14 December 2006

The Holy Spirit is not a failed Ed McMahon

by Dan Phillips

Most of our readers are old enough to remember Ed McMahon, the genial MC for The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson. His job was to announce the show, and introduce Johnny Carson. Then he sat out there, played straight man to Johnny, laughed at his jokes, made Carson look good.

Through the years, Carson had various guest hosts including, I think, Seinfeld, Leno, Letterman, and Brenner. Never, as far as I know, Ed McMahon.

(Here's a funny thing: I'll bet scores of folks are already offended at this post, without even knowing for certain where I'm going with it.)

My allusion to McMahon has one point, and one only: McMahon's job was go make another person look good, to draw attention to him. It was to produce anticipation, and then, with his famous "Heeeeere's Johnny!", to bring on the star of the show.

If the camera had remained on McMahon, if the spotlight had been trained on him, immediately we'd have known something was very wrong. Ed wasn't the focus. Nor have I ever heard that McMahon resented his role. In fact, when he wrote a book, it was titled Here's Johnny!, not Hey, Look at Me! McMahon's job was defined, he embraced it, and he did it well.

So, where am I going with this? Am I suggesting that the Holy Spirit, then, like Ed McMahon? In virtually no way. The august Person of God the Holy Spirit produced Scripture (2 Peter 1:21), was involved in Creation (Genesis 1:2), empowered Jesus' ministry (Luke 4:14), is the mode of believers' immersion into Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), seals us until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30), and a great deal more. He is God.

But there is one point of analogy, and one only: the delight and joy of the Holy Spirit is not to train attention upon Himself. The Holy Spirit's great love, fascination, and focus, is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before the Incarnation, the Spirit moved in the prophets. And of what did He speak through them? Among other things, He spoke of the sufferings of Christ, and of His glories to follow (1 Peter 1:11).

The Holy Spirit performed the miracle by which the virgin, Mary, became mother to the human nature of the Messiah (Matthew 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35). He appeared at Jesus' baptism, not to flutter in mid-air while until everyone noticed and admired Him, but to rest on Christ, to mark Him out as Yahweh's anointed (Matthew 3:16; cf. Luke 4:18).

And so the power of the Spirit continued in the ministry of Jesus, to guide Him in what He did (Matthew 4:1), and to bring glory and honor to Jesus, marking Him as God's Son (Matthew 12:28; Acts 10:38). This He did preeminently in Jesus' resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

And what would the Spirit do after Christ's resurrection and ascension? More of the same. "He will glorify me," Jesus says of the Spirit, "for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:14). It is worth repetition: "He will glorify me." In fact, the Greek is a bit more emphatic: "That one, Me will He glorify." The Spirit will come to bring glory, and it is to Jesus that He will bring this glory.

Imagine that. God though He is, personal though He is, the Spirit's aim is not to glorify Himself. It is to glorify Jesus. And how does the Holy Spirit do that? By imparting inerrant revelation to the apostles, revelation which we have today in the Bible alone. He did this by granting them inerrant memory of Jesus' words (John 14:26), by bearing witness to them about Jesus (John 15:26), by convicting the world of truths related in each case to Jesus (John 16:8-11), and by continuing to tell them the "many things" that Jesus still had to say to them (John 16:12-13). Jesus emphasizes this last point, assuring the apostles that the Spirit would not speak aph' heautou, from Himself, but rather from Jesus.

When the Holy Spirit wrote a book, what was it about? At least one has to confess that the Holy Spirit's recurrent theme, strain, melody, was the person and work of Christ (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Acts 3:18; 10:43; 24:14; 26:22-23). If I may put it this way, you could almost re-title the New Testament "Here's Jesus."

Does it not follow, then, that the Spirit's presence and prevalence will show the impress of His personality, His grand interest?

So how do you know when the Spirit is present and prevalent in a man? By how the man relates to Jesus. He confesses Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:13). He has the character of Jesus (Galatians 5:22-23). He moves men to confess the incarnation of Jesus (1 John 4:2). He makes the presence and person of Christ real.

