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Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life Paperback – April 1, 2012
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From the Back Cover
"Fresh Air offers careful examination of the Holy Spirit, all tangled up with a wide wonder."--Nichole Nordeman
"People told me Jack Levison was a great teacher, and when I read this book I realized why. His excitement is infectious; he tells a great story; he sets little-known biblical passages on fire and drills down to unimagined depths in well-known ones. He has a boyish enthusiasm, but his account of the holy spirit - and what the spirit can do for whole churches, not just individuals! - is mature, seasoned, challenging and wise. His scholarship is spot on, his human warmth and Christian compassion are everywhere. An unbeatable combination." --N. T. Wright
"Jack Levison's book is the most biblical, wide-ranging, innovative, and refreshing book on the Holy Spirit in years. The Spirit is here de-programmed and set loose. You may be surprised in every chapter, I know I was." --Scot McKnight
"Fresh Air is, well, a breath of fresh air. Jack Levison fuses an accurate but unpretentious examination of the Holy Spirit in Scripture with a lively and generous style that invites the entire Christian community, regardless of label, to embrace God's Spirit in the everyday ordinariness of life." --Eugene Peterson
"Fresh Air is exactly what its title promises: a lively, fresh study of the theology of the Holy Spirit by a brilliant and spirited theologian. If there is such a thing as poignant Christian midrash, then this surely is it." --Phyllis Tickle
"I've often asked pastors, 'Who is the most neglected person of the Trinity?' They always answer, 'The Holy Spirit.' In this lively and--well--Spirit-filled book, Jack Levison enjoys the exploits of the Holy Spirit throughout scripture, provoking a fresh encounter with God. Jack is uniquely qualified to lead us, combining his scholarly understanding of scripture with his deep affection for the church, both mainline and Pentecostal. No one will think about the Holy Spirit in the same way after reading Jack's book."--Will Willimon
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Much more disturbing is that the author totally departs from two thousand years of Christian tradition in claiming that the Spirit (I choose to cap it myself, thanks) "animates all people," for the Bible makes it clear that it animates God's people, i.e., Christians., which is why Paul refers to the "Spirit of adoption" (Rom 8:15) that makes believers into sons and daughters of God. In fact, though the book does not precisely deny that the Spirit is a Person, the book wanders into the vague "spiritual but not religious" territory that so many people inhabit today, with this sense that something "spiritual" is going on at any time of heightened emotion. Typical of the liberal view of God, the book doesn't present Christians being "filled with" the Spirit nor in any sort of intimate bond with the Spirit - the spirit serves merely as a tag for "I really felt something - must be the spirit!" Typical of liberal theology, this spirit tends to nudge people into activism for liberal causes. (FYI: the author wrote a blatantly pro-gay editorial for the very liberal Huffington Post in November 2012, urging the people in Maine, Washington, and Minnesota to "vote their conscience" by approving of same-sex "marriage" in those states. In the article his interpretation of Paul's Letter to the Romans, which contains a much-quoted passage condemning homosexuality, is completely unorthodox and completely approving of homosexuality.)
I did manage to suffer through to the end. The book takes a close look at some Bible passages that refer to the Spirit, but the author ventures far from sound theology, as the examples I referred to earlier demonstrate. Aside from this, the writing is generally dry, and the author's frequent attempts to wax poetic seem forced - no doubt the result of assuming that a roomful of nineteen-year-olds will hang on his every word. The personal anecdotes become annoying also. I suppose these are attempts to prove to the reader that the author is a "regular guy" as well as an academic genius, but in a book on the Spirit, I would prefer that the author get himself completely off the stage and focus on the real subject. Autobiographies of ex-evangelical professors do not interest me, but the Spirit definitely does.
If you are a charismatic/Pentecostal Christian, or are at least "open" about the gifts of the Spirit, you will be amazed at what the book does NOT cover. A book the Spirit with no reference to speaking in tongues? Healing? Prophecy? I am not a charismatic myself, yet I was frankly horrified that book on the Spirit, even one by a liberal academic, could ignore the gifts of the Spirit. It says a great deal about the author's background (PhD from the ultra-liberal Duke Divinity School) that this key area of theology goes unexplored. And, curiously he devotes a huge amount of space to the Spirit in the story of Daniel - despite the fact that the Book of Daniel makes no direct reference to the Holy Spirit.
