Spirit in History, part 2

Part 2 of the paper I presented at the Conference of Faith and History meeting at George Fox University. The title of the paper was “Whither the Spirit: Proposing a Pneumatological Historiography”.

It may be, however, that because Hegel so closely tied a philosophy of history with the concept of the Spirit’s actualization and revelation in history that a rejection of Hegel seems to insist on a rejection of any attempt to incorporate a robust pneumatology within a theological historiography. Recently, however, theologians have made a turn back towards history as a source of theological content. While there are an increasing number worth studying, for the present I would like to briefly highlight the work of Jürgen Moltmann, and Gustavo Gutierrez.

Jürgen Moltmann has a strong interest in God’s work in and through history, providing significant assistance in the formation of a more comprehensive theology of history, one which takes more specific interest in historical particulars and in the work of the Holy Spirit. “Like Judaism and Islam,” Moltmann reminds us, “Christianity is called a religion of history, over against the great Asiatic ‘cosmic’ religions.”

He continues, “The God about whom the ‘historical’ religions speak is not, like the divine in the ‘cosmic’ religions, always already so manifest and evident in the laws of the cosmos and the rhythms and cycles of life that no special revelation is required for the divinity to be perceived; this God reveals himself to the people of his choice in contingent events of human history.”

This God, for Moltmann, works in the context and particulars of history, initiating history and disclosing God’s future to humanity in the promises and fulfillments that occur within history.

This experience of God is, in Moltmann, a dynamic experience of God who exists in three, fully realized persons. He insists on a personhood of the Spirit that makes a strong move against earlier forms of Hegelian idealism as well as what might be called impersonal categories of the Spirit as is found in much traditional theology. Lawrence Wood writes that for Moltmann, “The Holy Spirit is not an extension of the human spirit. The Holy Spirit is not just a point of union between God the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is not just the Father and Son working together and relating together as a ‘we.’

Rather, the Holy Spirit is also just as distinctive in his personal specificity as the Father and the Son.” For Moltmann, the experience of the Spirit is as the creative, enlivening, personal power of God. Moltmann suggests three aspects of experiencing God’s ruach. The first, is as “the confronting event of God’s efficacious presence ‘which reaches into the depths of human existence.’” He adds, “every efficacious presence of God is determined by the ruach and, as Calvin said, has to be interpreted pneumatologically.”

Second, “the creative power of God is communicated to the beings he has created in such a way that in talking about ruach we are talking about the energy of their life too. It is not wrong to talk about the Spirit as the ‘drive’ and ‘instinct’ awakened by God.”

Third, Moltmann writes, “Ruach creates space. It sets in motion. It leads out of narrow places into wide vistas, thus conferring life. To experience ruach is to experience what is divine not only as a person, and not merely a force, but also as space—as the space of freedom in which the living being can unfold.”

Human history, then, can be said to unfold within the space of the Holy Spirit, which certainly offers significant guidance to a theology of history, but also, to be sure, adds significant problems as we look at just about any particular instance in history, which has its hopes but also its evils.

As such, this suggests not simply a space of the Spirit’s work which pervades all, but also a mission and a goal for which we have to understand the Spirit’s specific work in the process of human history.

to be continued…

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