Where the Wind Blows

Posted: November 29, 2012 in Hermeneutics

If you hadn’t heard the NuDunker conversation took a new form today for the first time. Five people were present live for the podcast while a couple others listened in via chat. This, of course, was simply an introduction to the conversation using a different media. Our hope is that it will effectively incorporate multiple media and instigate conversation. Please check it out and let us know what you think:

Over at his blog, Brian Gumm, Restorative Theology, offered a description of what he believed the NuDunkers were. In it I believe he referred to them as a movement within the Church of the Brethren (I referred to them in the same way in my previous blog entry). As part of his description he also offered a list of theological topics of interest, which I would agree with him, are of interest to me also. So over the next several months I thought I would engage each topic. The list is as follows:

So here are my four theological topics of interest:

Pacifist christology

Radical ecclesiology

Anarchist pneumatology

Practical eschatology

As I read and then reflected briefly upon each of these, the one that struck me first was Anarchist pneumatology. Brian Gumm offers an explanation as to what he means in this same blog entry. He states the following:

Anarchist pneumatology – Christian virtues are gifts from the Spirit and are not our possessions or accomplishments. To hedge against such sinful pride amidst the people of God in Christ’s body, that same Spirit will not be contained or controlled, and will in fact defeat such attempts. The Holy Spirit is breath, ruach, and it will blow whence and whither by God’s direction (cf John 3:8). That wind is also consuming fire, revealing kernels and burning chaff. The anarchist impulse of the Spirit, then, deconstructs our quixotic attempts to channel its will and work (cf. 1 Sam. 8:1-18) and reconstructs faithfulness for life in the body. (See Brian’s blog: http://restorativetheology.blogspot.com/2012/10/theological-sketchings-for-nudunkers.html#more)

First, let me say that I find Brian’s characterization helpful and it addresses some long held concerns I have had regarding the human desire to orchestrate the Spirit.

However, I am struggling with the term “anarchist.” This term carries several connotations which seem to me to be contrary to the Creator’s divine movement. Anarchy denotes no formal organizational structure with an intrinsic sense of exalting the autonomy of an individual (and said individual’s freedom) above any given community. When I think of anarchy I think of Nietzsche. Even though Nietzsche criticized anarchism, his teachings and thought lent much to what became known as the anarchist movement.[1]  Admittedly Nietzsche’s critique of the human institutions and markets is certainly falls in line with much of my own critique of them. But to embrace a term that could characterize the Spirit of the Creator in such a way as having no order or whose person consists of autonomy becomes problematic.

The Spirit is essentially bound in relationship to both the Father and the Son. Like the other two persons of God, she finds her identity only in this divine relationship. The Spirit shares the essence of the divine being and is the bond of love. Clark Pinnock eloquently describes the Spirit in the following way:

The third Person, having no special name like “Father” or “Son,” is content with God’s generic name of “spirit.” It is enough to be known as “bond of love.” This does not mean the Spirit does not have a more specific profile, but only that we have not been told about it. Spirit is content to be thought of as the medium and fellowship of love. He delights in the loving relationships of the divine dance and exults in the self-emptying love that binds the Father and Son. He delights to introduce creatures to union with God, the dance of the Trinity and the Sabbath play of new creation.[2]

With this perception of the life of the Spirit, I find it difficult to understand her in any sense through an anarchist lens.

This being said, what I believe Brian is getting at is an interpretation of the Holy Spirit that surrenders the human will to force categories and to state definitively how and where the Spirit works. It is essential in any theological reflection surrounding the Spirit, that such discernment is subjective, sort of like trying to catch smoke in your hand. While you might get a grasp of some, there is always a majority that eludes you. Part of the problem, I believe, is that in such reflections the beginning assumption is that scripture speaks comprehensively on the subject and that we can know nothing of the Spirit outside these sacred writings. Contrary to this, scripture itself bears witness to the fact that most times people encounter the Spirit of God outside the parameters of scripture. Regardless of this it is always necessary to begin with a healthy embrace of God’s transcendence acknowledging that “the wind (Spirit) blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8).

