Theological Signs of the Times: Catholic – Evangelical Convergence?

789488I was privileged to receive my PhD this past Saturday at St Basil’s Church on the campus of St. Michael’s College here in Toronto.   After six years of hard work, and numerous hurdles to clear, it was nice to have that final piece of the puzzle and say that I am truly finished.

Honourary doctorates were given to two fine Catholic scholars, Father James K. McConica, CSB, and Father Robert M. Doran, SJ.   Doran, currently at Marquette and a former member of the faculty at Regis College, gave the address.  He focused on what he called “theological signs of the times” for Catholic theology in the 21st Century.   As he spoke I was struck at how two of the three major tasks he identified for Catholic theology could just as easily be said to be major tasks for evangelical theology at the present time.

The first point he raised was more specifically Catholic, and focused on the integration of major theological insights from the second half of the 20th century.  He focused on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, and Gustavo Gutiérrez:

“How does our discipline integrate Balthasar’s restoration of beauty as a transcendental and as the way in which the truth and goodness of God are disclosed to us, with Lonergan’s openness to modern science, modern critical-historical scholarship, modern philosophy, and the post-modern welcome of the religious “other”? That in itself is a tall order. But then there is the further and larger task of implementing that integrated intellectual vision in the service of the Church’s preferential option for the poor.”

While “integration” is an ongoing concern in evangelical theology (integrating theology and practice), clearly the kind of integration he is talking about here is more specific to Catholics, and involves a concern to bring integrate these important insights into the magisterial teaching of the chruch.

His second point, however, is one that remains a major issue in Western theology in general: the theology of the Holy Spirit:

“The need for a developed pneumatology is present already in the insistence of Vatican II and of Pope John Paul II that the gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active beyond the explicit boundaries of Christian belief. Those affirmations of the Council and of the Pope are doctrinal statements. Theology has yet to explain how this can be and to unravel the implications of these statements for the whole of Christian comportment in the contemporary world…”

St._Basil's_Church via wikimediaEvangelicals have likewise neglected the theology of the Spirit, and yet the increasing importance of the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions in global Christianity is forcing all of us to give more attention to pneumatology.  Doran’s particular concern seems to be bringing pneumatology to bear on Catholicism’s inclusive understanding of the way in which the Spirit is at work in those who are not Christians.   As a Wesleyan, I immediately thought of the category of prevenient grace as my own tradition’s approach to this issue.  In Wesleyan thinking, God’s grace is basically understood as the loving presence of the Spirit.  Prevenient grace is our term for the grace of God which “goes before” and precedes personal faith.  Prevenient grace, we believe, is at work in all people, drawing them to Christ.  Wesleyans, therefore, certainly have a category for thinking along these lines.  However, much work remains to be done, especially in making the connections between prevenient grace and the  presence of the Holy Spirit more explicit.

Doran’s final point is one which has become almost a fixation for many evangelical theologians today:

“There is need…for our theology to become a theology of mission, and especially a theology of missio Dei, of divine mission as grounding all ecclesial mission. The mission of the Church participates in and carries forward the missions of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Every theological topic – God, Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, grace, revelation, creation, anthropology, original sin, personal and social sin, redemption, sacraments, church, social grace, praxis, resurrection, eternal life – has to be integrated into a theology of divine mission and of ecclesial mission as a participant in the missions of the Holy Spirit and of the Son.”

07_063161At Tyndale Seminary we have quite explicitly been attempting to do this very thing: to place the entire project of theological education in a missional framework.  We still have a long way to go – at least I know I do!  But Doran’s statement above could be taken up by our theology department with very little alteration as a statement of our current agenda.

Of course all of this needs a lot of unpacking, but I mention these broad themes because I was quite encouraged by Doran’s talk.  I strongly identified with his concerns and the challenges he believes Catholic theology is facing, and sense that many evangelicals are attempting to face the same issues, in our own way.  If these are indeed “signs of the times,” then they may be signs of what God is doing across the Evangelical-Catholic divide.

You can read Doran’s address here.

A “greater effusion of the Holy Spirit”: Isaac Hecker’s hopes for renewal

Hecker via wikimedia commonsIn one of William Booth’s songs, he famously penned the line, “We want another Pentecost.”   Booth and his holiness movement counterparts placed a heavy emphasis on the Holy Spirit in their preaching, teaching, praying, and worshipping – an emphasis that David Rightmire has termed a “pneumatological priority” (see his article in the most recent Wesleyan Theological Journal and his book, Sacraments and The Salvation Army).

