Monday, 13 June 2011

The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts

Last Saturday I led a seminar on the Spirit in Luke-Acts, comparing Jesus' empowerment with that of the disciples. I thought I'd post a key idea that we looked at (can't post it all, that would be too long!).

The influence of more rational approaches to faith, particularly perhaps stemming from our theological education systems, seemed to run into slight difficulties when we considered the role of experiences in these narratives. Luke emphasises interpretation of Scripture immediately following both Jesus' and the disciples' Spirit-reception. They begin to re-read the OT under the empowerment of the Spirit. Jesus interprets in conflict with the devil and then spells out his understanding of his ministry in terms of Isaiah 61. Peter interprets the Pentecost events in terms of an eschatological reading of various OT passages. Later, Saul becomes Paul and suddenly re-interprets Scripture due to his experience of Christ and the Spirit coming upon him. So, is it really correct to tell people not to interpret the Bible through their experiences but always to start with the biblical data?

This issue of the role of experience is probably most helpfully raised by the growing prominence of Pentecostalism as a branch of Christian expression and with its own growing number of scholars. Such  methodology has historically tended to be frowned upon by evangelicals and other Christians, claiming that it is too dangerous to interpret the "objective" Scriptures through "subjective" experiences. However, isn't this precisely how the NT came into being? Was it not the experience of the Spirit that led people to read the OT anew and understand themselves as God's eschatological people?

Perhaps we should see experience and our reading as mutually informing instead of in competition. After all, experience gives us presuppositions that put filters in place when we read. If we have a pre-understanding that is informed by a lack of experience, then perhaps we will struggle when we come to read certain passages about "supernatural" experiences. Is it not the case, after all, that if we believe we have "met" God and are loved by him then we find it easier to relate to texts that claim just such an experience? Perhaps one possible "blessing" of postmodernism is that it opens us up to more than a rational, logical approach to faith and enables reason, experience and other factors to act together dynamically. At the very least, it helps us to be more honest in our interpretation, acknowledging that experience and other factors do play a role whether we like it or not.

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