Note from CM: This week, on Monday through Wednesday, we are focusing on the meaning of Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. Last week, we spoke about the Ascension and presented it as the climax and culmination of the gospel of King Jesus. The Ascension was when Jesus was enthroned with God in the heavenly realms, and then Pentecost represents his first action as King. On this day he fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower his people. What was the significance of this act? What implications does this have for our lives as Christians today?
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Jesus Poured Out the Spirit — So What?
Part Two: Vitality, not Spirituality
In the new creation the ancient human mandate to look after the garden is dramatically reaffirmed. …The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill that mandate at last.
• N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
The Spirit of God is called the Holy Spirit because it makes our life here something living, not because it is alien and estranged from life. The Spirit sets this life in the presence of the living God and in the great river of eternal love.
• Jürgen Moltmann. The Spirit of Life
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One of the surprising things to me about both N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Matthew Bates’s Salvation by Allegiance Alone, both of which I cited as excellent examples of theologians paying attention to the neglected teaching about the Ascension, is that they both leave out (or under-emphasize) the next great event in salvation history. For example, here is Bates’s outline of the gospel on page 194 of his book:
Jesus the king:
- preexisted with the Father,
- took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
- died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
- was buried,
- was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
- appeared to many,
- is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
- will come again as judge.
This is an excellent outline, save for one huge gap between points 7 and 8. Having ascended to God’s right hand as Lord of all, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit. The “finished work of Christ” was not “finished” until he fulfilled the Hebrew prophets’ eschatological expectation and his own promise to send the Spirit to his people.
Wright does the same thing in his otherwise brilliant book. His chapter on the Ascension is followed by the chapter, “When He Appears,” a discussion of how the “absent” Jesus will one day become fully “present” to us and the world once again. And while he does speak a little bit about “the presence we know at the moment — the presence of Jesus with his people in word and sacrament, by the Spirit, through prayer, in the faces of the poor,” he moves quickly from that to emphasizing Jesus’ return.
So, I had to look elsewhere for detailed insights about the significance of the Spirit. And boy, did I find a resource. The Spirit of Life by theologian Jürgen Moltmann is as rich a book as I’ve ever read when it comes to thinking about the Holy Spirit. I’m working through it, and will be for some time, meditating on its profound discussions of how the Spirit, from creation to new creation, enlivens and invigorates not only people but also all facets of life and creation, liberating them and overcoming the death instinct that is found throughout our fallen world. Molten calls this book “a holistic pneumatology” and “a way of deepening the concept of life.”
One of the book’s great contributions is its fulsome discussion of the Hebrew concept of the Spirit (ruach), in all its earthy, creational senses. This is also the Spirit the prophets foretold would come, the Spirit Jesus promised, the Spirit poured out at Pentecost, and the Spirit discussed in the epistles as the life-force in the early Christian congregations and in the church’s mission. In order to grasp what the Spirit is all about, we must not begin at Pentecost, for this is a wind we have felt before throughout the story of Israel, and when he comes upon the church, he comes carrying all the rich, creational life-giving power he displayed in that story.
As the Old Testament shows, the operations of God’s Spirit precede the workings of Christ; and the New Testament tells us that they go beyond the workings of Christ. They relate Christ’s liberating and redemptive efficacy to the life which streams everywhere from its source and is moved by `the Spirit of life’; for it is this life which is to be liberated and redeemed. The operations of God’s life-giving and life-affirming Spirit are universal and can be recognized in everything which ministers to life and resists its destruction. This efficacy of the Spirit does not replace Christ’s efficacy, but makes it universally relevant.
• From the Preface
Moltmann contends that the Western Church, rooted in Augustine, made a false move when taking the journey from Yahweh’s ruach to pneuma ton theon, then to Spiritus Sanctus, and then to what we today call spirituality. That move has led the church down many fruitless paths.
We are at least no longer at the source, as anyone who reads and loves the Old Testament can immediately see. We have in fact moved from the vitality of a creative life out of God to the spirituality of a not-of-this-world life in God. (Location 1186, Kindle edition)
He suggests that what we should be talking about is vitality and not spirituality. Life in all its bodily, earthy, creative fullness in this world and in this life, not a life apart, separated from the world, seeking an inner “life” in God and looking forward to an ultimate release from this world into an other-worldly paradise.
