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“Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” and Holy Spirit Indwelling

January 14, 2019 8 comments

Going through a stack of unread paperback books I’ve received over the last year or so, recently I’ve  been reading Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.  With a style that is somewhat scholarly — more difficult than average layperson books (though not as difficult as some scholarly theological books) – Horton’s book is interesting in several aspects, with plenty of footnotes and references to other theologians, a serious look at the oft-neglected and often misunderstood role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

Though expressed in more technical language, this book references the “seminal headship” error commonly associated with Anabaptists (referenced in this previous blog post):

The God-world antithesis was so marked that many Anabaptists held a form of Docetism, with the Son believed to have assumed “heavenly flesh” rather than a true humanity from the virgin Mary in the power of the Spirit.  … Menno Simons argued that “there is no letter to be found in all the Scriptures that the Word assumed our flesh.”… The Polish Reformed theologian John a Lasco took the lead in challenging this view as taught by Menno Simons, and Calvin criticized it in the Institutes…

The above and other parts are interesting, yet I find one area where I disagree with this book.  For some (bizarre, to me) reason, Horton – who is covenantal, affirming the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – states that Old Testament believers, prior to Pentecost, were not indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  This view is most commonly associated with classic dispensationalism, a relatively recent view introduced in the 19th century.  I previously blogged about this question in this post a few years ago (with links to a series from David Murray’s Headhearthand Blog), and still find the posts in that series helpful, regarding the historical Reformed view (with many quotes from the centuries past), and to understand the current-day flawed reasoning—and to respond to it. It is also interesting to note that even “leaky dispensationalist” John MacArthur (as pointed out in quotes at Murray’s blog) has affirmed that Old Testament saints had the Holy Spirit.  Yet Horton introduces an idea in conflict with the historic Reformed view, of a qualitative rather than quantitative difference in the Holy Spirit’s role with believers in the pre-Pentecost era.  According to this view, Old Testament saints were justified and regenerated, and saved and kept in the faith; but the Holy Spirit only “came upon” and was “with” them (with them in the corporate sense of the theocracy of OT Israel); further, that the Spirit being “with” them precludes the possibility of the Spirit also being “in” them.

Mention of this idea comes before chapter 6, “The Age of the Spirit,” but is treated in greater detail in this chapter.  On another topic, one statement takes the classic amillennial covenantal assumption that “the land” was included in the list of things belonging only to the Mosaic covenant:  “The writer to the Hebrews labors the point that the law of Moses—and everything pertaining to it (the land, the temple, the sacrifices, and the commands governing individual and social life in the theocracy)—was a typological shadow.” It’s just a passing statement without further elaboration – but let’s remember that the land promise actually first shows up in the early chapters of Genesis with Abraham, long before the Mosaic economy.

But just a few pages later comes the idea of OT saints regenerated yet not Holy Spirit-indwelled:

Looking to Christ from afar, the old-covenant saints believed in realities that they themselves had not experienced… Justified through faith, they were preserved and kept by the Spirit.  At this level, the difference seems more quantitative than qualitative.  …

The sheer repetition in the prophets of God’s promises to “pour out” his Spirit in the last days indicates a qualitatively new manifestation of the Spirit in the future.  …

the apostles interpret Pentecost as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and not simply as a continuation—even a heightening—of the Spirit’s work in previous days.   (emphasis added)

I understand from the above, that Horton is addressing the corporate nature of Israel, their worship, and God dwelling with them in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.  Yet it also seems to me, from reading the full chapter, that Horton is referencing the Holy Spirit in the Mosaic economy as only having a corporate nature and thus the Holy Spirit not having any purpose regarding individual believers within corporate Israel – taking an either/or approach rather than the broader both/and understanding.  Further, the idea of Pentecost as the fulfillment of an OT prophecy does not necessitate that the actual fulfillment itself is of something substantively different and previously unknown.

At this point I find David Murray’s observations helpful, regarding two mistakes in Bible interpretation:

I’m afraid that some who have argued against the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers may have inadvertently erred in these two areas.

Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist.

And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.

Horton often references the “harder” text, John 7:37-39, putting great emphasis on it (over other texts).  The reasoning here is also using the argument from silence, or confusing “the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth.”  Throughout this section, the “pouring out” of the Spirit is equated with actual indwelling, and silence in the Old Testament means the truth did not exist then. As described on page 151:

The Spirit had not been given, even during Jesus’ ministry, in the way that he would be “poured out” at Pentecost.  Since Moses’s hope for the Spirit’s being poured out on all the people is repeated as late as the Minor Prophets (e.g., Joel 2) without any appeal to a previous era of analogous outpouring and indwelling of the Spirit, we have no reason to believe that God answered Moses’s request until Pentecost.  God went beyond the request, putting his Spirit in, not just on, all of his people.  (emphasis in original)

Reading this book has been an interesting experience, helpful for reading this view I disagree with and for “iron sharpening iron” analysis, to help in strengthening my own understanding of the issue.  I was surprised to see this view (OT saints not indwelled by the Holy Spirit) taught in a book written by a Covenantal theologian, and it goes to show (as I’ve observed with other doctrines) the great variety of differing views even within the umbrella of Covenant Theology.