Our Lord and Giver of Life?


Home Up Chilean Pentecostalism and Ecumenism Our Lord and Giver of Life? Faith, Healing, Disability Catholic-Pentecostal Report#6








"Our Lord and Giver of Life?": A Reformed Perspective on Pneumatology and Mission


By Dr. Nadia Marais



A long introduction to a complex topic


The trouble with any contribution of this kind is that it is preliminary at best, and presumptive at worst. There is absolutely no way in which any one theologian here can speak on behalf of the Reformed tradition, least of all myself; in fact, it has been pointed out that even the reference to tradition in the singular already reveals a misunderstanding of what it means to be be Reformed. If anything, there are not only different Reformed perspectives but could also be a plurality of Reformed traditions – just in South Africa alone this would already be quite evident. When I speak of the Reformed tradition I am therefore not attempting to speak on behalf of my fellow Reformed team members, and even less so on behalf of all Reformed churches and people over the world; yet I do want to attempt, if nothing else, offering a perspective as a Reformed team member on some classic theological emphases that I cannot see us doing without in this discussion on the Holy Spirit and mission.


Yet, as many of you know, this is not the first time that the Pentecostal-Reformed dialogue addresses the person and role of the Holy Spirit. Some members that are a part of this round of the dialogue were also participants in the first round of the dialogue (from 1996 to 2000), from which the report Word and Spirit, church and world (2000) were compiled. This report points, in particular, to the challenge of developing a shared language between the Pentecostal and Reformed teams (2000:3) as well as deepening understanding of ‘the other tradition’ (2000:3). As such I have chosen to limit my focus to (1) the dialogical potential of a shared theological language of the Holy Spirit and (2) a broad portrayal of some important pneumatological impulses within the Reformed tradition. It is with this report in the back of my mind that I offer a Reformed perspective on pneumatology and mission, in keeping with this year’s theme, and thereby hope to highlight some important markers that I think may help us to make sense of classic Reformed themes in our reflection on the task of doing mission.


This means doing what Reformed theologian Serene Jones has called theological cartography (2000:19), or mapping and remapping the landscape of faith, in order to be able to identify key markers that may help us to make sense of the person and work of the Holy Spirit with regards to mission. This in no way entails giving an exhaustive overview of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Reformed theology, and as such there will always be more that can be said. What this does mean is that I will identify three key markers or signposts for a Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit that may be of help in considering possible areas of agreement and disagreement between the Reformed and Pentecostal teams – and hopefully herein guide us to consider different possibilities for common witness (cf. the goals of the dialogue as outlined in the 2000 report; 2000:2).[i]


However, much of what we say about the Holy Spirit – including the landmarks that I will propose – will have to reckon with the deep historical wells from which we knowingly or unknowlingly draw. The contribution of the Reformed team to this dialogue is, in this respect, no different. Contrary to much of what may be assumed about the Reformed tradition, the person and work of the Holy Spirit has always played a pivotal role in the self-understanding and (missional) work of Reformed churches. The Holy Spirit’s significance is not an uncomfortable or awkward locus within this tradition – not simply a counter reaction to the questions or movements of our time, nor merely an attempt to fit into a particular ecclesial or ecumenical scene. The well-known and widely respected South African Reformed theologian Willie Jonker would point out that already in the Reformation, and therefore from the very beginnings of the Reformed tradition, the person and work of the Holy Spirit would be central – indeed, he describes the Reformation as a struggle for a particular kind of pneumatology (1981:50). This becomes evident, he writes, when one regards the kinds of questions that would be addressed during this turbulent time – for attempts to make sense of the assurance of salvation (heilsekerheid) and the appropriation of salvation (heilstoeëiening)[ii] highlighted the fact that these were deeply pneumatological questions (1981:50). Indeed, John Calvin himself would famously be described as ‘the theologian of the Holy Spirit’![iii] (Jonker, 1981:51)


Yet a Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit and mission cannot speak only about the Spirit and mission. If “Christian mission gives expression to the dynamic relationship between God and world”, as David Bosch argued in his Transforming Mission (1991:9), then the theme of the Holy Spirit and mission raises the question as to how the Spirit relates to the world as God. As such, the proper context for any Reformed reflection on the person and work of the Holy Spirit is the Trinity, lest it be said that the Spirit relates to the world in and by itself. The first landmark for this Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit and mission must therefore necessarily consider the person and work of the Spirit within the Trinity. I invite you to consider with me this first signpost in this reflection.


The Spirit – within the Trinity?


The theological heart of Reformed faith is the confession that God is the triune God. Some would argue that the Trinity expresses not only the distinctively Reformed understanding of God, but really the distinctively Christian understanding of God (Migliore, 2004:74). Therefore any reflection on the Holy Spirit that divorces the Spirit from the Father and the Son (tritheism), reduces the Spirit to just another name for God (modalism), places the Spirit within a hierarchy of triune persons (subordinationism), or makes the Spirit the sole centre of the Christian faith and the Christian church (unitarianism) cannot be said to take seriously the trinitarian context within which the person and work of the Holy Spirit is located (cf. Migliore, 2004:70 – 74 & Jonker, 1981:102 – 136).


