The Politics Of The Spirit – Theology Of Social Transformation

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected

| PentecostalTheology.com

161 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS The Politics of the Spirit: Reflections on a Theology of Social Transformation for the Twenty-First Century1 Eldin Villafane There is a fascinating scene in a chapter in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, known as “The Grand Inquisitor. ,,2 It depicts a cardinal, The Grand Inquisitor, making accusations to Jesus-in a dungeon, in 16th century Seville, at the height of the horrific Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisitor’s accusation to Jesus was clear and direct, that by turning down the “dread and wise spirit’s” or Satan’s offer in the wilderness, he had turned down the three greatest powers at his disposal: “miracle, mystery and authority.” And that by doing so Jesus had lost the chance of increasing his fame among the people-rather his action increased their freedom. As The Grand Inquisitor said, “Instead of taking over men’s freedom, you increased it and forever burdened the kingdom of the human soul with its torments.”3 ‘ . _ ‘ By resisting Satan’s temptations to override human freedom, the Inquisitor maintains, Jesus made himself far too easy to reject. He surrendered his greatest advantage: the to belief. continues the the church power compel Fortunately, sly Inquisitor, recognized the error and corrected it, and has been relying on miracle, mystery, and authority ever since. For this reason, the Inquisitor must execute Jesus one more time, lest he hinder the church’s work/ 4 . As we approach the 21 st century, the church of Jesus Christ must go beyond the perennial temptation of exercising its “miracle, mystery, and authority” in confronting a world shackled by the chains of sin and sorrow, and by human and demonic oppression. The Spirit, as in the ‘ The title represents a book in progress; this paper could easily be subtitled, “Paul Lehmann and Pneumatic Political Discipleship.” 2 Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1990; original 1880), 246-264. ‘ Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 255. ‘ Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 74. 1 162 Spirit of Christ at the temptation, desires that our actions be free towards God, and, consequently, be of a liberating nature to others. Thus, a fundamental premise of my remarks is that Freedom/Liberation, not as defined by the liberal and enlightenment heritage, but as biblical promise, is at the heart of the Gospel. The Gospel, in other words, affirms the Liberating Spirit’s task in all human encounters with God, and the Liberating Spirit’s desire to free from all enslavement-be they moral or spiritual, ecological or ecclesiastical, economical or political. The Gospel affirms the Liberating Spirit’s historical project as the great personal and social transformer-and our task is to live out the imperative: as we live in the Spirit, so to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). My remarks will be limited to theological reflections informing, what I call, a pneumatic political discipleship. I will do so under three themes: (1) The Politics of the Spirit or Theological Politics?; (2) The Spirit and the Reign of God; and, (3) The Spirit and Biblical Parabolic Action. The Politics of the Spirit or Theological Politics? To speak about the politics of the Spirit is simply to state that the Holy Spirit has a political agenda for God’s creation. It is to go beyond, yet include, what John Howard Yoder calls The Politics of Jesus.s With Yoder, contra those who would manage to depoliticize the ethical significance of Jesus’ message, I would also press “beyond the question of whether Jesus was political to ask what sort of politics is the mark of Christian discipleship.”6 While Yoder, and his disciples, such as Stanley Hauerwas, posit the church as the central and defining political institution in a Christian social ethics, I believe that the Spirit challenges us to go beyond the church to embrace the total social order and its organizing institutions as legitimate arenas for a true and wholistic Christian discipleship. This wholistic approach would require an expanding definition of the political and a better understanding of the Spirit’s historical project-the Reign of God. With Yoder, Hauerwas and others, I too affirm the centrality and privileged position of “The Church as Polis. ,,7 The “Polis” understood in its Aristotelian sense: “… . although concretely it is the `city-state’, is $ John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2nd ed., 1994 ); see also, John H. Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics As Gospel (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1984). 6 Dennis P. McCann in John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, back cover. Stanley Hauerwas, In Good Company: The Church as Polis (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995); see also, Arne Rasmusson, The Church as Polis: From Political Theology to Theological Politics as Moltmann and Exemplified by Jürgen Stanley Hauerwas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995). 