13 myths Christians believe about the gifts of the Spirit

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This is a blog post that I recently realised I have been writing in the back of my head for the past 6 months or so. From dozens of conversations with people and epiphanies in the shower, all of which I thought were unrelated, I’ve realised that a lot of the thoughts I’ve been thinking lately can be more or less unified under the topic of misconceptions Christians hold about the Holy Spirit, his gifts, and his interactions with us. So here are 13 myths that I think (many) Christians believe and should start unbelieving about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

While this is partly a cathartic rant unloading all the ways everybody but me is wrong, actually, I hope much of what’s written here is a liberating and empowering encouragement to people to, as Paul says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts.” (1 Corinthians 14:1), with even a few practical ways that we can actually do that, all towards a vision to use these gifts to build up the church and see real change in our lives. Much of what I say here we can all agree on, while every reader, from every denomination and theological persuasion, will probably find something to disagree with.

1. Equating the gifts of the spirit with the Holy Spirit himself

I’m kicking things off with this one because it was encountering this myth in a recent conversation that got me frustrated enough to write this thing in the first place. You see, this is something that we charismatics say a lot, and I wonder if we realise what we are saying – where we use the term “the Holy Spirit,” to refer specifically for some reason to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’ll just be a passing comment where someone will say, “It’s so sad how those traditional Christian folk don’t believe in the Holy Spirit.” Or, “Unlike them, we believe the Holy Spirit is present in the Church today,” or, “What a shame that so many Christians miss out on the Holy Spirit.” And we’ll talk about how the Pentecostal revivals of the early 1900s were the long awaited return of the Holy Spirit to the Church. We’ll even put on services at church with a focus on healing and prophecy, and we’ll call them “Holy Spirit” nights.

There is a gigantic problem with this way of speaking, and it is that it equates the gifts of the Spirit with the Holy Spirit himself. Or more specifically it implies that the Holy Spirit’s sole function in the Church is to give people “spiritual gifts”. The reality is that the Holy Spirit does a lot more than give us spiritual gifts. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit has far more important things to do than give us spiritual gifts, such that by far the majority of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the lives of Christians are things that every Christian believes in, whether they’re charismatic or not.

First of all, it is impossible to be a Christian without having the Holy Spirit living within you (Rom 8:9-11, 1 Cor 6:19). To say that someone doesn’t have the Holy Spirit is to say that they are not a Christian at all. So let’s be careful with what we say. Further, to put it bluntly, the Holy Spirit is the one who actually does the dirty work, on the ground, of actually saving us (Titus 3:5-7, John 3:5, Romans 8:15). The Spirit is also the one who empowers us to believe and say that Jesus is Lord – according to Paul, without the Spirit it is impossible for us to do this (1 Cor 12:3). The Spirit is also the one who sanctifies us and empowers us to die to sin and live in obedience to the Father. There’s a reason our good works are referred to as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26, Romans 8:13). I could go on listing all the other nifty things the Holy Spirit has been involved in, from creating the universe to raising Jesus from the dead, but we’d be here all day. Hopefully by now you can see that restricting the Holy Spirit’s resume to “spiritual gift giver,” really fails to give him enough credit, which is ironic when the people who talk like this claim to be the ones who like the Holy Spirit more than other kinds of Christians.

When we talk about prophecy, tongues, healing, and other spiritual gifts, we are talking about something much more specific than the entire person of the Trinity that is the Holy Spirit. We are talking about one of the many things the Holy Spirit does. And so when it comes to charismatics (who believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit) vs cessationists (who believe these gifts ended with the first generation of Christians), both of these camps believe in the reality and power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. In fact charismatics and cessationists agree on far more about the Holy Spirit than they disagree on. Also, I know we mean well, but it’s kind of nonsensical to talk about “Holy Spirit nights” at church. Every church service in the history of church services has had the full involvement and cooperation of the Holy Spirit, without which nobody would be saved, nobody would be edified, and Christ would not have been proclaimed or worshiped. And as for the “return” of the Holy Spirit to the Church in the Pentecostal revivals… If the Holy Spirit ever actually left the Church, the Church would cease to exist. Continue reading

Us Too: Why Christians Should Man Up and Embrace Feminism

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This one goes out to all my Christian friends who don’t feel like they can quite get on board with feminism, who can’t help but feel that feminism is some kind of affront to God, and that to embrace it would mean bowing just a little bit to the idols of this world. This is for all the Christians who, whenever they hear yet another woman getting on the #MeToo bandwagon and talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, they just get a little annoyed for some reason. This used to be me. But not so much anymore.