Therefore it seems that a lot could be at stake in reflecting on the Holy Spirit and mission. This is all the more evident in the recent rise in missional theologies. John Flett, a doctoral student of well-known missional (and Reformed) theologian Darrel Guder, argues that the problem of mission is at its very core a problem of God (2010:1 – 3).[iv] One of the key developments within the theology of mission, argues Flett (2010:4), is therefore a resurgence of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity through the concept missio Dei. Both John Flett and well-known missiologist (and South African Reformed theologian) David Bosch uses this concept in reference to God’s mission (Flett, 2010:4; Bosch, 1991:10). Stated somewhat differently, “[m]issio Dei enunciates the good news that God is a God-for-people” (Bosch, 1991:10),[v] whereas missions (in the plural) “refer to particular forms, related to specific times, places, or needs, of participation in the missio Dei” (Bosch, 1991:10). Yet, as Flett points out in his critique (2010:5), there is a vacuity that emerges regarding what exactly the reference to the Trinity means and it is meant to accomplish – which “render[s] missio Dei an elastic concept capable of accommodating an ever-expanding range of meanings.”


This dilemma is all the more evident when it is considered that the way in which the Trinity is invoked in missional theologies, namely that the language of ‘sending’ is employed, includes both the twofold sending of the Son and the Spirit (Flett, 2010:9). When the person and work of the Holy Spirit and mission is considered, questions regarding the filioque inevitably arise: Is the Spirit sent by the Father, or by the Father and the Son? And if the immanent Trinity is described with the adjective ‘missional’ or ‘sending’ – if God is indeed a missionary God (Flett, 2010:5 & Bosch, 1991:390) – who then does the work of sending? Who sends? If it is the Father who sends the Spirit and the Son, does this not create another hierarchy of persons within the Trinity? Does God the Father – over and against the Son and the Spirit – not become the Aristotelian immovable mover, the unsent sender, and thereby the immutable, deistic God that is again far removed from the world and her troubles? And if God the Father is also ‘sent’, who then becomes the subject of the sending?


The problem is not limited to the immanent Trinity only. The economic Trinity involves equally troublesome questions to deal with. For instance, if the whole work of God – the whole economy of salvation – is likewise reduced to ‘mission’, how do we do right by the classic loci of creation, salvation, and eschatological consummation? If mission is synonymous with creation, for instance, what is to stop missional theology from becoming yet another subtle form of natural theology? And if mission is conflated with salvation, does this not become a form of pelagianism? And if mission is none other than eschatological consummation, will this not lead to the collapse of any kind of transcendent framework – and thereby make itself guilty of idolatry, of taking charge of the future and God to ‘make the church great again’?


Moreover, questions can also be raised with regards to the relationship between the immanent Trinity and economic Trinity. As Flett points out, a cleavage between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity results in “the cleavage of God’s being in his relationship to the world” – which, in turn, leads to “the cleavage of church from mission” and ultimately church from world (2010:4 – 5). Indeed, John Flett has pointed out that missio Dei easily becomes “a trope” that “satisfies an instinct that missionary witness properly belongs to the life of the church” – an instinct that does not articulate into “any concrete determination of that act” (2010:8). Daniel Migliore makes the further point that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot “[provide] us with an elaborate blueprint for theological anthropology or a detailed program for the renovation for human society” (2004:80) – or, one may add, mission. Yet what this does mean is that mission should in some way correspond to “the trinitarian logic of God” (Migliore, 2004:80).[vi]


What does this mean for the Holy Spirit’s work in mission? I would argue that herein nothing less than that the whole economy of salvation must be taken seriously in the church’s work of doing mission. Insofar as the whole economy of salvation is the work of all of the triune persons together, there can be no simplistic division of divine work within the economic Trinity – no creation without the Son and the Spirit, no salvation without the Spirit and the Father, no consummation without the Father and the Son. The economy of the Trinity is simply too rich, too deep, and too diverse to underestimate the complexity of the work of creation, salvation, and eschatological consummation – and therein to reduce the work of the Trinity to any singular activity or single description, including that of mission. It is for this very reason that Reformed theologians stress that the work of the triune God in the world is indivisible[vii] – and that it is not the Spirit alone, but the Spirit sent by the Father and the Son, who is active in mission. The Trinity provides us with a grammar – which I would think important in a dialogue that is itself concerned with shared language – to speak, among other things, about the Holy Spirit and mission (Migliore, 2004:76).[viii]


Therefore understanding the Spirit as the ‘Lord and Giver of Life’ points toward the triune God, in that this confession stresses God’s self-consistency, freedom, and self-determining intent in drawing all living beings into the triune communion (Kelsey, 2009:127).[ix] David Kelsey describes this communion, a communion that is ordered by the logic of ‘the Spirit sent by the Father with the Son’, as the kingdom of God (2009:508). However, if the work of the Spirit is indeed the work of the Trinity, this also raises the question as to the role and work of the Spirit in relation to Jesus Christ – particularly as it pertains to mission. The Reformation and the Reformed tradition would, together with Rome, accept the filioque – and therein take very seriously the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ (Jonker, 1982:50 – 51). The second landmark for this Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit and mission must therefore necessarily consider the person and work of the Spirit in relation to the person and work of the Son. Let us therefore consider this second signpost in this reflection.


