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

By: L. William Oliverio Jr.
Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

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!

This collection functions in a manner reminiscent of the strategy that emerged among Catholic theologians in the twentieth century which draws on historic understanding to open up new says of going forward, connecting traditions with progress in a ressourcement. This volume thus works as a ressourcement of historic Christian understandings of the Holy Spirit that potentially can enrich contemporary renewal traditions. It is thus a limited but nevertheless genuine initial effort at interdisciplinary work centering on pneumatology. In his conclusion, Vondey admits that “This initial volume therefore confirms my assessment in the introduction that the conversation about Christianity and renewal is not yet fully interdisciplinary” (217). In the “Afterword,” Yong is hopeful concerning the potential of a “sustained, interdisciplinary, research program of inquiry” on global renewal (231).

Vondey’s theorizing of interdisciplinarity brackets the chapters in the body of the volume. His introduction promotes the potential of interdisciplinary work for renewal studies as he identifies different levels of interdisciplinarity, from multidisciplinarity to transdisciplinarity to more integrative interdisciplinary approaches. The conclusion explains his underlying approach to interdisciplinarity in Renewal Studies as he draws substantially from Clifford Geertz’s semiotics of the Spiritual Presence found in all dimensions of life.

The first and eleventh chapters of the collection also have a hermeneutical focus. Steven Sherman opens the chapters with a metaphorical map of general hermeneutical tendencies in the evangelical world as they overlap with charismatic and pentecostal hermeneutics. In the eleventh chapter, Keith Putt provides a philosophical reading of Pentecost as the redemption of Babel in an engagement with several contemporary Continental philosophers, including Paul Ricoeur, Jacques Derrida and John Caputo. The second through fourth chapters work with ancient and medieval historical sources. Greg Peters resources monasticism, especially in its Syriac form, for its spiritual intimacy and language. Daniel Strand follows Augustine’s theological journey in developing a theology of longing for the divine with a focus on the Spirit’s initiative. Lisa Millen writes on the medieval monk Hugh of St. Victor’s prescription for how the Spirit leads the soul in the painful healing process of restoration of its health from the fall. The fifth through tenth chapters work with Reformation era to modern sources. In a notably excellent chapter full of ecumenical potential, Cheryl Peterson parses out differences and convergences in Lutheran and Wesleyan-Methodist understanding concerning the role of the Spirit in the Christian life, especially regarding sanctification. David Barbee contributes a study on the Puritan William Perkins’ theology of preaching and the role of the Spirit in it. Janelle Aijian’s chapter on the Spirit in Pascal’s account of the heart reflects both the reasoning and feeling found in Pascal’s writings in an articulate essay. Robert Webster’s account of John Wesley’s theological and practical efforts to sort out difficulties and controversies in early Methodist views of sanctification serves as a sobering account of the difficulties involved in pneumatological discernment. In the ninth chapter, Christian T. Collins Winn studies the German pietist Christoph Blumardt’s pneumatological “critique of religion” as an early instance of Christian postcolonialism, a robust Christian critique of religion itself, and for its potential for theology of religions. In the tenth chapter, Joshua Reichard places pentecostal-charismatic and process-relational theologies together in several of their pneumatological-anthropological affirmations, and their common roots in Wesleyan-Methodist thought, in order to find space between a Calvinist-Reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty and human cooperation, on the one hand, and liberal theologies, on the other.

A strength of this compilation is the relative brevity of the essays. Most are around fifteen pages in the body of the text before several pages of endnotes. We are left with quality throughout. The length and quality are also beneficial as they combine to provide the kind of helpful resource that is accessible to divinity, seminary and graduate students, and even for some upper level undergraduates. The authors model how to use primary source materials in research. A helpful conclusion to each chapter not only provides helpful summarization of that particular study but also brings a proper consistency to such a collection.

As a first entry into an interdisciplinary series, this volume is less than an avant-garde contribution to renewal studies. The second volume in this series, Nimi Wariboko’s The Charismatic City and the Public Resurgence of Religion takes care of that role. Yet, the book might well be considered a more fitting way to begin a step in the interdisiplinary direction, since understanding the past is an important way of going forward.

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L. William Oliverio Jr.
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