Brian and I have been reviewing Jack Levison’s recently released book, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (thanks to Paraclete Press!). Today I continue the review by writing a bit about chapter nine.
Chapter eight of Dr. Levison’s (Jack’s) recent book is entitled, “Peter’s Praise.” As a Pentecostal and one in the pursuit of an academic theological education, this chapter particularly resonates with me. Jack sets the scene by giving a description about two radically different church services. The first is a pre-Azusa charismatic church that had physical and ecstatic manifestations such as falling to the ground, trembling and shaking. The second gives a description about a Pentecost celebration that will accompany “mouths [that] will be on fire with chips and salsa” (189).
Regarding these two churches, Jack says this: “Two branches of Christianity. Will they ever meet? And who’s right about the holy spirit? Christians who plummet into ecstatic rapture or Christians who worship with decorum? Those who jerk and swoon or those who sit and kneel? The fitful or the fellowship hall faithful? Who’s right? Who has cornered the market on the holy spirit?” (189). Jack answers with a resounding “neither.”
From this point, Jack makes efforts to show where there is ecstasy and comprehension. He takes us to the book of Acts. He proposes that in Acts 2 what we see is not just glossolalia. What we see are people proclaiming the praiseworthy acts of God in other intelligible languages. This is xenolalia. He gives us another example from Acts 10. In this chapter the Gentiles are Baptized in the Holy Spirit and they begin to speak in tongues. Peter makes the proclamation that water for baptism cannot be withheld from them because they received the Holy Spirit just as Peter and the others did. Jack proposes these tongues were intelligible Jewish languages.
Jack then takes a turn 1 Corinthians 14. In this book it is evident that the Corinthians thought highly of speaking in tongues. Interestingly enough, when listing spiritual gifts, Paul first refers to wisdom and knowledge and last to tongues-speech. In other lists of spiritual gifts, Paul doesn’t even mention speaking in tongues. Nevertheless, Paul does not dismiss tongues-speech; to the contrary he marries tongues-speech done in the public sphere with the need for interpretation. The purpose of this is for the building up of the Christian community. It is important for words to be understood in order that the other can be built up.
As I said in the beginning, this chapter has resonated a lot with me. I am on a chapel planning team at my institution, Southeastern University. This chapel happens every Thursday at 9AM and we call it “Rhythm Chapel.” As Pentecostals, we can forget the Book of Common Prayer. Actually, in many ways we have. The purpose of this chapel is to essentially marry church that is done like Cane Ridge and church done in a liturgical tradition. We see the Spirit of God in both traditions; we see God in ecstasy and understanding. So, while we are working toward having a full-blown traditional liturgical service, we simultaneously want to be open to the Spirit moving in ecstatic ways. An example of this could be deduced from last week. Everything was going normal as planned until the campus pastor received an unction from the Spirit to tell everybody to break up into groups and pray for one another. I think in this we can see ecstasy and tradition.
At the root of this, we need to be open to the God of the universe acting in ways that we wouldn’t expect him to. And isn’t this expected? Isn’t our religion the most confounding one to begin with? What God would die on a cross? As we go through our lives, may we be unsurprised by the surprising nature of God. He might act in ways that seem ecstatic and uncomfortable – He might act in ways that are intelligible, clear, and reserved. Both sides – whether Pentecostals/Charismatics or Cessationist folk, let’s follow the unpredictable and fresh wind of the Holy Spirit that is blowing throughout our world (John 3).
Since this isn’t an exhaustive review of Fresh Air, there are some points missing. At the end of the chapter, Jack gives us a constructive way forward in marrying ecstasy and the Book of Common Prayer. I suggest you pick up this book and check it out for yourselves!
Peace be with you all.