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The Subersive Spirit 4

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : May 22, 2007

In my previous posts on “the Subversive Spirit” I VERY briefly delved into the Old Testament, the Gospels and Acts.

I could continue to dig into the biblical texts, but I’m going to stop for now…though I reserve the right to draw upon the epistles from time to time for the practical outworking of pneumatology.  What I’m most interested in is the inter-relatedness between Christ, the Spirit, and the Church.  Let me lay it all out in a very bullet-pointy sorta way.  I want to lay my cards out on the table in this post, so that I can explore an “emerging” pneumatology of sorts in my next post.  Please ask any questions you might have or weigh in on any of the issues I raise–I want to be as collaborative as possible as I move forward.

Pneumatology affects our understanding of Christ.  Is Jesus primarily a moral exemplar?  An ethical genius? If so, then the Spirit can simply be understood as a “life force” or a great love.  In this sense, Gandhi was spirit filled the same way Jesus was.  Is Jesus primarily a miracle-worker?  A wielder of charismatic power? If so, then the Spirit can be understood merely as the “power of God.” The Gospels tie Jesus’ Christ-hood with the Spirit’s anointing.  Folks like Clark Pinnock have put forth a Spirit Christology that deals with this sort of interconnectedness.  Whatever our view of the Spirit is, it helps shape our understanding of Christ.

Pneumatology affects our understanding of the Church. The church is Christ’s embodiment in the world.  One’s understanding of the relationship between the Spirit and the church (and between the Spirit and the world) affects how that embodiment is understood and what it looks like.  Is the Spirit at work in a way that isn’t always radically Christ-centered?  Is the Spirit at work in all religions? In the same way in all religions?  Do we still experience the Spirit the same way today as in the early church?  Is our engagement with the Spirit primarily centered on Scripture?  What are spiritual gifts and how do they work? How do we experience the leading of the Spirit in mission?  Are we to make decisions as a church based upon spiritual discernment or simple wisdom? Or both? How?

Depersonalizing the Spirit takes us off the rails. I’ve already posted a bit on this. But I want to give some concrete examples of how depersonalizing the Spirit plays out.  My primary encounter with a depersonalized Spirit is with some Pentecostals/Charismatics that I know.  These are the very people that are supposed to care MORE about the Spirit.  But they get drunk on the effects and power of the Spirit.  When the Spirit is boiled down to an experience or special abilities, then there is no place for real discernment.  If the Spirit isn’t a One that Requires our Submission, but instead a Force or Power from God for Our Disposal, then the goal isn’t to live in obedience to Christ by the humble submission to the work of the Spirit in our midst.  Instead, the goal becomes more about gaining power, utilizing power, and climbing the ladder of spiritual superiority.  Look at people like Benny Hinn.  He is a perfect outworking of someone addicted to an impersonal Spirit. 

Another example of a depersonalized Spirit is a sort of unreflective version of the work currently being done linking the Spirit and pluralism.  Many see the Spirit as an attitude or posture: the “Spirit” is being loving to others or the “Spirit” is pursuing truth.  In this idea, the Spirit isn’t the One who brings us to Christ, but a personal disposition to truth.  And in this way, there isn’t anything particularly Christian about the Spirit, and there isn’t any particular submission to the Spirit in a relational way.  Instead the submission is akin to the way in which we should all submit to abstract ideas like “tolerance” or “democracy.”

You might ask: Why are you subordinating depersonal or impersonal existence below personal existence?  Because, I’m with John Zizioulas (and others like LeRon Shults) that argue that the category of “existence” or “being” is subordinate to the category of “relationality.” God’s being is grounded in the triune relationality of God.  My existence is contingent upon my relationships–to God and to others.  I am who I am because of my relationships.  All of creation flows out of the inter-relationality of God.  Sure, one can have inter-relationality within God without personhood for the Spirit.  But to do so would be to subordinate the Spirit to the Father and the Son–and do we REALLY want to go there? Basically, I believe that if I am a person, and the Holy Spirit is not, then I really believe that I am more than the Holy Spirit. 

