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.)
I can’t help thinking that someone here’s again trying to reinvent the wheel, i.e. the Orthodox pneumatology. Still it’s encouraging that Levinson came up with these ideas somewhat independently, which is the evidence for the Spirit’s work in the world.
@Kamil: That is interesting to hear. Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Orthodox Pneumatology to comment on the connections, but I do know that when Levison mentions his theological dialogue partners they are folk like Moltmann, Pannenberg, Rahner, Machia, and a handful of Pentecostals, not Orthodox theologians. It would seem then that he is arriving at his conclusions somewhat independently.
@Brian: Most striking in your summary of Levinson’s proposals is the breaking of a traditional Evangelical (as I see it) barrier between that which is Christian and that which is natural. In Orthodoxy we worship the Spirit as the One, who is everywhere present and fills all things, the Giver of Life (or literally speaking ‘The One making [everything] alive’ – gr. o Zoopion) – He’s not equated somehow with the Church and opposed to the rest of the (unredeemed) creation. In popular retelling of Evangelical gospel the whole world is deprived of the glory of God, completely corrupt and it’s true nature is presently evil. Changing this state requires a change in nature, making people supernatural by sending the Spirit and therefore it must result in an essential alienation from the world. Now, there are passages of Scripture that supposedly back this up, but Levinson appears to be challenging this vision. The Spirit is the ground of everything that is good in this world, the source of life, the real source of all existence, therefore He’s not far from anyone. The natural, which is in reality God-given and Spirit-sustained meets it’s perfection in the Gospel of Christ. The world changes into a place of the hidden, but present, glory of God which is only revealed in its fulness with the coming of the Church. The mystery does not consist of what the Spirit performs in the world as if He’s something alien to the world, but the mystery is how the things we see around us – natural life, goodness, beauty, sanctity – come from the Spirit’s inspiration and his filling all things, his indispensable omnipresence. Spirit’s not an option, He’s a necessity for everything.
How should passages that seem to imply that the spirit indwells us only after we believe and are baptized then (Acts 2:38 aand so forth)?
@Kamil: I find your description of the spirit to be true to Levison’s vision. I think he’d agree that what we see with the “filling” of the spirit, or the charisms of the spirit, is not the spirit going from not present to present, but present to more obviously, more actively present. To follow the common Evangelical model is to cause all sorts of problems, the first being a sort of Deistic natural v. supernatural divide where God is usually not present but then sometimes makes an exception and becomes present. I don’t think that jives very well with the testimony of Scripture.
@Juan: Levison wouldn’t deny that Scripture speaks of the spirit being present in a way that is more intense, more obvious than others. I think he would see Acts 2:38 and similar passages like this: all humans have spirit, it sustains us, but we often minimize it, we restrain it, and as it is depleted. The “filling” of the spirit is a restoration, a renewal. In Rom. 8 we need the spirit of Christ (now this language is tricky and it may indicate same spirit present in a very different way) to guarantee our resurrection. Now, it wouldn’t be a different spirit of God that sustains people in this age that will resurrect believers in the next, but it is the same spirit dwelling, acting, working in a way that is unique to God’s elect. What do you think of this?
@Juan: I think a biblical image here is the Temple – when the Spirit comes to live in human beings, He sets up a place from which the blessing can flow to the whole of creation. It is no more a mere existence oriented towards self-preservation, but an abundance of life bringing the world around to full bloom, the life of Christ Himself that vanquishes death. This is the gift of the Spirit in Christ – not life stained by sin and death, but the life of the God Himself, which makes men sons of God. As Christ renewed creation in Himself and united it with God, now every Christian becomes such a Temple and union to which everything was created and is called.
@Kamil: I like the Temple imagery. I think it provides a helpful analogy, which is why Paul himself uses it, but I think it explains Lukan Pneumatology as well. Luke has Paul say in Acts 17 that “in him we live, and move, and have our being”. Obviously, Luke didn’t see the spirit of God as confined only to indwelling the Church, yet the Church does receive a special endowment of the spirit in their midst that as you noted flows to everyone and everything else.
Consider Levison’s third point: “Levison’s challenge to realize that there is no difference between the spirit of God that enlivens humans and that which sanctifies.”
This is controversial, especially given Calvinism (however I’m on Levison’s side of the controversy).