The Spirit – of Christ?


The content of the good news of the gospel is, confesses the Reformed tradition and Christian faith, Jesus Christ. This good news is not only articulated in the work of reconciliation that the Son, sent by the Father and empowered by the Spirit, does – but also in the very person of Christ, as fully human and fully divine. As such, John Calvin declares that everything that the Father and the Son does takes place through the Spirit (Jonker, 1981:51). For him, the Spirit has no other task than to effect or apply that which the Father and the Son wants to do (Jonker, 1981:51). And indeed, Willie Jonker admits that the Reformed tradition had at times underplayed the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the work of reconciliation, and therein had placed the focus primarily on reconciliation in Christ (Jonker, 1983:25). Yet Jonker points out that this may lead to the wrongful impression that a lowly place is given to the Spirit, since the Spirit has no independent task apart from the Son (1981:51) or in the Son’s work of reconciliation. Perhaps it may even lead to the well-intended but misguided intuition that Reformed pneumatology is, in truth, nothing more than Christology – so that Reformed pneumatology really is a contradiction in terms!


John Flett offers a helpful distinction in this regard: the work of reconciliation takes on a twofold form, namely that of the Son’s ‘objective completion of reconciliation’[x] and that of the Spirit’s ‘subjective accomplishment of reconciliation’[xi] (2010:289). For Flett, this means that “[t]he Christian community is a missionary community” insofar as she is “the community of God’s reconcilation” (2010:290). God’s mission, and God’s reconciliatory initiative, must therefore translate into a missional response by the community of faith – as “the objective human act that corresponds to God’s own livingness” (2010:290). Yet this does not mean that the church can complete or replicate Jesus Christ’s work of reconciliation (2010:291). Rather, “[s]he presupposes it, living under and by its reality, subject to the ordering of the differentiated fellowship of action, which is her unity with Jesus Christ in the Spirit” (2010:291). In short, this means that “[t]he missio Dei is the missio ecclesiae (2010:291).


John Calvin, however, stresses that the Spirit is eternally the Spirit of Christ, in that the deep relationship and mutuality between the Spirit and the Son is not established only after the incarnation or within the work of reconciliation (Jonker, 1981:51). What this means, argues Jonker (1981:51), is not a reduction of the person and work of the Spirit but a radical broadening of the work and activity of the Spirit (1981:51). Stated somewhat differently, understanding the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is the very opposite of denigrating, reducing, or underemphasising the person and work of the Spirit. Within the Reformed tradition the work of the Spirit in mission cannot be regarded more highly, or taken more seriously, or be reflected upon more deeply, than when the Spirit is confessed to be the Spirit of Christ. The scope of the work of the Spirit therein includes creation, salvation, and eschatological consummation – for in the affirmation that the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ it should become clear that there is nothing in the work of the economy of salvation that the Spirit does not do (Jonker, 1981:52).


Moreover, as is articulated in the very first section (and indeed the very title) of the report Word and Spirit (2000:6 – 10), within the Reformed tradition the Spirit is never contemplated apart from the Word, exactly because the Spirit is understood as not just any spirit or spiritual reality, but as the Spirit of Christ (Jonker, 1994:43; cf. Keum, 2013:11). As Spirit of Christ the Spirit is also the Spirit of the Word (Jonker, 1981:239),[xii] and therefore no division between Word and Spirit is theologically justifiable (Jonker, 1981:239). In short, one of the fundamental functions of the Holy Spirit entails giving sinners a stake in the salvation in Christ (1983:31). The work of the Spirit includes the sanctification of believers, which is not the basis of salvation but the way along which human beings live in and into the salvation that has been given by God’s grace (1989:295).


Yet this also means taking seriously the destructive, seductive, all-encompassing, unavoidable, tragic reality of sin and misery. There is, in the quest for holiness and a life characterised by the fruits of the Spirit, no leaving behind of ‘an era of sin’ – seeing as this would imply leaving behind no less than Christ himself (Jonker, 1981:240). As such, the confession that God reveals Godself in Christ as the crucified Mediator and Reconciler is of the utmost importance (Jonker, 1981:240). There is no leaving behind of sin, misery and death without leaving behind the good news of the gospel itself – namely, that the resurrection is the resurrection of the Crucified God, that the Spirit that is poured out in Pentecost is the Spirit of the Crucified Christ, and that a life lived by the freedom in the Spirit is a life irrevocably changed by the reconciliation wrought by the Crucified Son (Jonker, 1981:240).


