A breath of fresh air: Jack Levison on the holy spirit (Pt. 1)
Yesterday I received my review copy of Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life from Paraclete Press. I am very excited about this book. I know Jack and I’ve talked with him about this book on several occasions. It is more than a book to him. It is the fruit of many years of scholarship prepared as a gift to any and all who will read.
Let me tell you a bit about Jack before I explain how this book will be reviewed. John R. (Jack) Levison is best known as a professor at Seattle Pacific University. Also, his book Filled with the Spirit may be the most important work on Pneumatology in decades. As a scholar he is meticulous in his research (browse through some of his works). As a teacher he is concerned that his students understand the importance of what is being studied and he is careful to communicate these concepts (I’ve chatted with him a bit about his pedagogy). Those two areas of giftedness are brought together to make this book.
This is a book about the holy spirit (yes, lower cases…something that will be explained more later).
In the introduction Jack begins with a story from his adolescent years when he heard a newly ordained minister explain from 1 Corinthians 13.10 that “that which is perfect” is the canon of Scripture and that with Scripture complete we no longer need the “imperfect” spiritual gifts. This didn’t sit well with Jack, but he waited until later in life to investigate these claims once he had the tools of scholarship. He writes of having a variety of experiences with the holy spirit in his life and he says he continues to seek these experiences: “I am one of those Christians, you see, who has one foot in the mainline Protestant church and one in Pentecostalism, more or less (p. 3).”
This is something that grabs my attention. I was raised in a form of Pentecostalism. I have had many experiences with the holy spirit. Yet I find the traditional and intellectual parts of the Christian tradition to be all too important for the sake of mere experience. I think this connects me as a reader to what Jack is doing.Jack senses that he “one foot in the mainline Protestant church and one in Pentecostalism” may allow him to “offer a fresh and surprising word about the holy spirit to both (p. 5).”
OK, this book is about the holy spirit, but what is this book “about?” Jack writes,
“…this book finds the holy spirit, that is, God’s mystical, practical, expansive, unbridled presence in the world, where we least expect it–in every breath we take, in social transformation, in community, in hostile situations, and in serious learning (p. 5).”
In other words the spirit is everywhere and available to all. This echoes Paul’s words to the Athenians that in God “we live and move and exist (Acts 17.28a, NASB). Also, it functions well in the Wesleyan and Pentecostal traditions where the Spirit of God is understood as being active in the world bringing “prevenient grace” to all, not just Christians.
What are the aims of this book? Jack aims to do a study of the holy spirit that is “biblical,” “radical,” and “practical.” What does this mean?
Jack says that we tend to highlight particular aspects of the holy spirit in Scripture depending on what is important to our tradition. He aims to stretch the reader to find all that Scripture says about the spirit. He writes, “…traditions tend to focus on specific texts that support their view.” He aims, “…to include important and often unfamiliar passages throughout the Bible (p. 7).”
What are some proposals that may surprise readers? Well, Jack argues that, “the spirit is in every human being and not just Christians” for starters. He doesn’t limit the activity of the spirit to individuals, but says the spirit works in “whole societies.” The spirit is something present in communities and not just individuals. The spirit “…is not always friendly.” “Finally, you’ll be asked to embrace alternative experiences of the holy spirit (pp. 8-9).”
Jack wants you to know that, “…the breath in you is spirit-breath, so you’ll need to learn to breathe–deeply, evenly–all over again (p. 11).” He aims for this study to re-inform how you understand “praise (pp. 11-12).” Also, he introduces readers to “the power of quiet (p. 12).” That is the beginning. Each chapter aims to enhance one’s awareness of the holy spirit.
Why does he use the phrase “holy spirit” and does it have anything to do with ruach andpneuma? Yes, Jack informs/reminds readers that the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” also mean “breath” and “wind” and includes even further nuances ranging from a breeze, to a demon, to the “soul” of a human. Our English words cannot contain the Hebrew and Greek meanings. (He used Ezekiel 37.9-14 as an example of one passage where there is breath, wind, and spirit, all fromruach.)
So according to Jack, “…I leave the words holy spirit lowercased. I mean no disrespect by this; in fact, I am trying to demonstrate my respect for the original languages (p. 15).” (See passages like Deuteronomy 34.9 and 2 Corinthians 6.6 where the “spirit” could be divine or human, it is hard to tell!) For those worried that Jack is undermining the doctrine of the Trinity:
“I am not refusing to acknowledge the role of the holy spirit in the Trinity or the personhood of the spirit. I am simply avoiding the false dichotomy between the human and divine spirit (on which you’ll read more in chapters 1 and 2) and making every effort to champion instead my conviction that the Hebrew and Greek languages were host to a magnificent single word that could encompass stormy winds and settled souls, the rush of the divine and the hush of human holiness. Every interpreter, myself included, should preserve the magnificence and the breadth of the breath than animates and motivates all people (p. 17).”
If you own the book and you want to read along with me, here are some of Jack’s instructions:
(1) Keep a Bible handy.
In other words, read along with him to see if Scripture is saying what he is saying. Make it an experience by seeking the holy spirit. And write all over the book, taking notes, and interacting.
I am not reviewing/reading this book alone. My co-blogger Daniel James Levy will be reading along with me. This is the order of our review:
Introduction — Brian
Chapter One: Job’s Pledge — Brian
Chapter Two: Daniel’s Discipline — Daniel
Chapter Three: Simeon’s Song — Brian
Chapter Four: Joel’s Dream — Daniel
Chapter Five: Chloe’s Complaint — Brian
Chapter Six: Ezekiel’s Valley — Daniel
Chapter Seven: Jesus’ Test — Brian
Chapter Eight: Peter’ Praise — Daniel
Obviously we aren’t trying to “give away” the content of the book. Rather, I hope that our brief notes on these chapters entices you to purchase it and read it. We will do our best to give you just enough content to help you make a decision about whether it may be an worthwhile read, but not enough to prevent you from wrestling with this book yourself. If you own the book already, or if you’ve already read it, feel free to join us in discussing it in the comments.