To say that there is no difference between the spirit of God that enlivens humans and that which sanctifies is to blur the distinction between that which is mundane and that which is Holy.
Yet, we were created in God’s image. When once imbibed with the spirit of life, were found ‘good’ in God’s eyes. We stood in His presence, naked and without shame. We had nothing to be shamed about. As a creation we reflected the Holy and righteous handiwork of our creator. This spirit which enlivens humans is indeed the same as that which sanctifies since sanctification is nothing less than the restoration of life – which is why the resurrection-to-come sought in the eschaton is actually already come (in the form of baptism, the point at which re-creation commences).
Calvinism would have us believe in total depravity, that nothing in humanity is good. However, even imperfect man is made in the image of God [Gen 9:6] “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for Elohim made man in his own image.” so clearly God sees value in that! God would apparently rather have his image restored than destroyed. Calvinism is wrong.
What is it that removes corruption from the image of God? The same spirit which enlivened us in the first place and made us Holy enough to stand unabashed in the presence of our creator; the spirit which restores us to renewed life in baptism; and the spirit which sanctifies us, making us appear to God who we were in the first place allowing us to stand in his presence again. The preacher got it right when he said man was created upright but fell due to the devices of his heart [Ecc 7:29].
I have no controversy with Levison’s third point. If there is a controversy, it is over the personification of the Spirit (not in a Trinity sense, but in an anthropomorphisation sense).
With respect to ‘the same spirit people cultivate when becoming virtuous‘, the problem here is that apart from God’s spirit that virtue is otherwise unobtainable. That means that people ‘trying’ (of their own accord) to cultivate virtue are trying to cultivate virtue according to a profane standard, rather than a Holy one.
This means we don’t, in fact, see the fruit of the Spirit in non-Christians. This really shouldn’t be surprising, look at virtue in ‘Hinduism’, a religion centred around trying to obtain acquire it: In Hindu culture humanity is debased to the extreme, because if virtue is freely available and freely obtainable, and someone is poor, broken, in the bottom caste, ultimately it is because they have rejected virtue and have not obtained it. Accordingly, the poor of spirit are objects of derision because of ‘virtue’.)
Christian particularism still stands because only Christian particularism looks to the original template for humanity, and only Christian particularism draws upon the source of the spirit for replenishment. If it’s Levison’s goal – to explain away Christian particularism – that’s a shame. Humanism has no place at Christ’s table.
@Andrew: Indeed, this sort of Pneumatology will stand in stark contrast to the Total Depravity Doctrine pushed by Calvinists. Levison is more inclined to acknowledge that while we are tainted by our disobedience and rebellion toward God, we remain image-bearers, sustained by God’s spirit. As to whether or not he leans toward “humanism” as you worry, that is something you’d have to determine on your own if you have a chance to read the book.
Thanks for adding another book to my reading list. Having grown up in a Pentecostal/Assemblies of God tradition and having some issues with their pneumatology, I think I would find this book to be very insightful. I connect with points 4 and 5 that you summarize, especially, “Levison’s Pneumatology invites us to ask if what we are seeing is the spirit of God in both Christians and non-Christians.” This would be a tough concept for many in my tradition to grasp as we often feel like we in the Church have a monopoly on the Fruits of the Spirit. Yet it can be glaringly obvious and convicting when non-confessed Christians produce more fruit in a community than a church does.
@Andrew: To speak of virtues as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ is for me also an overstatement, primarily because what st. Paul speaks of, when he uses this image, is the fruit of the faith of Christ. Virtue is attainable without knowledge of Christ, but all virtue apart from Christ ends up ultimately in the grave (@Brian, maybe here’s the difference between Paul’s blamelessness and Christ’s sinlessness you have written recently about?), like a flower of temporary beauty. Πιστις Χριστου, the faithfulness of Christ – itself a fruit of the Spirit – is what makes virtuous people living people. ‘Natural’ virtue (and all ‘natural’ achievements of man) is always only a sign of something much greater, not the purpose in itself.
@Greg: I came into Christianity through the Pentecostal tradition, so I resonate with what you have to say. Yet I think Pentecostal, Methodists, and those traditions that are comfortable with speaking about Pneumatology may be both the most prepared and least prepared to speak of the spirit of God this way. It is obvious from @Kamil’s comments that we have a lot to learn from our Orthodox siblings as well. It may be that those traditions who demand a stark “us v. them” paradigm will be the least inclined to speak of the spirit this way.