In short, understanding the Spirit as the ‘Lord and Giver of Life’ points toward Jesus Christ, whose life, ministry and death provides the basis of the Spirit’s work, and with whom its relation takes logical priority when relating to the world. The presence and work of the Spirit therefore takes the form of divine promise.[xiii] Therefore any Reformed discussion of the work of the Spirit must clearly articulate its Christological basis – for as David Kelsey argues: “the Son’s life defines the life into which the Spirit draws creatures” (2009:127), namely “the giving and receiving that constitutes divine life” (2009:127), and makes for the flourishing of living beings. The third landmark for this Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit and mission is the Spirit as the self-giving God. It is worth considering, finally, this third signpost within this reflection.


The Spirit – as the self-giving God?


The gift that human beings receive, for the Reformed tradition, is the self-giving God. The language of gift and gift-giving is expressive of the covenant between human beings and the triune God, and flows forth from the confession that God gives Godself for the sake of the world.[xiv] John Flett points out that the source of the divine self-giving is the plenitude of God (2010:288; cf. also Migliore, 2004:77) – for it is the plentiness, the overabundance, the fecundity, the fullness of God’s life that spills over into the world and encompasses far more than only the church, only Christians, or only human beings. The WCC’s Together Towards Life document describes mission in exactly these terms – namely, as “the overflow of the infinite love of God” (2013:9) which calls for nothing less than churches’ commitment “to fullness of life for all, led by the God of life” (Keum, 2013:3). And indeed “[t]he Triune God’s overflowing sharing of love is the source of all mission and evangelism” within this document (Keum, 2013:21).


The abundant, overflowing plenitude of the triune God involves a variety of gifts – the gift of life given by the God of life (Keum, 2013:38); the gift of grace freely given through Jesus Christ (Jonker, 1968:136);[xv] the gift of faith given in the Holy Spirit (Jonker, 1982:61); and the gift of the gospel given to the whole world (Keum, 2013:6).[xvi] Yet the gifts that the triune God bestows upon human beings is not limited to life, grace, faith, and good news – ultimately, God gives Godself for the world (Flett, 2010:284 – 285). Divine gift-giving culminates in the triune God’s self-giving love “that liberates life and creates new and inclusive community” (Migliore, 2004:81). The life of God is thereby qualified as both giving and giftlike, the source from which all gifts – including the gifts of the Spirit – flow forth.


Any language of gift and gift-giving is thereby placed within the broader scope of the self-giving God who gives life, love, mercy, and grace. Stated somewhat differently, it is no less than the glory of God that becomes evident in God’s self-giving (Flett, 2010:196). It is exactly for this reason that the ‘livingness of God’ and the ‘gift-giving of God’ stands in such close proximity: “In that God has given his very self to humanity in overcoming darkness, sin, and death, human beings cannot apprehend him in any other way than as the living God” (Flett, 2010:289). The self-giving God is “the Triune God who is the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all life” (Keum, 2013:4) – and therefore “[a] denial of life is a rejection of the God of life” (2013:4). This implies that “God invites us into the life-giving mission of the Triune God” (2013:4), whereby “[l]ife in the Holy Spirit” has “a dynamic of transformation” that encourages “affirming and caring for life” (2013:4).[xvii] As such, the WCC’s Together Towards Life document discerns “the Spirit of God wherever life in its fullness is affirmed and in all its dimensions, including liberation of the oppressed, healing and reconciliation of broken communities, and the restoration of creation” (Keum, 2013:11) for “[t]o experience life in the Spirit is to taste life in its fullness” (2013:14).


The Reformed tradition is, however, wary of making too much of the role of experience – lest the gift that God gives becomes indistinguishable from that which we desire, approve of, or value highly.[xviii] Experience has become an important source for doing theology – any theologian who stands in the tradition of liberation theology, feminist theology, disability theology, or ecological theology will affirm this – but cannot and should not provide justification, or even the beginnings of, a prosperity gospel that freely offers the gifts of healing and wealth in the name of God. In South Africa we see the destructive force of such portrayals of salvation all too often.


The Reformed tradition is also wary of making too much of good works – lest the gift that God gives comes to be confused with a divine reward for good and proper behaviour.[xix] As with experience, the good life and the common good have become important sources for doing theology – theologians within the tradition of public theology and ethics, and those of us who write about the flourishing, happiness and well-being of human beings, will attest to the importance of reflecting upon the good life for all – but cannot and should not provide justification, or any kind of approval for, pelagianist or semi-pelagianist views that distorts the good news of grace freely given. In South Africa we have also seen the life-denying effects of such portrayals of salvation.


