What has a still small voice, is always nearby, and answers to a whistle? If you said “the Holy Spirit,” you may want to talk to your pastor. This is the job description that Jiminy Cricket gives himself in the Disney classic Pinocchio, not the role of the Third Person of the Trinity. Everyone has a conscience, but not everyone has an indwelling of the living God alive and active within them. Granted the Spirit works in concert with our conscience, but to reduce him to such a minor role is unbecoming of the Lord of the universe.
As much as we know about the work of the Holy Spirit from the Bible, his function and activity still remain somewhat allusive and very controversial. Francis Chan seems to have intentionally written his book Forgotten God to challenge our preconceptions of who the Holy Spirit is, how he works in our lives, and how we can discern his activity in the lives of those around us. Beginning with “Holy Spirit 101,” he asks readers to lay down what they believe and the concerns and fears about other perspectives and freshly look at what the Bible teaches.
There were definitely some sections that I found confusing and inaccurate. Chan several times talked about someone being “the most Spirit-filled” person. My hunch is that he was actually talking about the person who most readily showed fruits of the Spirit’s work in their lives, but instead ended up implying that some had more of the Spirit than others did. In that context he does rightly talk about trust and submission to the work of the Spirit, challenging us to believe that God has a plan and that he makes that plan known step-by-step, asking us to be willing and faithful.
Early in the book Chan also implied that there were things that we needed to do in order to receive the Spirit and that we would not receive the Spirit if we do not have the right intention at heart. Fortunately in later chapters he made it clear that it is impossible to be a Christian and not be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Chan also talks about making ourselves ready and willing to do what the Spirit asks, but there are countless examples from the Bible of men and women who, having no forewarning nor prior intention, were called and obeyed. Abram (later Abraham) and Moses each responded to God’s calling with very different levels of willingness. Clearly a soft and malleable heart is more ready to engage in service at the call of the Spirit, but I do not think that the Bible, nor my experience would suggest that it is a requirement.
The strongest part of the book was the last few chapters where Chan makes vivid distinctions between the “Jiminy Cricket” spirit and the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who choses to indwell his people. As his temple, the church (that is all those who are Christian) is brought to life, kept alive, and powered by the Holy Spirit to do the work that God has ordained for us to do from before time: namely to glorify him and to proclaim his gospel to the entire world. Therefore the Spirit calls us then gives us the means and the ability to carry out the tasks that he has for us to do. I was definitely inspired and challenged to allow myself to trust the work of the Spirit that I can see in my life and to follow his prompting in areas that I know that I have resisted him.
This could be a very helpful book to use as a guide for Bible study on the Holy Spirit and to begin to seek a more complete understanding of how the Spirit works and how to discern his work in and around you. I would challenge any reader to have a Bible handy to look up the references Chan provides, read them in context, and discover the teaching of the Bible about the work and power of the Holy Spirit.