In previous conversations here at Deep Church, we have delved into re-imagining the Holy Spirit. I want to provide those links here, because I think there was such great territory covered in that series that was facilitated by Steve Burnhope and myself. Here are the posts:
- What is Past is Prologue
- Butterfly Effects...and all that jazz (a Vineyard retrospective)
- Emerging into a post-Charismatic world?
- The Emergence of a positive deviance
- Hearing the Gospel
- The 'face' of the Spirit in Trinity and Community
- Lingua Franca
- Our interpretative points of reference
- Quo vadis?
It was such a rich conversation that took place over two months, and it contains so much of what I would want to convey but can't in one blog post on our re-imagined distinctive of the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit and how we expect the Spirit to minister to and with us in the Vineyard. Thus, I offer those previous blog posts as further exploration and want to simply re-imagine one aspect today: Our Gospel-ised missiological Pneumatology.
When I say 'gospel-ised missiological pneumatology' I am referring to the Vineyard's distinctive missiological embrace of the practical pneumatology witnessed to in the Gospels, which is to say the power and Presence of the Spirit for "doin' the stuff" that flows from Jesus' "doin' the stuff" in the power of the Spirit. OK, we'll include Acts as well, perhaps we share that with the Pentecostals. Speaking of which, perhaps if I were to describe this further with a little comparison that is really generally-based (so-forgive me), it might be a helpful frame-of-reference. As the Gospels-Acts have been so formational for the Vineyard, we can witness that perhaps the Reformed tradition and Calvinists and other traditional denominations have the distinctive of Pauline literature and theology being more formational to them, or the Pentecostal movement being formed so thoroughly by Acts and Corinthians. Does that help to get what I am saying in a most general way?
OK, let me caveat: the Vineyard distinctive here has primarily been based out of the Synoptic gospels, although there is a strong undercurrent of relational intimacy with the Father from the Fourth Gospel as well. Which brings me to my point: I'd like to re-imagine a fuller embrace of the Spirit and a missiological pneumatology from the Gospel of John to go with our power encounters of the Spirit and praxis of Kingdom of God from the Synoptics. There is nuance to this and a 'both/and' here that I want to re-imagine, even if it is just as a leitmotif or emerging melody woven into our harmonious song of the Kingdom, flowing from the Vineyard embrace of the Spirit and our epiclesis of "Come, Holy Spirit." At the heart of the Synoptics is our familiar message of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Embracing a pneumatology of John's gospels causes us to ask: what does the Spirit do in the gospel of John? To which, I would put forward: The Spirit empowers Jesus in His mission of sacrificial and suffering love shown most significantly in the cross; put simply the Spirit empowers relational intimacy and love as the Spirit indwells. This goes for Jesus and the Church. Now, it isn't that the Vineyard from the beginning didn't have both or didn't pursue both, but perhaps the pneumatalogical connections with the minor chord were drowned out with the major chord emphasis. So, three implications of this fuller gospel-ised embrace of pneumatology seem evident to me:
- Missional-Incarnational Implications: One of the things that I love about the Gospel of John is that even though it has significant things to say about the Spirit at a few points, the work of the Spirit seems very much understated in a naturally supernatural way in John's gospel; whereas the Spirit comes with obvious power encounters in exorcisms and healings as the Kingdom breaks through in larger gatherings in the Synoptics, there is no reference to exorcisms in John. Again, I'm not saying to do away with the signs and wonders of our past and present, may it never be so. But I think engaging in the pneumatological significance of the the Spirit as Companion, Teacher, Witness and Guide 'on our way' in life calls us to include the Spirit-shaped missional-incarnational aspects of 'signs and wonders' in the normal rhytms of life as our lives touch others and where we encounter injustice and respond with biblical justice. One of the insights from our previous conversations on 'Re-Imagining the Holy Spirit' : 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.
- The Shaping-Nature of the Spirit's work - Discipleship-Formational Implications: The mystical and spiritual experience embraced in John's gospel is one of transformational experience and transcendent yet immanent mystery. This is the significant claim of the early Christians - they are in touch with a personal, transcendent, transforming power that comes from above even as it manifests from within under the basic conviction that: Jesus is Lord! And the practical implications played out in that the Spirit indwells and continues to shape them as followers of Christ. The audience of John is primarily the disciples (and not merely the Twelve), thus aside from the simpler approach and teaching of the Kingdom among large crowds witnessed in the Synoptic tradition, there is balance and depth to be appreciated in the Spirit at work in and among the circle of disciples in a Johannine tradition. Appreciation of indwelling, depth and these transformational aspects as well as embrace of Mystery, all of which is a fuller Trinitarian understanding of Missio Dei that might prove corrective not only pneumatologically, but to our theology and praxis of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus via the Spirit in the long term.
- The Radical Middle: I also think this fuller embrace and inclusion of the practical, missiological pneumatology of John - with its extended and expanded understanding of a theologia crucis - might also keep us from treading too close to a triumphalism in a theologia gloriae and the crushing disappointment that can come with an understanding of the Spirit as deus ex machina. Perhaps this would help us be more mature regarding 'both/and' or 'now-and-not-yet', treading the radical middle and fully embracing the 'now' of a theolgia crucis and the 'not-yet' of a theologia gloriae. The following point might be controversial, and I would refer my friends here to my friend Jason Smith's blog post as a frame-of-reference because I witness to the same thing Jason is pointing out in his post; but I want to face one particular issue at-present: the radical middle of a theologia gloriae and theologia crucis is a 'both/and' approach to a high Christology and a high Anthropology. In fact, I would agree with Douglas John Hall that while a theologia gloriae can accentuate the hope we have in the Creator-Redeemer and the fullness promised in the Kingdom of God, it can cause us to be imbalanced and unreal in the 'here-and-now'. A theologia crucis makes this hope of glory concrete and real in accentuating the priority of the good news recovering the high anthropology of God - that we were created as good, indeed very good - and from the perspective of a gracious and loving God, our worth has little to do with our brokenness. The cross of Christ presupposes this high anthropology. Now to the controversial: this also counters the 'Greco-Roman narrative' that Brian McLaren talks about in his new book that has been the subject of so many blog posts, I couldn't possibly reference them all, except to refer to Jason Smith's. I witness to the experience Jason had in his small group that although 'scholars and theologians' might be too well-versed in theology to fall for a Greco-Roman narrative, others whom we walk with and serve with have imbibed it wholly, and walking this radical middle of Cross and Glory - of high Christology and High Anthropology - might help people catch a way out of the fatalistic Greco-Roman narrative that might be dominating their lives through the shaping-power of the Spirit. Even so, Come Holy Spirit.
OK, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these issues of embracing the missiological Pneumatology in John's gospel and how that might help us re-imagine the work and Person of the Holy Spirit in midst of the People of God and the world.