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Recovering the Mind, Renovating the Soul, Restoring the Spirit’s Power

I’ve been reading J.P. Moreland’s superb book Kingdom Triangle, which was recently released by Zondervan. He begins with this true story by the missionary doctor to Zaire, Africa—Helen Roseveare. Though it’s a bit long for a blog, it is very inspiring.

One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.

     

We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.

    

A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “. . . and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”

     

The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, “. . . And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!

    

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas—that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the . . . could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”

   

That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child—five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!” “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24 (The story is found in Roseveare’s book Living Faith published by Bethany House in 1980.)

After giving this story, Moreland then asks: How does one interpret such an account? The answers will be different for the naturalist (“that’s just a fabrication”), the postmodern (“that may be your truth”), and the Christian (“that’s wonderful and inspiring”—or perhaps “why don’t those things happen in my life?”). Naturalism, postmodernism, and Christian theism—these are, according to Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, the three worldviews competing for our allegiance in the West.

With no minced words, Moreland incisively exposes the weaknesses and hollowness of naturalism and postmodernism. Not only are they false and faulty; they are “thin” and lacking the resources for a robust, drama-filled life. Whether we are simply biological organisms that fight, feed, flee, and reproduce or are empty selves with shallow relationships and consumeristic pursuits, these positions both fail in providing the grandeur and excitement life in God’s kingdom can. We need to live a life larger than our own individual selves. The grandest of all stories is to know God—to live in accordance with God’s kingdom and His unshakable purposes and life-giving power.

To do so, one must enter into a “kingdom triangle” mindset: to recover the mind, renovate the soul, and restore the Spirit’s power. Moreland writes with passion and deep concern for Christians to be all that God calls them to be—instead of dabbling in a half-hearted, unthinking, Spirit-less discipleship.

While we’ve come to expect Moreland to write about the Christian faith as a knowledge tradition that is connected to reality (rather than an irrelevant, private hobby) and about the importance of spiritual growth through various character-transforming spiritual disciplines, this book strongly emphasizes the Spirit’s miraculous, prayer-answering power. Chapter 7 (“Restoration of the Kingdom’s Miraculous Power”) is worth the price of the book itself. Moreland recounts one answer to prayer and divine miraculous intervention after another, many coming from Moreland’s own experiences and from those whom he has known and personally interviewed. I was excited, challenged, and moved to go even more deeply into this realm of taking risks by taking God’s power more seriously. As one hymn puts it: “Thou art coming to a King. Large petitions with thee bring. For His grace and power are such—None can ever ask too much!”

I hope you too will be inspired by this practical, hard-hitting, but well-rounded book. Moreland has written a marvelous book for the church, and I pray that we will all take to heart the message of the Kingdom Triangle.

11 Responses to “Recovering the Mind, Renovating the Soul, Restoring the Spirit’s Power”

  1. I agree, I was impressed by the book.
    If you don’t mind I would like to repost a question it raised for me that I posted at our sister blog Euangelion:
    http://euangelion.wordpress.com/2007/07/30/can-we-make-the-spirit-more-active/

    I thought the book was very good, it spelled out the trouble the (Western) church faces and how we need to fix it by balancing reason, spiritual formation and the Holy Spirit. I thought the most interesting part (besides the invaluable bibliography in the back) was his reminder to us that Christianity is a supernatural religion. He states that outside the Western church the Spirit is very active with mass conversions and miracles. According to him the majority of 3rd World conversions are directly the result of miracles and signs.

    I don’t disagree with him, and he was very careful to separate this from the excesses of Pentecostalism, but I found myself wishing the Christianity I see was more supernatural. It seems to be the biblical and early church model, but seems much different than what we see today. It seems we are almost deists by default as the Spirit does not seem to move in our sphere in obvious ways like it apparently does elsewhere.

    My question is why? Is the Spirit not willing/able to do so because our naturalist mindset does not allow it? At first glance, it seems to me that the Spirit can and will do whatever it wants regardless of our mindset. But Mark 6 seems to imply that the actions of the Spirit can be limited by unbelief:

    Mark 6:3-6

    “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.

