Salvific Motifs of Renewal Theology

By: Monte Lee Rice
Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

RENEWALTHEOLOGYA notable feature of renewal theology within the ongoing development of Pentecostal scholarship is its construal of Pentecost and pneumatic experience as an epistemological resource that initiates and informs engagement with the human and natural sciences.  In doing so, renewal theology can generate innovative responses to an array of  challenges that threaten human and planetary flourishing and in manners filial to the Christian vision of God’s mission within history and towards creation. But given its methodological nuance on the Spirit’s immanence within creation, frequent criticism raised against renewal theology concern the strength of this fidelity.  Simon Chan for instance, consistently argues that all ideas of Creator Spiritus “must be subsumed under the Spirit of the Church.”[1]  Renewal theology would generally deem Chan’s limiting of the Spirit to ecclesial loci unnecessarily restrictive.  Yet, while we may find Chan’s church-bounded pneumatology utilitarian pr anachronistic, might not the “pneumatological imagination” also prompt us towards recalibrating such Tradition- and ecclesial-centered methods of theology towards the multi-disciplinary aims of renewal theology?

This question calls to mind the Chinese proverb, “When you drink the water, remember the source.”  I find Chan’s insistence helpful as it prods us to foster a mutually empowering interface between the epistemic resources (e.g., the “pneumatological imagination”) that renewal theology generates towards the sciences, and how we might find these resources a priori generated via the ecclesial-shaped contexts of spiritual encounter and formation.  In what follows, I shall briefly suggest three theological motifs I find beneficial towards fostering this interface.

The first motif  is the classical idea of theology as referring to growth in godliness, or formation into Christ-likeness.  I suggest we explore how we might frame the discipline of renewal theology within the classical domain of ascetical theology.  Crucial here is the etymological nuance of ascetical spirituality, which conveys analogy to athletic training (askein, “to train”).  In both Western and Eastern traditions, the concerns of ascetical spirituality and theology are thus spiritual exercises, disciplines, or practices engaged in order to foster one’s development on the way towards godliness.  What is important to stress here is that from this ancient yet enduring perspective, the aim of theology is always salvific.  The Eastern Orthodox tradition  conveys this nuance via its characterizing of spiritual formation as one’s salvific journey towards theosis, union with God.  Approaching renewal theology as an ascetic discipline or within the domain of ascetic theology may thus prompts us to ask, as least within the context of theological research, how might we also approach research methodologies and “disciplines” themselves as ascetical practices that foster our salvific journey?

The second motif I suggest is Reinhard Hütter’s construal of theological reflection (doctrina) as a pneumatologically generated, “core practice” of the Church.  Hütter, who is formerly Lutheran but now Roman Catholic, builds this proposal on what Luther called “the seven principal parts of Christian sanctification.”  He presents Luther’s thesis that through the practices of preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, an ordained ministry, congregational worship, and “discipleship in suffering,” the Holy Spirit engages believers in a life-long sanctifying process.[2]  Hütter’s unique insight is to incorporate within Luther’s soteriological doctrine of church practices, the practice of theologizing.[3]

Chan and Steven Studebaker have both respectively appropriated Hütter’s project to Pentecostal theology.  Chan has focused primarily on Hütter’s conception of theology as a “core practice” of the Church, and how the Spirit actualizes sanctification through this and other “core practices” within the context of congregational life and worship.  Following through with Chan’s stress on Pentecostal experience as a legitimate source for theologizing, Studebaker more pointedly argues that Hütter’s project helps provide a “pneumatological foundation” that substantiates “Pentecostal experience of the Spirit,” as a resource for funding “Pentecostal theology in general and Trinitarian theology in particular.”[4] Yet beyond these nuances, what I am more closely appropriating towards funding the interface between the practice of renewal theologizing and the ecclesial-shaped reservoir from which this practice seminally receives its epistemic resources is Hütter’s stress on the soteriological telos of theologizing as a church practice.[5]  I find it important to note that Hütter built this theme on Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Holy Spirit’s salvific-economic mission towards creation through the church.[6]

Therefore, a final motif I suggest helpful towards funding this crucial interface is the cosmological expansiveness of Eastern soteriology.  More specifically, I am referring to the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of human salvation within the church as both proleptic and instrumental towards the saving of all creation.  This trajectory thereby also frames the discipline of renewal theology within the more classical aim of theology as a salvific journey into the generative wisdom of God (sacra sapientia).

Let me briefly survey three implications emerging from this reflection.  First, this broad trajectory suggests that renewal theology can bear ecumenical fruit in Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christian traditions.  In his comparative analysis between Eastern Orthodoxy and classical Pentecostalism, Edmund Rybarczyk suggests Pentecostalism as a “via media, between Orthodoxy and Protestantism” (at least with reference to similar anthropological construals), while noting that both traditions have historically disdained explorations into the natural sciences for “informing their respective epistemologies.”[7]  Renewal theology may well serve to foster this via media role.  Renewal theology can moreover foster an awakening within both traditions towards their mutually relevant and timely coming of age as epistemological resources that can critically bridge 21st century challenges to human and planetary flourishing.

