Comprehensive Exam #3: Trends in the Study of the Holy Spirit

Continuing with my series of posts about my comprehensive exam answers.

Here’s the second part of the first question on the Holy Spirit (the first part is here):

A third emerging topic in pneumatology is also related to the broad work of the Spirit, arising from the Spirit as the creative and enlivening power of God. When we see God’s work in theSpirit going beyond the topic of human salvation and indeed prioritizing a redemption of all of creation, then theology begins to emphasize a new “Green” theology, seeing ecological concerns as being proper topics for theological discussion. While loosely connected to the previous theme of science, this emphasis goes farther in encouraging a theosis of sorts related to our interactions with our planet.

Such discussions likewise range from the semi-neopagan and openly pantheistic theology of Mark Wallace, to more traditionally orthodox discussions by Moltmann and many others. Indeed, this is one key area that feminist pneumatologies are developing as well, seeing Spirit as a maternal force of creation, emphasizing how our care for the planet is an indication of a more properly attuned, and holistic, relationship with God that fights against the more patriarchal attempts at domination.

Not surprisingly, younger Pentecostal scholars are on the forefront of a lot of increased pneumatological discussion. While Pentecostalism has, traditionally, emphasized the role of the Spirit in worship, in dynamic signs and wonders, and in a Spirit-Christology, there has not been, surprisingly a robust pneumatology itself. The Spirit points towards new life and towards Christ, but has not often been considered in terms of a broader work or identity. Indeed the significant presence of Oneness Pentecostals shows the potential for an actually deficient pneumatology within a seemingly “Spirit” movement.

This is changing and changing in significant and dynamic ways as a generation of Pentecostal theologians come into their own, and address the core themes of a robust pneumatology as applied to different contexts like science and world religions and salvation, as mentioned above, but also in terms of politics, and community and more holistic directions.

While it may have once been common for those raised in Pentecostalism to become Presbyterian or Episcopalian as they matured theologically, there is now a new orientation towards robust Pentecostal theology that has, at its core, a profound sense of the continuing work and power of the Spirit in every direction.

This work by Pentecostal theologians emphasizes the fact that the Spirit is increasingly seen as going beyond the topics of more dynamic gifts like tongues and healings (though these are increasingly considered theologically), as well as the more traditionally Evangelical emphasis of the Spirit as limited to the inspiration of Scripture, topics of salvation or within the church service. Indeed, the work of the Spirit in and out of the church is being understood as a holistic work that tends to blur the traditional divided between the sacred and the secular.

The work of the Spirit is being explored as a holistic work that is not just about clearly miraculous events, but in building a holistic transforming community.

This work of the Spirit may not always be clearly labeled as such, but understanding the Spirit as the one who binds people together into a free and thriving community allows such priorities to be increasingly understood pneumatologically. Indeed, one such area of exploration is, quite literally, an emerging pneumatology, with the priorities and traits of the so-called emerging churches being explored as pneumatologically driven. Though such emphases are not new, but can be seen throughout the more dynamic, community oriented, nonconformist movements throughout history, like with the Quakers.

This emerging pneumatology sees the work of the Holy Spirit going beyond the confines of established ecclesiology, and looks to discover the presence of the Holy Spirit more broadly, in every area of human existence, pointing always toward renewed life and exocentric relationality as expressed throughout the contexts of each particular society.

This opens the door to discussions about the Spirit in topics of art and creativity, both in and outside the church. This exploration goes beyond the work of the Spirit in space, as there are also renewed explorations of the Spirit in regards to history. The Spirit is not new to the topic, as Hegel quite decidedly emphasized Spirit as the core of a universal history. However, this universal history was quite a generalized one, and tended to focus more on an idealized human development, in keeping with the Idealism of the era.

Now, however, explorations are developing in which the particular Spirit of God is understood as working in a universal history in always particular ways, an infinite complexity of action in which people are transformed to resonate increasing life and community, though this work will not be the work of humanity but will only come to complete fruition with God’s fulfillment of history in his full revelation.

This suggests that the Spirit is also being understood increasingly in contextual ways, with a wide diversity of discussions of the Spirit’s work not combating each other but instead pointing to a more comprehensive unity of understanding the Spirit’s broad work in different ways, in different contexts, leading towards the particular expression of life with God that each context particularly requires. With this radical increase of pneumatological interest, there have also been renewals of Trinitarian theology, with the person of the Spirit being emphasized as a full member of the Trinity, rather than a rhetorical addition to what has often been more of a binarian God in practice.

Part of this renewed Trinitarian thought has brought a significant increase in opposition to the filioque clause, with such influential theologians as Pannenberg and Moltmann, among many, many others arguing against it. In doing this, we see one fruitful ecumenical aspect of a developing pneumatology that can help overcome the previously hardened divisions between east and west, and between the various churches. If we see the church not as the possessor of Christ and Spirit, but as a participant with the Spirit in Christ, then the divisions no longer make as much sense.

With this in mind, the prayer resonates within the church, for the church and for this world: Come, Holy Spirit!

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