Q & R: Emerging Church and Signs and Wonders/Holy Spirit

Here’s the Q:

Can you point me to something you have written about the
Holy Spirit?
What role do you think the Holy Spirit should play in the church
and in the life of a Christian?
In what way and to what extent do you think you are being
led by the Holy Spirit?

R: As a trinitarian, anything I say about the character and work of God would have relevance to the Holy Spirit, of course. For specific places where I write about the Holy Spirit, here are a few places that quickly come to mind …
A Generous Orthodoxy – Why I am Charismatic/Contemplative
Secret Message of Jesus – Chapter 13
A New Kind of Christianity – Chapter 20
Finding Our Way Again – throughout
The book I’m currently working on (title TBA) is about the spiritual life, and so it will emphasize our experience with and cooperation with the Spirit at every turn.
As for the role of the Holy Spirit in the church and the life of the individual Christian, where would I begin? The Holy Spirit is the breath and water of life, the wind in our sails, the presence of God in whom we live and move and have our being, the fire of purification and transformation, the Guide, the Comforter, the Convictor of sin, the unifier, the inspirer, the teacher …
And as for the way and extent to which I think I’m being led by the Spirit, I address the tension and paradox of this in A New Kind of Christianity on pages 225-228. I conclude that section like this:

So although I’ve been shy about speaking of it, I must here emphasize that for me this quest has not simply been a result of thought and study, although I’ve done a lot of both. It has been equally a result of prayer, worship, devotional reading, fellowship, solitude, fasting, soul friendship, and other spiritual practices that render me porous and thirsty for the living, loving, holy, and present God. At various turns in this quest, I have stumbled into moments or even seasons of insight so moving that I can only use the word “ecstatic” to desribe them. I’ve felt my soul opening up, my mind being bathed in God’s holy joy, my vision being transformed, so that everything looks fresh and new and rooted and ancient, all at the same time. “God, you are so wonderful!” I find myself praying again and again. “Your good news is even better than I’ve ever imagined! Why didn’t I ever see it before!” Through many milestone experiences on this quest, then, I have become convinced that this quest is not simply an intellectual or theological one; it is also a personal and spiritual.

(The shyness I mention at the beginning of the quote refers to the problem of making claims about the Spirit’s work … see p. 225-226.)
More on this in response to the questions after the jump …

Q 2:

Grace and peace be upon you and yours in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
My name is XXX and I’m [young] bivocational [Vineyard] church planter in [a rural area] who has recently joined the emerging church conversation. This spring I decided to take an online class at XXX Theological Seminary… about the Emerging Church – taught by X, Y, Z.
The funny thing about the class is that I have found myself described in the assigned books – both in worldview and practice. It is amazing how God works in a person’s life without them knowing what is going on – or how that work is connected to greater Body of Christ. =)
The reason that I am writing this letter is because a question that has arisen out of my class and readings (I have listed them below so that you where I’m coming from). Rather then guessing at the answer or trying to make something up, I figured I would email you and some of the other EC leaders directly. The question is as follows:
With the emerging churches emphases on the life and ministry of Jesus (which I wholeheartedly agree with), do they pray for the sick and see folks healed? Cast out demons? Or receive words of knowledge? (Words of knowledge being defined as knowing something about someone that is humanly impossible – similar to how Jesus knew that the Samaritan Women had five husbands in John 4)
Please note that I am asking this question out of a curious heart with no bone to pick or agenda. I am simply curious to know how the emerging church approaches spiritual warfare and the signs/wonders of the Jesus. (The problem with language is that they carry baggage, hence the need for yet another caveat – when I talk about “spiritual warfare” I’m not talking about the abuses preformed by people for a show. I’m talking about the words and actions of Jesus who encountered and defeated demonic forces.)
To you help you understand where I come from and why I’m asking the question, here is a bit about me. I grew up in [middle America] as part of a family with a long history of following Jesus (both my paternal grand-grandmother and maternal grandfather were pastors). As a child I attended various independent Charismatic churches as well as a Free Will Baptist Church and a community Bible church. … I have been apart of the Vineyard Community of Churches…
It is through these glasses and heart that I ask my question about praying for the sick and seeing signs and wonders.
May the King of Kings continue to guide and direct you along your journey.