Second, we engage the disciplines of renewal theology as ascetical practices on behalf of all creation.  What results is generative-emergent theological vision— seminally funded by human soteriological experience, conversely appreciated as a proleptic microcosm of God’s saving purpose and presence within and towards creation.  Framing renewal theology within these three motifs, reminds us that what seminally generates the very best of renewal theologizing are via the Spirit’s sanctifying ministry within the church— epistemological resources emerging from our formation into godliness.  Hence, we will always best practice renewal theology when knelt with thanksgiving before God (coram Deo).

I conclude with three questions that may elicit further inquiry into these soteriological motifs within the ongoing development of renewal theology.  How might we appropriate this discussion towards a consistent renewing of not only ourselves but of the methodologies we use within renewal theology and studies, along with our identified disciplinary aims?  This question is especially relevant given not only the increasing systemic nature of 21st century globalization, but its accompanying variable of exponentializing social-scientific contingencies. How might this proposed stress on the soteriological telos of renewal studies theology interface and fund ongoing conversations on eschatology, specifically towards the fostering of true prophetic hope in contrast to the aberrations of both apocalyptic nihilism and triumphalistic-fueled narcissism?  And how might we retrieve eschatological themes of Pentecostal spirituality in their nascent forms (including nascent apocalyptic imagery), and the eschata-passioned psyche that has historically imbibed Pentecostals with a firm sense of historical destiny— as also epistemic resources for funding ongoing engagement with the expanding frontiers of human knowledge current pursued in the human and natural sciences?


[1] Simon Chan, “The Church and the Development of Doctrine,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 13, no.1 (2004): pp. 57-77 (p. 75).

[2] Reinhard Hütter, Suffering Divine Things: Theology as Church Practice, trans. by Doug Stott (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), pp. 129-130.

[3] Hütter, Suffering Divine Things, pp. 114-115, 133, 144, 189, 193.

[4] Chan, “The Church and the Development of Doctrine,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology, pp. 69, 72-73; Steven M. Studebaker, From Pentecostal to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), p. 38.

[5] Hütter, Suffering Divine Things, pp. 28, 95, 126, 133-137, 144, 193.

[6] Hütter, Suffering Divine Things, pp. 116-118, 124, 126, 144.

[7] Edmund J. Rybarczyk, Beyond Salvation: Eastern Orthodoxy and Classical Pentecostalism on Becoming Like Christ (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004), pp. 329, 347.

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Monte Lee Rice
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5 Responses to “Salvific Motifs of Renewal Theology”

  1. Monte, thank you for this insightful reflection.  I share your interest in coming to better understand the epistemic efficacies of the pneumatological imagination and have addressed the problem from a similar perspective, I think.  


    Many have suggested that an enhancement of epistemic virtue, broadly conceived, will accompany spiritual growth. In broader categories but with a similar thrust, Maslow eventually amended his model, adding self-transcendence as a stage beyond self-actualization.

    Viktor Frankl went a step further, insisting that self-actualization was, in fact, a by-product of self-transcendence; in other words, not a reality that one could pursue (such pursuit would, instead, actually frustrate its own goals) but one that must, rather, ensue.

    Lonergan came to a similar conclusion, it seems, eventually distinguishing between mere authenticity and a sustained authenticity, suggesting that only the self-transcendence of being-in-love could foster a perduring authenticity.

    What is involved, then, is nothing less than an indispensable integrality of some sort?

    Are we suggesting, for example, that — not only are Lonergan’s secular conversions trans-valued by religious conversion, but — for Homo religiosus, intellectual, affective, moral and sociopolitical conversions might only be sustainable by (Lonergan) and, further, introducing an even stronger claim, might only (robustly) ensue in the wake of religious conversion, which entails a withdrawal from ignoring the realm of transcendence (possibly but not necessarily leading to mystical prayer).

    If radical lovelessness, per Lonergan, distorts cognitional performance by narrowing one’s horizons (range of interests and concerns), what efficacies (epistemic virtues) must then ensue when one, as a being-in-love, radically opens to that horizon Tillich called faith or ultimate concern? more energetically engaging transcendent realms?

    Of course, if virtuous epistemic cycles and hermeneutical spirals ensue from a religious conversion experienced in the context of implicit faith, one task of the renewal theologian might be to investigate and then demonstrate how an explicit faith, in general, and the pneumatological imagination, in particular, thereby augment those epistemic value-realizations.

