Andrew Linzey:
A Dialectical Approach to the Holy Spirit



[Linzey, A., 'Theology', 29-66, in Runcie R., Clarke, P. A. B. (& ed.), Linzey, A. (& ed.), Moses, J. (1988), Theology, the University and the Modern World, 42-46]

5. The Dynamic of the Spirit
...[I]t may be asked: If it is true that God the Holy Trinity continues to reveal himself through the Holy Spirit in our contemporary world so that we can be confident that there are new things to learn, where and when precisely are we to encounter him? The very question exposes our lack of anything like an adequate relationship between God and the world. So concerned have Christians been to define, demarcate and describe the content of past revelation that precious little thought has actually gone into the phenomenology of contemporary Christian experience. (Indeed the very phrase 'Christian experience' already denotes a telescopic view of the operation of God's Spirit as exclusively focussed upon the individual believer or the Church, or both). Karl Barth is one of those who draw a sharp line between God's self-disclosure and the experience of the world:
Created order has what we may call its brighter side. But its justification by its Creator and His self-disclosure is not bound up with this brighter side. it is not connected with the fact that the sun shines, that there are blossoms and fruits, pleasing shapes, colours and sounds, realities and groups of realities which preserve and foster life, purposeful relationships and order, intelligible, controllable and serviceable elements and powers, which enlighten the created mind of man, speak to his heart and in some way correspond to his will for life and foster it.
Barth, K. (1958), Bromiley, G. W., Torrance, T. F. (eds.), 'The Doctrine of Creation', Church Dogmatics, Vol 3, part 1, Edinburgh, T. and T. Clark, 370-371.
Since I go on to develop an approach significantly different to
that of Barth, I want to begin by acknowledging my indebtedness to his richness of thought (not least to the lyrical power of his language) and to indicate some lines of agreement. Barth is right to point us to the sheer ambiguity of human experience. There is, as he indicates, a 'brighter' and a 'darker' side of creaturely experience. The world appears to both affirm and deny God at one and the same time. It is all too possible to find causes for laughing and weeping. It is very easy for religious persons to fall into the trap of romanticising the creaturely world, whereas as Barth suggests the 'very last thing which ought to happen is the attempt to elude the misery of life'. (Barth, above, 376). Barth is also right in emphasising that the world is not self-sufficient' and explicable in its own terms. God is certainly not to be viewed as identical with the world. God remains creator, and we creation. There is here a fundamental distinction which we do well to remember, and to thank God at Barth has helped us to grasp it so vividly. Nevertheless, the problem remains that Barth can only so categorically state his case by focussing exclusively upon the self-disclosure of God in Jesus Christ to the detriment of God the Holy Spirit. God's self-revelation, argues Barth, 'takes place the heights, above all the misery of life, and radically beyond even the greatest convulsions caused by the discords and eaninglessness of life'. (Barth, above, 374) In this approach one vital link is missing, namely the immanence of the Spirit in the creation God has made. So concerned is Barth to maintain the sovereignty of the transcendent God that the reality of the world order, though affirmed in the incarnation of his Son, is treated as practically alien from him. For the point worth stressing against Barth is that although God is indeed not identical with the world, it is the Spirit of God which enables poor creatures to experience a 'brighter side' at all. For it may be precisely those things which Barth claims are independent of the self-disclosure of God, namely:
that the sun shines, that there are blossoms and fruits, pleasing shapes and colours and sounds, realities and groups of realities which preserve and foster life, purposeful [requoted]
relationships and order, intelligible, controllable and serviceable elements and powers, which enlighten the created mind of man, speak to his heart and in some way correspond with his will for life and foster it [requoted]
that are, among other things, the very signs that God's self-revealing Spirit is among us.
6. The Creative Spirit
For what has been so terribly lacking in Christian writing about the Holy Spirit has been any awareness that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of the Creator. The dualism that theology has suffered from is the conception of humankind as psycho-somatic entities in contrast to the world of nature as a soulless machine. Far from being part of the creaturely world enlivened by the Spirit, nature has been 'objectified' and 'despiritualised' into a realm in which God is almost always absent. If today we have so much difficulty in conceptualising God's activity in the world, it is simply because we have limited its scope and possibility to the community of believers or the infusion of individual souls. The result has been a disastrous split between 'man' and 'nature' and between 'body' and 'soul'. What we have to grasp again, as a necessary corrective to so much contemporary theology, is the insight that the whole world is penetrated by the Holy Trinity. This is not just an appeal for a return to a sufficient concept of God the Creator important though that may be, or indeed an adequate understanding of the incarnation as the taking of manhood- and therefore of all nature into Godhead, or indeed a sufficiently dynamic conception of the Holy Spirit as inspiring all creaturely life, but rather an appeal that all three modes of God's activity are essential for a distinctively Christian doctrine of God and the world. The sheer anthropocentricity of modern thinking has rendered much trinitarian theology unintelligible. If this thesis is correct, we encounter the self-revealing God
in the God-ward movement of creation which is inclusive not just of Christians but all human beings, and not just human beings but of all beings that have the breath of God's Spirit within them. This is not panentheism, still less pantheism. God's Spirit is free in his creation, as the Psalmist exclaims:
When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.

