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Do You Hear the Spirit?

Revivalism and the Ordinary Means of Grace

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The preaching of the Word, like the Incarnation itself, is an instance of divine condescension, a moment when power takes the form of weakness and wisdom takes the form of foolishness.

Duke historian Grant Wacker tells us that in the winter of 1887, a group calling itself the Evangelical Alliance for the United States met in Washington, DC. It was an appropriate site for a noble assemblage of scholars, pastors, college presidents, and other leaders who were intent on recapturing the moral, spiritual, and political clout which they had once garnered in American society. As Wacker explains,

The first session opened with the hymn, "Come Gracious Spirit, Heavenly Dove." The participants then read the second chapter of the Book of Acts.... At the end of the week, William E. Dodge, president of the Evangelical Alliance, asked the delegates to search their hearts to see if they too were open to the Spirit's guidance. "Christ is waiting for us," he urged. "Are we ready?" (1)
This could have been a common event in contemporary evangelicalism, but it was, in fact, a significant contributing factor in the success of the Social Gospel movement at the turn-of-the-century. Higher critics with Americanized Hegelian bents (identifying God with progress) preached beside Wesleyan-Holiness revivalists and evangelical preachers. When doctrinal differences divide, such movements often turn to the Holy Spirit as the tie that binds. Invoking the "Spirit" hardly proves as controversial as appeals to the Father and the Incarnate Son do. As many modern feminist and radical theologians are also discovering, the "Spirit" rarely embarrasses. Even the Hopi tribe worships the Great Spirit.


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1 [ Back ] Grant Wacker, "The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the Age in American Protestantism, 1880-1910," in D. G. Hart, Reckoning with the Past (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 268.
2 [ Back ] Bright's exact words are, according to his promotional literature, that "[f]asting unleashes God's supernatural power through our prayers, and I believe it is the key to meeting the requirements of 2 Chronicles 7:14." (See the "Quotes" page in this issue of MR for a more extensive excerpt.) Is he not claiming to be an apostle? If he sends people letters telling them that God commanded him to perform these great works, with not a little pressure placed on the reader to respond obediently, what is the difference?
3 [ Back ] Martin Luther, sermon on 1 Corinthians 15 (1533).
4 [ Back ] Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah (30:1; 59:21).
5 [ Back ] See Calvin's tract, "Against the Fanatics." Calvin also briefly treats the subject in various places in the Institutes, such as in 4.8.13.
6 [ Back ] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 605.
7 [ Back ] James Bratt, "Dutch Calvinism," in Reformed Theology in America, ed. David Wells (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 117.
8 [ Back ] Berkhof, op. cit., 612.
9 [ Back ] J. L. Austin, How To Do Things With Words, second edition, ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisa (Boston: Harvard, 1975), 109.
10 [ Back ] See T. F. Torrrance, Theology in Reconstruction (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1996), 76-98, reprinted from the author's lecture read to a colloquy held in Strasbourg, May 1964 titled, "The Knowledge of God According to Calvin."
11 [ Back ] Bill Bright, The Coming Revival (Summerlin, NV: New Life Publications, 1995).
12 [ Back ] Pat Robertson, Beyond Reason (1985).
13 [ Back ] Madonna, "Bedtime Story," Bedtime Stories (Sire Records, 1994).
14 [ Back ] John Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.9.


Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "Come Holy Spirit" July/August 1998 Vol. 7 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-17

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