This review is on Holy Spirit: Creative Power in Our Lives by Dr. Lois Malcolm.
Dr. Lois Malcolm has written a slim, accessible volume for anyone who is Trinitarian in their doctrine. I am a Pentecostal. Dr. Malcolm is a Lutheran professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. Her work is something that informs my Pentecostal mindset, theology and practice.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I had the distinct privilege of having Dr. Malcolm as a professor at Luther Seminary for my M.A. work, and she was a reader on my thesis.
She opens her book with these words: “Every year, when I teach the Holy Spirit course for seniors at Luther Seminary, I begin by asking these two questions: Who is the Holy Spirit? Have you experienced the Spirit in your life and in the world around you? As my students try to respond, they often draw a blank.”
I teach in a Pentecostal school, an undergraduate college. It has a long tradition as being “Pentecostal.” Yet, when I teach on the power of the Spirit, I often meet the same blank stares. We are ALL in need of learning.
One of the hang-ups younger people in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles have with “classical” Pentecostalism is speaking in tongues. Let us dispense with this straw man argument. Let us get to the real point: Is the Holy Spirit truly active in your life today? This is the fundamental question for Dr. Malcolm, and this should be the fundamental question for every Trinitarian believer. As a Pentecostal, this question should be primary in our church doctrine and practice.
Dr. Malcolm’s approach is to take the reader on a journey through the entire Bible. She surveys the Old Testament references on the Holy Spirit, demonstrating the place of the Spirit in Old Testament theology and practice. Leading us through to the prophets, specifically Joel, she demonstrates that God’s purpose for the pouring out of the Spirit was for the whole person. The work of the Spirit is meant to be permanent. What God intends is for every believer to have the presence of the Spirit.
She then looks at the life of Christ and the demonstration of the Spirit’s work in the life of Christ on earth. Jesus working in the power of the Spirit gives us the example that his salvation brings not just healing, but it “de-demonizes the world” (p. 29). The power of Jesus’ salvation liberates creation from all the powers of death.
The Spirit’s work also brings justice. Jesus’ work among all people shows there is no partiality in the Kingdom of God. The Spirit helps erase the barriers and false dichotomies set up by cultures: men and women, slave and free, rich and poor. The Kingdom of God is able to bless ALL. The power of the Spirit enables us to touch people, ALL people. The touch of the Spirit in people’s lives means they rise up and move away from the barriers. ALL are invited to the incredible feast prepared for us by our Savior (p. 32).
Malcolm then demonstrates the power of the Spirit in community, looking at the Book of Acts as the model. She demonstrates four key components that were in place when people responded to the message about Jesus:
1. They were baptized in the name of Jesus.
2. The gift of the Spirit was given.
4. Forgiveness of sins.
“Baptism in the name of Jesus involves the Spirit and the fire of Pentecost (p. 37).”
The place where she would depart from Pentecostal theology is, of course, the gift of tongues as the initial physical evidence. That is understandable. But she inserts this important reminder: “Nonetheless, there is no denying that the experience of the Spirit was clearly charismatic and often accompanied by ‘signs and wonder (p. 38).'”
It is clear that there are only three instances where speaking in tongues occurred with the baptism of the Spirit: Acts 2, Acts 10, and Acts 19. That cannot be refuted. Dr. Malcolm does not avoid it. Pentecostals should not avoid it, either. What needs to be put to rest is this one event. Dr. Malcolm’s intent, along with many leaders in the Assemblies of God, is to realize we need the activity of the Spiri today! This is where Dr. Malcolm speaks so helpfully to Pentecostals. She gives a clear biblical understanding of the power of the Spirit and invites the believer to have that same Spirit active in their lives.
Dr. Malcolm goes on in later chapters to identify areas where the Spirit is vitally needed in our lives. We must rely on the Spirit to give us power to deal with destructive patterns in our lives (p. 56). These words are needed. Her work is helpful in understanding the depth of the power of the Spirit available to us TODAY.
The biblical text Dr. Malcolm lives out of in her own life is Romans 8. She fully believes in the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer. Her words on this passage are like fresh water hitting parched land. Read these words and drink it up.
The power of the Spirit is also demonstrated in the life of her family. She relates the story of her own mother who has realized the power of Romans 8 in her own life, from a concentration camp in China to the current battle she faces with Alzheimer’s. The story is a powerful demonstration of what the Holy Spirit can be doing in each one of us.
As a Pentecostal, I am deeply grateful for this helpful work. I pastor a church, and will look for ways to put this book into the hands of my parishioners. As an adjunct professor, this is a book that will be recommended from time to time as a great help to biblically understand the power of the Spirit.