Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: Forgotten God

Christians believe in the Trinitarian God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet according to Pastor Francis Chan, the Holy Spirit has been forgotten, a problem he addresses in his book Forgotten God. As he says: 'the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence I'm willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have been experienced His presence of action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.' (p. 15)

As he surveys the contemporary scene, he asks the reader to imagine living on a desert island for twenty years, having only the Bible to read, becoming convinced of the important (even essential) part the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the believer. Then returning to the average church, and being disappointed at the lack of the Spirit's power and influence.

The solution, he maintains, is not 'seeking a "healthy balance" of the Holy Spirit', because he has 'yet to meet anyone with too much Holy Spirit.' (p. 20). Rather, 'when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.' (p. 17).

Chan continues to advance the book with helpful chapters addressing some attendant fears that people may encounter when they explore the Spirit. These include what others will think (in relation to our theological 'camp'), that God won't answer our prayers; or that God will answer our prayers, and take us where we don't want to go. As Chan acknowledges: 'The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn't normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross... and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be.' (p. 50)

This is an important point that I think is often missed by many as they think about the Holy Spirit - that the Spirit is not a separate entity, but is rather part of the Trinity, who together are working in our lives. The connection between the Spirit and the way of the cross was well made, as again later: 'The Spirit is meant to lead us toward holiness. The Spirit is here with us to accomplish God's purposes, not ours.' (p. 93)

I was slightly puzzled by the chapter exploring the Biblical survey of the Spirit's person and work, though. The starting point is in Acts, rather than the Old Testament (or even the Gospels), 'when the Spirit descended and began to indwell the disciples.' (p. 67). There doesn't appear to be an explanation for this starting point, so the reader may need to consult other books for a fuller biblical background (e.g. 'Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament' by Chris Wright).

As Chan continues to explore the impact of the Spirit on the life of the believer, he addresses a popular (and often misconceived) topic - that of God's will for my life, and the Spirit's guidance for the Christian. The problem with such thinking, so popularly expressed, is that 'it's safer to commit to following Him someday instead of this day.' (p. 120) Indeed, 'I think a lot of us need to forget about God's will for my life. God cares more about our response to His Spirit's leading today, in this moment, than about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today's decisions.' (p. 120).

The book's aim is not primarily imparting knowledge, but rather it is sent forth with a powerful prayer: 'So while hopefully you will learn something new about the Holy Spirit in this book, my prayer is that it will draw you into deeper communion with the Spirit and greater experience of His power and presence in your life.' (p. 36). It appears that Chan's prayer will be answered, in this great little book.

I heartily recommend it, for any and every sort and type of Christian, to both learn more about the Holy Spirit, but more importantly, to walk with the Spirit and know His power in your walk. I managed to download this free from Amazon when the publisher made all Chan's books free on the Kindle store one day, but even for a couple of pounds it's well worth reading. Available from Amazon Kindle store and your local Christian bookshop.

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