This book opened me up to power of the Spirit
Book'The Go-Between God' reviewed
November 17 2017Reading ‘The Go-Between God’ led to an unexpected experience of the Holy Spirit for Carol Clark, and becoming alive to God’s love and presence, both within and in the world around her.
First published in 1972, The Go-Between God, John Taylor’s book on The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission, is considered by many to be a theological classic. John Taylor was Bishop of Winchester and a CMS missionary in Uganda for many years. When I told work colleagues and friends that I was writing this review, many talked about its impact on their lives as they quoted their favourite passages.
I grew up in Sydney in a fundamentalist church that is known for its Bible teaching. And so I knew about the promised Advocate and Comforter who burst dramatically into the life of the early Church, but I didn’t ever expect to know the presence of this Holy Spirit in my own life.
I had been an Anglican for around 15 years when I first read The Go-Between God in the late 1980s. With a small group of friends at St Stephen’s Newtown in Sydney, I began to explore what felt like radical ideas about the Holy Spirit. Each week we shared our questions and discoveries, exploring new ways of meeting God in our midst together.
For me, this wasn’t the experience of charismatic renewal and speaking in tongues that others were experiencing at the time. It was about becoming alive to the Spirit of Truth whom I’d heard about but not really experienced. One of my first responses to the book was to become sensitive to the Spirit bringing mutual awareness between me and others, enabling me to encounter the truth of the other person while I confronted the truth about myself.
I was struck by the question of whether we’d tried to tame the Spirit to fit in with our orthodoxy. Taylor asks if we settle for “drab infidelities” because the power of the Spirit far exceeds the petty scale we want to live by. As well as learning from Scripture and tradition, can we also be open to the Spirit through the beauty of our world and through our intuitions, our bodies and our dreams to gain a “vision of the many-splendoured glory of God within everything”.
A few years later, I encountered what I would call the “glory of God within everything” when I visited the Anglican Sisters of St Clare at Stroud, north of Newcastle. At the time, I was highly anxious and fearful of life. Headed by Sister Angela, the monastery was a creative, Godly space, and as soon as I arrived I began to experience a sense of calm entering my body. Despite resolving not to join in the daily prayers, I found myself attending Vespers on my first evening. As a reluctant participant in that quiet ritual, I suddenly felt surrounded by a sense of God’s faithfulness towards me – a tangible manifestation of God’s love seemed to pour out of the walls and wrap itself around me in an unexpected and profound way.
I had experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit in a way that far exceeded my limited expectations. I also began to see, in Taylor’s words, the Spirit as the Creator Redeemer who moves us towards greater personhood as we come to see and love Christ more.
Having grown up with a model of evangelism that seemed at odds with my human longing and experience, I was drawn to the idea, in Taylor’s words, of “Christ-like evangelism (being) deeply personal rather than propositional”. He adds: “the truth that converts is the truth of Jesus not the truth about Jesus.” In this, I’m reminded of an atheist family member whose watertight arguments dissolved one night as he found himself responding to the unexpected presence and call of Christ.
Now as I work with priests exploring renewal and mission that might speak into their context, I rely on the Holy Spirit as the chief actor and director of the whole enterprise of the church’s mission – a mission Taylor believes consists of what the Spirit is doing in the world with the light being focussed in a special way on Jesus Christ.
And so the Spirit’s work is to bring Jesus ceaselessly to our attention so that we may make all our choices – including our choices about mission – in reference to him. Our lives are to be a “ceaseless personal response to the call and claim of Jesus in each new situation as individual disciples from within the Christ-centred fellowship. So the problem of ethics (and perhaps evangelism) is the problem of how to abide in Christ.”
Reading The Go-Between God in the late 1980s prompted a journey of deep change within me. Meeting with my friends as a company of ‘two or three gathered together’, I began to come alive to the experience of God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5).
Carol Clark is Parish Renewal Coordinator for the Diocese of Melbourne.