A Spirit-Filled Southern Baptist

The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life,by Charles Stanley (Thomas Nelson, 239 pp.; $16.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Edith L. Blumhofer, project director for the Institute of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois.

For many years, the Southern Baptist Convention has been America’s largest Protestant denomination and Charles Stanley one of its best-known members. Longtime pastor of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church and two-time president of the SBC, Stanley is known to millions through his books and his popular nationwide television and radio programs, “In Touch.” Educated at the University of Richmond, Southwestern Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary, Stanley qualifies as a true Baptist stalwart.

Thus it is noteworthy that he has written a book that probes the heart of a spirituality more often associated with Wesleyans and Pentecostals than with Southern Baptists. Stanley introduces The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life as “a lesson in theology presented in the form of narrative.” As narrative it reads well. The theology builds on a concept that shaped the “higher life” and Keswick movements more than a century ago. The counterpoint to higher is the observation that the vast majority of Christians live far beneath their privileges as God’s children; unrealized by many Christians is that the Holy Spirit is God’s provision for “higher” and “victorious” Christian living. Charles Stanley has found the victory.

As hinted above, Stanley’s book is the most recent addition to a literature that has a long history in American religion and so should be read in this context. For more than a century, presses have churned out a steady stream of publications that reveal a persistent fascination of American evangelicals with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. During the nineteenth century, much of this literature came from the pens of women and men associated with the sprawling Wesleyan Holiness movement. They gave expressions to the bliss of the Spirit-filled life in hundreds of enduring gospel songs, in thousands of tracts, in periodicals devoted to nurturing the believer’s “walk in the Spirit,” and in hundreds of books, some of which still sell well today.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many evangelicals became convinced that the return of Christ was imminent. The urgency of the twin objectives of preparing the world and readying one’s self for Christ’s any-moment advent prompted widespread consideration of the role of the Holy Spirit in and among the faithful.

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The pursuit of this “higher” or “deeper” Christian life absorbed the energies of increasing numbers of American and British Protestants and found expression in such classics as Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Biographies of numerous stalwarts who were perceived by others to have grasped more fully than most the promise of the Spirit’s activity in their lives thrilled and challenged generations to similar devotion. Geraldine Guiness Taylor’s (Mrs. Howard Taylor’s) portrait of her father-in-law, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret; her biography of martyred China missionaries John and Betty Stam, The Triumph of John and Betty Stam; and her widely known Borden of Yale: The Life That Counts have by any measure been stunningly successful devotional classics loved by generations of evangelicals. Equally important in molding expectations about the texture of the Spirit-filled life have been autobiographies like Charles Finney’s Memoirs and Amanda Smith’s life story.

Pentecostal appropriation

From their beginning, Pentecostals enthusiastically adopted the gospel songs and devotional classics that had long expressed evangelical teaching on the “wonderful Spirit-filled life.” This led some evangelicals to change the terms of the topic in order to distance themselves from this “tongues movement.” Some qualified their use of the most troublesome terms, like “baptism with the Holy Spirit”; some, like John R. Rice or Harry Ironside, devoted considerable energy to attacking Pentecostal error while maintaining an alternative approach to life in the Spirit; still others ignored the fray and moved along in the time-honored quest for personal and ecclesial renewal.

Despite these attempts, the language of being “Spirit filled” retained a powerful, broad appeal. In the same years that Pentecostals formed their own denominations and publishing enterprises, non-Pentecostals such as A. W. Tozer, Mrs. Howard Taylor, and V. Raymond Edman compellingly described the Spirit-filled life and challenged one and all to enjoy it. While Pentecostals and other conservative Protestants are often described as antagonists in the years between the world wars, even a cursory look at the devotional literature available during this period suggests that both groups hungered for experiential knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

After World War II, the charismatic renewal both expressed and stimulated yet another wave of interest in the relationship between believers and the Holy Spirit. Books such as Merlin Carothers’s Power in Praise, Dennis Bennet’s Nine O’clock in the Morning, and John and Elizabeth Sherrill’s They Speak with Other Tongues spoke to another generation’s longing for spiritual renewal. What distinguished these books from those of an earlier generation was that speaking in tongues came to be seen as the entryway into the higher Christian life.