As I’ve noted here before, my dissertation compares the Booth and Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers, a Roman Catholic movement from the same time period.   Although the two men are quite different in many ways, Hecker’s theology could also be said to evidence a certain “pneumatological priority.”

Hecker was possessed by a life-long quest for the renewal of human society.   He came to believe that societal renewal could only be achieved if individuals were renewed, and that such individual renewal could only come through religion.  As a devout Catholic, he believed that the Catholic faith was the one true religion, and therefore placed the Catholic Church at the heart of his vision for social renewal.

His particular emphasis on the direct work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals, however, was somewhat unique among Catholic authors of his day.  While he drew on traditional Catholic sources, his particular way of emphasizing the Spirit’s direct work went against the grain of the majority of Catholics in his day, and raised some eyebrows.   He put the Spirit’s work in the individual Christian at the centre of his vision of renewal.  As John Farina has summarized, for Hecker, “The cure for the world’s problems was Spirit-filled individuals” (An American Experience of God: The Spirituality of Isaac Hecker, 150).

Hecker via bustedhaloHowever, unlike Booth, Hecker was keen to safeguard against potential fanaticism by grounding the immediate work of the Spirit upon individuals in the external authority of the church, which he also credited to the Spirit’s presence.

These twin emphases are abundantly clear in his book The Church and the Age.  Of individual renewal by the Spirit, Hecker writes:

The renewal of the age depends on the renewal of religion. The renewal of religion depends upon a greater effusion of the creative and renewing power of the Holy Spirit. The greater effusion of the Holy Spirit depends on the giving of increased attention to His movements and inspirations in the soul. The radical and adequate remedy for all the evils of our age, and the source of all true progress, consist in increased attention and fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul (The Church and the Age, 26).

The other side of the Spirit’s two-fold action, however, is found in the church’s external authority.

The action of the Holy Spirit embodied visibly in the authority of the Church, and the action of the Holy Spirit dwelling invisibly in the soul, form one inseparable synthesis; and he who has not a clear conception of this twofold action of the Holy Spirit is in danger of running into one or the other, and sometimes into both, of these extremes, either of which is destructive of the end of the Church (Ibid., 33).

Hecker 2 via wikimedia commonsOf course, most Protestants will note that individual discernment of the Spirit’s voice often comes into conflict with the discernment of those in ecclesial authority.  Church life is often filled with these types of conflict, and this raises questions about Hecker’s claim of an “inseparable synthesis” between the Spirit’s action in individuals and in the church’s authority structures.   When push comes to shove, how do we know which side is really hearing the voice of the Spirit?  As we would expect, Hecker takes the traditional Catholic line:

From the above plain truths the following practical rule of conduct may be drawn. The Holy Spirit is the immediate guide of the soul in the way of salvation and sanctification; and the criterion, or test, that the soul is guided by the Holy Spirit, is its ready obedience to the authority of the Church. This rule removes all danger whatever, and with it the soul can walk, run, or fly, if it chooses, in the greatest safety and with perfect liberty, in the ways of sanctity (Ibid., 35).

In spite of his clear affirmations of the ultimate authority of the church over individual believers, Hecker was still accused of leaning too much towards Protestantism by some of his contemporaries.  While these concerns were probably overblown (as we might expect in the nineteenth century, given the state of Protestant-Catholic relations), he certainly shared a “pneumatological priority” with William Booth and his contemporaries, and some of his writings seem to point to a desire for “another Pentecost.”

A Hymn for Ascension Day

One of my favourite Charles Wesley hymns is “Arise my Soul, Arise.”  Originally published in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1742, it was included as no. 194 in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780).

The hymn emphasizes the assurance that comes from knowing that the sufficient once-for-all sacrifice of Christ is forever made effective through the ongoing high priestly work of the same ascended Lord, who intercedes on our behalf continually.   Assurance, therefore, comes not from an inner feeling or from self-examination but from the objective reality of Christ’s fully sufficient work on our behalf.  This assurance is communicated to us through the testimony of the Spirit, who assures us of our forgiveness and adoption specifically by witnessing to the very same saving work of Christ for us.

