The Spirit in History part 4

The study of a pneumatology of history is a fruitful study, with far too many (rather than too few) contemporary theological resources. Yet, a broad—though not fully comprehensive—study of the relevant theological literature suggests there is very little consideration of pneumatology as it relates to historiography as discussed by historians. On the other side, in discussions of faith and history by historians, mentions of the Holy Spirit are not just uncommon; there is, it seems, hardly any, if any, mention of the Holy Spirit.

For the time being, however, I will regretfully leave aside for the present any specific look at the very worthwhile contributions on faith and history by Christian historians and will instead briefly consider the insights of Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, as an example of the state of contemporary historiography.

In his text The Landscape of History, Gaddis proposes an ecological rather than reductionistic perspective which sees the complexity of the system being, in distinct and vital ways, irreducible, with any over-generalization leaving out crucial aspects that bear significantly, even if not dramatically, upon the system’s formation and direction as a whole. He suggests aspects of this approach that have been understood in a variety of scientific fields.

The first is “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” in which small changes in a system at the beginning of a process can lead to dramatically different outcomes farther along. The second is the concept of fractals, which involves “self-similarity” across scales. Gaddis writes, “Patterns tend to remain the same, in such systems, regardless of the scale at which one looks at them.”

Third, there is the concept of “self-organization” in which patterns of regularity form even within chaotic systems, in which “organized behavior can emerge spontaneously in simulations in which units are allowed to interact with one another according to only a few basic rules.” This suggest that complex adaptive systems can seemingly spontaneously fit together in a cohesive, organized pattern that does not have top-down causation. Together these elements are part of what Gaddis identifies as “criticality” which “means that a system contains within it both sensitive dependence on initial conditions and self-similarity across scale.” It is in this criticality, I suggest, that we can locate a robust pneumatology.

Hegel was right to suggest the concept of freedom as a core value in regards to the work of the Spirit, but he wrongly understood the scope and meaning of this freedom. Rather than being an egocentric reality, real freedom is becoming whole in the identity of God, expressed in exocentric relationality. We are truly free when we are freed from either the oppressions of the self-oriented ego or the artificial constraints imposed by other falsely formed egocentric figures.

The Spirit is the Spirit of freedom, and this means liberation in a broad way—both liberation from our sins, which prevent our becoming whole people in relationship with God, and liberation from outward bondage, which constrains our Spirit-oriented creativity and contribution. This is not a freedom for worldly ambitious figures to gather yet more power and acclaim, feeding their ego. Rather, the Spirit who works in all of life, emphasizes this freedom especially in “the least of these” and it is in those moments in which the “least” are given acknowledgment, rights, and freedom for full exploration of their created identity.

This does not involve, to be sure, a simplistic, generalized pattern. Rather, the freedom of the Spirit works in particular ways in particular situations, orienting towards Christ in freeing particular ‘captives’ from their particular bondages. This is an infinitely complex reality oriented towards holistic relationship and fruition.

to be continued…

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