The Holy Spirit of mission

My dad once described a book by John V. Taylor about the Holy Spirit and mission as "Wayward but Brilliant"! The Go-Between God is certainly both those things. There are certain things that Taylor says in this book that have no basis in Scripture but he also demonstrates the Holy Spirit's mediator's role in a clear and concise way.

Most theologians would understand mission to be God's mission (the missio Dei) and God is a missionary God. God reaches out to humanity to draw it into the perichoretic relationship. Being God, the Holy Spirit is also an agent of mission.

How can we understand this role in an integral or wholistic way? It maybe more obvious that the Holy Spirit witnesses to Christ in a kind of evangelistic way but how about social justice and care of the creation?

Firstly, I would say that the Spirit in the Old Testament is the same Spirit of the New. So the Spirit who inspired the Prophets to denounce injustice and unrighteousness is the same Spirit who leads the Church into all truth. This truth is the truth of the God of justice and the church as a reflection (icon) of the Trinity should reflect this concern for justice as well.

Secondly, I would also say that the Holy Spirit was present at creation, hovering of the waters, and the Spirit is the one who will renew the whole creation (Romans 8:25ff). So creation care and cooperation with the Spirit is also part of the Church's mission.



Selling Jesus?

Having been a salesman and also an evangelist, I have attended training for both those roles. I must say that the approaches were disturbingly similar. Evangelism seemed to me to look like some sort of sales pitch for Jesus as the best saviour. These reflections on the Trinity should deeply affect the way we act and think: our mission and theology. It should also throw light on our evangelism or evangelisation.

I finished yesterday's post by speaking of an invitation to be part of the divine life. This raises the whole issue of the verbal communication of the Gospel and the trinitarian consequences for that communication. Again, my friend Míguez Bonino gives some ideas.

A truly trinitarian evangelisation—just as a truly trinitarian worship and action—is the invitation to participate in faith in the very life of the triune God and hence in totality of what God has done, is doing and will do to fulfil God’s purpose of “being all in all” (Faces of Latin American Protestantism, p. 144).

If Míguez Bonino is right then this should affect our evangelistic efforts. The packaged methodologies of many evangelistic theories are a travesty of God's invitation to humanity. The reductionist "you'll go to heaven when you die so come to Jesus and pray the sinners' prayer" doesn't come close to the magnificent offer of communion with the divine. Come and take part in divine being and purpose to fill all things is a far cry from many courses on evangelism I have attended.

This should also affect our understanding of the church: our ecclesiology.  In this sense the Eastern Orthodox, when they speak of the church as the "icon of the Trinity" are right. The word "icon" was used for the impression of Caesar's head on Roman coins: the likeness.  The invitation to take part in the divine life is also an invitation to be part of this dusty, rusty old thing we call the church. With all its faults, the church is God's likeness in the world.

Finally, this should affect the way we think of the end times: our eschatology. Evangelism is not the means by which Jesus Christ, emulating the Greek gods', fills his personal Olympus with elevated souls. It is the means by which God will fulfil his end game, God's purpose: to be All in All for humanity.

We can share in this, which is highly recommended if you don't. It is also a challenge for those of us who are sharing in the divine experience, to live it out and share it with others.


On funny words and being human

One of the difficult things about trinitarian theology is that it uses some funny words. Not funny haha but just weird. Some of these words however turn out to be quite important. I want to introduce you to just one today. Perichoresis meet readers, readers meet Perichoresis!

Perichoresis refers to the interpenetration of the persons of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinct yet one. They have a unity of love, purpose and outlook but are distinct. As I said yesterday, we are made in that trinitarian image.

A Latin American theologian, José Míguez Bonino,  who I studied said,

What we are shown here is the nature of ultimate reality: The life of God is communion; identity is not affirmed by closing in on oneself but by opening up to the other; unity is not singularity but rather full communication. It is in that image we are created, it is in participation in that constant divine “conversation” that we find the meaning of our existence, life abundant; it is on this model we should structure our human relations. Neither the all-embracing authority of one over another, nor an undifferentiated mass uniformity, nor the self-sufficiency of the “self-made man,” but the perichoresis of love is our beginning and destiny—‘as persons, as church, as society. (Faces of Latin American Protestantism, 1997, p. 116)

God is reality. Life is not about individual self-realisation but about communion and fellowship. Human identity is self-giving and not selfish possession. This what it means to "know God"; being included in that divine conversation. The church, in its mission in the world sometimes forgets this (often forgets this). Mission isn't God's recruitment drive but an invitation to become part of that divine life.



Trinity and mission

As many of my students will know, I love teaching trinitarian theology. This is not because I like solving conundrums, because I don't; it is because in the triune God we come face to face with reality; the Truth, with a capital T.

