The end of COVID prompted Jack Levison to think more deeply about the Spirit-filled life.
The result is his latest book, a small volume accessible to laity and clergy alike: Seven Secrets of the Spirit-filled Life.
As the pandemic slowed, the Old Testament professor and his wife, Priscilla, decided to move into a college dorm at Southern Methodist University, where they both work. “As I tell my friends, I turned 65 at a college dorm, and that’s true. I knew that would be a time of wrenching transition. Which caused me to look at what it meant to live the Spirit-filled life.”
While serving as in-house mentors to college students may be a new experience for Levison, writing and speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit is not new. This has been the major focus of his academic work and previous publications. He also is a BNG columnist.
For this book, he wanted to take his three decades of biblical scholarship and give people an understanding of what it means to live the Spirit-filled life without all the jargon and theatrics sometimes attached to that. But he realizes that’s a big ask.
“So here I am, a biblical scholar, writing on the Holy Spirit, married to a United Methodist minister and theologian who writes on evangelism. What two things could the mainline church be more afraid of than evangelism and the Holy Spirit?”
Levison knows when someone like him mentions the Holy Spirt, the kind of Christians he’s around most will express some doubt and skepticism. But the gift of the Holy Spirit is not just for Pentecostals, he said.
“I’ve written other books that are really good for mainline Christians or for Christians who’ve come out of Pentecostalism who’ve said to me, ‘You gave me a place to stand,’” he said.
From his current perspective, as a senior professor living among undergraduates, he finds a new motivation.
“I’ve challenged people to look for one person to take with them for six months or a year and leave a legacy with them.”
“The main thing is to be intentional in finding people who represent the next generation,” he said. “That may be the next generation of faith. That may be the next generation in general. At 65 years old, I moved into a college dorm so we could leave a legacy. I’ve challenged people to look for one person to take with them for six months or a year and leave a legacy with them.
“One way we can leave a legacy is just hanging out with them. I take students to the grocery store, have coffee with them, just normal everyday activities in trying to get to know them. But I have focused on one or two students in particular, who seem to be most open to learning and growing. And then I think leaving a legacy has to be intentional. This doesn’t happen naturally.”
Levison has still another motive in writing this book. He believes if Christians want to lead a Spirit-filled life, it will be found in community.
“Rekindling a love of community is going to be one of the hardest things we can do post-COVID,” he explained. “And I think especially for Millennials, and Generation Z, they’re not probably ready to go back to a community that might have failed them pre-COVID. There’s no way they’re going back post-COVID. So, I think commitment to community may be absolutely fundamental to the Spirit-filled life and the hardest part of it.”
However hard this may be to achieve, Levison is certain all believers can and should experience a Spirit-filled life.
“The very first secret is to discover the Holy Spirit in your everyday life.”
“The very first secret is to discover the Holy Spirit in your everyday life,” he said. “And the second secret is saturate yourself with Scripture. Discover how the Bible nourishes the Spirit-filled life. I intentionally start with practical and biblical skills.
“There was a student who wanted us, my wife and me, to mentor her. I said, ‘Give me some details.’ And she said, ‘Well, I want to leave that to the Spirit.’ And I thought, does she think the Spirit works when the brain turns off? Many Christians think that. For me, the Spirit works when the brain turns on. If you look at the prophets of the Old Testament, these were intelligent people; the Gospels took a lot of intelligence to write. When you read Paul’s letters, he is constantly bringing the Old Testament into play for issues of his day.”
While many of Levison’s 15 books were written for academic audiences, he is known also for writing for lay readers. His previous books include An Unconventional God, A Boundless God, and The Pursuit of Life, a book about palliative care. His 40 Days with the Holy Spirit is a daily devotional guide for the Lenten season.
In addition to serving as faculty in residence at Boaz Commons at SMU, he holds the W.J.A. Power Chair of Old Testament Interpretation and Biblical Hebrew at SMU.
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