    I have suggested elsewhere that such value-augmentations ensue from prudent epistemic risk-amplifications, which often involve our participatory imaginations much more than our conceptual map-making. This may be especially true for theoretical speculation in many disciplines, which often require paradigm shifts to meaningfully advance, precisely because our conceptual maps eventually and inevitably encounter tautological dead ends due to the unavoidable Godelian constraints of incompleteness and inconsistencies. This is to suggest that, while some epistemic constraints are clearly methodological, others may result from an in-principle, ontological occulting. Because there simply is no way to discern, a priori, which may be the case, we can’t fall prey to facile charges of engaging some mysterian metaphysics (or god) of the gaps, as we engage our existential disjunction — our living as if — reality may be through and through enchanted by an intimately, indwelling Spirit, we call Holy. In fact, contrastingly, as Stanley Jaki and others have persuasively argued, there are good reasons that science flourished in some cultures but was stillborn in others. I think the research program that you have outlined will bolster these types of arguments and is wholly consistent with observations made — not only by theological anthropologists, but — by many in developmental psychology and formative spirituality.

  2. In my first response, I did not make explicit that I was responding mostly to the question of pentecostal spirituality as epistemic resource, suggesting that being in love with self, other, cosmos and God, in and of itself, conveyed epistemic virtue. I only cited one example from Lonergan’s observation regarding how one’s range of interests and concerns expands when one stops, via conversion, ignoring and withdrawing from transcendence. I found this consistent with the theme of how a pneumatological imagination might foster epistemic virtue.

    My suggestion is that religious conversion precisely fosters epistemic virtue, even when an implicit faith is involved, even in secular realms that are animated by the Spirit. Ascetical theology and its disciplines certainly would foster same, especially via a pneumatological imagination, a living as if, which is no less an axiological methodology than our methodological naturalism, although it is incumbent on renewal theologians to demonstrate how this may be so. I find in Maslow, Frankl and Lonergan the beginning of an answer to these questions that Monte has posed.

    In addition to the first link that I shared, I offer this:

    What is truly at stake is a defense of axiological epistemology, demonstrating, such as with Scotus, how the will enjoys a certain primacy over the intellect, such as from a Peircean pragmatic, semiotic realism, how the evaluative and normative enjoy an integral relationship with the descriptive, which is unavoidably interpretive, hence fallibilist.

    In the end, this is an analysis of means, involving such as the intellect, and of ends, involving such as the will. And we are claiming that having the proper ends, teleologically, makes our epistemologies more effective, axiologically. If our ascetical theology thus enhances our epistemic methodologies, then how much more so might
    our mystical theology, should we thus continue our theotic quest! It is no trivial answer, we suggest, when posed with most questions, to respond that LOVE will be part of the answer.

  3. Dan says:

    I’ve been a student of Scripture … and variant Biblical institutions… for several years. I find your approach to be informing and yet at the same time quite difficult for the average individual. In fact, for the average theological student, your use of language is extremely difficult to follow. Might I suggest using a more moderate approach in terminology and gramatical structuring?

    I do apologize for my frustration; I’m a bit ADHD and it’s late. I was excited to visit the article only to be lost in it’s forest of linguistics :(

    • Hi Dan, very likely the “average individual” is not the target audience of this blog. I find Monte’s post rather sophisticated. If it is challenging, then hopefully in a good way–asking the student of Scripture and variant Biblical institutions to step up the game in our conversations about renewal.

    • Monte says:

      Hi Dan! In response to your question, yet to reiterate Dr Wolfgang Vondey’s comments, let me first say I empathise with your struggle, and am aware that my grammatical structure and linguistic ease may need improvement. I know this because I have spent my life trying to improve my writing style. However, I should add that in other platforms, I have written for more popular and wider audiences. While I also sought to write this posting for a general audience since it is a blog posting, I suppose I did pitch towards a more limited audience that would be fairly initiated into the issues I am addressing. Yet even still, I actually revised this posting several times in order to get to a fairly readable level for most people who would visit this site. Therefore, please accept my apologies!

      However, since you are a theological student, may I gently prod you to embrace this write-up with all its awkward structures and unique terminology— as perhaps in itself as something of a learning journey. Many years ago I spent a season in Africa, and there I learned this West African Mossi proverb: Gwom gwomda ne a pagedo. Bi a yam soaba yaolen wegese, which translates: “Words are spoken with their peelings/shells. Let the wise person come to shuck them.”

      One hand, this proverb points out some differences between North American culture that tends to put things in direct terms, and many non-North American cultures where ideas are conveyed in more indirect manners. Yet on another level, this proverb shows how sometimes we might best learn things not by being granted quick access to comprehension, but rather by having to work through layers of meaning. Having to work through the layers thus creates a learning journey, and hence— a journey to grow on the way to pedagogical transformation.

      Therefore, it sometimes might help to approach those linguistic hurdles as words in shells, that we need to sit and crack like walnuts.