Re-imagining the Holy Spirit: Butterfly Effects...and all that jazz


Last week I left off with the people of God historically seeking relationship and an experience with God through various means (the monastic impulse, the mystic impulse and the impulse toward sacred space).  I promise next time to get right into our present context, but today, if you will allow the historian in me to emerge again, I want to venture towards more modern times but continue in another little exercise in contextualization.  In this bit, I want to peek into the context of the 1960s following onto the present, but the perspective from which I will focus will be my own tribe, the Vineyard movement.

I agree with Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence, that the Vineyard movement has been one that has broken new ground in terms of freedom that has lead to a greater emergence.  In fact, I might go so far as to say that freedom is a core expression of who the Vineyard is.  Within my own faith community (the Central Maryland Vineyard), finding ourselves within the tribe of the Vineyard movement, we have been radically re-digging at the root.

[aside: when I say radical, what I am getting at is historical radicalism (from the word for 're-exposing the root') that can be discerned as opposed to the contemporary popular idea of radicalism which my friend Mike Barrett describes beautifully in his article Modern Radicalism vs. Historical Radicalism, from which the following is excerpted: "[contemporary radicalism] is called "radical" because it gets tattooed, writes edgy books, does podcasts, speaks at conferences (for top fees), and never really sacrifices much at all." Mike's article was in a previous issue of Relevant Magazine]

From "Free Love" to the freedom to "Give Peace a Chance" to the freedom of "dropping-out," the 1960's-ish generation explored all kinds of freedom and the consequences thereof (both good and bad).  This generation was the context in which the "Jesus movement" was birthed, in which many "outside of the church" were radically saved through faith in Jesus and brought into new freedom experienced through the Reign (or Kingdom) of God in Christ Jesus.  It was this bigger Jesus movement of the 1960s and 1970s that birthed those erstwhile faith community siblings: Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard.  While the Vineyard has internally described itself in different ways, the most common one early on was a movement of the Spirit.  Thus the essence I see as an historian for the Vineyard - birthed in the 1960's generation and then also from the Jesus movement - is one of redemptive freedom; newfound freedom as a result of the good news of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus [and possibly 'exploration' or 're-discovery' rooted in the newfound freedom in Christ] Thus a movement of freedom in the Spirit found through the Reign of God in Christ Jesus.

The spiritual experience of God that the Vineyard often seeks to facilitate reminds me of the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart.  Eckhart spoke of Gott and Gottheit.  Of course, Gott is God.  Gottheit is something like God's Presence, Power, Anima...we might say Spirit.  Gottheit is how we touch the "Ding an Sich" - "the Thing Itself" - God, or perhaps more accurately, how God touches us.  As Steve Burnhope succinctly summed it up last week: God's Spirit is how we experience God, and it is in His Presence that we experience His Power and His Reign.

The most immediate freedom that opened up early in the Vineyard was via musical worship.  The musical worship opened people up to a relational freedom with God, and they encountered God, they became charismatic (as Steve Burnhope reminded us last week that charismatically-speaking, the Spirit initiates or energizes an experience of relationship with our Abba, Father, in Christ Jesus).  This is a primary understanding, to have "God-with-us", His Presence via His Spirit in Christ.  Yet, consequently, the ripples in the pond moved outward to other areas, thus, bringing freedom to many and renewal to the Church-at-large and this age:

  • through newfound freedom and exploration in worship
  • through newfound freedom and exploration in the Presence, Power/Charisms of the Spirit
  • through newfound freedom and exploration in ministry and ecclesiology:

o        freedom to 'come as you are'

o        everybody gets to play - everyone can "do-the-stuff"

o        naturally supernatural in terms of the Presence and Power of the Spirit

o        servant evangelism (made widely available and accessible via Steve Sjogren, which opened up freedom for many more in the Church to 'do the work of an evangelist')

o        releasing women in all aspects of ministry (consequently disentangling and re-naming the elements of power, authority and control)

o        biblical justice (probably the most current newfound freedom being re-discovered and explored that I witness to: the environment, poverty, modern-day slavery, race, immigration, etc.)

I would say it is due to movements like the Vineyard (the Vineyard not being the only one) that many faith communities and denominations who previously were really old-school cessationists - in terms of an experiential element with the Spirit and the so-called "gifts of the Spirit" - now are more open and free (to a certain extent) in embracing the Spirit and saying the Spirit's empowerment has not ceased, but continues and is being felt within the Church and flowing out into the world in a missiological sense.  One of the foundational elements for all of this is Hiebert's application of centered-set theory to mission.  Being centered-set missionally frees us to be invitational and welcoming in pursuing the things we see the Father doing and being empowered to join Him via His Spirit.

