Pneumatology and eschatology

T David Beck’s thesis in his book, The Holy Spirit and the Renewal of all Things: pneumatology in Paul and Jurgen Moltmann, is that much Western theology has failed to do justice to the comprehensive and central place of pneumatology in the New Testament.

I tend to agree.

If one response has been the ‘institutional tendency’ (e.g. Barth) driven by Christology and ecclesiology and an ‘experiential tendency’ in response (e.g. Wesley), Beck argues both don’t adequately capture the NT’s framework itself.

NT pneumatology is not driven, he contends, primarily by Christology, ecclesiology or experience, but by eschatology. All NT reflection on the Spirit operates within an eschatological framework.

But what does this mean?

He goes for an inaugurated eschatology of the ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ most identified with G. E. Ladd.

He doesn’t critique Ladd (and there is room for critique), but the main problem he wants to highlight is how within much systematic theology, eschatology is often reduced to study of the future: topics like the parousia, resurrection, judgement, heaven and hell etc. All things that are yet to happen.

But this, Beck says, fails to grapple with the overlap of the ages so predominant in Paul and elsewhere in the NT.

Yes there will be future consummation of God’s kingdom rule, but this rule has already begun. If the present age is the eschatological age ‘broken into the present’, then eschatology is ‘here and now’ and not just future events yet to unfold.

Systematic theology’s tendency to kick eschatology down the line has, for Beck, several unfortunate consequences:

1. A distance and alienation from the strong sense of climatic fulfillment within the NT. A Christian faith lacking a strong sense of how God’s promises have been fulfilled in Jesus, is one detached from the joyful tone of most of the NT.

2. The NT’s strong continuity between promise, fulfillment and consummation disappears.  For example, while Christians may hope for resurrection to come, it tends not to be seen as a natural extension of the blessing of new life already given in the here and now.

3. Eschatology is often relegated to a sort of appendix of the Christian faith. It gets relegated to obscure debates about times and dates of Christ’s return etc

4. When eschatology is marginalised, an anemic pneumatology tends to follow. This is seen in Western theology’s subordinationistic view of the Spirit. ‘This age’ is seen as the waiting time between the two appearances of Christ (what Beck calls ‘the rickety bridge between two strong towers’), rather than an age of the promised Spirit who has been poured out for many.

Rather, Beck rightly argues, pneumatology and eschatology are inseparable: the ministry of the Spirit is evidence of fulfilled OT  promises in the experience and writings of NT believers and as tangible anticipation of the future work of the Spirit in the consummation of God’s kingdom.

To earth this a bit, some questions:

If you are a Christian, how much do you understand yourself already to belong to God’s new age; as already having new life through the Spirit?

How does this give you joy, assurance and hope, even in the midst of struggles with doubt, disappointment, mundane work, tiredness and weakness?

 

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