This morning as I was reading through Gordon D. Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul something he wrote summed up my own feelings (understanding?) regarding how Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals understand the Holy Spirit. Before I expound on this let me provide you with the quote. Fee writes,

As with my commentary on 1 Corinthians, it seemed fitting that one such book at least be written by a New Testament scholar who is also Pentecostal both by confession and by experience. In his watershed exegetical study of “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” J.D.G. Dunn observed that for traditional Pentecostalism, which bases its theology primarily on Acts, “Paul need not have written anything. Indeed Paul seems to be more of an embarrassment than an asset.” Conversely, it might be observed that most non-Pentecostals, of both the sacramental and nonsacramental variety, find Paul to be most covenient to their theologies, while Acts is determined to be decidedly nontheological. Therefore, in evaluating the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (especially on the matter of “conversion-initiation” to borrow Dunn’s term), both groups tend to find a canon within the canon. [1]

Let me comment here before I present what Fee writes next. Whenever I struggle with Pentecostals regarding the Holy Spirit I often find myself appealing to the Apostle Paul, especially emphasizing conversion comes through faith in Christ. Equally, whenever I struggle with non-Pentecostals regarding the Holy Spirit I often find myself appealing to the Book of Acts and back to the Apostle in 1 Corinthians to show that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the Christian and therefore faith should result in the “infilling”, empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. It is very hard to find Christians who understand the Holy Spirit both as empowering and sanctifying. Let me continue quoting Fee:

The same holds true for their respective emphasis on the ongoing life of the Spirit. But here there is a “canon within the Pauline canon.” Pentecostals, on the one hand, at times could be rightly accused of neglecting most of Paul for 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. Here they find biblical justification for the ongoing exercise of the spiritual gifts in their midst, especially the more extraordinary gifts. Non-Pentecostals, on the other hand, tend to regard 1 Corinthians as an embarrassment, both to Paul and to the later church (or else they use it as a negative paradigm). Their “canon within the canon” is Galatians 5 and Romans 7-8; for them the key to Pauline Spirit language resides in ethical life (the fruit of the Spirit). I find both forms of truncated canon less than satisfactory, hence part of the reason for this study. [2]

Again, I cannot agree with Fee more. As I talk to Pentecostals about Paul’s understanding of the Spirit it is often as if he said nothing else but what he said in 1 Corinthians 12-14. For others there is an attempt to speak of 1 Corinthians 12-14 as part of some “apostolic age” than ended with “formation of the canon” which is one of the worst arguments I have ever heard in response to anything.

I said all this not to provide my own solution. As of now I do not have one. All I know is that when I read Fee and I worship in non-Pentecostal settings I often feel like a Pentecostal. [3] Equally, when I worship in Pentecostal settings I suddenly feel Catholic or Baptist! I am convinced that part of the problem is that non-Pentecostals are frequently closed to the idea of a tangible presence of the Holy Spirit while Pentecostals are usually driven toward the excessive, orderless nature of which Paul had to correct the Corinthian church.


[1] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 10. Quotes from J.D.G. Dunn are from Baptism of the Holy Spirit, 103.
[2] Ibid.
[3] When I say “Pentecostal” I want to be clear that I mean Trinitarian Pentecostal and not Oneness Pentecostal. I am convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity is the correct understanding and unfolding of the theology of the early church into the later centuries. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the early church into correct doctrine regarding God as Trinity just like the Holy Spirit guided the church past the Arians, Ebionites, Nestorians, and other groups. While I do not believe Oneness Pentecostals (as a whole) are heretical I do think they are heterodox.