[Psalm 104: 29-30, RSV]
Of the many aspects of the Spirit in creation that can be enumerated, this facet of creativity is the one that holds the key to understanding the mystery of divine self-revelation. Only by the inspiration of God can any creation take place. 'Whatever we create, however truly it reflects our creation, is always invested with something more powerful than the selves which have produced it', writes Laurens van der Post. 'The power and the glory is at our service, but never of our invention'. [Van der Post, L. (1988), Publication no. 129, London: USPG]. We encounter God's Spirit, or rather he encounters us, at the point at which we co-operate in the divine work of creativity.
This divine work of creativity embraces the world at every point of its existence. We need to rediscover the vision of cosmic penetration and inspiration by God which was such a major preoccupation of some of the earliest Christian thinkers like St Basil the Great, St Athanasius, St Gregory Nazianzen, St Cyril of Jerusalem and St Gregory of Nyssa. 'For when he considers the universe, can anyone be so simple-minded as not to believe that the Divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it?' asks St Gregory of Nyssa. 'For all things depend upon Him who is, and nothing can exist which does not have its being in Him who is'. [St Gregory of Nyssa, 'Address on Religious Instruction' in Hardy, E. R., Richardson, C. C. (eds.) (1964), Christology in the Later Fathers, Vol. III, London: SCM Press, 124] [T]here is indeed not one single gift which reaches creation without the Holy Spirit', maintains St Basil. [St Basil the Great, De Spiritu Sanctu (24, 55), cited and discussed in Torrance, T. F. (1965), Theology in Reconstruction, London: SCM Press, 222] This strong emphasis upon
the elivening and sanctifying Spirit in creation is nowhere more determined than in the thought of St Cyril of Jerusalem. The Spirit is, according to St Cyril, the 'supremely Great Power, divine and unsearchable, living and rational, and it belongs to him to sanctify all things that were made by God through Christ'.
It is the Holy Spirit who knows the mysteries, searching all things, even the depths of God... For there is one God... one Lord... and one Holy Spirit who has power to sanctify all. [St Cyril of Jerusalem, Cat. 16: 1 and 40:16, cited and discussed in Torrance, T. F., as above]
The life of the Spirit then touches us as inspiration. 'It is a universal human preoccupation', writes Colin Gunton, to believe that many human achievements are made possible only by sources beyond ourselves. Hence we speak of 'all kinds of things as being inspired: an idea, a piece of music or even the Bible as a whole'. Artistic creativity, in particular, seems particularly susceptible to inspiration 'as when Stravinsky is reported to have said that he did not compose The Rite of Spring, but was the instrument through which it flowed. [Gunton, C. (1987), 'The Playright as Theologian: Peter Schaffer's Amadeus', in King's Theological Review, Vol. X, No. 1, Spring 1987, 2.] The archbishop too speaks of 'thinking' as itself a 'spiritual activity' and of the view of R. H. Tawney that education is also a spiritual activity [Runcie, R., 'Theology, the University and the Modern World', 13-28, in Runcie R., Clarke, P. A. B. (& ed.), Linzey, A. (& ed.), Moses, J. (1988), Theology, the University and the Modern World, 21]. From this standpoint, the Spiritual celebration of life [is not] the location of a specifically 'religious' sphere but the gladsome knowledge of what is God-given in every area of creaturely experience.
[Linzey, A., 'Theology', 29-66, in Runcie R., Clarke, P. A. B. (& ed.), Linzey, A. (& ed.), Moses, J. (1988), Theology, the University and the Modern World, 42-46]

Why pick this selection? Well, Andrew Linzey's Ph.D was on Karl Barth, and I happen to know that decades later Andrew still referred to Karl Barth as wanting to but no longer able (by time, given the needed comparative effort) to consider the revelation of the Holy Spirit as he had considered the revelation of Christ.
Karl Barth is commonly regarded as a neo-Calvinist, a label that is as much misleading as helpful, if Calvinism is the election of the few from the almighty diety (Barth arguably leant in the direction of some sort of loving-God potential universalism). Neo-Calvinism means here the unidirection of God's salvation activity to the world and the complete sovereignty of God in this freedom to act, with humankind receiving and not initiating such salvation. Such comes through grace and revelation through Jesus the Christ, and, despite being aware of modern biblical criticism (certainly unlike Calvin), Barth is unwilling to separate the supposed historical Jesus and a what others might regard as a constructed Christ of faith. For him the Christ of faith was a delivery of faith from God through the both/ and Jesus Christ. The argument is not made from evidence, either inductive or deductive, but through a rhetoric of binary opposites of claim and counter claim, each supposedly testing the other, to reveal-out the theology being made.
