Books on the Holy Spirit are not as plentiful as one might think, and books on the Spirit that take on the entire scope of evidence are fewer yet — but there is a new book that will become, and perhaps already has become, the benchmark and starting point for all future studies of the Spirit. John R. Levison’s Filled With the Spirit
The effusiveness of the endorsements match what I have seen in the book: a full study of the evidence in the Old Testament, the Jewish literature, Greco-Roman materials and the New Testament, and a comprehensive re-evaluation of the state of the art. Levison has a proposal to make, and it is essentially that the pre-Christian materials saw the Spirit of God and the human spirit as one and the same — hence, his spelling: “spirit of God.” The New Testament, however, sees the human spirit within, given to all at birth, as insufficient and those early Christian texts dwell on the additional power of the charismatic Spirit of God coming upon humans. There is a powerful conviction that God’s Spirit must be received as an additional endowment.
One more observation of Levison’s book: Levison has listened well to the oracle of poetry because this book contains some of the finest prose I’ve ever seen in scholarship. At times it brushes up against the indirection of English writers and at other times of the cadence of the poet. This book is eloquent and exceptional. Buy it and read it.
Perhaps the most pressing issue of our day is what we think of heaven and hell, and perhaps not even what we think but if we think of them. These are potent ideas, and to claim not only an afterlife but also what it takes to get there must reflect the most serious of thinking and the most serious of commitments. I don’t believe the pressing issue narrows down to what one thinks of Jesus or Scripture or even orthodox faith but whether or not what we believe ultimately, finally, and eternally matters.
Many today want to write about these topics and have all sorts of things to say, but the issue standing there is whether or not these places or states or conditions exist or will exist. I believe many want to address that topic instead of what heaven is like or whether or not Dante gets things more or less right. That is why John Casey’s wide-ranging, partly modernist and partly postmodernist, study of heaven and hell and purgatory in history deserves to be read: he jaunts here and jabs there, but all in all he covers the terrain. His book is called: After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory
I don’t agree with him, but I like his prose and the material he covers. These are the utmost of issues, and they are not likely to go away just because many today don’t believe in either and they want appear just because some believe they do. For Casey, morals from within are found as ways to map our destiny. He finds Muslims, evangelical Christians and conservative Roman Catholics as those who traditionally and still believe in both heaven and hell, with some believing in purgatory. While the rest of moderns and postmoderns have put paid to such old-fashioned ideas. Changes, in other words, in the moral world within lead to changes in our perception of the world about us.
Here is his fundamental orientation, which I’ve swiped from the end: “It could be that in following [this] history … we will find that the best compass we can have will not be some idea about how reasonable or risible such beliefs are … but rather a sense of how deeply they mirror our own most sincere self-consciousness, most courageous self-judgment. Our image of heaven and hell is finally an image of how we judge ourselves.”
Perhaps what we see here then is a bit of rhetorical theory of the after life — after lives. That is, heaven and hell and purgatory are ways of expressing what is most valuable, what is most despicable, and what will be necessary to purge ourselves of.