the roots of Pentecostal Christology?

Returning to my series on the fascinating theology of Edward Irving, I suggested in my introductory post that one of the things that propelled him out of the Church of Scotland and into his role as founder of a new Pentecostal denomination was his distinctive take on the Spirit’s role in the ‘incarnate career’ of Jesus.

That is to say, for Irving it all started with Christology — and with a desire to stick closely to the text of Scripture. So it’s worth asking what we can appreciate before I register a couple of my reservations.

(In case you think what follows is an automatic recommendation of Irving, let me remind you that Arius also began with issues of Christology — specifically a desire to secure a genuinely suffering Saviour — and a biblicist sensibility — “More Bible, less philosophy” seemed to be his mantra. And Arius ended up denying the Trinity.)

To begin with, Irving picked up on the significant — and often-overlooked — role the Spirit is given in all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, especially.

And if you think about it the Holy Spirit really does get big billing at pretty much all the decisive moments in Jesus’ life: in his incarnation and virginal conception, in his baptism, in his confrontation with Satan in the wilderness, in public discussion of the significance of his mighty works, in his resurrection, and — tracking through into Acts — in the vindication of his ascended lordship as he pours out the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Irving concluded from this that Jesus was enabled to do his mighty works not so much by virtue of his divinity as by his Spirit-powered (or Spirit-perfected) humanity. Hence, Irving began to wonder whether this power might be available not just for the unique God-man but for all upon whom the Spirit was poured out.

And it’s at least worth considering this prospect, isn’t it? I mean, didn’t Jesus say that his disciples would do ‘greater works’ than him once he’d gone to the Father and left them his Spirit (John 14.12)?

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4 comments

  1. Greater – more impressive or greater – further reaching? John 5:19 – the Son isn’t able to do anything himself, but what he sees the father doing, who had placed his seal (6:27) upon him. Sounds more like the Trinity acting in concert than ‘mere’ Spirit-empowering.

    1. Thanks, Scott. You’ve anticipated where I’d like to move beyond Irving — although I guess I wouldn’t want to drive a wedge between the Trinity acting in concert and Jesus being Spirit-powered — given classic and more modern trinitarian formulations of the Spirit’s particular relationships with Father and Son in the Godhead (whether Augustine’s ‘bond of love’, Jenson’s ‘reconciler’, or Bentley Hart’s ‘binder and breaker of the bond of love’).

    1. Glad to hear it’s finding some audience! I’ve really found the new (2010 is still ‘new’, right?) Volf book, A Public Faith helpful when it comes to faithful Christian engagement with culture.

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