beyond Pentecostal Christology (ii)

I want to comment on one other aspect of Edward Irving’s Christology before I turn to examine his contention that regeneration and baptism in the Spirit are two separate experiences. In particular, I want to ask:

What are we to make of Irving’s focus on the mighty works of Jesus as evidence of his Spirit-empowerment?

Take this typical example (from his article ‘Facts Connected with Recent Manifestations Of Spiritual Gifts’ in Frasers Magazine, 1832, where Irving is summarising the content of what he had already been preaching for the previous six or seven years):

[A]ll the works of Christ were done by the man anointed with the Holy Ghost, and not by God mixing himself up with the man. The person is the Son of God; the bounds which he has consented to speak and act in are the bounds of mortal manhood; the power by which, when within these narrow bounds, he does such mighty things, against and above the course of nature, death, and hell, is the power of the Holy Ghost; and the end of the whole mystery of his incarnation is to show unto mortal men what every one of them, through faith in his name, shall be able to perform; as it is written in the first of these chapters, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works which I shall do he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12)

Of course, I wouldn’t want to deny that Jesus did do his mighty works by the power of the Spirit. And, as I’ve already mentioned, there is lots to commend this brand of ‘Spirit Christology’.

However, I do wonder why Irving focuses so narrowly on the spectacular mighty works in this connection — even while maintaining that it’s all the works of Christ that Jesus does in the Spirit’s power. And this presumably should include the climactic achievement of Jesus’ atoning suffering and death.

Some of the summaries in Acts could be swung in this direction (e.g., Acts 10.38 — although the context widens the scope significantly). But a close reading of the narrative of Luke-Acts calls for something broader — as emphasised by David Hohne’s important work on the Spirit’s role in locating Jesus as the Messiah, enabling him to fulfil his vocation, opening up the possibility that we might share in Christ’s sonship through faith, and ‘activating’ that possibility as the ascended Jesus pours out the Spirit on all flesh.

I wouldn’t want to repeat in Christological terms the old — and thoroughly gridlocked — attempt to play off gifts of the Spirit against the fruit of the Spirit. But, as with that debate, what we need is a way of integrating the two strands of New Testament evidence.

We need, in other words, to think together the (messianic) mighty works of Jesus with his work on the cross. And the way to do that, I’d suggest is by paying closer attention to Christ’s Sonship — something, once again, that trinitarian theology would tie very closely to his sharing in the Spirit…

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4 comments

  1. hi chris

    so on the one hand he’s not saying anything new – it sounds like John Owen’s fairly robust Spirit-christology – but it’s the extrapolation to what should be our experience that’s the issue? or are you saying that his Spirit-christology is deficient regarding sonship?

    1. Hi Doug,

      My sense is that it’s probably both — but although the first may be the ‘presenting issue’, it’s underpinned by the second (a skewed view of what constitutes Christ’s sonship and therefore sets the pattern for us). Does that make sense?

    2. it does make sense.

      I think it’s maybe something not explicit in Owen’s stuff. when thinking it through for issues last year the question of sonship never really came up. rather it was recognising the extent of what it meant for Jesus to be empowered for his mighty works by the Spirit.

      I still have difficulty conceptually integrating Spirit-christology with sonship.

    3. Yeah – that’s the challenge. I don’t know whether it’s helpful or explaining a difficult text by appeal to an even more difficult one, but Rowan William’s essay ‘Word and Spirit’ has a crack at putting this stuff together — I found the parts I could understand quite helpful.

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