A man full of the Holy Spirit will be a great lover of Jesus, whom the Spirit loves, and of that great work of the Spirit, the Scriptures. That is, he will love Jesus, and he will love that Spirit-breathed witness to Christ, the written Word. He will passionately care about the truths of Christ, and of the Word. That will be the proof of the Spirit's rule in his heart.

So how can we evaluate a movement whose icon is a descending dove, who wishes thus to identify itself by a peculiar view of the Spirit and His works? What are we forced to conclude about a movement whose great concern is insisting on a few of what they mis-identify as the Spirit's gifts, after changing the definition and description He Himself had given in the Word?

What of men or women who wish to be distinguished from all other Christians by their view of the Spirit's work? People who do not tend to get much exercised when the person and work of Christ, and the Word of God, are misrepresented, attacked, slighted, smeared, rejected either outright or by implication—but who fly into action if anyone expresses skepticism about The Gifts{tm}? Who are known not for their robust defense of the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, nor of penal, substitutionary atonement, nor of the truth of by-grace-alone, forensic justification, nor of the imputed righteousness of Christ, nor of the exclusivity of Christ's claims and Gospel, nor of the objective nature of the Word's truth—but for the right to label an activity "prophecy" or "tongues," despite the fact that it does not approach the Spirit-breathed, Biblical definition?

As a pastor I again and again observed folks who could never be content in a church that seeks to be Christ-centered, and to preach the Word, if it doesn't engage in certain peripheral activities. They can't "feel the Spirit" without certain worship-styles, entertainments, play-times. For them, "feeling the Spirit"—not preaching Christ—is the be-all and end-all.

More to the point, what would the Spirit of God make of such a movement? Does it bear His impress, His mark? In Scripture, He is everywhere present and active, but He is always pointing to Christ, to the Father, to the work and words of God. Consider this: in contrast to the Father and the Son, no Scripture (that I can find) presents the Spirit as prayed to nor directly addressed, nor does any verse command believers to do so. I can't say that I'm sure I know what that means—but it means something.

To make another imperfect analogy, it is as if the Spirit's delight is to grab hold of the spotlight, and then to bring all attention to the Star of the show, Jesus Christ. But if we turn to the spotlight and focus on it, and on the one who mans it, can we think that His intent is honored?

What would be the mark of a genuine movement of the Spirit? Would it not be love for Christ, and for His Word, with resultant godliness and holiness?

... and not fascination with the Spirit?

Dan Phillips's signature


Even So... said...

As a pastor I again and again observed folks who could never be content in a church that seeks to be Christ-centered, and to preach the Word, if it doesn't engage in certain peripheral activities. They can't "feel the Spirit" without certain worship-styles, entertainments, play-times. For them, "feeling the Spirit" — not preaching Christ — is the be-all and end-all.

100% ditto to that...people just seem "bored" with the Bible, and "casual" with Christ...what they want is to feel "the anointing", as if that is anything other than Christ Himself...

Robert said...

Sometimes I miss Johnny Carson....

Oh! About the topic?

Well, this article should step on a few toes. I wonder; Can the other side point to ANY prominent guy who is promoting Jesus first? Even one?

Nicholas Z. Cardot said...

This is a great post. Too many people are busy elevating positions, ministries, and selves, rather than elevating what ought to be the object of of those ministries...Jesus Christ. People are selfish and prideful. Living to give our attention and focus to Christ just pricks against our nature. Again, good post!

David A. Carlson said...

DJP said "What would be the mark of a genuine movement of the Spirit? Would it not be love for Christ, and for His Word, with resultant godliness and holiness?"

Perhaps it would not only be in their love for Christ, but also for his people?

DJP said...

David, there's a danger in my saying "THE mark," isn't there? Here's how I'd defend it: everything else flows from the top. The top is the First Commandment, which inescaoably means love for God.

You could very validly ask, "But holiness? Love for others? Self control? Wisdom?" — and a host of others.

But what I'd say is that, if those qualities aren't present and/or growing, then we're not "doing" #1 right.