The Spirit needs to be understood eschatologically.  I don’t believe creation is a static event in the past, but an ongoing event that breaks in from the future.  The new heavens and the new earth aren’t a destruction of the old and a rebuilding of the new…but a transformation of the old into the new.  It is the Spirit who deconstructs and re-creates–it is the Spirit who brings the transformation of all creation in Christ. 

The Spirit continually creates the church…and when we use a blueprint-approach to church creation and formation, centered around church leaders, we piss the Spirit off. Here is where I connect pneumatology most practically with ecclesiology.  I fundamentally believe that if we “do” church based upon some sort of success blueprint, then we are in sin.  And, believe it or not, I believe that if we “do” church based only upon what we read about in Scripture, we are also in sin.  You heard me.  If we don’t believe that Christ still leads through his Spirit, and that the Spirit still opens our eyes to see the world as-it-could-be, then we should merely (and dogmatically) cling to Scripture.  But I don’t believe that after the Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture, the Spirit went into early retirement.  This is by no means to say that the Bible isn’t inspired or that it isn’t fruitful for doing ecclesiology.  But to simply say “we’ll do it the way they did it in the book of Acts” is to grossly ignore context and to under-value the role of the Spirit in our lives today. 

for further reading . . .

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8 Responses to “The Subersive Spirit 4”

  1. len hjalmarson on May 22nd, 2007 2:46 pm

    helpful stuff Mark.. and I think if you coordinate this thought with some of the work done by Pinnock, Yong, Stackhouse and others on the role of the Spirit outside the Church in culture in preparing people for faith it would give further depth to the discussion. Because the Spirit is not only ekkelsial in His work.. He is the Spirit that brings forth the Kingdom. Interesting… in a very old variant of Jesus prayer instead of “Your Kingdom come” there is a reading “your Spirit come…”

  2. markvans on May 22nd, 2007 3:03 pm

    Thanks Len…that’s helpful. I tend to see everything through ecclesial eyes, so I need to be reminded to broaden my perspective. The Spirit’s activity is certainly Christ-centered, but not necessarily church-centered.

  3. graham on May 22nd, 2007 6:26 pm

    I don’t believe creation is a static event in the past, but an ongoing event that breaks in from the future.

    That section was excellent, Mark - and would be a good starter for what Len seems to be getting at.

    I’d also want to plug Amos Yong.

  4. Beyond Words on May 23rd, 2007 7:50 am

    Dittos on the creation passage. It’s been on my mind a lot recently because a professor here in Ames (Iowa State University) has been denied tenure basically because he supports intelligent design. But he’s not a young-earth creationist. He wrote the book, “The Privileged Planet,” which helped open my mind to the possibility that God methodically established the conditions of habitability for our planet–no shortcuts. Life on earth required, among other things, the birth and death of galaxies and stars to form its basic elements.

    It struck me that believing creation happened in six 24-hour days is a major factor in much of the church’s warped eschatology. If one believes creation is easy-come, easy go–disposable , corrupted, destined for the fire of the end times, it would never occur to one to expect –let alone collaborate with the Spirit in– the holistic, breaking in power of the Resurrection making all things new in Christ.

    The Gnostic eschatology of rapture to a disembodied heaven has diverted the church from its primary purpose of making disciples to fill the earth with image bearers made fit in Christ to live in concert with renewed creation.

    Spirit take the scales from our eyes so we can see the “world as it could be,” and cooperate with you power and purposes.

  5. Nate on May 24th, 2007 3:15 pm

    Wow, I just stumbled on this site, and I’m really happy about it! I’m glad there are people who are thinking seriously about the things I’m thinking about. What especially rings for me:

    “And, believe it or not, I believe that if we “do” church based only upon what we read about in Scripture, we are also in sin.”

    This is very perceptive. I’ve wondered for awhile why evangelicals are prone to referring to the Bible, often exclusively, as the “Word of God.” It seems to me that, according to the Bible, Scripture is not the Word of God- Christ is. If that is true, and if Christ rose from the dead, then the Word is present, active, and transcending things like text and time, or any other constraint we would like to put on him(usually to promote pet causes and bolster our perceived position of being the Christians who have it “right.”) It seems to me more accurate to call Scripture an analogy or representation of the word of God- To be used and highly regarded for its applicability *in essence* to our life in Christ.

