I have been cautioned against taking grace as a license to sin far more than I have been pleaded with to take grace as my only hope.

There seems to be far more tolerance for implicitly legalistic preaching than salvation-by-grace-alone preaching. There seems to be far more tolerance for preaching that turns the Christian life into itself, revolving around the Christian, than for preaching that makes Christ the center of the Christian life.

There seems to be far more tolerance for preaching that sounds like it is coming from a man who hates the people he is talking to, rather than someone who is “…like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). I expect to hear rants about preachers who primarily preach grace, but I do not expect rants about preaching that explicitly or implicitly teaches that we are saved and secured by our sanctification.

As Dane Ortlund says in his book Defiant Grace, maybe this is how it is (if I’m right) because “We are addicted to law.” We are addicted to “Conforming our lives to a moral framework” so that we can “cure that deep sense of inadequacy within.” Maybe it is because “Law feels safe; grace feels risky.”

He goes on, “It’s time to blow aside the hazy cloud of condemnation that hangs over us [and our churches] throughout the day with the strong wind of gospel grace….For many of us the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in.”

 

 

Gospel-Centered Guilt Trips

Among those who believe that we are not saved by works, but rather through faith in the finished work of Christ, there still sometimes seems to be a lingering weapon we use to motivate people.

Guilt.

Of course, this guilt-motivation we use is not some heretical teaching like: “You better do better or else God can’t save you.”

That would be preaching salvation by works, something completely antithetical to the Bible. The guilt-motivation I hear used, and I still use on myself, unfortunately, is more “gospel-centered” sounding.

Have you ever heard something like, “We are saved by grace, not by works! But watch out, if you do not bear fruit, you are not saved.” Now, it is true that faith in Jesus produces good works, and where there are absolutely no good works, we should be suspicious that there is faith. But I do not believe that means that (1) fruit saves us, or helps save us, and (2) we can perfectly detect fruit.

But the problem I see is that usually after the part about “…if you do not bear fruit, you are not saved”, there is nothing else said. Usually at that point the sermon, or thought, or book, or whatever, is done. The final word is essentially, “Make sure you bear fruit.”

Even the strongest believers among us can probably relate to the fear and confusion that can be struck in our hearts when that is the last word we hear. Our thought processing might go something like: “I think I bear fruit, but I mean, sometimes I do stupid stuff. Sometimes I sin, accidentally and on purpose. Am I bearing fruit?”

The thoughts continue: “It sounds like if I am not bearing fruit, or not enough fruit, I am not saved. And the answer for me seems to be, I better go and bear fruit.” Maybe our thoughts continue: “I don’t think I am bearing fruit. I am not saved. But I want to be saved. I want Jesus. I want to know Him.” And you end with a response to the final word you were given: “I need to go bear fruit to be saved!”

Sound bad? It should. Let me put it in an even more horrible sounding way, retaining the meaning: “I better go do something to save myself. Jesus’ blood apparently is not enough. Jesus’ blood needs to be supplement with my fruit.”

Let me quickly agree with you that I never hear that explicitly taught by Christians. They don’t even want to teach that. But I think it gets caught nonetheless.

The last word over the Christian should be the good news of grace, not an idea or word or hint that seems to imply that fruit saves us. You think Jesus came to die for sinners and on His way He taught stuff that made them believe they did not need His impending death? Seems odd.

For those who hear that faith in Jesus does produce good works, only to realize they can’t find any good works that show they have faith, the answer is not: “Go! Bear fruit and save yourself.”

The answer is, maybe for the first time, to admit you are unrighteous and rest in the righteousness of Christ for you. He died for you, and rose for you, so that you wouldn’t have to do anything; just believe. This actual, living faith in Jesus will produce fruit. Trust me. The Holy Spirit loves you too much to leave you where you are.

My Absence from the Blogosphere

I have been away for a while now, and for that, I am sorry for being inconsistent. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I went to see my wife in Africa, who was there for her last PT clinical rotation. We had little internet access and I had little time to write.

2. I have been writing primarily for a series I am finishing up tonight at our college ministry gatherings on the topic of God’s will. Much writing as been given to that topic and I will be posting a free blog-series-on-steriods that will be about 15,000 words, which takes roughly an hour to read. 

3. Sometimes I think that I do not know very much, and thus I am hesitant to express to you in blog form how little I may actually understand.

My next post will probably be the eBook on God’s will, sometime late-April. Until then, may grace and peace be multiplied to you. 

Self-Forgetfulness

I labor to preach and counsel that the message of Christianity is ultimately good news, not bad news. The good news of Christianity is that we are forgiven of all of our sin through faith in what Christ has done for us, not by what we do for God or ourselves. I also labor to help people understand that we do not just believe the gospel once, but daily live by faith in the gospel of grace. Growth in the Christian life, not just our justification, must revolve around Christ and His grace. We never move on from the gospel.

But I know myself somewhat, and I talk to others for a living, and I fear that I see a tendency in Christians to make our obedience our primary focus. Even those of us who “get” that obedience does not earn us anything from God are not above the temptation to make our Christian growth and obedience the “main event” of Christianity.

It is as if we treat the gospel as the stage in a theater. The stage is vital, because the show will not happen without it. But no one buys a ticket to see a stage. It is about the show that uses the stage as a foundation.

It is easy to treat the gospel like a stage. The real show is you. The gospel is the vital foundation, but you are supposed to move on. Your Christian life, walk, growth, sanctification, and all the wonderful things you will do for the kingdom is the glory for you to boast in and have others stand in awe of. We may not consciously think these thoughts, but we feel the pull to make sanctification revolve around us.

We make Christianity all about us. We are consumed with thoughts about our bad works and good works. We are constantly thinking about what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right, rather than ultimately boasting in what Jesus did right for us.

While our sanctification does concern our growth, we have to understand that Christianity is not all about your growth. And true growth is realizing that more and more. Our primary focus is Jesus, His perfection, His death, and His resurrection. May the gospel be our boast and our celebration, not us.