Archive for the ‘Practical Theology’ Category

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

Thursday, 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