Released into the Spirit: Guest Post by Dr. Vivian Johnson

On Friday, December 2, 2016 during a Holy Spirit Seminar held at United Theological Seminary, I was “slain in the Spirit.” This phrase, at home with Pentecostals and other charismatic Christians, refers to people who fall to the floor during intense worship services because they are influenced or overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Dr. Vivian Johnson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Old Testament, United Theological Seminary 

This force of the Holy Spirit had an impact on me that seems more positive than being “slain.” The word “slain” connotes a sense of violence that was absent from my experience. It felt more like being “released into the Spirit.” Mentally, I held tightly to the disbelief that the Holy Spirit would manifest in that way. So strong was my conviction that all of the people lying on the floor were “faking,” I approached a leader of one of the sponsoring organizations to tell him what I thought. As a person who serves in a leadership role at my seminary, I was appalled that such mockery of the Holy Spirit was taking place at the seminary. The leader had a very gentle demeanor and said that my suspicion was rational as he at one time felt similarly, until the “release” happened to him. He was part of a prayer team of three people at the altar and they all prayed for me. I however was not “slain” in the Spirit after their prayer and I went back to my seat convinced of the fallaciousness of the worship kinetics occurring at the altar.


During a break, my friend and colleague persuaded me to participate in the impartation by the speaker at the end of the Holy Spirit Seminar. I agreed, reluctantly. When the time came for the impartation, I went up to the altar and was told that I had the gift of wisdom. The energy emanating from me was so intense, according to the speaker, that I needed to take special note of it. Even though my eyes were closed, I managed to sneak in an eye-roll under my lids. I was very conscious of anyone trying to push me to fall back and was highly resistant to the questionable acts occurring around me. Then, there was a moment when I focused on God and just prayed. My attention shifted from my surroundings to the Holy One and instantly, I was “released” into the Spirit. It was as if I let go of the strong grip I had on the tether of disbelief and rested in God. I sang, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men,” for about a week after that experience, especially the words in the verse that say, “Hear Christ calling, ‘come unto me’, I will give you rest.” I felt weightless, peace, trust, and revelation. There was a scintilla of divinity revealed to me and I’ll never be the same. Perhaps, one message is that God has anointed me to fish for people? Or, perhaps,  for me to let God do the heavy lifting, but do my part in undistracted and fervent prayer?

When I traveled to Morocco years ago, I admired how people stopped their day to pray. Though the people there were of another faith, I had holy envy of the public, physical expression of their devotion. Perhaps, my encounter with God was a call for me to submit in a public and physical manner. As I write this, the song, “I Surrender All” is imbued with new meaning. I am not where I want to be, but I know that God is not done with me yet.

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live
All to Jesus I surrender
Humbly at His feet I bow
Worldly pleasures all forsaken
Take me, Jesus, take me now,
I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Savior
I surrender all
All to Jesus I surrender
Make me Savior wholly thine
May Thy Holy Spirit fill me
May I know Thy power divine

14 thoughts on “Released into the Spirit: Guest Post by Dr. Vivian Johnson

  1. This goes to show that God comes to people in different ways. I always liked the quote from the Dali Lama when he was asked, “What is the best religion.” His response was “Whatever religion makes you a better person, one who is more compassionate, and caring. That is the religion for you.”
    To me God is spirit, an energy, information force. This spirit is within each of us and around us, and we must tap into this, in times of stress, or loss, or fear, and it will give you the strength that is needed.”
    Do I believe that the Bible is “history?” No, I do not, as it was written and rewritten by men in a male dominated society, when women were mere chattel. This book is made up of tales told, in the Hebrew Scriptures aka O.T. and retold, again, in the N. T.
    I believe that there was a Jesus, but he/she? was born just as you and I were born via two humans, a woman and a man. However, his/her life reflected what the people of his/her day thought was “Godlike.” He was crucified, and died. He was killed because he defied the rules of the day, and fighting against a political system that was unfair to those who were in need.

    • Dr. Johnson, I was very much touched with your article. The “I Surrender All” conclusion spoke volumes regarding your experience. It is also obvious to me that not everyone who responds to you has a clue regarding how to interpret your experience. But, I know you have compassion on those who have eyes to see but see not, for you could also sing, “I once was blind, but not I see.” in regard to the supernatural power of a personal God who is not the god of pantheism. I too at one time in my life during university and seminary had more doubts than beliefs, and knew very little about the Person of Holy Spirit. I did not believe in much of the supernatural in the Bible, having been influenced by Bultmanian theology. But, once I saw healings and miracles occurring today, had my own body healed supernaturally three times, and met people who had been raised from the dead – witnessing the effect upon the village and the province – turning an almost totally Muslim province into a Christian province, my views changed. I respect the Dali Lama, but I believe there is a light year of difference between him and the one who called himself the Truth, the Way, and the Life. I, like Sam Shoemaker want to stand by the door helping those who are groping in darkness to find the door to eternal life. I am thankful I had the Spirit draw me to the one who said, “I am the door.”

    • Historically, Jesus also arose on the third day. He is/was the Son of God. Wholly God and wholly man. He is /was not just a great teacher or a good man.

      • Many prior to Jesus were “born of a virgin,” could perform “miracles,” and “rose from the dead.” This is called midrash and that is a term used to describe stories told, and retold, usually from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament.

      • However,
        Jesus said that He was the Son of God. He is either who He said He was or the greatest liar ever.
        For the Holy Spirit to live within us, Jesus had to return to the Father (God).

    • That’s interesting Carla, because my reflections on Dr. Johnson’s story lead me in the totally opposite direction. The fact that she was so resistant to the idea and yet God chose to reveal Himself in this way, to me, shows a personal God who wants to be known and experienced in specific ways. It seems to me that an impersonal force that is all things to all people wouldn’t work in this way. She would have met that God in same way that was comfortable. Just my thoughts. Thanks for sharing your story Dr Johnson.

      • God means different things to different people. I am not negating what Vivian Johnson felt, simply stating my feelings regarding God or Jesus.
        The Rev. Dr. Spong is far more articulate than I, and I recommend his books. They are well worth perusing, especially one of his first books, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” “Jesus For the Non Religious,” and “Here I Stand,” which is an autobiography, two books which come later are excellent and can be read and understood by those with or without a theological education, and are used in some of the more progressive seminaries.
        His lectures can be seen on the Internet, at http://www.JohnShelbySpongLectures. He answers questions, along with his interesting talks.

  2. I tried to minister for so long in the flesh, when the only One who can transform and empower people, including me, is God the Holy Spirit.

  3. Perhaps in the future at United, Bishop Yvette Flunder, D.Min., of Oakland, Calif., might be included as a guest speaker and worship leader in your Holy Spirit Seminars.

  4. I, too experienced this in 1976. Everything you described is what I felt. It was as though I had taken a tranqelizer. I have never been the same. The scripture I felt God had mecrrad was the story of Paul on the DMadcus Rd when he was knocked off his horse. God site knocked me off my feet ever so gently. I did even feel the floor when I fell. Wevserbe an awesome, all powerful God. He will lead you on roads now you never dreamed of. God bless you.

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