“ALL theology, and all biblical studies, is contextual,” says the introduction to this book. It is now commonplace to say that the Churches of the “majority world” — that is, where most people live, and where the majority of Christians are now to be found — must explore and present the gospel within their own context, especially when that has been denied by missionaries and others from Europe and North America who have imposed their own cultures and sometimes served their own interests.
So, there is in this collection of essays a proper suspicion of Western models, whether rooted in Greek philosophy, distorted by colonial agendas, or reduced by an Enlightenment dualism that leads to an unbiblical division between spirit and matter. But there is also a concern to remain faithful to the credal formulations, and some different approaches to how the new connections should be made.
Zakali Shohe emphasises the relational work of the Holy Spirit, seen in Acts creating a new community across inherited divides, and how the Church in India must witness to that now amid cultural and religious divisions. C. René Padilla, from Latin America, goes much further in showing how liberation theology is not an application of the gospel, but the very work of the Spirit who gave Jesus his mandate in the synagogue of Nazareth.
The various contributors raise many questions. Is the Spirit to be seen mainly in manifestation of powers, especially healing and glossolalia, or in such gifts as love, joy, and peace? Is the Spirit, present at Creation, the “Lord and Giver of Life”, and “poured out on all flesh”, also to be found in what Oscar García-Johnson, from Honduras, calls the indigenous pneumatologies that existed before the missionaries came? From Africa, with its strong belief in the spirit world, and from Asia, especially around the Chinese Rites controversy, both of them emphasising the importance of the ancestors, other essays raise the same issue of continuity and discontinuity.
Turning back to ourselves, what might we in the minority world, where church growth is largely found in the more Charismatic circles, learn from all of this? Like our fellow Christians elsewhere, we need to be renewed by the Spirit, and also to ask: is the activity of the Holy Spirit only to be found in the Church, and what kind of discipleship in the world does the Spirit demand of those whom he or she calls?
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn and a former General Secretary of USPG.
The Spirit Over the Earth: Pneumatology in the majority world
Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo, editors
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