This post comes to us by permission from Dr. Michael W. Stroope’s blog: MereHope: Finding that Jesus is Enough
A young female student tilts her head toward me, looks me in the eyes, and asks, “Who am I to stand before a congregation and preach, or to stand in a hospital room and pray for the sick or bereaved, or to sit with the confused and abused and speak words of hope, or to touch a broken and hurting sister on the arm, or to embrace and offer love to a lost or homeless child? I am only a mildly gifted person who deals with loads of insecurity, guilt and self-doubt. Who am I to act as though I bring a word, a touch, or a presence that will guide, heal, and give hope?”
I lean toward her and confess. “And who am I to teach a seminary class? Who am I to act as though I am an example of Christian service, witness or piety? Who am I to offer advice concerning marriage, ministry, missions, or life situations? The answer to your questions and mine is the Spirit.”
While a discussion of the Holy Spirit could center on whether the gifts of the Spirit, such as tongues, are valid, our ultimate concern is whether the Spirit does in fact act in and through our lives. And if he does, what does this mean for the way in which we are to live. Who is Spirit and what does he do?
First, the Spirit is God. Thus, what I might say about God, the Creator, and God, the Son, I must also say about God, the Spirit. Each has distinction but in the end are expressions of the same God. God, in his three-in-oneness, cannot, should not be parsed like a verb or diagramed like a sentence. The ‘persons’ of the Godhead are not grandstanding competitors, vying for supremacy. Rather, as Karl Barth explains, our “knowledge of God is still only an event enclosed in the mystery of the divine Trinity” (Church Dogmatics II/1, 181). I, with Barth, do not understand God’s three-in-oneness. But the mystery of the Trinity does not prevent me confessing that the Spirit is God.
Second, I have also learned from Karl Barth that our best understanding of God is in his revelation of himself. Thus, I am able to know something of who the Spirit is, as I observe his activity. Scripture tells me that the Spirit is the one who moves (Genesis 1:2), descends (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; John 1:32), speaks (Matthew 10:1; Acts 8:29, 10:19), teaches (John 14:26), leads and guides (Luke 4:1; Acts 16:7), convicts of sin (John 16:8), gives life (John 6:63), provides comfort (John 14:14-26), sanctifies (Romans 15:16), gives power (Acts 1:8), bears witness of Jesus (John 15:26), and calls and sends out witnesses (Acts 13:2, 4). His activity is broad, encompassing all of life, and thus far from passive or hidden.
Third, life remains one-dimensional and profane without the Spirit. The biblical witness tells me the Spirit moves upon mundane historical happenings and frail, ordinary people, as he wishes and for his purposes. The Spirit is the apocalyptic interruption of the stream of historical happenings. As he interrupts, happenings and people are transformed. While Christ is the historical incarnation of God with us, the Spirit is the ever-coming, apocalyptic encounter of the divine within time and space. How and when this happens is beyond my understanding and certainly outside of my control. Like the wind that blows where it will, so the Spirit moves and serves his purpose or mission.
Fourth, mission and ministry are not works the church just does. Rather, as Lesslie Newbigin reminds us, mission “is something done by the Spirit, who is himself the witness, who changes both the world and the church, who always goes before the church in its missionary journey.” The Spirit is the preacher, teacher, missionary, chaplain, student worker, and social worker – in both an eschatological and existential sense. God, as the free and acting Spirit, creates, launches and enables the church for witness and service. The church, according to Craig van Gelder, is the community created by the Spirit for the purposes of the Spirit. Thus, if the church is to be the church, it must be founded, led, shaped and empowered by the Spirit. If the church is to participate in the coming of the kingdom of God on earth, the reign of the Spirit must be inaugurated and established in her midst.
Fifth, the question should never be – How do I get more of the Spirit? Or how do I get the Spirit to do what I want? Rather, the question is always – Does the Spirit have or possess me? Can the Spirit do with me as he wants? Whatever I might say about faith in God or submission to God becomes reality in the work of the Spirit. All things considered, the Spirit’s activity is about who is in control of ministry and life. Either ministry is my ministry, life is my life, or ministry and life are the Spirit’s.
So, I confess that the Spirit is the potential for every act, the possibility in every reality. If I preach a sermon, doing everything just right, but the Spirit does not speak in and through my words, gestures, face, and ideas, then it is just my sermon – well crafted, cute, even award-winning, but still just my sermon. If I rush to the hospital room of a dying person, perform all the duties of pastoral care in a competent and professional manner, and yet the Spirit does not enter the room with me, in me, then I bring only skill and competency, not healing and comfort. If I open my Bible, reading it with adroit exegetical prowess, and yet, the Spirit does not teach me, correct me, or reprove me, then the text is not a light to my feet, nor will it shine through me. If I befriend and love my neighbor and in due time speak clearly and appropriately of my faith in Jesus Christ with skill and empathy, but am void of the Spirit’s witness, then friendship and love remain merely my friendship and my love, and thus, surely fall short of true love and fail to transform.
