If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen this yet, check out what has to be the funniest pre-flight announcement ever.
- Only Love Believes: The Resurrection of Jesus and the Constraints of History: The Christian claim from the beginning was that the question of Jesus’s resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world. (NT Wright)
- No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free: I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But there point we must understand is that good content always has a cost. (Daniel Darling)
- Pope Francis’s Challenge to the Evangelical-Catholic Coalition: Social issues have brought about a surprising alliance between Protestant evangelicals and Catholic bishops—but the pontiff’s focus on economic justice could complicate matters. (The Atlantic)
- Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter: I doubt there are any strong scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity. Most of those in current circulation are nowhere near as persuasive as New Atheism imagines. Contemporary sceptics would do well to drop them. Paradoxically, I do think Christianity is vulnerable at precisely the points of its own emphases. (The Drum)
After a slight hiatus so I could slip some actual teaching in, we’re back to reviewing some of the sessions from the recent Wheaton Theology Conference. And this we’ll focus on a paper that took a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing on theological issues, Allan Anderson looked at facts and trends relative to the growth of pentecostalism around the world.
What’s a “Pentecostal”?
Before you can talk about the growth of pentecostalism, of course, you need some kind of definition about what qualifies as “pentecostal.” And Anderson started with a rather broad definition, including people in four categories:
- The “classic Pentecostal” denominations (e.g. Assemblies of God)
- Independent churches (i.e. church that are not affiliated with pentecostal denominations but that affirm key pentecostal doctrines and practices)
- “Charismatic” churches (i.e. those that are part of non-pentecostal denominations but that affirm key pentecostal doctrines and practices)
- Independent megachurches (this apparently received its own category because of the growth and global influence of such churches)
Anderson’s stats about global pentecostalism, then, summarize information about Christians in all four categories.
- The Power of Story: Captivated by the Gospel: Stories help us make sense of where we find ourselves, what has gone wrong with things, and what can be done about it. Stories shape and narrate how we view ourselves. These narratives speak to a deep longing in our hearts, opening the doors of possibility to things that could be. However, most of the narratives that captivate the imaginations of children are nothing more than fanciful myths. (Facts & Trends)
- 5 Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon: If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies. (Christianity Today)
- What Gethsemane Teaches Us about Suffering: Who among us hasn’t found ourselves in a situation where the inevitable seems impossible? Where the unavoidable seems unimaginable? Who hasn’t said to God, in so many words, “Remove this cup”? (Religion News Service)
- Forgiving the Unforgiveable in Rwanda: I knew that to really minister to Rwanda’s needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country….It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable. (CNN Religion)
I know we’re supposed to pray for our enemies and whatnot, but for those occasions when you just need a good curse or two, here are some things you can wish upon your worst enemies, maybe even you nemesis, if you’re lucky enough to have one. (via Doghouse Diaries)
- 9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happened to Be Christians: what is frequently lost in all this is that the history of science is rich with believing Christians, for whom the process of discovery did not jeopardize their faith, but enforced it. These people are reminders that science is not a threat to be feared, but a journey we can embrace with confidence, knowing that all truth can only be revealed as God’s truth. (Relevant)
- Diversity and Dishonesty: What both cases illustrate, with their fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure, is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America. (Ross Douthat)
- 5 Reasons Religious Millennials Aren’t Marrying: Millennials’ median marriage age is also the highest of any group in modern history — 29 for men and 27 for women. Though most unmarried Millennials (69 percent) say they’d like to marry, they’re not in a hurry. (OnFaith)
- Far from messing with our brains, the internet has set our minds free: But it’s my fault that I don’t sit down and read Tolstoy of an evening, not the web’s. The internet has opened up our world and allowed us to exchange ideas with people we previously would never have encountered. (The Telegraph)
- Can Church Separate Mental Illness and Shame? People don’t want to admit to having a mental illness, because we all know what it looks like. It’s either a psychopathic killer or somebody sitting in a corner, staring vacant-eyed and drooling…. That’s not what it looks like. It looks like the people in this room. (Christianity Today)
- The Nun Who Got Addicted to Twitter: You might not expect nuns to be experts on Twitter, Facebook, and multi-player video games, but Burns defies all expectations. With 13,790 Twitter followers and counting, the Daughter of St. Paul calls herself a “media nun”: A woman religious with a calling to communicate the word of Christ, in any way she can. (The Atlantic)
- 10 Key Events: Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in 20th Century America: The following are ten key events that took place in the relationship between evangelicals, fundamentalists, modernists, and neo-evangelicals during the 20th century in North America. (Justin Taylor)
- What the Happiest People Know about Work: a growing body of research in positive psychology and neuroscience is demonstrating that happiness is the secret ingredient to success. It turns out, our brains are more engaged, creative, productive, and resilient when in a positive state. (Fast Company)
Just for Fun
- If you’ve ever wondered how Hong Kong and Macau are related to the rest of China, here you go. (Even if you’ve never wondered, it’s still interesting.)