Let’s talk about it.

Christianity and Feminism have a very complex relationship. On one hand, original 1st century Christians championed the cause of women. Jesus and his followers treated women with a dignity that had not been seen before in that part of the world. They broke down all kinds of social barriers, including those between the sexes. They treated women as equals and included them fully into the community. On the other hand, over history, many Christians, or people who saw themselves as Christians, have partaken in and even invented new systems of oppressing and subjugating women. Today, I often hear (not from all Christians but from more than you might think) Christian pastors and teachers (male and female) say that feminism is a worldview that is at odds with Christianity. And whenever they say this, I have to wonder what exactly they mean.

Part of the complexity of the relationship between Christianity and feminism comes from the fact that “feminism” can mean so many different things. Feminism is a diverse system that has significant internal disagreement. Two people who call themselves feminists may not agree on peripheral or even central things. There are “sameness” feminists who want to emphasise that women can do all the things men can do, and there are “difference” feminists who want to emphasise that women and men are different and these differences should be taken into account in society. Some feminists kind of seem to hate men, at least at a glance. Most are less radical. But feminism has become so broad that we have to ask, when a preacher says that feminism is anti-Christian, what do they mean by the word, “feminism”? Often when someone villainises feminists, they attribute to feminists a set of beliefs that most feminists wouldn’t subscribe to at all. Feminism seems so hard to define, and thus even harder to have a debate about.

However, at this point in recent history there seems to be emerging into mainstream popular culture a more clearly defined version of feminism than ever. And that is thanks to the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has started a conversation that has brought feminist issues into the foreground in such a way that, from what I can tell, there has never been an easier time to tell what “mainstream” feminism is – what it believes, what it wants, and what it looks like. It isn’t extreme to the point misandry, but neither would you call it moderate, if “moderate” comes with any connotation of acquiescence. Women around the world are uniting around a clear message that is educating and changing the mindsets of many men, but also pushing the wrong buttons of many others. It is this mainstream, popular feminism exemplified in the #MeToo movement that I want to commend to Christians as something we should wholeheartedly embrace.

 

The Male Objection to Feminism

Leaving Christianity out of it for the moment, why do so many men find the kind of feminism behind #MeToo so objectionable? Well, every version of feminism will make two basic kinds of claim. A prescriptive claim (a claim about values – how things ought to be) and a descriptive claim (a claim about facts – how things are). At its core, feminism has always been routed in the prescriptive value judgement that women intrinsically are, and ought to be treated as, equal to men. Today there are very few people in western society who would dispute that claim. Most people who say they oppose feminism would still agree that women should be treated with equal moral worth and dignity to men. This prescriptive claim is not really where the disagreement lies. Almost everybody agrees on the way things ought to be. What nobody seems to be able to agree about is the way things are. See, in addition to making a prescriptive claim about how things should be, feminism additionally makes the descriptive claim that things are not that way. That things are not as they should be. And it is this claim – that women are currently not enjoying freedom, opportunity, or safety equal to that of men – that some of us really seem to find offensive. In fact, for the most part, it is this description of the world that differentiates the various kinds of feminism from one another. Feminisms agree that there should be gender equality, but they disagree regarding the extent to which inequality exists and the nature of that inequality. It is the versions of feminism that depict the greatest extent of inequality in the world that are seen as the most extreme and, concordantly, the most objectionable to many men.