There are, in other words, also limitations to the language of gift and gift-giving. Most importantly, God does not give Godself away (Flett, 2010:202) – argues Karl Barth – for insofar as this gift of Godself is “to be the gift of his own being, he must remain in his act as he is himself, and this includes his otherness from humanity” (2010:202). Instead “it is the very plenitude of God’s own life that is capable of including the human in such a way that this inclusion is God’s own self-realization” (Flett, 2010:208). The gifts that we receive flow forth from the living, self-giving, triune God whose plenitude fills the whole world; the giving Spirit who participates in the giftlike work of the Son; and the gifts given from the triune communion of love and grace. As such, there may be different ways in which the Reformed tradition articulates the gift(s) given by God – for instance, by way of the election by God (wherein God shares the gift of God’s life in communion), the covenant of God (wherein the gift of God’s electing grace is maintained and continues to be freely given), and the sacrament of baptism (wherein God’s freely given grace is remembered and celebrated) (Migliore, 2004:89). The gifts that God gives, then, may for the Reformed tradition be much broader than a selection of gifts of the Spirit – but, by the very nature of God’s giftlike communion, include a variety of gifts given by the triune persons, including the person of the Holy Spirit.


In short, understanding the Spirit as the ‘Lord and Giver of Life’ opens up possibilities for speaking the language of gift and gift-giving. The Holy Spirit is a gift given by the Father and the Son to his disciples and the church (John 14:15 – 31), but the Holy Spirit also gives a variety of gifts to and within the community of faith (1 Corinthians 12:1 – 11) – including, according to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed, the gift of life. As Lord and Lifegiver the Holy Spirit, who is both a gift given and the giver of gifts, “enable[s] the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world” – in the words of the Belhar Confession. Since the language of gift and gift-giving is clearly evident in biblical portrayals of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, as well as in the Reformed tradition’s creeds and confessions, it may a worthwhile pursuit to consider this language in addition to other theological languages that this dialogue may employ.


An open-ended conclusion for further discussion


[T]he members of the Pentecostal and the Reformed teams agree that we stand in communion with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed in our belief that the Holy Spirit is the lord and giver of life.

(Word and Spirit, 2000:5)


The title of this paper has this specific affirmation or agreement among the Pentecostal and Reformed teams in mind. If an important convergence within the Pentecostal-Reformed dialogue is the communion with and within the Nicene-Constantinopolitcan creed which confesses the Holy Spirit as Lord and Lifegiver, then a Trinitarian, Christological approach to the Holy Spirit and mission should be clearly aligned to that which both teams already affirmed in a previous round of this dialogue. This, then, is also the logical starting place for the proposition of three truth claims or landmarks within the landscape of faith: (1) that the proper context for a Reformed perspective on the Holy Spirit and mission is the confession that God is one in essence, three in persons (mia ousia, treis hypostaseis); (2) that the Spirit is not to be confused with the spirit of our times or our own spirits, but is the Spirit of Christ; and (3) that the language of gift and gift-giving may potentially provide dialogical space to reflect together on the Holy Spirit and mission.


Much more can be said about each of these landmarks, and I offer them as my contribution to this round of the dialogue, but I think we have reached a point where it has become necessary to bring this paper to an open-ended conclusion. One last thing remains to be said: I have heard, during the first meeting of this dialogue, that our report cannot take the form of a theological handbook. Let me therefore end this contribution, not with a case study as was initially discussed, but with a reflection from South Africa. In the Dutch Reformed Church – the church that I am a member and an ordained minister of – the rise in missional theology, including missional church, missional ecclesiology, missional spirituality, missional leadership (I could continue, but you get the picture), is a source of great joy, inspiration, and energy at the moment. Herein, some say, we have finally found a way in which to snuff out the remaining embers of apartheid theology. I do not count myself as one of the converted. Nor do a number of other Dutch Reformed theologians – including Piet Naudé, who at the beginning of this year during a conference on missional theology challenged Darrel Guder on the significance of what he criticised as yet another “adjectival theology”.


However, that mission stands at the very center of the good news of the gospel and the work of the church in the world is surely not under dispute. John Flett points out (2010:284) that mission “is not a task the community may or may not choose to perform” for “[i]f the community abandons her task, she ceases to be the Christian community” and then becomes “guilty of withdrawing from the history of God’s own fellowship.” Herein “the missionary message” involves “the Father from whom it proceeds, the Son who fulfils it objectively (for us), and the Holy Spirit who fulfils it subjectively (in us)” (Flett, 2010:197).


Yet when everything the church (and, indeed, the triune God) does is described as mission (Flett, 2010:7) then the question could rightly be asked, together with David Bosch (1991:511 – 512): “Is everything mission?” Much is at stake in the answer that we would give to this question – regarding our confessions about the church, the triune God, Christ, and especially the Holy Spirit. Is everything mission? If we answer yes to this question, that may mean undermining the important work of mission itself – for “[i]f everything is mission, nothing is mission” (Stephen Neill quoted in Flett, 2010:7 & Bosch, 1991:511). If we answer no to this question, that may mean not taking seriously the “pattern of ‘sending’” that characterises “Christian existence” (Flett, 2010:198).


I wonder whether a retrieval of the language of gift and gift-giving may not provide alternative grammar patterns for speaking about the missionary or missional task of the church[xx] – as a compliment to the widely popular language of sending and being sent.[xxi] The Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed does not, after all, employ only the language of sending and being sent when confessing the person of the Holy Spirit – it also uses the language of gift and gift-giving. If “[t]he Father’s sending of the Son in the power of the Spirit is not merely a remedial work for a fallen world”, but truly “God’s self-declaration of who he is in himself from all eternity” (Flett, 2010:212) then receiving the gift of Godself, and being received into the triune communion of self-giving love, may require a different theological language altogether.