Short answer.

~Mark said...

Ok, that's it. After reading this post I can only ask...

where do I send the physical support? Money? Food? Clothes?

If I become a supporter of the radio ministry, will that help?

I once told a friend (or wrote, I can't remember) that focusing on the Holy Spirit instead of Christ is akin to going to a store where the entire focus is on gearing you up for a trip to another country, including supplying you with language lessons, proper clothing, food, directions and plane tickets, but you decide the store is more interesting than the destination it exists to prepare you to reach.

Good post!

(and I'm serious about the support.)

DJP said...

Ooh, a radio ministry. That'd be cool.

Sure; if you know some fulltime ministry in which I can preach, teach, write, and support my family, I'll rename all my children "~mark."

Okay, kidding about that last; not the part before.

donsands said...

I was sharing with someone who is "Emergent" from Don Carson's book on the same subject.

He wrote of a pastor of a large church, who left his church, becasue some one showed him a better way to serve Christ.

He asked this pastor to come with him on a retreat. This pastor was about to bring his Bible, when the other person, told him not to bring it, that they were going to meet with God, and no books, not even the Bible.

Well he supposedly thought he met with God on this retreat.

I said to me friend, "there ain't know way the Holy Spirit sent that pastor", and said leave the Scriptures at home. The Holy Spirit does just the opposite.

Thanks for an excellent post. Your words are dead-on, right-on, and spot-on.

joey said...

Dan, I think you've pointed out the biggest problem with the charismatic movement. I'll leave it at that.

Robert, CJ Mahaney, John Piper, Terry Virgo are the first three that pop into my head.

joey said...

just for clarification, the point you made being the tendency to draw attention to the Holy Spirit and gifts, rather than Christ

Timotheos said...

Interesting sidebar regarding this issue would be the whole Oneness Theology school that contends that God existed as Father in creation, Son in His earthly ministry and Spirit today thus we worship the Spirit (and we only have One God.)

I would love to see one of you guys tackle that.

Jerry Wragg said...

Dan -
Tremendous post on a crucial point that must be made.
By the way, as I've studied and preach John's gospel on Sunday mornings (5 years now), the more I am convinced of what you've exposed here. Evangelicalism's fascination with a subjective walk "in the Spirit" was never intended by the Spirit Himself. He is equally worthy of our worship, but all true worship is biblically defined as ascribing supreme worth to God in a life of submissive obedience. How is this done? We follow the Lord Jesus Christ in obedience, by yielding our will to God's in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, all to the ultimate glory of the Father.

David A. Carlson said...

Clearly the greatest commandment (who can argue with Jesus?)

However, Jesus did continue with "The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'"

It just seems to me that if it was good enough for him to put down both, its good enough for us.

In addition, it has always seemed to me that the second was the proof of the first - that by our love for our neighbor we demonstrate our love for God. That indeed if there was genuine movement by the Holy Spirit in an individuals life, we would see the second - not as you put it, that we would see "love ... for His Word".

It is our actions by that we are known. Love for his word is important - just less important than love for our neighbor.

So, God and Neighbor. Not God and Word

C.T. Lillies said...

I always think of Ed as sort of being like John the Baptist more than anything else. Other than, well, Ed didn't get beheaded before the show really got going. (Minor detail there.)

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

DJP said...

Got that from the Word, did you, David?

You expressed your opinion; I'll stick with mine, for the reasons stated.

Wyeth Duncan said...


I think you make some excellent points, which Christians would do well to heed. I had just one tiny observation to make (it's not original with me; I heard this on a cassette recording of the late A.W. Tozer):

Sometimes the Holy Spirit does, indeed, place the "spotlight" on Himself. As the One who inspired the Scriptures, we see that the Holy Spirit speaks of Himself, for instance, in John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26; and 16:7-14. He also places the focus on Himself in Romans 8:9-11, 13-16, 26-27. In other words, wherever we see the Spirit spoken of, at that place we wouldn't be wrong to say the Spirit was speaking of Himself--momentarily putting the spotlight on Himself, if you will.