- Long a Survivor in Syria, a Dutch Priest Is Slain: The Rev. Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who became a symbol of suffering and compassion in the war-ravaged Old City district of Homs, Syria, was shot to death Monday morning by a lone gunman, according to members of his order. (New York Times)
- 9 unintended benefits of small group life: Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself. (Ben Reed)
- How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion: Using the Internet can destroy your faith. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that the dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the U.S. since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in Internet use. (MIT Technology Review)
- The Rise of Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents: But in the spirit of Jon Stewart’s poster shown up at the top, which reads, “I may disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” let’s go on an open-minded journey where we seek to understand the views of others without characterizing them as Hitler-like. It’s difficult in these times, but we can do it. (The Federalist)
- Kindle Deal: Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism and Liberty by Brett McCracken. $1.99.
Just for Fun
- Disney characters can be a little weird.
We’ve been taking a look at some of the papers presented at this year’s Wheaton Theology Conference (see the others below). And the third one I want to consider came from Oliver Crisp, who focused on presenting “a dogmatic sketch of the Holy Spirit that draws on the Reformed tradition.” Far from being a neglected doctrine, Crisp argued that the Reformed tradition has much to offer for theologies of the Holy Spirit today.
Does the Reformed Tradition Neglect the Spirit?
Many critique Reformed theology for paying insufficient attention to the Spirit, pointing out that chapters on the Spirit in Reformed theologies tend to be rather brief. So Crisp began his lecture by pointing out that counting chapters isn’t the best way to establish a doctrine’s relative importance. Reformed theologians tend to deal with the person of the Spirit under the doctrine of the Trinity and the work of the Spirit in sections on creation, providence, salvation, and Christology. This means that skimming the table of contents might give the impression that pneumatology is relatively unimportant, reading the text carefully would reveal that pneumatology impacts “almost every topic in Reformed theology.” Some might disagree with what Reformed theology has to say about the Spirit, of course, but that’s far different from claiming that it has little to say.
Is the Spirit a Full Member of the Trinity?
The second main section of Crisp’s paper focused on the person of the Spirit, setting out a clear summary of the church’s historic position that the Spirit is fully divine and the third person of the triune God. Taking us on a quick tour of creedal statements from Nicea to Westminster, Crisp demonstrated the consistency of the Reformed position on this point.
In one interesting section, though, Crisp addressed the arguments of some Reformed theologians (e.g. Hendrikus Berkhof) that the Spirit is not in fact a distinct, divine person. Appealing to biblical passages that seem to suggest that “spirit” language in the Bible is just a way of talking about God’s presence in creation (or sometimes more specifically Christ’s presence). And Crisp quickly dismissed such arguments by again pointing to the consistent witness of tradition and by suggesting that such theologians need to pay more attention to the biblical texts.
How Should We Understand the Work of the Spirit?
