Anthony and Shelley

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

THEO 351: The Spirit of Jesus Christ

The reading from Gary Badcock’s book, Light of Truth & Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, looks at Herbert Mühlen’s theology of Jesus the “Anointed One” in the sense of the uniqueness of the union of the Spirit with Christ.  Badcock starts off by saying that over time there has been a loss of the Spirit in christology and that these negative implications are still present in our theology today.   He goes on to explore the role of the Holy Spirit in the anointing at Jesus’ baptism and in the life of Jesus.  How do we make sense of the role of the Holy Spirit in Jesus when we know he was fully God and fully Man at the same time?  Badcock explores Mühlen’s thoughts on this topic, as well as a concept that he developed to make sense of this mystery.  Mühlen accepts the idea “that the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ was a secondary implication of the hypostatic union” (148).  But, he finds weakness and limitations in the scholastic version of this doctrine.  Thomas Aquinas’ view is used as an example, where the Spirit is not what makes Jesus Christ divine.  Instead the Spirit is the “result or ‘crown’ of a divine Sonship that is already presupposed on totally independent grounds” (149).  It is the result of the hypostatic union.  Badcock writes, “The work of the Spirit is secondary and derivative - to endow the humanity assumed with those created sanctifying graces and charisms by means of which the man Jesus could live in a holy manner” (149).  The Spirit supplied what was needed so that the true humanity of Jesus could live a life of holiness.  The purpose behind this was to accept the Christ’s true humanity and to impart a particular role in christology for the Holy Spirit in its relation to that humanity.  However, Mühlen points out that this Aquinas’ view is defective as it allows no “growth or movement in Jesus’ human relation to God, whereas development is essential to human existence” (149).  This interpretation did not allow Jesus’ humanity to be viewed in a dynamic way, but only as permanent and unchanging.  
In response to this doctrine, Mühlen develops a salvation-historical role for the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ.  Badcock describes it as follows, “In anointing Jesus, and in continuing to mediate between the risen Christ and the church, the Spirit becomes bound up on and with the temporal existence and mission of Jesus Christ.  In this way, the Spirit assumes a role in time and thus in the outworking of God’s work of salvation that, according to Mühlen, he did not have before” (151).  This concept is not only limited to the Holy Spirit, but can be used for the Logos too.  The point is that both the Logos and the Holy Spirit became something they had not been before.
Furthermore, an outcome of Mühlen’s concept is that it connects pneumatology to ecclesiology and christology.  Badcock writes, “While the basis of the whole development lies in the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Christ-event, Mühlen refers to the characteristic work of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation as the Spirit’s ‘corporeality’ . . . in the church.  The connection between the two is that the continuing work of the Spirit in the church is the continuation of the salvation-historical anointing of Jesus with the Spirit.  This reflects Mühlen’s description of the Spirit as ‘One Person in many persons’ - that is, in Christ and in the plurality of persons constituting the church.  The point is that the Spirit must be understood in his presence and activity in the church as the same Spirit who anointed Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, and as the Spirit through whom this same Jesus now makes himself present to us” (152).  
Just as the Spirit anointed Jesus, the same Spirit continues this salvific work in the church.
Some of the implications of viewing the Spirit in this way is that it attaches Jesus’ earthly saving work to his present activity through his Spirit in the church.  It also means the Spirit is more than just a mediator between us and Christ in heaven in that it makes possible a contemporary salvific participation in the historical Christ-event through the Spirit (152).

Badcock, Gary D. Light of Truth & Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1997. 145-153. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Theo 351: Part II: Advantages and Disadvantages to Pannenberg’s pneumatology

Kärkkäinen lists some of the advantages of Pannenberg’s pneumatological vision, which include that there is an intrinsic connection of pneumatology and an important role that the Holy Spirit plays to the rest of the systematic topics, that there is a connection between what God is doing in creation to what God is doing in the Church and in individuals, that the doctrine of the Spirit is more than about individual salvation and revives the Spirit’s role as a life-force that underlies and sustains all life, that there is a dynamic relationship between the individual and community, and that this is a healthier way of connecting Christ and the Spirit to each other (31-32).  There also is opportunities to bridge science and the public sphere to speaking of the Spirit (33).  

