Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holy Spirit in the World Today - Part 1(a)

I sat down tonight to attempt to put something in writing about the conference in Holy Trinity Brompton on the Holy Spirit in the World today,. This might just be one of the most significant conferences I have ever attended, alongside TACF's International Leaders School which I have blogged on before.

Lots of things have happened to me over the last seven years for a purpose. I still can't believe how I ended up with a theology degree in what started off as the most random of circumstances. I still pinch myself that we actually took the plunge and moved in quite scary circumstances to a challenging situation and not one we would every have voluntarily put ourselves in (we felt strangely reassured by an external psychological assessment for ministry accreditation reporting that we were indeed in a testing cross-cultural situation and needed supported in this!) I'm constantly amazed with how much more I love God as I have thrown myself on him in ways I could only imagine before, in that "safe place".

Anyway, I digress.
Let me begin with some reflections on the first half of Thursday. (too much for one post!)

It was so good to know no less than five people there - the Scottish contingent! - we all studied at the same institution, so for the general part of our degrees we had studied quite a bit of Moltmann in Christology and I had read a little of Volf on exclusion. I wasn't familiar at all with Prof David Ford, but I am now, for he indeed rocked. More about the other participants later.

At this point I need to acknowledge the fantastically detailed write up from another delegate - Jonathan Evens (blogging here) and say a public thanks for permission to plagarise his words!

The day got off to the best possible start with a wonderful homily from Rowan Williams (on Romans 8:14-17, 22) in which he spoke of the Holy Spirit as desire or longing to become the new humanity for which we have been created by God. I had never heard him speak before and I was really impressed with the careful use of words - nothing superfluous, nothing overstated, but powerfully presented. Quoting St Symeon - "Come, you who have become yourself desire in me, and have wanted me to desire the unreachable you!" - and Mother Maria Skobtsova - "either Christianity is fire or there is no such thing" - he argued that the Holy Spirit is the desire in us to be where Christ is - God's child - and to become Christ-like - self-emptying. True freedom, he said, is freedom for a full humanity. Full humanity is Christ-shaped. Freedom is kenotic - for self emptying - humanity overwhelmed by the energy of gift.

And then Rowan said something interesting (I remember talking about this on Jan 3rd in a sermon) - waiting for the Holy Spirit is not a passive activity, it requires movement, active desiring and longing.

Ken Costa (author of God At Work) was up next. He talked of his theological background at Cambridge and his longstanding desire to see a conference like this happen. He shared more of his personal journey of pneumatology influencing him in the world of work. Jonathan Evans records that his friends saw Costa's talk as a necessary one for those who tend to view the Spirit as primarily working through the Church. I am reminded a little of Darrell Cosden's (a previous lecturer of mine) two books on theology and work.

Moltmann, like Williams, was simply wonderful. I can't believe that I got to hear him as I wouldn't imagine, at the age of 84, that he travels to the UK regularly! A brief initial interview by Costa revealed the humanity which informs his theology (although Kilmarnock got a bit of a bashing: Moltmann was imprisoned there during WWII) and then he spoke on 'The Church in the power of the Spirit'.

His perspective is a European theological voice not commonly heard in Church debates within the UK which is informed by the destruction of state Christianity that occured in Europe following the First World War but which is only slowly occuring in the UK. As a result, he is comfortable seeing the Spirit's initiative in and the need for the Church to ally itself with human rights organisations and Greenpeace, alliances over which much of the UK Church still agonises or resists. He emphasised the extent to which his theology had been a response to world events - The Theology of Hope was a response to Germany after the War and The Crucified Christ a response to the assassination of Martin Luther King - and an attempt to resource the Church for ministering in the light of those events.

'Think globally, act locally' is a lesson that the Church can inhabit and so he began with stories of the Church in Germany and his own church of St Jacob's Tübingen. His denomination has moved from being a church for the people (religious caretaking) where people attended their parish church and did not even think of travelling to attend other churches nearby, to become an inviting, participatory community church of the people where the gifts of all are trusted. The opposite of poverty and property, he argued, is community because in community we discover our true wealth the spirit of solidarity through which all our needs can be met. Such spirit-filled communities are seen in the fulfilling of Joel's prophecy at Pentecost and the descriptions of the Jerusalem Church in Acts. Such spirit-filled communities are bridgeheads to new life on earth where righteousness will dwell.

Interestingly he commented on how his church continued to grow when the longstanding charismatic pastor retired, as many other people preached and led services. He specifically mentioned that new things happened in the church as they were "led from below". This was his local concrete example of a church in the power of the spirit.

He posited three paradigms of Church - the hierarchical, the hierarchical community and the charismatic community - which equated to the Father above us, Christ with us, and the Spirit within us. The Church is come of age, he suggested, so we are no longer just God's servants or his children but, his friends. Peace with God, however, makes us restless in the world and a revolutionary Christiaity will both call the world evil and seek to change it, ultimately by reconciling the cosmos. The Spirit of God is no respector of social distinctions which divide us and awakens democratic energies for a new humanity.

On a personal note, had I not read a word of his writings, I would have been able to pick up on Moltmann's political leanings, for they came out quite strongly. He may be 84, but that didn't stop him putting what I think was gentle pressure on Ken Costa in the Q & A session when feepaying (Christian?) schools were mentioned. I think "red Scotland" felt more than a little support for his view that state schools should have as much access to quality education! That it isnt fair for people with money to have access to better education. Amen! (I write as a former secondary school teacher).

I want to reflect a little more on Moltmann and Volf in terms of religious pluralism and the activity I was engaged in during the first half of the week - what makes my denomination distinctive?

Tomorrow (or soon) the second half of Day one of the conference.....


  1. Anonymous8:49 PM

    wowza. moltmann sounded quite like bonhoeffer there... sounds like a great time lynn. looking forward to hearing more in your blogs xx han xx

  2. Great to read your reflections and the additional emphases that you have picked up on. I think you characterise Rowan really well - nothing superfluous, nothing overstated. Look forward to reading the rest of your reflections.

  3. Heya Han, yeah, JM referred to Bonhoeffer once or twice as did a couple of other speakers (G Tomlin?) - Jonathan might remember more - so his theological reflections were warmly recalled on several occasions.

    Thanks for your encouraging comment Jonathan and welcome to the crazy world of a theologically trained children and family pastor..a dangerous concept, eh?
    I had never heard RW speak and so I was really struck by his use of words. I loved Jane's talk (and getting on the platform LOL!) so I can't wait to write that up.Thanks for the gentle nudge. I will do part 1(b) just now.

  4. David Ford said that Bonhoeffer was an excellent example of a theologian who was wise and creative in his retrieval of the past and of scripture, in his engagement with God, Church and the World, in his disciplined thinking, and in his communication through a range of mediums.

  5. thanks for this J.
    I'm on a day off tomorrow so wil try and write up Jane's homily. It was excellent - and she got all the women up on the platform!!


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