There is an issue and some historical context I want to flesh out a little more that we stumbled upon in our great conversations last week: the issue of discernment.  One of the primary leaders and influencers in the Vineyard movement was John Wimber.  Even after a long career as a jazz and rock musician, John came out of the Quaker Christian tradition, but when joining with the evangelical stream initially in Calvary Chapel did not jettison his experiential and methodological means of connecting with the Spirit via "dialing down" (not hyping up) and making space for God to move among us.   We began talking in last weeks discussions (here and here) about discernment vis-à-vis movements of the Spirit and exotic manifestations, et al.  Well, Wimber took a lot of heat and criticism because he wholly embraced the messy process of discernment in terms of seeing what the Father was doing in the elusive ministry of the Holy Spirit.  He was a true Berean.  While his preference went toward the Quaker ways of 'non-hype' and being 'naturally supernatural', when it came to the Spirit moving, he looked for the fruit of 'exotic manifestations'...he looked for anything good he could cling to while throwing away the bad.  But fruit takes time to see how it expresses itself through messy, frail and messed-up people...but waiting for fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, self-control, is worth it; and while they can be more immediate, fruit may take some time and discernment.  Wimber got a lot of flak from others who were impatient with the fruit, yet I see Wimber courageously standing in to discern.  It did get him into trouble, no doubt, but he took seriously Paul's injunction to not quench the Spirit nor despise prophetic utterances, but to test and discern everything.  My hope is that we all join in this communal discernment whether it comes in naturally supernatural ways, unpredictable moves of the Holy Spirit or exotic manifestations of spiritual presence.  As was teased out in some of the conversation from last week, there are approaches or perspectives we can take when it comes to discernment.  We mentioned two last week: 1. the metaphor of music, it's much more like elusive and free jazz music. you need the discipline to learn to play an instrument (via praxis) and read and do music really well (via theology) to take up jazz and be released to dance around the notes but not get off on another sheet of music. of course, we are also talking about living music, music that takes hold of us; as Steve Burnhope thus noted, "This is taking us into space that recognises very well the tension between freedom and discipline, and takes both praxis and learning seriously."  Yet also, 2. in terms of discernment, application of what we can learn from "chaos theory" was suggested as possibly being fruitful; understanding that the name "chaos theory" comes from the fact that the dynamic systems that the theory describes are apparently disordered from our limited perspective, but chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data/events.  Maybe there is balance in the idea that all of creation occurs between order and chaos. Too much order, and the system is too frozen to change . it cannot adapt, thus it dies. Too much chaos and there is not enough of a fixed basis for anything to retain a form and hence the outcome may seem like meaninglessness. Somewhere between lies a range that is the balance point, which permits all life to exist and spirit to express itself. The Spirit still moves upon the waters.the Spirit still moves upon us. I think this chaos theory perspective might be another point of departure for further application to our pneumatology and charismatology.  To me this seems like it could be such a fruitful endeavour.

Throwaway thought: all of this historical contextualization has lead me to the conclusion that the Vineyard movement was one of the primary illegitimate fathers (one of several) of the emerging church (illegitimate in that most do not want to claim the child that is the emerging church)...but the Vineyard helped to forge the context of freedom and exploration for the emerging church to...well...emerge (I am so intrigued that what I hear from emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren (for instance in his book The Secret Message of Jesus) seems to take what we traditionally think of in the Vineyard as the ministry of the good news of the kingdom of God and applying that to new frontiers, riding up against that fault-line of the gospel and culture)...all as a result of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God!

so, more questions to spark conversation today:

  • What does all this mean...what are the implications for the Vineyard currently?
  • What are the implications for your faith community?
  • What horizons remain unexplored with the newfound freedom in Christ in this Great Emergence?
  • Where are the current fault-lines where the Father is at work and the Spirit is leading us to join Him?
  • How have you or your church handled discernment at a community-level?
  • One of the founders of the Vineyard movement - John Wimber - was such the practitioner and teacher that he became known for doing "workshop" or "clinical" time with regard to the Spirit and spiritual-expressions via the Holy Spirit.  In some ways, I think we have lost some of this "teaching-while-doing" element vis-à-vis the Holy Spirit.  What do you think?  Have you ever been taught in this way?
  • Can we apply a centered-set approach to the Spirit and pneumatology?  What about music praxis and theory or even "chaos theory" as we seek to practice, discern and embrace the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in our emerging and missional contexts?  What does that even looks like?