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The charismatic renewal’s relentless penetration of the church, especially in the two-thirds world, established it as a force with which to reckon. In response, and in an effort to provide responsible guidance, by the 1970s, major players on the American evangelical scene were writing books on the Holy Spirit. Stanley cites Billy Graham’s The Holy Spirit: Activating God’s Power in Your Life (1978) several times. Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright published The Holy Spirit: The Key to Supernatural Living in 1980. John R. W. Stott, a London preacher with a large American following, contributed as well, with Baptism and Fullness appearing in 1975. These dealt candidly with the concepts and language that divided Pentecostals from others while strongly advocating the Spirit-filled life. Stanley also cites R. C. Sproul’s recent The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (1990). Perhaps most forthright in addressing the issues that evangelicals find most troubling is Tony Campolo’s How to Be Pentecostal Without Speaking in Tongues, published in 1991.

Life from above

Charles Stanley’s views, then, stand in a distinguished succession. Like his predecessors in each generation, Stanley observes glaring discrepancies between what Christians affirm in song and creed on Sundays and what they do on Mondays. He views with dismay the tendency to confuse natural talent with spiritual giftedness. He also frets over how many Christians are ignorant of the resources he is convinced the Holy Spirit offers for spiritual growth and victorious living.

In Stanley’s hands, the Spirit’s work does not resemble the startling forms of spiritual warfare that Frank Peretti’s novels call to mind; it is better described as a moment-by-moment yielding, issuing in piety best described by the list of the Spirit’s fruits in Galatians 5. Those evangelicals who have resisted the modern urge to abandon the hymnal may recognize its affinities with the words evangelist Daniel W. Whittle penned in 1893: “Moment by moment I’m kept in his love, / Moment by moment I’ve life from above.”

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In the book, Stanley intertwines his personal discovery of the Spirit-filled life with considerations of trends within contemporary evangelicalism. He is careful to distinguish what he advocates from what he has seen in Pentecostal churches. Having grown up in a Pentecostal-Holiness congregation gives him a perspective on classical Pentecostalism that other evangelical writers on the Spirit-filled life have usually lacked.

Although one must not push the point too far, his book can be viewed as a commentary on the lack of teaching among classical Pentecostals on the role of the Spirit in the life of believers, since Stanley claims that he was a 32-year-old Baptist seminary student before he encountered the concept of the Spirit-filled life.

Pentecostals will object to Stanley’s view that at some undetermined time shortly after the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began filling all believers. Sometime in the period covered in the first chapters of the Book of Acts, he believes, the Holy Spirit “swept through the world, filling those who had put their faith in Christ.” Since then, all believers are Spirit filled, but not all believers have embraced the lifestyle of “abiding” and fruit bearing. Otherwise, traditional Pentecostals will agree with the basic principles the book describes.

Stanley’s representation of the Spirit-filled life is winsome and appealing. Coming from a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, it is surprising as well. But most important of all, it is a sign of the church’s persistent yearning for something “more” from God.

Can The Tube Be Redeemed?

Redeeming Television,by Quentin J. Schultze (InterVarsity, 198 pp.: $8.99, paper);All That Glitters: A News-Person Explores the World of Television,by Coleen Cook (Moody, 267 pp.: $15.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Robert Bittner, an editor and free-lance writer living in the Chicago area.

“Any communication that furthers God’s interests in this world is Christian,” writes Quentin Schultze, Calvin College professor of communication arts and sciences, and the author of Redeeming Television. From the first page, he strikes the hopeful note that television can be a vehicle for God’s work in the world.

But Schultze is not recommending placing satellite dishes across the globe to broadcast a new generation of televangelists. In fact, he questions the popular belief that television is God’s chosen tool for worldwide evangelism—an idea that can be stretched to make God seem shortsighted for sending his Son into a pre-TV world. But he also steers clear of the opposite camp that sees TV as the Devil’s tool, a medium by nature incapable of good. His middle-ground position will no doubt disappoint TV’s critics on either end of the ideological spectrum; nevertheless, it offers Christian viewers a thoughtful and balanced critique of the medium.

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The philosophical underpinning of Schultze’s views can be found in Reformed theology’s “cultural mandate,” which emphasizes humanity’s responsibility to care for all creation (Gen. 1:28). For Schultze, then, television is worthy of redemption simply because it is part of God’s creation.

According to Schultze, a responsible Christian approach to TV requires an informed viewer. To this purpose he presents an overview of the way TV shows are produced, the not-so-hidden agendas of the producers, and the reasons why so few consumers of TV bother to think about it.

Near the end of the book he outlines a number of practical steps that will turn passive “watchers” into critical “viewers” and thus, he claims, increase the medium’s power for presenting truth. Some of the simpler suggestions include the following: support public television; write letters of praise and protest to the networks; always watch a show before you criticize it; pray for those producing the shows; encourage gifted Christians to work in TV.

