Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review of The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controveresy is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney

For those hoping to engage in The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle and Jon Sweeney with a desire to obtain a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit, you may come away disappointed and left with as many questions as when you began reading. The Spirit is shrouded in mystery and it is with humility and compassion that the authors guide the reader to be content with this ancient conundrum. As declared by the book’s subtitle, the reader will walk away with a deeper understanding of “How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church”. For if the Church is truly moving into a new era; The Age of the Spirit, is it not even more imperative that the Body of Christ have a more firm grasp on the Trinity and the Spirit’s place within? Have we reached a crossroads in history where we can no longer remain content with unanswered questions?     

As Dylan so prophetically declared to the past generation, “The Times they are a Changin”, Tickle now declares change for a generation of Christians just as frustrated, confused and in search of answers. Understanding cultural change is difficult to comprehend when staring in a mirror. One often has to look behind at the historical vehicles that have transported to a particular point in time. By carefully reflecting on the historical ups and downs that have occurred within the Church, Tickle helps the reader understand that the mysteries enveloping the third person of the Trinity are no different for those who sought solutions over 2000 years ago. They make it very clear from the beginning that in order to understand where we are, we have to have a firm grasp and understanding on where we’ve been, who we’ve been and how we’ve arrived where we are today. Ironically, before we begin to look ahead, we must first look behind. It is with this logic that the authors build the structure of The Age of the Spirit with historical clarity and simplicity.    

From the apparent subtle changing of words within the Nicene Creed (see below) in 689 CE that led to the spark of the Great Schism, to the birth of Pentecostalism on Azuza Street in 1906, Tickle illustrates how the differences of interpretation and understanding of the Holy Spirit can cause division that, at times in history, have seemed almost irreparable, but also create unstoppable movements that change the very fabric of who we are as Christians. Whether intentional or not, she paints a historical illustration that makes clear why we see so much division within the Church today, and how we struggle with the same issues. 

“Filoque”, the Latin word for “and from the Son”, is as Patrick Leigh Fermor is quoted as saying, the “tintack which split Chistendom”. How could such a seemingly insignificant altering of words create such chaos that could possibly be the main contributor to our confusion over the Holy Spirit’s place within the three-in-one Godhead? Could this re-wording of an ancient creed in 689 be the cause of heresy, theological division, political upheaval and even the birth of new religions? Has the struggle come down to the simple issue of as Tickle sees as “One-God-in-Three-Parts and the impenetrable question of Spirit: what it was, what it was in devine relationship, what it was in function, how it was to be known – Separately? En masse? How?”  

It is with reading the The Age of the Spirit, that the reader will be forced to re-examine the mysterious third Person of the Trinity and ask ourselves who the Spirit is, what the Spirit is, and what place does the Spirit have within the Trinity and the Church itself? Tickle makes it clear that if we are in fact moving into a new age within the Church, and witnessing a movement of “religionless Christianity”, the mysteries of the Holy Spirit must be wrestled with.  For at no other time in history have we confronted the reality that God is not “out there” waiting to be found, but rather supernaturally among us, living and breathing.  

No longer does the Church need to rely only on hierarchical authority, historical forefathers, political structures or even scripture to face the mysteries of the Spirit. In fact, Tickle has reminded us that the Spirit is wanting to be known. So it is with joy and excitement that the Body of Christ begins the process of discerning, critiquing and understanding the Spirit’s movement within. We must embrace the Spirit, wrestle with the Spirit, put our arm around the Spirit and walk with confidence into what the future holds. The Age of the Spirit could very well be the catalyst for the future. Tickle and Sweeney have opened the proverbial dust covered chest in the closet to reveal the treasure that has been waiting to be discovered. 

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

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