Sunday, May 10, 2009
The role of the Spirit in salvation
Here is a possible topic for conversation. What exactly is the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation? Is anyone aware of any theological works on this subject? I know that this is one of the significant differences between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology -- I'm guessing that Protestantism is more "Western" having thrown out a lot of 'pre-modern' Catholic tradition but did not add back in a profound theology of the Spirit -- at least not until the rise of pneumacentric protestantism (Pentecostal and Charismatic) in the twentieth century.
Deb was reading to me this morning from Matthew 12 and I was struck by a passage I have read many times, but had not heard before in The Message version:
Matt 12: 31-32 "There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God's Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you're sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.
What struck me in this is the part about someone rejecting the Son of Man. Such a one can be forgiven. Hmmm…. What does that mean?
However, if someone rejects the Holy Spirit, how can they be forgiven? By rejecting the Holy Spirit, they are rejecting the dynamic active agent of God … the one who draws them, convicts them of sin, imparts faith to them and teaches them the things of Christ. The one who gives the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God (Peter, the Rock) The one that is the active executor of forgiveness of sins.
Does this mean that an honest Hindu or Muslim with a good heart, who rejects or neglects the divinity of Christ out of “some cultural misunderstanding” but who continues to respond affirmatively to the inner workings of the Spirit can be saved? (through the redemptive work of Christ of course, but perhaps in cognitive ignorance of that work). It is certainly worth considering and discussing.
More to the point, in my own dealings with agnostics and deists in our weekly god-party, most of them do not affirm the divinity of Christ, but they keep coming to our hang-out, and in a couple of cases, I see unmistakable traces of the work of the Spirit in their lives. So is it more important that I work to overcome their intellectual resistance to acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ?, or rather should I set that aside (temporarily) to affirm the work of the Spirit in them and to extend the ‘friendship’ of Christ in me the hope of Glory to them? In the second approach, I choose not to try to persuade them to believe a set of propositions about Christ, but instead I attempt to facilitate the work of the Spirit in them until they reach the point that St. Peter did, where the Spirit reveals the truth about Jesus to them.
What do you think? Is this a possible area that needs some theological re-formation?