Re-imagining the Holy Spirit: Hearing the Gospel


Steven has again raised such a wide range of ideas and insights that I hardly know where to start.  In picking out just one or two for comment, I don't want to divert attention from other parts of what he's said (so I’m glad people have already commented on other aspects – hopefully that will continue).

The cultural wind of 'freedom' that was blowing from the 1960s onwards may not have been entirely coincidental, in influencing the ingress of freedom themes into our Christian consciousness and church practices.  After all, one would be naive not to recognise culture's impact upon theology.  Not, I hasten to add, as a compromise of the latter to the former, but a recognition that to be effective within culture means that theology must speak to contemporary society’s actual concerns (not what those concerns used to be, or even – in our Christian opinion – should be).

As An Aside … It is disappointing when Christians seem more concerned to say what they believe people ought to be hearing, and to insist on saying it in a certain way, rather than being concerned with what people need to be hearing and how they need to hear for it to be meaningful to them.  Our calling is not to speak the gospel, it’s for people to hear the gospel.  The concerns people had in bygone eras are not the concerns of  people today.  Our right answers are not right answers, if they are answering questions no-one is asking, addressing needs that are no longer felt.

In the context of ‘freedom being in the air’, then, from the 1960s onwards, it is not surprising that the freedom of the Spirit should have risen to the forefront of Christian thinking and praxis at the same time (alongside theological themes such as liberation theology, the emergence of which tracked charismatic emergence), particularly when part of that freedom of the Spirit involved the release of the laity into direct, personal, unmediated and fresh experience of God.   NB the Sixties, onwards, were decades in which people sought experiences.

One did not have to be a theologian in order, quickly and readily, to grasp the essential essence of the experience of the Spirit in charismatic release.  To receive the Baptism in the Spirit (by whatever term known) and a simple explanation of  a few verses in 1 Cor 12 was all one needed.

And in this, we find both the great achievement and the problematic legacy of the charismatic movement.

As Steven rightly observes (see the bullet-points in the centre of his post), there many, many “ripples in the pond” – I might suggest these are all charismata – that are the direct result of the Spirit moving on the waters.  I would commend us to consider all of them.  There is an ongoing need for ‘faith to seek understanding’ in relation to the Spirit, in which the theologians need to help popular charismatic Christianity to broaden its understanding of the full range of the Spirit’s “ripples.”  That is to say, beyond the visible, experiential gifts of verses 8 through 10 of 1 Cor 12 and related ideas, on which popular charismatology has perhaps over-focused.

This will be particularly the case if, as has been proposed, we are now in a post-charismatic period, for of necessity that would demand a de- and re-construction of our charismatic pneumatology if we are to maintain a vital ongoing experience of the Spirit at work amongst us.

I suggest that the Spirit has a much bigger agenda, and that a valid post-charismatic reconstruction will seek to identify and correlate this agenda in line with the Spirit’s own prioritization.  Which will, in turn, be a reflection of the Father’s purposes and priorities.  We shall need to set our reconstructed theology of  the charismata of 1 Cor 12:8-10 in its appropriate place within this broader context.

I do believe there is so much more to come for us in experiencing the moving of the Spirit, but I equally believe he wants to be understood afresh.  Given the Spirit’s character, I suspect this may be something he is waiting for.

Semper reforandum.