Is this biblical? We find nothing of this kind in the Old Testament or Judaism. There, God’s Spirit is the life-force of created beings, and the living space in which they can grow and develop their potentialities. God’s blessing does not quench vitality. It enhances it. The nearness of God makes life once more worth loving, not something to be despised. We do not find anything comparable in the New Testament or Christianity’s original messianism either. There God’s Spirit is the life-force of the resurrection which, starting from Easter, is `poured out on all flesh’ in order to make it eternally alive. In the tempest of the divine Spirit of life, the final springtime of creation begins, and the men and women who already experience it here and now sense that life has come alive again and is worth loving. The sick, frail and mortal body becomes `the temple of the Holy Spirit’. `The body is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body’, proclaimed Paul (I Cor. 6.13). ‘Glorify God in your body’, he demanded. It wasn’t Paul who talked about ‘God and the soul’. It was Augustine; and he did so in order to leave the body, nature and society behind him so that he could ‘separate himself from this world’.
• Locations 1203-1210, Kindle Edition
Moltmann asserts that we have misunderstood Paul when he writes about the conflict between “spirit” and “flesh.” Paul has an apocalyptic understanding of these terms: the flesh represents this world with all its limitations, all its flaws, and in all its transitoriness. In contrast, the Spirit is the vital force which has been poured out in order to bring about resurrection life in a new creation. As Moltmann says, “This means that we shall be redeemed with the world, not from it” (Location 1277, Kindle Edition). We look for the redemption of the body, not release from it. Our hope is not in the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body. Our hope, our home is not in heaven “up there” or “out there.” We look for all creation to be set free from its bondage so that we may all share together in the freedom of a new heavens and earth.
It is in Augustine that we find the theological and anthropological basis for Western spirituality. The concentration of his theology on ‘God and the soul’ led to a devaluation of the body and nature, to a preference for inward, direct self-experience as a way to God, and to a neglect of sensuous experiences of sociality and nature. Knowledge of the self is a more certain affair than knowledge of the world. `Close the gateways of thy senses and seek God deep within’, wrote Gerhard Tersteegen. Human beings are related to themselves, yet at the same time they are withdrawn from themselves. In their souls they find their immanent transcendence. `Infinitely does man transcend man’, said Pascal, in true Augustinian fashion. Augustine calls this inner self ‘the heart’ or ‘the soul’. `Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee’, he writes in his Confessions, for ‘Thou hast made us for thyself’. This spiritual self-transcendence in the direction of the infinite God means that the innermost nature of the human being is desire, and nothing but desire. Men and women are by nature on the search for happiness, but nothing finite can satisfy their infinite yearning. So everything finite points to the unending craving of the human heart, which reaches out beyond itself to the infinite God.
• Locations 1303-1304, Kindle Edition
We’ve come a long way from “The Spirit of God brooded over the waters” and “I will put my Spirit within you so that you will walk in my ways,” “Walk in the Spirit,” and “The fruit of the Spirit is love.”
I’ll give Jürgen Moltmann the last word today:
The attractive power and inner force of the Spirit of the new creation of all things are not orientated towards `the world beyond’. Their direction is the future. The Spirit does not draw the soul away from the body, nor does it make the soul hasten towards heaven, leaving this earth behind. It places the whole earthly and bodily person in the daybreak colours of the new earth. That is why Paul can also describe the raising of the dead as `giving life to our mortal bodies’ (Rom. 8.11). Anyone who experiences the Spirit of the new creation in fellowship with the risen Christ already experiences here and now something of the `life given’ to his mortal, sick and repressed body. If hope looks forward to the final spring-time of the whole creation, then in the Spirit the charismatic quickening of one’s own body is already experienced even now. In the experience of the Spirit, the spring of life begins to flow in us again. We begin to flower and become fruitful. An undreamt-of love for life awakens in us, driving out the bacillus of resignation, and healing painful remembrances. We go to meet life expecting the rebirth of everything that lives, and with this expectation we experience our own rebirth, and the rebirth we share with everything else.
• Locations 1357-1365, Kindle Edition