Summary: Four freedoms the Holy Spirit brings explained for people investigating the Christian faith.
Robert Duvall wanted to make a movie called The Apostle back in 1983 (Newsweek 4/13/98, 60). He wanted to make The Apostle because he felt that the motion picture industry had mostly ignored the work of the Holy Spirit in American religion. According to Duvall, "Filmmakers hardly ever depict spirituality with such a strong emphasis on the Holy Spirit, and when they do, it tends to be patronizing--full of charlatans and snake handlers." Duvall wanted to do something different with The Apostle; he wanted to realistically portray a preacher who was fully human yet also captivated by the Holy Spirit. Says Duvall, "What I really wanted to do was to try to understand what these preachers go through and what they believe, and to portray it in an accurate way. So when I first approached various studios about this movie...they wouldn’t go near it [because it didn’t attack] the religious right." So Duvall put off The Apostle for nearly 15 years, until he finally financed the movie with his own money, and that of course led to an enormously popular movie that earned him an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of preacher Sonny Dewey.
Duvall says that he was raised in a Christian home, taught to believe in Jesus Christ, but that he never knew much about the Holy Spirit until he made The Apostle. While he was doing research for the movie he says that he tried to not pass judgment, to just try to understand how the Holy Spirit moves, and that during his research for the movie, as he sat in a church in Harlem, the Holy Spirit touched his life in a way he’ll never forget.
In some ways, Robert Duvall’s movie The Apostle made the Holy Spirit mainstream to the American public. In fact, in response to the enormous popularity of The Apostle, last month’s Newsweek devoted an article to the resurgence of the Holy Spirit in American churches. According to a Newsweek survey, 47% of Americans claim to have experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives.
We’ve been in a series called WHAT DO CHRISTIANS THINK? In this series we’ve been trying to look at the basic beliefs of the Christian faith in a way that both irreligious people and Christians can understand. So far we’ve looked at what Christians believe about God, the Bible, the world, Jesus, and the cross. Today we’re going to talk about what Christians believe about the Holy Spirit.
A tremendous amount of confusion and controversy exists about the Holy Spirit today. You can visit churches today were people experience hysterical laughter said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, or you can go places where people fall down on the ground, where they even growl like animals...all in the name of the Holy Spirit. A generation ago A. W. Tozer wrote that when the average Christian thinks about the Holy Spirit "he is likely to imagine a nebulous substance like a wisp of invisible smoke which is said to be present in churches and to over hover good people when they die" (A Treasury of A. W. Tozer, p. 41).
Part of our problem is that the Holy Spirit seems so mystical. We can picture God the Father, because we’ve all seen fathers. We can picture God the Son because he became human and we can read about what he did and what he’s like. But when we try to picture the Holy Spirit our minds go blank, and we end up with symbols like a dove, or wind, or fire. Different churches tend to emphasize the Holy Spirit in different ways: Charismatic and Pentecostal churches focus on his power, while evangelicals tend to emphasize the Spirit’s work in bringing attention to Jesus Christ, and still Roman Catholics focus on the Holy Spirit working through the church hierarchy. Entire churches have split over how to understand the Holy Spirit. When we talked about what Christians believe about God six weeks ago, we looked briefly at the Christian idea of God as a trinity. The trinity is simply a summary of the Bible’s teaching that within the nature of the one true God there are three eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This means that the Holy Spirit is a person, not merely a force or an influence.