The Spirit and the Written Word -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 111:444 (Oct 1954)
Article: The Spirit and the Written Word
Author: Carl F. H. Henry

The Spirit and the Written Word

Carl F. H. Henry

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Henry is Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theology Seminary, Pasadena, California, and the author of numerous books and articles.]

Every Christian statement of the knowledge of God makes a central place for two important realities: the Spirit and the Word. No theory of knowledge can be Christian which does not keep the Spirit and the Word at its very center.

But the way in which these great realities are to be related has been a frequent storm-center of Christian thought. In the early centuries, at the Reformation, and again in modern times, conflict has arisen over their respective functions.

The one-sided emphasis on the priority of the Holy Spirit, which works an injustice to the significance of the Scripture, was characteristic of the Montanists in the early Christian centuries and of the Anabaptists in Reformation times, as in our century it is a feature of the theology of crisis, or so-called dialectical theology.

It must be acknowledged that the role of the Spirit is neglected rather than overstated in some Christian circles. Sometimes groups holding a high view of the authority of the Bible allow the Spirit an inadequate role. Evangelical believers have always protested against a mere catechism-Christianity, which treats the memorization of the great doctrines, important as they may be, as if it were the equivalent of a vital Christian experience. The fact is that many an unbeliever has a memory well-stocked with Bible verses and doctrines; the Bible yields a knowledge of God, but the Spirit alone, who uses Scripture as His instrument, is the giver of regenerate life.

An exaggeration of the role of the Spirit leads to a dangerous mysticism in Christian experience; a neglect of the Holy Spirit may content itself with an outward and

legalistic conformity to spiritual realities without vital regeneration.

The Protestant Reformation struck a solid balance of Word and Spirit. So that the Christian life might not evaporate into a vague and formless mysticism, lacking all definite and fixed doctrinal content, it recognized the Bible as the only authoritative source of the knowledge of God and His purposes. And so that religious experience would not harden into an unspiritual legalism, it emphasized that the Holy Spirit alone is the source and sustainer of the Christian life.

The modern champions of a Spirit-Christianity, like their forerunners in the history of Western thought, profess to honor God in a way in which the Bible-reverencing movements do not. Their con...

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