People looking for an extended discussion of spiritual gifts are going to be rather disappointed here as Crisp focused largely on providing the theological framework necessary for understanding the Spirit’s work. To that end, he offered two important principles:
The Trinitarian Appropriation Principle: This principle has two key pieces. First, it acknowledges that “the external works of the Trinity are indivisible.” In other words, everything that God does, all three of the persons do together. So, although we might talk about the act of creation as something that the Father does, we must recognize that the Son and the Spirit are both fully involved as well. It may be more fitting to emphasize the Father’s role, but we cannot separate the three as though any particular action is the act of one alone. Second, we must also recognize “the distinction and order of the persons” in each work. Although the three are inseparable in every act, that doesn’t mean we can’t identify some distinctions in role and order. For example, all three persons are involved in the incarnation (the Father in sending, the Spirit in conception, the Son in becoming incarnate), but clearly they play different roles in the one, indivisible action of the godhead.
Applied to the doctrine of the Spirit, then, Crisp contends that this principle gives us resources for maintaining his indissoluble unity with the Father and the Son as well as his distinctive role in every work of God:
the Spirit is at work everywhere, at all times, in all places, and in particular ways in the action of creation, conservation, redemption, and the consummation of all things. He is at work in this way as a member of the Godhead because all the divine persons are at work in this manner, though their particular roles in any given work may differ….However, one of the reasons why the universality of the Spirit’s work is sometimes overlooked is that the TAP is not taken with sufficient metaphysical seriousness. He is not merely at work in certain divine actions and not others. Necessarily, he is involved in every divine action in creation.
The Intention-Application Principle: Here Crisp focused his attention on the idea that “what is first in intention is last in application.” To explain what he means here, Crisp used the analogy of a journey. When you go on a trip, your destination is your ultimate goal (the destination) is your “first intention”–that is, you first decide that you’re going to go somewhere. But you only arrive at the destination after you do everything necessary to get there. So although the destination was first in intention, actually arriving comes last in the story of your journey.
Applied to pneumatology, Crisp argues that this principle helps us see the vital importance of the Spirit. The Spirit’s work is not something that comes tacked on to the story after all the important stuff has already been done by Christ on the cross. The real goal of the story comes at the end in the eschatological consummation of all things. And the Spirit has a very prominent role in regenerating human persons, uniting them to Christ, and transforming all of creation, all necessary aspects of the end of the story. Thus, if the end communicates God’s ultimate goal, then the work of the Spirit is fundamentally important for understanding what God has been about from the very beginning.
The Spirit and Union with Christ
In his final section, Crisp turned his attention to the Spirit’s particular role in uniting us to Christ, which Crisp sees as the full expression of God’s ultimate goal. And this is also where Crisp offered his own constructive proposal for pneumatology.
Crisp began this section by arguing for the importance of “union with Christ” in Reformed theology, pointing out that although it has always been a significant theme, it has received even more attention in recent years, with many Reformed theologians arguing that it is the fundamental motif that grounds every other aspect of salvation. And he further argued that the Spirit is so central to God’s ultimate goal of uniting creatures to himself that this would have been the Spirit’s work even if we had never fallen into sin. Creatures do not have any “natural” capacity for uniting themselves to God. Thus, even in an unfallen creation, we still would have needed the indwelling Spirit to draw us into the divine life and accomplish God’s ultimate purpose for creation.
But exactly how does the Spirit do this? That’s the question Crisp wants to wrestle with in his own constructive proposal. And he is clearly unsatisfied with fuzzy appeals to some kind of “mystical” union. Instead, Crisp called us to think about how the discrete pieces of a composite whole (like a tree or an armchair) are bonded together to form that whole. On that analogy, the Spirit is the “adhesive” that holds those various pieces together, turning us from isolated bits (e.g. wood, cloth, buttons) into one indentifiable whole (e.g. armchair). Just as the Spirit was the one who shaped Christ’s body in the incarnation, so he is the one who forms his Body in the church.
Although Crisp necessarily left much unaddressed, you can only do so much in one paper, he offered an interesting look at a Reformed pneumatology that aptly demonstrated that pneumatology is a central and fundamentally important aspect of Reformed theology. I’m sure it won’t stop people from claiming that Reformed theologians have something against the Spirit, but maybe it will help at least a bit.
Other Posts on the Wheaton Theology Conference:
This is for anyone who is occasionally frustrated by the oddities of English spelling. Enjoy.