If you want a good book on the Holy Spirit, plenty are available, and, thankfully, they all capitalize Holy Spirit because they regard the Spirit as a Person, the third Person of the Trinity, and a Person with whom a Christian relates, not just some vague "feeling" that something "spiritual" or "inspired" is taking place, as if watching a pretty sunset is an experience of "the spirit." Some of the books I list here are academic in nature, some more laity-oriented. The most readable for the non-theologian, naturally, is Billy Graham's The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life, also R. A. Torrey's classic The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. If you want something written more recently, Francis Chan's Forgotten God is quite good, and Chan is an academic who does not write like an academic. R. C. Sproul's The Mystery of the Holy Spirit is brief and, like all Sproul's books, excellent and highly readable, ditto for John Stott's Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today. J. Rodman Williams was one of the best writers in the charismatic tradition, and his book Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living is a classic, along with Chuck Smith's Living Water. All these authors wrote with a view to explaining (within the limitation of human language, obviously) what the Bible and the Christian tradition teach about the Spirit. Levison's book, alas, is typical of so many books written by doubting "evangelicals" who have one foot (as he admits) in the mainline/liberal camp (also married to a committed feminist), and they write with the goal of being loved and accepted by that camp, despite it being obvious that the liberal churches long ago chose not to accept the Bible "as is," but to use it as merely a tool in their liberal social agenda, and whose theology tends to be loosely "spiritual but not religious." Religious authors inevitably go amiss when the aim of their writings is to curry favor with a particular audience, for the goal of any book claiming to be Christian is to glorify God and enable the reader to grow in love with him. I hope this won't sound harsh, but in all honesty I never got the slightest hint in this Levison book that the author had ever himself had a real encounter with the Spirit, which perhaps lies at the root of his lowercasing the word. I don't know if he will succeed in his aim to be the liberal churches' "go-to guy" on the subject of the Spirit, but this book can have no appeal to any evangelical with a serious interest in this important subject, especially when there are so many other fine books. The author's outspokenly liberal views on homosexuality and other issues should deter any reader who takes the Bible seriously. With any author, consider their affiliations, and consider what causes they might contribute to. This is good stewardship, and we owe it to God to spend our money as faithfully as we spend our time.
Also Psuedo-Philo mentions the phrase "holy spirit" many times which was written around the time of Jesus but was not connected to the Qumran community.
I am really surprised but I do not think there was even a mention of Psalm 51:11 - Do not take your holy spirit from me"! or Isaiah 63:10 - "Yet they rebelled and grieved his holy spirit"! Or no mention was made between "holy spirit" and "the spirit of the holy gods" in Daniel 4 and 5!
I do like his emphasis on keeping a proper balance of the spirit in our life and how sometimes it can be the spirit who drives us into the wilderness. Probably the best point in the book.
I just thought he never really jelled together the idea he was supporting that the spirit is something that everyone has, yet the spirit is also something that is given to people. So how do these two things function together in Scripture? We are left with no answer! Ezekiel 36:26 hints at something when it talks about a new spirit, and 2 Cor. 5:17 and Galatians 6:15 when they talk about a new creation. These themes would seem to be very pertinent to a book like this. It is almost captured in the title of the book "Fresh Air" but too bad he did not expand upon this.
Also I disagree with Dr. Levison if he is saying memorizing Scripture will lead to inspiration. In my experience it led to division. I have met many a person who would use memorization a measuring stick of maturity. The key to growth in Christ is not memorization but comprehension. So when you do have Bible studies, it should not be just reading and letting it soak in, because most people if they are honest have no idea what they just read means!
Also with all his emphasis on the spirit working slowly, there are many examples in Scripture where the Spirit works quickly and suddenly - the boy who rose from the dead through Elijah's prayers and breath. The spirit swooping up Philip on a road to another city! So it should be granted that the Spirit does work this way and I have experienced a welling up in my soul ready to explode when the Spirit was speaking to me. It was a prompting during a prayer service to go up and play a particular song on the piano, which led to repentance of those in attendance of various things. But I agree that I don't think the spirit would want to work that way when it comes to rebuking someone. That is where the gentleness should enter in.
Overall the book helpfully broadans the usage of the spirit which is important, but ends up confusing one in how the Spirit is not given but is given.