2 163 always also the ideal form of human association which is ‘by nature’ the precondition for and the expression of the fulfillment of human life.”g Therefore, politics has to do, in Paul Lehmann’s definition, with “the foundations, structures, and ends of human community.” Basically, politics is “community-creating life.”9 Of course, it is Scripture, and not Aristotle, that provides the critical content and describes correctly politics as “community-creating life.” And indeed, the Church is that premier political community formed by the life-giving Spirit. Hauerwas and Willimon state clearly that the church is “… a new people, an alternative polis, a countercultural social structures Yet, while I agree with much that Yoder, Hauerwas, Willimon, and others informed by the Anabaptist tradition say about the church and Christian political discipleship, ultimately I am not too satisfied with their notion of the church; believing strongly that the Holy Spirit’s task and the church’s-as the community of the Spirit-goes beyond their limiting ecclesial-centered definition of the political and the political task. Or in other words, speaking as a Latino Pentecostal, there is a “hermeneutical suspiciousness” of what Arne Rasmusson calls, their “ecclesial theological politics””-finding that it falls short in its capacity to point to an adequate praxis of social transformation, particularly for those marginalized by mainstream society.”` As a Pentecostal theologian and ethicist, I have found that there is much fruitful insight into the meaning of politics, the political task, and the Spirit’s actions in the world in the work of Paul Lehmann; one whose thought, that upon a careful and critical reading, is not dissonant with the best of biblical pneumatology and Pentecostal experience. Paul Lehmann’s body of work has much to contribute to the re-visioning of a Pentecostal social ethic for the 21st century. Although I may not agree with all of Lehmann’s theological constructs, in my judgment few theologians have seen and expressed so cogently the bigger picture,of 8 Paul Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context (New York, NY: Harper and Row Publishers, 1963), 85; see also, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1989),32. ‘Paul Lehmann, “The Foundations and Pattern of Christian Behavior” in Christian Faith and Social Action, ed. John A. Hutchinson (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953), 94-95, in Nancy J. Duff, Humanization and the Politics Ethics quoted of God: The Koinonia of Paul Lehmann (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992), 22. 10 Hauerwas and Willimon, Resident Aliens, 46; see also Stanley Hauerwas, “The Church is a Social Ethic,” in The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1983), 99-102. “Rasmusson, The Church as Polis, see especially pages 375-382. “For an excellent description of Hauerwas’ ethic and a critique see, Gloria The Character of Our Communities: Toward an Ethic the Albrecht, of Liberation Church for (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), chapter 2, “The Character of Hauerwas’ Community: A Texan Epistemology,” 29-61; and chapter 4, “Unmasking the Differences,” 103-137. 3 164 the divine activity in the world. I think it is time we Pentecostalize Paul Lehmann. ” Lehmann defines God’s activity in the world in political terms, thus, providing a broader framework in which to see the Spirit’s work. Nancy Duff reminds us that Lehmann’s primary justification for defining God’s activity in terms lie in the political fact that the “formative biblical images” which describe divine activity are “political” in both the fundamental and everyday uses of that term.” Lehmann notes extensively in his classic work, Ethics in a Christian Context: God, according to the Bible, chooses a “people”, … makes a “covenant” with them, delivers them from “slavery”, and gives them a “land”… them gives “laws”, “judges”, and “kings”… that the crucial the New the Messiah… political image [in Testament] is the image of who rules over all ‘`principalities and powers”… who the “new age” and establishes the “Kingdom of heaven”… that inaugurates in the end, as in the beginning, the images which point to and point up what God is doing in the world are political images.” Duff, in an excellent summary of Lehmann’s “liberation of biblical images,” notes that for Lehmann … the significance of these political images is lost when they become part of a list extracted from the biblical story that ties them together. Only in their narrative form do these political illuminate God’s action in the world. The biblical narration of God’s images political activity describes the constancy of God’s movement on behalf of creation. The biblical story is “political” action which creates in the fundamental sense of the word because it describes that humanizing relationships in human community.’6 Politics, then, for Lehmann is what God is doing in the world to make and to keep human life human. Thus, politics as “community-creating life.” Moreover, for Lehmann “the church is created by God’s political activity and provides the context in which believers respond to God’s activity””-an activity that encompasses the whole created order. Lehmann affirms the freedom of the Holy Spirit to move as God wills. Therefore, no institution is exempt from the divine humanizing task and the believers’ discerning participation. Thus, we are involved in politics whenever in society we are concerned “Since 1973, when I “discovered” Lehmann, I have been deeply challenged by Lehmann’s works in my thinking and teaching. One of the goals of this paper is to introduce Paul Lehmann to the broader Pentecostal and Charismatic scholarly audience. “Duff, Humanization and the Politics ojGod, 22. ‘5 Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context, 90-95; see also Duff, Humanization and the Politics of God, 22-23. ‘6Duff, Humanization and the Politics of God, 23. “Duff, Humanization and the Politics of God, 26, my italics. 