Spiritual Convergence Insufficiency1
There is a common vision disorder known as Convergence Insufficiency (CI) that illustrates the problem many have with Word and Spirit. People with CI have difficulty seeing things clearly that are near to them. One eye tends to drift outward when reading or doing close work, often leading to double vision. The problem can lead to headaches, eye strain, blurred vision, and difficulty concentrating.
“Spiritual Convergence Insufficiency” occurs when a Christian is unable to focus on both Word and Spirit. Their sight of one is blurred while all energy and emphasis are given to the other. But Scripture insists on the convergence of Word and Spirit in our lives. We need to “see” both clearly and to labor in God’s grace so that neither is neglected or allowed to trump the other. Spiritual comprehension and clear-sighted understanding of God’s will require that we embrace the functional authority of Scripture while earnestly desiring and pursuing all spiritual gifts. In the absence of either, our sight is distorted and our spiritual priorities are blurred.
I’m shocked by how often Christians forget that it is the written Word of God that encourages us to pursue spiritual gifts and commands us never to forbid speaking in tongues, while it is the Spirit of God who is responsible, by inspiration, for every theological truth that the Bible affirms.
The division I’ve portrayed is not one that the Bible would ever endorse. It comes, instead, from the odd mixture of both fear and caricature. Those who live in the so-called Word camp have taken offense (sometimes for justifiable reasons) at the fanatical extremes of certain charismatics whose ministry style has become untethered from the biblical text. Some who live in the so-called Spirit camp have suffered greatly from the cynical and at times judgmental disdain of those who use the Bible as a weapon against anything with which they disagree.
The caricatures that each has of the other hasn’t helped. Those in the Word camp are convinced that charismatics prefer the present-tense voice of God to hearing what he has already said in Scripture. And charismatics accuse their cessationist friends of being overly cerebral and believing in a trinity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Scriptures.
But there are genuine signs throughout the professing Christian world of a glorious convergence between Word and Spirit. Of course, both sides would passionately insist that they have never contributed to the disturbing gap that we so often see in local churches. Word camp folk wholeheartedly affirm the person and power of the Spirit (although often with a skeptical eye on practices they consider extra-biblical or the exercise of tongues and prophecy). And Spirit camp people insist that they love the Word and are committed to obeying all that it says (notwithstanding the handful who tend to wander outside the boundaries of biblical truth to justify bizarre spiritual experiences).
The fact is that nowhere in the Bible are we told to be afraid of our affections or to consider the mind as our enemy. Nowhere are we warned about objective theological truth as if it might preclude a vibrant relationship of intimacy and joy with Jesus. The Spirit inspired the Word. The Word speaks frequently of the Spirit.
There are countless texts in the NT that remind us of the inseparable unity between Word and Spirit. Galatians 3:1-5 comes immediately to mind. Paul asks the believers in Galatia this question: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” We who are charismatic in faith and practice love the first half of that verse. God generously supplies the Spirit to us and works miracles among us. His power is precious and his gifts are glorious.
But by what means or through what mechanism does this occur? It isn’t in response to our good deeds or works. It is only when we “hear” the truth of God’s Word and respond in “faith” to it. Without the Word of truth that we hear and believe, there is no supply of the Spirit, no miracles. And without the abundant gift of the Spirit in his various manifestations and ministries, we would never understand the Word or find the energy to obey its commands. To sever the two, to impose a divorce between them, is worse than dangerous; it is spiritually lethal.
Luke tells us that when Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel at Iconium, God “bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). The miracles of healing and deliverance authenticated the truth of the Word. The Word of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ is here again tethered to the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. And when Paul preached the absolute, transcendent, eternal word of truth in Corinth he did so “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). The gospel came to the Thessalonians “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).
I am increasingly encouraged as I see the emergence of convergence in our day. Those who have held firmly to the foundational integrity of God’s written Word are overcoming their fear of the Spirit and his miraculous gifts. And those who have passionately pursued spiritual gifts are determined to root their practice in the principles of holy Scripture.
The urgent need of the church in the twenty-first century is followers of Jesus who are committed to the centrality and functional authority of the Bible, on the one hand, and effective, Christ-exalting operation of all spiritual gifts on the other; people who are gospel-centered and intolerant of manipulative excess and self-serving fanaticism, on the one hand, and delight in speaking in tongues, praying for the sick, and prophesying to the edification, encouragement, and consolation of other believers, on the other.
I’m talking about Christians who are intellectually exhilarated by complex biblical truths yet unafraid to give public expression to deep emotional delight and heart-felt affection for Jesus; theologically sophisticated followers of Christ who are hungry for the revelatory gifts of the Spirit while always subject to the final authority of the written text of Scripture.
My prayer today is for men and women who are passionate to see God work in supernatural, life-changing ways in his people, who long to pray with success for the sick and see them healed, who are persuaded that the truth of God’s Word, through the power of God’s Spirit, is what saves and sanctifies (John 17:17), and who will, in love, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).