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Monday, June 19, 2006

The Spirit of Life

I am beginning to re-read "The Spirit of Life" by Juergen Moltmann. I want to reflect upon Moltmann's work and seek to integrate it with my own spiritual journey so I thought that revisiting an already read book in more detail would be advantageous.

Moltmann is keen to see the Holy Spirit as the spirit of life. In the preface Moltmann talks about bringing out "the unity between the experience of God and the experience of life." This concept of unity and integration between faith and life is vital. Far too often I witness Christians (and I am guilty too) for whom God and faith exist in neat compartments.

What Moltmann invites us into is a journey whereby the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Life, energises our own life day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. A Vineyard song speaks of a relationship with God where he is "the air I breathe". This picture of the Spirit as being so intimately involved in our lives that we struggle for the appropriate metaphor must be evidenced, somehow, in our lives otherwise the songs are simply pious reflections that take place within our "God times".

Moltmann (p.3) speaks of the Word and Spirit "as existing in a mutual relationship". He goes on to say that the "Spirit is the subject determining the Word, not just the operation of that Word."

Coming from a Baptist theological education but leaning more towards, what may be termed, a pentecostal/charismatic approach I find myself reflecting a great deal upon this question of the "mutual relationship" between the Word and the Spirit. It may seem to be a rather simplistic starting point but I find, time and again, that the struggle of the Church to comprehend and live out a spirituality that truly engages the Word of God and the Spirit of God comes to its most clearest point in the Sunday time of communal gathering.

The language of the Sunday gathering can tend to focus on the "Word" or the "Spirit". Please bear in mind that I am thinking out loud to some degree and beginning to get my thoughts together to begin to work through some of these matters. For Moltmann the Spirit is not simply the final manifestation of the Trinity as some afterthought prior to Jesus' ascension. The Spirit is a vital part of the Trinity. The Spirit gives life. The Spirit energises, empowers, equips and is a key part of the outworking of the Kingdom of God which Jesus heralded at the outset of his ministry.

Moltmann (p.8) also raises an issue that seems to predominate across the Church. He suggests that "there is a tendency to view the Holy Spirit solely as the Spirit of Redemption...it gives men and women the assurance of the eternal blessedness of their souls." Evangelism and "sharing the gospel", amongst some parts of the Church, seems to consist in presenting a propostion to someone who needs to be persuaded of the truth of the proposition. Techniques can be taught by which one can hone one's skills in presentation of the proposition so as to gain maximum impact. Once a person has moved from unbelief or skepticism to belief (or acceptance of the proposition) then that person can be introduced into a church where they are either left to their own devices or, in the best case scenario, they are presented with further teaching in order to be equipped for this change in life direction.

Taking into account a measure of sarchasm I believe that the fact stands that Christianity has, in some cases, been distilled into propositonal arguments and pithy soundbites. Working, as I do, with non-Christian men who are not slow to give their opinion of my faith and hearing their own stories I am coming to the realisation that the "gospel" message in its simple evangelical format is not enough. People are looking for hope and they are looking for something to bring some new quality to their life.

People outside of the world of Christendom are becoming disinterested and bored with the message and mindset of the Church. I believe that this is, in part, due to the limitations which we have put on the Holy Spirit. A person may be crying out for hope and meaning rather than redemption. I am not saying that we abandon the message of salvation but I am saying that we need to revisit the entire salvation package and see if God does not desire more for people than that they agree to a proposition and boost the numbers in local church gatherings.

1 comment:

Christopraxis said...

You might find Moltmann's books "Experiences in Theology" and "Source of Life" interesting. Both are less technical, and the latter is inspired by "The Spirit of Life." It is one I have recommended to others, who might not otherwise read Moltmann's Systematics.

When we reduce the gospel to merely a soteriological message, we miss a lot of the New Testament message. For example, eternal life is presented in the context of knowledge and relationship (Jn 17:3).

I am influenced by the contemplative tradition, and I have come see that God's real goal for us is to form Christ in us (2 Cor 3:18), and to have a perichoritic relationship with us in Love (1 Jn 4:16, Jn 15)

What the abreviated gospel fails to realize is that people inheritly are seeking meaning and purpose to life. They want to know answers to questions such as "What is the meaning of life?" Why am I here?" "What is the key to being happy in life, especially when there is so much sorrow and suffering in this world?"

Moltmann's message of hope is a message that tells us that God passionately loves us and is working on redeeming us. The Crucified God tells us that God is willing to go all the way for us. He wants to draw us into the Triune Love of God. John reminds us that this love is perfected in us through community (1 Jn 4:11-12)