Re-imagining the Holy Spirit: the emergence of a positive deviance


If postmodernity has brought about some measure of freedom in re-thinking, re-assessing and re-imagining so many issues with respect to ecclesiology (and beyond) - especially in an emerging church-sort-of environment - then surely regarding matters of the Spirit, our pneumatology and charismatology can and should be foundational, as our ecclesiology flows from our pneumatology and missiology.

But let's point to the elephant in the room: alas, the evidence is thin in emerging church circles, or any church circle for that matter that "matters of the Spirit" are being engaged anew.  (In terms of research, there are noted exceptions like Will Bernard's master's thesis: Awakening Diversity - Unique Gifts in the Church and Max Turner's article Spiritual Gifts - Then and Now).

Even among so-called practitioners, the Spirit goes missing as a fundamental element of being the people of God; and though I appreciate the hip endeavours of those like Mark Driscoll in talking about spiritual gifts on his TheResurgence blog, I admit to being nonplussed by the result.  In fact, it seems like a regurgitation of what has come before (which I guess can be helpful).  Maybe I am just more radical than that, because I think there is more freedom to be explored in which the Spirit calls us; but we seem to be stuck in the old models or fearful of venturing off into the wilderness...but perhaps this is where the Spirit is driving us, just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.

Any new experience of the Spirit or re-newed pneumatology - as Steve Burnhope has pointed to previously - is both "faith seeking understanding" but also "faith-at-work" in "doin'-the-stuff" John Wimber quipped: faith is spelled: R-I-S-K; thus, all of this will accord with God's character, in both emerging/immanent ways and in exceptional/transcendent ways, as we previously witnessed to and mentioned in our last conversation.  Also in line with God's nature, if God is infinite, and if we can agree that the scriptural references to "spiritual gifts" are illustrative and not definitive - representative and not exhaustive - then the spiritual-manifestations or spiritual expressions of charismata - spiritual expressions of the Spirit among us - will equally be of an infinite and wonderful variety, even if we are predisposed to categorize them by referencing those witnessed to in our trusted scripture.  I am a biblicist and I revere our sacred scriptures but why, if we really believe these charismata are a representative listing (especially as seen in 1 Corinthians) then why do we not feel free to talk and write about more of them, different ones, a variety of them matching the multi-faceted wisdom of God?  Are we still reacting to the Montanists of the first and second century?  Or perhaps in rejecting the neo-Montantists of our recent charismatic past (and they are still out there doing their thing...let the reader understand), has the emerging and missional church turned to a re-newed but subtler cessationism (practically) instead of a re-newed pneumatology and experience with the Spirit in what Steve Burnhope referred to as the emerging post-charismatic thrust?

It seems to me that Paul's emphasis in 1 Corinthians 12 is that the singular (en) and the particular(auto) Spirit of God energizes (energei) all these spiritual expressions - or at least what Paul claims in our sacred scriptures are spiritual expressions of the Spirit's Presence and Work in our midst - in their collective entirety accord with God's intention, His purposes and His wisdom; and we need to discern what God is doing and get onto His agenda.  This is something Steve Baker helped to clarify for me last week: to get on the Spirit's global agenda, look and join what He is doing locally.  So much of my spirituality nowadays has to do with letting go.  I need to let go of my need for control and utter comprehension when it comes to the work of the Spirit.  It's not that I give up trying to see the forest for the trees (because I think this sort of wisdom has a place in our emerging/missional people of God contexts), but the Spirit is working it out on a global/cosmic scale, and while I can look to discern a pattern, I need to trust Him.  My starting place is to get on the Father's agenda, with what He is doing right in front of my own neighborhood.  For when we get on His agenda, we are cooperating with His Reign.  This is Christ's ministry and His mission we are but students and learners of Him joining Him in His Way.   Thus, this is about discipleship, but equally about leadership.  One of the challenges at this point is in a friend of mine claimed recently: it's really difficult be a leader and lead people to follow Someone else.

I also feel like we have in the West - given the cultural environment and formation of consumer-identity - have over-commodified the 'spiritual gifts' in some of the faith communities I have participated.  This commodification can be witnessed in those who market 'gift-inventories' - a test that pigeonholes you or perhaps labels your 'gift/gifts' and determines how you will serve.  This example probably outs my rebellious base nature, but when given this kind of test about 12 years ago - I cheated.  It's actually not that hard to cheat (if you've ever taken one of these standardized gifts test, you know what I mean).  Whatever I really wanted to be perceived in being strong, I answered positively.  Of course, maybe the test-makers were smarter than I and graded the test with that in mind.  I also probably needed a good dosage of 1 Corinthians 13 at that point!  I admit that all these 'spiritual-gift-inventories' that more and more churches tend to give to people joining their fellowship move them in some what of a direction toward embracing more of the Spirit and the Spirit's expressions, yet while moving some distance away from old-school cessationism, I wonder if rather than embracing an all-encompassing Spirit empowerment (in both sacred and what we think of as secular realms) they are embracing a new kind of cessationism?  Or at least limiting (rather than expanding) the re-imagining of charismatology and of how the Spirit can move...both in immanent and transcendent aspects...afterall God is the most free Person I know, but this is really consistent with His character.