Some critiques of Pannenberg’s view that Kärkkäinen comes up with include whether it is appropriate to use the field concept in theology and if a scientific concept should be used to describe “the essence and ministry of a divine life-force” (32).  He also points out that this view has the potential to make the Spirit impersonal life-force and not the personal third person of the Trinity  (32-33).  One major flaw that Kärkkäinen has is that it does not address the topic of physical healing and the “idea of salvation in the Bible as encompassing wholeness” (34).  Kärkkäinen is also surprised that Pannenberg does not address the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements nor the concept of “charism,” such as speaking in tongues (34).

Pannenberg gives a great description of the essence and role of the Holy Spirit.  I appreciate the holistic nature of it and how it avoids the privatization of Christian doctrine and faith.  I also agree with Kärkkäinen that analogies can only go so far.  Just as in any analogy, it is limited and never perfect.  I think this one illustrates another view that helps us understand the scope of pneumatology and helps us think beyond ourselves.  What I like about this view is that it understands that God is all-encompassing and already here and at work.  Our response, as Christians, should be to try and get in on that “force-work” that is already happening and less about trying to find or feel God’s presence.  We need to get in tune to what God desires.  In conclusion, the Spirit as a force field doesn’t answer all the questions, but when it comes to understanding God, he is beyond any analogy and human understanding.
Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God: The Pneumatology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Pneuma 26, no 1 (Sept, 2004): 17-35. 

Theo 351: Pannenberg’s pneumatology: The Spirit as a dynamic force field

Kärkkäinen explores Wolfhart Pannenberg’s view of the Spirit as a force field in an article entitled, “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God: The Pneumatology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.”  For Pannenberg, the Spirit is portrayed in the Bible as the “life-giving principle to which all creatures owe life, movement, and activity” (19).  Psalm 104:30 says, “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” In Genesis 2:7, it says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  On the contrary, in passages, such as Psalm 104:29 and Job 34:13-14, God can remove the Spirit resulting in perished life.  Job 12:10 says, “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  Kärkkäinen writes, “For Pannenberg, the Spirit is ‘the principle of the active presence of the transcendent God with his creation’ and ‘the medium of the participation of created life in the trinitarian divine life’” (20).  The Spirit is the dynamic existence of God in creation and is what connects creation to the Trinity.

Pannenberg realizes that some modern biologists and experts in science may wonder “how this biblical view of life be reconciled with modern biology in which life is a function of the living cell of the living creature as a self-sustaining and -reproducing system?” (20).  He addresses this by relating the Spirit to a force field.  He says, “The Spirit of God can be understood as the supreme field of power that pervades all of creation.  Each finite event or being is to be considered as a special manifestation of that field, and their movements are responsive to its forces” (20).  The Spirit of God is the underlying force behind every part and event of creation.  Pannenberg does realize that the analogy can only go so far as the Spirit of God differs from field theories of physics and natural laws (21).  

Kärkkäinen notes that Pannenberg’s theology and pneumatology has a very holistic and comprehensive approach in that creation, salvation, the Church, and eschton belong together (25).  Some of the results of viewing the Spirit as a force field include seeing that God’s presence penetrates and makes sense of all things, seeing that God’s omnipotence and omnipresence are closely related and are closely related to God’s eternity, seeing the relationship between the trinitarian persons as equal manifestations and the divine Spirit being the one who is common to both the Father and Son and unites the three persons as proceeding from the Father and received by the Son, and seeing the Spirit as both person and as essence of the common deity in that the Spirit differentiates himself from the Father and Son, while also being the one who unites the three of them (23-24).  In regards to creation, viewing the Spirit as the life-principle means that “the Spirit is the environmental network or ‘field’ in which and from which creatures live.  By virtue of the fact that they are alive, creatures participate in God through the Spirit.  The Spirit is the ‘force’ that lifts creatures above their environment and orients them toward the future.  So the Spirit as force field is the most comprehensive and powerful field in which creatures move” (25).    In regards to salvation and Christian community, the Spirit is not just for individual believers, but unites and builds up the fellowship of believers (26), there is a unified connection between Christology and pneumatology in that the work of the Spirit is closely related to that of the Son in regards to creation, salvation, the Church, et cetera (26), the Spirit works and unites Christians to other Christians, and it is the same Spirit that works in creation, salvation, the Church, and eschatological consummation (28). 

No analogy is ever perfect.  Next we will look at some of this analogy’s advantages and disadvantages.  Stay tuned for Part II.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. “The Working of the Spirit of God in Creation and in the People of God: The Pneumatology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Pneuma 26, no 1 (Sept, 2004): 17-35.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Theo 351: Part II: Why All The Fuss About Filioque?