Barth, K. 1982. The Theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Lectures at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24. Edited by Ritschl, D. and translated by Bromiley, G. W. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Begbie, J. S. 2007. Resounding truth. Christian wisdom in the world of music. Engaging culture series. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Bosch, D. J. 1991. Transforming Mission. Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books.

Flett, J. G. 2010. The Witness of God. The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Jones, L. S. 2000. Feminist Theory and Christian Theology. Cartographies of Grace. Guides to Theological Inquiry Series. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Jones, L. S. 2002. “Graced Practices: Excellence and Freedom in the Christian Life.” In Volf, M. and Bass, D. C. (eds) Practicing Theology. Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. pp. 51 – 77.

Jonker, W. D. 1968. “Grace and justification.” Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 9(3):132 – 143

Jonker, W. D. 1981. Die Gees van Christus. Wegwysers in die Dogmatiek (series). Pretoria: NG Kerkboekhandel.

Jonker, W. D. 1989. “Die eie-aard van die gereformeerde spiritualiteit.” Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 30(2):288 – 299.

Jonker, W. D. 1994. Bevrydende Waarheid. Die karakter van die die gereformeerde belydenis. Wellington: Hugenote-Uitgewers.

Kelsey, D. H. 2009. Eccentric Existence. A Theological Anthropology. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Keum, J. 2013. Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes. Geneva: World Council of Churches.

Migliore, D. L. 2004. Faith Seeking Understanding. An Introduction to Christian Theology second edition). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Saayman, W. 2010. “Missionary or missional? A study in terminology.” Missionalia 38(1):5 – 16.

Word and Spirit, church and world. 2000. Final report of the International Dialogue (1996 – 2000) between representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and leaders of some classical Pentecostal Churches. Available: www.pctii.org/cyberj8/WARC.html.


[i] Herein a set of ‘distinctive theological landmarks’ (or ‘truth claims’) within our ‘lived imaginative landscapes of faith’ (or “the context within which [the believer’s] living unfolds”) may help us to orientate and navigate our way within this discussion (Jones, 2002:74 – 75).

[ii] Stated somewhat differently, all of the complex questions surrounding justification, sanctification, church, and sacraments that accompany such theological considerations (Jonker, 1981:50).

[iii] As Jonker points out, this is particularly clear in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion – wherein by far the largest part of this classic work (he estimates as much as two thirds!) is dedicated to pneumatology (1981:51).

[iv] He writes that “[t]he necessities of the church’s witness seemingly develop in some contest with the doctrine of God, for dogmatic reference to God’s being does not of itself address the nature of the connection between the church and the world” (2010:3). Indeed, insofar as mission “is depicted as a necessary middle point between the church and the world, mission functions as the bridge between the two” (2010:3). This implies that mission then does nothing more than “[prepare] the ground for the church’s own proper task – the proclamation of the word” and therein “exists some distance from the church” (2010:3). Such a dualism between church and mission follows when the doctrine of God in and of itself becomes skewed – in “treating God’s own mission into the world as a second step alongside who he is in himself” (2010:3).

[v] More recently the World Council of Churches’ Together Towards Life document would describe the missio Dei as “the belief in God as One who acts in history and in creation, in concrete realities of time and contexts, who seeks the fullness of life for the whole earth through justice, pleace, and reconciliation” (Keum, 2013:17).

[vi] “[R]esponsible trinitarian thinking”, argues Daniel Migliore (2004:69), “must always begin with the so-called economic Trinity” for “[a]ll reference to the life of the so-called immanent Trinity... rests on this basis.” This means avoiding the temptation to start from “a purely speculative ontology of divinity” that is arbitrary and misleading because it claims to have “exhaustive knowledge of the mystery of God” (Migliore, 2004:70).  Indeed, “[i]f talk of the triune God is not to be wild speculation, it will always find its basis and its limit both in the biblical narrative of the love of God that comes to the world through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit” (2004:69). In short, “[t]he God known in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is God over us, God for us, and God in us” (2004:69).

[vii] As Daniel Migliore points out (2004:79), “[a]ccording to classical trinitarian theology, the three persons of the Trinity have their distinctive identity only in deep and inseparable relationship with each other.” Exactly because of a concern for the unity of God”s being, theologians have proposed the governing rule that “[a]ll of the acts of the triune God in the world are indivisible” (Migliore, 2004:71). This means that “the Father does not act alone in the work of creation, or the Son alone in the work of redemption, or the Spirit alone in the work of sanctification” (2004:71). Rather, “[e]very act of God is the act of the one triune God” (2004:71).