R: Thanks. I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of “emerging churches,” and I don’t think generalizations about them are that easy to make. But I can offer these 3 responses.
1. Of course Christians of all types – including those in emerging churches – pray for the sick and exercise spiritual gifts. Do they see folks healed? I’m sure there are many positive testimonies to this effect. But in my experience in emerging churches, the ratio of prayers made to dramatic healings received is not high. This is equally true in the charismatic, Pentecostal, Vineyard, and related churches I’ve been involved with. I’ve never seen a church where the “batting average” on healings is high, although I’ve seen churches that claimed it was high. In “emerging churches” (a category I don’t like to use), I think people would try to be honest about the unanswered prayers for healing and I think they’d be careful not to exaggerate the frequency of dramatic answers to prayers for healing.
2. On the demonic, I think there would be a variety of belief and practice, just as there is across the Christian community at large. Speaking personally, the writer who has stimulated my thinking most on this subject is Walter Wink. I highly recommend his book “The Powers that Be.”
3. One of the shifts that I think is widely seen in emerging churches is the shift from the modernist natural-supernatural dichotomy. I’ve written about this in a few of my books, especially The Story We Find Ourselves In. I think a lot of 20th century Pentecostalism was an attempt to redress an imbalance within this dualistic paradigm, while remaining within it. The challenge many of us face is to practice a life in the Spirit beyond that dualism, where the Spirit is inherent to what we used to call “natural,” and not simply relegated to a separate supernatural category. (I think of the Spirit of God hovering over the primal waters in Genesis 1 … ) In other words, in God’s universe, everything is supernatural, upheld by God’s grace.
Q 2:

I really wanted to ask you the following question last night, because it is the “big piece” that I felt was missing (which is why I wanted to ask about it), and it will help to clarify to me your perspective.
You mentioned a lot about the “social” element of Christianity, and how we should be “behaving” as Christians. But I need to ask, where does ths supernatural element come into play? In other words, for anyone to be able to accomplish the true caring and to do the things about which you spoke, God Himself states that there must be a supernatural change of the heart – an experience of being “born again,” not by the will of a husband, but by God (John 1:12-13). We can talk and share and “do what we know we need to do” – but first, we ourselves will not be able to keep up that kind of compassion for too long unless Jesus has entered our heart and begun the transformative work by His Spirit; and secondly, those with whom we are trying to share will not “have ears to hear” and will only end up doing or agreeing to go forth “in pride” or still with selfish motivations (like that man who you said agreed to do something about the environment, was it, because of the sway the evangelical Christians held in politics? I’m sorry if I did not get that right…). Change may occur, and some of it may even remain, but I don’t believe it will be the God-Glorifying change that He seeks. The changes (e.g., in easing poverty, mending differences, etc.) can be used to lead someone (or someones) to God (when they see peace and love, and then acknowleding on bended knee that it is ultimately because of God and His Love), but otherwise they are kind of meaningless if they do not, I think.
I think the reason we keep needing to feel that there is a need for a “new” Christianity (or whichever adjective we need to add to it) is for the very reason that it has been so entwined with the “definition of the age,” and because people are too afraid to speak boldly about the supernatural element of it (I’m not talking about you). Also, I do understand that “repent” has come to be known as a “religious” term, and we have to be careful of that; but there is also something to be said that this is one of the first things Jesus said when he began His ministry: that we need to repent and have our hearts turned back to God, which ultimately, He has to do by His Spirit – that supernatural work.
Thank you for reading; I am very interested to hear how this supernatural element of Christianity fits in with the “new” Christianity about which you write.

R: As I said in response to the previous question, I think that dividing the world into two categories, natural and supernatural, is part of a paradigm that many of us are questioning and seeking alternatives to. Instead of seeing God as being active in the supernatural and excluded from the natural, we are seeing God as active in all of life. The incarnation means, among many other things, that God enters “the natural” … that God is not opposed to “flesh,” but graciously takes it on, and takes it into God’s own identity. This not only contrasts with the natural-supernatural dualism of modernity, but also with the Greco-Roman and gnostic dualisms of the ancient world.
In this context, to borrow from Rob Bell, “everything is spiritual.” I can see the Holy Spirit at work in my planning as well as in spontaneity, in thinking as well as in mystical experience, in human kindness as well as in sacramental action, in social action work as well as in singing in the Spirit. All of life, in this sense, can be brought into the light, so we “walk in the light” and “walk in the Spirit” and “walk in love” and “walk in Christ.” These are many windows or portals into one holy experience that is fully natural and fully supernatural.
May we all avoid the temptation of arguing about how to label those portals, who has proprietary rights to which one, which one is better, and so on. Those are popular adventures in missing the point. Instead, may we joyfully pass through those portals and experience authentic Spirit-filled life, walking in the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing the fruits of the Spirit, being guided by the Spirit, preserving the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace, and becoming agents of God’s Spirit in our world.