Andrew Linzey is also employing dialectical methods above, because there is on the one hand a reference constantly to doctrine and core belief, and then a contrast with the freedom that such reference implies - particularly when in the subject area of the Holy Spirit.
So this is, possibly, what Barth might have said, in briefest summary, had he written 13 volumes of Church Dogmatics focused on the Spirit. Also noticed is Andrew Linzey's focus on the Spirit coming to us, maintaining Barth's direction of travel. Well, nearly.
There is one rather telling revision just prior to the above selection on page 41: that Barth himself sometimes confuses witnessing revelation with revelation, in an aside as the 'Theology' chapter argues about fundamentalism. Barth himself, it is stated in its endnotes, revised his position towards 'witnessing' in his Evangelical Theology of 1962 (London: Collins), in some contrast with Church Dogmatics.
Witnessing is a significant concession, because now it does involve human communicative activity as opposed to something on the lines of, say, the Islamic command to recite. It starts also to limit God within cultural expressions, which is the more critical Christian position, than one of complete God freedom and pure directive authority, which is an Islamic position. God, in Christianity, is self-limiting, indeed even the supposed revelation in a human being is self-limiting, as is the use of a Greek language Bible and its assumptions for revelation.
Page 41 actually offers its own dialectical rhetoric: as soon as the concession is made in favour of witnessing revelation, Andrew Linzey goes on:
We may go further. Any religion that denies it can be demonic - is demonic. To worship God the Holy Trinity is to embrace diversity at the very heart of being; it is to acknowledge complexity as well as simplicity, disturbance as well as order. God may well be the object of all religious needs but we make a mistake if we think he can satisfy them all. Indeed, the demand, for it is often nothing less, that God should meet our personal needs, makes faith idolatrous. [Linzey, A., 'Theology', As above, 41]
As regards human witnessing, what about human creativity? Whereas Karl Barth gave an independence and non-revelation to aspects such as the sun shining, blossoms and fruits, etc. and their human appreciation, Andrew Linzey (quoting this point on page 42 again on pages 43-44) thinks these are precisely where the Spirit is active, that the Spirit touches us as inspiration:
From this standpoint, the Spiritual celebration of life [is not] the location of a specifically 'religious' sphere but the gladsome knowledge of what is God-given in every area of creaturely experience. [Linzey, A., 'Theology', As above, 46]
Personally, I am opposed to this 'from outside' view, because its direction suggests dependency and in effect that we are less than human. I would rather be creature-anthropological and see our creativity coming from our evolution as symbolic, tribal creatures, evolved into intelligence, rather than some fantasising that it comes as some form of necessary gap-filling revelatory spiritual implant that gives animation. I am sure Andrew Linzey would see this as fulfilment, but I would argue it is deficiency. And why stop at what we appreciate: why not apply the same principle to notions of deity? In other words, Andrew Linzey is at least consistent unlike Karl Barth, but let's reverse the direction of travel to up not down.
Clearly Andrew Linzey is trying to justify himself against doctrinal constraints and those who would police them: the important point about the argument presented is that the Spirit works now as well as in tradition or within scriptural words, and the Spirit is completely free to do so outside the Church, and beyond the inspiration given to scriptural words. This freedom turns then into a Godward argument for academic freedom, which must involve the right to treat even the traditional formularies (on which all this depends - surely) with a lighter touch. Nothing can hem in the Spirit; the academic cannot be hemmed in either by Church authorities or those fundamentalist self-appointed guardians of Scripture. All of which is argued from those Church formularies themselves, or at least the major ones such as the Creeds and the Trinity within them.
The problem with the dialectical approach is that it ends up in riddles, making black look white and back to black and then white again, occupying a space that starts to look like a succession of mirrors. No wonder that Hans Frei takes grapples with Barthian theology into a scriptural method, as an ungrounded ahistorical evidence-free stream of writing, and then leads to non-objective frozen cultural expressions of Christian performance along the lines of Lindbeck - from no culture (Barth) to suspended sub-culture (Lindbeck). This is hardly freedom, when it goes down that route, but a sort of suspended animation of Christianity.
Before that happens the dialectical acrobatics bounce around with contrasts and contradictions and one wonders about the logic of it all.
What happens, however, is that the effect of exercising the academic freedom is to discover and open out the all too human processes by which credal statements came about; academic freedom also has the effect of showing the limitations of the Bible as historical and biographical, showing it to be rather anthropological in its faith communities regenerating tales and stories about the hoped for messianic salvation figure, however charismatically.