In an article entitled, “Why All The Fuss About Filioque? Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann On The Procession Of The Spirit,” Warren McWilliams looks at two theologians, Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann, who take different sides on the filioque.  In Part I, I defined the filioque and looked at Karl Barth’s argument in support of the filioque.  We now move to Jurgen Moltmann’s critique of the filioque.  

According to Moltmann, in Barth’s view of the Holy Spirit as the bond of love linking the Father and Son, there is no need for the Holy Spirit as it “becomes an energy, not a person, and the Trinity is really a duality” (173).  He is of the same mind with the Eastern church that the term needs to be taken out of the creed, but insists that an ecumenical discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity is also needed, which could help end the split between the Eastern and the Western church (173).  Moltmann proposes a new line in the creed that incorporates the original insight of the creed, as well as where the Spirit receives his form.  He suggests, “The Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father of the Son, and who receives his form from the Father and the Son” (174).  This reminds us that the Father is the Father because of his relation to the Son and that the Spirit’s procession from the Father implies a relation to the Son as Son of the Father (173).  It also distinguishes between the procession of the Spirit and the begetting of the Son, which the filioque does not make clear.  Moltmann further argues that the filioque insinuates subordination of the Spirit to the Son and limits the Spirit to a christological pneumatology.  Moltmann analyzes four trinitarian patterns, which results in his rejection of the filioque.  The monarchical trinity pattern suggests subordination of the Spirit, in which Moltmann reminds us, “Jesus was, among other things, conceived by the Spirit, and was baptized in the Spirit.  Consequently the Spirit precedes Jesus, and ‘Christ comes from the Father in the Spirit’” (174).  The Spirit preceded Jesus and it is incorrect to think that the Spirit is subordinate to the him.  The historical concept of the Trinity parallels with the monarchical pattern in that it alludes to a heirarchy in the sequence of Father, Son, and Spirit and a division of labour between them.  The eucharistic concept of the Trinity involves a reversal of the sequence of Spirit, Son, Fath, which indicates the experiences of grace and gratitude.  Moltmann supports a doxological concept of the Trinity which works together with these other patterns and renders the filioque unnecessary.  He argues that “the Spirit receives his divine existence from the Father and his ‘inner-trinitarian configuration’ . . . comes form the Father and the Son” (175).  He presents a different phrase to capture salvation, which illustrates the unity and interrelationship of the Trinity: “The Spirit accompanies the Son, rests in the Son, and shines from the Son” (175).  

McWilliams goes on in his article to look at some of the theological issues that relate to denying the filioque.  He points out that those who are more open to world religions express reservations about filioque and often advocate logos Christology or cosmic Christology (177-178).

It does not seem like this filioque issue will be easily be resolved.  There are good arguments on both sides.  The issue of how the Spirit is related to the Father and the Son is really important to the mission and message of the contemporary church.  It’s important to continue to struggle with these issues.  From this article, I realized the importance and authority that we must give all three persons in the Trinity.  It is important not to place more significance on one over the other.  They all are fully God and there is a fluid dynamic among them in the way they relate to each other and in their roles.

McWilliams, Warren. “Why All the Fuss about Filioque? Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann on the Procession of the Spirit.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 22, no 2 (Sum 1995): 167-181.

Theo 351: Part I: Why All The Fuss About Filioque?

In an article entitled, “Why All The Fuss About Filioque? Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann On The Procession Of The Spirit,” Warren McWilliams looks at two theologians, Karl Barth and Jurgen Moltmann, who take different sides on the filioque.  The filioque is a Latin term that means “and (from) the Son,” which was attached to the Western version of the Nicene creed in 589 and specifies that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son.  This doctrinal issue was accepted by those in the West, but was denounced by the Eastern church, which led to the division of the East and West in 1054.  Barth’s defense in favour of the filioque “takes the Trinity to be the key to understanding divine revelation” (169).  His thesis statement on the Holy Spirit says, “The one God reveals Himself according to Scripture as the Redeemer, i.e., as the Lord who sets us free.  As such He is the Holy Spirit, by receiving whom we become the children of God, because, as the Spirit of love of God the Father and the Son, He is so antecedently in Himself” (169).  Barth expounds this thesis with the following arguments.  He reaffirms his perspectives on the Trinity, such as the direct relationship between the immanent trinity and the economic trinity (169).  The Holy Spirit is “both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son in revelation, so he must have that relationship in eternity” (170).  He said that accepting the filioque means that the Holy Spirit is not a creature and that the term “proceeds” is different from creation or an emanation.  He says, “What proceeds from God can only be God once again” (170).  The Holy Spirit “is a mode of divine being while of the same essence as God” (170).  Also, the term “proceeds” distinguishes between the Son and the Spirit as there are not two Sons or Words of God (170).  Barth also argues that Scripture supports the filioque and accuses the Eastern theologies of taking texts, such as John 15:26, in isolation from other texts that do indicate a relationship of the Spirit to the Son.  Barth says that denying the filioque has consequences for understanding God’s work, as well as the deity of the Spirit and his relationship to the Father and Son.  Furthermore, the Spirit is “the love that unites Father and Son.  A Father-Son relationship, biblically defined, is unthinkable for Barth without the Holy Spirit as the natural, even necessary link between them” (171).  The Holy Spirit is bond between the Father and Son.

McWilliams goes on to look at some of the theological issues that relate to this side of the argument.  One consequence of affirming the filioque is that it bans any revelation independent of Jesus and any presence or encounter of the Spirit is linked to the presence of the living Christ (176-177).  McWilliams says defenders of the filioque have to be ready to defend questions, such as “Is the Spirit’s task primarily to illumine the revelation in jesus and recorded in scripture?” or “Can new insights or ‘revelations’ come directly from the Spirit today?” (177)  He also points out that the filioque issue is related to contemporary debates regarding the finality of Jesus in reference to religious pluralism and that for theologians, like Barth, rejecting the filioque opens the door to the possibility of a meaningful relationship to God separate from the special revelation in Jesus (177).  

Next we turn to Moltman’s argument against the filioque....stayed tuned for Part II.

McWilliams, Warren. “Why All the Fuss about Filioque? Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann on the Procession of the Spirit.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 22, no 2 (Sum 1995): 167-181.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Theo 351: Spirit in Other Religions?

From my experience, Christian tradition and theology has never been very positive toward other religious traditions.  There is a fear of threatening the distinctiveness of Christ’s incarnation if the Spirit is thought to be active outside the gospel and church.  People might get confused and between true and false religion, which could lead to assimilation and syncretism (203).  There’s a section in Pinnock’s article, “Flame of Love,” that deals with this topic and even puts a positive spin on it.  He writes, “It would be strange if the Spirit excused himself from the very arena of culture where people search for meaning.  If God is reaching out to sinners, it is hard to comprehend why he would not do so in the sphere of religion” (203).  If the Spirit is working outside of the church, why would he not be working in other religions and cultures to draw those people closer to God’s truth?  I think we can learn a lot from other religions and that our openness and authentic interaction with people of other faiths leads to the betterment of all involved.  Pinnock writes: 

Openness to others does not imply that they have heard God’s voice accurately and know only truth with no admixture of error.  All of us make mistakes in our theologies, because God’s ways are not coercive and because the truth can be suppressed by unrighteousness.  But we should not prejudge such things.  Spirit is present everywhere, and God’s truth may have penetrated any given religion and culture at some point.  We should be eager to find out.  What an opening for mission it would supply! (202)

The Spirit is at work everywhere and if we are open to learning about other religions, we might be surprised to find that God’s truth has permeated that given religion and how our respectful openness might lead to open doors for dialogue and evangelism.

Furthermore, Pinnock writes: “We have to say both yes and no to other religions.  On the one hand, we should accept any spiritual depth and truth in them.  On the other hand, we must reject darkness and error and at the very least other faiths as insufficient apart from fulfillment in Christ.  The key is to hold fast to two truths: the universal operations of grace and the uniqueness of its manifestation in Jesus Christ” (202).  Being open to how the Spirit is working in other religions does not mean accepting everything about them, but staying hopeful that certain aspects can be brought to fulfillment in Christ.  Pinnock points out that this flexible attitude and the impression that aspects of religion can be brought to fulfillment in Christ is present in the Bible: Peter’s openness to pagans (Acts 10:35), Paul’s generous spirit at Lystra (14:17), in the Athens apologetic (Acts 17:22-31), and Jesus’ genealogy carrying on all the way to Adam, which illustrates that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s relations with humanity and that grace is not absent from history but prepares for the coming of Christ, (202).   God is at work and active everywhere, which includes the religious life of humanity; therefore, we need to be open and enter into those faiths of others and look for points of contact and commonalities in hopes of an inter-religious dialogue.

Lastly, if the Spirit is at work everywhere, including other religions, how can we discern his movements?  Pinnock writes: 

The gospel story helps us discern movements of the Spirit.  From this narrative we learn the pattern of God’s ways.  So wherever we see traces of Jesus in the world and people opening up to his ideals, we know we are in the present of Spirit.  Wherever, for example, we find self-sacrificing love, care about community, longings for justice, wherever people love one another, care for the sick, make peace not war, wherever there is beauty and concord, generosity and forgiveness, the cup of cold water, we know the Spirit of Jesus is present.  Other spirits do not promote broken and contrite hearts.  Such things tell us where the brothers and sisters of Jesus indwelt by the Spirit are, (209-210). 

Holy Spirit, open our eyes to see your presence and where you are at work.  Give us the courage to get in on that work and fan its flame.  Amen.

Pinnock, Clark. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove: IVP, 1999, 185-214.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Theo 351: Holy Spirit & Universality

Clark Pinnock’s Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit talks about biblical universality and asks the questions, “How is the voice of God heard outside communities where Christ is named? If anyone failed to hear about God’s love, would God’s heart not be broken?” (186)  The answer to these questions has often placed a lot of focus on the work of Christ and left the impression that most people are without the hope of salvation and are going to hell unless they become Christians and church members.  Many struggle with this response and think it is a narrow outlook in that it says, “There is no salvation outside the church” (188).  Pinnock suggests that this notion does not align with God’s desire that all receive his love and be saved, as well as God’s truth being full of grace, soft and tender” (186).  The same is true for God’s nature as Spirit, who is also present anywhere and everywhere.   Pinnock writes, “Access to grace is less of a problem for theology when we consider it from the standpoint of the Spirit, because whereas Jesus bespeaks particularity, Spirit bespeaks universality” (188).  The Spirit is present everywhere and has so many ways of reaching out and touching people, while pouring out love and generating hope.  Pinnock writes: 

There is grace in general and special revelation, and both are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  God reaches out to sinners in a multiplicity of ways, thanks to the prevenience of the Spirit.  God loves sinners, and the Spirit works in them that they may ultimately become obedient to Jesus Christ.  Granted, such a goal can take much time to achieve.    Yet instead of saying there is no salvation outside the church, let us simply say there is no salvation outside grace, or only finally outside Christ (194).  

The Spirit is working in all people to bring them closer to Jesus.  The Bible is full of hope and the future reign of Christ is “an all-embracing vision of God’s love for humanity and for creation” (189).  The Christian message is good news for the world, not just for those who have it altogether, and we cannot forget to hope and have patience, as well as we cannot make judgments of who will be justified or condemned from heaven (189-190).  

This chapter came at an appropriate time when my heart is so heavy for my newborn niece that died last night.  Pinnock writes, “The Spirit meets people not only in religious spheres but everywhere - in the natural world, in the give-and-take of relationships, in the systems that structure human life.  No nook or cranny is untouched by the finger of God.  His warm breath streams toward humanity with energy and life” (187).  The Spirit is everywhere and meets people wherever they are at, even in the devastation of the death of a child.  Images for the Spirit, such as “a balm for wounds” (187) help in the moment, or the Spirit as “life, movement, color, radiance and a stillness that restores, bringing withered sticks and souls alive with the sap of life” (187) bring hope for future healing, strength, and the restoration of joy.

Pinnock, Clark. Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Downers Grove: IVP, 1999, 185-214.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Theo 351: Chapter Six: Contextual Pneumatologies

Kärkkäinen points out at the beginning of chapter five that theology takes root and is shaped by its particular context.  This means each culture and religious setting will develop its own unique ideas about God and the Spirit.  He writes, “Even though the purpose of the work of the Spirit always remains the same - to glorify the Son and to bring into fulfillment the new creation of the Father - the Spirit relates to each person and people group in a very specific way” (147).  Theology needs to be culturally sensitive and context specific as it deals with God and God’s world with its various needs and challenges.  Kärkkäinen states, “In recent decades, contextual understandings of the Spirit have emerged to correct and complement the mainly Western approach that has dominated” (147).  These include process pneumatology, liberation pneumatology, ecological pneumatology, feminist pneumatology, and African pneumatologies.  Process pneumatology “builds on the foundation of process philosophy and theology and attempts to understand the Spirit in dynamic, evolving, mystical terms” (147).  Liberation theology arose among the poor of Latin America and has since spread worldwide and “approaches the Spirit from the questions of freedom and survival” (148).  Ecological pneumatology addresses the ecological crisis and the future of creation by stressing the importance and work of the Spirit in creation (148).  Feminist pneumatology looks at the Spirit from the perspective of women and explores feminine counterparts for addressing the deity and the divine Spirit (148).  African pneumatologies interpret the work of the Spirit through their context and cultural setting, which include the following characteristics: the Spirit is the Saviour of humankind, he is Healer and Protector, he is the Spirit of justice and liberation, and he is the earthkeeper (170-171).

I think it is really important to take into account context and cultural sensitivity when doing theology.  It is not the privilege of one people group or culture to decide who and what the role of the Holy Spirit is.  I think this chapter is really a healthy approach to showing how different needs and challenges in our society address and make sense of God and the rest of the world.  There is a great quote by Joseph Comblin in this chapter in reference to Liberation pneumatology and the Spirit working mysteriously admist nations.  I believe it is applicable though to all the pneumatologies in this chapter.  Comblin writes:

Now the Spirit has been acting in pagan peoples and in all religions since humanity began.  The Spirit leads peoples and religions in directions we cannot know in advance.  All we can do is observe the signs of the Spirit at work and go along with it.  There is no way we can anticipate it.  If the Spirit leads the nations to Christ, we do not know what steps or ways it has actually taken; about this we are as ignorant as pagans.  We in fact know less than them, since the signs of the Spirit were given to them first and not to us.  We have to learn from them how the Spirit has acted in their evolution (158).  

The Spirit is actively working in all cultures and contexts today.  No matter what the needs or challenges are the Spirit is at work and he “does not oblige the nations all to wear the same clothing” (157), so we should expect and value differing pneumatologies and know that in their diversity there will still be unity in Christ.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Theo 351: Is the Holy Spirit green?

In Chapter six, Kärkkäinen points out how in recent years there has been a shift from an anthropocentric to an ecocentric framework when it comes to Christian theology.  He calls this “ecological pneumotology” and in a section suggests that we need to work toward a “Green” doctrine of the Spirit (159).  Lynn White believes that “the impending eco-crisis . . . results from the Judeo-Christian tradition, based on Genesis 1:26 and related texts . . . . Nature has served humans, and Christianity has sanctioned an exploitative ethic allowing science and technology to serve as instruments of exploitation” (159).  Christians are to blame for the current ecological crisis.  Moltmann calls for a new outlook and connection between theology and science and states that “if human beings are to survive, these areas of study must see themselves as companions in the ecological crisis.  The theologian’s task is to clarify the question, ‘How is nature to be understood as God’s creation?’” (159).  Moltmann responds by saying “that nature is neither divine nor demonic.  It should not be divinized as in New Age though nor denied as in some extreme forms of religious thought” (159).  Mark Wallace argues that the most promising response to the threat of global ecological collapse is “recovery of the Holy Spirit as a natural, living being who indwells and sustains all life-forms . . . . An earth-centered re-envisioning of the Spirit as the green face of God in the world is the best grounds for hope and renewal at a point in human history when our rapacious appetites seemed destined to destroy the earth” (161).  He questions the reason for the unimportance of the Spirit’s ecological identity when many biblical images connect the Spirit with nature.  He goes further on to say that “the Spirit is not only the power of relation between the trinitarian persons but also between God and all of creation.” (162).  The Spirit is the “bond of love” (162) and God’s presence in creation to assist in its well-being.  Kärkkäinen writes, “Just as God once became human in the body of Jesus, so God continually enfleshes Godself in the embodied reality of life on earth.  Both the Spirit and the earth are life-givers.  The Spirit ensouls the earth with the quickening breath of divine life, and the earth enfleshes the Spirit as it offers spiritual and physical sustenance to all living things” (164).  The Spirit continues to embody life on earth and provides for all of creation.

Environmental issues are not usually a big part of the Christian church’s over-crowded agenda, but it does seem to be becoming a “hot” topic in churches and Christian circles today.  Christians and churches are starting to talk about environmental issues and are beginning to realize that they should be radically leading the way in response to this crisis.  There are many actions that people could refrain from and many lifestyle changes that could be made in order to lessen their impact.  It would not be hard right now, especially since in some urban settings “green living” seems to be the newest fad.  Yet, before any of these changes or responses can be made that will last for the long haul, Christians need to understand why they need to respond and I think Kärkkäinen’s presentation on Ecological Pneumatology is a good place to start.  Christians need to recover a sense of a sacred universe and creation spirituality.  This does not mean worshipping nature instead of God—for that is idolatry.  We need to change the way we view the earth and recover the view that the Holy Spirit indwells and sustains creation on this earth and we need to get in on the work too.  It is also seeing humans as creatures that are embedded in networks of relationships with all created beings and with the Creator Spirit.  Perhaps it means reimagining the hierarchy of being into a circle of the community of life, where humans are not the “lords of the manor,” but rather kin in the community of life.  It is also experiencing a sense of immanence of God within nature.  Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  From this verse, it is clear that the Spirit is present in creation and that by looking at nature, spending time in nature, and understanding nature, people will have a spiritual experience and encounter God.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Theo 351: Chapter Five: Leading Contemporary Theologians on the Spirit

My understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role and work has included drawing Christians closer in their relationship to God and to others, salvation, justification, sanctification, bestowing gifts upon believers, as well as uniting, spurring on, and guiding the Church, the Body of Christ, in its mission in the world.  The Holy Spirit also works in individuals and communities that have not yet come to Christ, but mostly the Holy Spirit is for Christians.  However, Kärkkäinen’s presentation of current day theological pneumatologies, particularly Karl Rahner and Jurgen Moltmann, suggests that the Holy Spirit is available to a broader range of people than just Christians.  Rahner says, “God has already communicated himself in his Holy Spirit always and everywhere and to every person as the inner-most center of his existence” (113).  Everyone has the Holy Spirit naturally built into them, whether or not they are a Christian.  Additionally, Rahner understands and values other religious traditions of the world as they mediate these experiences of the Spirit that everybody has.  Thus, “all religious traditions potentially express truth about God’s self communication in the Spirit” (116).  Summarizing Rahner’s view of the universality of the Spirit, Kärkkäinen writes, “Wherever persons surrender themselves to God or the ultimate reality, under whatever name, and dedicate themselves to the cause of justice, peace, fraternity, and solidarity with other people, they have implicitly accepted Christ and, to some degree, entered into this Christic existence” (117).   Moltmann presents a similar universality, but with slightly different methodology.  Kärkkäinen writes, “Moltmann’s basic thesis is that wherever there is passion for life, there the Spirit of God is operating: life over against death, liberation over again oppression, justice over against injustice, and so on . . . the only legitimate attitude is to affirm life” (126).  This also suggests that Spirit of God is not exclusively for Christians.  Moltmann also expresses that “because God’s Spirit is present in human beings, the human spirit is self-transcendently aligned toward God” (127).  Moltmann uses the terminology, “immanent trascendence,” to describe his understanding that the Holy Spirit is present in human beings, as well as is the power of creation and the well-spring of life.  With this view, Moltman says it should align humans toward God and that “every lived moment can be lived in the inconceivable closeness of God in the Spirit” (127).

These theologians have caused me to consider my view of the person, role, and work of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we have placed limits on the Holy Spirit and his whereabouts.  There is something quite appealing about this universal and inclusive Holy Spirit that is present and within everyone.  Working for justice appears to be an important start of the awareness of the Spirit within and that aligns with getting in on and fanning the flame of God’s work of peace and justice here on earth.  Also, it even makes sense of different religious traditions and I have to admit my first thought when reading Rahner’s view on the role of these religious traditions was that it would allow for much more respectful dialogue between people of different faiths that does not have a hidden evangelistic agenda.  Yet, these views of the Holy Spirit do leave me with some questions.  Does the universality of the Spirit mean the universality of salvation?  Is working for justice enough to draw someone to Christ?  What happens if Christ is never revealed as the way to salvation?  What does evangelism look like with this view of the Holy Spirit?  However, I think there is some good news here in that we can trust that the Holy Spirit is working even when we do not quite understand or have it completely right.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Theo 351: Eastern Orthodox “Spirit-sensitive” Theology

As he who grasps one end of a chain pulls along with it the other end to himself, so he who draws the Spirit draws both the Son and the Father along with it.” - St. Basil the Great (quoted in Kärkkäinen, 68-69)

As with most western Christian traditions, my Mennonite tradition is Christocentric.  This does not mean that Mennonites sideline the Holy Spirit, but rather their pneumatology is defined in the context of their trinitarian teaching.  Needless to say, I was quite challenged by the view of the Holy Spirit in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as stated in Chapter Four of Kärkkäinen’s Pneumatology, but there also were some parts of it, such as its mystical nature and it being more experience-based, that had me wondering if it was relevant to our postmodern culture today that values individual expression and authentic experiences.  

In the Eastern view and as pointed out in St. Basil’s quote above, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make first contact, which leads to “revelation of the Son and, through him, the Father,” (69).  Each person in the Trinity is involved in each others’ actions.  This view still emphasizes the unity of the Trinity, while at the same time it acknowledges the reciprocal nature of the trinitarian persons as opposed to their individuality.  When it comes to the work of the Spirit in salvation, the goal of the Christian life is union with God.  To the Eastern church, salvation is a divine-human cooperation in that it is less about guilt and more about deliverance from mortality and corruption, as well as working towards the renewal of the image of God in human beings (69).  Although this has been critiqued for voiding the role of grace, Kärkkäinen writes, “Grace is a presence of God within us that demands constant effort on our part” (71), such as by prayer, asceticism, meditation, humble service, et cetera, which results in our deification (70).  This seems to give way for today’s postmoderns to individually express their worship, as well as have opportunities for holistic participation and authentic experiences, which could lead to belief and changes in behaviour (deification).  

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Theo 351: Chapter Four: Ecclesiastical Perspectives on the Spirit

I recently read chapter four from Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s book, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective.  In this chapter, Kärkkäinen starts out by saying, “One of the most exciting features of pneumatology is the variety of ways Christian churches have approached the Spirit’s ministry.  Even though there is only one Spirit of God, the differing emphases and needs of particular churches and traditions have created a rich treasure of spiritual experiences” (67).  Although there is a definite sense of unity throughout the chapter, there also is diversity in different Christian traditions.  Kärkkäinen surveys major Christian traditions and their understanding of the Holy Spirit, which includes the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the Roman Catholic Tradition, the Lutheran Tradition, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements, and the Ecumenical Movement.  Some of you reading this might wonder where you fit in as your Church tradition or denomination is not listed here.  As a Mennonite, I found myself most able to relate with the Lutheran view of the Spirit, but I also found myself agreeing with and being challenged by the emphases of other church traditions, some of which are as follows.  In the Eastern view, the Holy Spirit makes the first contact, which is followed by the revelation of the Son and then the Father (69).  In the Roman Catholic view, the church is seen as an extension of Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit at his baptism in which the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads God’s people through sacraments, church ministries, and special gifts to build up the Church (74-75).  In the Lutheran Tradition, the Spirit works in the preached Word and the sacraments.  Kärkkäinen writes, “In his insistence on the integral relationship between the Spirit and the Word, Luther limits the phenomena of Pentecost (tongues, fire, wind) to the apostolic era.  He understands the proper instruments of the Holy Spirit given to the church to be the Word and the sacraments, which are the visible Word.  According to Luther, while the phenomena of Pentecost have ceased as such, they continue to operate through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in regard to the Bible and the sacraments.  The wind and fire symbolize the encouragement and zeal given to the apostles, and speaking in tongues symbolizes the gospel itself, preached in every tongue” (84).  In other words, Luther believes that the work of the Holy Spirit begins with the Word and sacraments, which then leads to the Holy Spirit’s inner work in the hearts, lives, and gifts of believers.  In the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, the difference between conversion and Spirit baptism and how both are a part of the lifelong faith journey and are even illustrated by the first century Christians in how Christian initiation was an important step and that was accompanied by Pentecostal-type spiritual manifestations over a lengthy period of time (96-98).  Lastly, the Spirit is present and working in the Ecumenical Movement in that Christian churches are overcoming barriers and working towards a united testimony (99).  These are just some of the highlights from each of the approaches taken by these major Christian traditions concerning the Holy Spirit, but I think reading a book like Kärkkäinen’s can really shed light on what other’s believe about the Holy Spirit, which will hopefully lead to respectful dialogue on the mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.