Scripturally, the hymn recalls several passages from Hebrews, notably 4:14-5:10, and chapter 10:1-25.

I grew up singing this to the tune “Darwall” (better known for “Rejoice the Lord is King), but online I’ve heard a number of other arrangements, including some new tunes.   You can find a nice one by Kevin Twit on the Indelible Grace hymn site, here.

1 Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears,
The bleeding sacrifice
In my behalf appears;
Before the throne my surety stands;
My name is written on his hands.
2 He ever lives above
For me to intercede,
His all-redeeming love,
His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.
3 Five bleeding wounds he bears,
Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers,
They strongly speak for me;
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry,
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
4 The Father hears him pray,
His dear anointed one,
He cannot turn away

The presence of his Son:
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me, I am born of God.
5 My God is reconciled,
His pard’ning voice I hear,
He owns me for his child,
I can no longer fear;
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And Father, Abba Father, cry!

Notes on Spirit and Institution in the Church

How are we to describe the relationship between the Spirit and ecclesial institutions? Is it Spirit against institution?  Spirit in tension with institution?  Spirit enlivening institution?  Spirit in institution?  Some combination of these?  I’m wrestling through this question right now in my dissertation, and was blessed to have an opportunity to lecture on the topic last week at Wycliffe.  The following thoughts are taken from my my lecture notes.

The church is necessarily institutional.  An institution is simply a stable set of social relations practiced among an identifiable group of people.  In order for the church to persist in time and “take up space” in history, it must be institutional.  We must beware the cultural baggage we bring to the term “institution.”  We live in a time of extreme skepticism regarding social institutions.  We as Christians have been formed in a society which encourages us to believe the myth that we should, as autonomous individuals, resist all institutional authority.  This is, of course, impossible and impracticable.

We must avoid the errors of triumphalism and spiritualism.  A triumphalist church presumes upon the Spirit’s presence and blessing, identifying the church with the Spirit.  A spiritualist church denigrates the institutional reality of the church in favour of a disembodied “spiritual” church.

The Spirit and ecclesial institutions must be distinguished but not opposed, just as nature and grace must be distinguished but not opposed. As nature is the milieu of God’s gracious action, so also human institutions are the milieu for God’s pneumatic / charismatic action.

We cannot identify the Spirit with ecclesial institutions. The Spirit stands over and against ecclesial institutions, as Christ stands over and against the church as its Lord and judge.

We cannot oppose the Spirit to ecclesial institutions. There is no “non-institutional” place where the Spirit is “really” at work in people’s lives.  Ecclesial institutions are not the enemy of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit condescends to work in human institutions, as “earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).

The church can never presume upon the Spirit, but must always humbly call upon the Spirit, trusting in the promises of Christ (John 14:15ff) and the Father (Acts 1:4). The institutions in themselves are not endued with power; yet we know that Christ has promised the Spirit to the church, and we know that the church cannot avoid an institutional existence.

While ultimately the Spirit is not dependent upon institution, in the concrete life of the church in history, the two are inextricably interrelated (because the church is institutional in all aspects of its life).

As with human agents, the relationship between the Spirit and ecclesial institutions is not a zero-sum competitive game; the Spirit is the creator and animator of the Church’s institutions in such a way that they remain truly human institutions, while their institutional character is taken up and elevated into something more than a human institution – a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the kingdom of God.

In this way, all ecclesial institutions are charismatic. Just as humans were created in such a way that we cannot reach our divinely-ordered telos without divine grace, so the church as a visible, institutional reality is created in such a way that it cannot be what it has been created to be without concrete bestowal of grace.

Nevertheless, the gifts of the Spirit, which preserve, uphold, and elevate the Church’s institutional life are no guarantee of her faithfulness; the Spirit is not merely a stamp of approval, or a “divine positive energy”, but a divine Person, who carries out judgment  and brings conviction of sin (John 16:8-11), as well as giving life.

Because ecclesial institutions are truly human, they are caught up in the web of sin. Therefore the institutional character of the church can also be turned into something which it is not intended to be; it can become corrupted (and it often is).

