Emerging Church and the Holy Spirit [2]

I ended the last post – which was a critique of Chris Simmons’ article in Christianity accusing the Emerging Church of lacking power manifestations, and thus lacking the Spirit – by arguing that we needed a fresh understanding of the concept of ‘gift’. It is only by doing this that we can prevent the hijack of the language of ‘spiritual gifts’ by those who want to tie this to power manifestations, healings, tongues etc.

Indeed, in the book I try to argue, using Lewis Hyde’s fabulous work on art, that the Church needs to re-evaluate not just the language of gift in relation to the Holy Spirit, but also in relation to its entire existence. My conclusion is that in a world drowning in the market economy of needs, desires, advertising, cash for questions and touch-the-screen salvations, the Emergent church will be a place where the gift economy rules. Churches ought to be places of gift-exchange; they are often places where gift and market confusions abound, creating a jarring experience for those exploring…

As those who’ve heard me speak on this or read the book will know, I think the best way to illustrate the difference between the market and gift economies is by looking at food. When you go to a restaurant or the supermarket you are exchanging money for food. The scales are balanced, and because of this there is no residual relational potential. You don’t invite the chef round for dinner at your place to thank her/him. There’s no need – that’s what the money sorts out. But when you go to someone’s house for dinner the food is a gift. It would be incredibly rude to offer to pay for it. The scales are left un-balanced (though it is usually polite to bring a gift of wine/flowers or something anyway) and thus there is a residual relational potential. You have received a gift, and now feel that you ought to reciprocate somehow. The relationships are enhanced. People feel better.*

This is the beauty of the gift economy: transactions within it actually affirm and build relationships. In giving them we are taken out of ourselves to think of ‘the other’, and are not immediately re-paid. So there is always an ’empty place’ in a community – or beyond it – to which the gift needs to move. The market is always trying to pool resources. The gift is always seeking emptiness.

I will deal with some of the complexities of the ‘gift cycle’ that Hyde is keen to point out in the next post, but now want to reflect on what the above might mean in terms of spiritual gifts.

Using the concept of gift outlined, we could say that a ‘spiritual gift’ is something received from God that is given away, and in doing so builds up the relational potential of the church or community. As gifts are exchanged, both between the members of the church and crossing the boundaries into those outside of it, we see the mutual reciprocity actually building and strengthening the body… and this is why I believe Paul follows his words in 1 Cor 12 about gifts with his metaphor of the body and its many parts.

Using this definition, we might say that we see evidence of the Holy Spirit at work whenever gifts are exchanged. What, even when non-Christians do it? Well… I’m thinking yes. Why? Well, in a recent post I described how scientists have shown that apes don’t have an altruistic bone in their bodies. In other words, our ‘closest relatives’ in the animal kingdom have no concept of gift. And Genesis suggests that our humanity is bestowed with God’s breathing his Spirit into us. Is it possible that there is a radical link here? That the uniquely human virtue of ‘gift’ is a sign of God’s breath in us? Even if we don’t acknowledge it? A sign of God’s generosity perhaps?

So in terms of the Emerging Church, I would want to disagree with Simmons, who concludes that the lack of power manifestations shows a lack of the use of Spiritual gifts, and thus a lack of the Holy Spirit at work. Instead, by seeing any true gift exchange as the very mark of the Spirit at work, I would argue that the Spirit is very much in evidence in the Emerging Church. Indeed, by modeling itself, as I have argued, as a self-organising, distributed leadership, complex network it is relying far more heavily on gift-exchange and thus far more on the Spirit than a full-time-fully-paid-fully-staffed church of worship leaders, administrators, carers etc.

That’s probably enough for now…

* Clearly, this is why communion is so – literally – vital. It is a gift of food, distributed and offered free. Sadly, this gift it is too often thrown into confusion by the passing round of a collection plate immediately after, carrying with it the suggestion that we ought to cough up for what we’ve just had.


9 responses to “Emerging Church and the Holy Spirit [2]”

  1. Thank Kester. Have you come across ‘The Giving Gift’ by Tom Smail, that talks about the spirit as the gift who gives? Jason.

  2. hey dude, was just wondering whether you would still go along with the spirit empowering the church for witness by empowering us to ‘do’ the sorts of signs and wonders that chris simmons talks of? I agree entirely with you with regard to the gift economy but wonder what you do with the littering of New Testament that deal with healings etc…??