While I certainly like the provocative nature of “anarchist pneumatology” and admittedly recognize that some of the connotations regarding it are helpful, I wonder if there is a better term for us to use. I want to be sure to avoid any sense of dogmatic manipulation that we humans have a tendency toward. But I equally want to characterize, in the fullest scope possible, the vast loving beauty and creative order our God the Spirit is (to whatever extent a simple human mind can). So I’ll be thinking of some possible alternatives.

[1] Spencer Sunshine, “Nietzsche and the Anarchists,” Fifth Estate #367 (Winter 2004–2005) pp 36–37.

[2] Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 39.

  1. “Anarchist” is definitely meant to be mostly provocative, Andy, and refers to what the power of God’s Spirit does to human “archies.” Yes, it does have a lot of baggage, so I’m not married to it out of principle or anything, and I’m definitely using it in the Eller/Ellul sense rather than the Nietzschian sense. So there is definitely a divine arche/order, but as you said – we mostly of the time glimpse and grasp at it, sometimes “getting it,” sometimes not.

    But “re-archy” just doesn’t have the same edge, does it? 🙂

  2. Scott Holland says:

    I caught some of the recorded session of the NuDunkers and I’m happy for all such thoughtful attempts to deepen conversation in the denomination. In a dissenting tradition that has now become quite conformist and pathologically institutionalized, I’m rather jazzed by Gumm’s creative use of anarchy as it relates to the movement of the Spirit.

    Andy, are you sure the Spirit is in such a conventional good-boy unity with “the Father and the Son” as the post-biblical, Constantinian theologians insisted? Even as the Moon is Always Female (Marge Piercy) the Spirit is understood as Sophia, Lady Wisdom, in Christian traditions outside of the iron cage of of Constantinian Trinitarianism. Unless, of course, one is an ancient Celt. There, she is not an Anarchist but rather a Wild Goose!

    Some theological trivia for you theologically astute DuDunkers. Nietzsche said (through Zarathustra): “I beseech you, brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes!” What towering 20th century theologian read Nietzsche and made this line an important part of his later theology?

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks and welcome to my blog site. I appreciate your comments. As I stated in my post, my concern is not so much with the term anarchy in and of itself (perhaps I wasn’t clear enough with that), because I think that it offers some exciting possibilities in the conversation of pneumatology. My primary concern is the baggage such a term carries, and I’ll admit that I don’t like using any given term simply for its provocativeness. However, more to the point, I am also aware that if the term is the one the conversation settles on, it might be best to address those concerns at the outset of the conversation. My perspective on this is that whatever I write is not definitive but part of an ongoing (and larger) conversation that may change quite drastically at any given point. So I just put this out there.
      Regarding your question as to the “conventional good-boy” unity of the father and the son (I’m not convinced that “conventional” or “good-boy” are positions to avoid either). This is not so easy to answer without sharing where I am coming from. I do tend to lean more to an orthodox (while not grasping or clinging) perspective, not simply for the sake of doing so, but because of my training and methodological starting point—scripture. Whether it is right or wrong, that’s where I begin. I certainly engage spiritual ancestors (both near and far in time wise) who have theologically reflected upon these same subjects also. My preference there is the Ante-Nicene folks, but I have a deep appreciation for the Cappadocians as well. I say all this because my reflection upon any subject matter is essentially affected by my life, learning and experience. This I know is not an answer but an explanation. I am certainly open to exploring and reflecting upon the life of God’s Spirit. With this in mind I think that scripture is clear in asserting the unity of God. It is after all one of the reasons Judaism rejected Christianity with the accusation of polytheism (then again that is with the assumption one holds to the divinity of the Christ). It is interesting that in the Matthew the church is instructed to baptize in the name of the father, son and spirit, but in Acts the church is instructed to do it in the name of Jesus (which leads to a higher christology). And yet in Acts the Spirit plays a central role in the life of the church especially leading and empowering Paul for evangelistic ministry. In John’s gospel Jesus tells his followers that the paraclete will follow him continuing the work of the father. In each case there is a definite sense of unity and cooperation between the father son and spirit. I don’t think unity is the issue. In fact I think a robust pneumatology would imagine the Spirit in the form of feminine, thus completing the analogy of human beings as created in God’s image and solidifying a sense of unity. On the other hand if there is autonomy among the divine persons then we devolve into polytheism, which the scriptures speak strongly against (in all this I also recognize that I am playing within the rules that were set long before me).
      As for the bit of trivia, I’m not exactly sure which 20th century towering theologian you are referring to, I have read many who engage Nietzsche. Two of whom come immediately to mind are Jürgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg (Moltmann has played a key role in my own formation). As to the specific quote I’m unsure. I personally appreciate the deep struggle Nietzsche had in life. Much of his work has been mischaracterized. His critique of the state and market have influenced my own writings on the subject. Admittedly I don’t end up where he did, God dying and all, but he left a huge contribution for the world to engage.

