Yesterday I received my review copy of Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life from Paraclete Press. I am very excited about this book. I know Jack and I’ve talked with him about this book on several occasions. It is more than a book to him. It is the fruit of many years of scholarship prepared as a gift to any and all who will read.
Let me tell you a bit about Jack before I explain how this book will be reviewed. John R. (Jack) Levison is best known as a professor at Seattle Pacific University. Also, his book Filled with the Spirit may be the most important work on Pneumatology in decades. As a scholar he is meticulous in his research (browse through some of his works). As a teacher he is concerned that his students understand the importance of what is being studied and he is careful to communicate these concepts (I’ve chatted with him a bit about his pedagogy). Those two areas of giftedness are brought together to make this book.
This is a book about the holy spirit (yes, lower cases…something that will be explained more later).
In the introduction Jack begins with a story from his adolescent years when he heard a newly ordained minister explain from 1 Corinthians 13.10 that “that which is perfect” is the canon of Scripture and that with Scripture complete we no longer need the “imperfect” spiritual gifts. This didn’t sit well with Jack, but he waited until later in life to investigate these claims once he had the tools of scholarship. He writes of having a variety of experiences with the holy spirit in his life and he says he continues to seek these experiences: “I am one of those Christians, you see, who has one foot in the mainline Protestant church and one in Pentecostalism, more or less (p. 3).”
This is something that grabs my attention. I was raised in a form of Pentecostalism. I have had many experiences with the holy spirit. Yet I find the traditional and intellectual parts of the Christian tradition to be all too important for the sake of mere experience. I think this connects me as a reader to what Jack is doing.Jack senses that he “one foot in the mainline Protestant church and one in Pentecostalism” may allow him to “offer a fresh and surprising word about the holy spirit to both (p. 5).”
OK, this book is about the holy spirit, but what is this book “about?” Jack writes,
“…this book finds the holy spirit, that is, God’s mystical, practical, expansive, unbridled presence in the world, where we least expect it–in every breath we take, in social transformation, in community, in hostile situations, and in serious learning (p. 5).”
In other words the spirit is everywhere and available to all. This echoes Paul’s words to the Athenians that in God “we live and move and exist (Acts 17.28a, NASB). Also, it functions well in the Wesleyan and Pentecostal traditions where the Spirit of God is understood as being active in the world bringing “prevenient grace” to all, not just Christians.
What are the aims of this book? Jack aims to do a study of the holy spirit that is “biblical,” “radical,” and “practical.” What does this mean?
Jack says that we tend to highlight particular aspects of the holy spirit in Scripture depending on what is important to our tradition. He aims to stretch the reader to find all that Scripture says about the spirit. He writes, “…traditions tend to focus on specific texts that support their view.” He aims, “…to include important and often unfamiliar passages throughout the Bible (p. 7).”
What are some proposals that may surprise readers? Well, Jack argues that, “the spirit is in every human being and not just Christians” for starters. He doesn’t limit the activity of the spirit to individuals, but says the spirit works in “whole societies.” The spirit is something present in communities and not just individuals. The spirit “…is not always friendly.” “Finally, you’ll be asked to embrace alternative experiences of the holy spirit (pp. 8-9).”
Jack wants you to know that, “…the breath in you is spirit-breath, so you’ll need to learn to breathe–deeply, evenly–all over again (p. 11).” He aims for this study to re-inform how you understand “praise (pp. 11-12).” Also, he introduces readers to “the power of quiet (p. 12).” That is the beginning. Each chapter aims to enhance one’s awareness of the holy spirit.
Why does he use the phrase “holy spirit” and does it have anything to do with ruach and pneuma? Yes, Jack informs/reminds readers that the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” also mean “breath” and “wind” and includes even further nuances ranging from a breeze, to a demon, to the “soul” of a human. Our English words cannot contain the Hebrew and Greek meanings. (He used Ezekiel 37.9-14 as an example of one passage where there is breath, wind, and spirit, all from ruach.)
So according to Jack, “…I leave the words holy spirit lowercased. I mean no disrespect by this; in fact, I am trying to demonstrate my respect for the original languages (p. 15).” (See passages like Deuteronomy 34.9 and 2 Corinthians 6.6 where the “spirit” could be divine or human, it is hard to tell!) For those worried that Jack is undermining the doctrine of the Trinity:
“I am not refusing to acknowledge the role of the holy spirit in the Trinity or the personhood of the spirit. I am simply avoiding the false dichotomy between the human and divine spirit (on which you’ll read more in chapters 1 and 2) and making every effort to champion instead my conviction that the Hebrew and Greek languages were host to a magnificent single word that could encompass stormy winds and settled souls, the rush of the divine and the hush of human holiness. Every interpreter, myself included, should preserve the magnificence and the breadth of the breath than animates and motivates all people (p. 17).”
If you own the book and you want to read along with me, here are some of Jack’s instructions:
(1) Keep a Bible handy.
In other words, read along with him to see if Scripture is saying what he is saying. Make it an experience by seeking the holy spirit. And write all over the book, taking notes, and interacting.
I am not reviewing/reading this book alone. My co-blogger Daniel James Levy will be reading along with me. This is the order of our review:
Introduction — Brian
Chapter One: Job’s Pledge — Brian
Chapter Two: Daniel’s Discipline — Daniel
Chapter Three: Simeon’s Song — Brian
Chapter Four: Joel’s Dream — Daniel
Chapter Five: Chloe’s Complaint — Brian
Chapter Six: Ezekiel’s Valley — Daniel
Chapter Seven: Jesus’ Test — Brian
Chapter Eight: Peter’ Praise — Daniel
Obviously we aren’t trying to “give away” the content of the book. Rather, I hope that our brief notes on these chapters entices you to purchase it and read it. We will do our best to give you just enough content to help you make a decision about whether it may be an worthwhile read, but not enough to prevent you from wrestling with this book yourself. If you own the book already, or if you’ve already read it, feel free to join us in discussing it in the comments.