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Between Two Extremes: Balancing Word-Christianity and Spirit-Christianity, a review essay by Amos Yong

Both theologians and practitioners of the faith know well that it is difficult or impossible to define or confine the Spirit. It may surprise readers of this book, however, to hear me say that defining the Word may be just as troublesome. This is especially the case since both Cain and Kendall unequivocally equate the Word with the Bible (pp. 3, 23). For both of them, then, the marriage of Word and Spirit consists of a Christianity marked by a passion for Scripture and by spiritual power. “Word and Spirit” is the convergence of the Bible and the Spirit’s unction (they cite 1 Cor. 2:4 and 1 Thess. 1:5 on a number of occasions in this connection).

The question that arises, however, is whether we can equate the Word and Scripture while remaining exegetically truthful. The Logos in John’s writings, for example, is clearly the divine Word who was incarnate as Jesus the Christ. It is for this reason that many have been hesitant to limit the Word to Scripture itself, preferring instead to say that Scripture reveals, points to, or mediates the divine Logos to human beings. Orthodox Christian theology, therefore, has always insisted that the Word referred primarily to the second person of the Trinity, and only secondarily to the written Word of God.

Cain does make an interesting distinction between the Word and the Name (pp. 8-12, Ch. 6). He suggests that the former refers to God’s integrity, honor, and reliability, while His Name denotes His influence, power, and reputation. In this way, Word and Name are synonymous, for Cain, with Word and Spirit. Here, however, is where the problem with defining the relationship between Word and Spirit takes on the kind of revolutionary implications that even charismatic prophets such as Cain recoil from. He writes that while “God cares about both His Word and His name, His Word and His Spirit . . . compared side by side, I assure you that God’s integrity is more important to Him than His reputation” (p. 81). This tends to lead quickly to the kind of subordination of Spirit to Word prevalent throughout the history of Christianity. Among the last words of this book are Cain’s admonition that, “We will be kept from experiencing the power as I am presenting it now unless we remember two things: God is more interested in the upholding of His Word until we meet the criteria for the demonstration of His power. . . . We must not allow the Word of God to be replaced or upstaged by anything, including the prophetic things that we are saying here” (p. 87). Ultimately, it would seem, the attempt to remarry Word and Spirit by Cain and Kendall appears to understand the Spirit, metaphorically at least, as the “submissive spouse,” under the authority of the Word.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2000

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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