For television’s friends and foes alike, the book makes provocative reading.

The amoral tube

One of those foes is former broadcast journalist Coleen Cook, author of All That Glitters. She has little good to say about television, especially about the type of television she was most involved with, TV news. Although her book shares many of the same resources as Schultze’s (both quoting frequently from critics such as Neil Postman and Malcolm Muggeridge), she uses them to highlight TV’s “weaknesses and dangers.” As a result, the book pays scant attention to TV’s even potential strengths and successes.

The book opens with Cook’s dramatic story of her nerve-wracking first on-air assignment at a new station—a live “newsbreak” plagued by misinformation, faulty technology, and an unexpected question from her “partner” via satellite, Ted Koppel. In the succeeding chapters, she reveals the questionable decisions behind much of what we see on TV and explains how television’s technology, 30-minute time slots, commercial breaks, and the consuming hunger for high ratings make the medium myopic, amoral, and inherently incapable of accurately presenting truth.

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It is not until the last two chapters that Cook broaches the issue of how Christian families can respond to the tube. She encourages activities that will help viewers to “unravel the illusion of television” and, thus, free themselves from its tyranny: evaluate your viewing habits (a handy checklist is provided); put limits on your viewing; watch programs, not television; watch critically; become independent of TV.

All That Glitters will disappoint those seeking an insightful, firsthand critique of the industry from a Christian perspective. By limiting her scope to the “weaknesses and dangers” of network news, Cook ignores the more positive roles of public television and CNN, not to mention such cable purveyors of quality family entertainment as the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and the Family Channel. In fact, there is little discussion of TV’S “entertainment” programming at all.

Given Cook’s indictment of the television news industry, it is no wonder that she left. Even so, it would be hard to read her book without getting the impression that she wishes the situation could be changed. Redeeming Television may be the answer she has been looking for.

Dobson’S New Dare

Book publishers dream about the rare book that fills a need so well it keeps selling year after profitable year. Such was James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline, published in 1970 by Tyndale House. Over the next two decades, the volume, which encouraged parents to exercise authority and use corporal punishment when other experts were sounding a permissive note, sold more than 1,800,000 copies.

Although the book continued to sell well, psychologist Dobson knew that the cultural context had changed. Thus he wrote The New Dare to Discipline (Tyndale) for today’s parents.

What sets Dobson’s writing apart from other how-to authors is his broader vision. In the early seventies, Dobson realized that the American family was disintegrating and so focused his energies on restoring the well-regulated family as a foundation for a well-ordered society. That crusade led him to leave his university post and launch his own fledgling ministry, which, Dobson recently told managing editor David Neff, was “one of the most terrifying things I have ever done.” Now established in a downtown Colorado Springs office complex and supported by a ministry with about 900 full-time employees, Dobson’s crusade continues.

In the early seventies, “I believed that we didn’t have much time, that the pressure was going to intensify, and that we were going to have to get excited about the family or lose it,” Dobson told CT. “I believe that even more today.”

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What key societal shifts prompted you to write The New Dare to Discipline?

The original Dare to Discipline was written in the context of the Vietnam War. And so the book had the flavor of the 1970s. But the principles in the book are eternal. I feel that they can be traced directly to biblical concepts.

The book was still selling, but when people—especially those under 30—opened it up, they read of things they didn’t know about, such as Students for a Democratic Society. Furthermore, I had 20 more years of experience with families, which gave me a lot that I wanted to say.

Finally, there has been a concerted effort by the press and by the more humanistic community to make all corporal punishment, even when done with great care and judiciousness, look like child abuse. That is a change since 1970, and because child abuse is such an incredible problem, I wanted to explain the limitations of corporal punishment and who should not use it.

What advice would you give parents who are worried their spankings may be crossing the line into child abuse?

My advice is, don’t lay a hand on the child. Anyone who has ever abused a child, or has ever felt themselves losing control during a spanking, should not expose the child or themselves to that tragedy. Anyone who has had a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach.

But that’s the minority of parents, and I think we should not eliminate a biblically sanctioned approach to raising children because it is abused in some cases.

You write that the pain of spanking is not the crucial factor but the meaning associated with the event. What can parents do to make sure that the child understands a spanking?

