Book Review by Andy Lord: The Holy Spirit and Practical Theology

November 19th, 2015 by Enoch Charles

Mark J. Cartledge, The Mediation of the Spirit: Interventions in Practical Theology, Pentecostal Manifesto Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015) xv + 174 pp. Paperback, $29.00, ISBN: 9780802869555

Renewal is inherently practical and theological. It is about how individuals and communities encounter the Holy Spirit of Pentecost and then reflect on what is going on in the light of Scripture. Reflection both motivates and follows divine encounters and move Christians on in the way of salvation. Such reflection takes many forms with different approaches focusing on the historical, biblical, theological and missional aspects. In The Mediation of the Spirit, Mark Cartledge offers us renewal wisdom within the discipline of practical theology. Here is a practical, pneumatological, biblical, and salvational approach that builds on his many years of reflection and writing on the subject. It repays close study and promises fresh life for renewal in the church.

Practical theology as a discipline has its champions and detractors. Personally I’ve enjoyed placing the practice of renewal in local church settings alongside more systematic and mission approaches. Sometimes the lack of depth to the biblical, pneumatological and ecclesial reflection in practical theology limits its help in renewing and re-visioning churches for the future. One of this books great strengths is to articulate clearly such limitations and is addressed to those practising practical theology. It provides “interventions” to that discipline that point ways forward. If followed, it promises a greater renewal contribution that will be of wide benefit both inside and outside the movement.

A divide between practical theology and biblical studies is identified and seen to reflect a similar divide that is being overcome between systematic theology and biblical studies. Divisions between disciplines are particularly problematic for practical theology in which practice is always multifaceted, engaging a variety of disciplines. What is needed is a practical theological reading of Scripture that overcomes the divide. Cartledge argues that this will be hermeneutically reflexive, being up-front about our starting points; pay attention to the explicit or implicit praxis of communities and individuals described or inferred in the text; pay attention to the agency and the relationship between different agents in the text; will treat the text as holistic, hearing the varied voices present; and will bring contemporary questions and issues emerging from lived reality to the text. This is a holistic relational approach that also reminds us that renewal is personal, varied and connected.

Experience is at the heart of practical theology and yet it is a slippery concept to pin down. Cartledge shows that practical theology often has little to say about the theological nature of the experience being examined. This is particularly the case when the experience relates to the work of the Holy Spirit where the narratives used to explain experience in terms of pneumatology are only given cursory attention. What is needed is a more theologically astute and pneumatologically aware approach to reflecting on experience. Without this practical theology is reduced to more practical, secular and humanistic insights that may be of value but miss what those experiencing the Holy Spirit know is the main thing. There is a reminder here that renewal is not simply about experience but also theology which keeps us tied to the knowledge and working of God.

This is where a Pentecostal-charismatic intervention can be most usefully made to the discipline of practical theology. Key to his, Cartledge argues, is the concept of the mediation of the Spirit. This is developed to allow a deeper way into the understanding of “experience” and encourages the situation of practical theology within the intratrinitarian ministry of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Basic to this is the understanding that all experience of the Holy Spirit is mediated rather than “direct and unmediated” as it is often spoken of within renewal circles. Here Cartledge develops a strong case for mediation from within pentecostal and wider Protestant theology, without having to ignore the reality of spiritual power. In this he picks up the notion of concursus, as developed in a pentecostal direction by Joshua Reichard, as a way of affirming both the reception of spiritual power and human agency. This allows for a creative and varied approach to understanding the experience of renewal that is theologically rooted. More than this, Cartledge then engages with Scripture, in line with his practical approach, to examine mediation in Acts. He argues that “in Scripture we have a model for understanding the relationship between religious experience and pneumatology, and that it is inextricably connected to ecclesiology” (89). Thus experience, Scripture, theology and ecclesiology are brought together through the theme of mediation. Key in this are five propositions: that Christ mediates the Holy Spirit to the church; the Holy Spirit mediates Christ and the Father to the church; creation mediates the Holy Spirit to the church; the church mediates the Holy Spirit internally (via individuals, groups, worship and practices); and the church mediates the Holy Spirit externally (via individuals, groups, public worship, and practices) (109). This brings to the fore the study of ecclesial communities and their worship to practical theology as well as the interplay between such communities, Scripture and experience of the Holy Spirit.

This is a big picture approach that seeks to integrate the different threads that are often glimpsed in practical theology studies. It challenges all in renewal to seek a larger and more connected view of what is going on as the Holy Spirit works in our midst. The strength of this work is the broad challenge given to stretch our practices and theological reflection. At the same time it represents a weakness in the books lack of more specific examples. The book clearly aims at giving specific but higher level interventions that challenge the discipline of practical theology rather than being a practical theological study itself. Yet it does seek two more particular examples through re-examining an existing congregational study in the light of the approach to mediation suggested, and through exploring how the vital pentecostal theme of soteriology might be better approached in practical theology studies. Cartledge’s summary of understandings of salvation is of great value in itself as well as being part of this wider study. So although limited in scope these examples give hints of productive ways forward in the consideration of Scripture, pneumatology and ecclesial practices within practical theology. They also challenge renewal to be more deeply Scriptural, theological and ecclesial in practice.