4 165 about building community-that can be in the neighborhood, at school or work, or in the broader institutions of society, including “state-government” politics. It is within the context of the church (the Koinonia) that the believer seeks to exercise and “participate in actions that will provide signs of God’s activity in the This action Lehmann calls parabolic action. As Lehmann states, Let it be noted that the sign which points to and what God is in the world are ethical point up doing signs. What is indicated is that the politics of God does make a discernible difference in the world, and the life of the Koinonia is the context within which to come in ongoing sight of this difference. The Koinonia is the bearer in the world of the and the mysteries (secret) transforming power of the divine activity, on the one hand, and on the other, of the secret (mystery) and the “stuff’ of human maturity.’9 Therefore, not only is the church a vantage point to read the signs of the times, but the context from which Christian action takes place on behalf of the world. Time does not permit me to spell out or tease out the implications of Lehmann’s careful and nuanced work. Richly suggestive for Pentecostal thought is his contribution on a Theonomous Conscience, or his conception of apperception/discernment or for that matter, his Koirionia ethic of the Divine Indicative, rather than Divine Imperative.’° Suffice it to say that his framework of the divine activity in the world, one by the way solidly based Christologically and eschatologically, his emphasis on the church’s strategic locus, and his emphasis on the Christian’s parabolic action are consistent with an understanding of the Spirit’s action in the world that will suit us well for the twenty-first century. It is that kind of broad biblical framework that is needed for one to see the Spirit’s role and our role in social transformation. The Spirit and the Reign of God Positing Lehmann’s framework permits one to see clearer the role of the Spirit and the Reign of God. For indeed the divine activity in the world-Lehmann’s politics of God-is the Spirit’s action in and for the Reign of God-The Politics of the Spirit. One, whose inauguration and action is witnessed to by Jesus when he stated: “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Reign of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). We do well to remember that the “beginning of the end,” the Reign of God, – ___ __ has broken into our world in the person of Jesus. The message 18 Duff, ‘9 Humanization and the Politics of God, 174. Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context, 112, italics are Lehmann’s. 20 Along with Paul Lehmann’s Ethics in a Christian Context, see NY: especially his, The Transfiguration of Politics (New York, Harper and Row, 1975); and his, The and a Human Future Decalogue (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1995). 5 166 of the New Testament is that God’s Reign is already present in Jesus the Messiah, although it awaits final consummation in the not yet of the future. Eschatology, thus, forms the central and essential framework of New Testament theology and of Christian Social Ethics.21 The Gospel of the Reign of God is the good news that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, God’s Reign is manifested in the physical and historical affairs of people, now able to experience the Spirit’s total liberation. God’s salvation in Christ affects the whole person-both spiritual and physical-in his/her concrete historical reality. Nothing is exempt from God’s Reign. While we live in the not yet of complete fulfillment of the Reign, that awaits the parousia, we nevertheless continue to share in Jesus’ mission of liberation through proclamation and demonstration (see John 20:21 ). It is thus paramount to note that the early church’s experience of the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 2) was interpreted as a continuation of Jesus’ mission in the power of the Spirit. “Signs and wonders” attested their participation in the now but not yet of the inbreaking of the Reign of God. Joel 2: 28, 29 was interpreted as the end time promise-“the beginning of the end.” The early church saw itself as an eschatological community. The Spirit’s outpouring gather in a community of the Reign of God, the community of the Spirit. We need, though, to always be reminded that while the church is not the Reign of God, yet, as the community of the Spirit-where the Spirit manifest itself in a unique and particular way (Rom. 8:23; 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:14-18)-it has the high calling to both reflect and witness to the values of the Reign, by the power of the Spirit to the world. 