@Kamil: That is a helpful way of framing the spirit/virtue connection. FWIW, to make sure credit is given where it is due, it was my co-blogger Jeremy Cushman who wrote the post on Paul’s blamelessness and Christ’s sinlessness, but you are right that there may be something worth connecting between these two posts.
This is timely, Brian. Just yesterday, our leadership team had a good discussion on what it means to be empowered by the same spirit of power that empowered Jesus during His earthly ministry, what that means for us as believers, and how to communicate a more balanced understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives as believers. Half of our team grew up Pentecostal and the other half did not. It makes for some great discussion as we think about how to teach our community.
The third idea seems deeply connected to the fourth idea and it’s not one that I’ve heard before. One of the things I’ve struggled with is figuring out where people who claimed to be agnostic or atheist could seemingly have a love, joy, peace, etc., that at many times I myself did not or could not. I love that question. Are we seeing the same spirit in everyone moving differently but moving nonetheless? I hear the prayer often before church, “God, let your spirit move in the hearts of those far from you.” I doubt they meant it in the way that Levinson is suggesting but what if that prayer presented a truer pneumatology than even they were aware of?
Awesome suggestion man! I always appreciate your work in pneumatology! Thanks!
@Tony: I appreciate the kind words. I’m glad that this post was timely and I hope forthcoming posts are as helpful. While there is no doubt that the Gospels, Acts, and Paul aim to emphasize the uniqueness of the work of God’s spirit in Christ and among Christ’s people I think our Pneumatology is weakened when we interpret this to mean there is a stark contrast between those who have the spirit of God and those who do not have the spirit of God, at all. Again, if we say that the spirit of God is not somewhere or active in someone we open the door to a Deistic worldview. We can acknowledge God’s spirit in the whole universe, sustaining all things, enlivening all people, and providing what Wesley might call “common grace” to the world without denying that fact that God’s spirit is doing and has been doing something unique in Christ’s people.
I like what @Kamil said a few comments ago about the aims and purpose of virtue. While anyone and everyone can cultivate virtue because all people are made in the image of God and sustained by God’s spirit this doesn’t mean that their virtuous acts are always obviously done in such a way that God’s purposes and agenda in history are being fulfilled. Christians who glorify Christ through spirit empowered deeds and words may be doing the same things, but it is contributing to a greater purpose.
@Brian this is probably very true. Those most open to the movement of the spirit are most likely to discuss it, but they often feel like they have a “special” understanding of the spirit’s power. To “release” that power (to a certain degree) to the “unbaptized” masses would give up a lot of authority and distinctiveness. I’m sure there would be some resistance.
I have also been very interested in Orthodox theology in general. Their acceptance of mystery and the transformational/sanctifying power of the spirit are a few ideas that have inspired and changed the way I understand my faith. I appreciated the earlier comments from @Kamil as well. Thanks for spurring this discussion.
I think it an overstatement that Calvinism in its teaching of total depravity says there is nothing good in man. Certainly, no good thing dwells in our fleshly nature that initiates or contributes to our salvation. But Calvinists also teach that God ‘s Spirit exercises a restraining influence on the wicked. It seems impossible to me to think that God could accomplish that without some interaction with the human spirit/Spirit. I am not well acquainted with Orthodox theology but my understanding is that there is no doctrine of original sin. Levison doesn’t seem to be going there…
@Greg: Unfortunately, you’re quite correct. Sometimes pneumatic Christianities tend to see themselves as guardians of orthodox pneumatology and any ideas that don’t jive with their own are rejected outright.
@allan: Fair enough, thanks for the helpful corrective. It would be speaking too broadly to say “Calvinism” as if it is one monolithic movement, but there does seem to be a trajectory in popular Calvinism that minimizes the residual imago Dei resident within all people in order to emphasize their fallenness and I can’t think of a Calvinistic thinker whose has said anything akin to what Levison is saying, though this doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone, nor do I know for sure that I haven’t been ignorant of this or that person’s Calvinism when reading their Pneumatology. But again, popular Calvinism doesn’t tend to be as open to the idea of non-Christian people having God’s spirit in them. Even the language you use of God’s spirit restraining wickedness seems to emphasize the “otherness” of God as God’s spirit relates to people and as God’s spirit relates to the spirit that enlivens and sustains all people.
