What is the Spirit’s Role in Our Reading of Scripture?

There is a false notion among evangelicals that we can either trust in the ordinary means of grace and the church’s creedal catechetical tradition, or we can be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Both the charismatic and the conservative, more subtle teaching on the Holy Spirit and God’s word cuts us off from the Trinitarian work in communicating God’s word to the whole communion of the saints.  And for some reason this exciting teaching often comes off as a spiritual buzz kill. I am referring to church tradition and ordinary means of grace. 

 
Building off of our important discussion about traditional doctrine on this week’s Mortification of Spin podcast, I want to address something I see in a lot of popular level Christian books. There is a false notion among evangelicals that we can either trust in the ordinary means of grace and the church’s creedal catechetical tradition, or we can be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. The notion is that we can follow an old custom or we can follow the Source himself.

And so much of this teaching on following the Spirit sounds a lot like the game of telephone. In the game of telephone, one person passes along a message by whispering in another person’s ear. That person then whispers what they think they’ve heard to another ear, and this continues with the goal for the final receiver of the message to try and speak the original message. If you’ve ever played telephone, you know how silly the message can end up. Likewise, to some Christians the idea of following the Spirit goes something like this:  Jesus is calling, his Holy Spirit will deliver the important personal message, and now you need to obey this inner voice and then figure out which Scripture supports it. We may even do some lucky dipping, hoping the Spirit will lead us to our devotion for the day by the “providence” of where our Bible randomly opens and to where our finger falls.  Then maybe we’ll have that light bulb moment of clarity.

We all know the Spirit’s work is important, but many are unclear how to follow the Spirit. Do we take prayerful walks and wait on his leading? Is that how we receive his teaching? Do we clear our minds and wait for his prompting? Can we quiet ourselves enough to hear God’s whisper? Can others authoritatively deliver a personal message to us through the Spirit?

Many of you will agree that this is not exactly how the Spirit works.  But how does he then? A more sophisticated approach may be to point to the Spirit’s illumination in our private reading and interpretation of Scripture. But this sort of Biblicism can also be misleading. I will get into that with more detail in a later post, but it’s worth mentioning now that there is more to the Spirit’s work in our receiving God’s word than meeting us during our personal devotion and biblical studies.

Both the charismatic and the conservative, more subtle teaching on the Holy Spirit and God’s word cuts us off from the Trinitarian work in communicating God’s word to the whole communion of the saints.  And for some reason this exciting teaching often comes off as a spiritual buzz kill. I am referring to church tradition and ordinary means of grace.

Read More