10 January 2012

The Holy Spirit is not a failed Ed McMahon

by Dan Phillips

Re-post from 12/14/2006, very slightly edited.

Most of our readers are old enough to remember Ed McMahon, 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, is 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 Christ, 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


Eddie Eddings said...

Love it!!
Now I'll have to use this illustration when talking to people in my age bracket.
I'm going back and reading it again.

Tom Chantry said...

Good post, but the whole time I read it I was hearing Doc and the band playing "Johnny's Theme."

Robert said...

So people who exalt what they call the work/gifts of the Holy Spirit are actually fighting against what the Holy Spirit is pointing us towards. Quite ironic, huh?

I am reminded of what I have heard several preachers and teachers say: To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with Scripture. Or as Spurgeon put it, our blood should be Bibline.

James Scott Bell said...

I love this analogy. And if I may expand on it a bit: Ed McMahon used to "warm up the crowd" before the actual show got underway. He'd come out and do five or ten minutes of comedy and interaction, and then he'd step back and assume his supporting role.

It seems to me that is how (again, using the imperfect to describe the perfect) the Holy Spirit shows himself in Acts. The "attention getting" manifestations are limited. They do their work (attestation, witness, preparation) but they are not "the show." The Gospel is the show, and Jesus Christ is front and center.

It's early. I hope that makes sense.

Always Reforming said...

Powerful post. If I may, I'd like to borrow the main thrust for a lesson I'm to give on Sunday.

John Dunn said...

The most stunning "gift" of the Spirit is his ability to take the desolate, sin-ruined, death-filled heart of an unbeliever and turn it into an eternal spring of living Water . . . causing us to be transformed into Christ's heavenly image from glory to glory - as He continually presents us with the Saviour's glory revealed to us in the Gospel.

Mel said...

Well said. You showed great restraint and argued from the Bible. Those who oppose this view rarely do that, if ever.

DJP said...

One of my great, humbling joys is knowing that my material is being multiplied in fruitfulness as pastors and teachers (and, really, any believers) use it to God's glory. I ask for credit in quotations in print, but in the pulpit just do what you'd do with any printed source you're quoting or using.

Always Reforming said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Refreshing and encouraging... Thanks for the reminder and challenge.

Aaron said...

When I read the title, I was thinking...huh? How is Dan going to relate the Holy Spirit to a sweepstakes? I have zero recollection of Johnny Carson and only recall Ed McMahon vaguely as the American Publisher's sweepstakes icon and for his commercial with MC Hammer for Cash For Gold. I had no idea he was on the Tonight Show.

Was the Tonight Show in color at that time or black and white?

Tom Chantry said...

Good on you, Aaron - and keep it up. Between us I'm sure we can derail this thread into a not-really-on-topic discussion of the Tonight Show.

GW said...

The Holy Trinity is composed of ...
A) Father, Son and Holy Bible
B) Father, Son and Ed McMahon
C) Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Aaron said...

I don't know, Tom. I'm not old enough to talk much about it.


P.S. It's challenging to comment on some posts, other than to say "Amen."

trogdor said...

I've spent far, far too much time recently reading up on modalism. It finally clicked as to why its modern incarnation is so closely tied to pentecostalism.

trogdor said...

Also, we could probably push the analogy to include McMahon's work on "Star Search" and tie it into yesterday's post, but that might be a bit of a stretch.

John Dunn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Dunn said...

The Holy Spirit is not a failed Ed McMahon, BUT Ed McMahon could easily pass for a failed Charismatic Prophet . . . in a used-car salesman sort of way. His glasses are classic! They alone would qualify him for 'seer' status.

John K said...

I really liked this post. It is so wrong to either ignore the Holy Spirit and His work, or blow out of portion one or two aspects of His nature and work.

Rachael Starke said...

The other pernicious side of this movement is how it casts a shadow over the real work He does.

Patience in the midst of frustration, joy in the midst of suffering, love in return for hate - well, that's just the way people are. The Holy Spirit is really about much more flashy stuff than that.

And then a certain person who shall go unnamed gets to make the argument that we're functional deists.

Anonymous said...

Right on, brother!