The book finishes with a manifesto on practical theology that gives a strong and varied agenda for future studies. So might I find myself jumping more into practical theology? The evidence mounted here gives strong support that would encourage anyone to get involved. Yet it also gives a strong case for developing biblical, theological and interdisciplinary studies (if less strong on the missional side). So maybe it is more a case of letting the Holy Spirit mediate the call and empowerment for reflection, study and practice as He wills in our lives. This study is an important one and will be fruitful as we allow it to be a vehicle for the Spirit’s renewing work in all that we are and do.

Andy Lord

Nottingham, UK

Book Review: The Wisdom of the Spirit

September 22nd, 2015 by Mark Cartledge

Martyn Percy and Pete Ward, eds., The Wisdom of the Spirit: Gospel, Church and Culture, Contemporary Ecclesiology series (Farnham, UK, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing, 2014). xii + 216 pp. Hardback, $104.95, ISBN: 9781472435651.

Only a close reading of the back-cover endorsements, the inside-front-cover-flap description, or the table of contents will make clear what the title of the book does not: that this is a festschrift for Andrew Walker, Emeritus Professor of Theology, Culture & Education at King’s College London and Ecumenical Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Walker burst on the theological scene thirty years ago with his sociological and theological study, Restoring the Kingdom: The Radical Christianity of the House Church Movement (Hodder & Stoughtoon, 1985), which by now has gone into multiple reprintings and editions, and since then he has been at the forefront of the sociology of religion in general and the sociology of Christianity in particular, engaged in ongoing exploration of new forms of the Christian faith especially in Western Europe in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and guiding and directing doctoral researchers in these and related areas. The contributors to this honorary volume include a few former students and a who’s who of those working on contemporary ecclesiological trends, broadly understood, particularly in the United Kingdom (besides the editors: Alister McGrath, Keith Chappell, William Kay, James Heard, Kirstin Aune, Robert Warner, Dave Tomlinson, Nigel Wright, David Martin, and American Methodist theologian and philosopher, William Abraham). The volume concludes with an interview of Walker by David Hilborn, although unfortunately it lacks the honoree’s bibliography of published writings.

Readers of this blog will not be motivated to purchase the book for their personal library because of the exorbitant prices of Ashgate hardback monographs, but those working in the arena of renewal studies will want at some point, sooner better than later, to look at it carefully. If Walker’s primary, even if by no means singular, contribution emerged at what might he understood in historical hindsight as one of the crests of renewalist waves on the British scene in the mid-1980s – he may have been led down this scholarly path in part as a recovering pentecostal preacher’s kid and adult convert to Orthodoxy – then the scholarship that seeks to build on and extend his reach since has been able not only to apply the tools he so expertly deployed (Walker being one of the first to foray in an interdisciplinary manner, combining sociology and theology primarily, into the contemporary study of the church, what is now known as congregational studies), but to also track the sociological unfolding – or ebbing and flowing – of trajectories charted over the last three decades. Scholars of renewalism will especially appreciate two related aspects of this book: that various case studies update the whence from and perhaps where to of church movements barely incipient at or (some slightly) antedating Walker’s groundbreaking study (including Roman Catholic charismatic renewal, classical Pentecostal denominations, the Alpha program, the house churches, etc.), and that of more sociologically informed but nevertheless non-reductionist assessments of evangelical Christianity in its various permutations looking into the latter part of the second decade of this third millennium (e.g., the post-evangelicalism phenomenon, current trends in evangelical theology, fatherhood in evangelical Christianity). In a number of instances, the tone of analysis is sober: the heyday of Evangelicalism in the British world lies in the past, and movements of renewal, revival, and restoration will need to creatively and courageously engage in and with an uncertain future.

Scholars of global renewal ought not to minimize the relevance of a book focused on renewalism in the British context as if to believe that majority world and other globalization dynamics will prove these nay-sayers wrong like they currently appear to have promoters of the secularization thesis half a century ago. Most if not all of the contributors to this volume, like Walker, are committed to the church and in that respect, are not heralds of Evangelicalism’s (which is inclusive for the varied and many movements discussed in the volume) demise for the sake of wanting to conduct a quick burial, but seek through their analyses to probe about the nature of Christian faith and what that might look like precisely through the transnational and postmodern flows that characterize our contemporary global village. In the end, then, there is something subtly at work in the title of the book that gestures to its quest – the path of inquiry precipitated by Walker and now pursued upon by those who have written appreciatively in his wake – for a fresh breeze of the divine wind that might enable the church to emerge anew from out of the present malaise. Readers of The Wisdom of the Spirit may thus be in a better position than others to innovate forms of the gospel for the next generation.