    Just a few aimless thoughts… I’ll be back!

    Nate

  6. markvans on May 24th, 2007 3:49 pm

    Thanks for stopping by Nate!

  7. dlw on May 25th, 2007 9:01 pm

    MVS:Pneumatology affects our understanding of Christ. Is Jesus primarily a moral exemplar? An ethical genius? If so, then the Spirit can simply be understood as a “life force” or a great love. In this sense, Gandhi was spirit filled the same way Jesus was. Is Jesus primarily a miracle-worker? A wielder of charismatic power? If so, then the Spirit can be understood merely as the “power of God.” The Gospels tie Jesus’ Christ-hood with the Spirit’s anointing. Folks like Clark Pinnock have put forth a Spirit Christology that deals with this sort of interconnectedness. Whatever our view of the Spirit is, it helps shape our understanding of Christ.

    dlw: Why does there have to be a primary metaphor…? My vote is the reciprocal love of the Father and the Son that is manifested in our created world.

    MVS:Pneumatology affects our understanding of the Church. The church is Christ’s embodiment in the world. One’s understanding of the relationship between the Spirit and the church (and between the Spirit and the world) affects how that embodiment is understood and what it looks like.

    Shdn’t that be “shd look like”?

    MVS:Is the Spirit at work in a way that isn’t always radically Christ-centered?

    dlw: If the HS manifests the love of the Godhead then might not its connections or pointing back to God sometimes be beyond our comprehension?

    MVS:Is the Spirit at work in all religions?

    dlw:Would it not surprise you if historically seeds of points of contact or plagiarizations had been implanted in most if not all religions?

    MVS:Do we still experience the Spirit the same way today as in the early church?

    dlw: Unclear what you mean by “same way”…

    MVS:Is our engagement with the Spirit primarily centered on Scripture?

    dlw:If the HS is leading us to Truth and all that is to come, why need it center on something we can center on???

    MVS:What are spiritual gifts and how do they work? How do we experience the leading of the Spirit in mission? Are we to make decisions as a church based upon spiritual discernment or simple wisdom? Or both? How?

    dlw:Is there any discernment that does not draw on our spiritual natures? If the HS is and manifests the love of two spiritual beings then shdn’t we expect it to be manifested in our lives through apersonal means, or institutions, by which we manifest our love and community, not unlike that of a blog?

    MVS:Depersonalizing the Spirit takes us off the rails.

    dlw:No one is depersonalizing the Spirit. The nature of the HS is what it is, apart from the ontological understandings we have. It also is wrong to presume that “depersonalization” makes the HS “impersonal”. Your blog is apersonal, and yet it is very personal as it embodies your personhood and the personhoods of those of us who comment here.

    MVS:I’ve already posted a bit on this. But I want to give some concrete examples of how depersonalizing the Spirit plays out. My primary encounter with a depersonalized Spirit is with some Pentecostals/Charismatics that I know. These are the very people that are supposed to care MORE about the Spirit. But they get drunk on the effects and power of the Spirit. When the Spirit is boiled down to an experience or special abilities, then there is no place for real discernment. If the Spirit isn’t a One that Requires our Submission, but instead a Force or Power from God for Our Disposal, then the goal isn’t to live in obedience to Christ by the humble submission to the work of the Spirit in our midst. Instead, the goal becomes more about gaining power, utilizing power, and climbing the ladder of spiritual superiority. Look at people like Benny Hinn. He is a perfect outworking of someone addicted to an impersonal Spirit.

    dlw: I agree. Though we shd expect to be empowered by the HS, though not in ways that exalt us personally. Once more, apersonal does not imply impersonal.

    MVS:Another example of a depersonalized Spirit is a sort of unreflective version of the work currently being done linking the Spirit and pluralism. Many see the Spirit as an attitude or posture: the “Spirit” is being loving to others or the “Spirit” is pursuing truth.

    dlw: Part-to-whole. The selflessness shown in all inquiry that pursues what is destined to emerge is made possible by the HS.

