After John Wesley’s “Aldersgate experience,” the spiritually recharged Anglican churchman became much more open to the notion of supernatural expressions of the Holy Spirit than were many of his contemporaries. He refused to reject the emotionalism exhibited by many of his converts as well as that of the “French prophets,” the most radical French Protestant immigrants. He even acknowledged that trances, healings, miracles, and other extraordinary events might occur in the lives of believers (though he later said such signs were not in themselves necessarily an indication of the Holy Spirit at work).

Fellow evangelist George Whitefield complained increasingly of this tendency in Wesley’s thought. While he did not discredit emotion as a legitimate expression of what they both called “living” faith, he felt it was not the primary focus of the Spirit’s work.

Wesley and Whitefield differed in much the way contemporary Christians do over the question of power and the Holy Spirit. For although Christians through the ages have generally agreed that the Holy Spirit offers “power” to the believer, differences over describing the nature of that power have led to the development of separate schools of thought. Today’s opposing camps of charismatic pentecostalism and fundamentalist dispensationalism are merely two features of a landscape inhabited by a number of finely nuanced interpretations of the kind of power made available by the Holy Spirit.

Who Will Receive Power?

Discussions of the Holy Spirit’s power must begin with the feast of Pentecost, where, as Jesus had prophesied, the disciples received power after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon them. When Peter preached to Gentiles gathered at the home of Cornelius, wrote Luke, the apostle ...

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