As I ask the Spirit to come upon me and then wait upon the Spirit to do his work, I thereby do more than merely rely on being cute, making people laugh, turning a phrase, acting like a pleasant person, working hard, or sounding smart. These are not bad. In fact, they are good – too good. When I rely on these rather than the Spirit, then preaching, teaching, witnessing, writing, and ministering can rise to greatness but in the end remain one-dimensional and temporal in their effect. When filled with the Spirit, these have the potential to be acts of grace and hope, divine expressions of love and mercy.
So, as you and I live our lives, we must not quench the Spirit with our pride and self-confidence, or with our insecurity and fear. Rather, we are to be filled with the Spirit, walk by the Spirit, and bear the fruit of the Spirit. Brains, looks, good intentions, and even a great education are not enough. In fact, they are all a bit over-rated. Instead, in the course of ministry and life, we are to ask the Spirit continually to convert us – our words, actions, and intentions – into the likeness of God. Through the Spirit’s continual conversion, there is great liberty to preach, write, witness, parent, befriend, serve, converse, smile, befriend – to love.
2 Corinthians 3:17 reminds us – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
 Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 56.
 Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
About the author:
Dr. Michael W. Stroope has been a member of the Truett Seminary faculty since 2001 and serves as Associate Professor of Christian Missions and M.C. Shook Chair of Missions. He is currently reading back through Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth. You can read more from Dr. Stroope on his blog: MereHope: Finding that Jesus is Enough.
We recently sat down with Steven Porter, who is finishing up his first semester as a member of the Truett faculty. He joined the faculty this fall to serve as Assistant Professor of Missions and Global Christianity, and teaches courses in the history and theology of Christian mission with special concern for the ways in which the local church relates gospel, culture, and place. Presently he is completing his Th.D. at Duke University with a dissertation on missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin. To find out more about him, please visit his Truett faculty bio page.
This semester, we were pleased to welcome two new faculty members to the Truett community. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of our two new faculty members, Dr. John B. White, who serves as The Harold and Dottie Riley Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the newly created Sports Chaplaincy/Ministry Program. Dr. White shared with us about what led him toward an interest in sport, theology and ethics as well as a preview of a few classes that will be offered in the Sports Chaplaincy/Ministry program. To find out more about Dr. White, please visit his Truett faculty bio page.
Earlier this week, I began preparing for our upcoming Fall Preview. Though this is something I do every semester, I cannot help but reflect on my own experiences at Preview each time. I remember all of the decisions I faced at that point in my life when I was trying to decide where to go next in my ministry. I was trying to discern if God really had called me to full-time ministry and if so, if seminary was the right choice. I had just left a job I loved in a country I loved (England) to come back to the States, so I was already invested here, but where was God leading me? As I drove into Waco that Thursday afternoon and saw the Baylor campus, I felt at peace. The feeling was so contrary to how I had felt for so long that I could not help but notice. Very unexpectedly I saw a beauty in Waco that began to draw me in.
I remember the first person I met that afternoon—Ashley Mangrum. She was a Truett student helping to welcome visitors to Preview. She made me feel instantly at home here in Waco, and over the course of the next day and half, I had so many of my concerns answered. Truett really was affordable, even to a single student working part-time. I was excited to see the variety of courses I would take as a Missions concentration student, and the opportunity to meet some of the professors and current students helped me to know that there would be a supportive community here. By the time I arrived at Rudy’s on Friday night, I knew that God’s hand was in this and that He was taking care of me. I could see his provision in all of these things.
I know that those preparing to attend Preview next week will have many of the same questions I had. I remember the apprehension and the excitement. My hope is that they, too, will experience God’s leadership and direction in the same way I did three years ago. My joy is getting to share in that journey just as Ashley was so instrumental in mine.
About the author:
Tiffany Forsyth is a third year, M.Div/M.S.W. student here at Truett. She aspires to serve somewhere internationally after graduation. Tiffany currently serves as an Associate in the Office of Student Services here at Truett.
Truett Seminary student, Monique Criddell, sat down with us to share about her experience as a student here at Truett, serving as a Resident Chaplain at Baylor, her future aspirations and reflections from her recent mentoring apprenticeship–one of of the requirements of the M.Div. degree program. You will have an opportunity to hear more about Monique’s story in our annual publication, The Cord, which will be released at the end of October.