The preface from Professor Williams’ book, The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today, about the greatest reality of our time.
One of the most extraordinary Christian facts of our time is the claim of many people to be freshly experiencing “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” They speak of “receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit” or simply “receiving the Holy Spirit,”1 and declare variously that this has been a unique experience of the presence and power of God in their lives.
Because I believe this claim is valid, and also that it represents a rediscovery of a basic dimension of Christian faith, I have written this book. A number of years ago I ran across a statement in The Beginnings of Christianity by Jackson and Lake, to the effect that in “the study of the beginnings of Christian thought…the starting-point for investigation is the experience called ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit'; for this is the most important constant factor throughout the first Christian generation.”2 If this statement is true—and I believe it essentially is—there could scarcely be a better or more important time in the history of the Church to make such an investigation. Also if the contemporary claim to the experience of “the gift of the Sprit” is valid—and I believe it largely is—then what is happening among many people in this late Christian generation is extremely significant: it is verily the renewal of a most important aspect of first-generation Christianity.
What this book accordingly intends to do is to investigate the significance of the gift of the Holy Spirit in its earliest Christian form and to pursue this investigation in the context of contemporary Christian experience.3 Thus what is written in the pages to follow will by no means be simply a dispassionate academic exercise in “Christian origins,” but a deeply concerned exploration of a vital aspect of original Christianity reappearing in our time.
It is just possible that fresh study and experience in the area of the gift of the Holy Spirit can make for profound renewal of Christian faith in our day.
1. Some use terminology such as experiencing the “release of the Spirit,” “renewal of the Spirit” or the “renewal of the gift of the Spirit.”
2. Op. Cit., Part 1, The Acts of the Apostles, ed. by F.J. Foakes-Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1920), 322.
3. The contemporary Christian experience referred to is that represented in the present day “charismatic renewal.” This renewal, an outgrowth of “classical Pentecostalism” (a term frequently used to refer to the Pentecostal movement beginning in the early twentieth century), began to occur in mainline churches in the 1960s and is now found among Protestants of many denominations, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox. Earlier, it was known as Neo-Pentecostalism, but within recent years has come increasingly to be called the “charismatic renewal,” or even “the renewal.” The main point for those participating is that it is a renewal in the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today by J. Rodman Williams, was published in 1980 by Logos International. Used by permission of the author. Reprinted in Pneuma Review with minor updates from the author.