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Review: Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology

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Recent books: Leviticus; Ephesians; Sources of Japanese Civilization vol.1; Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God; Steven Brust, Yendi; Velli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective; Kosuke Koyama, Waterbuffalo Theology; C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce; Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles; OMF, The Biography of James Hudson Taylor; A Hundred Things Japanese; The Japan Christian Yearbook 1968; I John 1:2 (trans.); Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Aikawa and Leavenworth, The Mind of Japan: A Christian Perspective; Asimov, The Robots of Dawn


Review: Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Pespective

A study of the Holy Spirit by a Finnish charismatic deeply involved in the
work of the World Council of Churches is intrinsically intriguing.
Veli-Matti Karkkainen's Pneumatology is of more than sociological
interest, however -- it is a fine survey of the Holy Spirit's place in
theology from Genesis to the present day. Baker Academic has produced this
slim volume (195 pages) with all the proper auxiliaries: six pages of
bibliography, Scripture index, subject index, chapter headings on right-hand
pages, and footnotes (instead of the loathsome but increasingly common endnotes).
A salute to the publisher is in order for treating an author with due respect.

As to the content, the author has divided his survey into six parts: in
introductory overview, biblical, historical (chronological), ecclesiastical
traditions, contemporary theologians, and "contextual". The introductory
is exactly that, and explains the factors behind pneumatology's former
neglect and contemporary resurgence, quite briefly. Karkkainen's biblical
survey, however, combines brevity with thoroughness, going over Old and New
Testaments on the Spirit, describing major themes and imagery, and the role
of the Spirit in the various books and genres. It is not a discredit to
Karkkainen that he is explicitly dependent on major secondary studies for
their expositions; to the contrary, he synthesizes the works for his own
purposes, and by referring the reader to them, is able to lay out the
diverse roles the Holy Spirit plays in Scripture. Whatever quibbles
specialists may have with a particular verse's exposition, Karkkainen at
least can argue he has deferred to his elders.

The third chapter is "The Historical Unfolding of the Experience of he
Spirit", and is Karkkainen's 50,000-foot view of the doctrine of the Spirit
from the apostolic church through the Middle Ages and up to classical
liberalism. Obviously, the survey hits the peaks of each era, and gives
two to three pages for most of those sampled. This chapter, like the
others, is focused not simply on the theoretical position of the Spirit in
Trinitarian doctrine or cosmology, but on the experience of the
Holy Spirit, and therefore the attempts to speak of the Holy
Spirit by believers through history. This is especially clear in
Karkkainen's strong effort to provide a corrective to caricatures of
medieval theology:

It has become commonplace to claim that in the footsteps of Augustine,
Western theology in general and pneumatology in particular, in contrast to
their Eastern counterparts, fell out of living touch with creation and
redemption and became occupied with philosophical distinctions often
removed from real life and spirituality. [...]

While there is no denying this one-sided orientation of much of Western
theology, some resources can help us retrieve a fuller view of the Spirit.
The rich spirituality of medieval mystics and saints "corrects the common
perception that doctrines of the Holy Spirit were divorced from the
original, polyvalent and enlivening experiences that were its
source." 51 These "narratives of the Spirit" are full of
life, vigor, and enthusiasm about the life in the Spirit. As such they
give a powerful testimony to the varied and manifold experience of the
Spirit through church history.

Karkkainen, p. 49 (quoting Elizabeth Dreyer in fn.51)

From the medieval testimonies, he moves next not to the "mainline"
Reformers, but to the Radical Reformation to highlight those distinctives,
especially in relation to the vital Spirit-Church relationship. The
Enlightenment and classical liberal positions are bridged at the end of the
chapter by use of Barth as a foil to liberalism. Karkkainen exhibits
considerable skill in both covering essential history and in offering a
counterpoint to "standard" narratives by alluding to the known history he
passes over (Luther and Calvin, quite pointedly), and giving exposition to
those often short-changed by mainline Protestantism: medieval theologians,
Anabaptists and Quakers, Hegel and classical liberalism. It is in fact
quite a pleasantly subversive approach, and I admire Karkkainen for pulling
it off.

Pneumatology moves from a chronological perspective to a
tradition-centered perspective in the next chapter, which discusses the
Holy Spirit's place within churches' traditions. The examples selected
are: Eastern Orthodox tradition, Roman Catholic tradition, Lutheran
tradition (with notes on Orthodox connections), Pentecostal/Charismatic
movements, and the Ecumenical Movement's theologies. Karkkainen brings out
the degree to which pneumatology fits within an overall program of
theology, its idea of the church and sacraments, and of the Christian life.
More specific programs are examined in detail in chapter 5, as Karkkainen
delves into the Holy Spirit's role in the theology of six major theologians
still contemporary.

All of this is to say that focusing on individual theologians both
clarifies some dominant pneumatological themes already covered in relation
to major Christian traditions, but it also confuses the picture. Both
perspectives are theologically helpful. If there is any single dimension
to the endless variety of contemporary theologies, it in the
unity-in-diversity nature of even "confessional" theologies. There are
several Lutheran, or Catholic, or Pentecostal/Charismatic theologies.

Karkkainen, p. 106

This chapter, too full to discuss in detail here, justifies Karkkainen's
comments on the complementary nature of the ecclesiastical and individual
examinations of pneumatology. By this point in the survey, the reader is
able to clearly perceive how trajectories coming out of the history of the
Church have arced through the traditions, variously intersecting, and are
represented and developed in our own day. "Leading Contemporary
Theologians on the Spirit" is a chapter which is rich in attention to
detail (see the footnotes), and exemplifies an honest sympathy with all of
the subjects. Personally, at this point I have found Karkkainen's
Pneumatology informative, provocative, even edifying and inspiring.
However, that would change with the next chapter.

The last full chapter, entitled "Contextual Pneumatologies", covers a wide
-- perhaps too wide -- range of contemporary alternative
perspectives on the Holy Spirit. In contrast to a seemingly monolithic
Western tradition, the last decades have seen theology embrace concerns
specific to various "contexts", as Karkkainen says, both geographic and
social. It is here that I must distinguish, as a reviewer, two
disappointments I had with this chapter: the first is personal, that some
of the approaches discussed I judge harshly (specifically the Process
Theology, some feminist theologies, and so-called ecological). The second
disappointment I found was the forced brevity of the discussions. Given
the very newness of these perspectives, more complete treatments would be
justified. (I suspect that this is an editorial misjudgment rather than
authorial, but it mars the ending.) Uneven handling is evident as well:
process and liberation theology receive discussion in the same depth as
most perspectives covered by Karkkainen; feminist pneumatology is extremely
compressed, and African perspectives are crammed into a four-page section.
Asia is alarmingly absent altogether. Two-thirds of Karkkainen's
titular promise are hacked down into chapter six!

Apart from that grave disappointment -- too little of the author instead of
too much -- Karkkainen's discussion again demonstrates a knowledgable,
honest sympathy with each position in the exposition. The section on
process theology illuminated me more than any previous discussion of that
position had (a defect of the reviewer, perhaps, but surely also a virtue
of the author to explain to the ignorant). Of the epilogue I will say
little except that it sums up all that Karkkainen finds good in all the
pneumatologies surveyed -- that the Holy Spirit of God is working
always and now! -- and, if not worth the price of admission itself, is
certainly worth plowing through chapter six in order to be recalled to its
five fine chapters of pespectives on the Spirit of Christ.

Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Pespective. Baker Academic, 2002.

ISBN 0-8010-2448-X

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