      • Scott Holland says:

        Thanks, Andrew, for the response. I do hear your concern about the baggage “anarchy” can carry into the conversation and thus place an unnecessary provocative mark upon the NuDunker public persona. However, since all of you NuDunkers seem to dwell theologically within the realm of Christian orthodoxy, perhaps Gumm can be the other Brian, not the one of Generous Orthodoxy but instead the preacher of Edgy Orthodoxy? But then, must a Dunker be orthodox?

        I’m glad that you are open to the image of the feminine divine when thinking of the Spirit.

        The answer to the theological trivia question is Bonhoeffer. In his later theology he translated Nietzsche’s specter into his own “worldly holiness” and “religionless Christianity.” Nietzsche’s metaphorical proclamation of the death of God, it seems to some of us, can be useful for Dunker theology. If the old Brethren God indeed died in Grand Rapids in the summer of 2011, what now? Who now? Can the NuDunkers prepare space hospitable enough for the return of God?

  3. Andrew says:

    Your comment hits the nail on the head in several ways. One of the issues from the start is the categories we are forced into: orthodoxy, heterodoxy, etc. The mere attempts to categorize each other as such, betrays the power structures to which we belong. It begs the question, “who decides what is orthodox?” The answer is most obvious, the powerful. Moreover, which orthodoxy? Is it Eastern or Western versions of orthodoxy or even some other form? While I may find much more affinity with the eastern church, I have been significantly formed by my life in the western church. Classifications are never clear and cut. Personally I make efforts to reject such attempts to be classified, as if people (not referring to you but people in general) presumptuous enough to try, really know me or my whole life experience (narrative). I think one of the desires of the NuDunkers is to resist such attempts to categorize each other but still recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate our diversity. I think that in the seminal stages of the church, orthodoxy was helpful to form a distinct identity from the surrounding religions. I’m thinking that perhaps now that is not so helpful for the unity of the church, but instead I would argue that a more focused emphasis upon “orthopraxy” would be more constructive. If our commitment to live out the great command supersedes our desires to draw lines to determine who is in and who is out perhaps then we can be about a living gemeinde. Perhaps this will lead to the “edgy orthodoxy” to which you point.
    Second, I hear you on the point of the 2011 AC. It is past due time for us to destroy our idols. Those fabricated images (both physical and spiritual) that marginalize the God which I believe most people desire to worship and serve but have been misled by the overwhelming influence of modernity (and all her children) and postmodernity (and the children to which she is giving birth). This, I believe, is the insurmountable challenge we have chasing after the God who desires us all the while being deceived by our own self-absorbed desires. Above all else my hope is that a conversation space like the NuDunkers will lead to a vital church in which people will flourish in the peace and love of God and the Messiah.
    Oh, and thanks for the reminder of Bonhoeffer. For some reason he didn’t come to mind. He is one of my favorites.

