Book Review: The Spirit-Filled Church

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Terry Virgo is one of the most inspirational men I have heard preach or teach. In different contexts, with different crowds, he’s someone who loves Jesus, deeply desires to read and understand God’s Word, and moves in the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry – apostolic or otherwise – has been incredibly influential, and the movement that he helped birth has (with some flaws) become one of the most vibrant church families in the UK – and now Newfrontiers has gone global. And that, I think, is why Terry has written this book. “The Spirit Filled Church” is a brilliantly simple, clear and humble book about the way that Terry thinks church should happen.

At the outset it is worth mentioning that whilst I am Reformed, and Charismatic, I do not agree 100% with Terry’s book – though I would highly recommend it. It is worth reading if you feel church is too dry, too dead, or needs more of the Spirit’s presence. There is much good here. That which I disagreed with tended to be ‘secondary secondary issues’. It was especially encouraging that this grandfather of the Charismatic Reformed movement is so humbly reverent of past people. The list of books quoted and referenced reads like a checklist of evangelical heroes of old. Spurgeon, Stott, Warfield, Sproul, Lloyd Jones, Packer, Lewis; all these and many more make it in. This is a book that has been written with an awareness of the wider evangelical scene (and indeed Church history in general!), and a humble engagement with serious study. For these reasons it is worth reading!

The foreword, by Christian blogger and author Adrian Warnock, sets the tone, warning and encouraging us that “This is a radical book that may demolish many of your current beliefs about the church“. Warnock, himself a leader and member of the Newfrontiers church family, is a great guy, who actually inspired me to get into blogging/tweeting at New Word Alive 2010. I completely agree with his statement – which is an apt summary of the book, that “because the Holy Spirit initiated our Christian lives, and birthed the Church, we need Him to complete the task. We must go beyond a mere theological acceptance of His work and pursue his power today“. This – at least in my understanding – means acceptance of a charismatic ecclesiology and an awareness of the role that the Spirit has in our own lives – the one Jesus said would come after him as our helper.

Anyway, on with the book.

Terry firmly believes that the Spirit is active and involved today. He draws this conviction from biblical exegesis, and his own testimony. One of my favourite extracts from the book – that really convicted me of the need for the Spirit in our churches today – is reproduced here:

Paul speaks in Galatians 4:6 when he says that because we are now fully sons through Christ’s work of redemption, God has now sent “the Spirit of His Son into our hearts”. Notice, Paul does not call Him the Holy Spirit on this occasion but “the Spirit of His Son”. He makes a similar reference in Philippians when he refers to their prayers and “the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:19) – again a clear reference to the Holy Spirit but with this different title – “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit’s coming would mean that it would be like having Jesus with them. Indeed, Jesus must have amazed them with His promise that actually it would be better for them when the Holy Spirit came.

This stunned me.

This reminded me of the reality of God’s omnipresent loving activity in the world. It encouraged me that God’s presence is NOT something we musically bring about – but rather a wave of love and power that Jesus ushered in. That the Spirit is not a force but a powerful person. That Jesus is not a historical artefact but a truly exciting part of reality. Thats the way this book encourages you to think. I could have got frustrated with the way he approaches Holy Spirit Baptism – but that is to get sidetracked. What is clear from this book is that Terry loves and has been profoundly impacted by Jesus Christ – and loves and has been profoundly impacted by the Holy Spirit.

Drawing on Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones (from his book [which I must now read!] “Joy Unspeakable”), Terry challenges us as Christians – and I hope and pray that both lay and leadership-y Christians will read this book – that “you really cannot truly interpret nor understand the teaching of the epistles unless you do so in the light of the history of Acts“. The Gospels anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the epistles take for granted that believers have received Him. This is a very good way of looking at the New Testament, that I believe should be part of a Christian hermeneutic.

Terry also contextualises  his passion for the Spirit of Jesus Christ – by looking at the house of evangelicalism. He is careful to warn, biblically and wisely, against seeker-sensitive worship, against legalism, against the crushing of emotion. He is very aware of how we must be careful in all things – but also praise God fully. One of the most interesting parts of the book is a treatise on friendship. In the Spirit Filled Church, Terry argues that “Christians are also in a unique place to display friendship between the sexes“. From the leader of a ‘Male Headship’ Church Movement this may come as a surprise – but it is encouraging to see the liberation, even socially, that the Spirit can bring. He does then go on to explain a little of his view of the family – for those wishing to understand a Newfrontiers teaching on these sorts of issues this book is well worth reading.

One of the great criticisms of a Charismatic expression of Christianity – rightly – is that it can become anti-intellectual. And damage the church. Which is why, I think, Terry echoes the New Testament in stating simply: “God wants us to weigh prophecy. True prophecy never condemns or crushes us… It is always biblical, glorifies Jesus and has an “upward” theme. It builds us up, stirs us up or cheers us up!“. I agree – bearing in mind that God could use this gift to bring his church back to his standards, or to exhort the church for greater fidelity and passion in some areas.

Terry Virgo has a had a fantastic influence on the kingdom of God. By God’s grace he has been used to inspire thousands of people, hundreds of churches, and make people think. He is a man, and is thus fallible. But he, by the power of the Spirit and the grace of God has written a book here that I think is essential reading for all those in Church leadership – whether Charismatic or not – and one that challenges us to be serious with scripture, serious with God, and serious about Church. Regardless of some niggles, or differences over secondary issues, this is a good thing.

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