    And he went about among the villages teaching.”

    Are we left only with the teaching of the Word because we do not believe the Spirit can work miracles today?

    The flip side is, if I engage in spiritual formation, etc. will this make the Spirit more active externally to the point of supernatural healing, etc.

    A vision of a church acting with supernatural power is great to dream about…(Let Dawkins call that a delusion!!) but I guess its the calvinist in me that feels its the Spirit’s decision and not mine.

    Is the Spirit choosing to work elsewhere and not here (I know, I know he is active here, but I mean on a less obvious, more behind the scenes level, read the book and the attested miracles that occured overseas and you’ll know what I mean) or are we quenching it?

    I really want to know!!

  2. I could not agree more with your assessment on the book. In pg 160 of his book, he mention that the soul which consist of the brain which is our intellectual cognition and the heart which is involved in intuitive perception. Thus, the soul is involved in
    navigating us through the world. Unfortunately, we have been tainted knowingly or unknowingly by naturalistic science that we dismiss miraculous gifts.
    Case in point, see post on ” A Near Death Experience? A Theological Evaluation of Don Piper’s: 90 Minute in Heaven.” Majority of the responses was unbelieve, except for # 9 and #10.
    The powerful statement on pg 173 when he states that the “Kingdom is here now.” Dr. Moreland knows very well that in John 18:36 Jesus states that His Kingdom is not of this world. He was careful to qualify that statement by saying that, we can draw power from Christ while we are here in this physical world of ours. It is also important that he was careful to throw in the word discernment on miracles.

    God Bless.

  3. There were actually a number of good questions asked over on Euangelion regarding this subject.

    I’ll reiterate one of them – If the examples given are not simply an aspect of the differences in our culture but God is actually withholding something from us, what is the prescribed solution that Dr. Moreland provides?

    Among others… the link is already provided above should others wish to check them out.

    -steve

  4. Thanks for these responses and affirmations.

    In terms of the specific recommendations JP makes, he first addresses the question of cessationism. He urges Christians who believe that miracles and divinely-wrought wonders (along with revelations) have ceased to reconsider this position. I would certainly agree.

    Also, he encourages Christians to be willing to take risks in praying rather than worrying, “God might not answer this request.” Oftentimes, we shrink from praying because of this. He calls for “appropriate expectation” in which we ask boldly but gladly leave the results to God. There’s more that he says, but that’s a start. By the way, another book that emphasizes the importance of humbly expecting/asking more from God is Craig Keener’s *Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today* (Baker). Perhaps we grieve God’s Spirit by not appropriating various resources available to us that He would gladly bestow if only we asked.

    As for the the Euangelion post that Chad mentioned, it raises the question, “Can we make the Spirit more active?” This isn’t the correct way to ask it, however. You don’t have to be a Calvinist to feel uncomfortable with this question! However, the non-Calvinist in me (!) keeps in mind what James 4 says: “You don’t have because you don’t ask.” (I could bring up lots of other verses about God’s gracious activity in response to prayer, but let this suffice.) We are called to ask of God (with right motives), and the text (here and many other places) implies that if we don’t ask, we jolly well may not or won’t receive anything as a result. We are called to ask—no doubt, more than we actually do. And God, in light of his foreknowledge, wisdom, and purposes, may bring about the answer to that prayer but (possibly) wouldn’t bring something about had we not asked. (I address some of the philosophical questions raised by foreknowledge, freedom, and prayer in my forthcoming Chalice Press book, *Loving Wisdom*; so I won’t go into that here.)

    We aren’t manipulating God or demanding from God. We are simply asking as (hopefully humble) children ask a father, who has the freedom and power to grant our request–and the wisdom to know whether he should do so. The Spirit’s wonder-working activity is ultimately up to God, but God may graciously respond to prayers of expectation and boldness and act in a dramatic way—and not act if we don’t (as the Mark 6:3-6 passage suggests). And we must remember that God may not answer prayer and leave us in a weaker—but more dependent—condition so that His grace may be all the more evident, as 2 Cor. 13 reminds us. That said, I, frankly, believe much of the problem has to do with our prayerlessness and our lack of boldness. Think of how we depend upon technology and methods and programs to do “God’s work,” and we often stand chastened when we visit Christians in developing countries who are bold in prayer and regularly see remarkable workings of God. As Ephesians 3 reminds us, God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine according to his power within us, but the question is, “Will we take this to heart?”

