Tag Archives | environmentalism

From Pentecost to the Triune God | Steven M. Studebaker

The cover of Studebaker's From Pentecost to the Triune GodIt should go without saying in 2017, but in case you haven’t heard, pentecostal scholarship has come of age. The days when pentecostals only focused on the Luke-Acts canon (as fruitful as it is) are over. From Pentecost to the Triune God is an exemplar of current pentecostal thought. In it, Steven M. Studebaker presents a full-orbed theology of the Trinity that gives the role of the Spirit its proper place.

Experience and the Spirit of Christ

From Pentecost to the Triune God falls into three sections. In section one (chapters 1 and 2), Studebaker argues for the importance of bringing experience to exegesis. “Since the ancient Israelites reflected on their formative religious experiences, so can contemporary Pentecostals (and all Christians)” (19). Next he turns his attention to the overarching role of the Spirit throughout the entire canon. A survey of scripture shows that the Spirit’s activity has three characteristics: liminal, constitutional, and eschatological. Theses three characteristics are exhibited in the three main narrative roles: creation-redemption, the life of Jesus, and Pentecost. This chapter is a must-read for pneumatology students of all stripes.

The array of three characteristics spread across three narrative roles leads to nine sections full of insight into the Spirit. I’ll share one of them in this review: the constitutional role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Theologians often describe the Trinity in terms of procession. The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds either from the Son or the Father and the Son. This understanding of the Trinity can lead to a Logos Christology which subordinates the Spirit. Studebaker points out that twice in scripture that the Spirit is named the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). The simple genitive construction can have two meanings:

  1. “Of” can mean source—the Spirit which proceeds from Christ. This underscores a Logos Christology.
  2. “Of” can mean origin—the Spirit which is the “source of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” (82). This opens the door for a Spirit Christology to be developed.

The same Spirit which hovered over the surface of the waters and played a constitutive role in creation hovered over Mary’s womb and played a constitutive role in the incarnation. It’s important to note that Studebaker does not develop his Spirit Christology in order to replace Logos theology, the doctrine of processions, or even the mutual love model. His Spirit Christology adds to the richness of our understanding of the Trinity, underscoring the Spirit’s personhood.

Trinitarian Theology Through the Ages

Trinitarian theology has a lengthy pedigree. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Studebaker delves into the history of Trinitarian theology and evaluates various traditions in light of the theology he developed in the second chapter.

Studebaker delves deep. He considers the roots of Eastern and Western Trinitarianism before moving to the Reformation, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic theologies. Using a variety of dialogue partners representative of the various positions, he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the various views before suggesting what his theological vision has contribute.

World Religions and Environmentalism

The final two chapters are a test drive of Studebaker’s freshly envisioned theology. In “The Spirit of Pentecost and Theology of Religions,” he offers a provocative view that will challenge the presuppositions of many pentecostals. Arguing exegetically that the Spirit was indeed poured out upon all flesh (not just believers), it follows that anyone who responds to the Spirit of Christ (regardless of their religion) will be saved.

The scope of the creative-redemptive work of the Spirit of Pentecost is universal. The Spirit is always seeking to initiate people into and to develop in them a fuller experience of the Spirit of Pentecost. (239)

It’s worth noting that Studebaker is not a Universalist. Although the outpouring of the Spirit is universal, human response to the Spirit of Pentecost is not. This understanding of the Spirit will enable Christians to re-envision mission not as a way carry Jesus to places he’s never been, but as a way to participate in the mission of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The final chapter considers creation care. If creation-redemption is one act of the Spirit, then the theological separation of common and special grace is a fiction. “The Spirit’s work does not have two orders—creation and redemption—but one, the redemption of creation” (261). It follows that creation care is a way of participating in the work of the Spirit who filled the liminal space between chaos and order, played a constitutive role in creation-redemption, and brought all things to eschatological fulfilment at Pentecost.

[F]ew Pentecostal and evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of sanctification and path of discipleship. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation, is a way that Christians can “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In other words, buying organic fair-trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting ( Phil. 2:12). (262)

From Pentecost to the Triune God is more than theology for Pentecostals—it’s a detailed and inspiring look at the life of the Trinue God from the perspective of its least-recognized person.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

The Gospel According to the Earth | Matthew Sleeth

The cover of Sleeth's Gospel According to the EarthA cursory glance around this blog should make it clear that I place a high value on God’s creation. I would struggle to enjoy life without the lakes, rivers, granite outcroppings, and all the rest of the flora and fauna of Ontario.

As a pastor, I’ve struggled to preach on these issues. When I think about Christianity and ecology, I feel challenged on two fronts:

  1. Any talk of environmentalism raises the specter of liberal theology.
  2. I’ve only heard three main Biblical texts used to speak of “natural theology”, and they all come with conservative rejoinders: Genesis 1-3 (“but the world be destroyed anyway”), Psalm 19 (“but the climax of this Psalm is on the written word”) and Romans 1 (“Paul only speaks of the natural world to leave pagans without excuse”).

The Gospel According to the Earth is the book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Sleeth speaks about the relationship between the body of Christ and Christ’s greater creation without getting caught up in such limited perspectives. He explores topics you wouldn’t expect—like music, hospitality, and rest—along with the traditional categories.

I do have to note that some of his biblical quotes felt forced. He stretched the interpretation of a few verses to fit his framework. Overall, though, I was amazed at the sheer amount of scripture that speaks to our responsibility toward God’s good creation.

This book is very easy to read and filled with practical ideas at the end of each chapter to put the message into practice. I’d recommend it highly to any Christian seeking to understand their role on our planet.

—Matthew Sleeth, The Gospel According to the Earth (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010).

Downward to the Earth | Robert Silverberg

Fantasy and Science Fiction are often kept in two separate sections of the bookstore. Silverberg marries the two masterfully in Downward to the Earth.

This book is essentially the sequel to Avatar. No, it’s not set in the same world, but the themes remain. In fact, I’d be surprised to find out that the script writers of Avatar had not drawn inspiration from this book.

In Downward to the Earth, the humans recognized the error of mining a world with sentient creatures on it so they gave back ownership of the planet. Now, a few years later, a former player during the mining days returns for some unfinished business. The contrast between the science fiction of space travel and the fantastic elements of native creature’s religion make a compelling story.

This is more than just another museum-piece science fiction novel. It’s a story about spiritual discovery with a few unseen twists along the way.

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