Douglas McMasters said...

Great post. Sorry, but encouraged, that you too have experienced this:

They can't "feel the Spirit" without certain worship-styles, entertainments, play-times. For them, "feeling the Spirit" — not preaching Christ — is the be-all and end-all.

Praying for Christ to return to I-anity.


Bob said...

This is a great analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Spirit. I found it very interesting.
If I might add my two cents, I think that those in the Charismatic/Penticostal movement are in reality, persuing an experience rather than God. I would say it's not so much that they over emphasize the Spirit, but rather a feeling they get when caught up in a pseudo-spiritual extasy. I believe that emotions are a gift from our Creator to be used for "His" glory. They are the color that God has added to our lives, but some, sadly, confuse feelings with the person and work of the Spirit. Climbing down from my soap-box, I thank you for a well written essay.

"Looking unto Jesus......"

DJP said...

Bob, it's a point worth making.

All those centuries of Christ-centered people, yet they managed to struggle by without the imitation-gifts.

I hark back again to the believers at Pentecost. Not a one believed in tongues, and it did not prevent the Holy Spirit from distributing the gift as they sought (A) NOT tongues, (B) NOT the Holy Spirit, (C) BUT the Lord.

Had He wanted to give The Gifts{tm}, not a thing would have prevented Him all these centuries.

Jmv7000 said...

This is the ironic paradox, those that forsake Christ while pursuing the experience of the Holy Spirit are a perfect example of the natural man not receiving the things of the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16.

Mike Felker said...

Ed McMahon must have been waaaayyyyy before my time. Are you guys really that old?

Deutero Q said...

A superb article, Dan--one of the best I have read in a long time.


David A. Carlson said...

Well Dan, by your logic, should not the Word come first then? It is by the word (and preaching thereof) that we can know God. Therefore the Word must be pre-eminent, no?

The Word is a tool (THE tool?) But it is not the object of our worship. Nor is it what Jesus identifies as the sum of the commandments. The Word is spirit breathed - believers are spirit filled.

In a believers life, it is not the HS role to glorify himself. The HS provides gift(s) for believers to use - so as to serve one another, to be gifts to the body of christ (through edification) and gifts to be used to glorify Christ

A genuine movement of the Holy Spirit would be marked by a love for Christ, as demonstrated in part by our love for eachother, and service to each other by use of the gifts he has bestowed to every believer. A movement of the HS would be manifested in believers as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Holy Spirits greatest work? The Bible? The Virgin Birth? Or that which he does inside of each believer?

I think that while many fundamentalists get the intellectual theology right - head knowledge, they never acknowledge the personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. We cannot walk with God without the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Bible is a tool in that effort. But it is in the end, not the focus of God

I perhaps am going too far on this arguement. I agree completly when you say "The Holy Spirit's great love, fascination, and focus, is the Lord Jesus Christ." I think that many (if not all) charismatics are focused on largely all the wrong things. I just think that in the end, peoples actions and use of thier gifts are more a demonstration of the role of the HS, than their "high view" of scripture (which I would say would be very close).

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

Does anyone else spot the irony in this post?

ricki said...

Chris - Amen! There two ironies.

First, the comments have not put the spotlight on Christ.

Second, the post itself, while elevating Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit to point us to Christ, denies some of the promises of Scripture and the some of the means by which the Holy Spirit choses to point us toward Christ.

But as the Pyro guys have said before, I'm tired of repeating the same arguments.

striving... said...

djp, good post. I love sitting in church and singing the good ol' hymns and listening to my pastor preach (teach) from the bible, except maybe Proverbs 31, that just makes me feel lazy. :)
David, The greatest person you know could do all kinds of nice things for people he knows, but that does not mean that he is doing it for the glory of God, Unless he is getting to know God.(for lack of better words.) Your walk with God should be #1 because how else can you build your relationship with him. Yes being kind to your neighbor is great, but it could be for very selfish reasons, not for God. Just my take. Merry Christmas everybody.

