Book Review: Experiencing the Spirit by Henry & Melvin Blackaby

experiencing-the-spiritAs a good Southern Baptist, I have walked through pretty much every major discipleship initiative and product we have promoted for the past three decades.  The majority have been forgettable and forgotten.  However, the one that had a lasting impact on my life was Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby. Principles for living the Christian life were presented as a helpful visual process accompanied by pithy statements that lodged in the mind and heart.  It is his seminal work.

            In the years since, Blackaby’s ministry has expanded to a global scale—and now includes his sons. He has written about leadership, local church decision-making, revival and other subjects—always using the same basic principles outlined in that first book. Now comes the third installment in a Trinitarian consideration of the Christian life: Experiencing the Spirit: The Power of Pentecost Every Day ( (Multnomah, 2009). It follows Experiencing the Cross and Experiencing the Resurrection. The three are associated, but not inextricably entwined.

            In Experiencing the Spirit, Blackaby explores one often ignored or nervously considered aspect of the Christian life—the Holy Spirit.  It is written in his typical style: spare, laced with Scripture, conversational and illustrated with personal experience. It has the feel of talking about profound things over a cup of coffee with a more mature Christ-follower. And every so often they lean over, look intensely in your eyes and press you to consider exactly how you will respond to the truth. The only troubling thing is if you know the Experiencing God grid, the constant references to it can be a bit aggravating, sort of like a commercial interruption.   

            This is not heavy theological lifting; it is not intended to be.  It is accessible treatment of an often mysterious subject that begins by reviewing some basics about the Holy Spirit (ie, a Person not an it, assigned to spotlight Jesus, given at conversion, etc.). It is tempting to skim, but the book has a “time-release tablet” feel to it.   The weight of it increases until you realize you’re in deep water.

It’s interesting to consider how the Spirit operated in the earthly life of Jesus, that He “fulfilled His assignment as a man filled with the Holy Spirit” and that those who follow Him as disciples must do the same. Considerable space is given to reminding us that the Spirit operates out of relationship by which the divine is at the center of life and shapes it in every aspect.

The strength of the book is in the discussion of the Spirit’s shaping the Christian for mission.  Blackaby challenges much of the prevailing and conventional wisdom regarding the Christian, spiritual gifts, and mission. For years, Christians have been told to take a test or fill out a survey to find their spiritual gift, get involved with what they enjoyed doing or were already good at, and test service by their sense of personal fulfillment in order to be fruitful in serving the Kingdom. 

But Blackaby insists that approach is ultimately self-centered “The Holy Spirit is the gift.  He Himself is the indispensable gift of God in your life….When God’s Spirit is present, it doesn’t matter what you can or cannot do….The Lord is not looking for the talented, but for the obedient.  He’s not looking for the skilled, but for those who are sensitive to His Spirit….Your spiritual gifts are for the particular assignment God has for you and assignments are always based on your character….We look at our self to discover our assignment from God. How silly is that?  The result of this approach is that we don’t need or rely on the Holy Spirit because we’re confident in our own abilities…God may often ask you to do something you’re not good at. He will often ask you to do something you don’t want to do. So if you intend to serve Him only according to your aptitudes and desires, you’ll miss most of what He wants to do in your life…our greatest point of weakness can at the same time become the opportunity for God to His greatest work” through an ordinary person. If these truths about living mission by the Spirit were applied, Christian lives would become an adventure, churches would be revolutionized, the Kingdom would expand and Jesus would be more famous.

The book concludes with a call to complete surrender to the Spirit and an appeal to embrace the life of living in this sort of dynamic relationship with the Spirit.  Experiencing the Spirit encourages us to not just know about a day of Pentecost where the Spirit came, but to live every day as Pentecost with the Spirit shaping each moment. 

 

  

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