Continuing on from my recent comments on incarnational Christianity I would now like to begin exploring how this relates to Christian spirituality and see what that stirs up.
With some semantic adjustments to my last diagram we get this, a chart illustrating how various pneumatologies, that is, theologies of the Spirit, relate to one another. I realize I risk offending all sorts of people with this chart but let me explain first.
I will begin with Cessationism. This is the view that the charismatic gifts of the Spirit ceased back with the closure of the cannon and the death of the Apostles and that we should not expect to be charismatically empowered for mission today. No prophecy, no visions, nothing. God speaks to us through the Bible only, never directly. Exercises in listening to God any other way are misguided by definition; the only thing cessationists have to say to the world about stuff like meditation is “don’t do it”.
Far more popular these days is Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism takes its name from the outpouring of the Spirit on the church on the day of Pentecost. This movement places great stress on the spiritual gifts of prophecy, healing and tongues and has been growing great guns the world over. That’s all quite biblical so you’ll get no argument from me there. No, my critique lies elsewhere. The problem with standard Pentecostalism is that it takes too little account of what the Spirit was doing before Pentecost and too little account of what the Spirit is doing beyond the church. The sacred / secular split is embodied at the core of it. There is heavy focus on “worship in the house” but comparatively little focus on everyday worship in the world. There is deep appreciation of spiritual experience but a strong tendency to any of it happening in the outside world and especially in other religions as demonic by definition. It’s theodicy and modalities of discernment are very black hat / white hat. A frequent consequence of this demonization of other religions is that Christians are disempowered from mission. When its perceived to be safer to intercede from afar than share your story face to face that’s a problem. There is much more I could say on this but this should serve to flag some issues.
Reacting against this, many Christians are drawn towards panentheism and pantheism, the latter being the more hard core of the two. I myself went down this route once upon a time. On the positive side, Pantheism takes the immanence of God seriously. On the negative side, it tends to underplay God’s transcendence, and consequently, the holiness of the Holy Spirit. This plays all sorts of havoc with Christian theodicy, Christology and salvation theology. I could say more about relativism and perennial philosophy but hopefully you get the picture. When everyone has the Spirit equally already, why seek the Pentecost experience?
So, what is different about missional pneumatology then? Here is a snapshot. Like Pentecostalism it affirms that Pentecost was a momentous event, but missional pneumatology is shaped by the awareness that phenomena approximating the charismatic gifts do occur in other religions and can at times be indistinguishable from them on the surface. Consequently missional pneumatology places much greater emphasis on the spiritual fruit of faith, hope and love than on prophecy, healing and tongues (1 Cor 13). But being more engaged with the world than Pentecostalism, missional pneumatology is in a far greater position to speak intelligably back into cultures that practice channelling, holistic medicine and mantras. Furthermore, being more holistically informed by the pre-Pentecost pneumatology of the Old Testament, missional pneumatology speaks of the Spirit of God moving though all creation without confusing Creator with creation. Again, there is much more I could say but hopefully that illustrates some of the contours.
Now, for those that find my nomenclature offends cherished identities, please feel free to translate the green quadrant as “immanence emphasizing Pentecostalism,” or alternatively, “transcendence emphasizing mysticism”, if that makes it easier. The essential point isn’t the wording, it’s the problems that arise when opposing theological teachings aren’t balanced.