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Living on the Seam of History, Part 4: The Holy Spirit

Categories Theology

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“The Holy Spirit does the wok of spiritual transformation or change in us, leading us to put off the thoughts and deeds of the old self and put on those of the new self. When we act in a way that shows we are not willing to put off the old self, The Holy Spirit is grieved and disappointed. Even though the Spirit has sealed us for the day of redemption that redemption has still to be consummated. In the intervening period, we are not to do anything that will grieve the Spirit.” (Turaki, Yusufu, Africa Bible Commentary, p.1435)

As we have said in previous posts, we live on the seam of history, looking towards a more global Christianity. The center of the Church has, in recent history, been in the West but has now shifted to Africa and the East. As a result, we in the West can learn much about the Holy Spirit through African eyes. Pneumatology has a different foundation in Africa than in the West, and the United States particularly.

Consider this excerpt from Theology in the Context of World Christianity by Dr. Tim Tennent:

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“Traditional Western theologies were written by scholars who received their education in respected universities that were deeply influenced by Enlightenment assumptions. The Enlightenment worldview creates a high wall separating the experiential world of the senses – governed by reason and subject to scientific enquiry – from the unseen world beyond the wall; such a world either does not exist (naturalism) or, if it does, we can know little about it (deism). The result has been essentially a two tiered universe that separates the world of science from the world of religion…For most people [in the East] there is no real wall of separation, and the border that separates this world from the unseen world is more of an open frontier than a high wall with a few approved border crossings. The whole of creation is animated by spirits and various dynamic unseen forces, including demons and angels. Frequently spiritual explanations are more common than naturalistic ones because their overall worldview is more spiritualistic and relational than Naturalistic and mechanical…I had a similar experience after a major earthquake erupted in Gujarat, India, on January 26, 2001, after some notorious cases of state-sponsored persecution against Christians. In traveling to rural villages in North India and listening to people explain why someone is ill, I often observe how spiritual explanations are likely to trump naturalistic ones, just the opposite of what one finds in the West.” (p. 178-179)

So is the pneumatology of the Western Church really suffering because of the “high wall” Enlightenment created? What about Western Pentecostal movements?

“Pentecostalism [in Africa], by contrast [from Pentecostalism in the West], emerged among uneducated peoples whose worldview was the least influenced by the truncated enlightenment worldview. Their personal experience with the Holy Spirit gives them reason to believe that the same Holy Spirit who acted supernaturally in the lives and witness of the apostles is active today in similar ways.” (Tennent, p. 179) He then elaborates his own pneumatology by saying “The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world.”

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In African Christian Ethics Samuel Kunhiyop adds “The Holy Spirit’s continuing work in creation and especially in the life of the believer also shows God’s intimate role in his created order.” (p. 53)

“If, in this study [of pneumatology in the context of world Christianity] I have neglected the “mote” in the Pentecostal eye, it is only because I am so painfully aware of the “beam” in my own eye. In other words, I maintain that despite the incongruities, Pentecostalism remains the most important corrective to the blind spots in our pneumatological theory and practice on the planet today. By god’s grace, we (western evangelical Protestants) may very well represent the most important corrective to the blind spots in their (Christians in the East) pneumatology…To be effective, the twenty-first century church desperately needs the dynamic union of both.” (Tennent, p.189)

“[The Holy Spirit] does not operate in a vacuum but builds on the redemptive work of Jesus. His role is to apply that work directly to our lives.” (Ngewa, Samuel Africa Bible Commentary, 1287)

How has your understanding of the Holy Spirit been challenged in light of African pneumatology? How can we bring about the dynamic union of both Western and Eastern pneumatologies?

--Andrew

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