  3. Dana Ames

    I was involved with the Vineyard in SoCal for six years in the 80s – not Anaheim; my church was the first plant from the founding group that predated Wimber by 4-5 years. I believe if John were alive, he’d be in the thick of the “emerging conversation”; he was interested in and acting on many of the same issues.
    One of the reasons “power evangelism” struck such a deep chord 20 years ago (!) was as a bible-study-and-prayer-fuelled reaction against 1) dry reductionist, intellectualist dualism; 2) avoiding the call of Jesus to discipleship- not a program, but as Willard describes, actual apprenticeship to Jesus (There’s a well-known story about Wimber as a new believer asking a church elder, “When do we get to do the stuff Jesus did?”); 3) ignorance of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God and reluctance to grapple with the Gospels- and probably more I can’t think of on the fly. I am quite sure John would be appalled by any insinuation that the Spirit manifested ONLY in “signs and wonders”. As far as I remember and understand it, his view regarding charismatic manifestations -John called them “gracelets”- was much more in line with yours, Kester, as a gift economy.
    Thanks for posting about this Holy Spirit stuff- a major area of life in God that needs some serious engagement by emerging folks.

  4. I think that some people trip over an idea that the only fruit that counts are these spiritual manifestations. Some people’s gift is hospitality. And what a shame it would be to tell them “thank you for making me feel wellcome, but why don’t you have the Holy Spirit?”

  5. Quite right Robbie. One of the most important gifts, which, going with my thoughts above, really holds the body together more than 100 healings.
    Dana, I’m not from a vineyard background, but have links with people who are. And speaking to them makes me think you are right, Wimber probably would have been right into the Emerging conversation
    So on that Gareth, I would not want to support a theology that denied God the ability to do those things. At the same time, it’s interesting to note Jesus’ response to some of them: ‘Don’t tell anyone’. My hunch for why he did that goes back to the temptation in the desert to turn stones into bread and jump from the Temple: to be a magician, and stun people into the Kingdom. Jesus resisted that, as I’ve set out in the book.
    Question: are church numbers falling because of a lack of ‘power manifestations’, or because people see the church lacking simple love and understanding? I’d go for the latter. Sceptics will always disbelieve power stuff. But no one can resist genuinely warm relationships. And I wonder if people expect too much from healings etc… which can take them beyond the proper realm of gift, *demanding* that people believe.
    And no, Jason, sounds like a great book… Like to hear more.

  6. I think Dana’s comment that “signs and wonders” struck a deep chord 20 years ago is an important one. Signs and wonders were important in order to combat the prevailing ideologies of the day.
    But today you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of people who will flatly deny God’s ability or willingness to do “miracles.”
    I think Kester is right, in that the great need of our day is Christians expressing simple love and acceptance, because there is a need to combat the prevailing ideology that equates Christianity with (at least in America) conservative Rebublican evangelical snobbishness. You’re right: the great need is not for more power manifestations, but for genuine love to be expressed. And really being filled with love for others is just as “hard” as performing miraculous healings. The Holy Spirit is equally involved in both acts.

  7. Great stuff!
    You lot kinda got me thinking… the same sense of Holy Spirit I felt in meetings a decade ago with the whole *Toronto Blessings* malarchy is definately the same sense I feel when at the pub with mates, or whatever *normal* thing I’m doing. Obviously I don’t observe this all the time,but there are occasions where the profound *rightness* or *God-ness* of a simple gift-relationship-act resound as much deep in me as any rolling around laughing, getting physically healed or having a great long prophetic vision!
    You hit the nail on the head, peeps, thank you.
    As an aside, K. What was the most improtant gift Jesus gave? Was it his life or his death? Which would you attribute more meaningfulness to? (probably bad grammar there!)

  8. I totally agree with you K that some can see the miracles and not believe, but it’s much harder to reject honest love.

  9. Post-charismatic 3: Honoring the “quiet” gifts

    This post on Kester’s blog (responding to this article in the UK’s latest Christianity magazine) contains this quote from a comment by Dana Ames:One of the reasons power evangelism struck such a deep chord 20 years ago (!) was as a bible-study-and-pray…