Lots of my thoughts today have been turned towards the celebration of Easter. A recent reading from Reflecting the Glory has sort of stuck with me.
… the Spirit of truth will come and guide them into all truth. This is one of the great promises by which the church stands or falls. The church can only continue to exist if it believes that the Spirit is present, leading us into the truth while we struggle to hold on to the love of Jesus and the revelation of God’s glory.
Two things really stand out to me about these comments. One is the affirmation of the role of the Spirit to guide in all truth. As people thoroughly steeped in Western Rationalism, we have a tendency to be suspicious of the work of the Spirit. To be dependent on the Spirit to lead us into truth seems just a shade to subjective. How can we really know it is the Spirit? Maybe it isn’t “the Spirit” at all, but simply our own point of view justified with Spirit language? Not to mention looking at some of our more Spirit-led brethren and thinking that isn’t what I’m interested in at all. And yet, the affirmation of Jesus in John 16:12 is simply that the Spirit will in fact “guide you into all truth.” It sounds like Jesus expects us to trust the leading of the Spirit.
But the thing that Wright said that really captured my attention was the statement… The church can only continue to exist if it believes that the Spirit is present. It isn’t enough for the Spirit to be present. The Spirit is present whether we believe so or not. But the church’s survival is dependent on actually believing that the Spirit is present. The moment we cease to embrace the reality that the Spirit of God is in fact real and at work in our midst, we stop being the church.
At least we are no longer the church in the ways that count. That isn’t to say that the activities of the church stop. Services are still held. Songs still sung. Sermons still preached. Programs still executed. Work on behalf of the poor. Attempts to “reach out” to the lost. But a community of faith devoid of a strong conviction of the Spirit’s presence and work among them does all else in vain. It seems silly to state something that is so very obvious, but the pull is there nonetheless. To accomplish great works for God without actually depending on the Spirit that both guides and empowers.
This is one of the things I have continually appreciated about Wright. He holds firmly in one hand his New Testament scholarship and in the other a robust view of the work of the Spirit in and through the church. One would like to think that one would necessarily lead to the other, but experience has shown that the tendency is to gravitate towards either extreme. Wright serves as a model for theology done with rigor and scholastic integrity that naturally leads to a greater appreciation for work of the Spirit among us.