Barth says that there is an either/ or here:
Either in Jesus we have to do with God or a creature, and if with God, we have to affirm what Nicea affirmed.
[Quoted without reference in McEnhill, P., Newlands, G. (2004), 'Barth, Karl', 58-67, Fifty Key Christian Thinkers, 61.]
Why should this be? Why such a compulsory reference back to the sinful Church? Is it because the doctrine is not sufficiently clear - in fact not clear at all - in the pages of the New Testament itself? The point is, academic study can easily relativise the basis of these creeds, and statements of faith and belief that construct the New Testament. Indeed it will tell us that early Christians were not trinitarians, even if there was an acceleration in the salvation belief that Jesus possessed divinity.
In any case, this Holy Spirit, that is, this infusion of 'inspiration', might also inspire us about an appreciation of Jesus and his healing, teaching and preaching, without having to make any reference to Nicea. He remains the evolved creature that he was: fallible, culturally limited: an end-time sage.
English Unitarians from the off understood the precision involved and the narrowness intended regarding the Trinitarian doctrine. After all, it was set up to deny the popular alternative of classical Arianism. Yet, later nineteenth century Unitarians - having gone beyond a Reformation Arianism, and, indeed, even a biblicist Unitarianism into something more critical and loftily romantic - like the early ones still used the language of Christ and Holy Spirit, and still gave it revelatory meaning. They would say (perhaps like Andrew Linzey' s argument) 'the Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word', and the Holy Spirit was still the agency.
Most probably thought Christ remained supreme example and approved by God, and a sufficient focus, and thus a saving figure worthy of belief (Well, Francis William Newman could see the problem about a creature human with moral perfection: how can you tell?). For them, by the biblical witnesses, Christ impresses himself on us as well. So, the Holy Spirit was used liturgically and in prayers to refer to God in his acting - to give inspiration a Godward importance. Not all Unitarians were deists, and even deists referred to the Holy Spirit to mark the spiritual importance of creaturely life as a sort of deity value-added. The high point of this progressive revelation was at the end of the nineteenth century and at the turn of the twentieth century. No forced dialectic was involved, except that of the realisation in transition that a more traditional language was being used in even revised liturgies than might actually be the belief at hand. (James Martineau was accused of this conservatism and not following through the implications of his religious subjectivity.)
In the end, this freedom of interpretation, and not just academic freedom but at the core of worshipping, has become ever more anthropological. It has remained largely liberal and largely objective, in that reducing terms and filtering-out is in contrast to the postmoderns who maintain liturgical clutter but no longer believe it in any objective sense. Their museum remains fully equipped, as opposed to the one that changes its displays and would rather be more of an art gallery to the present (but finds, inevitably, that religious language is dragged up from the past).
The Barthian approach simply self-destructs within its own rhetoric. All dialectic does: a bouncing ball with no reference out. It might go round and around with a focus on Christ, like (another metaphor) a microscope on a fragment that cannot be moved. To apply Barth to the Spirit and give that freedom is simply to test a might-be Barth to destruction. It ends up in a kind of permissive game of its own approval, that everything is free but still to return to everything being God-directed. There is no evidence involved - there cannot be - nor is there any reason for having this framework rather than any other framework (as the Conservative postmodernists accept, as they voluntarily chain themselves up within their own set boundaries).
In the end, religion is about the anthropology of animals, including ourselves with our precision and storable language and the development of culture. In metaphorical spacial terms, what is God-like comes from below and is acquired. This way it is inductive and builds up. We don't acquire inspiration from some supernatural space, by which, otherwise, we wouldn't have inspiration. Theology ought to enlighten the knowledge we have, not provide a fantasy alternative.
Like Darwin's doubt, it could be that there is some deistic background by which the rules were at first made, something like mathematical form out of which the simplicity of a beautiful equation of a complex number produces complexity and diversity - try that as a real dialectic!. We have means to knowledge: the testing of physics, the production of chemistry, the life of biology, the organisation of anthropology and sociology, the exchange of economics, the situationalal selections over geography, the governance of politics, and the beauty of creativity in the arts. And then comes the reflection, the very human reflection, using religion and religious experience - for insight and speculation and even more contemplation and reflection. This is consistent with moving from form and evidential objectivity to creative subjectivity and in continuation not conflict.
To me, the Barthian dialectic as a method, is a form of Christian masturbation, utterly in its own navel or even anus (some shift this time in the bodily metaphors). It collapses into itself, as it is bound to do, as any structuralist dialectic is bound to do. It thus has no longevity, and is only useful to demonstrate its limitations.
The argument for academic and religious freedom is not an argument to also maintain doctrines, nor is having doctrines an argument to undermine them. Academic and any freedom should be conducted on its own merit - something along the lines of having freedom of creative expression, freedom of reflection, and a consistency with the dynamic of other forms of knowledge.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful