Book: Holy Smoke! Unholy Fire!

Some may be aware that I’m a publisher as well as a writer, and so every so often I want to talk about one of the books I publish. My intention in starting a publishing company in the first place was simple: I wanted to produce materials for which I saw an unfilled need in religious education. In general, these materials address what I call the broad Christian center, mainline Christians, moderates, and liberals who are not well represented in the available literature. In addition, I wanted to keep these in conversation with more conservative Christians who were nonetheless willing to be part of, and in dialogue with, that broader stream. The key element is positive presentation of a viewpoint and inclusion, rather than exclusion. Please note that this is not a review of the book. As editor and publisher I am in no sense qualified to present a review. I’m just presenting the reasons why I chose this book to publish and also the role I see it filling.

In presenting this book, which has actually been in our Energion Publications catalog since November 2005, I want to give some background.

In 1995 I was a member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church in Pensacola, Florida when the Brownsville Revival, also known as the Pensacola Outpouring broke out. People from all over the country came to Pensacola to experience what was going on at Brownsville Assembly of God. Many members of Pine Forest became involved as well, and Rev. Perry Dalton, the pastor, was involved in baptizing people on some occasions at Brownsville. There was considerable controversy at the church, and some members left over what they saw as “bringing Brownsville” back to “their” church. In 1999, Perry was moved to Springfield UMC near Panama City, Florida, and Dr. Bob McKibben became pastor at Pine Forest. One of his tasks was to deal with continued disunity in the church as the ministry moved forward. I have had the privelege of working with and providing support to both of these pastors in their ministry.

For some years during the Brownsville Revival groups of people from out of town would come, often by the bus load, and stay in the Family Life Center at the church, where they would sleep in sleeping bags on the floor. Many also spent time with folks from Pine Forest in discussions and times of prayer ministry in the sanctuary. I also met occasionally with groups as they returned from the revival. One key element of controversy in these meetings was the nature and importance of “manifestations of the Spirit” that occurred, such as being “slain in the Spirit,” shaking, or other physical signs. The prayer time at Brownsville could become quite confusing, with people on the floor as dead, shaking in the aisles, weeping, or merely crowding around speakers or prayer team members to receive prayer. Key questions that came up were simply whether any of this was of God, whether these manifestations were essential or even indicative of the Holy Spirit’s presence, and whether God’s presence might be manifested in different ways. Some groups who had experienced both Brownsville and the Toronto blessing commented on the organized, peaceful nature of the prayer time at Toronto, as opposed to the chaotic, crowded, and noisy prayer time at Brownsville. In addition there were questions about the repentance emphasis of Brownsville as opposed to the emphasis at Toronto on receiving blessing. (Note that I have never been to the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and am only reporting here what I was told. On the other hand, I have been to Brownsville Assembly of God on more than one occasion.)

I felt that in dealing with this issue both at Pine Forest UMC, and also amongst groups that came from out of town, the major problem was that people did not understand the work of the Holy Spirit, and thus had no basis for making a decision for themselves. Because of this, when Bob McKibben mentioned that he had a manuscript on the subject, I was very interested in seeing it published, and eventually this desire to see it made available led to my editing and publishing it.

Bob takes a much more pastoral approach than I would, which reflects our respective calling. He’s a pastor (and teacher); I’m a teacher. I tend to be very glad to let pastors deal with the practical details! In fact, he subtitled the book “A Pastoral Letter to the Church.” He is very concerned about the potential for injuring new Christians and those who might come into the church through intemperate physical displays. At the same time, he is also concerned that we will shut out the Holy Spirit for various reasons, including a fear of dealing with the topic. Thus he invites you to study with him and think these things through from a Biblical perspective, and carries through in each case to practical application.

This results in a logical progression of topics:

Chapter 1: Let Me Introduce You
Chapter 2: Who Is the Holy Spirit
Chapter 3: Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Chapter 4: Grace and the Holy Spirit
Chapter 5: Fire Power
Chapter 6: Manifestations
Chapter 7: Testing the Spirits
Chapter 8: On Fire Without Getting Burned

Each chapter includes some study exercises and some thought questions for you to discuss. Those who have read my own approach to Biblical interpretation will find Bob’s a bit more conservative. You will also find a conservative and cautious approach to the activities that may take place in a congregation. He’s most concerned with God’s gracious gift of salvation and with the fruit of the Spirit than he is with the gifts, though he is very anxious that we all understand that as Christians we are gifted. He’s more interested in all of those than in physical manifestations.

Charismatic and Pentecostal believers will probably want to criticize some of the material, especially in chapter 6, Manifestations. At the same time some of our more conservative brethren will be concerned with his openness to the possibility of physical manifestations. Some may also be concerned with his acknowledge of the operation of all of the gifts of the Spirit. These chapters present a challenge to all of these different streams to carefully think through their position and to make sure that what they are doing is building the body and not simply operating according to their own whims or their fears. Carefully examining our position on these issues is critical if we are to effectively live out the power of the Spirit in the church today. One weakness in many churches is a resistance to thinking.

Whether you agree or not, this book is going to get you thinking and studying. In fact, I could give no better recommendation for this book than the one I’ve heard my wife, Jody, give repeatedly when we are showing this book to someone. Someone asks, “Is this a good book?” She replies: “Yes. It will challenge you to think through what you believe about the Holy Spirit.”

Today we see much less activity around Brownsville Assembly of God. The team that led the Brownsville revival is scattered to many other places. I would suggest it is likely that if more people had thought through what they believed about the Holy Spirit, and had shifted their emphasis from the obvious physical manifestations to sanctification, discipleship, and mission, we would have seen much more good fruit from the revival. Too many people were not challenged to think through what they believed. I don’t particularly blame Brownsville for this, though there were many things they might have done. I blame us all, myself included, for not studying, thinking, and teaching enough on the Holy Spirit, and leaving church members unable to “. . . test the Spirits, hold fast what is good, and keep away from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).

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One Comment

  1. Brother Henry has done a great job of filling in between the line concerning the birth of the book. No, Henry and I don’t agree on everything, but in Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit, we love and respect each other and are fast friends! Let me encourage each of you to read the book with an open heart and mind. I’m positive that the doors of truth will be open to you – after all – the book is about the Spirit of Truth. Many blessings to each of you!

    Pastor Bob

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