The Spirit and the Word


Are you a believer who is focused on the Word or a believer who is focused on the Spirit? What is the difference?

Strengths and Weaknesses of Both Sides

There is a continuum from the polar opposites of Spirit without Word (A), and Word without Spirit (E). While no believer is completely devoid of Word or Spirit, we describe Spirit-centered believers as being on the left of C (somewhere around point B) and Word-centered believers as being on the right of C (somewhere around point D). In this diagram, the center point C represents a balanced affirmation of Spirit and Word that seeks to embrace the strengths of both sides:

Spirit (A) ----------B---------------C---------------D-------------Word (E)                           

The strengths of the Word-centered believers side include emphasis on biblical doctrine, depth of preaching and teaching, and concern with growth in character and Christ-like behavior. But the Word-centered believers side can be prone to the following weaknesses (these potential problems are generalizations and are not true of all Word-centered believers): an anti-supernatural and rationalistic bias that has been influenced by a post-Enlightenment worldview, a controlling mentality that is afraid of disruption of the way things “ought” to be done, a judgmental attitude toward other expressions of worship and practice, an arrogant and condescending spirit, and a penchant to love doctrine more than God or people.

Since Spirit-filled spirituality is concerned with the work of the Holy Spirit in the people of God, we will offer a more detailed outline of the strengths and weaknesses of the Spirit-centered Believers side.

Please remember that these nine positives and negatives are generalizations that are not true of all Spirit-centered believers.

Spirit-centered Believer Strengths:

  1. Trinitarian emphasis and affirmation of the reality of the Holy Spirit
  2. Universality of gifts and every-member ministry
  3. Stress on mutual edification within the body of Christ
  4. Dependence on the power of God; Spirit-empowered living
  5. Recognition of the legitimate need for expressing emotion and enthusiasm
  6. Joyfulness in worship and life; new dimensions of worship
  7. Love of Scripture
  8. Boldness in sharing Christ; enthusiasm for evangelism
  9. Commitment to small-group ministry

Spirit-centered Believer Weaknesses:

  1. Gifts without graces; charismata can be stressed over character; emphasis on the outward can lead to neglect of the inward
  2. Unhealthy pursuit of dramatic experiences; some become “conference junkies” who quest after spiritual highs; spirituality built on unusual or exciting experiences; demand for immediate results
  3. Pride and elitism regarding spiritual experiences
  4. An exaggerated discontinuity of the supernatural with the natural; underplaying less dramatic gifts
  5. Excessive emotionalism and exhibitionism
  6. Shallowness in biblical doctrine and teaching; anti-intellectual tendency
  7. Vulnerable to manipulation, deception, and authoritarianism
  8. Can be susceptible to the prosperity gospel and “word-faith” teaching with its simplistic and unbiblical view of blessing and suffering
  9. Excessive fixation on demonic activity

Truth and Power, Word and Spirit, Inward and Outward

All too often, the Spirit-centered believer/Word-centered believer debate takes place between practitioners and theologians. Each side brings a limited perspective that needs to be balanced by the other. We should seek to combine practical experience with doctrinal depth, repeated filling with the Holy Spirit with responsible biblical exegesis, empowered witness and service with understanding of Scripture in context, fervent prayer for God’s power with fervid love for God’s truth. We should listen to God’s authoritative voice in Scripture without being closed to other ways in which God may communicate through the gifts of the Spirit.

Spirit-centered believers should not focus so much on power, signs, and wonders that they depersonalize the Holy Spirit. This was the sin of Simon the magician who sought to manipulate supernatural power (Acts 8:9-24).

Word-centered believers should not seek to advance God’s kingdom in word only, but also in the power and authority of the Spirit who actually changes people and sets them free. All of us need the inward journey in which we are increasingly rooted and grounded in the soil of God’s truth and love, and the outward journey in which we express this truth and love in divinely energized action.

Experience and Expectation, Background and Temperament

Our expectations regarding the nature and extent of God’s activity today are shaped by our assumptions and worldview. These expectations have a great deal to do with our experience. Word-centered believers accuse Spirit-centered believers of having expectation-shaped experiences that are contoured by a miraculously-oriented subculture. But this argument cuts both ways, since a non-miraculous conditioning can make people impervious to the surprising work of the Spirit.

If we do not desire, pray, and expect God to stretch out His hand to do extraordinary things (see Acts 4:29- 31), it is unlikely that we will see the manifestations of God’s power. But these extraordinary things can occur in “ordinary” ways, and we would do well not to draw too sharp a distinction between the “natural” and the “supernatural,” lest we remove the latter from daily life and fail to see the hand of God in all ministry and spiritual gifts, whether healing or teaching.

On the Word-centered side, the teaching and preaching of Scripture should have content, depth, and relevance, but on the Spirit-centered side, it should also be energized and anointed by the Spirit.

Like the other approaches to the spiritual life (e.g., disciplined spirituality and devotional spirituality), Spirit-filled spirituality is strongly affected by the personal factors of background and temperament. Because of these differences, some people will be drawn toward a Word-centered emphasis on truth and spiritual fruit, while others will be spontaneously attracted to a Spirit-centered emphasis on experience and spiritual gifts.

In light of this, the body of Christ needs the kind of cross-pollination that avoids the faults of the other side while welcoming its strengths.

Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth.

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