    • Scott Holland says:

      Nice response! It can also be helpful to remember that although in contemporary Christian parlance “orthodoxy” signifies right thinking and correct doctrine, ortho-doxy was earlier in the history of spirituality more about a doxological consummation of theology. Thus, the return of God in our time might be found more in genuine orthodoxy, that is in right worship, than in orthologos, in correct theologies…

      • Andrew says:

        In your thinking is “genuine orthodoxy” inclusive of faith praxis or is the right-worship to which you refer the expression and posture of faith of the gathered believers?

  4. Scott Holland says:

    Well, in the context of a Free Church tradition I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive about the contours of ortho-doxy or right worship but I would suggest that holiness seeks a unity of heart, head and hand so faith praxis cannot be pried apart from the theories and theologies we compose, often in face of praxis, in our attempts to name ourselves and render God’s name in history.

  5. Love the generative chatter here. I’m totally on with “edgy orthodoxy,” and one which sees no cleavage between head, hart, and hand. See – there we have a new term!

    “Orthodoxy” in the free/believers church, peace church, and Anabaptist traditions has to, I think, have a pretty anti-constantinian bent to it while not necessarily being completely antagonistic toward post-constantinian formulations and attempts. So if I’m on to something w/ the four theological topics I’ve named, culling from conversations with NuDunkers et al, then “anarchist pneumatology” cannot finally be separated from “radical ecclesiology” (or any of the others, for that matter).

    • Scott Holland says:

      Well, perhaps, perhaps not, on the matter of radical ecclesiology. You do know that some of the most celebrated Radical Pietists found it necessary to walk away from congregational life to follow the bidding of the Spirit, even the grand congregational life of Alexander Mack? I’m thinking here of Hochmann.

  6. Scott Holland says:

    More on anarchy. Andrew. All theologies, indeed all cultural-linguistic systems, come to us carrying baggage. Now, over a week after finding myself somewhat jazzed by Brian’s edgy signifier “anarchist” related to the movement of the Spirit in the world, I repent! All theology is also contextual and in the past week I’ve been drawn into conversations in the broader church and theological guild with a growing movement of Jesus Anarchists or Jesus Radicals. Now, Andrew, I share your concerns about the heavy baggage of anarchy, not only as a political movement, but as a new provocative theological vocabulary. I must say that I find some of the new Jesus Anarchists “provocative just for the hell of it.”

    Thus, adopting “anarchy” as a NuDunker distinctive quickly links you to another established movement of anti-establishment Christian radicals. This all emerged for me as I was finishing a book chapter this week for volume titled, Political Theology After Marpeck. Pilgram Marpeck was a culturally engaged 16th century Anabaptist who resisted the extremes of both the Radicals and the Spiritualists of his era.

    Further, Brian liked my suggestion that holiness or spiritual wholeness seeks a complicated unity of head, heart and hand. I don’t know all you NuDunkers well but I don’t think any one of you live like a real anarchist, the Jesus type or the political type. A “genuine” witness to Spirit in the world, it seems to me, embodies more continuity between theory and praxis than I see in the new and improved Christian anarchy.

  7. Ric Hudgens has an excellent critique of a critical essay on Christian Anarchism that I think is pretty relevant here, especially his quotation from an earlier essay of his, “Anarchism as Spiritual Practice”: http://www.jesusradicals.com/mocking-the-anarchist-scarecrow/

    The closing line of that quote: “Anarchism has no room for personal grandiosity or totalizing metanarratives. It is if anything a politics of finitude, but not therefore a politics without vision or even (dare we say it?) ambition. Because it is the most open-ended perspective on politics it is also the most open to hope. Anarchism as spiritual practice keeps reminding us that wherever two or three are gathered God is there as well. And wherever God is there is no telling what might happen!”