The key to raising healthy, responsible children is to be able to get behind the eyes of the child and see what he sees, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. If you know how to do that, then you know how to respond appropriately for him. For example, if a three-year-old screams when you put him into bed, it is the obligation of the parent to know whether that child is genuinely afraid of the dark—perhaps suspecting that he has had nightmares, and the isolation is a fearfully strange one—or the child is using tears as a way of getting what he wants—that is, to stay up. You behave oppositely, depending on your interpretation of the behavior. If you don’t know what he’s thinking and feeling, you don’t have a clue as to how to respond. On the one hand, you comfort him and let him get up. On the other hand, you don’t. For the tact and the wisdom required for good parenting, you need prayer and a little understanding of child development.

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Do you counsel parents to talk to children in connection with a spanking?

Absolutely. But the conversation usually occurs after the confrontation. It’s very difficult to communicate when a rebellious, stiff-necked little child is clenching his fist and taking you on. After the confrontation—especially if it involved tears—has occurred, the child usually wants to hug you and get reassurance that you really care for him. Many parents say they feel uncomfortable responding to requests for affection at that moment because they’ve been upset with the child. I think they are completely wrong. At that moment you can talk to the child about why he got in trouble, and how he can avoid it next time, and how much you love him.

Before we leave the issue of corporal punishment, it is important to understand I’m talking about a narrow age range of about 18 months to eight or nine years as an outside limit. I do not believe in spanking teenagers. It doesn’t work; it makes them angry. But there is a window in early child development when that tool can be very useful.

Today there are a lot more single parents than there were in 1970. Can the principles in your book help those who may have never had an intact family?

The beauty of implementing the principles given to us in Scripture is that they were provided by the Creator of families, and they work in all situations. The single mother needs the principles of discipline even more than parents in intact families because she’s got to do the job alone. The principle of the worth of the child and our need to sacrifice for him or her applies in all families. The principles are more important, not less, in a time of social chaos.

Do you think we will be able to restore the nuclear family as the basic unit of American society?

I really believe that the pressures on the family today from those who want to see it disintegrate are going to intensify. The only thing that will send us back in the direction of our roots is for large numbers of people to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, for a revival to sweep our land. I pray for that, I long for it, and I see it as the only hope. No philosophical discussion is going to bring that about. The only thing that will, in my view, is hardship. It might be that America is heading into a twilight period of immorality and wickedness that will have such painful consequences that we’ll begin to remember again where we came from.

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You talk about the need for the church to take part in sex education. What resources do pastors and Sunday-school teachers have to keep them from feeling just as at sea as parents do?

There is a sizable quantity of material available that is compatible with the Christian ethic. Some has been done by Christians and has a Christian philosophy throughout. But there are other programs, like Sex Respect, that most Christians would be comfortable with. If parents are uncomfortable doing the job and they’re not going to get it done, my second choice by far would be those who understand what immorality is.

If a teenager is sleeping around, he is not merely sexually active, he’s immoral. And the church needs to say that. In any congregation, there are teenagers who are doing exactly the same things that those who are not in a church are doing. And yet it is often not mentioned from the pulpit. That’s a mistake. It needs to be handled compassionately and sensitively. But teenagers need to know what the church stands for because, heaven knows, they sure hear the other side all day long if they’re in a secular school.

The word dare in the book’s title suggests it takes courage to raise children. How would you encourage parents that they can do the job?

What requires the courage are the disruptive adolescent years. Parents are terrified when their kids are three or four years of age that they are going to do something that’s going to lead to rebellion during the teen years. They know about the drug problem. They know about promiscuity. They know about rejection of the faith. And they don’t want to do anything that will wound the child in such a way that when they’re older they will throw the authority back in their faces.

The truth of the matter is, you are more likely to create those problems when you are afraid to lead than if you take charge. God put parents in a position of authority over children. He’s the author of that leadership, and they must take it. Children will respect them for it, and they will receive their love more readily if they have the courage and the confidence to lead, while also caring for and protecting the child.

It does take courage. You simply have to know: this is right. God said it. His Word established it. He said, children obey your parents, and therefore parents need to be benevolent bosses in their own home.

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Doesn’t the same situation obtain in the adult world? Very few of us grow up to be bosses. Most of us are followers.

The principles in Dare to Discipline apply to employee/employer relationships. They apply to the relationships between nations—wherever human interests collide. The principle, in one word, that underlies the philosophy of each of my books is respect. Dare to Discipline says children respect your parents. Hide or Seek says parents respect your children. What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women says husbands respect your wives. The issue of respect is fundamental in human relationships, and The New Dare to Discipline, like the earlier version, just deals with how it plays out between parent and child.

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