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Friday, 25 September 2009

REVIEWED: James Lee Beall's "Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit"

by Archibald Thackeray

I used to work with a man who, shortly after his conversion and baptism, had a very jarring church experience. In short, the pastor of his church went 'off the rails' morally.

My friend stopped attending church. But, he didn't give up on Christianity entirely --- he watched it on cable TV. He used to come in to work and ask me, "What in the world is going on with these TV preachers?" From eccentric dress to eccentric practices, my friend was no more impressed with church on television than he had been in his short stint in church.

Veteran pastor James Lee Beall has written a book for people like my friend. He's called it, Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit.

Now, to be entirely accurate, this treatise on the work and person of the third member of the Trinity will be appreciated by a much wider audience than just the disillusioned. There will be many mature believers who will enjoy Pastor Beall's survey of the scriptures that arrives at orthodox and well-thought-out doctrinal positions. New believers seeking power to live out their new life in Christ will appreciate his explanations (both scriptural and anecdotal) of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

But again, the disillusioned observers of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity are going to find a friend in Pastor Beall. He writes,

"... people who have the idea embedded in them that opening their life to the Holy Spirit could very well make them off-center, weird, and spiritually strange. For they have witnessed odd and questionable goings on by people who professed to be moved by the Holy Spirit. This has made them wary and disconcerted. This is precisely why the Incarnate Jesus must remain in our biblical picture and framework."

James Lee Beall
Beall's presentation of Jesus being the prototype of a man filled with the Holy Spirit was my favorite part of the book. Looking at any other man (or, woman) filled with the Spirit --- no matter how mature --- I will see someone still in-process, someone with a few rough edges yet. Reading scriptures that tell about praying and singing in the Spirit, being gifted by the Spirit, and walking in the Spirit are, of course, of supreme importance. But, I still have the need to see it walked out. I want to know where we are headed, and not simply out of curiosity. I need it to arouse faith for the journey. In Jesus, we see the full glory of Spirit-empowered living. Beall says,

“The Scriptures clearly reveal that Jesus, the Christ, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and this infilling did not make Him a religious eccentric or divorce him from reality. Jesus was the most balanced, poised man who ever walked the earth and was always in touch with the real world."

Always of importance when discussing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, is the matter of identity; questions posed on the back cover of the book, "Who is the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit? Is it God or a Force?" are answered on the inside.

In keeping with the teaching of the scriptures and the historic creeds of the Church, Pastor Beall teaches that the Holy Spirit is as certainly God, as the Father and Son are:

"The Spirit is so prominently presented in the Bible that it is impossible to ignore the fact that He possesses divine attributes and exercises divine prerogatives and those who admit His personality have never denied His divinity."

The book's 189 pages present a comprehensive view of the Holy Spirit's person and work, while never lapsing into an arid rehearsal of facts. In fact, Beall shows awareness and sensitivity of the potential for such:

"The doctrines and teachings of Christianity are many and some of them more complex than others, but there are few doctrines more perplexing to the average man than the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This is deeply regrettable because the Holy Spirit in early Christianity was not a puzzle but a convincing power --- the heartbeat of the Christian faith."

Myrtle Beall

The bulk of the book's limited anecdotal material is kept to the end, where the author tells, interestingly, of his mother's Pentecostal experience, specifically, speaking in tongues (Beall also devotes an earlier chapter to glossolalia). His mother, Myrtle Beall, came to experience this same phenomenon that first-century Christians knew --- without prompting; she had never heard that such things happened to people. She went on, through a series of remarkable experiences, to pioneer a church that continues to this day --- the large Bethesda Christian Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan (a 9-minute video about Bethesda can be seen here).

Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit is a serious --- and edifying --- study of the Holy Spirit; one that sets out proper understandings for the committed, while providing clear perspective for the disillusioned.

Beall's writing style is inviting. The book can be leisurely read in a couple of evenings. While the prose of the following passage is not representative of the entire book (for effect, Beall drives his points home here like a hammer steadily hitting a nail), it summarizes well the message of Straight Talk about the Holy Spirit:

"The Christian faith can rightly be called a religion of the Holy Spirit. The scriptural account informs us: the Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary; the Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Judean wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days and nights and He came out of the experience in the power of the Spirit. Jesus began His ministry in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth, and declared His manifesto by saying, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me ...' (Luke 4:18). He cast out evil spirits by the Spirit of God and was offered up as a sacrifice through the Eternal Spirit. The Spirit of Holiness raised him from the dead. He issued commandments to His disciples after His resurrection by the Spirit. John the Baptist foretold that Jesus would baptize believers in the Holy Spirit. The Church of Jesus Christ was born of the Spirit at Pentecost. Only those led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. We are changed from glory to glory by the work of the Spirit. The Church forms a habitation for God in the Spirit. His Spirit guides us into all truth. His Spirit strengthens us in the inner man. The fruits of the Christian life are the fruits of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit quickens (makes alive, energizes) our mortal body. The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the Law of sin and death. We receive new power and authority when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit. From first to last, the Christian faith is a religion of the Holy Spirit."

[James Lee Beall is pastor emeritus of Bethesda Christian Church. He has authored several books, including, Laying the Foundation: AchievingChristian Maturity (Bridge-Logos Publishing). In the NKJV NewSpirit-Filled Life Bible (Nelson), edited by Jack Hayford, Pastor Beall wrote the notes on the Pastoral Epistles. An interview with Pastor Beall that was published in the March-April 1983 issue of Pathfinders can be read here.]

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