Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is the Spirit of truth liberal or conservative? (1)

ADDENDUM: Wonderful Corpus Christi note here. I hope to publish Part 2 of below tomorrow (1 June), and Part 3 on Tuesday 4 June.

BEGINNING of original post:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-14, NRSV)
One current theme in Anglican theology, at least in the august corridors of ADU, is that the Spirit is speaking new things into the life of the church. Intriguingly, even where these new things might disagree with what we thought the Spirit has spoken to us through Scripture, invocation is made of Scripture. Specifically, John 16 is invoked, "I still have many things to say to you ... the Spirit ... will guide you into all truth."

What do these words mean?

In one way it is a little bit ludicrous to think that, say, Jesus really wanted to give the disciples the low down on the iniquity of slavery, but that had to wait to a future time when they could 'bear' that truth.

In another way, we can see that Jesus is making no great claim for the future of general knowledge and his disciples. Jesus is not here a schoolmaster with pupils thirsty to learn facts and figure. He is the Only Son of God who has come from the Father's heart to make the Father known (1:18). 'All the truth', especially when it relates to what the Spirit hears from the Father and the Son, is the truth of God. To be guided by the Spirit into all truth is to be guided deeper into the heart of God. Intimate knowledge of God is unbearable and we need a gentle, understanding guide. The Spirit of truth who is also in Johannine terms the Paraclete/Helper/Counsellor/Advocate/Comforter is that guide.

But what does it mean for disciples to be drawn ever more deeply into the truth of God? In Johannine terms, thinking in terms of 1 John as well as the Fourth Gospel, the truth of God is that God is love (1 John 4:7).

At this point in our exegesis we need to take great care. Such great care that I am going to make this part one of a series and come back after further thought to the matter! The care needed is how we understand the love of God and the God who is Love.

We have a way of talking about the love of God which goes something like this: God loves you. You do not quite understand this, so let me say it again, God loves you. It is the love you need, the love you may never have received as fully as you would like from family and friends. It is - when truly understood - utterly irresistible, this divine love.

But is the love of God like that? If it is, then our churches, surely, would be full of people giving thanks for that love? More to a Johannine point, if that is the love of God, how does that square with the divisiveness of Jesus' ministry? In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.

No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?

Back soon (ish - some non-blogging deadlines to meet this week)


Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Peter, for this really excellent summary of what is facing the Church as a direct result of being promised, by Jesus, that the Holy Spirit would lead us into 'All Truth'.

As you have here stated, some of the truth was 'too hard to bear' for Jesus' immediate followers. Perhaps, today, we ought concede that some of the perfect Truth might still be 'too hard to bear' for some Christians for whom Law is paramount over Grace.

I submit that God's love is so 'full of grace' that we, like the
Scribes and Pharisees, sometimes affect not to believe in its amazing openness - to ALL. When we begin to believe we have closed up all the avenues of God's love - to conform to our own imperfect understanding of it; it may be then that the Holy Spirit starts up a new movement in the Church to 'set the captives free'.

Human beings can never outdo God's determination to redeem all whom God calls to God's self - whether we think God is being over-generous or not. We are all sinners, and Christ came into the world to save and redeem us - not because we are 'good', but because God is all Good

Veni Creator Spiritus!

carl jacobs said...


When dealing with the subject of the 'Spirit speaking new things' you have to deal with three questions before anything else.

1. To whom is this new revelation given? For that is what we are speaking about - new revelation.

2. How is this new revelation authenticated?

3. What is the relationship of this new revelation to previous revelation?

Those not uncoincidentally are the three questions that drive the conflict between conservatives and liberals. (The first two questions btw are the questions that liberals never answer, for they themselves are the answer to both.) Those three questions are logically prior to any discussion of this matter. I think you will also find that the answers given by any individual will determine every successive position that individual might advocate for the remainder of the discussion.


Anonymous said...

Nobody on this blog or amongst conservative Evangelicals in general thinks Law is paramount over Grace.

Bryden Black said...

I look forward Peter to see how you develop these ideas. Some of the necessary trajectories and/or parameters are of course well trodden. Others more obfuscating!

So; I wish you and fellow bloggers blessings as you undertake this necessary endeavour.

Anonymous said...

"Human beings can never outdo God's determination to redeem all whom God calls to God's self"

What strange tortuous language. What is wrong with the biblical language for God, which isn't ashamed to use the pronouns 'he' and 'his'? Aren't the words of Jesus and his apostles good enough? Is this an instance of a 'new revelation'?

Martinus Grammaticus

Anonymous said...

Carl has identified the issues concisely and precisely.
In a church without a magisterium (whether singular or conciliar), every person is his or her own pope.
As for the subject of this posting, D A Carson's seminal little work 'The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God' is a good place to start - only 90 pages or so. Everything begins with proper exegesis. Fiat Lux, Eschew obfuscation!


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

Can I encourage you to consider 1 John 4 in your series at some point? The apostle is very keen to help us discern what revelation is spiritual and what is unspiritual. Not every new revelation or practice is spiritual, even when church leaders say it is. In short, those who acknowledge the incarnation and Lordship of Jesus, and listens to the apostles teaching, can claim to be speaking Spiritually. Even then, there needs to be discernment from the wider body of Christ.

If you are going to develop the love of God theme further, you would also do well to consider the linkage between loving God and obeying his commands in John's gospel.

I can also highly recommend Graham Cole's "He Who Gives Life" on this issue, especially chapter 10 regarding contemporary Spiritual revelation.