22 Orlando Costas states it this way in his challenging work, The Integrity of Mission : The Inner Life and Outreach of the Church: ‘ . Therefore, the church, which is not the Kingdom, is nevertheless its most visible expression and its most faithful interpreter in our age… as the 21 See among the many pertinent works on the Reign of God, Amos N. Wilder, “Kerygma, Eschatology and Social Ethics,” in The Background of New Testament and Its Eschatology, eds. W. D. Davies and D. Daube (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1956), 509-536; The George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974); Peter Kuzmic, “Kingdom of God,” in Pentecostal and Charismatic Dictionary of Movements, eds. Stanley M. Burgess and B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Gary Social Concern, and the Kingdom of God,” in Called Publishing House, 1988), 521-526; W. Murray and Dempster, “Evangelism, Empowered : Global Mission in Pentecostal Perspective, eds. Murray W. Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, and Douglas Petersen (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 22-43; Steven J. Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Academic Passion for the Kingdom (Sheffield: Sheff’ield Press, 1993); and Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), “The Spirit as especially Eschatological Fulfillment,” 803-826. 22 Eldin Villafane, The Liberating Spirit: Toward an Hispanic American Pentecostal Social Ethic (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 184-187. 6 167 embodies the community of believers from all times and places, the church both Kingdom in its life and witnesses to its presence and future in its mission. He adds further, The Kingdom is an indication of God’s transforming presence in … a history symbol of God’s transforming power, of his determination to make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The of God stands for a new order of life: the new Kingdom humanity and the new creation which have become possible the death and resurrection of Jesus. This new order includes through reconciliation with God, and and participation in a new world. It involves freedom from the neighbor nature, therefore, death, and, consequently, the strength to live for God and power of sin and humanity. It encompasses the hope of a more just and peaceful moral order, and thus it is a call to vital engagement in the historical struggles for justice and peace.” The Politics of the Spirit is thus understood within this broader ‘ perspective of the Reign of God in the world. The Christian does not reject the world nor is afraid of the politics of the world, although, always aware of the seduction of Constantinian projects. Rather it sees the world, society and its plethora of institutions as the arena of the politics of the Spirit. Indeed, politics is the struggle for community, and in all spheres of communal life, the Christian seeks “community-creating life.” The “world-rejection” that the Christian and the church must exercise is that defined by dehumanizing and demonic systemic values and structures. We are called to discernment-to discern admits a fallen world, the goodness of God’s creative act expressed by humanity in and through culture in its history. We are called to discern the Spirit’s work not only in the church, but in the world. Beyond the Spirit’s work in the world of convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16: 8-11), we must see the Spirit’s role as To Katechon (the Restrainer, 2 Thess. 2:6, 7) and Parakletos (the Helper, John 14: 16, 27; 15:26; 16:7) wherever we see goodness, love, peace and justice exercised in God’s creation-genuine sighs and signs of the Reign of God. The Reign of God, the Spirit’s historical project, takes seriously the world-as humanity, creation and culture. Present history is affirmed; for history is the arena of the obedience of faith of the Reign of God.24 . ‘ The Spirit and Biblical Parabolic Action Our action in the world, our pneumatic political discipleship, is guided by biblical teachings, stories, parables and paradigms of the divine action of love, justice and shalom. Our actions, above all, need “Orlando Costas, The Integrity of Mission: The Inner Life and Outreach of the Church 2. (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1979), 8 (italics Costas’) and 6. Villafane, The Liberating Spirit, 191. 7 168 to demonstrate “God’s preferential option for the poor. ,,25 The poor, defined as all those oppressed spiritually, politically, economically, and socially, are in need of the Spirit’s Liberation. Paul Lehmann would have us follow Jesus’ example and the whole biblical revelation in its instruction in what he calls parabolic action. For Lehmann, Christian behavior in the world becomes a “fragmentary foretaste” and living parable of the “fulfillment which is already on its human action in a Christian context is way”… responsible parabolic behavior… “each life mirrors the cosmic contention for the Lordship of the world,” hence each life becomes a living parable or image of divine action.26 Thus, our Spirit-led actions in the world on behalf of the poor and the oppressed are living parables of divine action. What this parabolic approach means for those who would follow the Politics of the Spirit in a concrete way is significant. All “politics” of the world is judged by the Politics of the Spirit. Whether of the left or the right, the believer’s actions in the world are not those set by “single issue” agendas or partisan political ideology, but by those biblical paradigms of wholistic liberation found in the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel which emphasize parabolic actions reflecting the Spirit’s action on behalf of the Reign of God. Currently in the United States there is a movement, the Christian Coalition,” that is making great inroads in white Pentecostal