Should Christians focus on Christ and the Spirit…or only on Christ?

Spiritual believers are Christ-centered, but that doesn’t prevent them from speaking about the Spirit!

Why has it become necessary to say this?

It’s because John MacArthur in his  Strange Fire opines that all Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians remove Christ from the center of the gospel and replace him with Holy Spirit mania; rather, he finds references to the Spirit’s work to be, well, suspicious. [1] For example:

Charismatics want to put the spotlight on the Holy Spirit – or at least their impersonation of Him. But the Holy Spirit desires to put the spotlight on the true person and work of Jesus Christ. As the Lord told His disciples in the Upper Room, the Spirit would be sent in His name, to remind them of His teachings, and to bear testimony to His work (John 14:26; 15:26).

Rather than explore what those texts from John actually say, he turns to other books to buttress his argument, that a spiritual Christian does not speak much – or ever, if MacArthur were consistent – of the Spirit. Among them are these two quotations:

the Holy Spirit calls attention to neither Himself nor to man, but focuses all attention on the Lord Jesus Christ and what God has done in and through His Son. [2]

The Holy Spirit seems to hide Himself and to conceal Himself. He is always, as it were, putting the focus on the Son. [3]

In other words, by definition, a Christian who is full of the Spirit will always talk about Christ and not about the Spirit. But is that biblical? The texts he cites are:

the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26)

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (John 15:26)

Note that the Spirit would speak of Jesus’ work; the text does not say he would speak exclusively! To read it that way is to break two fundamental rules of Bible interpretation: eisegesis (reading into the text what is not there) and ignoring the regula fide (not reading any text without considering the broader context of Scripture). For if you believe in the inspiration of Scripture, then I can prove to you that when the Spirit came he bore witness of Jesus, but the Spirit also bore plenty of witness to himself, his words through the prophets, his power, his glory.

Let’s take two small portions of the Bible and apply a simple test:

Acts 1-2 – there are 31 references to Jesus in these verses: 1:1-11, 1:16, 1:21-22, 2:21, 2:22-28, 2:30-36, 38-39. At the same time, there are 11 references to the Spirit: 1:2, 1:4, 1:5, 1:8, 1:16, 2:4 (2x), 2:17, 2:18, 2:33, 2:3.

Galatians 3-6 is a passage particularly rich with gospel truths. There are 24 references to Jesus Christ – 3:1, 3:13, 3:16, 3:22, 3:24, 3:26-29, 4:4, 4:6, 4:14, 4:19, 5:1, 5:2, 5:4, 5:6, 5:10, 5:24, 6:2, 6:12, 6:14, 6:17, 6:18. Plus there are 16 references to the Spirit – 3:2-5, 3:14, 4:6, 4:29, 5:5, 5:16-18, 5:22-23, 5:25, 6:1, 6:8.

In both cases, chosen at random, Jesus Christ is referred to more than is the Spirit, but the Spirit is regularly present in the text, and is often the focus of some paragraph or another. But wait: how could the Spirit have inspired the authors of Acts or Galatians to write about himself, if that is contrary to his nature?

And come to think of it, what does it mean when Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:3 that he preaches only Christ, when in the same letter he references the Spirit, his resurrection power, his gifts, his transformation of the heart, roughly 35 times?

It turns out that the Spirit talks about himself, well, all the time. And that means that a Christ-centered believer will also be consumed with a focus on the Holy Spirit.

Christians live under the New Covenant. And while it is impossible to speak about it without going to the cross 1 Cor 11:25), it is equally impossible to have a New Covenant without the work of the Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27).

Given that John MacArthur believes in the inspiration of the New Testament, then he should abandon this a priori argument – that is, an argument based on “it seems to me” rather than “the text says.” The Bible speaks much of the Spirit, rendering invalid the sweeping claim that the Spirit “conceals Himself.” The Spirit speaks much about himself, and the Bible-believing Christian should too.

John MacArthur exhibits here the same weakness of logic that he’s known for on other occasions, of over-generalizing. He says that Charismatics, not being Christ-centered, are false teachers. On behalf of sound exegesis, I would invite MacArthur to put away his broad brush and say Those Charismatics who are not Christ-centered are false teachers. And in the same way he might say, Those Charismatics who deny the Trinity are false teachers and Those Charismatics who teach the Prosperity Gospel are false teachers.

Related Post: The gift of tongues in the post-apostolic church

NOTES:

[1] John MacArthur,  Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013).

[2] MacArthur cites J. Hampton Keathley, ABCs for Christian Growth, p. 204.

[3] MacArthur quotes D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, 2:20.

“Do spiritual Christians focus on Christ AND the Spirit…or only on Christ?” by Gary Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica.

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Should Christians focus on Christ and the Spirit…or only on Christ? […]

  2. Gary,
    I think it a generally accepted norm that Pentecostals/Charismatic folk tend to be “over board”, or obsessed with the Holy Spirit as opposed to the offices of the Father and Son.
    I would think I tend to be “over board” on the Son, as He is the Redeemer. There again, He is One with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
    It was well said by an old divine “If you can’t see Jesus on every page of Holy Writ, you won’t see Him on one page”.
    Without the work of the Holy Spirit, no one could come to faith and repentance. It does really baffle me why many cannot see the doctrine of the Trinity? Maybe I should be more balanced and give each Member of the Godhead equal mention in my devotions; but would that be legalism?
    There is much error in Pentecostalism, likewise nominal Protestantism

    • Hi Colin, it is true that some Pentecostals overemphasize the Spirit’s work.

      My experience has also been that non-Pentecostals underemphasize him, hence my quick studies of Acts, 1 Cor and Galatians.

      If Paul came and taught Galatians in our churches, wouldn’t some of us find him strangely preoccupied with the Spirit?

  3. Dr. Shogren, I enjoyed your blog on MacArthur. I agree that MacArthur makes generalizations contrary to a few of his admirers who claim he has never done so; and your advice is worth listening and more accurate.

    Dr. Michael L. Brown has written a book regarding the “Strange Fire” conference.

    MacArthur’s polemic against the charismata and those who espouse it is damaging not only to the body but to the honor of Christ (or is that too strong a cristicism?).

    I remain at the Cross,

    Nelson Banuchi

    • Dear Nelson, thanks for the note.

      In general I don’t post references to books or websites which I do not personally know, but I’ll allow the general reference to stand.

      For those who use these terms, MacArthur is as “lumper” rather than a “splitter.” An example: in his sermons he condemns all music with African roots, all Asian music.

  4. Over-generalization. We all need to plead guilty to that charge at least once a day! Your key thought seems to be: “If the Bible speaks much of the Spirit, then the Bible-believing Christian should too.” Luke’s reference to “the Spirit of Jesus” in Acts 16:7 is especially interesting in the context of this debate, although I believe that is the only instance of it in the book of Acts. The use of this phrase, along with the many examples you provide, seems to be an alert to those who might want to pit two persons of the Trinity against each other. Thanks, Gary. Your posts are always thought-provoking.

  5. The New Testament followers of Christ had an intimate walk with the Spirit. He was not mere software enabling them to know Christ. Otherwise they could never have said things like,

    “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28)

    This was a life of fellowship with the Spirit which was to be expected when Jesus said he would be allos parakletos to them – another comforter of the same kind as He.

    • Thanks Nick!

      I might add that “allos” did not consistently mean “another of the same kind” in the koine period.


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