[viii] Insofar as the God of the Bible is the triune God, the living God reveals Godself as such (Jonker, 1981:109). For Karl Barth this means that there are three important moments in God’s self-revelation to human beings that must be taken seriously, namely: (1) God reveals Godself as Lord; (2) God reveals Godself in Jesus Christ; and (3) God reveals Godself to human beings through the Holy Spirit (Jonker, 1981:109).

[ix] The presence of the Spirit in believers’ lives is described by David Kelsey according to a bipolar pattern, in being both intimately interior and eccentrically exterior to their environing contexts. The enactment of practices wherein and through which the Spirit works are thus complex and socially established within communities, so that “[l]earning to be part of the common life of such community means learning to cooperate in one’s own way in such practices” (Kelsey, 2009:445). These practices are described as existentially shaping, personally empowering and identity defining, and are expressive of the ultimate context of living beings as those related to in circumambience. If the ultimate context of created life is defined by the Spirit, as the “lord of the time of the eschaton” (2009:446), sent by the Father with the Son, then it could be said that not only does the Spirit invade history, but that the eschaton invades time. Indeed, the eschaton “draws us into the time of which the Spirit is Lord”, “the end time, the last time, the time of the triune God’s eschatological kingly rule come circumambiently in our history” (2009:446).

[x] This, explains Flett (2010:289), means that “Jesus Christ lives and is active in the exercise of his prophetic office, and this includes within itself the subjective and objective accomplishment of his community.” Moreover, this involves “a living encounter in the history of the one Son” (2010:288), wherein we are “not merely being together with Jesus Christ” but partakers and subjects in “an active living history” (2010:289). If “Jesus Christ’s identity rests in obedience to his mission” then “[h]uman beings participate in Jesus Christ’s own humanity by conforming to his mission” (2010:289 – 290). In short, this means that Jesus Christ’s role as mediator between God and humanity is taken seriously – in that he “has objectively completed the reconciliation of the world” (Flett, 2010:197).

[xi] Hereby Flett means (2010:290) that “[t]he act of the Spirit in subjectively realizing reconciliation in the human takes the form of impelling the community into the world, following after her Lord”. Yet herein “[b]oth parties act in accordance with their respective natures: God gives and the human receives” (2010:290). This does not mean human passivity, however, for the “proper human passivity in relation to God – a being determined – takes an active form” (2010:290). It is, stated somewhat differently (2010:290), “life under, with, and by the promise of the Spirit, in which the Christian community is conformed and conforms to the realism of Easter.” Willie Jonker describes this somewhat differently. For him, the good news of the gospel requires a passive resting in God’s grace and an active participation in the way of holiness (1989:296). In short, this means that the Holy Spirit “acts to secure the human’s subjective involvement in God’s act, uniting the human with the history that takes place first in God’s own life and then in the history of Jesus Christ with us” (Flett, 2010:197).

[xii] The Spirit is the living God that speaks this Word of salvation to human beings personally and opens the hearts of human beings so that salvation may be received in faith (Jonker, 1994:27). The Spirit, therefore, speaks and saves through the Word (Jonker, 1994:27). In his book by exactly this title, Die Gees van Christus (1981), Jonker argues that the Holy Spirit is active (1) in the incarnation, anointment and and equipment of Christ for the work of salvation (Jonker, 1981:30), (2) in the work of salvation in Christ itself because salvation takes place through the Holy Spirit (Jonker, 1981:30), and in (3) binding the sinner to Christ, whereby the salvation in Christ is imparted to the sinner (1981:25).

[xiii] David Kelsey points out that the Spirit sent with the Son introduces the advent of promise, in that “God relates to us in this mode in a particular, peculiar, concrete way as the advent of the fulfillment of an open-ended promise by God to all that is not God” (2009:451). Kelsey interprets being in Christ as being in the Spirit, since “Paul nearly conflates the presence of the exalted Christ with the presence of the Spirit” (2009:728). Indeed, the relationship described is “immediate and intimate” (2009:728), “a mystical relation” of human persons and Christ (2009:729), and “express[es] a set of patterns of public conduct, public ways of relating to others, especially in the community of the church but not necessarily limited to that community” (2009:731). Being ‘in Christ’ is a relation that is expressed through the incarnation – God relating to all that is not God ‘in the Spirit’ in order to reconcile them through their multiple estrangements to God.

[xiv] David Kelsey points out that it is “the triune God in its threefold circumcessio that reconciles estranged creatures to itself” (2009:128) or, even more, “by self-donation, God giving Godself, the Son, to human creatures” (2009:129) that they may be reconciled to God through their multiple estrangements. Firstly, the Son is given to all that is not God to reconcile living beings to the life-giving God. Secondly, the Father sends the Son and reminds that those who are reconciled are created prior to any other relation that God has with them, but also that the manner of reconciling should cohere with God’s relating to create them by not violating their creaturely integrity. Thirdly, the Spirit’s givenness stresses both that “the divine self-giving that reconciles is also powerful to enliven” and that “it also empowers a deep and enlivening transformation of human creatures in community” (2009:129).

