Re-imagining the Holy Spirit: lingua franca


I was recently having a conversation with a new friend of mine who is a linguistics professor at the University of Florida.  Brent said something that I have been pondering ever since:

"My own discipline is perhaps the best place this is illustrated. Through studying language, we have learned that human language, abstractly, has a highly mathematical, elegant underlying structure that is universal (you find evidence for it in every human language). Yet the brain itself is a messy, bloody, inefficient system of neurons. How are the two possibly connected? We just don't know. I'm a theoretical linguist and I work in a department with two brilliant neuro-/psycho-linguists. Yet we have virtually nothing to say to each other about how language works. It's like we're in totally different disciplines."

Now, I bring up my lingering reflection on Brent's comment in our conversation only because I think this can apply to the theologian and the practitioner of pneumatology and charismatology also.  We are all participants in the Church, yet even though theologians can see the elegant underlying pneumatology with regard to Church, the practitioners are working in the messy, bloody, inefficient system of actual faith community.  One of the issues that has been high-lighted for me in our conversations is that we must bring them together, even if they look at each other and shrug.  To me, theology certainly helps inform our praxis, but even more so, praxis pushes our theology into new paradigms and beyond being "bottled-up", but also facilitates and underscores the urgent need to embody our spirituality and wash ourselves of the continuing contamination of gnostic-thinking.  Too often, when we speak of the Spirit moving in our midst, or carry on conversations concerning pneumatology and charismatology at every level we gnosticize.  Yet we are embodied spirits - created that way and will be that way in the resurrection...we will have resurrected bodies - thus our spirituality, our pneumatology and our charismatology is embodied.  If we lose this embodiment, we lose our humanity.  My hope is that as we move forward as charismatics is that we embrace an embodied spirituality, as well as take hold of one of the strengths of the emerging church: bring together the theologian and practitioner for fruitful (and frustrating) interconnectivity.

Also regarding linguistics, and being a bit of a word-nerd myself, language - especially translation of foreign-language texts (like sacred scripture) into English - is important to me.  Even further the use of other English words to explain and translate words and concepts can be useful, particularly when certain well-used words tend to have accumulated a lot of "baggage".  Could possibly changing the lingua franca vis-à-vis 'spiritual gifts' (i.e. charismatology) be in order for the emerging church?  I hope so, afterall, in a consumerist-culture run amok, a 'gift' is more about 'me' than the 'Giver'.  Not to mention that it seems to separate the gift from the Giver. I like what James Fowler has to say about it:

"Throughout the history of Christian interpretation of the charismata there seems to have been a tendency to translate and label these divine ministry expressions as "spiritual gifts." This despite the fact that there is nothing inherent in the words pneumatika or charismata themselves that necessarily conveys the idea of a "gift." We do not translate energematon (I Cor. 12:6) as "energy-gifts," so why do we translate pneumatikon (I Cor. 12:1) and charismaton (I Cor. 12:4) as "spiritual gifts"? These words are more adequately translated as "spiritual-expressions" or "grace-expressions" which are, indeed, "given" (I Cor. 12:7,8; Rom. 12:6) by the grace of God."

I guess my issue is that "Christ lives in me", and thus gift-talk can make it about me and not about Him living in and through me.  Again, I think James Fowler brings some clarity here:

"There is a natural tendency among men to want to objectify everything as independent entities or abilities. In so doing, they want to "get a handle on it, figure it out, identify it, organize it, mobilize it, and use it for utilitarian purposes of productivity." Is this not what we have observed throughout Christian history, as the charismata have been objectified as separated "spiritual gifts," distinct entities or commodities regarded as specialized tools, equipment or "power-toys" which belong to specific individuals as possessions, or even as prizes or trophies of spirituality and success? As is so typical of religion in general, the ontologically dynamic concept of Christic-function has been perverted into a dualistically detached category.  When the so-called "spiritual gifts" are thus detached, disjoined and divorced from their singular divine source in Jesus Christ, from the very Being of Christ Himself, they are regarded as distinct abilities, endowments, enduements and empowerments allegedly given to individual Christians apart from Christ. "

At this point, I am reminded that Karl Barth in his tome Church Dogmatics references the charismata in terms of "vocation" and "calling" in the context of the faith community.  This expands what I think the typical understanding of charismata are and places it in its proper context - not as individuals, but as people connected in a community.  I think this also connects with the responsibility for discerning and evaluating charisma in a faith community context.  As James D.G. Dunn comments in his 2nd volume of The Christ and the Spirit, Volume 2, p. 326

"As E. Kasemann has rightly insisted, so far as the Pauline community is concerned, authority resides in or belongs to the act of ministry itself - it resides neither in the person nor in an office, but in the particular charisma itself.  Moreover, the concomitant responsibility to evaluate that charisma is laid upon all.  Now this fact is true of all ministry, of all charismata, in the Pauline vision of community."

What do you think?  Can re-languageing be important?  Is it important to you?  Or are you more comfortable with the more well-used words?  Is the context of faith community important when referencing "spiritual-expressions"?  What do you think of an embodied spirituality?  What about authority residing in the act of ministry - in the charisma itself, which comes through the Spirit from our Lord Jesus you agree?