    I might quibble w/ his “no room for…totalizing metanarratives,” because I do think a serious regard for Scripture (which I hold) implies a tenuous commitment to a robust metanarrative about the way things “really” are…but that metanarrative includes within it the teaching that we human will never know what’s “really” going on…which gets to his final sentence and what I think is helpful about “anarchist pneumatology.”

  8. Scott Holland says:

    Brian, Yes, I have read Hudgen’s piece but it doesn’t solve Andrew’s very valid concern about the baggage “Anarchism” as a movement, and thus as a signifier, carries with it in public discourse. I actually agree with Ric in his rejection of totalizing metanarratives. The Greek hermeneutic saw the Scriptures as consistent with a metaphysics and thus a metanarrative. Many Jews, however, would say not so fast because the closure of metaphysics can open us to awe, wonder, mystery. poetry and a God beyond any God we finally systematically name, which is to say that Infinity always subverts our totalities (as Levinas and others would contend). One need not call this hermeneutic “anarchy” to celebrate it.

    On anarchy proper, read the review of the biography of two real, historic anarchists in yesterday’s NY Times Book Review section. I suppose one of my quarrels with the new Christian anarchists — and I didn’t realize until last week how large the movement is becoming in the USA, Great Britain and Australia.– is that their language is always more shocking and subversive than their lives and thus it strikes me and others as what critics in the 1960’s called, “revolution for the hell of it.”

    • Scott Holland says:

      PS: So the concern, I guess, is whether the NuDunkers want to hitch their hermeneutical wagon to a a donkey named Anarchy who has already established for himself an international reputation? I haven’t read Jacques Ellul for over twenty years but does he employ anarchy as a description of his work?

  9. I am coming into this late…. some by necessity.

    I’ve appreciated the conversation around the term. I don’t intend to muddy those generative waters but to add another voice. I think the connections to Anarchy emerge from reading and engaging the Jesus Radicals crew. At least it is more relational for me rather than hitching to a wagon already under way. It’s kind of like my own engagement with Radical Orthodoxy. I hedge against saying I am RO thinker, though I have appreciated some of the work.

    As for the NuDunkers, I wonder if Christian Anarchy and Radical Orthodoxy (like hermeneutics, historical studies, pastoral/practical theology) are just a couple of threads that are woven together to make the conversation a rich tapestry. As I understand Brian’s list of topics, they are ways of framing the question for the collective discussion. That is not to say the NuDunkers are another form of Christian Anarchists, but to press the conversation towards radical pneumatology.

    As I read much of the Jesus Radicals stuff, I think they bring Anarchist thought to bear on ecclesiology. What i appreciate about Brian’s formulation of the concept is to turn it to thinking about the Holy Spirit. Seems like that might be a fruitful way to unhook it from the political theology conversation a little and push it to consider the ways the Holy Spirit breaks open set patterns of “Spirit Management” on the part of the Church. The Spirit, then, moves and blows in ways not often liked by the institutional church. Of course this means that ecclesiology comes into the conversation, but not as the starting point. The Spirit, then is the one true anarchist- breaking the norms and expectations of what God does in the world, and where.

    Just some late to the game ponderings 🙂

    • Scott Holland says:

      Right. I suppose I was first drawn to Brian’s anarchy of the Spirit because of the excessive “old management style” of ecclesiology that informs so many denominational agencies. While many cutting edge successful businesses have long ago abandoned the Organizational Man paradigm, churches and their agencies are stuck in an unfortunate management time warp.

      I only repented because the next week I was pulled into some unrelated conversations with card carrying Christian Anarchist [and Jesus Radicals]. Yikes. As some of my NCC and WCC ecumenical colleagues have observed, “They might tattoo their butts and pierce their noses but their radical theology smacks of fundamentalism or extremism.” Thus my question about identifying with a movement that now is a militant network, largely of young white men, from North America to England to Australia.

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