In other words, the Spirit’s presence will include acts of both mercy and judgment, wrought in the historical life of the Church.  We can trust that the Spirit will be among us, but that should encourage a sure trust and confidence in God, and a humble watchfulness on our own part (rather than presumption on our part).

All the more reason to embrace the reformation call for a church which is reformed and always reforming. A constant repentance – an institutional turning away from sin and toward God – should mark the church’s corporate life.

Love: the greatest gift or something greater?

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well-known passages of scripture. Because it is often read at weddings, it is even well known to non-Christians.  Because it is often read on its own, I think many of us think of 1 Corinthians 13 as a stand-alone unit within the Bible.  However, in its context, it actually forms an integral part of Paul’s teaching on charisms.

Paul Kariuki Njiru’s book, Charisms and the Holy Spirit’s Activity in the Body of Christ (Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2002), does a good job of outlining the Paul’s rhetorical structure throughout 1 Corinthians 12 to 14.  He summarizes the overall structure this way:

A Spiritual gifts in general (1 Cor. 12)

B Love as the most excellent way (1 Cor. 13)

A’ Spiritual gifts in particular: prophecy versus tongues (1 Cor. 14)

A more detailed breakdown of the various concentric rhetorical structures within chapters 12-14 is found on page 68.  The bottom line is that the famous “love chapter” is not a stand alone tribute to love in general, nor is it a later interpolation by an unknown editor (as some have suggested), but it is the focal point and climax of Paul’s discussion of charisms.

Paul’s method of writing is very rhetorical, and, by the use of concentric figures, he achieves the effect of emphasizing the importance of love as a regulatory principle in the use of spiritual gifts in the Church.  For the Apostle it is love that must govern the use of all charisms (49).

I think this exegesis is clear enough.  It also raises an interesting question: is Paul presenting love as the pre-eminent of all divine gifts, or is he specifically contrasting transitory gifts with the eternal love of God?

Njiru suggests that Paul is presenting love as “the gift par excellence” (60).  However, the broader consensus seems to be that Paul is intent on making a contrast here between the charismata of chapter 12 and 14 and love.   This comes out particularly in 13:8

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Love, then, is not one gift among others, but that without which the gifts are made void, useless, and even divisive.  It may properly be described as a “fruit” of the Spirit (Galatians 5), but not a charism.  This tells us something important about charisms: they are provisional, rather than enduring.   Part of the problem in Corinth was that they were allowing pride regarding particular charisms to divide their fellowship, thereby showing that they valued charisms above the love that they were to have for one another. 

Ecclesially, if we think of particular communions or traditions within the church as having ecclesial charisms, we can see how 1 Corinthians 12-14 could stand as a rebuke for our divisions.  A particular group within the church which separates from others on the basis of a particular gift or set of gifts is, to take up Paul’s image, like the eye saying to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (12:21).

Charism in the New Testament

I’m currently working on a biblical theology of charisms for my dissertation, and so the obvious place to start is with the New Tesament use of the word charisma and its variants.

I think many are surprised to find that the use of the word is actually quite limited.  There are only 17 occurrences in the entire NT, all in Pauline epistles, except for 1 Peter 4:10 (listed below).

The term seems to be used in two senses: a) as a general term meaning “gratuitous gift,” which describes a blessing of God, and, notably in Romans 5 and 6, is used as a term for salvation; b) as a specific term describing the variety of gifts given to members of the Christian community, each bringing a particular vocational / functional obligation.   This is the way we normally think of “charisma” – but note that it does not necessarily refer to “spectacular” or unusual gifts.  These are gifts given to all, and include, for example, teaching, alongside prophecy and healing.

The other thing to note is Paul’s synonymous use of charisma and dorea in Romans 5.   This calls for a survey of the occurrences of dorea in the NT.   In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul also speaks of the pneumatika in a way that is clearly related to his understanding of the variety of charismata.   Both of these terms overlap somewhat with the concept of chrarisma, but they are also used in different contexts.  Another post would be required to cover all those texts, but for those who might be interested, I’ve got summaries of dorea here and pneumatika here.


