Levison, INSPIRED
Levison, INSPIRED

Last week I posted my review of Jack Levison’s Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith. I mentioned at the end that I’d like to give more attention to his conclusion which he titled, “An Agenda for the Future of Pneumatology”. This section was divided into four parts: (1) the Pneumatology of Creation; (2) The Significance of a Starting Point; (3) the Bible and the World that Shaped It; (4) A Model of Inspiration and a Unified Future for the Church. For the next few days I’ll outline each of these points. On one hand, this is to share Levison’s thoughts for our own discussion here. On the other, I aim to encourage the purchasing of the book by anyone interested in Pneumatology.

In the Pneumatology of Creation Levison argues that we need to revisit the following ideas:

First, the general testimony of the Hebrew Bible that the spirit of God is intrinsic to the sustaining and ordering of creation. Whether we discuss Gen. 1:2, Ps. 104:30, or a variety of other passages, we must keep in mind that a holistic Pneumatology is one where we acknowledge the role of God’s spirit in sustaining all things.

Second, we English speakers/writers must be aware of how the Spirit/spirit dichotomy impacts our reading of Scripture. Neither ruach nor pneuma will be capitalized in Scripture. When we capitalize we are making an interpretive statement. Some passages might be obscured by our decision, especially those passages where our idea of Spirit and spirit is blurred by the author.

(Now, for those who worry that Levison is taking us back to German Idealism, back to point prior to Gunkel, Barth, and others emphasized the “otherness” of God’s spirit, let me provide you relief. This is not his aim and he discusses this thoroughly. That said, he does feel that the pendulum was swung a bit too far the other direction.)

Third, and related, is Levison’s challenge to realize that there is no difference between the spirit of God that enlivens humans and that which sanctifies. We may speak of a difference in operation, but not one of spirit. God gives life to all, sustains all, and it is the one and same spirit that we encounter giving charisms, sanctifying believers, empowering resurrection.

Fourth, we need to consider that if it is the same spirit in all people that works uniquely in Christians then it is the same spirit that all people cultivate when becoming virtuous. In other words, we Christians see that “the fruits of the spirit are…” and we see these fruits in non-Christians. This is troubling to some, especially when we see a lack thereof in Christians. Levison’s Pneumatology invites us to ask if what we are seeing is the spirit of God in both Christians and non-Christians. Again, this isn’t to deny the uniqueness of the Christian experience. Rather, it is to suggest that a hard and fast dichotomy between humans with spirit and humans without spirit may be a false one. If this language seems strange consider how Christians speak of the imago Dei. Traditionally, most of us acknowledge that it is retained by all humans, it is being uniquely restored in followers of Christ, and it is perfected in Christ himself. This is a helpful parallel model for understanding what Levison seems to be suggesting.

Fifth, the spirit is “outside sacred walls” as Levison puts it. In other words, while the spirit of God does dwell in the Church—we are the spirit’s temple—the spirit is not limited. If God could dwell in the Temple in Jerusalem, yet King Solomon could rightly acknowledge that God cannot be contained by it, we should humbly say the same thing of the Church: the spirit dwells in us, but we don’t control or limited the spirit. (The writings of Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong come to mind here for those who are familiar with his writings.)