Tag Archives: Timothy Tennent

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).

WHAT IS SPECIAL REVELATION?

moses-on-sinai

The lingering external / physical evidence of a Creator and internal / psychological evidence of a moral law and spiritual yearning within mankind are examples of General Revelation – passive evidence of the divine, available to all. Yet, such clues alone will never lead one to a full knowledge of the Christian God and associated doctrines of soteriology (salvation), especially in light of our fallen nature.

Following the concept of ‘dimensional beyondness,’ that God is not just quantitatively different than mankind but also qualitatively, we do not have the ability to directly observe God with our unaided senses. The Bible describes God as spirit, invisible, dwelling in a spiritual realm, and unable to be directly looked upon without the experience ending our lives.

How then can we possibly draw close enough to God to perceive his true nature? We can’t. “Humans cannot reach up to investigate God and would not understand even if they could.” (Erickson 1998). He has to reveal himself to us. Thankfully, God values relationships with his creation and has condescended to both interact with us and provide us with information, without which we would arguably be an ignorant species on the brink of extinction.

As stated before, revelation is better thought of as an unveiling or uncovering. Whereas General Revelation is passive, Special or Particular Revelation describes a unique moment in time and space where God reveals a part of himself: perhaps his power, or character, or wisdom, or moral requirements. The God who is above, other than, and pre-existent to our cosmos in some way enters into our finite world.

A simple example is found in Exodus 31, when Yahweh speaks to Moses on Mount Sinai. “When he had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, he gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). Not only did God verbally speak to Moses, he also left behind a personal writing sample! Later, through the process of inscripturation, this event became recorded for posterity in the Law / Books of Moses / Pentateuch.

Both the specific historical events (God personally writing the Decalogue / Ten Commandments on stone tablets on Mount Sinai) and the written records (what we now call the book of Exodus describing God’s actions as well as what he wrote down) are instances of an unveiling that allows us to experience the divine presence or some divine truth – Special Revelation. The compiled and accurately transmitted written records, or ‘sacred writings,’ are what we call Scripture.

Thus, Christians do not worship Pascal’s “God of the philosophers,” a “generic God or the mere concept of God in some vague, philosophical mist … [we] worship God as he has been revealed in his particulars.” (Tennent 2007).