Tag Archives: Reformation

HOW THE REFORMATION NEGLECTED THE HOLY SPIRIT

The following are excerpts from a chapter on pneumatology from Timothy C. Tennent’s excellent book, Theology in the Context of World Christianity:

“The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of Scripture, ecclesiology, and Christology are clearly reflected in the post-Reformation attempt to systematize the theological deposit of the Reformers. However, this meant that, as was the case during the patristic period, a full development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was delayed and several vital aspects of his person and work were neglected in post-Reformation Protestant theology in the West. Over time, several major theological traditions developed that either denied completely or extremely limited the active role of the Holy Spirit in performing miracles, divine healing, demonic deliverance, prophecy, tongue-speaking, and other elements that later became central features of the Pentecostal doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For example, this tendency is evident in many expressions of Reformed theology as well as in the later nineteenth-century emergence of dispensationalism …” (Tennent 2007, 171).

“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 inquiry – 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.

Biblical evangelicalism has challenged this worldview by insisting that God has supernaturally broken through this wall in the incarnation and that knowledge of the unseen world has been provided by the certainty of divine revelation. Evangelicals argued that through prayer we can have sustained communication and fellowship with God. The problem with this approach is that the basic two-tiered universe of the Enlightenment worldview remains intact. It has merely been modified so that Christians punch a few holes in the wall to provide a framework whereby God can come into the empirical world through the incarnation and revelation and we, in turn, can have access to the unseen world through prayer. The basic separation is left unchallenged …” (Tennent, 178).

“The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the “not yet” of the kingdom into the “already” of our fallen world. All the future realities of the kingdom are now fully available to all believers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Doctrines of cessationism or partial cessationism are, in the final analysis, detrimental concessions to an Enlightenment worldview that has unduly influenced the church with its naturalistic presuppositions…” (Tennent, 179).

H IS FOR HERESY?

Heresy

“It seems to be a general feature of the history of Christian thought that a period of genuine creativity is immediately followed by a petrification and scholasticism, as the insights of a pioneering thinker or group of thinkers are embodied in formulae or confessions…” (McGrath 1986, 151).

“A major principle of the Reformation was reformata et semper reformanda – reformed and always reforming. How is continuing reform of evangelical faith and life possible if being evangelical requires firm adherence to a humanly devised cognitive structure of doctrinal content?” (Olson 2002, 39).

I have a deep respect and admiration for theoretical physics. I find that field fascinating. To me, systematic theology and theoretical physics represent the highest intellectual achievements of mankind – the first in regards to Special Revelation and the second in regards to General Revelation.

Christian theologians could learn a lot from theoretical physicists.

In physics, my perception is that scientists stand on the shoulders of giants and collaborate over decades through rigorous, meticulous research. Hypotheses become theories and theories become laws. New discoveries upend or expand previous understanding of the cosmos. Concepts such as falsifiability, replicating experiments, and using theoretical models to make accurate predictions are of one fabric with the scientific method.

However, when it comes to theology, we tend to find lone theologians creating their own systematic theologies, or we find many others accepting the party line of a particular ancient creed or confession. Some act as if the last word on theology was decided in the 1500s by a handful of white, European males. Certainly subsequent centuries of archeology, manuscript evidence, and language studies can shed no additional light on our beliefs (sarcasm).

It is in this spirit that I embark on reading three different books that espouse what I would have in earlier years considered heretical and false outright, based on their differing views from what I was taught at home and in church. Each of these books has had an impact or received high praise, even from those who do not agree. I endeavor to challenge myself and be exposed to contrary ideas with an open mind and without fear.

The books are:

1. ‘Most Moved Mover’ by Clark Pinnock

This book advocates open theism, which is contrary to what I am discovering to be my Classical Arminian leanings. I was raised, without knowing it, with an Arminian perspective (although not Classical Arminian). However, recalling conversations with my father, who was also the pastor of my church, I see that he actually embraced some openness without explicitly identifying it that way.

2. ‘Kingdom Come’ by Sam Storms

This book advocates amillennialism, which is contrary to my Mid-Trib / Pre-Wrath eschatological leanings. I had accepted the doctrine of the Rapture as a given for many years until I started studying the Bible for myself and found no support for it. I currently do not believe in any kind of “rapture” nor the doctrine of imminency.

3. ‘The Fire That Consumes’ by Edward Fudge

This book advocates annihilationism, which is contrary to my traditional views on eternal suffering in the final judgment. Technically, the author labels his view as ‘conditionalist.’ My interest in this topic was piqued when I realized that the Bible describes the lake of fire as eternal, and that Satan and his angels will suffer for eternity there, and that the unregenerate will also go there… but it did not clearly state that the unregenerate will also suffer for eternity there! Hmmm…

semper reformanda!