Pastor J.D. Greear may be one of the most influential pastors you’ve never heard of. He’s not preaching prosperity on television or advising the President. He’s never made the “TIME 100″ or The New York Times bestsellers list. But Greear has built a massive, multi-campus megachurch amid the modest city of Raleigh, North Carolina, and he is quietly amassing influence among conservative evangelicals.
The subtitle of his most recent book, “Jesus Continued…: Why the Spirit Inside of You is Better Than the Jesus Beside You,” caught my attention, and I decided to invite him to discuss the idea at “On Faith and Culture.” Here we discuss how he thinks some of his fellow Christians have misunderstood the Holy Spirit and how he hopes they’ll change.
RNS: You say you felt disconnected from God during most of your Christian life. This is an unusual and refreshing admission for a pastor. Tell us more.
JDG: Even though I’d been pastoring a “successful” church, God seemed distant—more like a doctrine I knew about than a person I knew. My relationship with God seemed one-way. I worked for Him. Jesus was like a teacher who had given an assignment and then stepped out of the room, leaving me to learn the lessons and finish the assignment. I prayed to Him about my problems and tried to trust that He was working—somewhere, somehow—to help me. But I didn’t have any real interaction with him.
I knew the Holy Spirit was inside me, but I related to Him the same way I relate to my pituitary gland: I’m grateful it’s in there; I know it’s essential for something; I would never want to lose it . . . but I don’t interact with it. There was little, if any, sense of experiencing the presence of God as moving, dynamic Person.
RNS: Tell me about relating to God more as a doctrine than a person. You’re Southern Baptist, and that denomination is famous for drawing doctrinal lines in the sand as well as being highly skeptical of experience in theological formation. What am I missing?
JDG: I never want to downplay the important role of doctrine, but Christianity is more than doctrine. It is relationship and experience that grows out of doctrine. We can never know God apart from Scripture, but knowing Scripture isn’t the same as knowing God. Without doctrine, we have no way of interpreting our experiences; but without experience, our doctrine has no point.
To “grow in the gospel” is not simply to grow in our awareness of God’s love, or even in our response to those truths. Presence is the point of Christianity. The Holy Spirit speaks in 36 of the 59 places He shows up in the book of Acts. The “normal” Christian life includes awareness of a moving, speaking Person in the midst of the church.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service