I agree. The language is a formidable problem. I have not finished the book yet. But I am open to a reworking of my pneumatological perspective because the traditional, Pentecostal description of how the Spirit/spirit works no longer works for me.
@allan: I’m with you there. Honestly, I think many Charismatics/Renewalists who may share a lot of jargon with Pentecostals are no longer comfortable with the either-or of Pentecostalism’s “filled” or “empty” imagery. There may even be a crowd of people who would call themselves “Pentecostal” who feel this way as well.
Just one further thought, Calvin’s idea of every man’s sensus divinitas may accommodate to some degree…
@allan: Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Calvin’s own writings to comment. I have been told by quite a few people who are familiar with Calvin’s theology that Calvinism isn’t always a great representative of Calvin’s own thoughts. Similarly, it has been said that Calvin was a “theologian of the Spirit”, so you may be on to something. Do you care to try to summarize the basic idea behind Calvin’s sensus divinitas? I presume it may have something to do with the human spirit having a sense of the divine spirit’s presence that goes beyond cognitive awareness. Would that be it?
@Youngallan: From Orthodox perspective human nature is good and itself it is a kind of grace (in the sense that everything that is good comes from God and is His grace), even if man has fallen and is fallen.
I think that another way to address the issue is to take the biblical order of the Spirit’s work – Israelites knew first that God through His Spirit created *everything* and then in this creation brought into existence and sustained by the Spirit, God created by the Spirit both Israel and her institutions and her Temple. The artistry of Bezaleel was patterned after the artistry of the Spirit in the beginning, in a God-given world the Spirit prepared something special – chosen people, chosen place – that would highlight His wider actions of creation and sustaining. The relationship between the Spirit in the world and the Spirit in the Church is like the difference between the creation of the world and creation of man. We are made much like everything else, we’re earthly, made during the same 6 days of God’s work, but among God’s equally good creation we have a special purpose – to be the thankful voice of creation offered to God, conscious of all the goods and oriented towards making the most of what creation is capable. Similarly Christians do not differ from all the people except they take up the vocation of all men and strive to fulfill it, we all are created by the two hands of God – His Word and His Spirit, but the Christians first recognize those two hands as Christ and His Spirit in the Gospel, and second recognize that the One who took flesh from the Virgin Mary and the One who was sent on the day of Pentecost are those same who made everything and everyone in the first place. And that is, if I remember correctly, what N.T. Wright calls creational monotheism and which should be the essential background for understanding the Gospel.
The Institutes are written in such a way that it could be quartered: God as Creator; Man as Created; God as Redeemer; Man as Redeemed. Calvin understands that every man created is born with this sense of a divine architect. If a person will follow after that instinct, it leads to the Gospel. So, in nature, we see God’s hand and are awed. But that , in and of itself, is not enough. A study of nature will not reveal to us the existence of the Trinity. Thus the need for the incarnation. Calvin’s writings are a bit of a wax nose, somewhat like C. S. Lewis, quoted by both sides of the same argument. R. T. Kendall comes up with some very different conclusions, particularly with regard to limited atonement, than the typical 5 pointer. And of course, Calvin in his interaction with Wittenberg and Zurich, just to name two , was no stranger to the diplomatic practice of accommodation. My opinion is that continental Calvinism was less stringent than its Puritannical offspring. For God’s sake, Calvin would go sailing on a Sunday afternoon!
Kamil: The Orthodox tradition, if it can be spoken of monolithically, appeals to me…
@allan: It does seem that this may be a bridge between Calvin’s thought and Levison’s Pneumatology. It is similar to the bridge I suggested for those who are comfortable with the idea of the imago Dei being preserved in everyone, uniquely renewed in Christians (or, the elect if one wants to move toward a more “Inclusivist” position), pristine in Christ.
I’ve been told that Calvin’s thought begins to go in the trajectory that we know today as “Calvinism” because of Theodore Beza. Any thoughts on that?
It is often left to successors to interpret, explain, defend and dogmatize. Long-lived Beza had the opportunity to become much more rigid and disciplined. It’s a shame that the Lutherans and the Reformed could not fully settle their differences. Luther, as we know, became more difficult in his advanced years even though Calvin sought out a fuller reconciliation.
allan: Now doesn’t that sounds like the history of Protestantism in a nutshell?!
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