[xv] Willie Jonker describes the grace of God as God’s unearned favour (favor Dei): “the kindly feeling or goodwill of God which flows forth from His eternal love and manifests itself as His unconditioned and undeserved kindness towards those that have in no way any claim to it” (1968:135). Indeed, “[t]he mere concept of grace is incompatible with any concept of merit” (1968:136). God’s grace comes to expression and is revealed in the person and the work of Christ, who is both the Gift of grace as well as the giver of the gift of grace (1968:136).

[xvi] Evangelism is herein understood as the sharing of the good news of God’s love, grace, and mercy in Christ and through the Holy Spirit (Keum, 2013:6). Another definition of evangelism that the WCC document gives is that of witness, or “the communication of the whole gospel to the whole of humanity in the whole world” (Keum, 2013:29); the “sharing of one’s faith and conviction with other people and inviting them to discipleship” (Keum, 2013:30); and “sharing the good news in word and action” (Keum, 2013:31).

[xvii] The transformation that this document has in mind involves resistance of “all life-destroying values and systems wherever these are at work in our economies, our politics, and even our churches” (Keum, 2013:13). Transformation therefore entails “energy for life in its fullness” as well as “commitment to resist all forces, powers, and systems which deny, destroy, and reduce life” (2013:12 – 13). [xviii] One example of this wariness is that of Martin Luther’s critique of the Anabaptists. Willie Jonker points out that whereas Martin Luther would initially emphasise human experience in and of the work of the Holy Spirit, he would later make clear distinctions between human experience and the work of the Spirit (1981:60). This would be important in order to avoid conflating our own spirit or experience with the movements of the Spirit of Christ within the Trinity (1981:60). For this reason Luther would argue that the assurance of salvation should be sought in the gospel, in the Word of God, lest own experience or disposition lead one to confuse or conflate experience with the Spirit (1981:60). Another example of this wariness is Karl Barth’s well-known critique of Friedrich Schleiermacher (Barth, 1982:xv). The heart of this critique entails that in Schleiermacher we find an ‘anthropological turn’ in theology, which is a “turn to our own immediate experience and perceptions” and which is problematic not only because it makes the subject – namely, human beings – the centre and condition for theological credibility, but also because it makes only a specific aspect of part of human beings – namely, feeling – the condition or qualification for religious experience, and hence Christian faith (Begbie, 2007:142).

[xix] Willie Jonker is particularly concerned that it should be clear that the objectivity of God’s work of salvation cannot be compromised, in that salvation is understood not as some meritorious act or work of human beings but solely as a gift of God’s unmerited, unearned, or undeserved grace (1983:62). This salvation, again, is fully given to us and secured for us in Christ as a gift (1989:295), and cannot but touch our existence and call us to the highest activity of obedience and service to God (1989:295). Willie Jonker calls such activity ‘the fruits of salvation’ (as opposed to ‘the requirements for salvation’) (1989:295). Yet exactly this trinitarian interpretation of salvation would include not only an objective, Christological understanding of salvation, but also a subjective, pneumatological understanding of salvation (Jonker, 1989:293). A trinitarian view of salvation values the subjective experience of salvation and is an important element of the Reformed tradition’s understanding of salvation (Jonker, 1989:293). For this reason the necessity of a subjective appropriation of salvation, which is the work of the Spirit, had become an important accent in Reformed spirituality (Jonker, 1989:293).

[xx] The South African missiologist (and Reformed theologian) Willem Saayman would argue that there is no real difference between these two concepts (2010). He too points out that the term ‘missional’ is an adjective (2010:5), and although he recognises the need for “alternative terminology” that distances the Western missionary project from colonialism (2010:5), he argues that this raises the question as to the significance of “coin[ing] a new term” for missionary activity: “Is the change from missionary to missional indeed nothing more than a case of exchanging a term with a tainted history for an unrelated term with no historical baggage?” (2010:8). Moreover, the origin and intention of the term ‘missional theology’ (as being “aimed specifically at incarnating the Gospel or bringing the Good News to Western societies which have lost their previous rootedness in Christ” (2010:12)) stems from and aims at addressing “the North Atlantic”; those “American and European cultures deeply influenced by postmodernism” (2010:13). As such Saayman is wary of simply importing such a term into “the missiological communities in the Third World” without considering the clear consequences of doing so (2010:15), among which include the implied but ‘unavoidable’ choice “for emerging churches in postmodern contexts.” He therefore rightly asks (2010:15): “How useful is such a choice for the theological discourse in the Third World in general and Africa in particular?”

[xxi] The language of sending, and the insight that “God’s sending nature becomes a messianic pattern to be repeated” (Flett, 2010:200), may by itself all too easily become yet another form of work-righteousness. The language of sending therefore has its own limitations – for one, it is a restless language that does not comfort or console, but emphasises movement, action, work. It is a language that brings to mind the infinite demands of productivity, the repetition of ceaseless activity, and multiple strategic attempts at growing church numbers. The intended effect on the readers and listeners to such a language is therefore not wholly insignificant, and raises the question as to whether this kind of language adequately communicates the comfort and consolation of the good news of the gospel.