    MVS: In this idea, the Spirit isn’t the One who brings us to Christ, but a personal disposition to truth. And in this way, there isn’t anything particularly Christian about the Spirit, and there isn’t any particular submission to the Spirit in a relational way. Instead the submission is akin to the way in which we should all submit to abstract ideas like “tolerance” or “democracy.”

    dlw: Would these sorts of disciplines embedded in Scientific methodology be possible without Christ’s example? How many who followed Newton failed to see that he was truly following Christ, albeit imperfectly? Tolerance is a good thing, as is democracy. The advancement of the kingship of God is abetted by both. I’m remind of Mark 9:38-40. Be careful that your “Christocentrism” doesn’t become a neo-Judaization!

    MVS: You might ask: Why are you subordinating depersonal or impersonal existence below personal existence? Because, I’m with John Zizioulas (and others like LeRon Shults) that argue that the category of “existence” or “being” is subordinate to the category of “relationality.” God’s being is grounded in the triune relationality of God. My existence is contingent upon my relationships–to God and to others. I am who I am because of my relationships. All of creation flows out of the inter-relationality of God.

    dlw: I fail to see why the priority of relation wd imply that the HS has to be personal in the same sense as the Father and the Son are personal. I am relating with you right now through an apersonal means!!!

    MVS: Sure, one can have inter-relationality within God without personhood for the Spirit. But to do so would be to subordinate the Spirit to the Father and the Son–and do we REALLY want to go there?

    dlw: Not if such was what enabled the relationality of the Father and the Son!!! After all, as you stated, relationality is of greater importance than being. Therefore, it shd not matter whether all three members of the trinity are personal beings. They are all related in a manner that affirms their equal importance. A requires B and C, B requires A and C, and C requires A and B. As such it does not matter if A, B and C are differentiated some, including whether one of them is apersonal…

    MVS: Basically, I believe that if I am a person, and the Holy Spirit is not, then I really believe that I am more than the Holy Spirit.

    dlw: This vaunts the import of being a “personal” being. What matters is not whether you are a person but whether you are in a saving relationship with God. Now, you may need to be a person to have such a saving relationship, but that doesn’t make you “more” than an apersonal being that stems from and manifests God in relation with all that is created by God.

    MVS:The Spirit needs to be understood eschatologically. I don’t believe creation is a static event in the past, but an ongoing event that breaks in from the future. The new heavens and the new earth aren’t a destruction of the old and a rebuilding of the new…but a transformation of the old into the new. It is the Spirit who deconstructs and re-creates–it is the Spirit who brings the transformation of all creation in Christ.

    dlw: This adds nothing to the argument. Your simply supposing that the HS must be a personal being to do all of that.

    MVS:The Spirit continually creates the church…and when we use a blueprint-approach to church creation and formation, centered around church leaders, we piss the Spirit off.

    dlw: Note, apersonal does not imply impersonal, as in fixed blue-print. Blue-prints can be dynamic, working models that are reframed by personal beings in a way that the “center” is a working term, not an ontologically given term.

    MVS:Here is where I connect pneumatology most practically with ecclesiology. I fundamentally believe that if we “do” church based upon some sort of success blueprint, then we are in sin. And, believe it or not, I believe that if we “do” church based only upon what we read about in Scripture, we are also in sin.

    I agree.

    MVS:You heard me. If we don’t believe that Christ still leads through his Spirit, and that the Spirit still opens our eyes to see the world as-it-could-be, then we should merely (and dogmatically) cling to Scripture. But I don’t believe that after the Spirit inspired the authors of Scripture, the Spirit went into early retirement. This is by no means to say that the Bible isn’t inspired or that it isn’t fruitful for doing ecclesiology. But to simply say “we’ll do it the way they did it in the book of Acts” is to grossly ignore context and to under-value the role of the Spirit in our lives today.

    dlw: Or the extent that the Acts of the Apostles selectively and deliberately chronicles the acts of the innovators or envelope-pushers.

    dlw

  8. dlw on May 26th, 2007 1:31 pm

    let me know if and when you reply, Mark.

    dlw

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