My friend Andrew Gabriel recently published an excellent article on Spirit Baptism in the Journal Pneuma. He explains the experience with the metaphor of intensification. Spirit Baptism is a particular experience of the intensification of the presence and power of the Spirit of God, which already pervades and upholds all of reality and animates all life.
In the Old Testament, God’s Spirit (ruach) is said to animate not just human life, but all of life. The Spirit’s animating presence intensifies amongst human beings in a unique way, and further intensifies with respect to particular human beings for special purposes (fills, comes to rest upon, empowers, brings visions, prophetic utterances and acts, etc.). So, already within the OT, we see sequential, subsequent fillings – or better, intensifications - of the Spirit’s presence and power.
In the New Testament, we see, in fulfillment of OT prophecies proclaiming the Spirit’s future coming in power (e.g., Joel 2; cf. Acts 2), further intensifications. We see it: in the ministry of Jesus himself (where the Spirit effects his incarnation, comes upon him at his Baptism, empowers his ministry and miracles, and finally raises him from the dead); in the conversion of Christians, which is enabled by the Spirit according to verses like 1 Cor. 12:3; John 3:5-6 (indicating a particular indwelling of the Spirit, which is an intensification of the life-breath of God that already animated their pre-Christian life); in the life and ministry of the church and individual Christians, whom Paul exhorts to be continually filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); and finally in the experience of Spirit baptism, which is an experience of intensification of the Spirit’s power and presence in the life of a believer, which leads to transformation, and filling and equipping for ministry, mission, action for justice, etc.
I find Dr. Gabriel’s argument very helpful and that it resonates with my own recent reflections on the Spirit’s activity. In fact, I too had been pondering the metaphor of intensification to illuminate the way the Spirit acts in creation. However, my thoughts on this were not in relation to Spirit Baptism . . . I was thinking of intensification more along the lines of explaining the miraculous, the charismatic, and the ‘mystical’ without appeal to or assuming a kind of ‘god of the gaps’ that disrupts natural processes and violates natural laws (i.e., a metaphysical dualism between natural and supernatural). In the intensification view, the Spirit is the one who undergirds and supports all life and reality (including the physical laws of nature). Thus, the ‘miraculous’ does not introduce a radical disruption into nature, upon the special arrival of a God who is usually elsewhere (the ‘beyond’) and inactive (such that natural laws are ‘broken’ and the structure of the physical realm violated by God ‘breaking in’). Rather, the miraculous, the charismatic, and the mystical are instances of the intensification of the presence and power of the Spirit, which already pervades and upholds the universe. The universe is an ‘open system’ pervaded by Spirit, not a closed system that God must violate or intrude upon in order to perform special, occasional acts. We do experience special acts of God, but these are intensifications of the presence and power of God that already pervades and sustains all things. As the Creed states it, “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.”
If you want to read Dr. Gabriel’s article, the full text is posted here.