Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan Edelen is causing a fuss by posting The Holy Who? and observing,
Iâ€™m not a supporter of the Emerging Church, but Iâ€™m sympathetic to some of the reforms theyâ€™re calling for in the Church as a whole. Yet Iâ€™m utterly mystified that a reform movement could be so lacking in any concept of the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology in the Emerging Church? Iâ€™ve not heard one peep about it. As far as Iâ€™m concerned, any reform movement that perpetually leaves out the mention of the Holy Spirit is nothing but flesh-centered hogwash.
And you, the institutional church guys. Stop laughing, because youâ€™re the ones who forgot what the Holy Spirit is all about. No wonder your spiritual offspring in the Emerging Church are clueless about the Holy Spirit. You gave them nothing to work with. Youâ€™re the oneâ€™s who shoved the Holy Spirit in a closet and forgot about Him!
Of course, you can imagine that some discussion followed… in waiting a day to respond, my comment was the 67th. The comment was:
I’m watching the conversation here somewhat, and have a few thoughts… typical of postmodern waffling, I’m going to both agree and disagree, and then change the question before I sum up ;^)
Agree: your observation that the Emergen™ovement is largely void of conversation about the Holy Spirit is unfortunately correct. The Holy Spirit is certainly present in the theology, but not necessarily in the actual practice of the emerging church… at least, not as we charismatics have known such practice to look like.
Disgree: several of us Post-Charismatics have just landed on this post to illustrate the exception that proves the rule… we could all point out examples of emerging bloggers, thinkers, or churches who are intentionally mindful of the Holy Spirit in practice and not just in theology. Robbymac’s book is forthcoming as well, as he mentioned. The book itself is something of a critique of the charismatic movement and some of its facets, but at the same time is a plea for keeping the Holy Spirit involved in the emerging church.
Changing the Question: Robbymac’s book is being published this year by — pay attention to this — a publisher in the UK, despite the fact he’s writing from Canada. In North America, nobody wants to talk about this. I suggest part of the reason is that the emerging church is not a revolution of theology or practice concerning Pneumatology, but one concerning Ecclesiology, Christology, and perhaps Soteriology. The Reformation wasn’t really concerned with every -ology in the superset, certainly not at first. In one sense, we can’t fault emergents for this, but in another…
To sum up: one of the open questions for the emerging church movement is how it matures. Part of this maturation, while we’re busily “re-imagining” all our theology, is going to be the role of the Holy Spirit. If the movement refuses to fully deal with every one of the -ologies, it won’t mature properly, and in a few years’ time, there’ll be yet another reactionary movement to correct the correction of the correction against which the former movment reacted… you get the picture. Has the movement fully dealt with Theology Proper, or with Eschatology? I would say not yet, on both counts. Pneumatology is not unique in this area.
Personally, I feel like I’ve been talking about the Holy Spirit for the past decade and a half in the charismatic movement. At the end of that period, I woke up one morning scratching my head and saying, “Hey, you know who I really miss? Jesus.” I’ve been trying to rediscover him and his centrality to the gospel story, but at the same time, I’m also beginning to say, “Hey, I’m Post-Charismatic. Let’s talk about the Holy Spirit.” Mine is but one small voice (as Robbymac also notes) in the conversation, but I’m hopeful that a growing chorus of small voices will begin a tide from the grassroots to quietly spread through the emerging conversation, with the Holy Spirit just naturally taking his place in the theology and practice of emergents. He did this in the charismatic movement, and wouldn’t it be just like him to quietly show up on the doorsteps of a new movement that is so formally concerned to proclaim Christ by following his incarnational example? Oh, now I’m talking missional…
I’m still mulling this all over, and if I get any more longwinded than this, I’ll follow Michael Spencer’s example post the further thoughts on my blog ;^)
Michael “Internet Monk” Spencer responded with Riffs 3:19:07: Responding to Dan Edelenâ€™s â€œThe Holy Who?â€?, and then right on cue — though apparently without seeing Edelen’s post — Emerging Grace asked, “What About the Holy Spirit?” in which she makes a plea for the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and of the believer.
So yes, I think there is conversation beginning about the Holy Spirit now in the emerging church, though it’s far from widespread. But it’s a start… and with a bit more “mulling,” I still wonder… as a reactionary movement, how “complete” a theology should the ECM have at its current stage? Is it attempting to apply a corrective tone to all aspects of theology, or just to a select subset of areas of theology? And the real biggie, is there a geographical differentiation as to where the subject of Pneumatology is entertained within the conversation? Am I correct in my statement that tackling Pneumatology (among other subjects) is necessary for the ECM to mature?
We are recovering a Trinitarian understanding of God. Maybe one of the limits of the theological discussion over the last 30 years or so is compartmentalization, and too much focus on individual members of the Trinity. We know that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts;” and we know that various groups have tended to give attention to one member of the Trinity or another. Perhaps what we are seeing is a needed corrective….
This is a generalization, but I think the emerging church could possibly evolve without a significant emphasis on the Holy Spirit. I don’t think the missional aspect will really occur though without involving the Holy Spirit.
However I don’t think the involvement of the HS in the missional movement will look like what charismatics are used to. Another generalization, I think that we are seeing the missional movement develop outside the charismatic camp because of the charismatics lack of understanding of the missional nature of the Spirit.
Anyway, these are my conclusions at the moment from mulling over these thoughts:
1. We cannot really be missional without the Holy Spirit.
2. So, why haven’t the charismatics been missional?
3. While we (charismatics) have understood a lot about spiritual gifts, we haven’t really understood the missional impulse of the Holy Spirit.
Here is something else to consider, I don’t think it will necessarily be only charismatics and post-charismatics who initially embrace and function in the fullness of the Holy Spirit in missional expression.
Hope this makes sense, I’m a little sleepy. :)
David Fitch answers your question quite well in his book “The Great Giveaway.” I’ve quoted the relevant sections in the review on my website. About fifteen years ago an Anabaptist brother put it like this:
â€œBy now it is becoming possible to see that the most unfortunate result of revivalism may not have been its excesses and distortions. The deeper problem is that frontier revivalism could not be one or two of the means used by a developed church to express aspects of its faith and life. Revivalism did not serve a church that knew much more. Instead revivalism itself had to create and sustain the Christian community. And this meant that the church thus created tended to remain fixated around the emotions and the doctrines of its beginnings. The most demonic result is that the success of the movement has tended to limit its descendants to that level of human need which it was designed to satisfy. Its victory acted as a brake on Christian maturity. Churches created by revivals have found it almost impossible to break free from the moods and the ideas appropriate to adolescents.â€? Delbert Wiens
And an Anglican brother put it like this:
With the Word alone, we dry up.
With the Spirit alone, we blow up.
With the Word and the Spirit, we grow up. D Watson
Len, I have Donald Gee quoted as saying,
Thank you for featuring and unpacking my post on the Holy Spirit from Cerulean Sanctum. I pray it blesses your readers and gets them thinking (and praying).
Good comments. As much as I like Fitch, I have to ask why the early Church didn’t stay stuck in the emotionalism of their beginnings. What is it about us Americans that we’re prone to that?
Great post. I’ve had quite a conversation at my blog because I asked whether we were scared of the Holy Ghost.