Last week I posted my review of Jack Levison’s Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith and yesterday I invited readers of this blog to discuss Levison’s concluding chapter, “An Agenda for the Future of Pneumatology”. As I mentioned in that post Levison’s “agenda” is 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. Today I want to discuss part 2.
“The Significance of a Starting Point” is oriented toward hermeneutics. When Christians discuss the holy spirit we often begin with a section of Scripture that resonates with us the most. For example, most Pentecostals begin with the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians because Pentecostal Pneumatology begins with the charisms of the spirit. Most Evangelicals fear the charisms of the spirit, or self-describe as “open, but cautious”, so their starting point is elsewhere: maybe Paul’s “fruits of the spirit” or some connection between the prophetic and homiletics. Many Mainliners emphasize the prophetic as it relates to social injustices, the empowerment of the spirit of God to call people back toward justice and righteousness before their Creator.
For Levison his acknowledged point of departure would be “the spirit-breath within” (see pp. 202-203). He finds this aspect of Pneumatology to be grounded in the Torah. Therefore, all subsequent canonical literature is expanding and redefining the Pneumatology of the Books of Moses. Also, this is a Pneumatology that is shared by all people, Christians and non-Christians (read Part 1 for further explanation). Levison writes (p. 203),
I decided that the starting-point of pneumatology should be the spirit understood as a presence in individuals by virtue of God’s inbreathing (e.g., Gen. 41:38; Exod. 31:28-35). This view of God’s spirit shapes belief early in the biblical canon — long before the advent of the notion of the spirit as an intermittent charismatic presence, as in the book of Judges and 1 Samuel it is universal in scope — as universal as human’s breath; and it may lead to a Christian church that is at once highly spirited and deeply thoughtful.
That last statement has to do with Levison’s exegesis of texts where the spirit of God is not divorced from the life of the mind, but an essential part of it just as much as the spirit is part of the endowment of various charisms. When Levison reads texts about the outpouring of God’s spirit he doesn’t see this as God giving something totally new, but instead God refilling, refreshing that which is given to all.
Levison is comfortable with reading about the outpouring of God’s spirit in places like Joel 2:28-29. Likewise, he welcomes a Pneumatology like that of Isaiah 11:2 where the spirit of the Lord rest upon the Lord’s servant. This “anointed leadership” Pneumatology is as canonical as the “spirit-breath” Pneumatology from which Levison’s launches his project. Similarly, Levison discusses passages where the spirit of God is active in bringing or empowering people to bring liberation to the oppressed. All of these angles present us with a “biblical” Pneumatology (see pp. 204-209).
Pneumatology has “an array of starting points” as Levison says. What we need when we talk to each other about God’s spirit is an awareness of our own prioritized starting point. Often we talk past each other because we ignore the diverse witness of Scripture as regards the spirit of God.
How can we learn to be more aware of our starting points? How does an awareness of our starting points help us in our dialogue with others?