We cannot explain the Trinity. Many theologians have dismissed it as an irrelevance that cannot have any practical application to Christian life. In fact Emmanuel Kant said, "“Absolutely nothing worthwhile for the practical life can be made out of the doctrine of the Trinity taken literally.” I beg to differ! There are however, certain things we need to clarify.

Firstly, the Trinity is NOT a doctrine taught in the Bible; it is the work of the Church to try and understand the Triune God. God is revealed to us in the Bible as in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity as a doctrine is the Church's attempt at understanding that reality.

Secondly, the words used in Greek (and Latin) to understand the Trinity do not have a direct equivalence in English or any other modern language. Three Hypostasis in one Ousia or Three Personae in one Substancia cannot really be understood as Three persons in one being. Scripture clearly refers to God as Father and as Son and as Holy Spirit. The baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19 is obviously trinitarian. God's actions God is reveals in plurality. "Let us make humanity in our image", God says in Genesis 1.In We know God through Jesus Christ. We know the Father as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and we know the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity emphasises God as a community or a communion of persons. This is often referred to a the social Trinity. God is a community of love and purpose and it is in THAT image we, as human beings, have been created. It is for that reason we have been created. We have been created for community and love. This is why in Christianity God can BE love. Islamic philosophers quite rightly recognised that in Islam Allah cannot BE love. This is because, before anything was made, Allah had nobody to love. He would have had to create somebody to love.

In Christian understanding God, before anything was created was already a living and loving being because there was an "intra-trinitarian" love; i.e. within the Trinity. The Trinity make sense of human life and love.



Francis and creation

Rick Santorum, the American Republican Presidential told the Pope to "leave science to the scientists" due to the publication of Pope Francis' call for action on man-made climate change in the forthcoming encyclical Laudato Sii. Little did Mr. Santorum know that the Pope holds a Masters in Chemistry!

This made me reflect upon the "marks of mission" established by the Anglican Church. The 5th mark is to "Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth". There are many people more competent than I who blog about this subject regularly, for instance Ruth Valerio, but I felt it was important to raise this in our mission thinking.

There is little disagreement within the scientific community--although there are deniers--that climate change is anthropogenic, that is, generated by human activity. If so then as Christians we should be acting on this issue. Here are a few theological reasons

  1. The earth does not belong to us but to God (Psalm 24), to ruin it is spoiling something that is not our.
  2. This earth is a gift from God, to destroy it is not showing God love.
  3. The earth displays God's glory (Psalm 19), to ruin it blurs God's glory.
  4. God tells us to develop the earth (Gen 1:27-28) and to care for it (Gen 2:15), not to do so is disobedience.
  5. God became part of the creation in the incarnation (John 1:14) and so values it.

Here are some practical reasons for caring for the earth.

  1. Mission is always in context and the planet is our most obvious context.
  2. The poorest people in the world are most affected by climate change.
  3. If we are to do the third and fourth marks of mission--to respond to human need by loving service and to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation--then caring for creation is a prerequisite.

You probably can think of others. Let's start a dialogue.





In Defense of FIFA

There seems to be an endless stream of accusations, scandals and denouncements of FIFA in the last few days. FIFA has, of course, been a byword for corruption. David Yallop wrote an expose as far back as 1999 (republished in 2011) called How They Stole the Game. However, Sepp Blatter has massive support among many poorer footballing countries. He argues, rightly in many cases, that he is attacked by the powerful nations because he is a friend of the smaller nations. I don't want to argue one way or the other.

The question that emerges here is whether it is acceptable to pay bribes to do good? This may seem a crazy given the Old Testament teaching on bribery and corruption. (Ex.23:8, Deut. 16:19, Deut. 27:25, 1 Sam. 12:3, 1 Sam. 8:3, Ps. 15:5, Amos 5:12, 13, Micah 3:11, etc.).

Firstly, what is the difference between a bribe, a tip and a gift? Is there such a huge difference between a bribe and tip? A tip is often given to ensure good service the next time; is this not simply a bribe given a long time before the next service rendered?

Think about this case. Two Christian development agencies in a Majority world country both received new airplanes to support their work i.e. movement of national and expatriate workers and medical supplies. The new aircraft were presented, with all the correct documentation for registration by this country's Aviation Authority. In both cases an additional fee was asked to enable the authorities to proceed. The additional fee was a none too well disguised bribe. ("Do you have a little gift?" is the usual way of putting it).

One agency paid this additional "fee" and its aircraft began operating within days, so it immediately began to fulfil the needy and heavy programme it was destined for.

The second agency  refused to pay this additional "fee", because part of their policy was to give an example of how to function without bribery. The result was that it took 10 months of  requests that their plane was finally registered. Although this was achieved without paying the "fee" of about US$200. The aircraft had to be mended because it hadn't been used: to the cost of US$10,000.

During those eight months that the plane was not used, sick people were denied transport, medical supplies were not distributed.

This is a case which I remember using in Argentina and at All Nations, where we called it "Greasing palms or Oiling Wheels." What do you think?