I think it is quite clear why many men take issue with the idea that women are currently not enjoying gender equality: We take this notion as an attack on ourselves. It is as if feminism is women making an assessment of the world, and finding it lacking. Making an assessment of all the men of the world, and finding them lacking, not enough, that they haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of women, and that they are to be blamed for all of women’s problems. The poorer the feminist’s assessment of the world – the more extreme the version of feminism – the greater failure the man is claimed to be. And the #MeToo movement is precisely this – a very poor assessment of the current state of affairs. It is men getting a bad grade. It is women claiming that things are very much not okay. It is women claiming that they are the the victims of more aggression at the hand of males than we would like to think. That there are aspects of our common culture, in the workplace and in the home, that are contributing to this. It is a claim that can often be reduced to, “You know that thing that you do all the time that you think is normal and harmless? It’s actually sexist in a subtle but powerful way.” Continue reading

I recently heard a Christian argue against the Theory of Evolution on the basis that they find conflict between the notion that humans are descended from non-human animals, and the idea that we are made in the image of God.

I hate to break it to you but the Genesis narrative says we were descended from… DUST.

Do you prefer this? Really, how is this better?

I would’ve thought that one of the overarching themes of Christian scripture is that the origin of something needn’t have any bearing on that thing’s identity, or its future. Matthew’s Gospel highlights that Jesus was descended from a prostitute. And he turned out alright.

Tears of Tyrants: letter to a postmodern world

Let us teach our people that there is no God.

Let us teach our people that they were not made with intention or purpose.

Let us teach our people that their actions will not ultimately be judged.

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Let us teach our people that there is no such thing as truth; that there is no right way.

Let us teach our people that they should believe any doctrine, except for the doctrine of objectivity, so long as it makes them happy.

Let us teach our people to let the self reign supreme.

Let us be our own dictators over truth.

*                      *                       *

Let us then be shocked and disgusted when individuals refuse to behave according to our moral principles.

And let us panic as we find ourselves powerless to convince them into obedience.

Let us shout out words of which we have stripped all meaning and power.

Let us compose arguments with no atmosphere through which to transmit them.

Let chaos silently sweep the nations as we observe at a helpless distance, locked inside our vacuous void, having successfully removed the possibility of human connection.

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Let, then, our blood boil with anger as we strike down our enemy.

Let us lock him up for his crimes against us,

And weep tears of tyrants.

On Human Value.

– Written 25th July 2010


What makes a human life valuable? Well. God does.

Not only is it God who does, but it is only God who can make human life valuable.

Let’s slow down.

Let me tell you, there is no such thing as intrinsic value. That is to say that everything that has value only has it because there is something external to it that benefits from it in some way. Value is placed upon something. It is located in the mind of the valuer, not within the thing itself.

Continue reading

Pride.

Pride isn’t the same as arrogance.

Pride isn’t the unattractive character trait for the rich and the intelligent.

Pride isn’t as conspicuous. It lurks in the depths, underwriting all kinds of vice.

Pride is the thing that makes you feel like you’re better than someone because they are arrogant and you are not.

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(written 24th July 2010)

The Creation of Evil.

– Written 7th Febuary 2010

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I’ve heard a lot of questions people ask to try to point out flaws in the idea of God. And we get pretty used to a lot of them, even bored of them (I know I do). But there’s one question I occasionally hear which is just an odd question, really. Here it is:

Let’s assume God exists.

He created everything, right?

And evil exists, therefore God created evil.

So doesn’t that mean God is evil?

Now I know that technically and grammatically, questions can’t be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but seriously, the question is wrong! On many, many levels it is wrong and I honestly find it odd that it still gets asked.

The first thing is pretty simple. The question half-defeats itself with its bias. It says God created evil, but forgets that God must have created good as well. So it would be better to say, after all the question’s premises, that God is half evil, half good. Or he is not completely good. That just makes a lot more sense than, “he’s created a little bit of evil therefore he is completely evil”.

But if we let that slide, we get to the second level of wrongness – and the textbook answer to this question. That answer in a nutshell is that in the way that darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, evil is simply the absence of good. So God created good, and evil is in all the places where good isn’t. Therefore God didn’t actually create evil. I like the elegance and simplicity of this answer. And I think the answer is mostly right, but when you really think about it, even this answer is being pretty generous to the questioner.