churches. I am deeply concerned, just as I have been in the past with so-called Christian progressive liberals, that our political engagement is being co-opted by non-biblical ideological agendas that do not mirror the values of the Reign of God and its concern for reconciliation, justice, and shalom-a concern for “those of low degree,” the one Paul calls “the foolish things of the world… the lowly things of this world and 25 Among the many pertinent works on the option for the poor, see, James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed (Minneapolis, MN: The Seabury Press, 1975); Roberto S. Goizueta, “The Preferential Option for the Poor: The CELAM Documents and the NCCB Pastoral Letter on U.S. Hispanics as Sources for U.S. Journal Hispanic Theology,” of Hispanic/Latino Theology 3 (November 1995): 65-77; Gustavo Guti£rrei The Power of the Poor in Richard John Neuhaus, ed., The History (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983); Preferential Option for the Poor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988); Jorge Pixley-Clodovis Boff, Opcion Por Los Pobres, 2nd ed. (Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Paulinas, 1986); and Chapter 3, “The Power of the Powerless: A of Partnership from the Underside,” in Eldin Villafane, Seek the Peace Paradigm of the City: Reflections on Urban Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 29-39. 26Duff, 27 Humanization and the Politics of God, 148, 125. See, Ralph Reed, Politically Incorrect: The Emerging Faith Factor in American Politics (Dallas, TX: Word For an of current Pentecostal participation in Publishing, 1994). insightful critique politics see, Harvey Cox, Fire From Heaven: The Rise Pentecostal of Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the MA: Twenty-first Century (Reading, Addison-Wesley, 1995), 287-297. 8 169 the despised things” (1 Corinthians 1: 27-28). Rather the political agenda of the Christian Coalition is one set by the civil religious values of a political conservatism that has no clue about the Liberating action of the Spirit and the Church’s responsible parabolic action.28 Tom Sine in his provocative book, Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America’s Culture Wars, writes about a letter he received from a friend from New Zealand after his first visit to Washington, DC. Let me quote it at length: . I was struck by how much the monuments of the nation’s resemble founding religious temples. It seems to me that in some strange way there had been a . mingling of nationalistic and patriotic symbols with the human to capacity worship. In biblical terms there was a hint of concerns me that idolatry. It many American evangelicals (and I am an seem to have evangelical) outsider it disturbs incorporated cultural values as articles of faith. As an me that national symbols such as the and flag, the constitution, democracy, capitalism were spoken of in the same devotional way as Jesus, Scripture and the Kingdom of God. The other feature of life in Washington which shocked the New Zealand visitor was the poverty and violence of the central city. The paradox of beggars on the streets of such a wealthy nation lingers as a haunting memory of America’s capital. Where is the prophetic call for justice and mercy being sounded within the American Church? No such voice was heard in evangelical circles. Is it possible to follow Christ and not respond to the poor in our midst ?29 As we approach the 21 st century-the new millennium-and as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), it is good to remember Jirgen Moltmann’s words from his book The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation: to the testimony of the Bible, people’s first experience with God is the According experience of an immense liberation-of being set free for life. The people whom the word of God calls forth and who are possessed by God’s Spirit experience liberation in different sectors of their lives. Inwardly, their energies for living are freed from the obstruction of guilt and the melancholy of death. Outwardly, the compulsions of economic, and cultural political, repression are broken. Inwardly life can be newly affirmed. new free Outwardly spaces for living open ‘ , ” A serious problem faced by the Christian Coalition, as well as by any other its flirtation religious group of the left, is the “quest for power” in the political sphere, and thus, with Constantinianism. The critical question that must be asked is: How does a theology of the Cross inform the quest for power in the with a political process? Ultimately, Christians and the Church must come to terms discipleship that political knows how to speak or witness to power without being seduced by power-and, consequently, compromising its Christian 29Tom Sine, Cease Fire: Sanity in America’s Culture identity. Searching for Wars (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 212. 30 Jürgen Moltmann, The of Life: A Universal Affirmation MN: Fortress (Minneapolis, Press, 1992), 99. Spirit 9 170 May we experience the Spirit’s liberation in all areas of our lives and may we be opened up to the Spirit of life, as we discern and follow his Liberating action in the world to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk (stoichomen) [keep in step with-better still-dance after] the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 25). 10

Facebook Comments

Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.