With Steve Burnhope's last post, I think we have a great launching point to explore the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit, flowing from the relational and Trinitarian roots.  Steve Baker and Jason Coker have surveyed another aspect of how far we have all ready traveled from the old ways of our recent past with the recognition of new ground in our pneumatology in pointing to the redemptive freedom in charismatic interdependence, vice the privatized and eventually atomized independence of some in older charismatic circles.  Further, Rodney Neill and Steve Burnhope have also landed here in their conversation regarding manipulation and abuse of power/authority/control that comes with this atomized independence and isolation, as witnessed by them in the shepherding movement.  I wonder if Jason Coker's observations on gift-giving are applicable to our ecclesiology, which is connected to our charismatology and pneumatology: the dark side of gift-giving and relational economies (like the Church) is not "too little" but interestingly "too much".  The virtue of gift-based societies (think through the linkage: pneumatology-charismatology-ecclesiology) is interdependence (the Spirit building us together...or Paul's image of the Body of Christ) because of our being charismatic in a new and emerging and missional way, and the vice being the ugly independence of isolation, "unknown-ness", which as we have noted leads to all kinds of abuses and eccentric abberations that manipulate rather than move toward the common good - the common good being Paul's underlying concern in his "regarding matters of the Spirit" piece in 1 Corinthians.  I can hear the echo of our emerging pneumatology as Jason goes on to say: "But, when I receive a gift from you I am obligated to return that gift in some form - generally to the community at large. All gift-giving involves reciprocity, and nobody ever "owns" a gift; gifts must always keep moving in order to maintain their potency. Therefore, gift-giving doesn't free people from relational obligations like market transactions do, rather, they create new bonds of obligation and loyalty. That is the inherent promise of gift economies: not independence, but a community bound by relational interdependence. In both systems the promises can be perverted to create relationships of dominance and enslavement." Thus it comes back to the Spirit working in all of us for the good of all of us (i.e., the Missio Dei), therefore we can repeat what Jesus said: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his works...all for the common good.  To me it comes back to something Emerging Grace said in her article Why Charismissional: "Why aren't charismatics missional? If the function of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the heart of the Father, and the heart of the Father is the reconciliation and restoration of all things, why have we, who claim knowledge and intimacy with the Spirit, missed the missional leading of the Holy Spirit?  I am sorry to say that the charismatic church has not represented the function of spiritual gifts very well. While we pursue the supernatural aspect of our inheritance, eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit, for the most part, our expression of the gifts has been self-serving.  As a friend, I would like to issue this missional call to the charismatic church. Let us open our eyes and hearts to what God is doing."

Last week, we also began to speak of "thinking local" last week as well, which dovetails nicely with a point of depature and exploration that i would suggest today.  Perhaps - in our present emerging and missional context - in seeking to follow the Spirit locally, we can look at insightful discoveries such as 'positive deviance' as applied by our discerning of the work and leadership of the Spirit.  It seems to me in an emerging- and/or missional-church environment, positive deviance might be quite natural...or naturally supernatural.  My friend Kevin Rains was recently exploring positive deviance:

"...positive deviance is a relatively new field of research. The main body of work is coming from a married couple, Jerry and Monique Sternin. The basic idea is to make sustainable and rapid change in difficult contexts by looking for what IS working as opposed to analyzing the problem and coming up with proposals from outside the immediate context. It arose when the Sternins were commisioned to work against starvation in Vietnam. They needed reals solutions, real fast. They decided to look at a small majority of kids and families that seemed to be beating the odds. As they studied these 'positive deviants' they discovered they were engaging a few crucial but simple behaviors that others were not like feeding their kids even when they had diarrhea, feeding their kids smaller meals more frequnently, and washing their hands more. As they discerned these simple practices they encouraged and taught others in the villages to mimic these beahaviors. Through this simple process they were able to save thousands of lives."

There are basically 8 steps to the process of positive deviance.

Step 1: Don't Presume You Have the Answer: Approach the change issue with a beginner's mind, ready to listen deeply.

Step 2: Don't Think of It as a Dinner Party: Involve only those that are a part of effecting the change locally, instead of a broad, diverse audience.  This is about core momentum...

Step 3: Let Them Do It Themselves: (otherwise known as give-up-your-colonialism) Set up a situation in which people can discover, on their own, a better way to do things.  Setting up sacred space is great, but don't pre-determine where the Spirit is going. Raise questions but the let the group come up with its own answers.

Step 4: Identify Conventional Wisdom: Establish the norms and associated boundaries of activity.

Step 5: Identify and Analyze the Deviants: Allow the positive deviants to emerge as it becomes clear that they have found a better way.

Step 6: Let the Deviants Adopt Deviations On Their Own: Don't teach new knowledge - encourage new behavior.

Step 7: Track Results and Publicize Them: Post the results, show how they are achieved and let other groups develop their own curiosity about them.

Step 8: Repeat Steps One Through Seven: Make the whole change process cyclical.

Some of these steps of positive deviance have all ready come up in our previous conversations:

  • let the Spirit be who the Spirit is, both transcendently, but incarnationally: "In Africa, the Spirit is African...";
  • the tension between knowledge and behaviour, theology and praxis, discipline and freedom, control and authority;
  • listen deeply...raise and express good questions;

What do you think?

  • have we limited our imagination and what we think about how Jesus expressing Himself through us in terms of charismata?
  • have we over-commodified the expressions of the Holy Spirit?
  • have you ever taken a spiritual-gifts inventory test?  what did you like about it?  what did you dislike about it?
  • can positive deviance help us on a very practical and local level in re-discovering being charismatic and healping to lead people to follow Someone else?
  • are you comfortable with doing a creative exercise?  if so, then excluding the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Romans, what are other grace-expressions of God that move through us that you have witnessed?
  • Recommedations: But who are the positive deviants we can point toward?  In terms of pointing to positive deviants that are doing the stuff and articulating it: see Robby MacAlpine's Post-Charismatic, Emerging Grace's article mentioned above: Why Charismissional, or Jason Coker's blog: pastoralia, or of course, the Deep Church blog with Jason link because you are all ready here!