  5. Paul,

    Good perspective – thanks.

    -steve

  6. Paul,

    You’ve piqued my interest in this book. It sounds somewhat similar to a book I read last year “Above All Earthly Pow’rs” by David Wells…although Wells doesn’t deal with the provocative question of why we see more obviously supernatural workings of the Spirit in the non-Western church than here in the sophisticated West. Perhaps another example of God using the foolish things to shame the wise?

    Look forward to reading and hearing more on this subject…

  7. Thanks Paul!!

  8. Another book I have to read sometime. Maybe this will go to the top of my list.

    What if a community was filled with people who were like Jesus, who could heal anyone just because they wanted to? What would that look like? When would we decide that it was time to just let someone die? Maybe this sounds like a silly question, but I do ponder about it.

    Hey, I see there is a box to check so that we can be notified by email if there are follow-up comments now. Cool!

    Joanie D.

  9. Thanks to you all for your comments. If you haven’t read JP’s book, I strongly recommend it.

    In light of what I noted earlier, I wouldn’t want to say we–no matter how prayerful–can heal any time we want to. I do think, though, that we should be more expectant and bold so that we might see God at work in new ways, which is something that God Himself desires.

    As for the question about deciding when to let someone die, we need to remember first of all that we all live in a fallen world and will die unless Jesus returns to establish the new heavens and earth–a new creation. When the “great organs” of our bodies–heart, lungs, and brain–start to (irreversibly) shut down, death is coming. God can still work even at this stage . . . or beyond (think of Lazarus in John 11! In fact, I’ve heard reports from credible sources about resuscitations from the dead in Jesus’ name). We must remember that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to us, nor should we take every last measure to stave it off. The important issue, however, is that we start seeing with new eyes, trusting God more deeply, and taking risks.

  10. The Gospel has Jesus telling his disciples that they will do even GREATER things than he did! This always amazes me. What can be greater than his raising Lazarus from the dead? What can be greater than his calming the storm, feeding the multitudes, immediately curing the lepers? It boggles my mind. Do we REALLY believe this? If we do, why isn’t it happening? And do we really want to believe this is true or do we feel that if we actually could do greater things than Jesus that we are somehow usurping our Savior? I know that if we do the things Jesus says we can do, it is not WE who are actually doing the things, but God. Maybe if we can remember that, we will not be as afraid to let the power of the Holy Spirit work through us. But life can just be so “daily” that many of us feeling we are doing well just to get through the day without a major meltdown.

    Joanie D.

  11. Joanie,

    Thanks for your input and the reminder to place greater confidence in God than we typically do day by day.

    You referred to John 14:12, which states, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” While I think that the miraculous is part of this, I don’t think that this passage is suggesting that we could actually “out-do” Jesus’ miracles!

    A verse that helps give perspective to this passage in John is Matthew 11:11: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen [anyone] greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The “greater” here refers to that which is done in this new era ushered in by Christ and the giving of the Spirit. We are “greater” than John in the sense that John was “on the brink” without experiencing the poured-out gift of the empowering Spirit at Pentecost–let alone Jesus’ death and resurrection. So what is done by Christians after Christ’s ascension and the Spirit’s coming is in this sense “greater” than what was done by even Christ while on earth. Christ, the light of the world, calls us to be the light of the world so that we might bring His glory to the nations. In this way, the Spirit uses our many “hands and feet” throughout the world, not merely through the ministry of Jesus; the result is a “greater” manifestation of the working of God’s power.

    We must also keep in mind that God can use weakness to show His strength–not merely dramatic displays of power. But we must be bolder about trusting God for “greater” things than we presently do!

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