Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wayne Grudem on Spirit Baptism

Early on Thursday mornings, my pastor meets with men from our church to work through a chapter or two of Grudem's Systematic Theology. This week we went over chapter 39: "Baptism In and Filling With the Holy Spirit - Should we seek a 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' after conversion? What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?" It's a great topic and those are good questions.
Grudem's approach is refreshing and interesting. As a former Pentecostal who is now essentially Reformed (but still committed to the continuation of spiritual gifts), I found his thoughts enlightening.


Grudem begins by delineating the basic Pentecostal understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. His rendering is fair and accurate. He then examines the seven New Testament passages dealing directly with the subject. Appealing to a consistent interpretation of these passages, Grudem offers a strong argument for Spirit baptism occurring at the point of conversion rather than subsequent to it. Next, he answers the possible tensions his interpretation might create when compared with several passages in the book of Acts. The result is a cogent, Biblical understanding that properly accounts for Spirit baptism as a soteriological event linked directly to regeneration.


Having neatly dispensed with the idea of a "second blessing" on solid exegetical grounds, Grudem addresses a more practical problem with the Pentecostal understanding: the creation of a two-class Christianity that (perhaps inadvertently) places Spirit-baptized believers above ordinary Christians who have not experienced Spirit baptism. Pentecostals, however, are not alone in this regard. Grudem effectively illustrates how other theological systems have created similar two-class systems. Roman Catholic hierarchy is mentioned, along with several run-of-the-mill sanctification errors. Noticeably absent from this discussion is the two-class doctrinal system, commonly found among the Reformed, which views anyone outside of our doctrinal camp as a second-class or "unenlightened" believer. However, this problem is more subtle because it is not inherently and obviously linked to Reformed doctrine as it is to Pentecostal doctrine. Among the Reformed, it is more an issue of pride than a direct effect of the theology itself. In fact, it is doubly ironic because it is directly counter to our theology. But I digress . . .


Grudem moves from Spirit baptism to a discussion of the Biblical idea of being "Spirit-filled." He notes that all believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, and proposes that the Pentecostal "second blessing" experience can potentially be viewed as genuine Spirit filling that has been mistakenly called "Spirit baptism." He calls for all believers to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit for increased sanctification and service. An understanding of progressive sanctification undergirds this teaching and serves as the ideal antidote to the concept of a "second blessing."


To summarize Grudem's emphases: Spirit baptism is connected to conversion; Spirit filling is an element of sanctification and an empowerment for service. Being "filled with the Spirit" is a continuous pursuit that should be experienced repeatedly by believers who are maturing. We can expect the ongoing and revolutionizing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The difference this makes is not a matter of reaching a higher plane, but an issue of maturity and progress in sanctification. It should never be the dividing line between separate classes or types of Christian.


In his final point, Grudem argues that the gift of tongues is a possible result of being filled with the Spirit, but not a necessary result. I find this view sensible and Biblical. 


Spirit baptism is not to be sought. It is to be affirmed and rejoiced in as a part of the overall conversion experience. Spirit filling, on the other hand, is to be pursued vigorously. There is no room for a two-class Christianity that elevates the "spiritual" above the "unspiritual." At the same time, there is no place for a cold and lifeless spirituality that neglects the ongoing and dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. Abandoning those unbiblical extremes, all believers should engage instead in a relentless pursuit of the Spirit's sanctifying and empowering work.

To hear Dr. Grudem speak on this subject, click here.


  1. Derek, so glad you posted this. I think I've mentioned it before, but I'm a licensed A/G minister, and I have some seriously reformed views! I believe strongly in the continuation of the "gifts", but have often questioned some of the A/G standpoints on Spirit baptism. Still working some things out...Grudem's thoughts above seem to me to be an interesting and balanced viewpoint. In the end, I think, as you pointed out, that the utmost priority is the pursuit of continuing sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Blaine,

    I'm still working things out, too, and I would have to admit Grudem didn't answer all of my questions on this topic. But his view at least helps me to understand my own past experiences as a Pentecostal believer, not to mention the experiences of thousands of other believers around the world. At the same time, it helps me to keep the emphasis in the right place and not over exalt one gift or experience.

    God bless you in your work, and I hope you had a merry Christmas!



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