The work of the Spirit in history part 5

The Spirit works to bring thorough transformation, and the path to this may, as Scripture suggests, move through counter-intuitive experiences. Indeed, while talk of the Spirit may suggest looking for grand expressions of creative freedom fighting, a more consistent reality is that, in light of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, the enchristening work of the Spirit is likely not immediately, obviously perceptible. True miracles—places in which the Spirit makes a profound impact—may most likely not be immediately identified as clearly supernatural events. A small shift, a change of attitude, a curious pursuit of what is not immediately helpful to an individual—brought on by seemingly casual expressions of everyday charismas as people live in resonance with the Spirit.

A miracle need not be grand to be great, and is in the almost imperceptible moments in a historical context that we might discover the presence of a radical movement of God in transforming a whole society. With this, a historic movement could be strongly suggested as pneumatologically incited when self-organization takes a shape that prioritizes Spirit directed values.

On the other side, we are not limited to looking for obvious examples of societal progress. The Spirit can often be dis-empowering, maybe to the point of ending a church, or a Christendom, or any particular society, power structure or individual success. In the formation of a more fully enchristened people, the Spirit may work to undermine and frustrate those expressions which fight against the more persistent values of life and freedom, especially if such expressions represent themselves rhetorically as speaking on behalf of God.

The work of the enlivening Spirit can be seen in the breaking apart of systems of constraint, snapping the chains of oppression by working against the oppressors—a reality, for example, that can most palpably be seen in the increasing societal rejection of slavery. In discovering the movements of the Spirit we can identify nascent and more mature works, but we can also learn to better critique how moments in history or movements stumble, decline, or calcify into non-movements. The Spirit leads us to an ecumenical history: not a dualism of wrong or right, but mix of correctness in living struggles.

Another point should also be made. In emphasizing a Spirit who works broadly and often subtly in complex ways, the Spirit cannot be seen as bound to the object of study. Rather, a consistent pneumatological historiography would see historical study and insights as themselves possible charismas. As such, historians could see their very interests, instincts, priorities, and all their work as significant contributions to the work of God in this world, led and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

to be continued…

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