Tag Archives | world religions

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.

Dynamics of Faith | Paul Tillich

The cover of Tillich's Dynamics of FaithFaith is a big word which points towards an even bigger concept. In the New Testament, faith stands for a deep trust and belief. In Dynamics of Faith, Tillich offers his take on this concept. Put succinctly:

Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned (1).

This, of course, is an expansion on the New Testament’s idea of deep trust and belief in a person—Tillich’s faith comes from a philosophical viewpoint which engages all religions. While Christian faith in the person of Jesus Christ falls under his definition of “being ultimately concerned,” so do many other faiths, even secular and national faiths.

Dynamics of Faith is a very thoughtful book which deserves a careful reading. There are elements on every page to evaluate theologically.

Tillich does a fine job at clearing away some of the misunderstandings of faith. Faith is no mere “act of knowledge that has a low degree of evidence” (31), nor is it “the feeling of unconditional dependence” (38) à la Schleiermacher.

Another strength of this book is Tillich’s acceptance of doubt as part of faith. Consider this argument (that has been picked up today by Peter Rollins):

If faith is understood as belief that something is true, doubt is incompatible with the act of faith. If faith is understood as being ultimately concerned, doubt is a necessary element in it. It as a consequence of the risk of faith (18).

What a powerfully pastoral idea! Doubt could actually be part of faith rather than an enemy of it.

My biggest problem with Tillich’s argument came with his separation between the ultimate and other fields of study. When explaining potential conflicts between faith and science, history, and philosophy, he strongly asserted the need to keep these realms separate:

Science has no right and no power to interfere with faith and faith has no power to interfere with science. One dimension of meaning is not able to interfere with another dimension (81-2).

Of course, if you understand the incarnation as the hypostatic union between God and humanity, then dimensional interference is precisely what happened!

Dynamics of Faith was published in 1957. Now, over 50 years later, it is still a good way to spark meaningful theological discussion and thought on one of the biggest theological categories in scripture.

—Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1957).

The Quest | Lyman C. D. Kulathungam

What is religion, anyway? It’s common to suggest that everyone is using religion to find their own way up the mountain to God, but what about religions where there is no God to speak of at the summit? If we want to engage the multi-religious world around us, we need to learn these religions on their own terms before trying to figure out how to relate to them.

This is where Kulathungam’s book comes in. Rather than impose Christian frameworks on other religions, he tries to discern what the core quest of each religion is, then explores places where Jesus can relate to that quest.

His approach is humble, too. In the Preface he freely confesses that “Christianity cannot satisfy the human quest, but Christ can” (xiv). Rather than presenting strategies for evangelism, he recognizes that “in relating Christ to the quest of people, one should rather depend on God. He is smarter than our strategies” (xv).

The greatest strength of this book is in Kulathungam’s encyclopaedic knowledge of world religions. I learned a tremendous amount about many religions that I thought I already understood sufficiently. Kulathungam doesn’t over simplify. He takes time to explore the different sects and theological leanings within each religion. It’s a more complicated but vastly more rewarding approach.

Our world is very religious. As communication grows, collisions between religions increase. A thoughtful evaluation like this one is an important tool to help us to engage each other generously and effectively.

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