Reviewing Spirit and Sacrament by Andrew Wilson
Andrew Wilson quickly became one of my favorite authors and speakers after I saw him preach the best message on healing I’d ever heard at the first Convergence Conference in Oklahoma City and bought his apologetic work, If God, Then What? His blog, Think Theology, is consistently the source of great content, and when I saw that he had released this new book, I had it in my cart within about forty-five seconds.
Spirit and Sacrament is another book written in the growing “Reformed Charismatic” sphere, alongside authors and pastors such as Sam Storms, Jack Deere, and Matt Chandler. As Wilson acknowledges, the word “charismatic” carries a lot of baggage in the United States, perhaps bringing to mind wild worship services that frighten more than anything else. However, Wilson uses the word very intentionally, wanting to redeem the meaning as one half of his subtitle (and made up word): Eucharismatic. The other half of the subtitle, “eucharistic,” brings to mind monastic chants, dull repetition, and droning organ chords. Again, however, Wilson very intentionally chooses this word to frame his vision for the church and redeem the good parts of it: charismatic and eucharistic in equal measure. Wilson writes:
“Many (if not most) Christians today would be inclined to think in terms of a spectrum when it comes to church practice, with the historical-liturgical-reflective-sacramental at one end, the the charismatic-Pentecostal-expressive-celebratory at the other…The truth, however is quite the opposite. If you want more bounce, you need more depth…Down, into historic prayers. Up, into spontaneous ones. Down, into confession of sin. Up, into celebration of forgiveness. Down, into the creeds. Up, into the choruses. Down, into knowing God’s presence in the sacraments. Up, into feeling God’s presence in song. Call, and response. Friday, then Sunday. Kneel, then jump.”
Wilson’s skill as a wordsmith (and the helpful subtext which add color at the bottom of each page) make the cheeky digs sprinkled throughout a joy to read from either side of the aisle.
“Given the explicit instructions of the Psalms, and the fact that Christians are urged to sing and teach one another with them, it is even worth asking whether churches that never play loud music, sing new songs, clap, raise hands, shout, or dance are not just reserved or conservative but are actually unbiblical.”
One observation Wilson makes is that of how gifts in the church tend to congregate. In this observation, Wilson posits that those who appreciate and/or have similar gifts tend to gather together. For example, those who appreciate solid Biblical teaching and/or have a teaching gift tend to gather together and form churches that are theologically strong but perhaps lacking in other areas. Those who appreciate and/or have more demonstrative prophetic or healing gifts tend to gather together, especially when the other churches are teaching that their gifts have ceased! Wilson’s vision is for a local church that embraces the fullness of God’s gifts in practice, including all the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.
(Before any talk of miraculous healing brings to mind concerns about the excesses of the “prosperity gospel,” be assured that Wilson is completely opposed. This book is actually a wonderful foil to prosperity gospel excesses).
As mentioned above, this is simply an enjoyable book to read. Wilson expertly weaves intriguing illustrations and sparkling vocabulary to frame his arguments. It’s an easy book to get on board with. Yes! That would be awesome to have churches that functioned like this!
When all the fun theoretical thinking turns into what is the next step? — suddenly things get real. What happens when people step out and practice using these gifts? What if a prophetic person shares a “word” and the interpretation is wrongly applied? (like in Acts 21:4) Or what if a group of gifted people gather to pray for someone’s healing and nothing happens? (sort of like Matthew 17:14-20) Wouldn’t that be embarrassing and create more trouble than it is worth? A comment Matt Chandler made in several of his messages on this topic helped me with this thought: other spiritual gifts that we are more comfortable with can also be misused. Ever heard a Scripture passage wrongly applied in a sermon? Or seen an otherwise strong leader make a poor decision for his organization?
What does the Apostle Paul have to say about all this?
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 14:1)
This imperative from the Apostle Paul was written to a church that was one of the more wildly charismatic in the New Testament. Paul’s message wasn’t “take it easy, tone it down,” but rather “earnestly desire these things.” In other words, do it, but do it right!
I’m just a regular business guy, not on church staff anywhere, but I’m sure that discouraging the practice of these more demonstrative gifts makes a local church easier to manage. But at what cost? I previously shared a personal story about a gentleman sharing a word of knowledge with my sister that was just about dead on with several things that she had been praying about. A prophetic word that gave her the confidence to make a key specific decision. I met another gentleman later at the same conference that lamented the fact that he might have to leave his current church because he felt like a fish out of water with his prophetic gift.
So, as an average layperson pretty much in alignment with Wilson’s position, I’m compelled to ask myself: Where am I gifted? I’m not entirely sure yet. I suspect a few areas, but I’m still needing to develop in them. In the meantime, I’ll do my part to encourage anyone else who steps out in faith into their own gifts, and I’ll extend extra grace to those are earnestly seeking their gifts but perhaps not yet very successfully.
So, the book. Spirit and Sacrament. If I’ve chosen the wrong quotes in this brief review and failed to convince you that it’s worth the read, that’s entirely on me. It’s relatively short at 140 pages, but jam-packed without a single wasted word. And it’s like 8 bucks. Even if you disagree with the book’s premise, every deep-thinking, charismatically-inclined, or Spirit-filled believer should read this or have it in their library. Great!