Word and Spirit in Youth Ministry: Extremes
This is the second post in a three part series on the Word and Spirit in youth ministry. See the first post here.
When I talk about “Word” I mean a commitment to the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. When I talk about “Spirit” I mean the pursuit of John 14:12-type spiritual gifts, as well as the pursuit of deep affections for God.
Really, we’re afraid…
Striking the balance between “Word” and “Spirit” is vital. But if I am honest – I’m afraid of this topic. I talk about not wanting to go too far on “the other side”. I don’t want to delve deeper into what the Bible says about spiritual gifts because I am afraid, we’ll get “crazy”. But then, I wonder if deep theology is scaring off my students, and if I really am quenching the Spirit. Rarely is there a concerted effort to explore the Word-Spirit foothills. I am far more confident on my little ‘balanced’ mesa. Bilbo was right, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”
But Scripture doesn’t call us to be balanced in this sense. It calls us to both “rightly handle the Word of truth,” and to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (regardless what you believe they are, or which are still functioning). We are busier putting out strange fires than creating the biblical ones. The ones that make our hearts “burn within us.” Let’s be honest, when it comes to this subject, we’re afraid.
But what is it that we are afraid of? J.I. Packer answers much better than I can. He puts flesh on these vague, skeleton-fears we have of exploring Word and Spirit. While describing trends in evangelicalism he labels the first as “restless experientialists”. You might recognize the caricature:
Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts… They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction and rest of soul… reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.
Packer continues, fleshing out the opposite extreme, the “entrenched intellectualists”:
They present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all… There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. . . [it] is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all that they have.
We Must Choose Both
These are legitimate concerns. Abuses have been made in the name of “being biblical.” There are joyless, Spirit-quenching theologians and pastors. And abuses have been made under the guise of being Spirit-led. There are pastors preaching the pursuit of experience, along with flabby emotionalism.
Yes, there are legitimate concerns. But, we have not been given the freedom to choose between Word and Spirit. We must choose both of them. We would do well to remember that the Spirit of God is big enough to handle both our emotions and intellect.