Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life by Jack Levison
Jack Levison, professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University is well known for his work on the Holy Spirit with is earlier book entitled Filled with the Spirit. This new work, Fresh Air, is a monumental book that takes weaves together biblical teaching on the Spirit, pastoral application, and a forward sense of directing the reader to ask the right questions concerning the Holy Spirit. With one foot in the Pentecostal tradition and one foot in the mainline traditional Methodist camp, Levison navigates the waters of the ecstatic and meditative elements of the Holy Spirit. Yet, what I thought was most extraordinary about the book was Levison’s goal for his readers: “the spirit is in every human being, spirit is particularly present in social upheaval, the spirit inspires whole communities, the spirit drives the faithful into arenas of hospitality, and the spirit inspire ecstasy and restraint” (10). Some of these points are controversial and unsettling, as the Spirit should shake us up in one sense (11).
Pointing the reader to the Scriptures first and then guiding us through the narratives provides great witness to the Spirit’s work in both testaments. Instead of finding the spirit on the mountaintop, Job reorients his readers to finding the spirit in the valley of darkness. “Job teaches us, in the heart of darkness, that a beleaguered human being can speak only “as long as” she has breath and spirit within her – yet she will speak” (24). The Psalms provide the ammunition against the ravages of sickness, poverty and insensitivity for Job. Rather than seek a path in recognizing the spirit in a momentous experience that lasts a few seconds or minutes, Job knows that pain and discomfort will be his lot while the spirit of God remains.
The plot of Daniel provides a powerful picture of the way the spirit holds out momentary pleasure for long term wisdom. Levison writes, “The spirit of God, the Excellent Spirit in Daniel, does absolutely nothing…The spirit is simply a deep, resonant, rich pool of wisdom, knowledge, and insight that permeates the character of this young man over the course of three generations an two empires” (56). No ecstatic utterances or baptism of the Spirit here, but a firm fountain of wisdom applied in everyday living that causes Daniel to withstand the cultural and spiritual powers that seek to bring him ruin. “And, how does Daniel tap into the life of the spirit? “Through simple, dogged faithfulness” (57). Refusing the rich king’s food that was defiled, instead seeking to honor God, Daniel’s faithfulness is rooted in a life given over to the power of spirit’s wisdom inside him. I would add here that this vast well of the spirit’s work through wisdom and knowledge applies itself to both mundane routines of life and special circumstances. What do we gain from Levison’s commentary here? One, the spirit doesn’t guide believers in exactly one way, but is manifest in both wisdom and power as situations arise. Secondly, the fount of wisdom that Daniel relied on was to be used in all of life, from the civil to the social settings, from family issues to our allegiance to God.
The last thing of great consequence in the book was Levison’s interpretation of Joel 2. Levison writes, “If the spirit of God is such a social and political force in society – and Israel’s prophets, Joel included, - then how can we become part of a fluid outpouring of the spirit?” (104). Levison’s words here are powerful because there is not a relegation of the spirit’s work to certain ethnic, racial, or spiritual sectors of society, but a plea that the spirit’s work is be proclaimed indiscriminately. Calling people to provide support for the Red Cross, Oxfam and other organizations is wonderful. Yet, I think we can broaden this call to include international and ethnic groups in our own city, refugees and those displaced. There certainly is both a global influx of people right on our front door that need the spirit’s mighty work as well.
There are other minor points at which I would push back on Levison’s work, but overall, this book as a breath of fresh air, no pun intended. I think this book opened my eyes to the work of the spirit in the Old Testament more than ever.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.