Amos Yong

Professor of Theology & Mission

Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California

The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life: A Review of the Inaugural Volume of CHARIS

February 11th, 2015 by L. William Oliverio Jr.

ShowJacketThe Holy Spirit and the Christian Life: Historical, Interdisciplinary, and Renewal Perspectives. CHARIS: Christianity and Renewal – Interdisciplinary Studies 1. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), edited by Wolfgang Vondey. ISBN 978-1-137-37812-5. 

A compilation of eleven essays, The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life is the inaugural volume of a new series titled CHARIS: Christianity and Renewal-Interdiscplinary Studies. This series, with its interdisciplinary focus, joins several other existing series on pentecostal and charismatic, or renewal, studies, that have been published by a high quality academic press, in this case Palgrave Macmillan. CHARIS is edited by Wolfgang Vondey (Regent University) and Amos Yong (Fuller Seminary), two leading theologians from the charismatic-pentecostal guild who have utilized interdisciplinary approaches in their own writings. Vondey edits, introduces and provides a conclusion to this volume, while Yong offers an afterword. Although some might have the impression that interdisciplinary projects necessitate breaking with traditions, the historical emphasis of this collection demonstrates otherwise! Read the rest of this entry »

February 5th, 2015 by Diane Chandler

I am so excited to invite you to The Holy Spirit & Christian Formation Conference to be held at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia over Fri. and Sat., March 20-21, 2015! Sponsored by the Regent Center for Renewal Studies with the support of the Regent University School of Divinity, the School of Psychology and Counseling, and the College of Arts and Sciences, the conference will draw those within the church and the Christian academy.

With a renewal of interest in Christian formation blossoming within the church, the Christian academy and published literature, what is readily apparent is that the Christian life is integrated and holistic in nature, as directed by the Holy Spirit, yet requiring our cooperation. This conference will address several dimensions of Christian formation: spiritual, ethical, emotional, relational, intellectual, vocational, and physical health and wellness.

How does the Holy Spirit shape us into the image of Jesus?Renewal Dynamics graphic

What is the role of the emotions and psychological well-being related to overcoming emotional wounds and gaining emotional freedom?

What role do relationships in the family, friendship, and the body of Christ play in shaping believers into Christlikeness?

How does intellectual formation (i.e., the mind) contribute to Christian formation?

Why does one’s sense of life purpose and calling impact vocational development and direction?

Why is care of the physical body a vital component of Christian formation?

Four plenary speakers will address key topics relating to Christian formation. Best-selling author and protégé of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, James Bryan Smith will address spiritual formation. Psychologist M. Elizabeth Hall will address the role of suffering in emotional formation. Stanley Hauerwas will discuss how the Holy Spirit ethically develops believers as it relates to holiness. Stephen G. Post’s presentation will focus on the pneumatology of health and healing related to the body, mind, and spirit within the context of godly love. Plus over thirty parallel paper sessions likewise will address strategic formational dimensions.

For more information and to register, go to The Holy Spirit & Christian Formation website. The early bird registration deadline is Feb. 15. So register today!

The Mountain of Faith

July 20th, 2014 by Wolfgang Vondey

In Matthew 17:20, Jesus promises that “if you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Who doesn’t wish to have that kind of faith? The problem is, nowhere in Scripture do we find anyone moving a mountain. There is no record in history, that anybody ever moved a mountain. Jesus is not speaking about moving literal mountains–Jesus is speaking about spiritual mountains.

We all have mountains in our lives that need to be moved. Watch the video below and follow Moses as a guide up the mountain to learn how to move the mountains in your life and what it takes to have faith as a mustard seed. Your mountain will probably still be there, after these 30 minutes, but I pray that the word of God will give you hope, courage, and determination to change your circumstances and to learn that the only way to move a mountain is up!


The Holy Spirit, Renewal, and Interdisciplinarity

May 7th, 2014 by Wolfgang Vondey

ShowJacketThe idea of interdisciplinarity is widely debated among a number of disciplines. The recent study of renewal, understood in the broadest sense as the study of manifestations of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, has not yet defined itself in interdisciplinary terms. Publications with focus on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life, pentecostalism, charismatic movements and other realms of renewal that invite and engage interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, exist only in the early stages. Can we afford this neglect? If the question asked by Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” is: “nowhere,” does this not suggest that manifestations of the Spirit of God can be found potentially in all places of life? My answer, of course, is, yes! And yet, to say that the Spirit of God is present everywhere is far from saying that we encounter the Spirit everywhere. What then are potential directions for interdisciplinary study of renewal?

Read the rest of this entry »