For link to review within NEAR EMMAUS site, click here
A breath of fresh air: Jack Levison on the holy spirit (Pt. 2)
As I mentioned last week I will be co-blogging with Daniel James Levy through Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life (see Pt. 1 above). We don’t want to review the book in atypical fashion, nor do we want to say so much about it that we provide Cliff Notes on it, but rather we hope to give you a glimpse of the value of this work. Both Daniel and I believe the book will benefit all who read it.
In my first post I shared the message and intent of the book. Today I want to give readers a glimpse of Chapter One: Job’s Pledge. In this book Jack reads Psalm 104.24-30; 146.1-4; Job 12.7; 27.1-6; 33.1-7; 34.10-20; and Ecclesiastes 3.16-22; 12.1-7. If you read these passages you should get an idea of what this chapter addresses.
What may surprise readers is that Jack doesn’t try to interpret ruach as something disconnected from God. Something like a soul he gives humans but that has nothing to do with him. Or mere “breath,” as in the oxygen we consume. Rather, the ruachof God every day. It sustains us. It gives us life. Yet sometimes we forget this during the harder seasons.
What Jack aims to convey in this chapter is that, “…many of us have learned to encounter the spirit on the mountaintop (p. 23).” Yet the spirit is found in the darkness. For Jack there are three characters that help us think about the spirit’s role in our times of trouble. First, there is Job who knows there is hope as long as he had spirit-breath to sustain him. There is Job’s friend Elihu who recognizes and appreciates the spirit-breath, but he does it from the vantage of youth not realizing how precious and fleeting our lives may be. Third, there is the Preacher of Ecclesiastes who find all life to be vanity. He is not thankful for the spirit-breath that gives him another day (pp. 33-34).
Jack calls readers to recognize God’s holy spirit even in times of suffering and pain. He writes, “…persistent pain cannot extinguish praise…praise is more precious perhaps when it is peppered by pain (p. 27).” Job realized this. Elihu does not. The Preacher does not.
“…the holy spirit works, and works hardest within us, as we lumber through the valley of the shadow of death. We should not let ourselves be hoodwinked into thinking that pain and grief are always the enemies of the spirit. The ruach, the spirit-breath, is an amazing amalgamation of human breath and divine spirit-all of this a gift of God (p. 35).”
I am sure for many this all sounds quite new and you may wonder how speaking of God’s spirit as that which gives all people sustaining life and breath relates to God’s Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. If we get a chance to address this we will. If the book doesn’t tell us maybe Jack can write a guest post explaining his views? What I will say now though is that a quick examination of his exegesis of the aforementioned passages do support his use of holy spirit.
In our next post Daniel James Levy will share his thoughts on chapter two.
For link to review within NEAR EMMAUS site, click here
A breath of fresh air: Jack Levison on the Holy Spirit (Pt. 3)
Brian has previously noted that we will be working through Jack Levison’s most recent book, Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life. Today I will be doing part three. Thanks to Paraclete Press for the copy of this book!
The chapter I will be reviewing is entitled “Daniel’s Discipline.” Because I don’t want to give away the stories in the book, I won’t talk about them. This will be a mere surface level review. The texts that Jack wants us to become familiar with prior to reading the chapter (which I really suggest you do beforehand) are Job 32:1-33:7, Daniel 1:1-21, 4:1-18, 5:10-16, and 6:1-5.
In this chapter Levison reflects back on a previous biblical character that he introduced us to, Elihu. After introducing Elihu he introduces to us a new character, Daniel. In this chapter he compares and contrasts these two biblical figures. In doing so, Levison shows what the true source of wisdom is.
What I particularly liked about this chapter was how deep and unearthing his exegesis was. He did exegesis on both characters and showed how one believed and felt the Spirit was on him because he was boisterous and couldn’t contain himself (Elihu) and how the other just lived a life of true simplicity that was accompanied with discipline (Daniel). One flew from the seat of his pants, the other had true ruach-insight that was due to a life of simplicity and discipline.
Regarding Elihu’s speech in Job 32:16-20, Levison writes:
“We have much to learn from Elihu’s mistake. Too often, I think, we associate the presence of the spirit of God with a feeling, even a physical sensation, from something as simple as goose bumps to falling on the floor and twitching. Too often we attribute to the holy spirit our inability to shut up, pulled as we are by a compulsion to offer our own two cents, to venture our own opinion.”
I think this is a word that Pentecostals need to hear (note that this is coming from one). It is true, we associate the Spirit with certain manifestations (which isn’t to say the Spirit isn’t involved), but sometimes forget that the Spirit is “in the gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)”
I like what Levison has to say about Daniel, he writes:
“What we discover is this: the spirit is in Daniel for the long haul. The spirit is not, from where Daniel or any of the empire builders around him stand, a momentary divine ambush. Throughout the three generations—-Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius—Daniel exhibits such wisdom that a succession of foreign rulers recognize a spirit in him that can only have come from God. If Daniel possesses wisdom through three generations, it is not because he occasionally receives special endowment of the spirit of God but because the spirit within him is the perennial source of enlightenment, wisdom, and prescience.”
This was one of my favorite chapters in this book. I highly encourage you to pick it up and read it for yourself!
Brian is up next to review the following chapter.
For link to review within NEAR EMMAUS site, click here