These are the days I am grateful to be studying in a seminary like Fuller. In a class of systematic theology focused on Christology, Soteriology and Pneumatology (for those of you wondering what they mean, the first is pretty obvious, the second is salvation and the third is about the Holy Spirit), we have spent a week talking about healing and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Our professor, a respected Pentecostal Theologian, really did great justice to these controversial topics. When they come up, it is easy to fall on two extremes. One of them is to simply ignore them and pretend that they should not be part of serious theological discussion but something that happens “over there” with those “crazy Pentecostals.” I would venture to guess that the majority of evangelical seminaries in the U.S. would take this position. The other extreme, is the Pentecostal-Charismatic position that focus primarily on the experience. In other words, they have a point to prove and hope that you will also experience these topics first-hand. What this position lacks is a serious theological reflection on how the Baptism of the Spirit and healing fit into a larger theological framework.
The class online forum led me to reflect on the importance of these two in my Christian formation. The experience of the gifts of the Spirit were with me from an early age. Being brought up in a Brazilian Charismatic church, they loomed large in my experience and imagination. I never experienced the baptism of the Spirit in the classical Pentecostal way, that is through imposition of hands. If was not this dramatic experience in which I fell into a transe of speaking in Tongues. I did witness that happen but that was not the path for me. That is why, I was glad to learn about a more balanced view put forward by both Charismatic Catholics and Protestants. That is, they do not see the baptism as an event in which the Spirit “falls” but more like an activation of what is within. That is, the Spirit, that was already there after salvation, endows the believer with charismatic gifts. This can include the gift of tongues or others.
This balanced view both emphasizes the importance of the charismatic experience without boxing into specific visible signs (which is what the classical Pentecostal view argues). Instead,, it connects the Charismatic experience with a larger experience of regeneration that starts in salvation. Instead of being a separate “second-blessing” type experience, it is an important step in the journey towards union with God (an orthodox view of spiritual formation). That is, the charismatic experience is not there just to unleash power so the believer can reach the world but also to deepen intimacy with the Trinity through the work of the Spirit. I am grateful for the Pentecostal idea of empowerement. Yet, I believe that does not paint the whole picture. God does not just want us to be super-Christians to heal the sick, reveal prophecies or speak of the unknown. He wants to commune with us in the charismatic experience.
This possibility excites me more than any miraculous demonstration. To know God intimately is the desire and the design of our whole being.