Doug said...

Rick said: Second, the post itself, while elevating Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit to point us to Christ, denies some of the promises of Scripture and the some of the means by which the Holy Spirit choses to point us toward Christ.

Wrong, Rick. This post denies what we see to be the wrong interpretation of those promises of the Scripture and the misapplication of the means by which the Holy Spirit chooses to point us to Christ.

ricki said...

Doug - you'll be glad to know that you are in good company. Dan along with many other really sharp people agree with you. I'm confident that however does not make you right.

Please let me know when you have found undeniable proof. Until then you might note that many really sharp people agree with me and you may be surprised to learn it has basis in Scripture.

I think Dan's post could have simply left off a few paragraphs. I've commented here before on how I find him to be an excellent writer. He excels at penetrating Scripture and challenges all (well at least me) with that.

And more importantly, he points us toward Christ ... until he offers the kind of detractor that we are now hung up on in the comments.

Hence the irony.

Robert Ivy said...

DJP, good post, I agree with your main point. But you're just really out to get charismatics aren't you?

I find that you present an interesting dichotomy between "feeling the Spirit" and "preaching Christ". I have always been under the impression that preaching Christ cannot be done properly without the preacher feeling the Spirit and that when Christ is preached properly then the Spirit will be felt by those who hear. (Acts 1:8, 4:8,31, 6:3, 14:3) Or perhaps it's the growth strategies that deal with that (looking for the scripture reference now).

Furthermore, if by "feel the Spirit" you mean feel things like love, joy, peace, etc. then I would rather go to a Spirit feeling church any day over a Church that would preach Christ without the Spirit's aid even for one week. Love is better than knowledge (1 Cor 13:2)

You see, we must not frame the issue as Spirit vs. Word. If the Spirit inspired the words the first time then He cannot fail to open them correctly to our minds now and add power to them when preached. And we must not think that we have any power to glorify God apart from the Spirit.

But you just said that the Spirit glorifies God, but we can't seek the Spirit? This seems like the largest problem a Christian could possibly face - to lose our greatest Ally in the pursuit of God's glory!

So I ask, are we to labor without the Spirit, or is there a way to ask for the Spirit, and should we do that, or is the Spirit just automatic whenever we're doing something for Jesus?

I for one, would rather ere on the side of calling a little too directly than not calling at all.

donsands said...

Some good thoughts. Made me think of a few verses.

"The wind [pneuma] blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from, and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8 Also:(1 Cor.12:14)

"But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." 1 Cor. 12:11

Seems to me the Holy Spirit is sovereign. Even from when we were regenerated and baptized into the body of Christ, to the giving of gifts, and to all things in our lives.

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. ... Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Rom. 8:14,26

God bless.

DJP said...

David -- some good thoughts. Good thoughts you got from the Bible. I stick with my original statement.

Chris -- Irony? Let's see; the post affirms the Spirit's own teaching that He glorifies Christ, and it exalts Christ as the "star of the show," so nothing there... oh, wait, I see the irony.

I talk about people who we don't see engaging much in the crucial Gospel issues of the day, but burst forth whenever their misinterpretation of the Spirit's ministry is challenged.

Then poof! Here you are!


Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

DJP, The irony is that your post (and your last comment) cuts both ways.

Is your own preoccupation with the Spirit and his gifts any more justified because you strip them of their power?

But your comment of not engaging on other issues is fair. I'll resolve to do better and give more credit where it is due in future. I wouldn't still be reading if I disagreed with everything you said.

Merry Christmas, and every blessing for the New Year.

DJP said...

Weigh the array of topics I've written on here at Pyro against the essays you've commented on, then get back to me.

Merry and happy Christmas and New Year to you, too.

David A. Carlson said...

"Moreover, the spirit that quells contentions among men gives a spirit of peace and good-will, excites to acts of outward kindness, earnestly desires the salvation of souls, and arouses love for all the children of God and followers of Christ; I say that when a spirit operates after this manner, there is the highest kind of evidence that this is the Holy Spirit."