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

In this, however, there is an underlying problem which I believe both Cain and Kendall sense, but refuse to accept. To sound the clarion call for the “holy unity of the Word and the Spirit” (back flap) is to prepare for the mysterious union and tension between these two. Now while there is no tension in God, for us, this “unity” should mean that the Word defines the Spirit even as the Spirit defines the Word. In the New Testament, we clearly see that the Spirit lifts up and points to Jesus even as the Spirit anointed and empowered the person and ministry of Jesus. We see, then, that Jesus is of the Spirit even as the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. Each defines the other mutually. At the same time, we cannot just equate the two since to do so would collapse the Trinity as we understand it. Equating the Word with the Spirit would also render the Biblical distinctions between the two unnecessary and excessive. The problem is how to understand the Word and Spirit as both distinct and independent on the one hand, and yet mutually related and interdependent on the other. To follow through with this project fully, however, we must not force a subordination of either Word or Spirit to the other. It is to open ourselves to the possibility that Word and Spirit are mutually defining and yet relatively independent. Otherwise we will fall into the error of Word-Christianity by reading Spirit in the light of Word, or the error of Spirit-Christianity by understanding Word in light of Spirit.

To understand Word and Spirit in this way has some revolutionary implications. This may mean that understanding Scripture as the standard for what is norm is only one-half of discerning the truth. The other half may be the prerequisite openness to the Spirit to give new life to Scripture as we engage the uncertainties of the present and the future. This may mean that discerning the Spirit would always be a somewhat ambiguous affair. Emphasizing the Word over the Spirit is one way to justify our subordinating the wild winds of the Spirit (John 3:6) to a Biblical text that we control much more easily. However, a genuine marriage of Word and Spirit would force us to confront the tension without a simple resolution. Paul Cain, whom many believe to be a prophet to the Christian Church in our time, recognizes the risks involved in a true union of Word and Spirit. It seems to me, however, that Cain prefers to be safe rather than sorry. He seems to be emphasizing the primacy of the Word, instead of fully embracing the challenge of faith. For us to go down this road with Cain may mean that we finally quench the Spirit. The reason I say this is because our tendency will always be to subjugate the Spirit to our own genuinely sincere albeit ideological and sinful manipulations 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. fuller.edu/faculty/ayong/ amosyong@fuller.edu Facebook

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