Should Theology Today Be Charismatic? -- By: Frederick Sontag
JETS 30:2 (June 1987) p. 199
Should Theology Today Be Charismatic?
Theology should reflect some mode of the way God chooses to appear in our time. In that case, can there, should there, be a charismatic theology today? To construct a theology always involves speaking about God, but this should be done in a technically adequate way. This means that the notion of God employed becomes the key in solving the problems the religious life of the day presents to theology. However, the theology that results must also be responsible to the tradition of the religious body from which it arises as well as to the ways in which God has been described in our common religious past. To be “charismatic” simply means to respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit. But, further, it means to receive and to try to express the Holy Spirit’s message in the present age.
Thus to be truly charismatic a theology would have to take its cue as much from an experience of the descent of the Holy Spirit as from Scripture or from tradition or from an understanding of the life of Jesus. Although a charismatic theology does not begin with a notion of God as Father or King but instead rises from below, it need not neglect Scripture or tradition or Jesus. To be a charismatic theology only requires that the experience of the presence and the movement of the Holy Spirit form the basis for the constructive theological effort. The experience of the Holy Spirit becomes the key upon which “God” and “Son” and “Church” are interpreted versus, say, taking the NT documents alone as in themselves the fundamental norm. A charismatic theology must be inspired by the enthusiasm of the Spirit. Otherwise theology comes at its task doomed to misunderstand God and sterile in its impact.
Should Christian theology be charismatic, whatever kinds of theologies or descriptions of God others might develop? Is there anything in the Christian experience that argues for this kind of theology as against another? At least two things stand out. First, the primitive Christian Church was formed at Pentecost (Acts 2:1) by the Holy Spirit’s descent, not by the individual power of the early disciples. They were sure of that. Thus a main branch of Christian theology stems from this event, if it is faithful to its community origins. The charismata—the favors, endowments, graces and offices bestowed by God’s action—first came to us, not directly from God or even from Jesus, but through the presence of the Holy Spirit in the early Church’s midst. No church, then, can be authentic without the Holy Spirit’s presence, nor does any group become the body of Christ except by the Spirit’s inspiration. In that sense, the death and resurrection of Jesus are not sufficient to establish...
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