Romans 1:11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift (χάρισμα ~ πνευματικὸν) to strengthen you—

Romans 5:15 But the free gift (χάρισμα) is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace (χάρισ) of God and the free gift (δωρεὰ)in the grace (χάριτι) of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

Romans 5:16 And the free gift (δώρεμα) is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift (χάρισμα) following many trespasses brings justification.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift (χάρισμα) of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 11:29 for the gifts (χαρίσματα) and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 12:6 We have gifts (χαρίσματα) that differ according to the grace (χάριν) given to us

1 Corinthians 1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift (χαρίσματι)  as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift (χάρισμα) from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts (χαρισμάτων), but the same Spirit;

1 Corinthians 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing by the one Spirit,

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:30 Do all possess gifts (χαρίσματα) of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

1 Corinthians 12:31 But strive for the greater gifts (χαρίσματα). And I will show you a still more excellent way.

2 Corinthians 1:11 as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing (χάρισμα) granted to us through the prayers of many.

1 Timothy 4:14 Do not neglect the gift (χαρίσματος) that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift (χάρισμα) of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;

1 Peter 4:10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift (χάρισμα) each of you has received.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 7: Charisms as Justification for Separation

One final perspective on charisms which needs to be discussed here is found in Oscar Cullmann’s 1986 book Unity Through Diversity.  Cullmann’s fundamental thesis in this work is that “every Christian confession has a permanent spiritual gift, a charisma, which is should preserve, nurture, purify, and deepen, and which should not be given up for the sake of homogenization” (Unity Through Diversity, 9).  Cullmann is concerned that the frustration of some with an apparent lack of progress towards unity is based on a “false goal” and a false hope of homogenization, which has no basis in the New Testament (14). The goal of unity should rather be a “union of all Christian churches within which each would preserve its valuable elements, including its structure” (15).

In making this argument, Cullmann claims to be drawing upon Paul’s understanding of the Church, which is “entirely based upon this fundamental truth of the variety of charisms” (18).  Basing his argument on the Pauline texts that deal with the charismatic gifts, he argues that unity can exist through diversity, rather than in spite of diversity.  The function of the Spirit in Pauline community is to create diversity, and yet “this does not cause fragmentation, since every member is oriented to the goal of the unity of the whole body” (17).  While he acknowledges that the Pauline image of the body and its parts was not originally intended to apply to churches, he argues that it is consistent with the meaning of Paul’s charismatic theology, and that Paul does, in other places, ascribe various “gifts” to different churches.

I expected to hear more from Cullmann on this point, but his sole support is a reference Romans 1:11 as an example of Paul ascribing a “particular mission to each of the different churches.” He goes on to argue that Paul views the one church to be present in each local church, a point which he believes underscores the idea of a “union of churches” where all are given equal ecclesial status (17).

Cullmann insists that he is not suggesting that things should simple remain as they are between the churches.  He suggests that relations between the churches should proceed on the basis of attempting to speak frankly to one another about the charism or charisms that we see in each other’s traditions (19).  He also notes that there are often “peculiarities” or “distortions” of the charismatic gifts that need to be weeded out by careful self-examination (16).  For example, Cullmann identifies essential charisms of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions as “concentration on the Bible” and “freedom,” but notes that these are often found in their corresponding distorted form biblicism and anarchy (20).

What clearly sets Cullmann apart in his proposals is that he speaks of a charism as being at the root of “every confession,” and that he argues that separation and autonomy might be necessary in order for these charisms to be safeguarded. The sinful element in these historic divisions is not the fact that churches are separate, but the fact that the separations have been hostile, rather than peaceful.

But in order to preserve certain charisms in their pure form, it was perhaps also necessary hat completely autonomous churches came into being (the Orthodox and the churches that derived from the Reformation). This would not necessarily and as such have led to a hostile separation which would have excluded every kind of fellowship (koinonia), the “right hand of fellowship” could have been extended here too, despite the aspect of continuing separation, as at the apostolic council (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:1-31) (31).

What Cullmann is arguing for, then, is a unity in continued separation, in which churches would remain autonomous but share in fellowship through a council or other structure of some kind.

The main thing is the achievement of a koinonia that is a true unity through diversity.  However it is developed as a conciliar organization, it should, without itself being the church as the body of Christ, guarantee unity through the fact that it brings to expression and awareness that in each of the individual churches that belong to it, and with its particular charisms, confessional structure, faith and life, the ONE universal church is present (64).

I’ll finish off this series (finally!) with some concluding thoughts on the typology in my next post.