Because there’s a really fundamental problem about this question which totally neutralises it, but that for some reason, I have never heard raised before. And for that reason, I’m gonna raise it.

I would want to ask the questioner how they define the concept ‘evil’. What they think evil is. What is it really? The best answer they, or anyone, will be able to come up with is “absence of or opposition to good”, which I would agree with. But then you must ask – is that really something that one could create? I mean, think of all the things God created: atoms, stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees, animals, people. And then you’re trying to say God created “the opposition to good”. You soon realise that this whole thing doesn’t make any sense, and the atheist’s entire question has fallen apart.

It’s because we’re treating the word wrongly. We’re treating ‘evil’ as an object, which it clearly is not. Evil doesn’t fit into the same class as stars or trees. So in defining ‘evil’, we really need to step back and look at what type of thing evil is: not an object, but a characteristic. Evil is a characteristic, not a thing in itself. Things in themselves can have the characteristics of good or evil. So the noun, the concept of ‘evil’ is really subsequent to, and derived from, various things having been described by the adjective ‘evil’.

It’s similar to ‘yellow’. God didn’t so much create ‘yellow’ as he created things that are yellow. And according to the way the laws of logic and reason work, ‘yellow’ naturally formed itself into a concept as well. But the concept is secondary. The concept of yellow doesn’t really exist. It’s not actually independently there.

So in the same way, there is no actual creation called ‘evil’, but there are creations, things, that are evil, or that perform actions that are described as evil.

And THAT is why the answer to the question really lies in free will. God didn’t create evil. In fact, to take the last few paragraphs to their logical conclusion, God didn’t create good either. He didn’t. What God did was he created the Heavens, the Universe, and us. And to us he gave purpose and preference. God gave us the ability to act in any way we choose. But he told us how he would prefer us to live, and the purposes he designed us with. It is these preferences that are definitionally good – they are the desires of God. And all the different ways we can choose to act that oppose his preferences are definitionally evil.

That is the true origin of good and evil.

What is love?

– Written 16th November 2009

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Let’s be realistic.

Love is only a feeling. What else could it be?
Why should that sound pessimistic? Feelings are underrated.
Feelings can cause action.

So called “acts of love” are not “love” itself, but are simply evidence of love.

Evidence of a feeling strong enough to cause action.

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Everything is exactly what it is. No more. No less.

The Arrogance of Belief.

– Written 24th August 2009

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jt9Qs7P7h2A&NR=1

I cannot stand it when people say that it is arrogant to think that your beliefs are better than someone else’s. These people must not understand the meaning of the word ‘believe’.

Encased in the very nature of the action of believing something is the necessity that you think it is the truth. In fact, to believe something, and to think it is the truth, are exactly synonymous.

Therefore, unless you think that falsehood is better than truth, you must think that your belief is better than something you think to be false. Because truth is more right than falsehood.

The moment you think that someone else’s belief is better than yours, is paradoxical, because at that moment, you now believe this other person’s belief. That is how belief works; you believe the thing that you think is the best thing to believe. You do not believe something, and then out of some separate idea that you are better than everyone else, draw the conclusion that your beliefs must therefore also be better than other people’s. There is a mix up of causes here. The thought that a belief is good causes your acquisition of it, not the other way round.

Similarly, the moment you believe someone’s belief that is incompatible with yours is equal to yours is just as ridiculous. If a shirt is either red or yellow, and one person believes it to be yellow, the other person believes it to be red, only one of them can be right. That’s just the way it is. In the same way, if one person believes God exists, and the other that there is no God, only one of them can be right. God cannot exist and not exist simultaneously. Clearly. And because of that, the person who’s belief turns out to be right has the better belief because you can only merit a belief based on its level of truth. Contradictory beliefs simply cannot be equal. One MUST be better than the other. And because of that anyone believing anything must believe that their belief is better than anything that is incompatible with it. Otherwise they simply don’t believe it.